The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting Louisiana’s abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at www.wlf.la.gov.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting Louisiana’s abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at www.wlf.la.gov.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement agents cited 14 people for alleged turkey hunting violations during the opening weekend of the 2018 turkey hunting season. Turkey season opened on April 7 in all three turkey hunting areas.
On April 7 agents cited:
Jason Stilley, 43, of Independence, for hunting turkey over a baited area and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Livingston Parish.
Nicholas McAlister, 29, of Kenner, for hunting turkey over bait and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in St. Helena Parish
Andrew Skinner, 20, of Woodville, Miss., for hunting turkey without a big game license, hunting turkey without a wild turkey license and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in West Feliciana Parish.
Brian J. Moreau, 42, of Blanchard, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Bossier Parish.
Bryan E. Bryant Jr., 22, of Columbia, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Caldwell Parish.
Stuart C. Baum, 27, of Calhoun, for hunting turkey over a baited area and without a wild turkey license in Caldwell Parish.
Lucas Kyle Stamper, 34, of Clarks, for hunting turkey without a wild turkey license and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Caldwell Parish.
Alexander L. Heard, 19, of Ragley, for hunting turkey without a wild turkey license and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Beauregard Parish.
On April 8 agents cited:
Jon Brumfield, 63, of Greenwell Springs, for hunting turkeys over a baited area in East Feliciana Parish.
Francis T. Elder, 48, of Washington, for hunting turkeys without a resident basic hunting license, big game license and wild turkey license in Catahoula Parish.
Jordan J. Gibson, 34, of Lafayette, for failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Rapides Parish.
Ricky J. Kennedy, 49, of Farmerville, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Union Parish.
Austin B. Kennedy, 18, of Farmerville, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Union Parish.
Matthew W. Nugent Jr., 19, of Dry Prong, for possession of an illegally taken turkey and criminal trespassing on state property in Winn Parish.
According to the 2018 Turkey Regulations, no person shall hunt or take turkeys by the aid of baiting or on or over a baited area. Hunters are not allowed to place, expose, deposit or scatter corn, wheat or other grain, salt or other feed to lure turkeys to their hunting area.
Also, turkey hunters are required to possess Louisiana basic hunting and big game licenses, Louisiana wild turkey license and turkey tags.
Hunting turkeys over a baited area brings a $250 to $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. Failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations carries a $100 to $350 fine and up to 60 days in jail. Not possessing a basic hunting license, big game license and wild turkey license each brings up to a $50 fine and 15 days in jail.
From News Report
March 29, 2018 – Boeuf and Grassy Lake Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) will close Friday (March 30) due to flooding and remained closed to all activities until further notice, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced. Included in the closure is hunting season for turkey.
LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet issued a declaration of emergency closing the WMAs in accordance with the emergency provisions of R.S. 49:953 of the Administrative Procedure Act and under authority of R.S. 56:115.
Excessive rains and backwater flooding in central and northern Louisiana forced the action.
The declaration of emergency reads, in part:
“Currently, due to excessive high water levels associated with excessive rainfall along with backwater flooding, Boeuf and Grassy Lake Wildlife Management Areas are inundated with floodwater and water levels are continuing to rise. These areas are nearly completely inaccessible by vehicle and hazardous conditions exist on the areas due to such water levels. Such conditions constitute a public safety hazard. Additionally, many wildlife species are stressed and displaced by such events, and public access to and use of these areas during this time will adversely impact such. Therefore, until the high water recedes, it is deemed necessary to close these Wildlife Management Areas to all use.”
LDWF will reopen the WMAs when flooding subsides and repairs are made.
Boeuf WMA, which consists of 51,110 acres, is located 10 miles southeast of Columbia in Caldwell and Catahoula parishes. For more information on Boeuf WMA, go http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wma/32649 .
Grassy Lake WMA, made up of 12,983 acres is located in northeastern Avoyelles Parish, approximately 12 miles from Bordelonville. For more information on this WMA, go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wma/2767 .
Louisiana truly is a sportsman’s paradise an springtime is a perfect example of that. We have abundant choices to promote our time to : turkeys, fishing, hogs, shed hunting, 3d archery, bowfishing, kids sports… the list goes on. But Mark Wilson, being observant from his bow stand, found a bass honey hole during bow season that has turned into a yearly tradition for him and his son.
Sitting perched in a tree bowhunting adjacent to a deep woods swamp, the afternoon stillness was continually disturbed by the sound of fat bass attacking frogs in what appeared to be just a knee-deep-shallow, stagnant area of backwater on the edge of our property.
“Dern! That sounds like bass”, I kept thinking. “Wonder if there is a way to fish that snakey looking swamp?” This was in the days before google earth (there was a time before the internet and free aerial mapping), so I had no idea the size and nature of the swamp, only what I could see which was not much. There were lots of standing trees in the water and logs everywhere, and way too thick to fish from the bank. It was at least a mile through the thick woods from our camp.
So the next spring, my son Jackson and I got a wild hair and brought a plastic boat from home, tied it to a 4 wheeler and dragged it through the woods; hacking a trail with machetes. We finally got to waters edge, launched the boat, and began fishing what has turned out to be one of the most untapped, unspoiled, pristine, deep-woods, beaver-dam infested, flooded-creek, cypress-gum, backwoods-swamp-environments we have ever seen. We’ve made maybe 15 trips to the pond over the years and have generally seen some of the best bass and sac-a-lait fishing you can imagine. The ‘beaver-pond’ as we call it turns out to be a mile or so long and 300 yards wide with a deep spring-fed creek channel winding through the middle.
The pond is full of wood ducks and is a nesting area for thousands of egrets that nest in the trees 10-12 ft above the water. This of course feeds hundreds of alligators who hang around waiting for the occasional manna from heaven.
We’ve been too preoccupied with the deer in the fall and winter to mess with the thousands of wood ducks that hang around in the area, who often walk up on the bank to gorge on acorns around the pond edges.
So on our first trip to the pond years ago Jackson started with a spinner bait and I tied on our only buzz bait. The bass are what you call ‘unschooled’ – clearly they had never seen a buzz bait. Though they bit on everything, they went absolutely nuts for the buzz bait. If I didn’t catch one every cast I at least got wallowed by one. They would hit it over and over. After about 10-15 fish I started telling Jackson ‘after just one more I’m going to give you at turn with this buzz bait’… just messing with him of course. We were fishing in thick standing trees and logs everywhere, and finally one got behind a tree a broke me off, apparently losing our only buzz bait! But wait, the fish swam a little ways and jumped and tossed the bait and I saw exactly where it landed, and proceeded to paddle over and dip the lure up off the bottom with our landing net. This is the God’s honest truth. I tied that lure back on and went on catching fish after fish, laughing like a maniac.
Of course we never go near the pond these days without at least 15 buzz baits. Most of the fish tend to be medium sized to small so we fish light spinning rods with light line. You have less issue with backlashes with spinning rods making long casts through the trees and overhangs. This last trip we forgot to bring a landing net, and as things work out this would be the time that I hung a giant….at least 8-10 pounds and after a short battle with too light tackle, there he was boatside with a mouth you could fit a basketball in. The abrasion of his teeth on the light line was just too much. There he went, just like that. Ah…the ones that get away making you scream in agony!
Have you ever tried fishing in one of the swamps you find in the deep woods? May be worth a try!
Spearfishing, particularly the Louisiana oil-rig style with scuba gear, is very similar to bowhunting. Most of the elite young bowhunters I know would find scuba diving and spearfishing off the Louisiana coast to be a thrilling and an equally addictive hobby that builds on all you have learned through bowhunting.
I have been scuba diving for a lot of years. Certified when I was 20 yrs old. For the first few decades the diving was confined to relaxed cruising in the warm blue Caribbean reefs and wrecks on vacations and business trips. Over the years I have dived all over the Caribbean from the Bahamas to Honduras and many points in the Pacific as well. That sort of diving is very relaxed and comparatively tame to oil rig diving and spearfishing, which more or less equates to bowhunting 28’ up in a hang-on in a bedding area. Vastly more demanding and rewarding.
My wife Lisa appeared on the scene about 15 yrs ago and wanted to learn to dive. She got certified locally and she, my sister Kim and brother-in-law Ken took a week diving trip down to Honduras. They made 20 dives in a week. Typical they made shallow dives to less than 100 feet to enjoy sightseeing, shark feeding, and turtle petting. It is relaxed diving with a ‘buddy’ arms length away to help address any issues.
Returning to Louisiana, since we had all our gear freshly sorted and checked out, we talked about making an ‘exploratory’ dive to the oil rigs just to see ‘what’s up’. This was highly speculative as I had heard over the years the water off the coast of LA was murky and green with lots of current, sometimes zero visibility. The idea of tying up to a rusty oil rig and diving a vertical reef, hissing and spewing, was not something we had heretofore felt called to do. It was the classic ‘contempt prior to investigation’.
The word we got was that proper diving attire in the gulf was old jumpsuits or blue jeans or anything tough enough to protect you against the barnacles, so it was definitely not a Caribbean-style fashion show.
That first dive into the apparently murky water was definitely a little nerve wracking. Greenish semi-clear coldish water with some current was the initial review. But as soon as you broke the surface the rig structure opened up and a veritable aquarium appeared with unimaginable schools of fish. Twenty feet down into the rig a cross member pipe provided a convenient place to sit and observe what was happening. The rig is exactly as described, a ‘vertical reef’, supporting massive amounts of life from the surface to the bottom, mostly covered in coral and teeming with fish of all sizes and descriptions. It was overwhelming. Fish everywhere. Clear-enough water. Time to load the speargun!
Shooting a fish with a spear is like shooting a deer with an arrow. You either miss, kill or wound. So think about this before squeezing the trigger. Second, spearfishing requires super-stealth. Fish can feel your gaze not so differently from a whitetails sense that you are a predator. If you look directly at them they will feel you and see the whites in your eyeballs and flare exactly like a deer does. So you have to ease towards them to get in range averting your gaze while very gently raising your projectile to make the shot. Rush towards them and they’ll stay just out of range. Third, spearfishing requires great equipment, great scuba skills, great physical fitness, patience, and a developed sixth sense, again like bowhunting. Guys do it for years and years making hundreds to thousands of dives and become extremely skilled and elite. Just like in bowhunting, it takes time. Beginners pair up with the elite few, and learn more in a day than you can learn in 10 years on your own. Guys will help you but you have to be willing to pay your dues and help yourself, and suffer it out as a beginner for a season. No free lunch! Fourth, losing a fish is just like losing a deer. You will be so sick you will want to throw up but it is unavoidable. It happens to the best. Miss your target on a deer by 2” at 25 yards and it can be wounded and lost forever. Miss your target on a fish by 1” at 15 ft and the same can happen, or it can simply pull off the spear. With fish, like deer, you have a spot that if you hit it, you will ‘stone’ the fish and he dies on impact. In the case of a deer, hit the heart and both lungs and you can count on a <50 yd run. Miss the exact spot and pay the price. Fifth, the adrenaline rush to get on the hunt, and then get ‘on’ a big desirable fish appearing in and out of the ‘murk’, and then capture a prize fish in hand-to-hand conditions underwater in the fish’s natural element is unmatched and indescribable. Catching a fish on a rod and reel versus shooting him with a spear is roughly equivalent to shooting a deer long-range with a rifle versus at 12 yards with a bow. There is simply no comparison. Gliding effortlessly towards the bottom hunting in blue water,weightless and free, is one of life’s most sublime experiences.
Get Your Feet Wet
Being a spearfishing beginner, not at all unlike being a bowhunter beginner, on that first trip everything went wrong. Without going into too much detail, here are just a few ‘low-lights’. Like with the long slow mostly self-taught and hard-earned bowhunting skills, we learned at first without teachers and made all the mistakes you can make. First on the equipment front – speargun bands get weak and brittle with age. A gun will have two or three bands. Our scavenged old guns had bands that were maybe 3-5 yrs old. The bands that didn’t break outright were too weak to fully penetrate a fish so we poked a lot of holes into fish that pulled off the spears as our guns lacked adequate power, like shooting a 20 pound bow! Second on the fish identification and understanding front – perhaps the most vicious fish in the gulf is a little 10-12” fish known as a Trigger fish. More or less shaped like a big bull bream. They sport a set of teeth more or less like a piranha. A Trigger fish, unlike any other fish in the gulf, delights in biting a human, just for fun, even if he has a spear through him. Even a free swimming trigger fish is subject to swimming up to a diver and biting him on the ear lobe. As they say, it is not IF you will get bit by a Trigger fish, but WHEN. Everybody gets bit!
Considered one of the best eating fish in the water, we always try to get a few Trigger fish every trip. Shooting one, getting him off your spear, and on to a stringer, and getting your speargun reloaded to shoot another, all the while not getting bit, is challenging. There is nothing funnier than being underwater and observing from a few feet away one of your buddies getting chased and then bit by the dreaded trigger and hollering underwater with his regulator in his mouth, his eyes darting and screaming in pain…like a big lizard they will grab hold and it is only by the grace of God that they ever let go!
After that first trip, it was ON. I wondered where diving had been my whole life, how had I missed this? Our skills and equipment improved very quickly as for the rest of those that take to this sport. First you must become a very proficient scuba diver capable of self-rescue with absolutely bullet-proof equipment, and be many times more skilled and comfortable than casual divers. The conditions at times are challenging, and shooting and subduing big fish underwater, sometimes up to 130 feet of water, requires good judgment and experience, a clear mind and very fit body. Divers work their way up just like deer hunters, starting with smaller fish shallower, and gradually diving deeper, more frequently and shooting bigger fish. Divers after hundreds to thousands of dives learn how their bodies react to the nitrogen being loaded, and you are expected by your friends to know your skills and limits and stay within them, not always easy when the competitive juices get flowing. A mistake you make impacts not only you but lots of other people and those impacts can be tragic and lasting…..but there is no reason to ever have an accident, all accidents are avoidable, just like climbing trees and hanging out in tree stands. We hold each other accountable in this sport just like we do in the woods, with tree stand safety for example.
The Gulf of Mexico with some 3,000 rigs is a fantastic resource and the diving and spearfishing some of the best if not the best in the world. If you love hunting, consider becoming a diver and get an experienced crew to take you along and give you some tips. No different than bowhunting, you have to start somewhere. Google it, and ask questions. Find a mentor to show you the way. Before you know it you’ll be encouraging others to enjoy spearfishing in the gulf with the memory of your first trip and how silly you must have looked in the distant past.
In my three score (60) years on earth, I bet I can recall 100 ‘firsts’. Unforgettable moments, events, sights, passages, tastes, smells and places were all experienced for the first time leaving a powerful impression; destined to be recalled and relived thousands of times more. Everybody has these. Defining moments in our lives. How about your first girlfriend, first kiss, first love? First taste of homemade ice cream or hot bread pudding? First time to taste a salty oyster or swim in the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. First time to hold the tiny hand of one entering this world, and the frail hand of a loved one departing it. On and on, memories are a blessing and a gift, the story of our lives, and should not be taken for granted as this gift is denied to many.
Of course for those of us so afflicted with deer fever, our first ‘miss’, and our first actual deer killed with bow and arrow represent memories seared into our brains. For me these events are even more intense than the first deer with a gun, maybe because the level of difficulty in my case was many times greater. How many ‘firsts’ can you remember?
I mentioned previously I was ‘height-challenged’ when I started seriously hunting, to put it mildly. I am that guy that curses himself for even getting on the Ferris Wheel, as it nears the top of it’s circumference, and I claw my girls arm and hang on to the bar with a death grip! I remember my first bungled shot at a deer like it was yesterday and it had a lot to do with being eye-level. I had set up in my climber about 10 feet off a clear deer trail and gotten up at least a full 8-9’. Trouble was I was down slope from the trail so any deer that came along would be eye level about ten feet away. Trust me, I am sure there are other neophytes out there just as pitiful as I was, but I was doing the best I knew how, and I was ‘in the game’, learning the hard and slow way.
Dern if a little 60 pound doe didn’t come trotting down the trail and stop right in front of me broadside and stare at me with those big doe eyes. She seemed not afraid at all as if she was willing to sacrifice herself to help me out. Or maybe it was more like she was asking, “Hey dude what’s up?’ Meantime I’m having the most intense heart palpitations and adrenaline rush. It changed my brain for life. I could never go back to how I was before that moment. That rush of undiluted adrenaline hits me hard every time and I crave it and will go to any length to experience it over and over again.
I managed to get my bow up and drawn and I think I forgot to put my pin on the vitals and released the arrow in one more or less continuous motion, that I have replayed in my mind only a few thousand times. I’ll never forget the sound of my arrow hitting the tree above and behind her. Thud! Bo-ing! Broadhead went all the way in and arrow just sat there vibrating for about 5 minutes. Years later we would walk by that tree in the woods, and see the thunderhead still in the tree getting slowly absorbed, but not fast enough to suit me. I knew I had blown probably the best chance, maybe the only chance I’d ever get at a slow-thinking deer. So another deer of many was educated by me. She may have grown up to be a smart old unkillable doe! You’re welcome!
The first deer I managed to kill with my bow after so many misses and bungled opportunities, went down like this. My brother Scott and I were at the family property near Angie, LA on the Pearl River in October, just the two of us, heading out with high hopes for one of us to get one. The plan was if somebody shot one they would go holler for the other one even if it was prime time, to come and help with the tracking and dragging. So I start watching a little chubby one eating acorns around 4. Took 20 minutes getting heart and breathing settled down. Shot her and she went down. I had the quivers and shakes so bad I could barely keep in the tree. Then I heard Scott yell for me from the trail, “Hey Mark I got one!” It was unreal. I managed to holler back, “I got one too!” The celebration and joy we felt that afternoon both of us shooting deer with our bows was as good as it gets. What a happy, triumphant moment. We actually did it. We were adult bowhunting beginners figuring it out as we went in a world far different than today’s. If we had been conquering conquistadors it wouldn’t have been better!!
Shortly after killing this first one my appetite for more went crazy. I couldn’t get enough. I was slowly getting higher in the trees but not without plenty of fear. Nothing compares to my experiences with climbing spurs that I still have and look at all the time asking myself if I am ready for another go-round with these things. My fearless friend and neighbor Steve, who had the access to the property in St. Francisville, and was trying his best to help me out, used climbing spurs without a thought to access his dozen or so lock-on stands, usually 25-30’ up at a minimum. He advised me to get some spurs and a lineman’s belt, and gave me permission to hunt a couple of his stands. So I did thinking, “How hard can it be?”
I remember my first experience with my new spurs. This was in the days before YouTube instructional videos and I think I forget to ask anybody how exactly should I use them. I drove up by myself from Baton Rouge to St. Francisville one cold December morning – below freezing and 10-15mph northerly breeze. The stand he sent me to was 30’ up in a bare oak whose bark was slick and hard and pretty well frozen and nicely resistant to the spurs! So this is how bad I wanted to kill deer with my bow, I would subject myself to the abject terror of climbing this frozen tree in spurs, heavily bundled in plenty of clothes, in the dark, with no training or explanation about how to even use spurs let alone the lineman’s belt. By some miracle I got up the tree, got above the stand and had to step down into it, get the spurs off, bring up my bow, sweating profusely by this time, really just hoping I would survive the ordeal. If I looked down I would have died I’m sure. The tree was swaying with the breeze. I was freezing and figuring this was a lost cause with the wind and all. But sure enough here comes a nice fatty who stands there and gives me a nice broadside look at her. Clear evidence that being 30’ up even in a naked tree takes you out of their line of sight. I don’t know how I got the bow drawn but I did, and I shot the deer and she went down while still in the patch. Then the shakes and quivers took hold, and I had to pee so bad I was about to drizzle. So I had to get spurs back on, shaking, and leave the relative but meager security of the tiny lock-on I was on, and attack the side of the tree with the spurs and get myself down. By yet another miracle I got down. More evidence that God looks after fools and rabid deer hunters.
The thing about bow hunting is it forces you to improve a hundred skills related to hunting in general and to develop extraordinary patience. You must be able to read the woods and determine stand placement and get right on top of them and make continuous fine adjustments. These skills bleed over to gun hunting and nearly all the deer I have shot with my .270 have been inside of twenty yards. Mostly because that’s how I scout now and how I set up on them. I want to get close and personal. Now that my bow skills have taken a decidedly sharp turn for the better I am considering going after them bow only. The thought of shooting one with a gun seems a little dramatic. I don’t think I am ready today to put my gun away but I can see that day coming. Particularly since getting enough meat for the year with the bow is not a problem any more.
Just last week we featured a story of one of our team members losing a massive buck on an out-of-state hunt. All the stars aligned and the buck was found and made the 1,000 mile journey back to Louisiana. This time it was our contributor that found a buck on Tensas NWR, and he immediately knew what needed to be done.
Chris Williams, LABH Contributor, was hunting Sunday evening during the lotto rifle hunt on the refuge. Upon climbing in his stand he noticed a buck laying on the ground a few yards away. He snapped a shot of it through his scope and sent us this message:
“So I climb up my tree on the lottery hunt in Tensas this evening get situated and look down… this dude is laying dead under my tree. Haven’t climbed down to check but doesn’t look like he has been dead long. It has been really cold since Friday so the deer probably isn’t even spoiled. When I get done hunting gonna check him out. Don’t know for sure if he has been shot but probably so. I can’t see any blood or wounds on him. Crazy stuff! Been hoping he was just sleeping! Lol”
After climbing down that evening sure enough the buck had been shot and Chris began his inspection. The cold weather over the weekend had preserved it perfectly and the meat appeared to still be good. He called the game wardens who had him tag the buck. After the drag out he brought it home to gut it, then took it straight to the meat processor.
After making the initial post this morning about the lost deer we began receiving a number of comments and messages asking about the unclaimed buck. There were apparently over a dozen bucks wounded and lost this weekend which was quite disturbing to learn. One hunter that I spoke with was in the area but couldn’t describe the buck. Another hunter knew of a woman that had lost a buck in that area, which was even closer to where Chris located it. Through a few Facebook searches we were able to speak with Danielle McKeithen. She was very close to the spot and described the general makeup of the buck. But more importantly she described perfectly where the entry and exit should be. She described one side of the rack as “wonky” to which I had to ask for a definition. She knew one side was tall and the other shorter. After all the details she gave and given her location we showed her the picture. I could hear the shakiness and excitement in her voice. I passed Chris’ phone number to her husband and they arranged a meeting this evening to retrieve her lost buck.
Doing the right thing is always best. Especially when it comes to helping another hunter. What goes around comes around and we must continue to play as a team and help each other out when we can. This story ends with a deserving hunter bringing her rack, and all of her meat home because Chris Williams, the hero of the day, did the unselfish thing and reached out to find who earned this buck. Congrats Chris on your finely tuned moral compass and congrats to Danielle on your great Madison Parish Buck!
I read once that the most powerful word in the English language is the little three-letter single-syllable word – ‘Let’. To ‘let’ something happen is to allow it to be, to permit it, to enable it, to ‘let it be’, without force or effort or exertion as in the attempt to ‘make’ something happen.
This came to mind last summer while deep in daily practice with my bow, trying to improve my skills several orders of magnitude. I was talking to experts, shooting with experts, watching youtube videos on ‘Target Panic’, shooting from various positions up trees in my climber, adjusting the pull weight, working out every day, all sorts of stuff. What I learned is that in order to shoot most accurately, most consistently, one most train themselves to not aim at the bullseye, rather they should focus on the target and let the subconscious mind manage the calculations and timings and specifics of the release and getting the arrow to the target. If the archer tries to aim too intently they introduce tension and fear and the pin will jump all over the place and they are apt to do a ‘drive-by release’ of the arrow. The archer should ‘see’ in his minds eye the arrow leaving the bow in slow motion, traveling to the target and settling in on the bullseye – he should relax and trust and ‘let’ the arrow find it’s way to the center of the target by simply focusing on the target and letting the subconscious mind manage the timing and execution of the release.
It seems counter-intuitive to not aim, strain, or try too hard, but all artists and athletes and others at the top of their game have long known this and practice the art of letting go. The Art of Letting Go is becoming empty of desire and thought and effort and letting the subconscious mind manage the impossibly complex and unknowable tasks that are beyond what we can even approach with the conscious mind.
When the golfer stands behind his ball and closes his eyes, he is visualizing the contact between ball and club and ‘sees’ the ball traveling the desired distance and trajectory and spin rate and landing right next to the hole. He sees, he believes, he trusts, he allows and then he executes. He tries to get his conscious mind ‘out of the way’. He does not think about his swing plane or grip or ‘try’ to hit a 210 yard 3 iron to 4 feet from the hole, it is impossibly complex. But the subconscious mind has capabilities beyond our wildest understanding and can and does manage thousands of complex calculations to achieve what was visualized in the golfers head… if, that is, the golfer can shut the conscious mind down and ‘let’ it happen.
If you’ve ever stood behind home plate and watched a major league pitcher throwing 98mph fast balls, you can quickly see it is impossible for a batter to ever hit the ball…the timings are just too impossible for any human to achieve… impossible for the conscious mind maybe, but not the subconscious… where the five senses plus the sixth sense combine to ‘see’ the ball and control the muscles and manage the timing and execution. The pitcher can not ‘control’ or ‘steer’ the pitch and try to hit a target… rather he ‘sees’ in his minds eye the target and allows the subconscious to control the process and get the ball on the outside corner. He thinks about what he wants, sees it happen, and allows it to happen. The moment he tries to steer the ball is the moment the conscious mind takes over and usually he is on his way to the dugout. When the best golfers in the world collapse on the final round knocking balls all over the place, it is the fear and doubt and need that is introduced by the conscious mind with it’s ever vigilant ego that is responsible, the part of the mind that understands what is at stake and wants the win more than anything in the world.
This is true for the artist or the writer… he will tell you he has to get his mind out of the way and let the words flow through to him, or go empty and ‘let’ the image find it’s way to the canvas through him but not by him. Songwriters will tell you the best songs come to them through the subconscious ‘out of nowhere’ in a stream, a gift from the ‘Beyond’ – they simply are observers and write down what appears to them. The tennis player will tell you he cannot begin to manage consciously the process of getting to a ball, evaluate it’s direction, spin and speed, and meet it and send it back. Rather he focuses on the yellow fuzz of the ball and let’s his subconscious mind control everything – his own body, and his shot. The goal is to play ‘brain-dead’.
The conscious mind is where desire and fear and ego and competition and doubt live. Success for the golfer, the archer, the tennis player, or the writer, as well as most other complex endeavors, lies in learning how to quiet the mind, make it empty, be at peace; and then take this stillness to the course or the woods or the court. In golf the goal is to hit the ball on the course the way you hit it on the practice range when nothing is at stake. In the case of shooting practice arrows on a daily basis, it is reasonably easy to demonstrate to yourself and see that somehow, miraculously the arrow finds it’s way to the bullseye when you don’t try to make it happen. How can that happen at 40 or 50 yards? If you stop and think through all the parts of the human body involved in drawing a bow and sending an arrow 30 yards to the center of a 2 inch circle, you can see this is fantastically beyond what any human can consciously control. So we learn to relax and ‘let’ it happen with surprising results.
Of course this all changes when the pressure is on, when 24 feet up in a tree on a 12 inch by 12 inch platform, with a deer easing around and a million factors working on the mind. If you have not practiced for this and anticipated your response to this pressure you are sunk! The Zen parable goes….
‘When the archer shoots for nothing, he splits the apple, retaining all of his skill;
when he shoots for a prize, the apple seems tiny and unstable and his skill is weakened;
and when he competes with his friends, he goes blind and cannot see the apple at all….his desire divides and diminishes his skill.’
In our practice, whether shooting arrows or hitting golf balls, you can practice imagining the pressure-packed situations, create them in your mind, and practice emptying the mind and allowing the swing or the arrow to fly in an unconscious motion without fear or desire. With intentional, realistic practice, one can learn to still the mind, breathe, relax – seeing yourself in the tree, with the scene unfolding, and you responding with calm assurance.
This is what every high performing athlete or artist does – they spend countless hours visualizing high-pressure situations and then ‘see’ themselves responding calmly. Every kid on the playground instinctively knows this. In their minds eye, it’s ‘bottom of the ninth, two outs, three runs down, bases loaded, seventh game of the World Series, and they calmly step into the box and hit a grand slam!’ I read where Drew Brees, arguably one of the best ever, on the Saints bye week, will spend three hours (the full game time) by himself on the field, visualizing each and every play in a game, ‘seeing’ in his mind what he wants to ‘see’ happen, making pressure–packed situations seem routine. This kind of preparation enables him to respond to actual live pressure situations with calm assurance as he has ‘seen’ it and practiced it. You can just as easily attract what you are afraid might happen as what you desire to happen – it all depends on what you visualize in your mind’s eye. The subconscious responds to the direction and desire your conscious mind provides, delivering it up if allowed, whatever that happens to be.
I don’t know about you but often when I fantasize and play the imaginary filmstrip about a jumbo mature buck appearing in my hole, exactly ‘there’, and I shoot him and he runs and falls over ‘there’, and I recover him and the pictures start and the calls and texts and facebook posts, a huge part of the whole process is sharing it with others and feeling the inflation of the ego and hearing all the congratulations and seeing it as a personal accomplishment and that whole thing. As these feelings arise I begin to feel the pressure and doubt – ‘what if I miss or make a bad shot?’ The higher the stakes the greater the fear. When the ego comes in to play, the competition and fear and doubt and struggle and effort come in and thoughts like ‘please don’t miss’ come in and divide the skill of the archer. He gets the shakes. The subconscious mind is confused, ‘should I do what I know to do’ or should I ‘not-miss’? I have heard it is better not to look at the antlers, not to fantasize about the celebrations… just breathe, just rely on the countless hours of practice of ‘allowing it to be’ as you have done a thousand times in practice.
The bonus is that nothing feels better to a human being than to be freed of self-consciousness, immersed and engaged in an activity, feeling the energy and the flow from the subconscious through us. Jack London wrote of the ecstasy of living that comes when one allows the mind to be emptied, and then becomes engaged in a task without any effort, self-consciousness, ego or fear. When we can still the conscious mind, we have access to unimaginable capabilities that flow to us from the sub-conscious.
‘There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive…’
-Mark A. Wilson
Harmon Carson, LABH Contributor and owner of New Life Taxidermy in Haughton, LA, has a knack for killing mature bucks. In fact, this year’s kill makes 9 years in a row he has killed at least 1 buck over 3 1/2 years old; 7 of those with traditional equipment. Some people say killing mature bucks is pure luck or chance or simply being in the right place at the right time. Harmon has proven otherwise with his methodical and purposeful attention to particular details. While scouting for that perfect spot to hang his set he looks for the same signs and indicators that have led him to year after year of success and a firm place in the Louisiana Archery record books.
“This was a new piece of property that I was hunting. Pretty much just a big thicket, a 40 acre thicket to be exact that I had been scouting all summer. It’s so thick 20 yards is about as far as you can see in any given spot. There is a small creek that runs through it with multiple elevation changes throughout. Perfect for bucks looking for a place to hide. You have to pay attention to details when scouting new or old areas for that matter. Finding does wasn’t a problem but finding a mature buck took some time. There were obviously deer in this area and maybe less obvious to some a good deer based on what I had found. I was close all season just finally put a few pieces together to get me right on top of a good one. Anytime I find a sizable Scrape line I will put a camera on it.”
Even though scrapes are mostly worked at night they’re a perfect spot to take inventory of the bucks in the immediate area.
“After checking the camera a few days later the deer were coming from a different direction than expected. They were headed into some brush down wind of the scrapes. So I followed their path and found a Rub line. I followed the rub line into draw which led to another rub line. Both rub lines led to 2 different scrape lines so I found a tree in between.”
Not long after Harmon discovered this potential bedding area he began getting photos of a couple of mature bucks and confirmed his hunch was right.
“The scrape line was in there towards the end of last season and the fresh scrapes from this season led to same draw.”
Using sign from years past can help you predict what either the same buck or other mature bucks are likely to do this season and beyond.
“The deer where definitely in that draw. Both ridges showed buck sign so I found a tree in the draw to hunt as a Pinch Point Travel Corridor.”
If you remember November 18th you may remember why you stayed home that day. It was hot and windy, 30- 40 mph windy to be exact. Harmon knew the bucks would be in thicket bedded up that morning and the wind would certainly cover the noise and scent of his intrusion so close to their bedding..
“I walked in at grey light and spooked a deer before making it to my tree. After climbing in and getting settled a doe showed up just a few minutes later. An hour or so passed and 2 bucks came in. 1 buck spooked as he got downwind of me. The other buck was startled at the spooked buck’s reaction and that’s when I spotted him. He looked up and saw me. He spun and in the middle of his motion I drew. It all happened so fast. Upon him getting to where he was quartering away I shot. The buck took the shot 90 yards and collapsed.”
Harmon credits his undeniable and consistent success to paying attention to the details. He had never seen this deer nor had any pictures of him. Harmon picked 1 buck from the summer and was hunting him. He told us finding 1 deer to target allowed him to learn the behavior and proximity of other mature bucks in the area.
Harmon’s buck weighed 220 lbs, scored 149 7/8″, has 12 scoreable points and was 4 1/2 yrs old.
Bow: Blackwidow PSA III
Broadhead: Simmons Tigershark
Stand: New Tribe Arrow Hunter Kestrel
Essentials: First Lite Fusion Camo, HCB Bowstrings
Sitting here this afternoon mid-October, 25’ up in a tree in a lock-on deer stand, I am thinking about how far I have come in all aspects of hunting and bow hunting. For the most part without a teacher, mostly trial and error other than what I can glean from the experts I gravitate to. I have come a long way, the hard way – from becoming an expert with my bow to reading the woods and signs and stand placement and scent control and, as important as anything, to be able to tolerate being more than 8 or 10 feet high. Judging from the times I get busted as one measure of my progress I know I have yet a long way to go!
The stand height is clearly a big deal but so are the other aspects. Seems like every serious bow hunter I know of considers 25’ to be the minimum for both concealment and scent control and even at that, a fat old doe will see you in a flash if not concealed in cover. Just this morning I was hunting an old 15’ ladder that was in the wrong place and that I moved this summer but did not know how it would look in the fall. It was primarily a gun stand but I wanted to set it up so you could actually bow hunt out if it. Only reason I hunted it was that it was quick and easy to find in the dark and I did not want to disturb the woods in the pre-dawn darkness going into my lock on which went through prime deer feeding area. So I sat and proceeded to have 3 groups of deer get on top of me including a 8 point inside of 15 yards and I could not manage a shot. I was in the thick canopy with no lanes and completely open on one side and a tangle of vines on the other. Couldn’t move for fear of being seen and the ladder did not facilitate turning and shooting behind the tree – 15’ felt like eye level. In fact the vines and twigs actually got caught up in my cam when I was trying to draw on the buck, preventing the cam from rotating. The deer was standing there not ten yards away broadside unaware but it was not to be. So here was one more thing in a long list of things to consider. As I consider all the mistakes I have made over 30+years bow hunting I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I read a guys comment saying we try to get ‘less bad’, that there are no great bow hunters, only ‘less bad’ ones… this resonates perfect with me! Some day I may make a long list of all the mistakes I have made. I’m sure I remember each of them!! I imagine I am in pretty good albeit quiet company – my guess is that for every skilled and accomplished bow hunter posting pics on Louisiana Bowhunter of mature bucks killed there are 100, maybe 500 of us, who are still trying to figure it out, and that’s OK! That’s a big part of the appeal and pleasure of it!
Bow hunting has not been a year round obsession and passion for me except for this last year or two when I had the desire and time to devote to getting better. I have gone 5 or 10 yrs at a time without even hunting as we concentrated during one period of time for one example on scuba diving and fishing and spear fishing on our Hatteras in the gulf year round. But bow hunting has taken hold of me now and I am craving skill and experience and success and enjoying the pursuit immensely. I will share some thoughts on the similarities between spearfishing the oil rigs in the gulf and bow and arrow hunting deer soon….very similar and equally thrilling!
I remember my first mistake and it is still gut wrenching to think about. It may have been about my first bow hunting experience. Jackson and I had joined a cruddy little hunting club right before the season started, maybe it was a couple of hundred to join. This was the kind of club where in the rare case when somebody actually killed something, the 12 or 15 members would all join in the cleaning and divvy up the deer, each member (including the hunter) getting a tiny chunk of deer meat to take home. The club had a few stands anyone could get in. The president took me to a spot he felt really good about. It was one of those ‘board in the fork of a live oak’ type stands about 10’ high with a couple of spikes in the tree. He showed me where he had smeared peanut butter on a log about 20’ in front of the tree and explained how much the deer loved peanut butter. Of course I lapped up this cheap talk and had enthusiastic visions of what was about to happen. Well on my first bow hunt I get up the tree and am sitting there admiring the view and imagining a fatty coming by to lick the peanut butter. Literally not 5 min into the hunt I hear a sound, a nice fat spike was coming up right behind me easing along. Right behind me, then under me, then right in front. Only problem was I had not nocked an arrow nor put on my release and there was zero cover between me and the deer. Of course the deer never paid a lick of attention to the peanut butter and eased right on out of my world. I was sick and I was only barely getting started. I was (and still am) destined to be sick a lot over things ‘not to be’.
The thought about bow hunting we had when I was getting started was that it extended the deer (meaning doe) season. We planned out our hunting times around when the ‘doe days’ were, maybe there were 6 or so of them? Now with does available for most of the whole Oct-Jan time period it was on! Remember it was a different world 30 years ago. Seems ancient in comparison to now – this was before the PC was invented, or the internet, or email or cell phones or smart phones, or digital cameras let alone game cameras, or electronic maps, or outfitters or TV hunting shows or personalities, or managed ranches or high fences or QDM, or scent free soap/detergent/clothes, or the general pre-occupation with antlers. 32gb SIM cards for $40 were not even a gleam in the distance – would have been unthinkable a few years ago. There were no skilled young hunters like we see today, making use of vast amounts of technology and the instantly available collective experience of thousands and thousands of hunters. There were very few deer in comparison to today. People generally believed spikes were inferior deer with bad genes and should be shot on sight as a service. It seems hard to imagine I know.
We had little interest in bucks and didn’t think they were in the cards for us but the chance to shoot some does which were comparatively plentiful seemed really appealing and more realistic. In fact it has only been until recently that, when it came to bow hunting, it was not ‘shoot the first legal deer you see’. Killing one with a bow, as casual-at-best bow hunters with mediocre skills, hunting with little scouting on the kinds of varied properties we have hunted where you have limited access, has always seemed like a monumental accomplishment and does were more than good enough. There is still nothing easy under the conditions we hunt, about killing a fat old doe with a bow – maybe for some but not for everybody. Fatness (or body size) was the virtue we were impressed with, not antlers. We wanted to be able to enjoy the fruits of the labor on the table!
Generally we believed the only ones who ever killed mature bucks did so by pure dumb luck – certainly not an intentional thing. Like the guy riding his 4-wheeler and noticed one standing in the woods, or the guy standing up in his ladder smoking a cigarette and a jumbo happens by. Or the guy who gets down out of his box stand to relieve himself and here comes the big rack, etc. We literally did not know a soul who understood, appreciated and targeted only mature bucks back then, as is common today – I think what we see today is a relatively new phenomenon.
But back to the beginning –
My main hunting partner before Jackson had always been my brother Scott. We were intrigued by the prospect of bow hunting since it seriously lengthened the season. So we would do it! Only problem was I had just closed a business and had no job and no money for a bow. Scott stepped up and said ‘I got this!’ We went and picked out the most basic entry-level Bear bow they made and a few aluminum arrows. About $100 and we started trying to figure out how to shoot; which was no small feat. In those days bows, peeps, pins, arrows, releases, everything was crude by comparison to today. There were no real shops or ranges to learn in. We managed to improve I think. Even if we couldn’t hit the bullseye we’d agree, “That would be a dead deer.” Heard that before? Famous last words of guys destined to wound a lot of deer. I can’t imagine a serious bow hunter today who would be satisfied if his best shooting from 20 yards was 6” groups.
In those days it was mostly public wildlife management areas like Sherburne. (Spelling and pronunciation varies based on your geographic origin) So the first climbing tree stand I invested in was a first generation API steel contraption. This thing was so unsteady and I was so afraid of heights that once I started getting up about 8 ft I’m thinking ‘this looks good’. Scott, who was a lineman for the cable company and was up and down poles all day, would get up 20’ in his climber. That looked impossible to me. My thought was that I was gonna have to figure out how to kill them without getting anything like that high. If I saw a deer trail I would get about 8’ up in a tree right smack on the trail to give me a nice close 5-10 yd shot…….once in a while I actually saw one, or more accurately, saw the butt-end white-flagging of one. (It was not until the last couple years when I began using my modern Muddy safety harness, in combination with either sticks and lock-ons or the Aluma-lite by Ole-Man that I got comfortable much higher up and it has made all the difference).
So with my bow and loud, squeaky and heavy climber, into the woods I’d go. Not a thought about scent control. I’d pick a tree based on whatever under standing I had at the time of deer behavior and for the most part wouldn’t see a thing. Meantime brother being up 20’ with better skills was seeing deer, and shooting at them, but missing them left and right.. Among the many problems looking back was that we never practiced from an elevated position and we knew little if anything about tuning Thunderhead broadheads and our mostly seriously imperfect aluminum arrows. We had so much to learn.
One of the things that has helped me get the most out of my life is not being afraid to be a beginner. If you are going to learn anything new you are not going to come out of the blocks with fully formed and mature skills. You are going to be a beginner, clumsy and confused and over whelmed and self conscious – I’ve been all of those things many times. Want to learn how to play golf well? Get ready for a humbling. Likewise snow skiing, or any other serious but wonderful endeavor. Being compulsive and competitive I have craved getting better and breathing the rare air with the guys I saw who were at the top – whether deer hunting with bow or otherwise, or snow skiing, or tennis or golf, or scuba diving and spear fishing, or cooking or vegetable gardening or a million other pursuits, as I like just about everything on the buffet of Life Experiences. I start as a beginner and suffer through the myriad of beginner mistakes and with insane intensity learn fast and achieve a reasonable level of skill and expertise. I am drawn to the people at the top of whatever I am trying to learn and for a season I feel really outclassed like all these seasoned bowhunters posting their pics on Louisiana Bowhunter. I soak up information and work as hard at it as anybody, day and night, and pretty soon, considering where I came from, usually can achieve some success. This comparatively small buck I shot this year on Oct 3 was years in the planning and literally no telling how many thousands of hours of prep and practice went into getting ready for him to appear, and when he did I pulled off the shot in spite of massive heart palpitations, and it was the greatest hunting thrill to date for me.
Bow hunting is a formidable, humbling undertaking particularly when you start passing does and yearlings and trying to set up on and wait for bucks – I bet I have been blown at 50 times this year by mature bucks and old does, over and over, but at least I am getting in close proximity. In one hole, they had blown me so many times in my lock on, they would not even approach without wind checking me, so I hung a second stand on the opposite side of the hole leaving the first one in place, trying to trick them – well they got down wind of me in the new stand the first time I hunted it and I got blown three times that afternoon. So it goes. One thing for sure I have learned – to scout pressured property you do not own, trying to identify deer patterns with ‘hurry-up’ scouting and set up on them and hunt and kill mature bucks with a bow requires immense skills and dedication over many years. These guys that do it do not rely on luck and I want to be like them. I love the challenge of getting better! But I also love hanging out for hours and hours in the trees enjoying my thoughts and imagination and relishing all you see and hear – so if nothing happens I could not be happier. I know my time is coming and I am happy learning and adjusting and growing in skill and experience, the long, slow, hard way. And, like I heard said, I am learning to consider it a successful hunt if I do not get blown at.