LABH Blog: Spring Time Bass in the Bow Woods

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!

  • Mark A. Wilson

Spearfishing and Bowhunting

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.

The Inclination

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!

The Similarities

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!

Game On

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.

 

LABH Blog: A Lifetime of Firsts

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!!

My climbing spikes

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.

 

  • Mark A. Wilson

LABH Exclusive: Lost Tensas Buck Goes Home

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!

LABH Blog: Zen, and the Art of Bowhunting

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

 

 

 

 

LABH Exclusive: Trad Hunter has Mature Bucks Figured Out

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.

 

Harmon’s Equipment

Bow: Blackwidow PSA III

Broadhead: Simmons Tigershark

Stand: New Tribe Arrow Hunter Kestrel

Essentials: First Lite Fusion Camo, HCB Bowstrings

LABH Blog: You Gotta Start Somewhere

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.

 

  • Mark A. Wilson, Baton Rouge, LA

LABH Blog: Lost and Found

Everybody who has hunted any length of time has unforgettable memories and stories seared into their mind and heart.  Maybe these experiences were in the duck blind or deer camp, and maybe with loved ones now gone from view.

A few years after that ‘inauspicious’ introduction to deer hunting described in last weeks blog entry, Jackson and I had learned quite a lot about deer hunting, and had matured into Louisiana Bowhunters. We had taken a number of mature bucks as we grew in skill and experience.

Even as a very young guy Jackson had a gift for killing mature deer. ‘What you learn early you learn best’, right?  We attributed it to beginners luck the first few years, telling him he didn’t yet have that “grown man stink”.  We told him ‘he still smelled sweet like a young boy’!  As you can imagine he loved hearing that.   

By the time he was about 14 he was in full competition with me about everything, not just hunting.  It was the classic way a young buck harasses the big 8 point, constantly needing to prove himself equal if not better.   At 14 Jackson knew everything about everything and certainly didn’t want or need any further instruction from me, thank you very much! So this was all a little amusing if not irritating and sets the stage for the most memorable and intense experience I have ever had in the woods.

Jackson and I arrived mid-afternoon for a long weekend at our family property and camp near Angie, LA.  We quickly scooted into the woods as you do to check for deer sign under the white oaks and pick our trees and place our climbing stands.  He picked his tree and we walked another 400 yards and I picked a spot and put my climber on the tree, so we could sneak in quiet in the morning.

We loved to get into the woods and up the tree well before first light, to let the woods settle.  So we got an early start the next morning.  We walked together to the place where we would separate, Jackson going his way and me the other. We said our goodbyes and wished each other good luck and each went into stealth mode.  I had at least 400 yds to walk along an overgrown logging road and crept along very slowly in the pitch black as quiet as I could be.  I didn’t care if it took 30 minutes to cover the distance, I did not want to crack a branch and alert the deer of my entrance into their woods.  I got to my tree and as slowly and quietly as I could possibly move, I ratcheted up the tree.   Finally I got up and settled into the blackness. I felt like I had gotten in as quietly as possible.  Ahhhh… all was calm, all was quiet, my favorite time of the morning.

All of a sudden, the black silence was shattered… from a distance I heard Jackson’s faint voice, ”DADDY!!! HELP!!!”  My heart stopped.  To this day the memory of this shatters me.   In those same woods where I had just methodically crept along, silently avoiding even crunching a dry leaf, I stood up and leaned his way and screamed into the blackness, hoping he could hear me….”JACKSON!!! I’M COMING!!!”

I flew down the tree without regard for anything but getting my feet on the ground and managed not to kill myself.  I turned on a light and took off bounding.  I can still remember how scared I felt.  I’d stop every few feet and scream, “JACKSON I’M COMING!!!”  I couldn’t imagine what had happened but I knew it wasn’t good.   I assumed he had fallen out of the tree.  Half way to him I stopped and screamed, “JACKSON!”  He screamed back, “DADDY!”   I could now zero in on the sound.

Finally I got close and then got to him.  Jackson was standing in the middle of a thicket turned around and lost.  That panic, that can and does happen to any of us when we get sure enough lost in the woods, had gotten in his mind.  I grabbed him so relieved he was ok. He was embarrassed as he told me he had lost his way and had gotten turned around and couldn’t find his tree.  “No problem Jackson. Thank you for calling for me, so happy you called for me Jackson” – those words didn’t even begin to convey how grateful I was that he would call on me like that in his time of distress, and that I could be there for him.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming Daddy”,  he said, a little sheepish.  Being vulnerable and needing me like that was definitely not part of his teenage persona of false bravado and emerging independence.

(That word “daddy” is such a powerful word to me….having lost my dad early and traumatically, I could barely utter the word, it would get stuck in my throat.  When Jackson would call me “daddy” it would thrill me and for a moment the grief that was always present in me would be diminished and I would feel full and happy and blessed.)

Together we found his tree and I watched him ratchet up as first light was ascending.  All was well.  We said our goodbyes again and so I headed back towards my stand.  However, this time I went without any regard for stealth or silence, plus it was plenty light.  I just clomped through the woods aware something big had just happened and that I would not be the same from this point forward.

I got back up my tree, sweating. Then the tears and snot came as I considered how happy I was, how moved, how relieved, and what a big deal it was to be called on by Jackson, to be able to answer the call, and to share that moment of trust and vulnerability and intimacy.  There is no way Jackson could know then or now what it meant to me to hear that scream and to be able to be there for him.  He couldn’t know how far and wide I would go for him.   He blessed me and honored me in ways I am sure he cannot comprehend.   The feelings I sat there with in that tree considering all this were overwhelming to me and remain so to this day.

Though not a religious man, the metaphor of Father and Son, and God and His Creation, was not lost on me and as I sat in the tree. I considered was it possible that God felt just as happy to be called on by us, His Creation, in our distress, as I had when my son called on me?  Who was the more blessed, the father or the son?  Both equally?  In that moment, alone in the tree, I understood these things, and more. Doors opened for me. There have been a few times in my life where I have been lost in the brambles, calling out,’Help me, I’m Lost!’  I think I understand more now about how the Creator responds to our distress.

Hunting and Fishing has provided Jackson and I a context, a setting, an opportunity of time and place to experience and know each other, and the natural world. To learn respect and reverence and balance, and observe the perfection in all things.  You  just never know how things are going to go.  By some miraculous twist of fate it turns out we both got deer that morning.  I don’t know how, as we had surely lit up the woods, but you truly never know.

 

 

Mark A. Wilson    Baton Rouge, LA

 

 

 

LABH Blog: Late Bloomer

Each of us travels our own distinct path in becoming Louisiana Bowhunters, some more direct paths than others.  This is my path, and the beginning of my story as a bow hunter.

Born in Bogalusa, LA and raised in the 60’s, what little hunting we did was on a piece of family property in the Pearl River swamp.  Decades of over-hunting left very few deer and I was thrilled growing up if we killed a squirrel or a rabbit.  A deer seemed mythical and unimaginable.  Around that time, the LWLF imported a good number of re-stocking deer from Wisconsin and they, along with the local deer, have since made a great comeback as conservation measures took hold.

Once in a while the men would organize a dog hunt. They would line us up on the trail surrounding a big section of woods, a few hundred yards apart, and the dog driver would work through the property and hopefully run a deer on top of somebody.  Usually I recall a deer getting shot at 10 times or more by every one of the standers as they all took ‘hail mary’ shots at the deer running wide open through the woods.  So this was my experience of deer hunting growing up.  Futile!   And not very sexy, certainly not very stealthy and not much skill involved.  I can’t remember ever eating a piece of deer meat growing up.

I did very little hunting of any form until about 1990. I was about 36 and my son Jackson had come along. He was 6 or so.  He started pestering me to go deer hunting and with him it suddenly sounded like a great idea!  (He also wanted to go duck hunting, and we knew as much about ducks as deer, but that is a story for another day).   I mean ‘how hard can it be, really’?   I bought my first rifle, a Remington Woodsmaster 30-06 package deal for $500 on the no-interest-time-payment plan from that beautiful old Steinberg’s Sporting Goods in downtown Baton Rouge.  (A few years earlier they had let me put my homemade cypress display on the counter with my very own homemade spinner baits…the ‘Bayou Bigshot’).  Wonder how many remember Steinberg’s… like a museum store before its time, with those wood plank floors.

So off Jackson and I go deer hunting knowing less than nothing about what to do and how to do it.  We were just going to ‘figure it out’.  How hard could it be?

Our first deer hunting experience was this – on that same family property in the Pearl River Swamp, we headed out early one morning loaded down with gear and supplies to a ‘community’ homemade box stand sitting in the now famous ‘90 degree bend under the big white oak’ with intention to stay until we got one, I mean, ‘how hard can it be?’ I had Jackson wrapped up in a big comforter nestled in beside me.  I would bribe him with chunks of a Snickers bar.” Quiet Jackson. Sit still 3 more minutes and you’ll get some more Snickers!’  About every ten minutes I’d give him a piece of snickers and non-stop pleading with him to sit still and quiet.  Meantime I had a thermos of coffee, my Marlboro’s, I’m sure my own supply of Snickers.  I’d drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and every now and again, stand up in the box stand and pee over the side 15’ down.   I didn’t see any problem with that, right?   Human scent control?  That would’ve sounded like Arabic to me back then.

So this is our rather inauspicious beginnings as deer hunters…….smoking, drinking, squirming, peeing, laughing and jabbering, snacking on Snickers.  Oh and about high noon after 6 hours of this, I see three deer sneak across the trail…. bloop, bloop, bloop….. so, I jump down like a fireman out of the box stand with my rifle tearing down the trail, and think ‘I can run down to where they crossed and get a shot’.  NOT! I felt foolish, like a cartoon character, and defeated, and like maybe this was not going to be our game.

It’s a wonder guys like us ever killed anything. Most guys like us would’ve given it up right after that first trip.  It seemed to me that 95% of the deer were getting killed by 5% of the hunters and I couldn’t see any way we would ever get one.

But fortune smiled. We moved to a new house and our neighbor (Steve Clary) was one of the greatest deer hunters and woodsmen in Louisiana, if not the world.  In those years he was insane for deer hunting.   I saw him eyeballing my tractor and implements, and we quickly made a deal for me to work the land he had access to in St Francisville, LA, and in turn he would let us hunt with him (and teach us a few things).

So at the ripe age of 38 I manage to shoot my first deer and it was one of the happiest days of my life. I still shake thinking about it now.  I was found, had come into my own!  I remember every detail and I am 62 now.   Jackson got his first one when he was 9 (and with his bow when he was 11).  So I learned late and he learned young, but learn we did as partners every step of the way!  We moved to bows and arrows very quickly and have loved every minute of it.   For a few years we did indeed take some serious revenge on the deer and venison became a staple of our diet.   We have truly been blessed in these intervening years and have managed to get into that 5%!

… and that’s how we became to call ourselves a Louisiana Bowhunter!

 

  • Mark A. Wilson (Baton Rouge, LA)

Early Season Rattling Success

I know a lot of people who use rattle bags or antlers to rattle in bucks during the rut. However, most of the people I talk to have very little success rattling. I prefer using a rattle bag over actual antlers, mainly due to it being compact and lightweight. It’s also easy to put down if a deer comes in. The bag I use is an OLD Knight and Hale rattle bag that I bought because I liked the sound of it. I don’t like it when the tone is too low and it sounds like two 180″ deer are fighting with heavy massed antlers. Your average buck isn’t going to want to tackle something that sounds like that. I like a “medium to high” tone in my rattling calls, because it sounds like younger bucks.

I have the best luck rattling in the first three weeks of October. Yes, even in the Louisiana heat. This is fairly surprising to most hunters, since it is usually still in the mid to upper 90’s for a high. I attribute this early season luck to bucks still running together in bachelor groups so there is more sparring going on early than any other time of year. Come November/December they’re no longer sparring. They’re actually fighting for a reason and many bucks just don’t want to fight so they’ll turn and leave, unless they’re just curious or rut crazed hoping to steal a doe. I have rattled bucks in during late season but not as often as I have in the pre-rut. I think the biggest keys to having rattling success are having a buck in ear shot, how you rattle, and the timing and location.

Most of the time on TV, you see people bashing the horns together in a knock down drag out “I’m gonna kill you” type of fight. I don’t necessarily think that’s the wisest approach when it comes to rattling, especially here in Louisiana. In south Texas or Missouri or locations with higher populations and less pressured deer, I’m sure it works well. However, it does not produce as often (never for me actually) as a less aggressive style of rattling. I’ve hunted bucks specifically for the past 8-10yrs and that’s put me in areas with a higher concentration of bucks. What I mean by saying I hunt bucks is that I am not simply just trying to fill tags. I am scouting out specific deer to hunt during the summer and focusing on those bucks throughout season. The benefit to this is it has put me in areas that bucks like to frequent and by default put me in the vicinity of more bucks. Because of this, I’ve been privileged to hear one or more fights throughout season for the past  several years. These experiences have allowed me to hear what a fight actually sounds like.

I’ve never heard a constant, “clang clang clang crash clang clack clang!!” like you see on television while watching a buck fight. You have to think about what deer are doing when they fight. They aren’t putting their horns together and shaking their heads like a bull dog with a ragdoll. Ninety percent of the fight, they are pushing their body weight into each other. You only hear the horns click when they are shifting their weight to get better footing. It’s mostly antlers grinding against each other, then a click of antler, then a long pause of silence (because they’re pushing), then another click click, then another long pause. And it will often last ten straight minutes or more. This is what I try to mimic when I rattle.

During the early season, don’t include many, if any, vocalizations. Just start rattling. Later in the year as the rut kicks in, start off your sequence by throwing in some grunts and maybe a snort wheeze. Regardless of the time of year, I rattle for 5 to 15 minutes straight every time. However, it is a very “laid back” rattling sequence. Click click-pause for 20seconds, click -pause for 10secs, click click click- pause for 30secs (something along these lines) real easy and non aggressive. Sometimes I will wait for a minute or more before I click my “horns” together again. It shouldn’t really disturb the woods around you much if you rattle like this. Birds and squirrels should still be out and about doing their thing and not running for the nearest cover. I’ve had does walk up while I was rattling and never act alarmed. Bucks usually walk in cautiously, but on occasion (usually in the rut) they’ll run in. Bucks are more likely to come in out of curiosity than out of wanting to fight, especially in the early season. They’ll often show 20 minutes after you’re through rattling, because they took their time closing the distance. Keeping it low key will lessen the chances of spooking the buck before he gets in range.

Wait to rattle until 1.5-2 hours after daylight or before dark. Bucks are on their feet more often during these daylight hours than any other time of day, so you will have higher odds of a buck hearing you. Areas with freshly hit scrapes are great places to rattle from since typically numerous bucks work the same scrape. Another great location is inside the edge of thickets in places where deer cannot see as far. If you decide to rattle in open timber, employ the help of a decoy. This will often help seal the deal. Otherwise, a buck will stop once he can see the location you are rattling from. If he does not see another deer, good luck getting him to come any closer. Once a buck is headed your way, you need to be able to read the deer to know what to do next. Generally it is best to quit rattling once the buck commits. If he hangs up, then a few low grunts or a snort wheeze will often draw him closer. Experience is the best teacher to know how to handle each scenario. Next time you decide to wake the woods with the clash of antler, take a moment to try this subtle approach. You may be surprised at what may come slipping through the brush.

Harmon’s Equipment List

Bow- Blackwidow PSA III

Stand- Muddy Vantage

Camo- First Lite Fusion

Essentials- Simmons Tiger Shark Broadheads, HCB Strings, Black Eagle Deep Impacts, Knight & Hale Rattling Bag

 

Harmon Carson- LABH Contributor (Haughton, LA)

@bayoubowhunter