Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Muzzleloader Elk Hunt: The "Luck" of 13, Part 2

After a rough start, things were starting to look up!  Forecasts were even showing a short relief from the nearly 2 months of rain!

Out scouting
Phil not only told me where to find the bull, he offered to take me there, to a spot I had never hunted on the mountain where I grew up.  I met Phil just 3 days before the hunt, before daylight.  The morning again greeted us with showers and lightning.  It was an eerie feeling walking the trail in the dark with the lightning lighting up the darkness, followed by the bugles of what had to be about a dozen bulls each time the thunder clapped.  In no time at all we were in the thick of them.  They were fighting, pushing cows, and running everywhere.  We quickly found the herd, which was being escorted by a 350-360” bull with weak 5ths.  We ended up seeing 3  We left this group and headed to a new bugle.  
bulls of that caliber, along with raghorns.

We were back into another small group just ¼ mile from the main herd, though these were concealed in thick oak and we had trouble seeing them.  As we moved around the ridge, I looked down in the flat to see a very wide bull which was very impressive, but we couldn’t get him to turn to see his tines.  So we continued following bugles in the oak, only coming across a 340 bull that was on a determined course back to the main herd.  Now getting to be 10:00, and things quieting down, we decided it was time to go.   

 As we left the ridge and moved back to the timbered bench where the herd was the activity again picked up.  After a short discussion Phil and I decided we had better take another look.  As we came over a rise and laid eyes on the herd we were surprised to find 2 bulls we had not seen previous, 1 being a very unique bull with huge 6ths that we guessed to be over 360”.  As we prepared to leave again we heard a very odd bugle, very raspy and squeaky.  “Sounds like a young bull” I told Phil, who nodded and smiled agreeing with me.   Then he stepped forward!  It was just enough to see his front tines but in one look we had no doubt we had found a monster!  He ran a raghorn off, grabbed 2 cows, and pushed the herd back into thick timber and out of site.  It was a quick look, but we knew this bull was well over 380”!  We had found exactly what I wanted, I was elated, and it was time to go!  I didn’t want to mess this up.  

The "very wide" bull we saw during the scouting trip.  With only a glimpse I wasn't sure we would see him again.  This photo was shared on Facebook a few weeks after the hunt (courtesy of Tines Up)
The next 2 days were spent packing gear and moving camp 45 minutes away to be closer to the location I was to hunt.  I had a very large group lined up to join me, but as the hunt started on a Wednesday it turned out that only Zach could make it, although we had at least 6-8 people coming in for the weekend.  A colder storm was also on the way, which I was happy for.  The rain had ceased, and now the warm before the storm had me fearful of the herd moving higher again.  Surely if this happened cooler weather would bring them back. 

Taken at "the pond" the night before the opener.
Zach and I arrived the day before the hunt, set up camp, and headed for the bench that evening to see if they were still there.  As we made our way in, we almost made a very fatal mistake as we topped a ridge and I found myself staring at a cow not 60 yards away, bedded down in aspen!  I quickly dropped to the ground, pulling Zach down with me.  We sat in silence and heard nothing.  I peeked over the brush to see her still lying in her bed, staring in the opposite direction.  She hadn’t seen us!  We eased out and circled around to the pond, sitting above it on the ridge, waiting for that magical hour.  As we sat there I will forever remember Zach saying, “This would be an awesome place to shoot an elk”.  Right he was!  Open meadow and the pond just 100 yards below us, tons of shooting lanes.  The two main trails in also flanked our location, giving more options for a shot as they came in and out of water.  It was perfect, but I was sure we would kill on the bench to the south where everything had been.  As darkness came the herd did come out.  We were shocked to only find a 330” 6 point, not a bull we wanted at all.  As our hopes sank, we heard several more bulls start to move in, bugling as they did so, coming up the hill to the west of us.  We didn’t have enough light tonight, but we hoped they would remain until morning.

Opening morning, what a thrill!  I am actually surprised I slept very well.  Everything was ready, and everything was perfect!  Arriving to our “trailhead”, we were greeted with a steady southwest breeze; perfect for covering our approach.  The start had seemed to all align.  So I thought!

The hike consisted of ½ mile of making a steady, easy climb through a bit of oak brush, then into a bowl of dead and down aspen, followed by the short climb to the bench.  As we topped the first ridge of oak we began to hear their bugles, though not nearly as actively as when Phil and I had come just 3 days previous.  We also heard a couple of bugles behind us, very close to the truck which really made us scratch our heads for a bit.  After a brief discussion we decided to press on.  “Probably lone bulls, small stuff”, Zach said.  I agreed.  There was more concentrated ahead of us, at least 3 bulls.  So we began to make our way into the aspen patch.  We were no more than ¼ of the way into the stand when we heard him scream.  He was within 200 yards!  It was a complete surprise; we had not seen them here before nor seen much sign here.  It wasn’t the strange bugle Phil and I had heard, but it was a good, deep, mature bugle.  We had to get a look.

As we pressed forward cautiously light came to the aspen stand.  It was a minefield of dead and downed logs!  Although wet from rain, the aspen branches were still snapping, and the logs echoing a hollow “thud” when struck.  We were doing well, and the wind was in our favor.  Zach motioned me to stop, and pointing ahead I could see a couple of cows working towards us.  I hate to say it, but I began to shake.  Twelve years of waiting began to surface in nervousness and anxiety, something I swore I would never allow to happen to myself.  I tried my best to breathe deeply, and began to coach myself on what I needed to do.  More cows began to appear, at least 15 now.  This was the largest herd I had seen for months; surely this bull was a giant.  More cows, 20-15 now.  We could hear the bull running back and forth behind them, screaming responses back to the 2 bulls to the south of us.  We waited eagerly, but patiently, knowing if we moved the cows would see us as easily as we could see them.  

After what seemed like an eternity he finally came crashing down the hill.  “There he is, but just hold tight until we know” Zach advised.  “What do you think?” I asked him.  “Well, it’s not as big as what you described, I don’t think you want this bull” he responded.  Then he was back up the hills chasing cows.  “Yeah, he’s not huge, alright, but not huge” Zach stated.  “I would like a look, and then we can go check out those other bulls”.  Zach agreed, and we pressed closer slowly.  All we could get was glimpses of the bull over the next 15 minutes.  We had left our packs, and we were crawling and picking our way; he was staying just out of reach.  Finally, with cows only 40 yards away he came at us.  That’s when we finally got a glimpse of his frame.  “I don’t know; I may want that bull Zach” I nervously told him.  “Yeah, he’s bigger than I thought” he replied, “Wide…but I’m just not sure on the mains”.  As we discussed the bull we knew his fronts were good, but he lacked a bit on the 5ths.  Everything else seemed to be there, although his 3rds were by no means huge.  We were taking a guess at 350-360”, not nearly as big as the bull Phil and I had seen that was knocking on the door of 400”.  After our discussion, we decided to break away to go see the other bulls, but in my heart I didn’t want failure; I didn’t want “tag soup” as I had seen others do, and I thought maybe I should just do it.  So I was still looking for the bull to stop and for a shooting lane as we moved away.
As we backed out we were greeted by 5 head of cattle!  Well, we weren’t going that way, or they would run and ruin everything.  So we started off to the north to make a wide circle of the herd of elk.  As we did so we looked up to see a doe and fawn moving straight down towards us.  Our last option was to move between the cattle and the elk to the south, which was risky.  Just as we looked to do this a satellite bull was walking towards us right down that path.  We were pinned from every possible direction now!  I had never had this happen before.  Our only option was to be still and wait it out.  It didn’t work.

The doe and her fawn continued to move in, and at less than 10 yards she caught wind of us.  The two bounded off, the thumping of their hooved shattering the morning silence.  The bull gathered the cows and moved them up the ridge.  This was a blessing in disguise!  It finally afforded me my best look at the bull though he didn’t stop to allow a shot.  Zach and I had now changed our minds, and I told him this bull would do!

We knew they hadn’t seen us or winded us, and as expected they stopped at the ridgetop, back up on the bench and went back to feeding and bugling.  In a perfect spot now, we circled north and pushed in slowly using the wind to our advantage.  We were within 5o yards, he was screaming right behind a patch of oak and it was just a matter of sneaking in for the shot!  That’s when the satellite bull reappeared, walking broadside across our path not 30 yards in front of us, yet again, he hadn’t seen us!  We gave him plenty of time, and it sounded like he was well below us now, so we began to sneak in to seal the deal.  We barely covered 10 yards when I looked down the hill in pure shock!  The satellite bull had circled back and was staring right at me.  AS soon as we both realized what was going on, he was up the hill in a hurry, crashing through the timber as loud as could be.  Instantly, we heard the rest of the herd begin to thunder away.  I rounded the oak patch to see the back end of the bull in a blur, as he pushed his cows into timber and was gone.  We followed them to a ridgetop where we stopped to think.  They were nowhere in sight.  Just as we began to discuss breaking off and heading to the other bulls we heard a bugle up the ridge in spot we hadn’t heard anything all morning.  They’re at the pond!” Zach whispered, and without hesitation we both began to retrace our path up the ridge to the north that we had hiked the night before.  “I think it’s them, I don’t think it’s a new bull” Zach whispered as we hiked quickly up the trail.  “I think they made a circle to the west and stopped at the pond”.  They hadn’t seen what spooked them, so it made sense.  The satellite bull had not joined them; so maybe, just maybe they would stop again.  

As we topped the ridge and approached the big ponderosa pines where we had sat the night before Zach pulled up his glasses exclaiming “there he is”!  I was below him on the side hill.  All I could see was cows pushing up the draw in front on me, and into the oak disappearing.  Again, my heart sank; he was going to be gone soon.  I looked up at Zach who was pointing down below me.  There he was in the open meadow just starting up the trail, which would lead to a perfect shooting lane.  As he climbed the trail, I moved towards short oak looking for a rest.  I found one, a small forked branch that worked for me.  “There he is, shoot him!” Zach whispered.  Zach cow called and stopped him; the bull was facing me, a shot I wasn’t comfortable taking with my muzzleloader.  Zach looked at my rest, “What the hell are you doing, come up here and shoot him!” he begged.  I was hesitant; worried my movement would spook him.  He had his eyes on us.  He started to move again and rather to chance moving and having no time for a shot I took my rest in the oak again.  Zach hit the cow call and stopped him in his tracks yet again, this time broadside.  The last thing I heard from Zach was “165 yards”.  I placed the Vortex "Strikefire" red dot right behind the shoulder, opting against raising the dot by compensating with the distance in elevation drop and fired a quick shot!  

Smoke filled the air in front of me and I lost sight of the bull for a moment, and then saw him run out of the smoke cloud to the left.  I was sure I muffed the shot.  “Did I get him?” I asked Zach.  “Dude, you smoked him”!  Just then the bull stopped, began to squat back on his hind legs, his legs shaking, then took a giant lunge forward and crashed into a patch of oak out of sight.  It was over in about 30 seconds, but that span of time from the shot to "bull down" seemed more like a half hour to me as I wasn't going to rest easy until I knew for sure he wasn't moving.  I let out a loud wail of excitement which was immediately followed by a holler from Zach who was running down the hill to tackle me.  It was the best feeling of hunting accomplishment I had ever had, my body shaking, tears close to my eyes as we high fived and slapped backs over a job well done!

We made our way down to the bull, picking up the blood trail where the bull had began to wobble before his last lunge.  The blood trail was amazing, one like I had never seen before.  We trailed it from there a short 30-40 yards, finding him just 70 yards from where I had shot him and feet from the pond.  Zach was right the night before, it was a very good spot to kill a bull; it was perfect!  We spent the next half hour taking pictures, sending a text or 2 out to family and friends, and then we went to work preparing him for an easy ½ mile pack out. 

 The damage of the Barnes Expander MZ
The job the Barnes Expander MZ did was simply amazing, textbook even.  The well placed double lung shot had an entry hole more than the size of a quarter!  The bullet had stopped just behind the hide on the opposite side; the damage to the vitals more than I had hoped for.  I have so much confidence in the MZ coupled with Blackhorn 209 powder (120 grains) that I will continue to use the match on future game with my muzzleloader, although I'll opt for a bit lighter grain bullet (and powder amount) for deer.

When we had the bull packed out to our ATV’s and the head secured to the 4-wheeler, we began to really grasp his width.  “How wide is a 4-wheeler?  Zach asked.  “Well, most are 48” I laughed.  The bull stuck out on both side of the ATV by a good distance.  Back in camp a measurement confirmed, 54” outside spread, 49” inside.  “Widest bull I’ve ever seen” Zach commented.  As for the rest of him, his mains were a little short, just as we suspected, at about 52” each.  Good fronts, a bit weak in the 5ths, but this unique bull grossed out at 354”, which I was very pleased with.  

This will always live in my memory as one of my favorite hunts.  Although only a 2 hour hunt, I will always cherish the memories I made that day with Zach, although we did catch a lot of flak from the others that planned on coming that weekend!  It also started a trend for our 2013 hunts, as what once was a group that held out to the bitter end filled tags with great animals early in the hunt.  In fact, Zach’s deer hunt lasted only 30 minutes (a beautiful 29” wide, 170” buck) and his elk hunt lasting barely an hour.  I guess that tells you what kind of bull he harvested.  But that’s another story for another time.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 Muzzleloader Elk Hunt Part 1: The "Luck" of 13

 Well here it is, after a 2 month wait, the story of my 2013 muzzleloader bull elk.  I have submitted this story to a couple of magazines in edited form, in order to fit their specs, but I want to share the longer version here in 2 parts.  For me, just going through the emotions from the day I placed the application until the day I drew made the experience all that is was.  I think there are a lot of you out there that are waiting the 10 plus year wait to draw yourselves.  It's my hope that you can look at the emotions and preparations to take from it yourself to prepare you for your experience.  This is also an opportunity to share with you some of the pictures and video from the season's scouting as well.

I hope you enjoy it!

The wait for draw results in Utah is a long enough period of time to give an avid hunter an anxiety attack!  January’s application period to May’s drawing results available can seem like an eternity…
A 2013 prospect
As January of 2013 rolled around, I eagerly applied for all of my normal Utah hunts; desert bighorn sheep, general season deer tags for my wife and other family members, her bison tag, and of course, limited entry elk for both my wife and I.  As I finalized the application I took a second to review the summary and faced the ugly truth, it probably wasn’t going to be a very exciting year.  Of course, I had already secured my dedicated hunter tag for deer, and the family would most likely draw their general season deer tags as well, but our local deer unit has struggled over the past few years, so no need to get spooled up about deer, even though I did look forward to time with family then.  But I had to face it, 2 points for both bison and bighorn, yeah, that’s not going to happen.  Those coveted once-in-a-lifetime tags are for those with max points, somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-20 bonus points!  Then there’s elk.  We are getting ever so close, but my wife and I were both realistically 3-5 years away from drawing the tags that we wanted more than anything.  I did however decide to play the odds.  I was tired of waiting for my opportunity to hunt and I didn’t like the thought of waiting up to 6 years or possible more for the rifle tag I wanted most.  So, I instead opted for the muzzleloader tag, which seemed to be hanging right there about the 2-4 year range if current trends and numbers of applicants held true.  I also filled my wife’s application for a late season rifle hunt that also looked to hold better odds for us.

It wasn’t the easiest decision, as we all know that waiting longer to hunt elk during a season means there’s a higher likelihood of the big bulls you are after getting whacked before you have a chance to hunt, or those good bulls being busted up by fighting during the rut.  I had noticed, however that during my time hunting muzzleloader deer over the past 4-5 years (muzzy deer and elk hunts run the same dates each year) that I was consistently seeing very big bulls, and even calling them in.  In fact, I was having more fun calling elk than hunting deer quite often.  To me, the rut seemed to be in its prime during the muzzy hunt.  Elk were much more active than during archery or rifle.  This is what sold me.  I just hoped that it stayed true to form this year.  Like I had a chance of drawing anyway, so I clicked the confirmation button and rolled the dice.

Honestly, the next 3 to 4 months flew right by.  I seldom thought about the draw as I had accepted my fate.  I actually held out more hope on my wife drawing.  

As May came around, my interests in the draw began to arise once again as my hunting buddies started the discussions of how great of a season it would be, and how they held high hopes of drawing tags.  We were fairly certain my friend Zach would draw, as he was a clear front runner in bonus points for a late season rifle tag on an adjacent elk unit to mine.  We all began to wait for that time about a week before the official results were to be emailed when we could check our credit cards to see if charges had been applied.   

On May 15th at about 9 PM I found myself browsing through Facebook when I came upon a post from a friend claiming to have a charge to his card in the amount of a tag.  I thought it was way too early for this to be happening.  Curiosity got the best of me and I had to check.  Reviewing my recent transactions I found nothing at all.  My heart sank!  Why had I got all wound up about nothing?  I knew what the results would be!  Then I had a second thought; call them (Cabela’s Visa).  I anxiously waited to be connected, again, I’m not sure why, I knew the answer.  The associate answered, and I asked if he could tell me about any transactions.  He read me the same ones I knew about already.  Then I asked him if I possibly had any transactions made that had not officially posted to the account.  Silence, I could tell he was a bit confused, or something.  So I began to explain that I had applied for hunts, and I had heard that Utah transactions had begun.  As I did so he cut me off and asked if I was from Utah.  I answered yes.  Then he told me I was the 9th person to call that evening, and quickly continued that there was a charge for $285.00 that was yet to post, and he was sure that’s what I was looking for!  Initially, it was disbelief and silence.  Then I quickly thanked him for making my day, hung up the phone, and ran down the hall to tell my wife.  We had no idea which of us had the elk tag, but we had one…and the deer tags of course!  I immediately called my grandpa to share the news, and began to text friends.  My wife then told me I needed to tell my boys, who were in bed.  I nearly cried as I told my 9 year old and 7 year old that both love the adventure of hunting that we were hunting bull elk this year!  

Anxiety was killing me to get the official results; it just wasn’t happening fast enough!  I was sure it was my wife, as her odds should have been better, and I was excited either way.  My friend Zach had text back to confirm as we knew, that he had drawn his limited entry elk tag, late season rifle.  For 13 being an unlucky number, 2013 was looking to be epic!  This was adding to the anxiety.  A crazy thought came to my mind, as I wondered if I went into the application system if it would show an additional bonus point added one of us from what we had prior to the draw.  I logged into my draw history first.  My bonus point total was now at zero, and to the right it showed my last permit awarded in 2013!  I had my elk tag after a 12 year wait!

What luck!  I had drawn with 11 bonus points.  I was 1 of 2 people holding 11 points to do so, out of 12 of us.  That’s not counting the 14 people that had more points than I did.  Now it was time to get to work.

Scouting has always been a challenge for me.  After 12 years you would think a guy would want to be out scouting as much as possible, especially after late July.  I work as a wildland fire engine captain, and it’s nearly impossible that time of year as it is the height of fire season.  So scouting was a constant worry to me.  I tried to get out as much as I could, and I placed my trail cameras in places I had luck with in the past.  These cameras were turning up some amazing bulls this year, the best being a 380” 6x7, very long beamed, wide, and long tined.  Friends that were also out and about were being very helpful with sharing information.  Plus, I had a 10 day rifle hunt with a friend on the same unit that would allow me time to scout hard while helping him with a bull as well.  Well, true to form, fire season hit late in the summer, and my scouting time was next to none.  

 I did take advantage of the time I had to shoot my muzzleoader every chance I got.  I talked with several experts about different powder and bullet combinations to shoot with my .50 caliber Thompson Omega.  I tried a few out, but ultimately became very impressed with the reviews of the Barnes Expander MZ bullet (300 grain) coupled with Blackhorn 209 loose powder.  This was actually recommended by Barnes via a response to a question about what Barnes would suggest for me.  I submitted the question on Facebook and was super impressed with the fast response, links to resources, and contacts for personal review from satisfied hunters that used it.  I have been a big fan of Triple Seven pellets, so I was skeptical of the powder at first.  Upon field trial I became completely satisfied with the best groups I have ever shot with my Omega.  I had what I wanted, but continued to shoot and fine-tune until about a week before the hunt.

One thing that did excite me was the drought that had set in.  Though I initially worried about antler growth, I was actually seeing more big 360” plus bulls than I had in the past!  Less water meant that hunting a few secret wallows that I liked was going to be very possible, and these wallows were the spots I was seeing the best bulls, including the 6x7.  I shouldn’t have opened my mouth about it.  

As fate would have it, a little 2013 “luck” kicked in after all.  In August, the normal southern Utah monsoonal rains kicked in, but they didn’t stop after 2-3 weeks like normal.  It started fairly normal, and then intensified in mid-August.  Nearly 6” of rain fell over the next 3 weeks!  We had gone from a drought to a rain forest!  There was standing water everywhere, and elk had completely abandoned my wallows.  To top it off the weather had scattered herds, pushing them into grounds they typically do not frequent.  They were now scattered across the top of the mountain, a thick, flat, timbered plateau.  There was nowhere to glass and access was getting tough.  To top it off my worst fear had happened; the rut had started early this year!

The rifle hunt brought little change; the rains continued.  On the bright side, there were breaks in the storms, the rut was on, and hunting was getting good!  It was finally time to hit the hills and scout.  Over the next 10 days I was fortunate to finally start getting into elk, including several decent bulls in the 340”-360” range.  Then, with only 4 days left to hunt, while hunting with Blake we were finally presented with the opportunity of a 370-380” bull!  Well, things didn’t work out, and Blake also had 3 other chances for bulls over 360”, and several in the 350” range.  It was gut wrenching to watch Blake not tag after a 20 year wait!  He was devastated, and it had broken my morale as well.  I had now began to doubt what I thought would be fairly easy success for myself.  To add to the negativity, the rut was starting to taper off a bit.  This is when I reset my goal of a 370” plus bull to a 350” plus bull, which is still an accomplishment with a muzzleloader.

 A little scouting fun

A week later found me preparing for the hunt of a lifetime, just days before my hunt!  The rains had still not ceased, and actually intensified once again.  I found myself scouting the top of the mountain during intense downpours and lightning not turning up much at all.  Water stood everywhere, and my 6x7 had still not been seen for well over a month.  I was getting desperate and very worried.  My buddy Zach and I had located a decent bull on the west side of what was a huge unit, and I had a few 340” bulls scouted out closer to home.  Then, just 4 days before my hunt a friend called up.  “You need to call Phil as soon as he can, he’s found a bull”!  I didn’t even really know the guy, but I was so desperate I would take anything now.  There was a lot of urgency in my friend's voice for me to talk to Phil.

Just how good was this bull? 

Check back in a couple of days to find out!

Part 2:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Women in the Outdoors

I would dare guess that 90% of our viewers have heard of the fallout from the Melissa Bachman lion hunt...

However if you are unfamiliar with the story, this photo has caused quite a stir in the anti-hunting community, causing anti-hunters to go on the attack against female hunters.  Female hunters are now continually being bombarded on applications such as Facebook and Twitter, receiving hateful comments and even death threats not only to themselves, but also aimed towards family members.  On the positive side, it has also caused a call-to-arms in the hunting and outdoor community as we have rallied around the ladies in support of their actions and dedication to not only hunting, but wildlife conservation as well.  If fact, it has also become a golden opportunity to teach those that may not know the role of hunters in wildlife conservation and management as well.  in fact, take a look at this well written response from Melissa to those that have criticized her actions:

I'm not going to delve into the topic of the lion hunt further, as most of us have seen so much of the news and controversy frequent our Facebook pages, email, and news reels over the past 2 months.  But I do want to talk about women who hunt, in a different light.

About a month ago while browsing Facebook, I came across a couple of pictures of my friend Lisa Woolsey of Cedar City, Utah that caught my attention.  Lisa posed with a couple of nice looking ducks in hand, the background highlighted by falling snow, ice on the ground, and by the looks of how Lisa was bundled it was obvious it was very cold.  Now, I like to hunt about anything (including waterfowl), and I am well acquainted with hunting in the cold, but something about this picture made me shutter that day.  I found myself thinking, "nope, not me, way too cold today"!  My thoughts then turned to, "why on earth would a woman want to be out in this nasty weather"?

The night before Lisa had posted about her excitement to get out on the river hunting ducks.  The forecast was very ominous; there was a very high chance of snow, forecasters giving it close to a 80-90% chance of snow, with several weather warnings issued for the poor conditions that were approaching.  I actually had to go back and find Lisa's actual word-for-word status posted on Facebook the night before her hunt to give it proper justice:
"Since people complain so much about the snow...I'd like to say "its snowing & cold & I'm suppose to go duck hunting in the morning." Is this weather going to stop me? You bet your ass it wont!! Can't wait to dress warm and still freeze just to go out doing what I love! Hope everyone has a good & safe weekend. — feeling excited."

What do you say to that?  I found myself in complete admiration of anyone that would make such a comment about their love of the outdoors - male or female!

I thought on it more over the next week of and on.  What commitment and passion to go out in those conditions!  Then, as the Melissa Bachman drama unfolded, I also saw many negative comments hammered towards female hunting friends of mine on Facebook and Twitter.  These antis slammed these great women for turning on their nurturing, mothering instincts and responsibilities in turn "teaching their children destruction and death".  But, in the midst of the negativity I also saw a lot of other women post the question, "why would a woman want to be outside doing things like that"?

I started to think of how few women I know personally that have that kind of drive and passion for the outdoors as women like Lisa exhibited.   Fortunately for me, I realized that one I know is my wife, even though she may not be as vocal about it.  It was no surprise I knew far more women that distanced themselves from hunting than those passionate about it.  In fact, a lot of the wives of close friends and family members are the type of ladies that can't understand why anyone would like to prowl around the hills in the dirt and nasty weather conditions, "wasting" time and money to chase an animal.  As I thought about that more I thought, who better to ask than a woman herself, one that has that passion. 

It was all perfect timing.  I messaged Lisa to ask her how she would feel sharing her passion for the outdoors, and telling a little bit about why it means so much to her.  She very quickly wrote back that she was very excited to do so, and enthusiastically started sending photos along with her feelings of what the outdoors are all about to her.  I am excited today to share this very personal look into her life and love of family and the outdoors with you.

I know everything I know about the outdoors because of my dad & brothers. They are known as the Duff boys. Very well known. Since we were little whether we were skunked or scored, we would give each other a pat on the back. I try to keep up with those Duff boys. They say I do a good job for a girl. It's an honor to be in the mountain with my dad & my brothers. Hunting our legs to jelly and back to the meeting spot to see what eachother found is something to always look forward too.

I love to fish!! One of my all time favorite sports ever. It bores some people. And yes there are days you need to have a lot of patience, but even if you catch nothing I take it as a bad day fishing beats a good day working. I Love to eat fish also. Learned how to fish, gut & cook fish from my dad.

 I don't care of the weather conditions, I will do what I love and enjoy regardless. Obviously you dress for the weather. But hunting water fowl is just straight out a rush & I love the feeling of shooting at something that comes in flocks & is a smaller target just to put yourself to a test. My motto is 'aim small miss small' I love walking up to the ducks and admiring their pretty colors and duck isn't that bad to eat. Getting a duck stamp was $15 best money spent.

 Only thing that is a bummer is getting your daily limit & having to call it a day:)


Another bird I like to hunt is pine hen.  And they aren't to bad to eat. Again I like to use them as target practice for my motto aim small miss small.

 This was fun catching a wiper out of new castle trolling in the boat! It's a mix between a bass and a striper.

This is by far by favorite deer hunt ever. My last year's 4 by 5. I hit it on a dead run going up a descent size hill. I didn't think I hit him so I chased him; I wasn't letting him get away. Well the closer I got to where he was standing when I shot him there was blood so I knew he was hurt. I finally found him laying down hurt so I finished him off. And yelled of course like a girl. I love deer meat and love to find their sheds also. Deer & elk shed season is considered a holiday to me.

Me after gutting my deer. I feel you kill it... you gut it too! Unless there is someone there that just wants to help ya.

Antelope was a fun hunt but didn't take long for that hunt to get over. Only had a doe tag; one day I will draw a buck antelope.  Meat was descent not the best.

Shed hunting is considered a holiday.  It feels as if I'm a kid on Christmas seeing something they want and can't wait to play with it and show it off.  Hiking pays off to keep in shape & to get out and enjoy scenery & find sheds & arrowheads.  I love being in the mountains; its peacefully, stressfree & is closest thing to heaven in my eyes.

Can't forget about these 3 blessings in my life. My wonderful kiddos who I take hunting & fishing with me as much as I can, depending on weather and how much hiking there is to do. I grew up and was raised to enjoy the outdoors and I look back and its always one of my favorite memories so I hope my kids can get that enjoyment out of it because I want happy kids and feel they will appreciate it when they look back and do it with their own kids like a tradition.  Me & Stoney share a lot of the same hobbies which is great, but I believe if ya hunt together you stay together. Most of our best memories are out in the hills.

I want to thank Lisa for allowing us to share in this look into her life, and for sharing her love and success when it comes to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors.  What an incredible lady devoted to family and tradition!

I hope that you take the time to share this one with your friends.  My high hopes of this post is that we can share the excitement that a woman has found in the outdoors, giving us an opportunity to share it with those that may be a little confused as to what hunting and fishing is all about, or maybe those that are a little hesitant to get their toes in the water of these sports will find that bit of motivation to step up and give it a try.  

In closing, I know most of us know that a lot of what holds the ladies back from getting involved in the outdoors is the image.  I think women hunters are frequently viewed as rough around the edges, maybe a bit trashy, and lacking the class and grace that make a woman a woman.  I encourage you to take a good look around if you find yourself saying that.  Just look at these photos here today for example!  Here is a young lady, a young mother, who can hit the field and look classy doing so!  It's been a long time coming, but the outdoor clothing and gear industry is just coming around to outfitting the ladies.  Major outdoor companies such as Cabelas, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Bass Pro Shops (to name a few) have a large, growing line of clothing and gear for the ladies.  

Even apart from the outdoors, I'm sure any guy (as well as girls that already love the outdoors) can tell you, there's something to be desired and admired about a girl that can rough it in the outdoors and still get all dressed up for a night on the town.  It doesn't distract from class and gracefulness at all, it adds to it.  I for one am thankful for a wife that can rough it in the hills and still captivate my eye and and steal my attention in any formal setting (thanks babe!).  

I'd dare guess Stoney Woolsey would say the same thing about his wife, Lisa.  

And to you ladies out there representing all of us in the outdoors, keep it up!  You are great examples to all of us! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bowery Haven Resort, Fish Lake Utah

If the topic of hot fishing waters comes up in Utah, you can be sure Fish Lake will probably be making the list of comments!  OK, maybe not "hot" water in a temperature sense, since it is on of the largest, deepest natural lakes in Utah, which lies in the mountain tops of Sevier county!  However, for hot fishing it's one lake that is hard to beat!  With a great diversity of fish species, and ample abundance of feed for those fish, Fish Lake has long been known for awarding anglers with impressive numbers of fish, as well as huge trophies!  In fact, Fish Lake holds a couple of current Utah state records, and has held those records in the past for a couple of species as well.  It is also home to my biggest catch to date, an impressive lake trout or "mackinaw" I caught there on the ice a couple of years ago.

Fish Lake is much more than a fishing destination!  It's just a great all-around area for a variety of recreational opportunities all summer long.  Check out this link from a post last year to learn more about all the opportunities that abound at Fish Lake:

One of it's appeals is that it is one of the few waters in southern Utah where you will find a few conveniences such as food, lodging, and boat rentals.  When it comes to those conveniences, the Bowery Haven Resort has long been at the top of the list to round off a Fish Lake experience! 

Not long ago while browsing Facebook I came across a post with some exciting news.  A friend of mine named Brad Nielson posted his announcement that he and his wife had purchased the Bowery Haven Resort!  With his news he shared his excitement for taking over the business, and also improving the property.  As Fish Lake is one of my favorite destinations, as well as a favorite of many of our viewers, I asked Brad if he could write up a piece to share some information about himself and family, as well as what we could expect to see from the Bowery this coming season.  Brad is also one heck of a good guy, and has contributed a good deal to our site (and even won a prize or two from our contests) so I wanted to help him spread the word about his new adventure. 

Here it is, straight from Brad: 

Hello, our names are Brad and Stephanie Nielson and we are the new owners of Bowery Haven Resort at Fish Lake, UT and we couldn’t be more excited! Bowery Haven is a small fishing resort in central Utah that sits on the north end of Fish Lake, just down the road from the main Fish Lake Lodge. We offer a full service marina, boat rentals, restaurant, cabin rentals, general store, and a full hook up RV park. The resort is open from early May to the end of September and reservations for 2014 will begin January 1st. 

Things should be similar as they have been in the past. Fish Lake is home to the famous “Mack” or “Laker”, known officially as lake trout, with some weighing in over 40 pounds. Besides fishing, there are many activities around Fish Lake: hiking, biking, four-wheeling, camping, hunting, scuba diving, snowmobiling, ice fishing and more. You can check out our website at for more information. Give us a call at 435-638-1040 or shoot us an email at with any questions. We would love to see you next year, so stop on by and say hello!

You can also check out the Bowery Haven Resort Facebook page where you will find frequent updates from Brad about the resort and Fish Lake itself.  Here you will find information on the coming year's rates for a variety of items such as lodging, camping (RV), and boat rentals.

Congratulations Brad and Stephanie, we look forward to seeing you there this summer!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

First Archery Hunt

Good day friends!  I hope all of you that call Utah home are having a fun morning of digging out from the snow that covered our state overnight!  One silver lining I guess is that we have to perfect temperatures behind the storm to get our lakes freezing.  Bring on ice fishing season!

Well, we've had several trophy elk stories posted on here this year, but we have seemed to lack a bit in mule deer.  I know there was a good deal of success, so if you have a story please send it our way! 

A good friend of mine, Jessie Davis of Cedar City, Utah had another stellar hunting year when it comes to muleys!  Jessie has shared a couple of impressive bucks with us in the past, ( but this year he switched things up on us and took to the field in search of an archery buck.  Check out this awesome, very exciting and detailed story of his wife's hunt this year.

Congrats Sara and Jessie on a great hunt, and thank you so much for sharing it with all of us!

After sitting out the archery deer hunt my first year in the dedicated hunter program and just watching great bucks through a spotting scope because I didn't have a bow, I decided to get with the program and gear up for flippin' sticks.  I discussed my plans with my fiancĂ© Sara (now my wife) and she decided that a bow would be a great birthday gift for her to get for me (greatest fiancĂ© ever right?).  Not only did she decide to buy me a bow but if I was going to get into archery hunting she wanted to as well.  One February Saturday we made the trip to Sportsman's Warehouse in St. George and $1500 later we left the store outfitted with a Diamond Outlaw for me, a Bear Homewrecker for Sara, hard cases, releases, arrows and everything we needed to start out as fledgling archers. 

As the months went by we practiced with our new bows as much as time allowed and scouted for bucks to chase when August finally came.  Usually the months and weeks before a hunt pass painfully slow but this time opening weekend was coming up much faster than we were prepared for! Busy schedules prevented us from practicing as much as we would've liked and we were having problems with the peep sight rotating on Sara's bow due to the low quality strings that come stock on many bows.  Fortunately the people at Hurst Sporting Goods referred us to Craig Christiansen of Mammoth Bowstrings who put a quality string on Sara's bow and got us back in business!

Opening weekend finally arrived and I knew of a fantastic bachelor group of bucks that were hanging in an area where I scored on my best buck to date on the muzzleloader hunt two years ago.  As luck would have it, my family was going to be moving a herd of sheep right through that area on opening morning and those bucks were probably going to be buggered out of there from all the commotion.  My backup plan was to sit in a little draw where my brother had seen another good buck.  Opening morning came and went with no sign of this buck or any other deer at all for that matter.  Once we decided we were sufficiently cold and our legs were sufficiently numb from sitting motionless for so long we got up and spent the middle part of our day helping the family out with the sheep. 

After finishing our work, eating lunch and taking a nap we got back to the drawing board. Sara felt somewhat discouraged going all of opening morning and not laying eyes on a single ungulate that wasn't covered in wool.  Knowing this, I decided to try an area  that might not  be as productive for big bucks but would probably allow us to see more deer.  On our way to this place we finally started seeing deer and a few little bucks that Sara elected to pass on knowing what kind of bucks were lurking in our spots we just hadn't been able to see yet.  We were getting close to a turn-around spot when we saw three deer feeding in the aspens just off the side of the road.  Even with his head down I could tell one of the bucks was a definite shooter.  Sara hadn't seen what I had seen and she then proceeded to tell me, "one of them is a buck but he's just a teensy tiny one."  "What the heck do you mean teensy tiny?" I replied.  "That's an awesome buck! Get out, get an arrow nocked and try to get a shot!"  The Mac Daddy of this trio of bucks lifted his head and after seeing that beautiful, deep-forked 4 by 4 rack, Sara was ready to get down to business.  She slipped out of the Ranger and snuck down the road a little ways to get herself a clear shot.  I whispered to her to use her 30 yard pin and she came to full draw.  I couldn't believe it.  Her first day of her first archery hunt and Sara had a fantastic 4 point standing broadside and totally unobstructed at 30 yards!  Just as she was settling her 30 yard pin behind the bucks shoulder my worst fear happened:  he whirled around and bolted out of there into the thick quakies.

Feeling  utterly defeated we left the area with the intent of coming back again the next day to hopefully find him and get the drop on him.  I probably recounted to Sara about a dozen times how incredibly close we were and how sick I felt that it all fell apart when we were literally a second or two away from sealing the deal.  It was still fairly early in the evening and as I pondered the situation I figured that buck might not be spooked too bad and it might pay to go back and try to find him again before dark.  We aimed the Ranger back to the big guy's home and gave it a go.  We parked the Ranger and hadn't been hunting very long when we spotted three deer.  Yep! The Same group of bucks!  They were over one-hundred yards away at the time so we got into stealth mode and tried to close the distance.  The abundant rain we had that time of year made for some soft earth beneath our feet which was very beneficial for stalking.

Carefully and discreetly we inched closer and closer to the feeding bucks using whatever short trees and bushes we had between them and us for concealment.  When the bucks were preoccupied with feeding we would take full advantage of their inattentiveness and cover some ground.  As soon as a head popped up we would stop and hold statue still, barely even taking a breath.  Not long into our stalk we got totally busted by the two smaller bucks.  A feeling of helplessness washed over me and then we discussed our options once again.  We could either keep after them and likely not get a shot, or ease out of there to avoid booing them too bad and try it again in the morning.  Sara said she wanted to keep at it and if we got a shot great, if not, oh well. 

The smallest buck, a yearling spike, didn't like the situation at all and ended up silently sneaking away.  A goofy looking 3 point returned to feeding but would often glance in our direction halting our advances.  Astonishingly, the big buck we were after was completely oblivious to the fact we were there and continued feeding without a care in the world.  After awhile he even laid right down!  The closer we inched forward the more unglued the 3 point became.  I felt that at any moment he was going to blow it for us but we were still a little too far out for a shot so we had no choice but to continue pressing forward.  We finally got to a point where we had a nice open shooting lane through the trees but the big 4 was still laying on the ground and the 3 point was on pins and needles as we were standing about 50 yards from him.  We closed the distance another 5 yards and the little guy had all he could take and blew out of there.  This response from his buddy immediately caused the big 4 to jump up out of his bed but fortuitously enough for us he stood in his tracks to study the threat for a moment before bounding away.  This was the opportunity we had been waiting for all throughout this stalk: an unobstructed broadside shot at 45 yards.  This distance was at the outer reaches of the range we felt comfortable taking a shot but I knew Sara would be good for it!

I told Sara to use her 40 yard pin and hold just behind the shoulder and kind of higher up on the body to compensate for the deer being a little bit further than 40 yards.  She came to full draw took a good aim and let it rip.  Being used to the instantaneous consequences of pulling the trigger on a rifle I felt like that arrow sailed through the air for eternity.  I watched the arrow lose trajectory as it got closer and agonized over whether or not it was going to reach the buck or fall harmlessly at his feet.  It felt surreal how long this was taking.  An audible "whack" and a visual of the buck mule kicking his back feet before taking off running snapped me out of my reverie and I exclaimed to Sara that she drilled him.  After a brief moment of celebration we walked over to where the buck was standing and looked for blood.  A few minutes of searching revealed no blood, no hair, no arrow or any other indication of a hit.  We walked the direction that the buck ran for a short spell and didn't pick up any blood there either.  I replayed the image of the shot in my head and I felt like the arrow might of hit just a little bit low and a little too far back for an optimal double lung hit.  We didn't want to risk pushing a wounded buck or give him a surge of adrenaline that could possibly carry him for miles so we backed out and decided to give him a few hours to lay down and get stoged up. 

We drove the Ranger down the mountain on the Green's Lake Subdivision road into Cedar City and hooked up with my brother Dustin and told him our story.  He had some infra-red lights that are supposed to make blood glow in the dark and suggested we go up with them and try to pick up some blood that way.  Sara had taken her shot at approximately 7 pm and we got back up the mountain at close to midnight giving the buck 5 hours to expire.  We went back to the point of origin I had marked with my hat and went to work looking for blood.  We combed a lot of ground with those lights and still hadn't managed to pick up one single drop of blood.  At this point Sara started to have doubts if she even hit the buck or not.  With the nerves and adrenaline of taking the shot Sara hadn't seen what I saw or heard what I heard and wondered if maybe I had just wanted her to make the shot so bad that I was just willing myself to believe I witnessed what I said I had.  I told her I was certain she had hit the buck and we would look for it first thing in the morning light if we didn't find it tonight.  Suddenly, Sara told me to be quiet and listen.  Somewhere off in the trees we could hear the unmistakable noises of a large animal moving.  We knew there were horses in here but these sounds didn't sound like the steady, plodding movements of a horse.  It sounded like the intermittent thrashing of a struggling animal.  Still not being sure if this buck was going to be down for the count or not we decided to get a bearing on the location we were hearing the sounds from and come back at first light.  Sara and I went back to our camp and Dustin went back to town and told us he would meet us back up here at first light. 

Daybreak found the three of us once again gridding the area in search of a dead deer or anything that would indicate the path that he was taking.  A sense of urgency was starting to envelop us now.  It had been over twelve hours since the shot had taken place and if we couldn't find him now in the broad daylight,  what were our chances of finding him later?  No more than 20 or 30 minutes into our search I saw what looked like the belly hair of a deer on the ground out of the corner of my eye.  I was almost certain this was our deer but I didn't want to celebrate prematurely and get my search mates all excited about finding a deer only to cause tremendous disappoint a moment later when this "deer" that I found was only a tree stump or a log.  I walked over to examine more closely and sure as the day is long there was Sara's buck lying there dead.  I hooped and hollered and called Dustin and Sara over and after an obligatory congratulations and photo session we began a short drag to the truck. 

This 22 inch wide 4x4 was easily Sara's best buck to date.  His antler spread wasn't exceptional but he had great tine length all over and beautiful deep forks.  We ended up taking him to JD Anderson of Wildstuff Taxidermy for a shoulder mount.  I ended up scoring on a 4 point of my own later in the archery hunt though it wasn't quite as impressive as Sara's was.  Our first archery hunt was an incredible success and we cannot wait to do it all over again next year!