Spot, Listen and Stalk
Dan Forster, ATA vice president and chief conservation officer
Despite their often hot, buggy and exhausting conditions, the interior of managed waterfowl impoundments provide some of the most exciting hog hunts I’ve had with my bow. When I lived near the Georgia coast, working as a wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, I managed some nearby waterfowl impoundments. The impoundments’ moist soils were flooded in winter to host migratory waterfowl, but in the early fall, just prior to flooding; they were muddy and loaded with feral hogs.
The hogs often came out onto the dike system toward evening. It made for interesting bowhunting because the dikes provided the area’s only elevated ground to provide a vantage point. The dikes were 8 to 10 feet above the impoundment, and I stalked along them while peering into the impoundments. This type of hunting is like spot and stalk, but more like listen and stalk. The vegetation was head-high and taller, and covered the vast majority of the area, so I couldn’t actually see the hogs from ground level. You knew they were there, however, by hearing the hogs grunt, rustle through the vegetation and dig, as well as seeing the vegetation move. If you bailed off into the impoundment, trails and opening were sparse so you could only see about 10 to 20 yards at best. When hogs walked onto the dikes, I hid myself by backing into woody vegetation along the toe of the dike, and then waited for them to walk directly in front of you for a close-range shot.
The first weekend my buddies and I tried hunting an impoundment, we all shot nice hogs and started a tradition that lasted several years. My hog hunts these days are more comfortable and relaxing although I still enjoy their pursuit. But I’ve never forgotten how much fun we had bowhunting those impoundments. I affectionately call such trips a “young man’s hunt” because of the rough conditions. They’re close-contact bowhunts, and they’re lots of fun!
Nicole Nash, ATA member-outreach manager
The most incredible hunt I’ve taken was for black bears, but I didn’t see one bear! A friend had begged me for years to join her on this ladies-only bowhunt in Maine. Even though it was a bucket-list hunt for me, its timing never matched my schedule until 2017.
My husband and I had planned to go hunting in Texas last fall, but the trip fell through. While talking to my friend, I confessed I was wishing I had signed up for the ladies-only bear bowhunt. She shocked me by saying: “You’re in luck. There’s one spot open. It’s yours if you want it!” The opportunity felt like fate, and so I grabbed it.
Nine of us went on the hunt, but nobody saw a bear all week except on trail cameras. Why such poor action? Imagine wearing a fur coat in the hot sun. Nobody wants to run around in that outfit, including bears. What made the trip a success? Our group’s camaraderie. Everyone was so supportive of each other. It felt empowering to be united by the same goal.
Everyone came from different states, races and religious beliefs, but we all loved the outdoors and bowhunting. We spent the week learning about each other and sharing. I’m from Kentucky, so I thought it would be fun to share some bourbon candy with the group. Likewise, all the ladies had similar thoughts, and everyone brought a piece of their home life to share.
Each day we overheard conversations like:
“I’ve never heard of that type of face paint before.”
“Well, would you like to try some?”
“I forgot to pick up scent eliminator.”
“Here, use mine.”
Ladies-only hunts are becoming more popular, and I hope to go on another. These hunts help women make empowering statements to the bowhunting community, such as, “We can do this, and do it well.” I walked away from that bowhunt without a bear, but with a whole lot more than I ever expected.
No Easy Way Out
Patrick Durkin, ATA contributing editor/writer
When the bull elk lost its balance, shuffled sideways and collapsed in a ground-shaking, wood-splintering crash, I knew better than to think, “Well, that was easy!”
Yes, it was only the second day of my annual two-week bowhunt in Idaho’s Targhee-Caribou National Forest. And yes, my arrow had to fly only 18 yards to the bull’s chest. But the only things that felt effortless that evening was releasing the arrow, and appreciating the many factors that made everything else look so easy. In actuality, that “easy” hunt was 12 years in the making.
First, the site itself was one of only two deep-woods elk wallows our small group has found in 12 seasons of bowhunting that area. Second, after finding the site and studying the thermal currents and winds swirling through the steep draw, we figured we needed a treestand to thwart an elk’s superior nose. Still, we hesitated to act. It’s not easy hauling a treestand 1.75 miles and 1,200 feet up the steep mountain from camp. Eventually, though, we agreed it had to be done.
And so I lashed the treestand atop a cargo pack the next afternoon and made the trek in 90-degree heat. By the time I reached the wallow, I didn’t have time or energy to hang the stand. The next day, I awoke at 3:30 a.m. and reached a nearby meadow by first light. I decided to sit there to watch and listen, and deal with the treestand later.
A cow elk strolled by about 70 yards away at 7:10 a.m., and then a decent 4-by-4 bull took much the same path an hour later. After sitting a while longer, I carried the treestand to the wallowing area and hung it in a Ponderosa pine. After lunch and an afternoon nap, I began my sit around 3 p.m., determined to stay till dark.
At 6:30 p.m., wood snapped nearby. Uphill 30 yards, a 4-by-5 bull elk stepped into the muddy silt leading to the wallows. I pulled my bow to full draw as the bull approached, but then it turned to face me head-on, not a good angle from above with a bow and arrow. I relaxed from full draw to wait.
After about three minutes, the bull finally turned to look downhill. As it looked away, I drew again, waiting for it to turn farther to present a broadside target. When it cooperated, I shifted my aim behind its shoulder and noticed a tall, green, fork-stemmed plant inches in front of the bull’s heart. The “V” in the stem framed my aiming point, and that’s where my arrow struck.
Photographing, skinning and boning the bull took until 12:45 a.m., and I was back at camp telling my story at 2:20 a.m. Four hours later my buddy and I got up to haul the meat off the mountain.
I don’t’ know if all that work and all those decisions make elk venison taste all the sweeter. But I do know this: I can’t wait to try it again this September.
Watching the Woods
Kayla Becker, ATA marketing manager
When asking about my favorite bowhunting adventures, people are often surprised to hear that my fondest memories seldom include a kill!Here’s why: Think how often we wish to be “a fly on the wall.” Well, when you’re quiet and dressed head to toe in camouflage, you get to be a fly on Mother Nature’s wall. And it’s always entertaining!
You get to see the big raccoon waddling past, and squeezing through the tiniest hole in a fence you thought impassable. You must also try hard to keep quiet while laughing inside as little fawns chase each other around your stand, zipping in circles at full speed, as mom looks less than thrilled at the commotion.
You also enjoy the sights of young bucks walking beneath your ladder stand, or a coyote pack maneuvering silently and effortlessly through the woods, and turkeys roosting atop tree limbs above. Meanwhile, nothing is better than having little birds land on you, or seeing a beautiful bobcat for the first time, or watching owls glide silently as ghosts through the trees.
It’s even fun to get annoyed by scavenging squirrels, because they sound like deer approaching. Raccoons, however, make for the funniest viewing. They seem to always make me laugh whenever they come around.
I could go on with more stories about those little critters, but you get the point. That’s why I prefer the woods for entertainment over watching Netflix any day!