If you think you’ve mastered bowhunting, you have lots to learn. Even expert bowhunters make mistakes when facing challenges and uncertainty. Each day afield offers opportunities to gain knowledge and improve your skills.
We asked three experienced bowhunters to share lessons they learned during 2018. We hope their stories will help others prepare for upcoming hunts.
A Bad Shot
Steven Drake is a professional hunting photographer who often works for Mathews, Sitka and other companies. He’s also an experienced elk hunter, and recalls how his nerves nearly cost him a bull last fall.
“Sometimes, despite our best efforts to make an ethical shot, it goes awry,” Drake said. “When I went to make a shot on the herd bull, my nerves led me to smash the trigger on my release on a 30-yard broadside chip shot. At the same time, the elk took a step. I hit way far back.
“After the shot, the bull bedded 150 yards away. From experience and wisdom from others, I sneaked out of the area and left the elk alone for at least eight hours. Making a bad shot is a sickening feeling. I don’t want that animal to suffer. I don’t enjoy killing, but I like taking full control of where my meat comes from. I do everything I can to make a quick, clean kill.
“After an eight-hour wait, I went back in with my dad. There was hardly any blood in his bed, and no blood trail. We started to grid search the area, 500 yards in one direction, 30 yards apart, then back. After the third pass through the area, we found blood and another bed on the far end of the grid. About 20 yards farther we miraculously found him. It appeared he expired just a few hours prior.
“Feelings of relief, sadness and respect pour over me on every recovery. Experiences like these make you want to quit or do everything in your power to be better prepared next time. This was my seventh bull elk, and buck/bull fever still affects me. The mental game is the most challenging aspect of any pursuit, and one I intend to overcome. No meat went to waste. I have 250 pounds of wild, organic meat in the freezer.”
Drake said the experience taught him two vital lessons:
- Your accuracy on a target vs. a mature bugling bull are two different things. Take steps to relax during the shot, and go through your shot process.
- Wait at least eight hours before looking for gut-shot animals. Ideally, take a follow-up shot if the opportunity arises. If you pursue an alert animal, you risk spooking the animal and not finding it.
Never Say Never
Rihana Cary is an Under Armour athlete, and the strategic partnership manager at MTN OPS. Even though she’s an accomplished bowhunter, Cary felt down on her luck during last year’s elk hunt in Idaho. Finally, after several days without an encounter, she almost passed on an opportunity as it unfolded.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to shoot a mature herd bull, but if you told me I’d have my shot in the middle of a sage flat, there’s no way I would believe you,” Cary said. “But that’s what happened.
“I spotted the bull, six cows and two calves in the middle of a field. It seemed like an impossible stalking situation, because there was no cover other than small sage patches. The herd was crossing the flats up into the hills like they do most mornings. I almost didn’t give make a move, but decided to give it a chance. My hunting partners thought I was crazy.
“I stalked, crawled and scooted on my back to close the 250-yard gap to the middle of the flats. It wasn’t easy, and it was pretty painful. My long-shot hope was that the elk would cross my path, giving me a shot.
“I let out some cow calls while tucked behind a small sage patch. Luckily for me, the calves liked the calls and led the herd my direction. I couldn’t believe it. The distracted bull was chasing the cows and gave me a 60-yard broadside shot. My arrow sunk behind his left shoulder. And just like that, I had my mature bull.
“My advice for bowhunters after this hunt is that even if it seems like an impossible situation, sometimes you just need to try. I’m already counting down the days until September when I can be back out chasing bugles.”
A Backcountry Slipup
Dave Brinker is a singer/songwriter and longtime hunter. Brinker was deep in the backcountry filming for Corey Jacobsen’s “Destination Elk” when a split-second slip of an arrow turned the hunt into a rescue mission.
“We were only two days into our Oregon Roosevelt hunt when the accident happened,” Brinker said. “The night before, we were walking out in the dense fern-choked jungle, navigating with our headlamps, when one of my arrows popped out of my quiver and stuck in the ground, broadhead up. Luckily, I caught a glimpse of it before my hunting partner walked into it at abdomen level. I should have gone back to camp and adjusted my quiver, but I thought it was just the dense brush’s fault, so I didn’t.
“The next morning at daylight we were working through a huckleberry maze, slowly consuming any purple treats we could find. The ferns were over my waist, and we were headed down a steep hill. As I pushed my bow through the brush, I looked away to avoid limbs hitting me in the face. A sharp pain shot up my leg. I knew immediately what happened, and put my thumb over the wound as hard as I could. In that spit-second, blood had already soaked through my socks, gaiters, outer pants and long underwear.
“I hit the ground and yelled for my hunting partners. Once we established it wasn’t (a severed) artery, we scrambled to get every first-aid kit we had to dress the wound. I still hadn’t taken my hand off to prevent further bleeding. My partners ripped up game bags to bandage the wound. They used moleskin, duct tape, electrical tape and other materials from our packs to secure the injury and create a tourniquet.
“My hunting partners carried me 2 miles to an old trail, where a friend met us with an ATV. More than six hours after the broadhead stabbed my leg, I was at the hospital getting stiches. Doctors told me it missed two arteries by a couple of inches, so I’m very lucky. It was a scary situation that turned out OK.”
That incident taught Brinker and his partners to check their gear before heading afield. Brinker’s arrow shafts were too narrow for the quiver. A simple adjustment made them fit.
You can watch the accident on the “Destination Elk” episode, “I Stuck a Broadhead in my Leg!”