A Day in the Bush with Thomas

Days in Africa begin when there is just enough light to see your surroundings. Unlike your typical American hunt where you might be up hours before first light, Africans don’t like to rely on flashlights you could say.  This is a practice I wish we could adopt, but unfortunately, I don’t believe it will happen. 

I awoke early on this day in Africa and headed up the path to the main lodge.  As we did not have any hunters in camp, I was unsure what this day would bring.  I grabbed a piece of fruit and some toast in the kitchen on my way up to where our informal morning meetings happened by the vehicles.  It was chilly that morning and the trackers Mario, Alberto, and Thomas were bundled up in a couple of layers of clothes.  I think I was in shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt.  They always wondered how I never got cold so I would tell them stories of hunting in the snow.  Needless to say, they were very content in their current condition.

Today, we needed to do a fence check.  Fence checks need to be done periodically to check for animals who have broken parts of the wiring and to look for signs of poachers.  This area along with many other regions of Africa have a big poaching problem.  The day before our neighbor had run across a poacher and was able to turn him into the authorities.

I headed up towards the small barn where the trackers were sharpening their machetes.  Their method of sharpening the blades was a sight to see.  This process involved Thomas holding a grinder between his legs. He then put the edge of the machete on the grinder as to sharpen the blade, and while squinting, he proceeded to sharpen a few machetes for us.  I jokingly asked if this was our anti-poacher weapon. Thomas answered, “No, Hayson, Yoga protector.” (With Thomas’ ascent, my name sounded more like Hayson instead of Jason. I found out that day that “Yoga” in Afrikaans means “snake”) I was pretty sure he was joking, but then again, he could have been serious.  It is Africa after all.

So now armed with a machete with no handle, a bottle of water and an orange, Thomas and I started our trek to the North end of the property.  We followed the road for a few hundred yards then cut down following a game trail towards the base of the large rock mountain. To our right was a large valley that was dense with a canopy of trees all the way to the bottom off in the distance.  The pace was fast as moved through the thickets of the forest and towards the cliffs in front of us.  A couple of climbs brought us to the backside of this rock mountain and into an area where the trees created a tunnel for us to walk through.  While walking through this area, Thomas stopped and pointed at scat laying on the trail.

“Leopard, Hayson.” 

Not many leopards made it through this area, but nevertheless, it brought about a slightly eerie feeling knowing that a cat might be watching us. 

We made it out of the natural tunnel and into the long grass.  The countryside reminded me of New Mexico with vast rolling mountains, but with very dense forests.  Ticks were prevalent as I at one point had over 100 bites on me, but that is another story.

After about an hour of hiking, we started walking along the fence in grass that was 2-3 feet in height.  We had walked a short distance when Thomas turned around.  In broken English and some Afrikaans, he told me that this was the spot where a black mamba came at him many years ago.

“Hayson, BIG MAMBA”

He described how he saw the grass moving as the snake came towards him.  In a very comical manner, he reenacted jumping over the fence and saying he ran to the horizon.  Thomas always made stories sound very funny when in fact many of them were life-threatening.  This is coming from the man who killed a 9-foot mamba with a slingshot. 

I don’t remember a day where Thomas and I did not share a laugh together. 

We lost some elevation in our hike and quickly gained it back as we came to the “Christmas tree” corner.  Here, Thomas took a quick smoke break as I drank half my water. After the short break, we started heading south along the fence.  Soon enough Thomas started moving with purpose as he looked closer to where he was stepping.  He pointed out a spot in the grass and said “Poacher.”  I asked him if it was from this morning and he said yes.  We moved a couple hundred more yards along and came to a small branch in the fence.  Thomas noted this and moved a couple steps farther along then like a hound dog picks up a trail, he turned into the thicket as I followed.  We walked through this thick, thorny area very slowly and after 50 yards made a discovery: a wire snare.

A makeshift snare made out of scrap wire made a large circle across a game trail.  The purpose of this was to grab hold of an animal.  When the animal, in turn, walks through the snare, it tightens down around the head, neck or body of the animal.  Fear quickly overtakes the animal and death is slow. 

We removed the snare, and I put it in my pocket.  (The snare made the trip back to Texas with me) We hiked back out to the fence and continued on our journey south.  We made it over the next rise and cut off towards a small bluff.  This spot had a perfect tree for shading and was Thomas’ designated napping rock.  We sat down and looked out over the vast expanse.  We did a quick scan for wildlife and found some blesbuck were off in the distance feeding.  After about 10 minutes of rest, we heard small footsteps just below us.

A massive porcupine showed itself to be the owner of these small footsteps.  Thomas jokingly motioned for me to go grab a quill to which I told him I would if he did.  Neither one of us made an attempt on that porcupine that day. 

The rest of the hike was uneventful as we hit the south fence line and turned west.  It was a steep descent down to the valley floor.  We soon saw Alberto who was making his way down the opposite side of the valley.  We met him on the valley floor and proceeded up the road as we started clearing brush to a bow blind that was in the area.  After a while, we heard the bakkie approaching, and that was our cue to head back to the road. We all piled in the back of the Landcruiser and began the journey back to the lodge.

On the last part of our hike, Thomas had pointed out a tree.  The tree had knife markings all up and down its trunk.  He said that he had made a mark on that tree every time he passed by it.  The tree had quite a few knife marks on it as Thomas made one more. 

That tree will not see another mark from the knife of Thomas. 

Thomas took ill in November of 2018 and passed away during the night at the end of January of this year.

I was fortunate to spend 45 days in the field with this man.  I knew when I left Africa, that I would most likely not see Thomas again. I have many lessons learned from Thomas that I will use in my own adventures and will pass on to others.

This picture shows Thomas and I on the Elefantes  River on my final day in Africa.  

Hamba Kahle my friend.

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September 22, 2016- A day on the mountain

We departed KCLL (College Station, TX) with our destination KMTJ (Montrose, CO) plugged into our navigation system at 4:00 pm.  Just thirty minutes before, I had been sitting in class doing my best to finish up a lecture on hospital administration.  Spending 6 hours in class with the allure of the mountains and an elk tag in my pocket seemed almost unbearable.  Fortunately for me, my father had an elk tag burning in his pocket as well so he was as motivated as I was to answer the call of the mountains. 

With our mid-afternoon takeoff, storms throughout the mountains were in store thus giving us a winding, ducking, and rising route as we began to pass through New Mexico.  We cut west towards Albuquerque missing a storm off our right wing then headed North towards Alamosa.  Dad was left seat with me to his right monitoring radar, frequencies and keeping a visual on storms and mountain peaks.  We crossed into Colorado and had to make a decision to head NE or NW.  At the last second, we saw a break in the clouds at our 10 o’clock so veered the aircraft towards that opening.  We reached an altitude of 18,700 which in an unpressurized aircraft can be exciting.  We had our oxygen bottles at ready but soon descended to a lower elevation once we topped over the clouds.  We had just crossed the high peaks of the San Juans mountain range and now found ourselves heading due west with the Blue Mesa Reservoir beneath us.  A 100-knot crosswind was coming off the right side of our nose requiring heavy rudder action by both dad and me to keep the plane on course as we descended towards the Montrose valley. 

We landed safely and taxied over to the local FBO.  I believe my mother was the happiest out of all of us to be back on earth as she was passed out most likely due to lack of oxygen during the last part of our flight.  A long dinner ensued with a stop at the hardware store and the grocery store.  With gear packed, we headed off into the mountains.  Arriving at midnight, I was quick to unload my equipment and begin packing my pack for a particular area I had planned to hunt.  By 3am, I was loaded up.  With a fresh cup of coffee in my hand and a headlamp wrapped around my head, I loaded my pack into the cruiser and started the drive towards the backcountry.  A 30-minute drive brought me to the end of the road and the beginning of an adventure.

 I began my hike at 3:40am. 

My route was just under 2 miles to an area that would serve as my basecamp.  The trail begins with some incline and switchbacks.  I noted how “tame” this trail seemed now compared to the places I had been just a few weeks before.  As my headlight began to show my terrain changing from a steady incline to a trail passing through a thicket of willows, I was greeted with the sound breaking limbs.  My assumption was that I had startled a moose, but I did not stick around long enough to confirm this as I began a long sprint up the trail to put some distance between myself and whatever creature I had disrupted with my presence. I reached the 2-mile point with no other exciting occurrences.  Light sleet had changed into light snow by the time I had reached this point.  I waited at this staging area for 30 minutes listening for bugles up the mountain and to gather m thoughts on where I should start my hunt. 

The snow continued to fall as I headed deeper into the wilderness.  Right at first light, I found a small group of cows feeding off to my left as I was sneaking through a group of evergreens.  No bull was present in this gathering of elk, so I slowly passed them in hopes of finding a bull in an upper basin.  My search in the upper basins showed me no success in spotting any animals, so I changed my course to head back above the area where I had first located the cows.  It was mid-morning now, and the snow was now 6 inches in depth making my ascent through the fallen trees and rocks somewhat tricky.  I made it to a good glassing point that would allow me to see a north facing slope along with an upper part of the valley, but to my dismay, the clouds that had brought in the snow had other plans.  I worked my way up the valley cow calling using the snow to my advantage through still hunting.  At noon, I finally received an answer to a bugle that I had let out.  The bull was much lower in elevation, so off I went back down the path I had just made.  My gloves proved pointless as they were soaked through.  I had also grown tired of my long hair the week prior to this, and as a result, I had very short hair.  Going from a head full of hair to hair that is short in length makes a shocking difference in how warm your head stays.  Neither the less, I trudged on through the snow that was rising ever so fast.  I worked my way towards the bull.  After going back and forth with him in a “bugle battle,” I soon saw my prey and saw that he was a very young bull.  Much too young and small to receive an arrow.  He had no other compadres with him, so I gained some elevation back and made a small camp to get out of the snow and eat some jerky. 

After a delicious meal of some stale jerky and a smooshed sandwich, I packed up my scattered gear and headed farther up the valley in search of another bull.  Some glassing and calling presented me with no opportunities in seeing or hearing an elk.  I had planned on staying in this drainage for 2 days, but with the lack of elk, I decided to start the trek back to the road in search of an area that would produce more sightings.  I arrived back at the truck a few hours later with icy hands and a halfway frozen pack.  My gloves proved to be worthless and were soaking wet within the first hour of daylight.  I cursed myself for the inconvenience I had created and vowed that when I got back on a computer next week that I would purchase a set of insulated, waterproof gloves. 

I threw the pack in the truck and headed towards the high country to make the most out of the hour or so I had left of light.  Fortunately for me, the snow created a perfect backdrop for locating elk, and I was successful in finding two beautiful bulls high up on a ridge.  I watched them as they worked their herds with the colorful aspens and fresh snow in the background.  I had the seat warmers on as I was still trying to defrost my hands which would end up staying swollen for the next 10 days. 

The sun set over the crest of high mountains to my back as the elk fed in the snow-packed meadow above me.  Once last light had come and passed, I packed up my optics and began the slow ride back to camp.  A short but very much needed night of sleep awaited me as I would be chasing the sound of bugles come first light the following morning. Slowly but surely, I made my way out of the high country and another day on the mountain had come to an end.

Velvet at 13,000 feet

An adventure in the mountains no matter how long or short is something that is sought after by many. Whether a person knows it or not, they have a longing to face the fear of the unknown and conquer obstacles once thought to be impossible. Sooner or later you come face to face with this challenge and find out if you have what it takes to push hard enough to succeed.

The following is my account of a successful hunt that happened on August 27, 2017, in Colorado and the couple weeks leading up to the day. During the hunting portion of my adventure I was alone, but before the hunt and after the kill I had many give me solid advise and lend a hand in my pursuits.

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I found out that I had drawn my deer tag while I was working in Africa in June. After arriving back in the States, I spent one day at home, and quickly went back up to Colorado at the beginning of July. The next month and a half consisted of losing some weight as I had bulked up quite a bit from the fantastic food in Africa, and traveling back and forth from Texas and Colorado while balancing school and work.

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I started scouting two weeks before the season mainly focusing on areas above 12,000 feet in elevation. The deer in this area, for the most part, spend the first part of the season up high before they migrate down. I loved the allure of the steep country and the difficulty that would come with planning a stalk in areas where the cover was minimal at best. Plus you always hunt where the animals are. I wouldn’t foresee myself hiking up some of these areas for recreational use but to scout or hunt; I would hike up and down until I could do no more.

I was fortunate enough to find an amazing buck in an area that I had not labeled as a spot to see a giant.  I watched him for the better part of two weeks doing my best to “guard” him per-say. Three to four days before the season started, my cousin and I were doing the usual race up the mountain before first light routine. We turned onto the 4wd road well before first light. Unfortunately, there was a guy unloading his four-wheeler decked out in Kuiu gear. I thought surely he was stopping at a spot before my glassing area. But sure enough, as we started our hike he was a few hundred yards ahead of us. A few hours later he came down, and AJ and I started talking. He was hunting elk and had killed a nice buck up there the year before. We started sharing some stories which led to a few scouting trips together and ended with a final pack out of his dad’s bull two weeks later along with a new hunting friendship.

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I set up a camp where I was planning on making my approach to this buck. He was in a very easy to access spot, and I felt uneasy as I do not enjoy hunting in crowded places. Two guys were setting up a camp a hundred yards down from me, so I decided to make small talk. My account of the story was that I politely informed Troy and Denny of the big buck’s presence, and told them that it was open game but that I would be up there first thing opening morning. Troy has a funnier version of it but anyhow that molded into an amazing friendship. We went up and scouted the area a couple of times, and they were very insightful on tactics for mule deer hunting to which I was very grateful. Plus, they cooked good food and had a warm tent.

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My plans for opening day took an unexpected turn when in the last hour on the day before the opener, the big buck vacated his area and ventured into country that was unknown to me. I decided to hunt my plan B spot which still had some very nice bucks. I camped up high that night and fell asleep under the stars. A light layer of frost was on my beard when I woke up and slowly moved out of my bag ready to conquer the day.

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These bucks had a habit of feeding in a lower basin before heading to the cliffs up high to bed for the day. At first light, I glassed the basin and saw one deer. I made the hike over to set up in a position that would put me within 70 yards of the bucks as they walked by. After an hour of waiting and not seeing any deer, I had two does cut across the rocks above me at 46 yards. To my disappointment, however, the two mature bucks took a higher trail and passed at 90 yards. I had another doe walk 20 yards from me as well which helped give me a little confidence boost in knowing I could get close to the animals despite the lack of cover. I watched them walk straight up the mountainside and bed high up just above a cliff. I located some landmarks and hiked back out to start the long trek to go around behind them. I’ll spare the details of the rest of the day, but it consisted of six hours of waiting just out of range of the bedded bucks unable to close the final few yards and one blown stalk on a nice buck after a mile stalk. It was an entertaining first day to which I decided was successful in that I had learned a few things about specific deer behaviors and how to navigate the rugged ridges.

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I awoke the morning of the 27th again with some frost on my beard and the coals of my fire smoking slightly. I made my way to glass where I had seen a few deer at last light the evening before. I located the bachelor group of bucks from the morning before, but this time they were on top of the ridge heading farther back into a hidden bowl. I was able to glass them for 15 minutes before they went out of sight. I boiled some water and enjoyed a quick meal of oatmeal and coffee, packed my pack, and started the hike straight up. The hike wasn’t impossibly hard, and I won’t play it up as something that was a trek that only I can do, but it was pretty dang rough. Gnarly is a term I like to use to describe it. It was just under 2,000 vertical feet up to the bottom part of the ridge. I was able to reach out and touch the ground straight in front of me for most of the hike to give you a reference for the steepness. Once on top, I was looking south into the hidden bowl for the now bedded bucks. To my surprise, I found them on the north side of the ridge almost at the top. They were a mile away or so. I only saw two deer, one was a large 4×4, and the other was a large 6×4. I knew both deer well from scouting and watching them the day before. They were bedded just below the ridge, and I guessed them to be 50-60 yards from the top of the ridge. A makable shot in the right conditions. The south-facing side of the ridge was made up of cliffs and very little room for passage. There were deer below me in the basin so I needed to stay as high as possible to keep my scent from busting them. It took about an hour and a half to get within 200 yards of the spot that I had decided would be my “kill spot.” A few places along my trek were difficult in navigating somewhat safely, but I made it threw none the less. This last climb up was tricky as it was steep and had loose rocks. I had to place my bow above me and clear out debris for two foot holes every time I wanted to move. There were some hidden crevices to my left, and the chance of there being a buck bedded up in them was high, so I moved slowly and with purpose. After the meticulous and somewhat grueling slow climb, I had cleared that area and was now focused on the top of the ridge 35 yards in front of me.

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There were three small saddles in front of me. My original plan was to come through the upper one, but it was covered in unstable rock making a quiet approach not possible. My second option was also covered in rocks so I had to resort to my third option which fortunately was covered in grass. I quietly took off my boots as size 13 feet can be loud and started inching my way up to the ridge. About five yards from the crest, I laid on my back. I moved slowly inching ever so close to the edge checking between every blade of grass for fur. I was just reaching the top when I spotted the tip of an antler through the grass just below me. Luckily my calculation had been wrong on the bucks being 50-60 yards away as this buck looked to be only 10-15 yards from me. I moved two feet closer and knocked an arrow. I was now able to see that the buck was bedded and was facing me. He was the 6×4 I had scouted. I was mentally preparing myself for the shot. I was calm and figured that he would be standing up in a hour or so as it was half past noon at that moment. Those next few minutes passed by so quickly as I was mesmerized at his antler movement. I was peering through a few blades of grass in front of me with my rangefinder. I needed him to stand up and move to the right for a clear shot through a slight depression on the ridge.

At 12:40, he stood up.

I quickly found that all the preparing I had done in the past few minutes and the months before went out the door as I came down with an extreme case of buck fever. He fed to my right and set up perfectly in my lane at 12:42. I ranged him at 36 yards.

I was watching his antler move back and forth and waited until I saw the rack facing away from me. I drew while laying on my back and slowly raised to a seated position. I rested my pin and squeezed. If you have ever just shot an arrow into the air and watch it for what seems miles, then you know what I saw next. My arrow went right across his back and is probably still flying today. I had no time to be frustrated. I quickly laid back down and watched the velvet antlers take two bounds and stop. I could tell he had no clue what had just happened and was not buggered very much. I grabbed another arrow from my quiver and knocked it. This time I was even more focused. Between both shots it was only 10 seconds at most but so much went through my mind. I knew I had shot high. First off, I’ll admit that it was user error for the most part. I had a tendency of shooting slightly high. My two adjustments I knew I had to make was to find my peep once I was on target and not beforehand. Steep angle shots require different hip movements to acquire your peep and add that to drawing while entirely horizontal, and you could have issues. I was also 3,000 feet higher in elevation than where I sighted in my arrows so that had a slight effect as well. At this moment I know that once I raise to shoot, I will have 5-6 seconds of a shot opportunity before the deer disappears.

I raise up to my sitting position while drawing. As soon as I do the buck turns perfectly broadside and we both lock eyes.

I didn’t have time to range again but I figured him to be at 40 yards. His body angled downhill with the side of his body where my arrow would exit being lower than the entry. I placed my 30 yard pin just in from behind his shoulder and halfway up his body. My plan was for my arrow to hit in the lower part of the shoulder and to exit perfectly halfway up on the other side. I released and heard the distinct popping sound that every bowhunter loves. The buck immediately disappeared off down a steep shale side. There would be no waiting to track him however as I immediately jumped up to my feet and ran to where he was bedded initially. As I was running towards the edge I ran ten steps from the large 4×4 who was still bedded down. He looked very confused as to what was going on. He quickly spooked out of there along with three other bucks. I came to the edge and saw a buck running below me. He looked to be somewhat clumsy in his steps but once he stopped and looked back up my way, I saw no wound and quickly figured that this was not my buck. At that moment I glanced to my right to where I had sat the day before for six hours, and just below the saddle I saw him.

The buck was no more.

It’s hard to describe what that moment was like. He had run 80 yards and had died within a few seconds of my shot; something that any hunter strives for. I moved back up to the saddle where I had made the shot and looked on my GPS, elevation: 13,025 feet. I had always dreamed of shooting a deer above the 13 mark, and somehow I had accomplished it. I started working my way on top of the ridge; slowly moving down the short cliffs that separated me from my trophy. As I got closer and closer, I still just couldn’t believe what I had just done. Doing it alone to me was quite the feat, but then again I had no one to share this moment with. But then and there if not just for a moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. In here, amongst all the cliffs, steep crevices, and endless openness, there lay my deer. As I walked up to him, he just kept on growing and growing. Not just antlers but body size as well. He was curled up on a steep slope, so the first thing I had to do was to drag him the short distance up to the ridge. It took all I had, but I was able to pull him the few short feet up which would make the process of breaking him down much easier. As I got him settled into his final resting spot, I just laid back. I don’t know how long it was. But for the time being, I had beautiful mountains around me and no distractions. Before pictures and before the skinning process began, I just wanted to stay in the moment. Sitting there next to my buck and looking at the view of the Rockies. Doesn’t get much better than that.

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Although I was alone that day on the hunt, many people helped in a huge way in making the whole experience a success:

First off, my cousin Josh. We scouted miles of country together and he also met me pretty much at the top just as I started packing out the buck. He flew straight up the mountain to my spot with much-needed water and broke trail for me as we made it down the rocks.

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Troy and Denny opened up there camp to me along with there immense knowledge of the country and bow hunting.

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AJ killed a remarkable bull the same day I killed my deer as well. He is truly a beast in the hunting realm and knows how to do it the right way

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And a last thanks to the Murphs, Whinneries, Dad, Mark, and Jason Huebnar.

 

 

 

Lessons from an Aspen

         There are not many things that I look forward to more than fall.  I love cold mornings and the crisp breeze that blows in right at last light in the evenings. Time can seem to stand still while the sun makes its last appearance before leaving its grand stage that is oh so beautiful.  Slowly watching the landscape change from vibrant greens to colorful oranges, reds, and yellows is truly an experience.  Mix in a snowstorm and the aftermath paints a picture that no artist can truly replicate.  The only copy of a scene like this can be made in your mind as like a faded picture or a distant memory that is close enough to catch a glimpse, but just far enough away so that you can’t truly grasp its pure nature.  These moments can be found easily but are rarely cherished, and can soon become forgotten.
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         I have been fortunate in that I have experienced many amazing “moments” that I will only ever know.  Rather it is being trapped on a ridge in New Mexico while watching a thunderstorm roll past me onto the desert floor below, or sitting a few extra minutes after last light to just soak in the moment, sometimes the best moments aren’t ones captured by a lens.  Pictures soon fade and can be misconstrued as something they aren’t, but memory is yours to keep and cherish.
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         The closer I get to the fall, the more vivid these memories become.  Fortunately for me, I do not have to wait until the fall to start hunting as hunting seasons starts very early for me this year.  I don’t think I could make it to the fall frankly as I am becoming more and more restless every night for adventure.  I have waited many hours in a blind, tree, brush, laying on rocks, laying on snow, sitting in the rain, you name it, and yet I still seem to be so lacking in patience.  Patience can be best taught through observations in Creation I think.  Take a large aspen tree for example.  Not one that is a foot in diameter, but one that is truly ginormous (the most exaggerated word I can think of).  There is a tree like this on a pass that I drive many times a year.  Every time I pass this tree, I take a short glance, and it always takes up a few seconds of a memory.  The years that tree has spent growing, the cold winters, the avalanches that have almost taken it down, so many obstacles yet it stands there firmly.
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         Waiting is hard.  I hate waiting.  I want everything to happen right away so that I don’t have to stress about it.  But then, I think back to that aspen tree.
          I look at his root system.  Years and years of growing and he has built a strong support system.  I see this as the many people in my life that have helped me along my path and developed me in different ways in becoming a man.
         I look at his bark and the gnarly scars, knots, and gashes that are ever so present.  I see this as the days that I had to take hardships.  The days where I was hurt mentally and physically by people.  But through all of that, I was able to see beyond the actions of these people and see that there was something more that was going on.  Something that would allow me to help others because I had been through those times, but knew how to endure them and to conquer those hardships.
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          I look at the branches that stretch ever so far.  These are the channels that I have to support, mentor and care for people in my life.  Some of the branches are thick so that it makes it easy for me, and some of the branches are small.  These small branches have an opportunity to become great if they are fed properly and watered daily.  Some branches will break off, and it may be a mystery for a period of time.  I may question why I lost those abilities and skills or why I am in a place where I can not follow through with “my” set plan.
          I see the leaves of the tree that are ever-changing.  This is what people see and think about me.  During the color season, people can look at a tree and see its many leaves, but these leaves cover what is inside.  The tree could be dying inside or can be missing important pieces that it needs to live.  That goes to show me that I can appear to be in a phase of life that is great but can be dead inside.  And as a sickness eventually shows itself, the leaves on the tree will fall, and the effects of the disease no matter how big or small will take effect.
         I’m sure this tree has had many bad days, but it has stayed strong. It has stayed its course that it has set forth.  This shows me that I am only as strong as the people that I surround myself with, my roots.  When times get rough, and I feel like quitting or falling over from an avalanche of worries, my roots will take hold.  My roots will strengthen my branches and allow me to serve others, and my scars will show people that I am there for them.  People want to see your heart, and your actions are the reflections of that.  How you treat people, how you respond to situations are all things that show who you really are.
        I truly love being outside and being on a hunt.  There is just something about the nature of being surrounded by beauty, chasing the impossible and leaving fear of the unknown behind.  Call me emotional or call me stupid, but I just flat out love it.  The memories made, relationships established, lives changed, and goals accomplished is what life is really about.
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         The days spent waiting for that adventure last ever so long, and the moments spent on an adventure go in a blink of an eye.  My advice to you would be to enjoy the little moments.  Maybe that’s glancing up at the clouds as the sun peaks through or watching a stick move down a small mountain stream.
         Go out of your way to teach a skill to someone and be open ears when knowledge is presented.  And if you ever find a suitable tree, take a few moments and let your mind wander.  You might just learn a thing or two.
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The meaning of the hunt

 

Hunting season is finally here for most of us.  For western hunters, they have been hunting since August, and bow hunters here in Texas started last weekend. For the unfortunate rifle hunters, they must wait until November. I have been  hunting since the middle of August although, for the most part, it has felt more just like “chasing.”  So now I’m on my third month of the season.  I’m switching gears from being the hunter to being the guide slowly. As most of my weekends will be spent helping people shoot a big buck.  Each new season brings new goals and new insights to the hunting world.  Even if you don’t know when hunting season begins, you undoubtedly know thanks to social media.  Post after post of big animals, and comment after comment of the “keyboard hunters.” (the hunters who seem to know everything about anything, can age a deer to the exact day of birth, and want the hunter to know that they have shot bigger bucks) This whole trend turned me away from the social media aspect of hunting.  I get the impression that people want to shoot something with big antlers just so that they can put it on Facebook and Instagram so everyone can see how great they are.  Now, not everyone who puts an animal on social media is doing it for fame so don’t go jumping all over my case.  I have put many an animal online and am always happy to see the successful hunts my friends have.   What I see that bugs me is the idea that “I have to shoot something so that I can show everyone” or “I only shoot big bucks or big bulls because that’s what all the pros do.”

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I watched a hunting show the other day and on the show was a family who was very dedicated to deer hunting.  One of the sons, in particular, was very, very picky on herd management.  So picky in fact, that when his mom shot a very nice whitetail, his first reaction was to score the deer and then comment that he wouldn’t have shot that deer.  I know for a fact if I did that, I would probably be in the ER after the beating I would get from mom.  But his attitude towards hunting was strictly business with no room for fun.  Sometimes we have to make business decisions in hunting.  I can’t have one of my hunters shoot a buck that is out of their price range so sometimes I have to tell them that they cannot pull the trigger. But I am talking more about hunting for ourselves.  With the huge lure of being sponsored or being on a pro staff, certain ideas of what hunting should be like have been twisted and changed in different ways.  I have slowed down my social media posts because of this.  So many aspects of hunting are meant to be shared with family and friends or are just to be cherished with yourself.  Sometimes experiencing something amazing in the woods is best kept as a memory that the whole world doesn’t know.

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My motto that I take into the woods is that when the right animal steps out in the right circumstance, I will shoot it.  If I am hunting a ranch where only 5+ year old can be killed, then the right animals must be 5+ years old.  (Disclaimer to the motto is that I follow all fish and game rules and restrictions in whatever state I am in) My goal is to find a mature animal and shoot it.  But sometimes the circumstances dictate something different.  I shot a 2.5-year-old deer last season in a snowstorm because I wanted to.  Hunting in the snow in West Texas isn’t common and getting a buck to walk down a trail within bow range doesn’t happen every day.  All that added up to me shooting the buck and him piling up 80 yards away.  I have passed up deer older and bigger than he was many a time, but there was one thing that made me pick up the bow and draw back: I am out there to have fun.  Whether you are shooting a spike whitetail or the biggest moose in the world, you are out there in the woods to experience adventure and have fun.  Every hunter wants an animal that represents the work he put in the get in the situation where he/she was able to kill his trophy.  Some hunters will shoot the first thing with fur and some won’t shoot unless the animal can have the label of Boone & Crockett next to it.  Whatever your definition of a trophy is, don’t let social media dictate what you should or shouldn’t shoot.  Take note of course and have a listening ear as there is good information out there that should be regarded.  And as I stated previously, always follow all fish and game laws along with rules set out by the landowners.

 

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Remember that being able to go out and explore the woods, mountains, and deserts is a blessing, and we need to make sure and treat it that way.  Spend time with family and friends, and cherish the fellowship that comes with time spent chasing big bucks and even the small bucks.  If an animal walks in that gets your heart beating, (and is legal in every aspect) don’t hesitate to think about what your friends or social media will think.  You only have so many days to hunt.  It could be 50 years, or this could be your last season.  Enjoy the hunt.  Someone somewhere wishes that they were in your shoes chasing the animals you pursue.  Don’t look on the negative aspects or failures of the hunt.  There is always a lesson to be learned in the good and bad times.  Besides, a bad day of hunting still beats a good day in a classroom, at least that’s what I believe.

Good luck to you on all of your hunting adventures this fall.  May your aim be true and arrows/bullets straight.

Why hunt?

Why hunt?

Hunting is controversial.  You have your hunters vs. anti-hunters, public vs. private land, high vs. low fence, rifle vs. bow hunters, compound vs. recurve.  There are lots of little battles fought just inside of the hunting realm.  People are killing animals just to get a good picture and some video to show the whole world.  Some videos show hunting to be non-stop action and others show it to be some emotionally burdened experience with a dose of remorse.  It seems as if the whole meaning of going out into the woods has to be publicized for the whole world to see. 

I love taking pictures of the places I go and the animals that I hunt, and I have a responsibility to be an ambassador for myself and a couple of companies to show what being an outdoorsman really means.  I don’t feel the need to publicize everything that I do out in the field.  Sure some of my best moments I have shared on social media and even some of my low points, but I have found that there is merit in keeping a lot of your moments to yourself.  Some memories you make are priceless, and you don’t want them to be shared. 

Hunting can be an emotional adventure where you go through ups and downs.  I have regretted killing some animals either because they suffered from an ill-advised shot from my hunter or because I made a mistake.  As a hunter, I hate to see an animal suffer pain that was avoidable.  Preparation plays a role in making sure that the animal is shown respect. 

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Being a hunter takes on a whole sense of responsibility.  As I have written before, you are taking an animal’s life.  That is no joke and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Now, the majority of us don’t rely on a fresh kill to survive the day or need an animal to survive the winter months.  I love deer, elk, and many other types animals, and would be very upset if I didn’t have any to eat for a few days. 

My definition of hunting will be different than anyone else’s, and I think that is how it should be.  We shouldn’t base our life’s off of other people’s opinions.  However, we definitely should take into option other people’s ideas to help mold our basis to why we should do an activity. 

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I have four main reasons of why I hunt.

First off, it’s my legacy.  For thousands of years, people have been hunting.  It was in their blood to chase animals and to seek out adventure.  Our family ranch in West Texas has one of the Twin Buttes on it.  This “little mountain” rises 150-200 feet or so and looks out over the land.  I have spent many hours on that hill looking at deer, turkeys, and Sam’s Club.  Dad and I came across an article that had a journal entry from the early 1800’s.  In the entry, a buffalo hunter set on that same bluff and looked out at tens of thousands of buffalo.  I just think it’s awesome to know that even though its 200 years later, that same spot is being used to spot and hunt game. 

Secondly, it’s an adventure.  My first elk hunt was in New Mexico when I was 15.  We were headed back to camp for lunch when 200 yards off the side of the road was a very nice 5 point bull.  The guides jumped out, and immediately set up the shooting sticks. (We were on private land at that moment) To their surprise, I told them I wasn’t going to shoot the bull.  They did their best to try to convince me to get set up.  We had been hunting hard and taking a bull like this was in no way disrespectful, and now that I look back on it, they were right.  But something in me was tugging at me not to kill that elk.  There was no adventure involved.  Two days later, I would kill that same bull about 2 miles back on public land.  In either instance, he was still a mature trophy bull, but only one scenario had an adventure.

Third, hunting is conservation.  Whether it is a high fence or low fence, public or private, herd conservation is directly related to the efforts of hunters, conservationists, and politicians.  Whether it is the MLD system in Texas or the works of the RMEF in the western states; these programs focus solely on the health of the herd.  Overpopulation results in a lack of resources and death of animals who could still provide to the herd.  By hunting animals that are mature/post mature, we can sustain a herd and help the survival rate of younger animals.  Either by limiting tags to help a herd grow or by passing up a young buck, the little things that each hunter does eventually add up and an idea of a strong, healthy herd can become a reality.   

Finally, the fourth reason, fellowship with others.  It’s been said that once you spend a day in the woods with someone, you are brothers.  Of course, this is sometimes not the case, but the point is that being in the woods, desert, or wherever with someone else somehow makes you closer.  Sometimes is just exchanging a few words at the cabin after a day of hunting or maybe it’s suffering for a week straight with your buddy right by your side. It’s something that brings people together.  Everyone loves a great hunting story and being able to share it with a group of guys (or girls) just almost makes all of those cold sits and long hikes worth it.  So much can be learned from a hunting story.  My last buck I killed, I enlisted the help of one of my good friends who lives out on our family ranch.  We dragged the 5.5-year-old deer maybe 500 yards to the truck all the time exchanging hunting stories.  I got home that night and by the time I had turned the truck off, mom had already opened the garage and was out at the truck wanting to hear the story.  These little moments are what I truly look forward too.  All of that hard work is seen and worth it. 

We have to make sure that we take in all of these little moments.  With everyone wanting to catch every single cool moment on camera to show it to the world, we can easily miss the true meaning of the hunt.  I know that every night I come home empty handed, rather that be to my little tent at 12,000 feet or my warm bed in west Texas, I still have those little memories to push me to go another day.  I don’t have to hunt. I don’t have to guide.  I don’t have to go hike up 4,000 vertical feet either, but I want to.  Maybe I’m a little crazy or stupid, but I just love everything that hunting experience brings. So I’d ask you to think about why you hunt, or maybe not even hunt.  Why do you love playing sports or why do you love studying or something crazy like that?  Everything in this life can go by so fast, and if we don’t recognize the importance of it all, it will be gone before we know it.

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What room are you in?

Everyone has one of those days where nothing can go right and everything just seems to fall apart.  Whether it be losing your rangefinder or cow call up on the mountain or bombing a test, sometimes the smallest things can send you into a down spiral for the day.  It’s funny how some of these obstacles we face seem so minuscule after that fact.  We ask ourselves how stupid could I of been to stress out about that small hiccup and why did I respond so negatively to it.  I see it as a matter of perspective.  Whatever position you are in today, somebody wants to be there.  Someone wants to have a job, skill, hobby that you currently have, and someone would do anything to obtain one of those things no matter what it would cost to them.   Say I have a bad test one day here at A&M and start to question if I should just drop out or not.  Someone else at that same moment is hoping for just a chance to get into this school to have the same problems that I am going through.  Some of the common things that I do seem like extraordinary things to other people, and somebody’s natural talents and skills seem extraordinary to me.  The way we treat the ordinary things in our life immolates how we will handle things that we think are extraordinary.

Another thing that I am a firm believer on is that you can tell the true character of a man by throwing him into conflict and asking him to humble himself and teach others.  It’s easy to stand up and preach about whatever you like to talk about when you have smooth sailing, but how do you respond when you are just having an awful day, and somebody comes up and asks you for advice?  Are you going to give them a valid response or will you just give a half-hearted answer and soak in the fact that you think you are a loser?  Just like how someone wants what you have, someone is always watching your every move.  Everyone hates losing, and if you hate losing you aren’t going to be happy after the fact.  But you have to make sure your actions don’t compromise all of the work that has gotten you to that point.

In this age of social media and keyboard warriors (someone who talks a big game on the internet but can’t back it up in the real world), every little action a person does can be seen by a large crowd of people.  Although most of us don’t have cameras following us around every second of the day, we do have real life people who are observant and watch.  I didn’t have the best shooting day at an archery event and couldn’t for the life of me calm down and put the arrow where it was supposed to go.  A family from India walked by with a young boy.  The father motioned that his son wanted a picture with me and the bow.  I’m sure I looked about as American as you can get with a cutoff shirt, big bow, and a backpack full of arrows.  I gave the kid my bow and nocked an arrow so that he could hold it for the picture.  He then wanted to watch me shoot a couple of times.  This showed me that no matter how rough a day I am having, I can still be a huge part of someone else’s.

A matter of perspective is usually defined as seeing the world as half empty or half full.  That’s great, and all but I think it is kind of cheesy.  A matter of perspective to me is defined by if I am the greatest person in the room or not.  If I am, I am in the wrong room.  There is always something more you can learn, and if you consider yourself the best at something then you are doing nothing at all to help yourself.  Leave that argument up to your peers.  You can learn something from anything.  A thought, a baby, an elder, or even a mountain.  There are so many lessons to be learned if we can just humble ourselves enough to listen to them. So, our perspective on life should be that we must always be the second smartest, greatest, etc. guy in the room.  No matter how great our accomplishments will ever be, there will always be a new lesson to be taught.  It’s up to you to decide which room you will be in and listen.

Note on the top picture: I have always found the sight of a hunting camp to be comforting. Whether it be a small one man tent on top of a cold mountain, or a hunting cabin back on the family ranch, so many conversations and memories are made in these places.  Stories of past success and the big buck that just got away are ones that I will never forget.  These places are filled with dirt, sweat, good food(under the circumstances), and sometimes tears. These are places where boys turn into men and life lessons are taught and learned. Finding a place and a group of guys to be around can truly change your life. I would say that if you have found a place like this, you have found the right room.

Hard work

 

There are 52 weeks in a year. A lot happens in this time. School. Work. School. Hunting. School. I think I have finally reached the age where time seems just to fly by. I have less than 15 school days left in my first semester at TAMU. And as much as I am dreading turning in projects and studying for finals right now, here soon, I will blink my eyes and will be on a mountain in Colorado. Time catches up to us pretty quick. This makes putting your priorities in the right places even more important. Staying on task and being diligent at completing whatever it is you want to complete is a must at this time of my life. Every hour adds up when I am studying and writing, and eventually those hours will produce a final product that I am proud of.

 

 
As I do with everything, I directly relate this to hunting, but not yet. A couple of weeks ago, I came to the realization that I needed help with my workout program. I had taught myself some new techniques but was at the point where I wasn’t progressing because I didn’t have a second pair of eyes to tell me what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to fix. I have worked hard in getting stronger these past few years and prided myself in pretty much self-teaching myself a majority of the workouts. This led me to a realization that I had put off for a while. For me to get better, I had to humble myself. I was putting in hard work, but it was headed towards the wrong direction. Sometimes, just because you work hard at something, it doesn’t matter because you were doing it wrong. Life sucks. I knew that I needed to admit that I needed instruction and critique in my movements. I started looking for ways to do this and finally decided on a gym close to me that does CrossFit. Now I’m not going to argue whether CrossFit is right or wrong. People love it, and people hate it. Frankly, I don’t care what other people have to say about it. I know in my mind that you get out what you put in. If I dedicate myself to learn and bust my butt every day, I will get better. Becoming a sponge and soaking in all the information I can get. It doesn’t matter if the guy is stronger, weaker, faster or slower than me. If he can perform a motion better than I can, I am going to pick his brain on how he does it, and will tell him to say when I mess it up.

 

 

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I was raised on the fact that I had to work hard. I know when I don’t put out my best effort. Sometimes I try to get away with a half-hearted effort. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I get caught. People may hate the idea of hard work, and really, who can blame them. It sucks most of the time. Long hours. Tired muscles. Sleepless nights. I am blessed and annoyed that I have the knowledge of knowing what my best effort is and what is not. I know when I haven’t prepared for something, and when I get that result that I expected from not being ready, it is disappointing because I know that I can do way better. It really is a challenge to get a step up and do what you have to do. Hard work is defined as “a great deal of effort or endurance”. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I can watch tv for 20 hours. That takes strength to stay awake, and endurance doesn’t it? Alright, kind of thoughtless analogy but it leads me to this. To work hard, you must have a purpose. A goal. A challenge accepted. A finished product you want. Why would you work hard at something if you didn’t have a strong reason for doing it?

 

 

 

One short thought I want to add is the idea that hard work creates physical results. The older crowd will know this not to be true, but for the younger generation, this can be a hard concept to grasp. There are going to be a good amount of things in life that you are going to fail at. You are going to work super hard on accomplishing a goal, and then it will all fall apart. Hard work isn’t just a one and done type of thing. You have to set a path that instills your mind to say “whatever I am doing, I will give it my all both physically and mentally. Success or failure. Pass or fail. It doesn’t matter if no one is watching or the whole world is. I will give it my all.”

 

 

 

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My first “official workout” with CrossFit was a team exercise. I started out with lots of high expectations to going hard only to find out my partner didn’t have the same mindset. He tried to make it easier, quit with 10-15 seconds left, and had the attitude of “Well, I am just here to get this checked off the list”. This slowed me down, and I didn’t like it. With the 52 weeks in this year, I am looking being able to go backpack hunting, with my tag, for maybe 2 of those. So everything I do up until those two weeks adds up. If I go easy for a few days or quit 20 seconds early on an exercise, that adds up over the span of the 19 weeks I have until the time that I get to do the thing I love. So if I exercised every day until then, I would have 133 workouts. Say I quit early twice a day adding up to a loss of 40 seconds. That adds up to almost an hour and a half of time. So 20 seconds equals a wasted day of working out pretty much.

 

 
I love hunting. As I have written before, every aspect of it intrigues me. It is a goal I have. Not necessarily to kill big animals, but to be the best that I can be. And I know that the only way that I can do that is with hard work. No going around it. If I want to reach and beat my own challenge, I have to go all out. To do this, I decided to change up some things in my own life to accommodate my goals. I don’t have a tv in my house anymore. In my down time, I read and listen to podcasts(particularly my friend Jim Burgen’s sermons with Flatiron’s Church, I usually listen to a lesson a day and have learned so much from that). I found that I would waste a good amount of time a day watching stupid shows and that I was gaining nothing out of them. My book I am on right now is “Wild at Heart. It is a great read as it talks about what a Christian man should look like. By taking out the unnecessary things, and replacing them with items that will build me up, I have the chance to step forward in the process of the great adventure known as life. All of these little things add up for me. It won’t be tomorrow or next week, but sometime down the line, it will. Look at it this way. If you had to put in 1,000 t-posts by hand, that would take you a long time. How bad would it be to finish, and look back at your line of posts and see that they are all crooked and out of order? All of that hard work, but since you lacked focus, it is all for nothing.

 

 

 

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The old cliché of “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect” is pretty much 100% true. There are going to be a lot of guys who go to gym, study for a test, or shoot their bow, but if they really don’t have an end goal for why they are suffering now, all of that work will be wasted. We weren’t put on this earth to just go through the motions or to just do enough to get by. If you have minimum skills, you will probably get minimum wage. If you just show up out of shape to go climb a mountain, you probably won’t make it to the top. Life is hard. Life is unfair. I can’t tell you how much it sucks to work all of your bow hunting life to get to the pinnacle. Having a monster bull at 25 yards, and not letting the arrow fly because you didn’t have a shot. That burns man. People talk about being okay with losing or maybe next year I will get the big one. I sure wasn’t okay. I may not have shown it, but I felt like a failure. I second guessed myself so many times following that. That moment in time took all of my hard work and made my dream just vanish into thin air. I hated it. All alone in the wilderness with no one around me, and seeing my goal that I had worked so hard for just slip out of my hands. Now that’s some mental pain right there dude. But I decided to take that anger and frustration and turn it into a fire to be better. With every day, comes a new challenge and every day I can either meet that challenge or fail. I know that God gave me certain strengths and abilities. Some I see in my life and work on vigorously to improve so that I may glorify him in my success’ and failures. Other strengths, I don’t know about yet. I hope someday I will be able to find them and use them in the way that He intended me to. But for know, I will take it one day at a time. Working hard at whatever task I am given. Knowing that I will reap what I sow in the future.