Entry Title: Weather-Beating Photogs
By John Hafner with Stephanie Mallory
Location: Triangle T Outfitters in North-Central Texas
Hunters: John Hafner, Realtree public relations coordinator, outfitter Ed Tibljas and outdoor photographers Mitch Kezar, Dusan Smetana and Troy Batzler
Dates: Mid-November 2004
Even with some weather concerns, Hafner (right) was able to score at Triangle!
team realtree photo
Game Hunted: Whitetail deer and wild hogs
Terrain: Mix of flat terrain with thick brush, brush-covered hills and rocky canyons
The purpose of this hunt was to field test and photograph our new open-terrain camouflage pattern -- Advantage MAX-1 HD.
Off to a Bad Start
I had a bad feeling about the hunt from the moment I received the phone call. The owner of Triangle T Outfitters, Ed Tibljas, called me a couple days prior to the hunt to urge me to reschedule due to the massive amount of rain that had fallen in the area for 10 straight days. Even though he had more than 30,000 acres of leased land available to hunt, we would only be able to access 2,000 or 3,000 acres of it due to severe flooding. He said many of the roads had been completely washed out. But we had already put so much planning into this hunt, and everyone's schedules were so busy, the odds of rescheduling it before the end of the Texas deer season were not good. We decided to take our chances and make the best of whatever conditions we faced.
Mitch, Dusan, Troy and I flew to Dallas and then drove west across Texas to Triangle T Outfitters. When we arrived, we could see the immense damage that had been done by the rain. Several of the back roads were washed away, the ground was soaking wet and muddy and, by all reports, the deer weren't moving.
It was decided early in the planning stages of the hunt that the group of hunters would have to deal with harsh terrain conditions.
I was a little pessimistic about the hunt and concerned about the photo shoot that probably wouldn't happen. You need good light to make good photos, and our light was anything but good. One of my goals for that week was to photograph our new pattern, Advantage MAX-1 HD, and it just didn't look like conditions outside were going to cooperate. The weather was cold, nasty and just all-around miserable.
On the first morning of the hunt, Ed's Jeep got stuck in a creek that crossed one of the dirt roads leading to our hunting spot. Mitch was riding shotgun in the jeep, and the rest of us were following behind in a SUV. The creek was roaring and looked pretty rough, but we thought we could make it across. We quickly realized we were wrong. The Jeep made it to the middle of the creek, and then got stuck and died. The water, approximately three-foot deep in some places, rose above the tires and poured into the Jeep. Luckily, Mitch's very valuable photo gear was spared.
Mitch sat in the Jeep on the passenger side with his feet up on the dash for over an hour while we tried to pull the Jeep back out of the creek. By the time we got it out of the water, it was almost 10:00 a.m. We returned to camp to eat lunch and then got geared up for the afternoon hunt.
One Lucky Pig
That evening, Ed hunted with me out of a box blind. A couple hours after setting up in the blind, we spotted a large Russian boar about 300 yards away from us. He crossed the field we were watching and stopped about 50 yards from us. I was tempted to shoot him but decided to wait. The sun was sinking fast, and the deer were starting to move. I figured I'd have another chance to harvest a pig during the remaining five days of the hunt. But, had I known that I wouldn't see a buck that evening and that I wouldn't see another hog during the hunt, I would have taken the shot. We returned to camp empty handed that night but with hopes of more opportunities the next day.
The hunters keyed on deer transition zones even though deer movement was limited.
I got to my stand early the next morning but saw little action throughout the day. I only spotted two does - no bucks or pigs came into sight. At least the rain had subsided by then. I took advantage of the better light and did some MAX-1 photography. I was excited to see that our new open-terrain pattern is very effective in Texas. The pattern does an awesome job of blending into a variety of open environments, and is effective not only in Texas, but in other parts of the West - not to mention croplands, treetops and other open environments across the East. I think hunters will be very impressed with Advantage MAX-1 HD.
A Change of Luck
That afternoon, I planned to hunt by myself. At approximately 3:30 p.m. I reached my stand, which looked out over a creek bottom known as a hot spot for pigs. We were all hunting the same ranch that afternoon, and the property had not been hunted in over eight years. We were optimistic about our chances of seeing some good bucks. I began to glass back and forth along a steep ridge in front of me. About 20 minutes into the hunt, I looked off to my left and caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Then I spotted the dark shape of antlers moving through the brush approximately 80 yards from me. My heart raced as I noticed right away that the antlers were pretty large.
The entire sequence of events that followed happened very quickly. As soon as I could see the deer's body, I saw that he presented me with a clean shot. I'm glad that I didn't have much time to think, wait and agonize over the opportunity. It seems like whenever I have plenty of time to contemplate a shot, I'm more likely to make mistakes.
While rattling, hunters had to keep a sharp eye out for bits and pieces of deer on the prowl. The Texas bush country made deer vanish in the blink of an eye.
The landscape in that part of Texas is so different than what I'm used to hunting. It's very dense. A deer can appear right in front of you and then disappear into the brush within a matter of seconds. So, I decided to take the first broadside shot he gave me with my Thompson/Center Encore .270 single-shot. My aim was good, and the buck dropped right there. As I began to reload the gun, the deer jumped back up and took off. I watched him for a few seconds and I tried to get him in my scope. I was shocked that he was going that strong. Then, he spun around and came back toward me. At about 60 yards, I shot and dropped him again. He stumbled to his feet and kept coming toward me. I couldn't believe it. I had already made two good shots right behind the shoulder, but I didn't want him to get away or suffer unnecessarily, so I reloaded my gun and shot him one last time. Finally the buck went down for good.
I was so excited about taking a good buck, and I was amazed that I could reload that rifle so quickly. The three shots were probably overkill, but it was my best buck so far. Out of respect for the deer and out of a desire to put him down for good, I wanted to make sure he didn't get away.
A Unique Deer
When I walked up to the buck, I was thrilled by the size of his antlers, and I let out a victory cheer. He wasn't a record book buck or anything, but he was nice. Only a few minutes had passed since I climbed I into the stand that afternoon. Everything happened so quickly, and my adrenaline was really pumping. That nine-point was by far the best deer I had ever taken. And he represented the end to a tough hunt - a hunt that, had Mother Nature had her way, wouldn't have happened.
The buck's antlers had some very unique characteristics. His tines almost touched in the front, and the tips of four of his tines had growths resembling acorns. I've heard that flies will sometimes get into a buck's antlers while they're still in velvet and lay their larva. The antler sometimes forms a hard mass around the larva. The taxidermist said there were also chunks of mesquite imbedded deep within the antlers, so I guess the odd growths could also have been a result of the mesquite. Either way, it made for a really unique trophy.
With a gang full of accomplished photographers, plenty of great bow setup shots were taken.
Well, it was only 4:00 p.m. when I shot the buck, and no one was going to pick me up until after dark. I dragged my buck down to the road and decided to get back into my stand to hunt for pigs.
I sat in the stand for several hours but I didn't see anything. It began to get dark, cold and windy. The outfitter had told me that there were lots of coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions on the ranch. The diehard photographer in me really wanted to see a bobcat or mountain lion, but it wasn't meant to be. The coyotes howled all around me as I enjoyed the cool breezes and the red-orange sky as the sun dipped below the horizon.
Photo Gallery From The Hunt--By John Hafner
Overall, the hunt ended up being a lot more productive than I had predicted. Despite the horrible weather, Dusan shot an eight-point as well as three wild pigs, and Mitch had a couple of close calls with good bucks, but just couldn't get a shot. We also got plenty of great photos of Advantage MAX-1 HD. Even though you typically don't photograph during the middle of the day because of the light is usually harsh, the sky was overcast most of the time so we had decent, diffused light throughout the day. When we weren't hunting or photographing, we spent time in camp shooting our bows and crossbows and just hanging out, sharing hunting stories and talking about the latest digital photography gear.
The camaraderie on the hunt was great. When I first got started in outdoor photography a few years ago while in graduate school in Montana, I studied the work of the top nature and wildlife photographers. It was there that I became familiar with Mitch and Dusan's work, and it was a real treat for me to hunt and photograph with them and get to know them better. I can learn more by shooting for a few days with them than I can by taking any photo class or reading any how-to book. And Troy, who is a few years younger than I am, is an up-and-coming photographer with lots of talent. I expect to see lots of his photos in outdoor magazines in the near future. With digital technology, we were able to review and critique our images every night in camp on Mitch's laptop computer. It was definitely a high-tech digit
One of the most memorable parts of the hunt was dining at Billy's BBQ. Billy is an older gentleman who owns a small BBQ restaurant near the camp we stayed at. We'd call Billy everyday and ask him to open the restaurant up for us each evening. At every meal, he served us what he called a "gut buster," which included a huge pile of ribs, brisket and mashed potatoes and gravy. He also smoked some of the wild pig meat for us to take home. Billy is a great guy, and his hospitality and sense of humor were much appreciated.
So, in the end, everything worked out perfectly. We had a great time, we harvested some nice deer and hogs, and we ate some great food. It was a memorable trip, and I look forward to hunting and photographing with those guys again someday.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON
OUTFITTER AND PHOTOGRAPHERS
For more information on Triangle T Outfitters, call 817-279-2223 or 817-573-4777, or check out www.triangletoutfitters.com.
Mitch Kezar: www.windigoimages.com
Dusan Smetana: www.dusansmetana.com
Troy Batzler: www.troybatzler.com