As indicated in the last chapter, my tougher hunts are over, but my bowhunting days are not. Since the hospital accident, I’ve searched to find hunts that I can do. Things have changed, but I’m still out there.
I have to use a guide, I have to drive to hunts, I have to shoot sitting down, but there are lots of bowhunts I still can do. So this last chapter is not my last bowhunting chapter. What follows are a few brief stories of successful bowhunts that have taken place since the hospital accident. Wild adventures? Not really, but fun hunts and I’m thankful for every day in the field.
After a major diaphragm surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in mid-September, 2009, I thought my bowhunting days would be at least a year away. I had a hunt booked in Iowa for November and when November came, I was one very sick guy. But I hopped (crawled?) into my car and drove to central Iowa. I hunted with Ryan Shankland who ran a camp for IMB Outfitters near Centerville. I’m a bit too old to sleep in a bunk room with a bunch of guys and one bathroom but that isn’t what we had. The lodge was huge and each hunter had a private bedroom and all the necessary amenities. The food was great and each guide was assigned to three hunters. Since I had health problems, this kind of help was important. I felt right at home.
Day one proved uneventful with only one small eight point seen. Day two found me in a ladder stand on an old abandoned farm. Sitting there in the dark I just had that feeling. It was such a great location, it was the rut and I was in Iowa. A break-of-dawn rattling sequence lasted a short 60 seconds and the results were instantaneous. A small spike cautiously slipped to within twenty yards of the ladder stand. Thirty seconds later an eight point walked straight in as if on an early morning stroll. He never knew I was there. While watching this two-year-old I heard the sound of footsteps in water from the other side of a cattail marsh located to my right. Thirty seconds later, there they were again. There was definitely a deer moving in those cattails. It had to be a buck and sure enough, two minutes later, I spotted him.
The bad news was that he was taking his good old time as big bucks often do. This fact was greatly outweighed by the good news. He was headed my way. For whatever reason, after I lost my lung, I was always lightheaded and have poor balance so I cannot stand to shoot. That was problem number one. Problem two was that several surgeries that affected my rib cage left me with a lot of pain on the right side. That pain dictates that I cannot shoot to my right. With a light-weight bow, straight ahead or to my left is fine, so guess where he stopped? Yep. On my right side at 25 yards. I figured him to be a main-frame ten with some odd points along each main beam. As I tried to twist while sitting, he walked on, stopping behind me at fifty yards where he proceeded to lick a branch and make a scrape. I used my mouth and gave a short grunt call with no results. But the snort-wheeze call got his attention and in he came, from behind, heading to my left. Perfect.
He turned broadside, walking very fast and headed into my scent path. I drew, grunted to stop him and released a bit too quickly. Apparently there were two small twigs and I hit both, deflecting the arrow. I watched those white feathers pass through the buck, well back of the vitals. He hunched up, walked slowly away and bedded at eighty yards in the thick brush. After watching him for thirty minutes, I snuck out and grabbed the cell phone to call Ryan.
We decided to wait all day and then went back, quietly walking into the area. We spotted him standing, then slowly following a doe, right where I left him. He could barely move and Ryan whispered, “He cannot go far. Let’s come back in the morning.” I agreed.
We backed out and came back the next morning but found nothing. A discouraging all-day search was fruitless. I hunted that area the next two days hoping to see some crows or hear coyotes but there was nothing. I harvested a doe the last evening and departed for home, dejected for making such a poor shot on a great buck.
I thought that was the end of the story, until early April when Darrin Bradley, owner if IMB Outfitters, gave me a call. “Dave, my guide who now runs the Iowa camp was up there moving stands yesterday and found a buck very close to your stand. I’ll email you a photo,” Darrin said. With anticipation I opened that email, and there he was. The unusual points I saw on each side turned out to be shorter tines located on each side between the G2 and G3 tines. No question about it, it was him. I called the guide who found him (Preston Frasier) to get the story. Preston found the buck along the stream beside my stand, then called Ryan to find out if anyone had shot a buck in that area. Ryan gave him my name and Preston then called Darrin. My taxidermist found me a hide and the rest is history.
I have no clue how we missed finding that buck. I walked that small stream three different times. Darrin and Preston could have kept those antlers, mounted it and put him in the Iowa lodge. Finders keepers is the saying, but not for IMB. They contacted me right away and made me a happy camper. In this case, the finder was a guide who cares about his clients. Like I said, with a little help, I’m still out there.
In February, 2010, I drove to the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting in San Antonio. I figured that if I had to drive that far (26 hours), I might as well bowhunt a bit. So after the meeting I drove an hour to the 777 Ranch, near Hondo.
The first night my guide, Les Zimmerman and I sat a stand looking for wild hogs. Although we didn’t see any hogs, we did spot several big fallow deer stags. In my former life I hunted fallow stags in New Zealand but came home empty handed. With those sightings I asked Les if we might bowhunt the fallows and he agreed.
The next morning we hopped into the open Land Rover and cruised some of the 15,000 acres found on the ranch. The 777 Ranch has many exotic species from all over the world so I began keeping a list of species spotted and over the next three days would see 48, from elk to oryx to kudu to addax antelope. Seeing those species was educational and downright enjoyable.
After a great lunch at the main lodge, Les and I headed out again and spotted two fallow stags feeding in a strip of trees between two fields. We hopped out of the vehicle and quickly squirted ahead, setting up some cover for a ground blind. Within five minutes the two stags came into view. The biggest stag was a tan, white-spotted fallow and when he got within twenty yards a quartering-away shot was right on. He never knew I was there and went down in eighty yards. The European mount of that stag now hangs in my den.
While searching the Internet for bowhunts that my health situation would allow me to do, I came across Dave Keiser, who only caters to bowhunters for turkeys via his Double K Guide Service in Gregory, South Dakota. From a physical standpoint, most anyone can do a turkey hunt as you only need to sit in a blind. Keiser’s information on Merriam’s turkey numbers (lots of birds) and bowhunter success rates (near 100%), plus a call to the Bowhunter magazine staff that have hunted there, sealed the deal. Apparently there were Merriam’s galore.
The price for guide service, lodging and food was also affordable so in early April, 2011, I headed for Gregory and the opening of the gobbler season. Once settled in, Dave assigned me to Jeff Quinn, an assistant with tons of Merriam’s experience. Prior to daylight, Jeff and I grabbed a Double Bull Blind and headed for a 600-yard-long field overlooking the Missouri River. Birds roosted near the river then came to this field to court and feed. At dawn we started hearing birds leave the roost and soon close to 100 hens and gobblers were within 150 yards of the blind. Hens were busy turning over cow patties for insects and grubs. The gobblers had other things on their mind and as soon as one group of birds left the field, others came up from the river. The “parade” of birds continued until 9:30 A. M. when the field was empty. None had come close enough for a shot but it was one of the most interesting mornings I’d ever spent.
That afternoon we returned to the same spot and got into the blind early before any birds entered the field. The morning and evening strategy was to never let any birds see us entering or leaving the blind. It worked, but I ended up missing a gobbler at 30 yards. No matter. It seemed that there were always more birds coming and going.
Early the second morning, we’d repositioned our blind and put out a crouched turkey decoy. The first group off the roost passed 60 yards to our right but the second group hung around and one dandy spotted the decoy and began to strut as he slowly approached the blind. It took him a good 15 minutes to come 50 yards but eventually he was right there, eight yards from us, focused on the decoy. My arrow flew true and the hunt was over.
No special equipment is needed for Merriam’s turkeys. You might take some decoys and a comfortable portable chair, though Dave will provide those for you. You definitely want to use expandable broadheads to ensure recovery of your bird. Hunters stay in a house in Gregory and there is food for breakfast and lunch available. A nice couple from town brought hot dinner to the house and no one left hungry. The bowhunt was four days and most hunters left their birds with Angela Wilson of Wild Intrigue Taxidermy. I found her work to be outstanding. Some of the gobblers are pure Merriam’s with the solid white band on the tail, while others are hybrids of Merriam’s and Eastern’s called “mudders” with a light tan band on the outer tail feathers. You can purchase a license on line For more information call Dave at home at 605 835-8658 or his cell at 830-2091.
My friends at Bowhunter magazine were right. It was the most amazing turkey situation I’d ever seen. Gobblers galore and Dave Keiser knew exactly what to do (see photo 22.3).
I’ve bear hunted many times and am an admitted addict. When Rob Evans showed me photos of the Booner he took with Jamie Balan of E and D Outfitters, Manitoba, in 2006, I jumped at the chance to bowhunt there. We were hunting the fall season and I learned that even in years of good berry crops, bears would come to baits in the fall.
Bear bait hunts are not physically demanding as you don’t usually go to stands until mid-afternoon. Jamie only puts hunters on baits where a beaver hung at nine feet has been taken. That means big bears are there. The first afternoon I hunted the Bridge Stand located near the lodge. It was surrounded by thick alder and lots of hazel nuts and cranberries. I saw three bears and one that was in the 500-pound range but no shot was available. Rob saw seven bears and another hunter saw 14.
On day two a huge wolf came in and chased a small boar from the bait. Quite a sight. The third night I saw 12 bears on one bait. I saw more bears at the bait on day four than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Twenty-one different bears came to bait. Sows, sows with cubs, boars. It was a busy place but just before dark, I shot the biggest bear of all that came to that bait. He wasn’t one of Jamie’s monsters, but he was a dandy.
Trinidad, Colorado is a long drive from West Virginia but that is where Fred and Michele Eichler’s Fulldraw Outfitters is located. So, at age 70, I took my first Amtrak ride. With three meals a day and a chance to sleep all night, it was a good way to travel. With a sleeper room, the cost is more than airfare, a bit slower but an option you should consider.
Hunting with my good friends, Fred and Michele is a great experience. Beautiful country, very good food, comfortable lodging and wonderful people. Even so, my first three days were slow. Those August days in blinds were very long and hot but I knew the goats were there and several hunters were successful. On day four I saw three different bucks in the distance, but none came to the water until dusk. A good buck was feeding on some potato vine 60 yards from the blind when an even bigger buck poked his head over a far ridge, looking my way. Ten minutes later he started for the water and once there, gave me a broadside shot at 24 yards. My Muzzy-tipped arrow flew true and the hunt was over.
Almost all of Eichler’s pronghorn bowhunters are successful. The week I was there, six of seven hunters took animals and five were Pope and Young qualifiers. Antelope are for anyone and a great species to bowhunt.
There are lots of deer outfitters out there. At my age, I like to go to a small operation that takes few bowhunters, yet has a good place to rest with private bedrooms and plenty of bathrooms. And so in 2010 I hunted with Shawn Reiff of High Adrenaline Outfitters out of Beatrice, Nebraska. He has a small, bow-only operation with lots of leased farms and a great knowledge of bowhunting. My first afternoon Shawn put me in blind on the edge of a cut cornfield. I’d placed some Smokey’s Pre-Orbital Gland Lure on a limb 30 yards away and scraped the ground beneath it. An hour later a dandy eight-point came out of a deep hollow and went straight to that mock scrape. He went through the buck/scrape ritual then walked in front of me. A nice buck but just not old enough. Once in the field, he started to feed and immediately a dandy buck stepped out at one hundred yards.
As the two bucks neared each other, the younger eight backed down. The big guy immediately walked to the mock scrape, tore up the overhanging limb, pawed the ground and was urinating when I released the arrow. The shot was perfect and he was down in fifty yards.
With all I’d endured the previous three years, this buck was a treasure. Being back in the woods with the smell of old fields and dead leaves was something that I appreciated more than ever. Don’t take your bowhunting for granted and take advantage of some of these hunts that are perfect for everyone, including wounded old-timers.
There have been some other successful post-surgery bowhunts. In 2011 there was a decent buck in Kansas in 2012 there were big bears in Quebec and in Manitoba. Those hunts were not what I’d call big adventure hunts to exotic new places, but they were great hunts. I’m not sure what the future holds but I do know I’ve got several good hunts on the calendar.
What happens beyond that? I’m not in control, so I have no idea. I do know that my quiver holds fewer arrows but for sure, there are more adventures out there. The outdoors has been my life, my career, my recreation. I thank God for the wildlife career, for the writing career, for family that didn’t complain and for friends who have lifted me up and for friends who continue to help me be a bowhunter. You know who you are and you all have been a blessing in my life.
Albert Einstein was a most interesting, and obviously brilliant, man. He once wrote that “there are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I’m in the group that believes that everything is a miracle. It’s more fun to believe that than muddle along with the alternative.
NOTE: This is the final chapter in Dr. Dave’s exciting book, An Empty Quiver, covering his life in woods pursuing game with a bow and arrow. We owe Dave a debt of gratitude for allowing us to share his many adventures with us. If you love bowhunting this is a must have book for you. Thank you Dave for all you have done to make our sport the success it has become and for thinking ahead to ensure it will remain so in the future. Your wildlife knowledge and dedication is unparalleled and even though some difficult health issues may have slowed you, it never stopped your desire for bowhunting. Thank you for everything.
For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel