New Mexico, 2008, DIY, Public Land
Imagine sitting in your favorite glassing spot, treestand or waterfowl honeyhole, watching the sun set on the last day of the season, knowing that you’ll never have the opportunity to enjoy it again. Is this really a possibility in our “free” country?
What if the season was over today and would never open again – ever? What if opening day excitement was only a distant memory? Even though most hunters feel it’s our God-given right to hunt, there really is no guarantee that we will be able to pursue our passion forever. Will we someday have only fading memories of the enjoyment we spent out in the outdoors in pursuit of its creatures?
It’s the time of year when many folks are anxiously awaiting draw results and, if lucky enough, are already planning for a couple hunts this coming fall. I know personally that it’s a great feeling and hope you are grateful for the opportunity. For me that will not be the case.
I have been playing cat and mouse between my career as a Marine and my desire to hunt for the last 19 years. In the summer of 2009, I was transferred to Okinawa, Japan and assigned to a three-year tour. Okinawa is a beautiful, tropical island with pristine beaches and clear ocean waters. I probably would enjoy spending a little vacation time in such a place, but for a guy who grew up hunting and has a deep passion for the outdoors, it’s no place for me. Actually, living in a place that does not allow hunting has given me a new appreciation for the opportunities we really do have in the U.S.A.
The 2008-2009 season was my last opportunity to hunt. I gave it my best effort to make it a successful season, but still have regrets over not getting out more than I did or not spending more time with those I love and those I call friends.
It was a wonderful year as I watched my young kids continue to grow in their experiences and excitement for the outdoors. Whether it was spending a few days with my aging father, my son killing his first turkey, or my daughter trying to haul in her first paddlefish, those are memories that will never be lost.
My last big game hunt was in September 2008 in my home state of New Mexico. I had drawn an elk tag for the last archery hunt in a unit I had hunted several times. I was stationed in Oklahoma at the time and left for the hunt early to allow for a couple days of scouting.
For me, this was a typical DIY, solo hunt; bow in hand and a pack on my back. I was prepared to get as far away from the roads and other hunters as needed. While scouting, I located a couple areas that were holding good numbers of elk and the rut seemed to be going strong.
The first morning I hunted an area I hadn’t scouted, but knew well from previous successful hunts. Unfortunately I only turned up a small 5x5 with one cow. I didn’t hear a single bugle that morning and most the sign was old. Knowing I had eliminated one area the elk were not, I made a move back to one of the areas I had scouted.
That afternoon I hiked in a couple miles from where the road ended and found three or four bulls bugling non-stop. I set up on the closest bull and made a few cow calls. Things were looking good as the bull was closing the distance, but the weather turned for the worse. It started to rain and hail very hard, so elk activity ceased.
Hunkered under a pinion tree, I waited out the storm with only 20 yards of visibility. After the storm let up, I tailed a nice 320-class herd bull with 13 cows and calves. With not a lot of light remaining and the setup not being favorable, I sat and watched him chase cows and run off satellite bulls for the rest of the evening.
For a full account of Michael's adventure, go to page 48 in the November/December 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.