Traditional bowhunting has taken me to some wonderful places and introduced me to some great friends and accomplished hunters. It seems that every new area, new big game species, and new experience has its own secrets to success. As bowhunters, it’s important to keep an open mind, learn skills from others, and enjoy every challenge we encounter.
A cold Colorado wind searched out the gaps in my wool clothing as we sat watching a distant slope become illuminated by the rising sun. My friend, Denny Sturgis Jr., and I were hunting mule deer with Marv Clyncke. “The way we hunt around here is with our eyes,” Marv boomed out in his strong baritone voice without even moving his eye away from the spotting scope. There was no concern about loud talking spooking our game. We were hunting mule deer that couldn’t even be seen with the naked eye. With our binoculars, we searched the open slopes above timberline on distant mountains looking for tiny spots the color of deer. Checking those spots with a powerful spotting scope proved that some of them actually were deer. I was getting cold and would have welcomed the hike required to get a better look at the distant deer, but Marv showed no sign of moving. “Use your eyes. Save your legs for packin’ meat,” Marv boomed, his eye still glued to the scope.
By the time the rising sun finally began to warm my back we had three mule deer bucks spotted about a mile away on the next ridge. Marv didn’t seem very excited about them until he whispered, “Whoa! There’s a buck as big as you’ll find anywhere in Colorado nowadays.” It was the first time I’d ever heard Marv Clyncke whisper. After a long look through the spotting scope, Marv announced, “He’s headed for that willow patch to bed down for the day. We’ll wait another half hour after he lies down just to make sure he’s staying put. Then we’ll stalk him.”
Hunting big mule deer bucks in the wide open areas above timberline requires patience as well as good optics. We took turns watching the big buck through the spotting scope. Slowly, the deer fed toward a patch of thick willow brush, which was the only cover on the entire ridge. After standing around for another twenty minutes, he finally entered the cover. Marv watched him intently through the scope. “I think he laid down in a little hole in the brush near the left end,” he reported. “If he doesn’t move for a half hour or so, we’ll go after him.”
Going after him meant a steep downhill slide, crossing the valley, and a lung busting climb up the other side to a landmark we had picked out. A couple of hours of effort brought us to the landmark downwind of the willow patch which, hopefully, still concealed the big buck. “From here we’ll fan out and surround him,” Marv said. “A little noise won’t bother him, but if he smells us, it’s over.”
It seemed strange to be carefully stalking a bedded deer we couldn’t see while standing in the open within plain sight of each other. Ten minutes later we had the stunted willow patch pretty well surrounded. Then, a gust of wind must have carried man scent into the brush. Suddenly, a huge mule deer buck with a rack of antlers like I’d seen only in magazine pictures stood up in the willows. Several arrows rattled harmlessly through the brush as the deer bounded off in that peculiar mule deer gait. We watched in silence as the monarch covered the half mile of open ground before going over the ridge top out of sight.
“Well, that’s that,” Marv boomed.
The memorable stalk above timberline ended without meat to pack, but it was a great experience. I won’t soon forget Marv’s open country hunting methods.
“Shhhh,” Michael hissed. I stopped moving immediately and stood as if frozen so I wouldn’t make any rustling sounds that might impair his hearing. The term “quiet clothing” had taken on a whole new meaning while hunting with Michael.
Michael Schneider, my British Columbia moose hunting guide, is not only blessed with remarkable hearing but has also learned how to make the best use of it. “The way we hunt around here is with our ears,” he explained. “A bull moose can sometimes be heard from a long distance, and if I hear brush break, I know it is a moose. There are no deer here and bears and wolves make no noise in the bush.”
We were standing in thick, second growth timber made up of ten-foot-high aspen, birch, and small pines. Concentrating on standing still, I was amazed at how intently Michael was listening. After twenty minutes, he turned to me and whispered, “Do you hear them?”
“No,” I answered honestly.
“One over there,” he said as he pointed. “And two over there,” he continued, pointing the other way.
“I never heard them call,” I whispered.
“They aren’t calling,” Michael explained. “They are walking and eating.”
I don’t blame you if you don’t believe that little story. I would have trouble believing it myself if I hadn’t later seen the three moose Michael had heard. A big cow accompanied by a gangly calf and a young “bootjack” bull were feeding nearby unaware of our presence.
I learned a lot while moose hunting with Michael. He is an excellent woodsman and a well-disciplined hunter who pays attention to details. From his example and actions I remembered to hunt all the time, never ever talk above a quiet whisper, walk slowly in a natural moose-like rhythm, stop and stand motionless for long periods of time as a moose is prone to do, use binoculars continuously while hunting, and most important of all, to listen.
In our daily lives we learn to tune out and ignore the unimportant noise around us. But in the silence of the boreal forest, there are no unimportant sounds. While standing motionless, listening, I’d ask myself, “What do I hear?” A far off raven, a pine squirrel, wind in the pines, wait…was that a moose? The vocalizations of undisturbed moose can be surprisingly loud sometimes. At other times, the calls coming from such a large animal can be surprisingly soft.
I did take a nice bull moose while hunting with Michael, but even more important, I learned to hunt with my ears.
The way you hunt mountain goats is with your legs. A good measure of mental stamina helps as well.
“Good thing we didn’t wait until we were old enough to retire before doing this hunt,” my friend, Jim Jarvis, gasped. We were both resting, bent over with hands on knees to help relieve the weight of the seventy-pound packs on our backs. Sweat was dripping from my chin and my leg muscles were burning. We were half way up an un-named Alaska mountain, struggling to reach a level spot to set up camp for an unguided mountain goat hunt.
“Yeah, I’m already too old to do this,” I groaned.
For the next seven days we scaled cliffs, crossed glaciers, climbed steep snowfields and hunted the high peaks. The rain slicked rocks on the mountainsides were treacherous. We suffered from aching muscles, bruised feet, blisters, swollen knees, and fatigue. Although I had trained heavily at home for this hunt, I wasn’t ready for the hardships. My legs ached every night, and I was often jolted awake by muscle cramps.
Yet it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I’ve never experienced air any fresher, sky any bluer, snow any whiter, or plant growth any greener. After a rain shower, rainbows appeared both in the sky and in the blue glacier ice. A turquoise colored lake below camp was highlighted with floating icebergs calved from the glacier. Wind whistled like music through the mountain peaks with a background orchestra of rushing waterfalls. The whole area was pristine and untouched. In all my wanderings, I’ve never seen a place so wild and free.
It seemed that mountain goats were always within sight, but a goat spotted on the next ridge might be several hours of hard physical effort away. We hunted hard, taking advantage of Alaska’s twenty hours of daylight at that time of year. Each day we pushed ourselves, trying to close within bow range of those elusive “white buffalo.”
Late one day I spotted a goat feeding in an area where I could try a stalk if I were careful. Circling above him, I crossed a dangerous rockslide without incident, came down a narrow snow chute, and closed in on him. A nearby waterfall hid any sound I made as I approached within bow range. The big billy had probably never seen a man before. He presented me with a standing shot and I took advantage of it. He immediately went out of sight over the edge of a cliff.
Looking around, I was surprised to find that the stalk had taken me out on a narrow ledge that ended at a rock wall. I couldn’t find a way down, and it was getting dark. It would be dangerous and foolish to try to go back and cross that rock slide in the dark. I was prepared, so I decided to put on all the clothes in my pack, wrap up in my space blanket, and wait for daylight.
After I reached camp shortly after daylight the next morning, Jim and I went back to look for my goat. Circling below the area, we located him where he had come to rest after sliding down a small waterfall. Reaching my mountain goat and finding both horns still intact was a highlight of my bowhunting career.
To me, mountain goat trophies are not measured by the size of their small, black horns, but by the effort expended and the satisfaction derived from the experience of hunting them. Any mountain goat is a trophy when taken with a traditional bow and arrow, and may just be the hardest earned trophy you’ll ever take. I’m thankful that I was able to experience that wonderful hunt, and thankful that I had the “legs” to do it.
Equipment Notes: The author used 58# to 60# Black Widow recurve bows on these hunts and favors Zwickey four-blade broadheads for big game hunting.