Wednesday, February 1, 2017

THE Weekend Hunt

Hunting in South Texas, you have to get accustomed to hunting conditions that better lend themselves to wearing shorts and a t-shirt, than what most typically think of as hunting gear.  That was the case for the majority of the 2016-2017 Texas Whitetail season in the lower end of the state.  There even was a time when I threw in the towel having grown tired of sweat beads rolling down by my back.

We did have that weekend though; the one where the front rolls in and there is no place the hunter would rather be than out in the brush.  It was late December and as I made my way from the Texas Gulf Coast to Dimmit County, the temperature just kept getting colder.  When I arrived at the ranch, it was in the mid 30's and with a clear sky, it was bound to dip below freezing.

After a chilly night in our hunting cabin that is only warmed by small space heaters, I climbed out of bed and got ready for the morning hunt with a bit of trepidation knowing it was going to be a chilly sit. The car thermometer read 24 degrees, but I did find some consolation knowing the winds had calmed from the day before when the front initially blew in, and with 3 layers of clothing on, I knew it wouldn't be too bad.

I didn't know it as I climbed into my homemade ground blind, but this was going to be one of those days.  The days hunters live to see!  Deer were on the move, and although it wasn't the peak of the rut, there was plenty of rut behavior that had bucks acting in ways they typically would not for the majority of the year.  This was certainly the case when, right as the sun came up, ran within 3-4 yards of my ground blind (consequently giving me quite a start).  He had apparently lost track of the doe he was chasing, and we has frantically running circles trying to pick up her scent.  The action didn't stay as feverish as that, but I did plenty of deer all morning, and really had the feeling that today was going to be a great day.

Just watching the deer was such a treat this chilly morning.  Bucks making runs at does, bucks interacting with each other, small bucks play-fighting as they pushed each other back and forth, and all the interactions that make you just marvel at how lucky we are to enjoy this sport.  Even though it was cold, there was no place I would have rather been at that moment.

After some time of enjoying the sights, I was now narrowing down the options of what I may try to take.  A doe was the original plan, but here was a heavy horned main frame 8 with several kickers, and a cull 5 pt that was too old to sport a rack as meager as he was showing.  Given the number of does on the ranch, it was the most obvious choice to take the doe, but that was really a tough choice with the heavy horned 8 standing broadside at 20 yards.  I did decide to stick to the original plan and take a doe, and given how perfectly the morning went, I didn't see how it could possibly go wrong.

In front of me were two solid bucks; an unimpressive 8, a nice 4 1/2 year of 10 that was getting pass to make sure he had plenty of chances to breed, and a decent doe.  The bucks were not overly impressed with each other's presence so there was a fair amount of posturing and intimidation going on, with no real threat of any true brawl.  As is often the case though, if you are patient, the place switching and moving of the deer usually will work to your advantage, and now the doe was squarely in front of me at 20 yards with both bucks completely out of the way.  This was going down!

Raising and lifting my bow alerted the doe to presence (mistake #1; nothing I couldn't overcome), although the ground blind I had constructed was so beautifully put together that she really did know I was there.  She bolted slightly and turned at 25 yards looking directly at me trying to decipher the threat.  That unimpressive 8 was looking my way too, but only because the doe was, as he had no idea what was going on.  During all of this I bumped the video camera with my arrow (mistake #2: now I was just getting lucky that these weren't smarter deer), but the deer didn't run.  As I came to full draw (get a load of this!) the winter ski mask I was wearing blocked the view of my pin from my right eye (mistake #3: you got to be kidding me, right??).  This was a ski mask I had never worn before and only took as an afterthought because it was going to be so cold.  Huge lesson here, don't venture into the brush with untested gear!  Given this while fully drawn and 2 deer staring directly at me, I had to take my right hand and try to pull the ski mask to allow sight to my pin, which I was able to do as the deer just continued to look on, probably completely perplexed by the actions of the idiot hunter 20 yards away from them.

Things were not going my way, but here I was fully drawn on the game of choice at 20 yards.  It was time to let 'er rip.  I gently squeeze the release and the arrow was off...way off.  Like "what the heck just happened" off!  I knew I was high and left and had missed the deer, but I could not figure out how I could have been that far off.  Reviewing the video showed that the arrow had flow over the doe's head.  To help paint the picture, I aimed at the doe's rib cage looking to double lung her, and the arrow flew over the does head!  That has to be off by a couple FEET!

The doe fled, so did the bucks with her, and I sat there completely beside myself trying to piece together what happened.  I exited the ground blind and retrieved my arrow.  It was broken in half and only being held together by one vein. So happened?

Near as I can tell, the arrow had a crack in it that was not noticeable to the naked eye, but caused a defect in the arrow.  When the arrow was released the kinetic force broke the arrow and caused the erratic flight and allowed the doe to live another day.

This is a hunt I may always remember.  It started off so perfectly and ended so shamefully.  Should have better inspected my equipment before going out?  Probably, but what are the odd?  Now I had used the arrow before on a javelina, but who doesn't recycle arrows?  I've also used the arrow on many targets, but don't you do that, too?  It was definitely one that had left me scratching my head looking for the lesson to be learned.  But I think the lesson is this, and it's one we all know.

Every trip that we are fortunate enough to make is a special hunt.  That morning I saw deer like many only dream of seeing, and every year the opportunity to hunt is afforded by fewer and fewer people.  Consequently, more and more people are losing touch with a sport that dates back to the beginning of time and is such a rich part of our heritage.  Next time I go into the field (which is 3 days away and can't get here soon enough), I'm going to try to make it a point to see forest AND the trees, listen to the birds, notice the sunrise, and truly be thankful for such a great opportunity...and oh by the way, maybe I'll get to shoot some quail, too!

I hope you get to enjoy it soon yourself!

The highlights of that hunt can be seen here:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Product Review Part 2: Rage X-Treme 2 Blade

If you haven't already done so, please check out my first blog on the Rage X-Treme.  It can be found here:

Having settled my concern over the mechanical broad head, I now entered the field with hopes of taking a doe.  The hunt was still fairly early in the season, but close enough to the rut that bucks were continuing to establish their domination.  This played out 20 yards before me as a young 7 point did his best to ensure every buck under the age of 3 and every doe knew he top dog.  The small smattering of corn in front of my tripod was all his and he was under no obligation to share.  He demonstrated his bravado by quickly running at, and even aiming the points of his rack, at all comers. This went on for nearly an hour.  He would eat corn as a few does stood in the distance.  When he seemed distracted, they would move in, but this was no 2 year old buck, and when he saw their advances, he was quick to fend them off.

About the time I figured this guy was going to keep both the does, and any shot I had a taking a doe, at bay all morning and perhaps I should just give up and head back to camp for a couple breakfast tacos, out came a beautiful 5 1/2 year old 9 point. Ears back and hair beginning to stand on end, the buck moved toward the corn.  Our mighty 7 pt. did all he could to welcome the elder visitor and quickly moved away ensuring the 9 point had all he needed to eat.  Funny how the pecking order can change so quickly.

As the 9 pt moved in for a quick bite, the does were also allowed to graze on the corn.  The mature buck only had to give a glance if anyone got too close, but generally he had no problem sharing.

This time of year is always a curious one.  The mature buck ate with seemingly no interest in the does, but then with one flick of a tail that changed and he dipped his head and moved quickly toward one of the ladies. The doe he was after ran off just like every hunter has seen happen, and the buck was happy to chase.

Now was my chance!

In front of me now was a healthy looking doe and a more slender grayish colored doe who clearly had a fawn with her.  The fawn had to have been dropped very late as it was significantly smaller in size than any other fawn I had seen.  Deciding to let the doe with the fawn live to look after her pipsqueak fawn, my sights turned to other.

Getting to full draw on a deer is difficult.  Getting to full draw with 3 sets of eyes constantly moving and looking for danger gets really tough, but patience always seems to pay off.  The 9 pt had emerged about 60 yards away and his presence was enough to get all three does looking in his direction which was across a field and away from me.

The light Northeast breeze was just enough noise to make the sound of the arrow sliding back into place completely undetectable.  With incredible speed my mind ran through a mental check list; forefinger knuckle pressed into right ear, lower lip lightly touching the fletching, left hand grip is loose, sight finds target through peep, deep breath, and...light squeeze.

The doe is tries to duck the arrow, but the Bear Legion proves itself too fast and as she loops to the right and darts across the field I can see the arrow dangling on through the exit wound which is already beginning to bleed profusely.  The arrow had found its mark and the Rage X-Treme 2 Blade had clearly done significant damage.

After crushing a couple bacon, egg, and cheese tacos, changing clothes, and grabbing the .22 I headed out to see if I could find my doe.  I felt wasn't lacking confidence given the way the hunt had played out.  Surprisingly, there wasn't too much blood...until there was.  A dot here, a speck there, and then what looked like someone flinging wet paint off a brush onto the brush.  The doe had run about 40 yards before she fell into a clump of brush.  A quick, ethical kill.

The Rage had indeed done its job.  You can see the damage inflicted on my YouTube page, search for Cowley Outdoors, or just click the link:

Again the Rage was impressive.  Two hunts, two shots, and two times it just devisated the prey.  If you are considering using them, may suggestion would be to quit waiting and do it.  Important to point out that I have no afffliation with Rage, and simply want other hunters to know what has worked for me, and the Rage X-Treme 2 Blade certainly has!

Cowley Outdoors in on YouTube

You can see a number of hunts, kill shots, and South Texas wildlife on my YouTube page.  Simply, search for Cowley Outdoors, or click the link below:

The point of the videos is to chronicle my adventures in the field, and now moving into videos of time spent on the Texas Coast.

If you like the videos, please subscribe!  If you also self-film hunts, shoot me a message with a link to your page.  It's always great to see the videos of fellow hunters, and I'm always open to swapping subscriptions.

The Lessons Never End

Expensive equipment, countless hours of your time given up, and arguments with significant others; all in an attempt to outdo our past adventures.
As bow hunters, we have all been there and we all hope that the upcoming season is the one where the wind blows in our direction, the prey of choice makes that fatal mistake, and the arrow finds it mark.
The 2016-2017 season was a tough one for me.  It came upon me quickly, and with outside obligations, it seemed as though there were never enough hours in the day to get the work in to ensure a successful year.  Feeders were filled as the opening of bow season arrived, stands were placed in a rush, and nothing seemed to go right leading up to my first hunt.  But the first hunt finally came!
It was a typical hot South Texas October evening where I had to keep my sunglasses on in an attempt to keep the mosquitoes from biting the one and only small area of skin visible to them as rain from previous weeks had really allowed them to flourish.  Having hunted this spot before, I felt confident that I would see some game and before too long an 8 pt in velvet and a few does emerged.  As they ate quietly in front of me, I got a kick out of the old doe imposing her will on the younger animals, keeping them from the prime eating area.  Even the young buck seemed to keep his distance as she gave him a look any child recognizes when mom wants you to quit.
As the shadows grew longer and wind began to die down, across a small clearing I saw what I knew was a buck we did not want breeding on the property.  When you hear that of a 10 point buck with an 18″ spread, one might immediately think we have the bar set a little high at our place, but seeing him with those spindly short tines, it was obvious he was not of great genetic potential.
My heart began to pump vigorously as I ensured my release was attached and ready for a quick draw. He made his way toward the other deer. The old doe’s stern gaze did not even phase the buck who knew in the pecking order, he was the one who would be dining wherever he would like.  By moving the doe aside, he put himself directly in my window of shot opportunity, and I was not going to let the opportunity slide!  All the mess ups of the off-season did not even seem to matter as the buck I was after was right here on my first hunt of the season!
The does scattered, the young velvet 8 had long since made his departure, and now it was just the junk 10 and me.  Something got his attention across the field and he stared in the opposite direction long and hard. This was my chance.  I drew the Bear Legion and heard the slightest sound of the arrow moving across the rest.  Immediately the buck’s ears pivoted in my direction and I knew he had heard the very same sound even more clearly than I, and he was 20 yards away!  His head spun in my direction and his tense body jolted abruptly.  In a fraction of second the buck had moved to about 25 yards as he tried to pinpoint the source of the noise.
It is amazing the number of thoughts that run through your head in such a short amount of time.  My heart was racing and nearly beating out of my chest.  I foolishly felt as if I did not take this shot I may never get one again!  And then I did it.  As the deer was still circling toward my direction I hit the trigger on my release.  The arrow was on its way.
I’ve told a number of people this story, and although it is hard to fathom, the last thought I had was, “NO!” before I let the arrow fly.  The deer had moved, and was still moving, when I made the decision to shoot, but by the time my eyes captured the image and my brain computed that the shot was not optimal, my finger had no time to stop already having begun its motion.
Instantly a feeling of dread came over me as I watch the deer run across the field with an arrow sticking out of his gut.
Time was given in hopes the deer would expire, but as night fell and the search began, the outcome of this hunt seemed very bleak.  No blood, no arrow, and no sign the hunt had ever even taken place.
Searching for a wounded animal in the South Texas brush country in complete darkness is not easy.  It is downright difficult.  The evening was so warm I knew giving it the night would likely spoil the meat, but I couldn’t see any other viable option.
A sleepless night of second guessing came to an end and the morning search began with luck no better than the previous night.  The buck would not be found.
Any respectable hunter has great admiration for the game he hunts.  I’ve often thought that part of the draw of hunting the wild is to feel, if only for a short time, as though you are part of the wild.  Knowing your prey completely fends for itself, has to live through harsh weather, and relies completely on itself for survival absolutely makes seeing it run off wounded by an outsider who has not earned the right to live this wild lifestyle almost unbearable.
The hunt was a bust, and it ended so pathetically because of my over ambitious enthusiasm.  It happens.  It happens because it is the first hunt of the season, or because you don’t get to go all that often, or because it is the buck you have been waiting to shoot.  Whatever the reason, the problem is the same.  The hunter feels that if he doesn’t grasp this opportunity, at this very second, the hunt, and possibly the season, is ruined.
What would have happened if I just held the shot?  Fully drawn, I can hold my position for a nice length of time. Certainly long enough to play out the situation and ensure a better shot could be made, or to possibly watch the deer realize the situation was dangerous enough to evacuate the area altogether.  And what if that happened?  What if the buck left, not certain of the danger upon him, but certain that something was not right?
You know what would have happened, and so do I.  It might have kept him out of the area for a short time, but he would not have left for good.  I would have had time to investigate the noise my bow made while mid draw. I would have corrected it and I would have gotten another shot at him…or maybe I wouldn’t have, but I would have gotten a shot.  Another shot of adrenaline on a future hunt, another shot to get it right, another shot at feeling wild!

Product Review: Rage X-Treme 2 Blade

Any time spent on social media and you will quickly see hunters are not without very strong opinions…too strong in many cases (although that sounds like a strong opinion right there!).  Such is the case with the optimal broad head to use for hunting big game.
To be completely upfront, I’m a fairly old school type hunter, and I don’t get overly caught up in needing the latest and greatest gadget needed to enjoy my hunt.  In nearly 20 years of bow hunting I have owned 3 bows.  Currently, I shoot a Bear Legion that I purchased about 4 years ago, and even on that bow, I used many of the accessories from the bow I had previously.  You can call me cheap, you can say I don’t deviate from something I like, or you can say I am just too lazy to keep up with the rapid changes of a billion dollar industry.  All are probable true to an extent.
When I first began bow hunting there were not as many choices of products and even fewer places those products could be purchased.  Making a selection on a broad head was more of an afterthought, and I really just wanted something I could find dependably without regard to where I was located; anything I could pick up at Academy or Wal-mart seemed to be the best option.  The broad head I chose was a Thunderhead 125 gr. and that is what I used for a good number of years.  A change was made to switch to a 100 gr. to lighten up some, but other than that, nothing much changed for a good long time.
Within the last couple seasons my interest was piqued by the outrageous pictures I saw on social media sites of the devastation caused by mechanical broad heads, but any time a decision was about to be reached to make the switch the same social media pages would yield a story of how the mechanical broad head malfunctioned leaving some poor hunter heartbroken as his prized game ran off wounded, but not fatally.
To be honest, I purchased the Rage X-Treme 2 Blade and kept it in my case for months.  I even put it on an arrow, but always took a reliable fixed broad head along as my go-to.  The thought of broad head malfunction always kept me away from using my new, fairly expensive, toy.
The opportunity did present itself though!  On a hot afternoon during the 2016-2017 deer season, a friend and I rounded a corner to catch a male javelina cleaning up the last of corn under a feeder.  Unarmed, we drove off and made our way back to camp.  My hunting partner had packed up his gear and was about to head home while I was planning on staying for the rest of the week, and as he drove off, I began to wonder if that javelina would still be hanging around that feeder. Within minutes I was grabbing my bow and off to go check.
With no javelina at the feeder I figured the chance had passed, but decided to spin the feeder just in case he was still within earshot, and wouldn’t you know it, after about 5 minutes, sheepishly appearing from the brushline was the same guy.
What a great opportunity to try to the Rage!  I grabbed the arrow with the X-Treme 2 blade loaded up and began to slowly and quietly stalk my way toward the collared peccary.
For those that don’t know, these animals are not known for their great eyesight.  They can smell and hear, but walking quietly with little cover can often times allow the hunter to get within bow range.  One thing to keep in mind is that these same creatures can make a run at you when wounded, and trust me, you do not want any part of those teeth!
Eventually, I got within 20 yards, drew, and let the arrow fly.  For an animal not known for being overly cunning, they are quite fast and he nearly jumped the string.  The arrow hit slightly high, but it was obvious he was hit hard and without a doubt the shot would prove fatal.
The entire stalk can be seen here:
It was not until final inspection did I see the damage inflicted by the Rage X-Treme 2 Blade.  It was impressive to say the least.  The exit wound and entry wound looked identical which resulted in a 2″ gaping hole that ran all the way through the game.
img_6658This was a wound I had not experienced with my old trusty fixed broad head, and now I was confident enough to try it on any large game animal.  That opportunity would present itself just days later and would result in an even more impressive outcome; the details of which will be in the next blog, and trust me, you’ll want to see the result!
Without a doubt, the Rage X-Treme 2 Blade is the broad head of choice for this hunter.  It flies like a field tip and when it hits it unleashes a sick amount a fury.  If you are like most, once the arrow is sent on its way, you want a quick kill with an easy blood trail.  I’ve never seen anything like the Rage X-Treme 2 Blade in either category.
So why all the negative press about mechanical malfunctions?  Clearly some must be attributed to the broad head, but what I did to minimize issues was watch every video I could on using them correctly.  This is not rocket science, but I did learn a few things from some of the videos that I didn’t know prior to watching.  My suggestion is you do the same…or ask me, and I’ll do all I can to help!
The Rage X-Treme 2 Blade is one bad broad head.  Pick up a box and give them a try.  If you have luck, shoot me a pic with your story.  I would love to see how well it works for you.