Patrick Meitin has degrees in journalism and range and wildlife management. He’s been an outdoor writer, specializing in bowhunting, for more than 20 years. An expert with both traditional and modern archery equipment, Meitin lives in northern Idaho with his wife, Gwyn, and their two Labrador retrievers.
Oklahoma Whitetails In October
I'm returning to Oklahoma's Croton Creek Ranch to bowhunt whitetail in a couple days. Last year's Oklahoma hunt marked a decided change of heart for me regarding bowhunting the October Lull. Admittedly, when accepting friend Gary Sefton's invitation last year I signed on not so much in anticipation of the hunting -- which I guessed would prove hit and miss -- but because I enjoy Gary's company, as well as some of the other guys who would be along; Atsko's Mike Jordan, Pradco's Mike Mattly, and a handful of outdoor writers and editors I've happily shared camps with before.
There's no need to go into great depth about bowhunting early October. It's basic whitetail biology. Shortly after stripping velvet, whitetail bucks, mature bucks in particular, completely change patterns. They often relocate into entirely new core areas and move very little in general, during daylight hours more specifically. This really has little to do with hunting pressure, because this remains true even on lightly-hunted properties. Bucks are fattened up and basically saving their energy for the November rut.
I've been talked into a sampling of these early-October deals before -- in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Illinois, North Dakota, Nebraska, to name a few highlights -- with pitches something to the effect of "The bucks are out there and haven't been hunted yet." This is akin to the notion, while discussing Power-Ball lotteries, of "Someone's got to win." Without exception these hunts have proven slow, with long hours on stand in which squirrels playing nearby become the highlight of the day.
That was until Oklahoma. Of 12 bowhunters in camp that week last year, eight of us arrowed 3 1/2- and 4 1/2-year-old bucks and another guy missed an easy shot at a nice whitetail. Perhaps it was all a great stroke of luck, but I'm hoping mightily we can pull it off again this week.
There are a couple decided qualifiers which tip the odds in the bowhunter's favor in Oklahoma.
First, the Sanderfords, Croton Creek Ranch owners/operators, hunt their spread very conservatively. It's safe to say they don't rely heavily on outfitting revenue for survival unlike many outfits that shoot their properties flat simply to keep their heads above water.
The other two aspects go hand-in-hand. Oklahoma allows baiting and the state was experiencing a terrible drought last year. There was limited natural food available, so visits to feeders distributing corn and Buck Blitz supplemental feed attracted plenty of attention.
As luck would have it -- for this year's guests and myself in regards to our upcoming hunt at least -- Oklahoma is again deep in drought (like seemingly the entire nation). So I'm shooting my Bear Archery Anarchy compound and Fred Bear Takedown recurve religiously. I plan to tote both on stand each day. Anything inside 25-30 yards, I grab for the recurve. Outside that range and I've got the Anarchy shooting dead nuts to 60 yards.
I'll let you know how it goes. My guess is I'll have an exciting tale to tell.
Idaho's archery elk season was a scorcher, and spooky dry. The air was filled with an ominous haze from distant forest fires most mornings, making glassing fruitless. By 8:30 soaring heat sent elk into cover and silence. It proved the most challenging elk hunting I've faced since moving to Idaho.
I've faced simular conditions during 20-some years bowhunting New Mexico's Gila region to be sure; the corn-flake ground, each step an auditory assault. Idaho normally affords quiter footing, though thick brush that clutches and trips can turn this long-time denizen of open Southwest habitat occasionally ill tempered.
In New Mexico dry years were banner seasons - limited, scattered stock tanks and wildlife drinkers making guarding water for thirsty elk deadly effective. Maybe too much so. Hunting water became so popular -- even during "wet years" -- stories of fist fights over possession of certain sites became commonplace.
Northern Idaho, even during the driest seasons, relinquishes perhaps too many watering options. Sitting water or wallows certainly can reap big rewards, but even during a year like this, when we haven't witnessed a drop of rain in nearly three months, there's plenty of water to go around. It becomes a hit-and-miss proposition, unlike the near surety of a Southwest water-hole during dry weather.
When Idaho woods turn this crunchy-noisy it really leaves only one option - calling. You're still going to be required to "dog" bugling bulls to stay in the game, use all the stalking skills at your disposal, but ultimately calling skills creates the shot.
This involves wearing the quietest duds possible and pulling "stalking slippers" over clumsy boots to insulate steps across grinding gravel and snapping twigs. This season that was First Lite's lightweight Merino wool (in Max-1 camouflage). Merino's the ultimate stealth wear, naturally antimicrobial on those sweaty days, and it doesn't shine, absorbing UV rays to eliminate the "glow" perceived by cervids if not humans. Rancho Safari makes the stalking slippers I prefer (Cat Prowlers), which include bear-paw-like, synthetic-fur soles, high fleece sides and front zippers to secure snagging boot laces.
Calling isn't exactly a novel enterprise here in Idaho. The morning I got on the herd I plucked my bull from there were two others calling to those elk. I knew this because, well, they sounded like hunters opperating calls and not elk. I guess I sounded more like elk than hunter, as after shadowing a mixed herd of talkitive elk a couple hours, closing to within 70 yards, one of those bulls turned to ingestigate my mixed cow/calf mews and squealing "spike" bugles.
I shot him at 7 yards in extra-tight cover. It was one of the coolest elk hunts of my career, even if he was my smallest bull to date; a big-bodied 4x4 with four or five seasons behind him (judging from tooth wear). Idaho doesn't relinquish the best genetics in the West, but tags are easy to secure, and bowhunting elk every season for average elk is certainly more fun than bowhunting every fifth, or 10th, year for the best around.
Trail Cams and Wind
Archery deer season opened here several days ago. I've sat only twice, hoping for a velvet whitetail, passing up a couple of decent bucks (one only because he'd stripped his velvet). I've yet to sit where I really want to; the ancient apple tree with seven gorgeous velvet bucks visiting like clockwork, two real bombers appearing to be at least 6 1/2 years old. I invested in those two sits (water-holes both) not because they're my very best stands, but because wind was favorable and I hoped a wildcard buck might show who'd escaped having his picture taken. Turns out every single deer I saw during those sits were already cataloged. Meanwhile, the clock's ticking. Season opener, in regards to velvet whitetail antlers, is a 50-50 deal to begin with. As each day passes my goal of velvet antlers diminishes.
To be honest, I'm getting a little frustrated. I've even performed the entire scent-elimination program and suited up a couple of evenings, prompted by favorable winds (out of the east and away from where those bucks generally emerge -- relitively infrequent during any season -- and perhaps why they feel so safe there), only to discover as I exit the house that the wind has turned around, leaving my No. 1 stand off limts yet again. That's the crux of early seasons; screw up now and you'll suffer the consequences months down the road. My chances of arrowing one of those behemoths remains excellent even if I'm unable to hunt through the whole of September -- as that stand also happens to overlook a crossroads consistently supporting major scrapes through the rut, and is also a place where one of the behemoths appeared last fall. So I resist the urge to take chances and sit when wind isn't 100 percent.
WeatherChannel.com has promised the needed east wind several times during the past week, but the high-pressure system that's left us without rain for two months has proven stubbornly persistent. Wind was supposed to come out of the northeast today (not perfect but good enough). It's blowing out of the north -- stand to apple tree. Tomorrow, I'm absolutely supposed to have my wind. I sincerely hope so; I'm beginning to feel foolish, taking it all so personally. I tell myself weather is just another one of those things that go on without me.
I guess I'm left with the question of whether trail cams are taking away from my enjoyment of the sport. Without knowing absolutely who was showing up when and where, I might happily sit those "dead" stands, full of hope and antisipation, putting in my time, "earning it." I feel a little guilty sitting it out simply because a particular buck I've laid all hopes on is temporarily out of reach -- not giving it an honest try because of an insistance on playing the odds.
Would it be better not to know, to delude myself into relying on only luck and chance? That's the question I ask myself, sitting out another fine evening, waiting on an east wind.
Do you believe in the October Lull? And does it really begin in September?
My big plans for a velvet white-tailed buck fell through again. I had some nice bucks on camera but uncooperative weather -- ill winds mostly -- permitted limited stand time. My best stand was also being haunted by a cougar (a young calf was killed nearby), and that didn't help either. It's been a strange fall; half the West is seemingly on fire, and hot weather and scary-dry conditions making even elk hunting unappealing (though there have been some close calls). I checked cameras a few days ago. Every single buck is now hard horned, and edging toward nocturnal schedules.
So begin the toughest days in whitetail hunting. Velvet bucks remain relatively predictable, running in bachelor groups, keeping gentlemanly hours, sticking close to food (or water). The minute they strip velvet everything changes completely. Bucks generally turn nocturnal, split up and seek thicker cover where they lay low until the rut.
It's often referred to as the October Lull, but it really starts in mid-September in most areas (the October designation is due to the fact many Eastern archery seasons don't open until then). Daylight buck movement remains minimal.
But obviously whitetails can be bow-killed during this time, as witnessed by scads of early season bucks arrowed annually. Food (or water) remain the hot ticket, but plan on getting into your stand an hour before daylight to be on hand for the dimmest shooting hours, staying until the last second of shooting hours in the evenings. This is especially true in regions where baiting is legal, or when conditions are such that food is scarce, like the situation I discovered in Oklahoma the first week of season last year. Persistent drought and corn feeders supplemented by protein feed meant 12 bowhunters tagged eight 3 1/2- and 4 1/2-year-old bucks that week, but admittedly this was exceptional luck.
Post-velvet early seasons can leave you jumping from one foot to the other, as while daytime movement might be rare, the trail-camera junkie discovers bucks continue to appear on cameras just often enough -- normally when you're somewhere else -- to inspire hope. My two biggest Idaho bucks to appear on camera last season showed while I was in Oklahoma, naturally, before disappearing for good.
I guess the message here is trophy bucks can still be tagged right now; it's just a matter of how unpleasant or enjoyable sitting in treestands is for you. If sitting for hours with few deer sightings dosen't bother you, by all means put in your time early. The bucks are still out there. They still must eat. You just never know. You might win the treestand lottery game and pick the right stand on the right morning or evening.
Me? I can assure you, in the next couple of weeks, if I'm not chasing elk (or I'm lucky enough to punch my elk tag), I'll be spending every spare moment on stand, hoping for early whitetail success.
My Current Favorites
Being a long-time hanger-on in the archery industry I get to play with lots of gear. From bows to arrows I take advantage of this privilege, making an attempt to test as wide a variety of gear as possible so I can speak authoritatively on any equipment subject. Invariably, as the season developes and I begin shooting in earnest, favorites emerge. Here are my pets from the current batch (all but the recurve available in Realtree camouflage).
I stand 6-feet, 5-inches tall so have a very long draw length. This easily explains my propensity for longer axle-to-axle compounds. Bear Archery Company's Anarchy is just that, a compound stretched to provide added forgiveness and accuracy, while weighing only 3.8 pounds. To my mind its 35.25-inch axle-to-axle is the perfect balance for bowhunting (not target) shootability. It's also fast, 340 fps IBO velocities a product of the company's new Flat Top (single) Cam with 80 percent let-off - a silky-smooth system sans distracting bumps and let-off jars. It also includes past-parallel Max Pre-Load Quad Limbs, silencing Dual Arc Offset String Suppressors, 4x4 Roller Guard and Zero Tolerance Limb Pockets. In short, its long-riser/short-limb configuration and 7.25-inch brace makes it a sweet shooter.
Hoyt's Carbon Matrix is a masterpiece of space-age technology, though admittedly an expensive piece of technology (around $1,300 MSRP). The bow is 35 inches long (fitting my ideal) and weighs only 3.8 pounds. But that's not the entire picture; its Advanced Carbon Technology riser lending the bow a degree of balanced stability and vibration control not afforded most aluminum-riser bows. It's effortless to shoot and dead in the hand on release - while its new RKT Cams and moderate 6.75-inch brace propel arrows to 325 fps IBO. It does this with a draw cycle free of jarring bumps or back-wall surprises. It also holds Pro Lock X-Lite (limb) Pockets, XTS Pro Arc Limbs, Inner Race Bearing In-Line Roller Guard and Stealth Shot (string) Suppression System; all designed to make it quieter and more accurate.
I've always gotten along well with BowTech compounds but admit initial skepticism about the new, 4.3-pound Insanity CPX. It's short (32 inches axle-to-axle), with a low 6-inch brace height (normally indicating a touchy nature). Yet somehow, the Insanity manages to remain forgiving (I've shot 8-inch groups to 80 yards with mine), via its longer-than-average Center Pivot Extreme riser holding short Hardcore Preloaded Limbs. Its FLX-Guard system eliminates torque from buss cables at full draw, its Carbon Rod String Stop making it super quiet for a bow this fast. And fast is what the Insanity is all about - its Overdrive Binary Cam system blasting arrows to 355 fps IBO. Granted, for this speed you must deal with a slightly challenging draw cycle. Most markedly the bow drops into let-off somewhat abruptly - but all that speed really is addicting.
It's no secret I'm a traditional archery enthusiast, Bear Archery's new-style Takedown, at 64 inches (B riser, #3 limbs), has emerged as my favorite recurve, because its one of the smoothest yet speedy single-strings I've shot in ages - including a good number of custom models.
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