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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fight Night

contributed by Les Welch

After a 3 week stint in the Rocky Mountains I was finally able to hit the Whitetail woods of Wisconsin in early October. I was scouting a large tract of big woods public land. I had narrowed down 3-4 areas I really wanted to take a close look at; on the aerial and topo maps. It was our early youth rifle hunt, but I knew I would be getting far enough off the road I wouldn’t have many, if any, distractions to my bowhunt. After miles and hours of walking and looking I started finding areas with good sign, actually some of the best sign I had ever seen for this early in the year. I was finding nice scrape lines leading from multiple bedding areas into heavy mast mature oak stands. Sign was good, and being a mile plus from the truck, there wasn’t any competition. Multiple sits in the area over the week-end had me seeing deer, but nothing I was ready to wrap my tag around.

The second week-end of October had me headed to my cabin in Northern WI, about a 3.5 hour drive. There are far less deer in this area, and the woods are big and unbroken. This makes for a different style of hunt; peace and solitude abound. The odds of seeing wolves are better then deer on most days! Essentially this was to be a scouting trip, with a little hunting mixed in. Late October in WI is my favorite time to hunt, the odds of being able to call/decoy mature bucks is not better any other time of the year, and that time was rapidly approaching. I knew what I had around home, but I needed to figure out which spot gave me the best opportunity to tag another Monster mature Whitetail. Over the course of the next two days I put on a lot of miles scouting many new areas, and many old areas that I had good luck in over the years. My elk hunting partner and good friend has a cabin about 10 miles as the crow flies, from mine. We met up at the local restaurant after hunting hours that Saturday night to compare notes. We were both finding the same thing, not a lot of deer sign, but lots of wolf and bear activity. Even one of my most productive areas over the years was pretty void of sign. This is the area where I harvested my buck last year. Sunday was also an unproductive day scouting. It’s getting to crunch time…

Les' Great 2011 Buck

The third weekend of October I was able to get out on Sunday and I headed back to the area I found that first weekend of scouting. Amazing the changes those two weeks had made. The sign had dried up. The deer had switched food sources, leaving the acorns and feeding on maple leaves. Third week of October and I am back to burning boot leather, NOT what I was anticipating, but that is the name of the game when it comes to big woods public land Whitetail hunting. Adapt and overcome or be like the masses, unsuccessful.

Here we are approaching my favorite time of the year, the last week of October, and I’m not even sure where I will hunt for the weekend and the whole first week of November! Saturday morning I went into an area that I have hunted for many years, essentially it is a proven spot that gave me a chance at something cruising. I didn’t have any luck so I was back in the truck and headed for more scouting. I crossed off two more areas on the map and was headed to a 3rd when I started finding some sign. The farther I got in the better it looked. I was finding plenty of scrapes and some rubs. Things were finally starting to come together. I always have a map, compass, and GPS while scouting. I take plenty of notes, and mark waypoints. These I can cross reference later on a big map to get the “whole picture”. Looking at my map I had circled a pinch point about a ½ mile from the truck. Cross country I wasn’t far from it, so I headed that way to check it out. As I got closer the scrapes became more frequent and bigger. I was starting to pass scrapes every few yards. All of a sudden I broke out into the funnel and was amazed. In the 120 yard section there were at least 20 scrapes, many rubs, and deer scat everywhere. It was the best sign I had found in years. I knew I needed to hunt here, and I should do it now. Unfortunately I had a prior commitment that night and had to hunt closer to home. I have this same commitment on the same night every year. Prior to this year I had been in the stand Sunday before light and hunted all day, I had the same intentions this year. Age must be catching up with me, because I decided at 5am that sleep sounded better then hunting!!!  Waking up at 10 am I was kicking my own backside for not “sucking it up” and getting in the tree. Looking back it is the best decision I could have made. So I was headed for my “hotspot” by 11.  Weather was mild, around 38° and sunny. I had ¾ mile to walk so I dressed only in my Sitka base layers. Everything else was packed into my pack. I strapped my climber and Heads up Decoy to the outside and was off.

Here is where I want to explain why I said that this is my favorite time of year hunting whitetails. As you know, guys always say they like the rut. In my neck of the woods I consider that from Nov. 3rd to Nov. 15th or so. This is when bucks are cruising, running does, and just being stupid. Yes if you are around deer it is an exciting hunt as you can see lots of animals, and lots of bucks. BUT if you aren’t around the deer it can feel pretty isolated, and even if you are seeing them more often then not it’s a game of being lucky and hunting in the right place, at the right time. The week prior though is a different story. Those big mature bucks are on their feet in their core areas, and they are callable! The decoy and grunt calls are the most important piece of gear in your pack this time of year.

After arriving in the area I had to alter my set-up a little due to the wind. Scouting the day before I had selected a tree that gave me the best set-up to play the wind and do some calling.  The wind switched over night and I re-evaluated what I needed to do. Getting the tree picked it was time to position my HUD. I put him in front of me about 17 yards. I climbed the big Oak, and my feet were 31’ off the ground. I was set perfectly on the center of a small Hogback with the ground in front of me dropping and the decoy being about 8’ lower then the ground level of my tree. This was perfect. By facing the decoy I kept the Oak between myself and the direction I expected the deer to come from, help breaking up my outline.  With the decoy set, bow hung, it was time to finish getting dressed. It didn’t take long for the birds and squirrels to resume their routine of tweeting, hauling acorns, and going about their business. 2.5 hours later it was time for my first rattling sequence. I turned and faced the tree and readied my shed antlers. After 3 minutes of sporadic antler crashing I slipped them back into my pack…I could feel the anticipation in my stomach building. The gross 170” class buck I killed last year succumbed to the same sequence I just went through, would history repeat? Within seconds it happened, my phone vibrated! I keep it in the breast pocket of my Fanatic Vest. In the calm, still woods, it made me jump. A good friend and his wife were also hunting. He was letting me know it had been slow all afternoon for them, two small bucks cruising was it. Texting him the reply that I hadn’t seen anything yet, I hear crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch….. I knew it immediately. It was that typical buck on the move walk. I knew he was heading for the fight he had just heard. It took mere seconds to pocket the phone, but in that time he had broken into the hardwoods. I reached for my bow and slid it off the hanger, at the same time swiveling 180° to pick him up again. By this point I could see he was already angling away from me and at a steady walk. I was grunting on the tube in my vest as I was re-hanging the bow. By the time I could really give it a good tone, he was out of sight and the leaves obscured any chance that he would hear it. Knowing the typical walk of a mature buck I knew he wouldn’t go more then 25 yards or so before stopping and listening, before resuming his walk. I grabbed the antlers from pack and smashed, ground, and twisted them together for a long enough period I knew I should have had at least two chances for him to stop and hear them. Reaching to drop them back in my pack I spotted him coming at a dead run, he was about 80 yards and closing FAST. Fortunately I was facing my bow and was able to slide it off easily. Ironically he stopped 30 yards away directly under the tree I had been planning on sitting in if the wind hadn’t changed. The set-up was perfect, he was still below the ridge rise and couldn’t see the “deer” he heard. With his ears flared to each side and licking his nose he started the heavy straight legged walk directly toward me. It still amazes me how these animals can pinpoint a sound. He heard that rattling from over 100 yards away and was now walking directly towards me at less then 30 yards. All I could do was face the tree and hope he gave an indication which side he would pass. If I picked wrong, he would likely survive. I knew he was a shooter with a lot of points, but had no idea exactly what was coming at me. At 8 yards he came to a small downed tree, he elected to circle it instead of jumping it. This enabled me to get to the left side of the tree, and it opened up his vision…he spotted the HUD buck now a mere 20 yards away. The ears laid back, hair bristled, and the sideways walk started. He was 4 yards from the base of my tree, in the wide open. Being fixated on the decoy, I knew I could get away with drawing. Settling in on him, I voice grunted him to a stop, as his head turned upwards our eyes locked and I touched the trigger. The arrow zipped through him; he looped 50 yards back and tipped over in plain sight. I was a wreck. As the arrow flashed through him I finally noticed the row of tines that lined his close main beam, as he ran off I seriously began to fall apart. I hung my bow up and sat down. I don’t drink, but the list of friends that I texted at that point had to think I was drunk. It was the most unreadable incoherent message I have ever seen. On my descent down the tree I was overly cautious as I knew that I was a mess. Once I was on the ground I called my dad and gave him GPS coordinates to where I was. My lifelong hunting partner would be waiting at my truck in an hour. I had 20 minutes of extra time to spend with the deer. Walking up to him as he lay motionless was bittersweet, awe-inspiring, and emotional all wrapped into one. I was able to sit beside him, lift his rack, give thanks for everything, and best of all just soak it in. This past weeks’ events at Sandy Hook have made me more appreciative of things in life and have me that much more excited to get my anxiously waiting 10 year old on his first hunt in a couple months. My thoughts and prayers to everyone involved in this senseless tragedy.

2012 Buck with the HUD

Just sitting here writing this and reliving the hunt brings back memories and gets my fingers shaking. This is why I do it. Happy Holidays to you all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

3rd Time

Submitted by: Kent Hensley

The Heads Up Decoy (HUD) once again proved to be a “go to” method for the 2012 archery deer season.     Dalton spent several days in the field and passing on several smaller bucks earlier in October, but the first part of November brought another father-son HUD adventure, for Dalton and me, into the Kansas prairie.

Dalton's 2010 Mule Buck

The initial plan was to hunt a cedar glade bedding area in the morning and catch deer as they moved off the wheat fields.  We work into the glade just at first light as to not spook any early movers.  Five minutes into the hunt we spotted a mature 140” buck, he was harassing a doe that didn’t really want anything to do with him.  We slipped into position and I grunted and lightly rattled.  Dalton was positioned to the left, tucked in front of some small cedars.  The buck immediately responded, but was a bit cautious on his approach.  He quickly spotted the decoy, but was working to the right to catch the wind of the intruding buck.  At 35 yards Dalton stood but wasn’t tall enough to make the shot over the cedars. The buck spotted some movement but was still unsure of what he saw, knew it wasn’t right, but couldn’t figure out why his HUD buddy wasn’t running off with him.  Oh well, we still beat him just couldn’t get the shot.

We returned to the pickup to move to a different location to glass some pasture in search of another rutting prairie buck.  We hadn’t gone 3 miles and unbelievably lying 40 yards off the road was a giant 170’s whitetail buck with a hot doe.  We drove by and parked ¼ mile north.  The wind was westerly and a nice draw would allow us a somewhat simple stalk within about 80 yards of the buck and doe.  As we closed the distance, I peeked to see where we were and the buck caught my movement.  We were still about 100 yards away.  I told Dalton to get an arrow on and get in position off my right shoulder.  I slowly raised the Whitetail buck HUD and the giant instantly stood and began coming our way.  I told Dalton to draw and within seconds he was on us. I ranged the buck at 33 yards but he was facing straight on and still coming.  Within 20 yards he slightly quartered to, I moved the decoy to the left to open a shooting lane and I told Dalton to shoot.  He didn’t shoot, didn’t shoot, and still didn’t shoot.  Seconds later the prairie giant was gone.  I was frustrated with Dalton because he didn’t shoot, but will give him all the credit in the world for not letting Dad pressure him into taking what was a marginal shot at best.  Guess I taught him well, and should listen to my own preaching.  Oh well, we still beat him too just couldn’t get the shot.

2012 Whitetail

Back to the pickup to head to our original destination, we didn’t make it 3 miles, and spotted another buck tending a doe next to a nice switchgrass waterway in a sprayed wheat stubble field.  We glassed them from almost ½ mile away and noticed there was a satellite buck bedded just north of the pair.  After a minute or two the buck and doe were bedded in the water way.  Preparing for the third stalk, I told Dalton it looked like a 130’s three-year-old and asked what he wanted to do.  We were both still a little frustrated about not sealing the deal from the Giant Buck encounter.  He said let’s get him. Enough said….  I told Dalton that the satellite buck would see us the entire stalk, to get behind me and we would walk behind the Whitetail Buck HUD to try and get into range of the 3 year old.  We closed the distance quickly and soon spotted the bucks antlers bedded 30 yards in front of us.  The satellite watched us approach the entire way and was still bedded in the stubble 60 yards away.  We moved into the magic 20 yard mark and the doe spotted us.  She busted out of her bed with the buck right behind her.  The HUD once again proved its value for a prairie deer hunter, as the buck was in disbelief that another buck (the HUD) was standing 20 yards away.  They both stopped at 25. Dalton was already drawn and as the buck began laying his ears back, I heard the twang of the string, saw a direct double lung hit and blood instantly spewed from the cut of the 100 grain Magnus Buzzcut.  We watched the buck make it a mere 150 yards and expire within seconds.
2011 Mule Deer

This successful hunt was the third hunt of the morning; we beat three mature bucks, and believe it or not this is Dalton’s third year in a row to kill a mature buck with a Heads Up Decoy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

That Was Quick...

As stated in my pre-season write up, I had looked forward to this season more than any I could remember. My preparation and accumulation of quality gear were at all time highs, and I'd spent more time scouting/shooting than ever.

The season began a little later than originally hoped, with a Kansas antelope hunt in late September. As usual the goats were rutting hard and hunting was even harder. I used about every tactic in the book to try for a large buck I'd known for the past two seasons. As they say, he didn't get that big because he was stupid.

Four plus days had been planned to get the job done, but it was becoming evident early on that killing the big buck would likely take a miracle. He was being pressured by more young bucks, arrow flingers, and amused passers-by than was ideal for a quality chance at a kill. On my second morning, while making my way towards the primary buck, I stumbled on a 12" satellite buck that had been stealing does and breeding them while the big one was occupied with others. He and I had the same idea, so I quickly hustled to a yucca covered hillside and popped up the Heads Up within 150 yards or so. The buck was a little leery, though primarily ticked off. He stomped his way to 50 yards and as I drew he jumped back about 5 yards or so giving my a broadside shot. As I released he tore off unscathed before my arrow even hit the dirt. A couple more attempts at the large buck yielded nothing encouraging, and he was eventually pushed off the property I was hunting and held on another by a group of pickups. Discouraged I quickly changed gears and headed off to another spot.

On the way I passed a group with a medium sized buck I had missed the year prior. I knew he was plenty mature as he had held this large group of does for at least two years and probably even longer I believed. A quick stalk to the edge of some abandoned corn, where the buck and his harem of 13 slept about 120 yards out led to a long sit. An hour and a half later a few of his does happened to feed my way. The decoy was at my side, but I was fearful the does would pick me off before the buck got a chance to investigate. These were some wise old fat does I wasn't about to try to outsmart. Thus I waited and finally got a chance at the buck. The first arrow was inches low at 50. He hopped up confused, and offered another attempt at 65. This one found its mark and a quick 300yd dash later he face planted in some wheat stubble. Another perfect KS antelope season was complete, my third in a row.

Instantly my focus switched to big northwest Kansas mulies. I'd seen some beautiful bucks over the summer and hoped to match or exceed my first mule deer, taken the year prior. After helping a buddy kill a great buck in muzzleloader season, I immediately jumped into it. I knew the best way to find and kill a big buck was to actually get out and cover some ground. And cover ground I did. For as dry as it was this year harvest seemed to drag on forever. Big deer were invisible. The first three weeks of October held little promise. However, finally much of the crops had been taken out and little by little mature deer began to appear. With time dwindling before a move and job change I hit it as hard as possible the last week of October. In little more than a day or two the switch flipped on the muley activity. On the 28th I followed a large buck in to some deep canyons, but had to pass when I found he'd already busted of a whole fork, likely 20-25" on a deer of that caliber. Minutes later I was 150 yards from a big bodied 4x4 in some standing milo. I stuck the muley doe decoy into the bow bracket and raised my bow high above my head. He spotted her instantly. Without hesitation he came on a string and gave me about 5 seconds at a 15 yard broadside shot. The buck had small forks and barely reached his ear tips in width, so he lived to see another day.

The following morning found me in another spot full of canyons and crp surrounded by crop ground. I had know of some large deer to come out of the area, but had yet to lay my eyes on one since season began. As luck would have it, one of the biggest deer I'd ever laid eyes on to date happened to appear out of some crp terraces that morning. He had a group of 25+ does and bucks within 200 yards of him as I observed his morning feeding, but paid little to no attention to any of them. With decoy in hand I decided it best to attempt a stalk and get a shot off undetected. After bouncing yucca to yucca for what seemed like forever I finally got my chance. He circled back for a broadside look and I punched one through the rear of his shoulder. He was hurt badly and made a quick dash down into the canyons. After a couple attempts he finally put himself in a good position for a finisher. I was without a buck tag heading in to November for the first time ever, but who am I to complain?

Monday, October 22, 2012

September Magic

Contributed by Prostaffer Ron Niziolek

The canyons and ridges in the rugged Wyoming backcountry remained silent during my early morning hike. On a morning this calm, bugles should have been echoing everywhere, making my bowhunt a little easier. I conceded that I would have to rely on my calling skills to create some action. I eased my way westward, still-hunting along ancient elk trails, slowly gaining more elevation. Suddenly, I heard some branches break ahead and slightly below me. I paused, listening to stirrings of elk moving through the forest.

I stepped forward to some small pines, quietly removed my pack and unbuckled my Heads Up Decoy. I clamped that likeness of a cow elk head to a chest-high branch, cleared an area to kneel in, nocked an arrow and then softly cow called. I patiently waited five minutes, and then sounded off with a locator bugle. A short, muffled grunt returned through the trees, definitely a bull elk. I estimated him to be about a hundred yards away. A slow 10 minutes went by before I bugled again. This one was met with silence. In fact, the next dozen were met with silence. The only sound was the occasional snap of branches or a hoof on a log. It was an agonizing wait.

Anxious for the long stalemate to end, I arranged the decoy a little differently and crawled forward for another 30 yards. The forest floor was covered with branches, pine cones and needles and sounded extremely crunchy. I felt if I went further, I’d push the bull out for sure. Finally I found a place where I could set up in front of a stump with some low brush for cover and once again I carefully cleared a place to kneel. When I was ready, this time I ripped the loudest, nastiest bugle, and that’s when the real excitement began…..

Brittle tree limbs cracked and shattered into pieces as the bull plowed his way toward me. He was mad as hell, huffing with every breath and coming in fast, trying to intimidate the bull that had just challenged him. I caught glimpses of chocolate colored legs and ivory tines as he snaked his way through the dense blowdown. He paused briefly and I could tell he was looking at the decoy. He screamed a challenge and continued toward the decoy. When he passed behind a large uprooted tree at 40 yards, I drew my Hoyt to full draw and prepared for the pending shot, but couldn’t stop the gentle shaking at the tip of my arrow.

I focused intently on my anchor point and kept my sight pins on him. He was close now and as he stepped broadside from behind a tree, my 30 yard pin was on him solid and I pulled through the release. Whack! The arrow hit a little high and rocked the bull to his knees. As he dropped and stumbled, I furiously nocked another arrow and sent a second one through him. He stumbled for another 60 yards, then was down for good. I usually like to spot and stalk, but now feel very confident when calling, especially while using my decoy.

The full story detailing Ron's hunt for his 2012 Wyoming bull will be featured in an upcoming issue of Extreme Elk Magazine.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Perfect Week

This has been the busiest September ever in regards to hunting. I have hunted elk in two states and managed to find a day to chase antelope in Kansas. Hunting elk is always fun, but prime rut usually conflicts with the early Kansas Antelope season. In preseason planning I didn’t expect to have time to chase antelope in western Kansas, but I went ahead and bought the tag anyways, just in case.
After eight days of pursuing elk in the high country of Colorado I had my fill and headed home to see the family before heading to Wyoming for my second elk hunt. After a day of rest and family time I headed out in search of antelope. With one day to hunt my expectations were very low, but a tip from a landowner allowed me to use my Heads Up Decoy to cross an open pasture and get into position near a water tank. I didn’t wait long before a buck came to the tank to drink. I did my part, capitalizing on the opportunity, and ending my Kansas antelope season in one morning of hunting.
After getting the antelope processed I had a few hours to get the pickup loaded to head north.  This was my second trip to Wyoming this fall so I hoped to ride the good luck train into Wyoming this time. We had a brief evening hunt with a little action, but no luck. The next morning was a different story though and my buddy Ron Niziolek and I were definitely in the right place at the right time. We had two satellite bulls come into range and I was able to kill the bigger of the two bulls, a nice 5 point, finally killing my first elk!
This is definitely a week I will never forget. I tagged a Kansas antelope on Monday and a Wyoming elk on Wednesday.   It can’t get much sweeter than this!  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Whitetail Pre-Rut Tactics for Early Season Success

I generally have not written enough about tactics and/or observations on the blog, but now that fall is here and we are in the month of October I felt a quick article about a very overlooked month would be appropriate.

Typically, October marks the start of many archery seasons across the mid west...or at least the time when people get a chance to enjoy some cooler weather and "casual" deer hunting outings that hold them over until November. Don't overlook the early season month of October for wrapping your tag around a great whitetail buck.

At Heads Up Decoy, we certainly understand the whitetail protocol that has been the recipe for success for decades...treestand hunting. But, for a moment, think about your area and the opportunities that may be available for some exciting hunting using rattling, calling, and yes...decoying. Calling sequences always work better if you have a decoy involved and in the month of October, many calling and rattling techniques can work better than during the peak of the rut.

Choose some areas on your property that offer access to some prime bedding locations or at the edge of uncut corn/milo...but don't necessarily interfere with a treestand or other stand location. Always use the wind to help you slip into these locations to lay down some subtle calling, rattling, or tree rubbing sequences. Have the decoy available either clamped to a tree or stationary object or held in your hand or a partners.

The reason I enjoy this tactic is simply because you can work an area well and often roust out a good buck that goes to bed early...often before shooting light. Bucks in October spend a substantial amount of time hanging out together, rubbing trees, and sparring. So these types of noises will peak the interest of a nearby bedded buck to come and investigate. Having the decoy available and easily seen will draw that animal out of the thick cover to present a close shot.

Morning or evenings work well...but if I had to choose, the afternoon and evenings of nights during the full moon are the best. We all get frustrated to a degree with the full moon and the morning hunts. But, as deer go to bed early, the dinner bell will ring earlier in the day and I also believe they get bored. Late afternoon and early evening during nights with a full moon can be full of deer movement and action in and around their bedding area. Take advantage of it. Remember, our midwestern whitetails are aggressive animals and we can exploit that characteristic by hunting them aggressively. As far as the fear of "bumping" them...in my opinion deer reset quickly with little effect. It takes repeated and often daily "bumps" to push them out of the area. It's also interesting that to note that if you do "bump" an animal from his bed...it is not unlikely for him to return later in the day after the buck thinks enough time for the danger has passed. This is exactly the scenerio that happened to me last fall. I bumped a good buck from his bed only for him to return a couple hours later...with me waiting for his return. As embarassing as it is to admit...I missed this buck clean at 25 yards.

Heads Up Decoys are the only decoy on the market that can help you get in quietly, hunt aggressively, and keep you mobile for this type of hunting technique. Hunting the pre-rut with decoying and calling set ups are a great way to score early season success. Good luck and Be Mobile...Stay Mobile.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Reality of the Mountains

No elk...and no beetle kill here.
It's well documented the difficulty of a Colorado OTC elk hunt. Our's was no different. We had scouted a new area we had hope had promise. As we pulled out of the parking lot on a Sunday morning...an 11th vehicle was pulling in. In 3 days, we managed to see 2 bulls, but the region was virtually silent of live elk and no elk that had any interest in being seen by any calling technique.

I learned several years ago that you need back up plans, so it was off to implement "Plan B". We drove to a nearby town to let the family know our change and that we would be in the back country with no cell service until our departure for home.

Pulling into the trailhead I was pleasantly surprised with the lack of vehicles. Our plan was to pack into an area we had previously hunted 4 years ago that had elk. As my brother and I were putting our packs together with the supplies needed for the next several days, a truck with mules parked next to us, and was later followed by an outfitter's rig. In our discussions with our new friends, it was clear everyone hunting in the area had there eye on one particular bowl that was not much bigger than 200-300 acres. Nonetheless, Jeff and I donned the packs and headed in. As we turned the corner to head up the creek, it was apparent that this area too would be too crowded for my taste...and my effort to haul a 60lb pack 3 miles in when everyone else had 4 legged animals and comfortable wall tents. I made the decision to turn around and try "Plan C".

Now, I will admit that I have been critical of outfitters...especially in my beloved stated of KS. Not so much of those that haul people into the back country. In Kansas, outfitters limit access...but in the western states, outfitters cannot limit due to the public land factor...you need to work with them in the western states...as we did. The outfitter validated my "Plan C" idea as we passed the pack stream on our way back to the truck.

Jeff and I shifted our truck position. Misplacing items was the theme for me and I had misplaced my map of the trail and the area we were about to hike into. I am thankful that I had to dismantle my pack, because the outfitter came back out, raced his horse up to our truck with 2 beers to apologize to us...hoping he had not chased us out of the area. I was very impressed with this young man and equally impressed with his willingness to help us out. I think he respected the fact we were walking in on foot with heavy packs.

After a 3 mile hike into an area it was apparent that no one would be in there. There are people that are happy about the Colorado beetle kill, but it's a tragic picture in reality. I would say that in the area we hunted, 1 out of 20 pines were living. It was a tangled mess of deadfalls.

The first morning in the new area after days of insufficient sleep, cold, and soreness from sleeping on the ground had me questioning everything about myself and my ability and willingness to kill an elk. It didn't take long before I remembered why I was there. Jeff and I hiked up the first tangled ridge and decoyed in a great non typical bull to 7 YARDS! My inexperience saved that bull's life. Needless to say I was devastated for my brother Jeff. We have put in our time, paid our dues. To see him at full draw with a great bull so close and not have a shot because I chose to stop the bull by moving the decoy was something I will not get over.

pretty much all those pines are dead from beetles
To compound my misery, later in the day as we hunted back to camp, we literally stumbled into a real giant bull. My first impression was the wrong impression. I did not realize exactly how close we were when my brother spotted the bull. There was no reason to attempt a calling and decoy set up. My second cow call note was not hit just right...at that time...Jeff had moved to 25 yards of the bull and was coming to full draw when the bull blew out of the area. I was and I am still sick to my stomach. These 2 bulls were truly wall hangers that even this flatlander could recognize.

The coming days were full of learning experiences with no close calls for me. In the final hours of our hunt, God gave us one more elk hunting lesson. In a day were there was little bugling activity, the evening hunt back to camp proved to be another frustrating event.

I managed to get a bull to respond to my bugle from across the valley. We made our way around a bend and decided to bugle again to pinpoint the bull before we headed down and back up the steep slopes littered with beetle-killed deadfalls. In doing so, a bull lit up directly in front of us on the same slope. I sent my brother ahead saying some choice words "Let's see if we can cow call this #@$!*^er in!"

Well, as fate would have it, my brother headed up the slope vs directly at the approaching bull that was answering my Elk101 issued "Temptress" open reed cow call. I knew the bull would smell Jeff before he had a shot so in an attempt to readjust my brother's position, I raced up the slope hoping we'd have time to send him down the slope before the bull emerged from the dark dead timber. I grabbed Jeff, sent him down the slope and I ran up hill to draw the bull upwind from Jeff's position...but the bull was too close and he spotted Jeff moving down the hill. The bull was in clear view of the decoy...50 yards broadside from Jeff who hung himself up behind the cover. As the bull glance back and forth between the decoy and Jeff...it was at that moment I knew that I could call elk using my Bugling Bull Game Calls and more importantly...Heads Up Decoy works. That bull would not leave...even though he clearly pinpointed Jeff 50 yards away.

Our 2012 Colorado hunt was a trip where I have never learned more about myself, my gear, and about hunting elk. Colorado hunting OTC units are difficult...and you can never truly prepare for the reality of the mountains unless you are in them. I look forward to a great fall full of heartbreak, close calls, and success. Be Mobile...Stay Mobile.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Here We Go... Finally!

Tonight is the eve of Kansas archery season 2012. It feels more like what I assume December 24th, 1992 felt like to me as a giddy five year old than a regular Sunday work night in "the real world". I know for a fact I've never been more ready or prepared for a hunting season. I've never scouted more throughout a summer. I've never shot my bow as much as I have going in to this season. I've never felt so comfortable and confident in the gear I've acquired. Yet I'm as nervous and doubtful as ever. I suppose that's just being a bowhunter. However, after the last two seasons I've had you have to figure the luck will run out at some point, but maybe with all that preparation luck becomes less of a factor. I hope...

With much of the corn and milo still standing in northwest Kansas my deer season will likely get off to a slower start than some. That's alright though, because this coming Saturday is my single most favorite day to hunt, period. It's the antelope opener in my home state. I've got the bow tuned, the knee pads tucked in to my Sitka pants, and the Heads Up waiting patiently to lure a mature buck from his harem. To say I can't wait is an understatement...    - Kaleb

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prepping for Elk

Well the time is getting closer...in just over a week I will be headed West...ELK BEWARE!!! I've put a lot of time in shooting my bow and tinkering with gear over the last 10.5 months of  "off season". In reality the elk merely get a break from me, as I really have no off season. From the time one season closes to the time the next begins I am constantly doing something that will help me with the next seasons hunt. Whether it be working out, studying maps, researching new gear, or doing some shooting there really isn't a down time for me.

This year I've added a lot of new gear to my arsenal (no different than any other year), things like a new Go-Lite tent, Titanium Jetboil, Sawyer water filter, Heli-m bow, new Sitka clothing, a couple new Kifaru packs....and the list goes on. I'm looking forward to doing some good "in the field" reviews.

In the coming days I'll add a few pics of my set-ups, and definitely offer some insight and the conclusion of my hunts! Hunt Hard, Hunt Smart.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Late summer has arrived, the dreams have begun.  I expect that I am not alone with this phenomenon of vivid elk hunting dreams becoming more frequent as I sleep each night.  Distant bugles in my dreams are getting closer as I scramble through the woods in pursuit of the majestic creature that creates them.  Countless different scenarios play-out with each different dream, but they all tend to end similarly with me delivering a perfect shot on a magnificent bull.  Although I’m always a bit disappointed to wake and find that the story is just another dream, I’m also excited to learn that I am one day closer to the real thing.  Bow hunting elk is in my blood.  The act of it charges my soul’s battery, the anticipation of it gives me focus and determination for many of life’s other demands. 

My own personal preparation has been somewhat lacking this year.  Between career obligations, family challenges, and physical injuries I’m just not as prepared as I should be.  My confidence is still quite high as I plan to rely on years of experience instead of the sheer determination of my earlier bow hunting years.  As always,  I have goals for the season:  Help my twelve year-old son have a great muzzleloader hunt and maybe kill a bull, help a friend take his first elk, and continue with a quest to help a great friend finally arrow a 6 x 6 bull (he is a 5 x 5 killing machine!).  Success for me is often defined by helping others with bow hunting elk.   One of the best years I remember was one of the very few that I didn’t kill a bull myself.  It was a great season of rutting action and calling three separate bulls for two friends and my brother.  At season’s end my pack was bloody, my legs were tired, and my satisfaction was sky-high. 
Of course, I would like to also arrow some animals myself.  At the top of the list is a big Muley buck in velvet.  The little one I took last year to finish my Colorado Archery Big 8 leaves much for improvement.  I’m also itching for a bigger bear than the one I took in 2003.  Even with these personal goals at the top of my list, I inevitably will find myself being lured into chasing bugling bulls.  There is something magical about elk and the thrill of bow hunting them.  Nothing else compares; not even close.
Whatever the outcome of the season I will again measure success by the memories created.  In the end, these memories are what fuel our passion for more.  Antlers on the wall are mere reminders for the memories burned into our mind and soul.  Our future dreams may not actually need real experiences to draw from, but it certainly can’t hurt!
Provided by HUD Prostaffer Matt Dorram

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Miles of Stone

I apologize in advance for writing a lengthy blog message...

As I was emptying and rearranging the remnants of what's left of Heads Up Decoy in my garage, I couldn't help but reflect on what a big weekend of milestones it was.

On Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of spending the day with my wife as we watched a young lady don a "White Coat" symbolizing her commitment to herself, her fellow doctors, and patients she will serve, not only in the next four years of her medical school training, but in her professional years to follow. There were over 5,000 applications submitted to be a part of the 2012 class at the University of Kansas Medical School...211 were chosen. It started with..."I wonder if I should be a doctor?" to "I can be a doctor." to "Holy crap...I have the opportunity to be a doctor!"

It was a hard road traveled with miles of stone to get to this point that only this young lady can understand. Faith, perseverance, self reliance. Not why me or woe is me. There is certain difficulty ahead. There will be milestones alone the way and miles of stone to travel over to get there.

Thinking back as the stages of  the application process where unfolding, an email notifying many of us that a formal interview was awarded...a milestone in the application process. An interview invite means that there is a very real chance of acceptance. The initial email was filled with thank you's and prayers to all for the support and belief that brought a tear to the eye followed by smiles and laughter when advice for the interview began to roll in. I thought to myself...Who are we to be giving advice to a kid who works harder, is more worldly, more prepared for this moment, and smarter than any of us? I promptly replied, "You'll be great!" And she was.

Not to my surprise, this young lady willing and openly accepted the challenged ahead of her and I look from outside with great pride and emotion of the road traveled for this great accomplishment which is all her own. She worked hard to endure the next 4 years of pain. Monday at 9:00 I am confident she will be up to the challenges ahead. Her faith, work ethic, and conservative values will be more than enough.

So how do you top that? Well, you don't. Today was a day to reflect...and to clean. The garage was still a mess, it was only 800 degrees as the afternoon sun began to beat down into the opened door. I'd been at this for awhile. My thoughts, as they so often do, turn to Heads Up Decoy. The whole reason in the first place for the cleaning was due to Heads Up Decoy. I couldn't help but think about how I got to this point...and the people that have helped me along the way.

What's the big deal anyway. I'm cleaning my garage. What can be so important about that. Well, this week marks a milestone in Heads Up Decoy. I have turned over final assembly and shipping to an outside source to free up time to focus on marketing, sales, customer service, managing the products, and the company with the hopes of taking Heads Up Decoy to new milestones. My garage, like so many others, was the focal point of Heads Up Decoy.

It was early in 2006 that I made a phone call which spurred another phone call. It only takes one person, beside yourself, to believe in you. Let's face it, you can't do it alone. I set an appointment to meet with a gentleman I had never heard of to show him my "rendition" of a big game decoy. My sample consisted of a white sheet with green tracing of an elk head along with a frame that seriously took me weeks to make. I asked if he could sew the decoy around the frame, for which he graciously said. Yeah, we can do that. That was it. I had someone that could sew the decoys.

This photo I took of an elk in a pin was printed to cloth and before I knew it we had a prototype...which did not resemble the original frame, the white sheet, or an elk. But nonetheless it was off to Colorado to begin in September to be the next Primos. The blob, which I called the first decoy, needed some improvements, but it improved enough to spark the interest of the before mentioned gentleman on my next visit.

To this day, I look at Steve Arnsdorf as the signal biggest influence in the success of Heads Up Decoy...and he's never hunted with one. Steve and his company have sewn a couple thousand decoys and every step of the way, Steve has helped me build along the way. He knows that Heads Up Decoy is not going to be his big account, because he wants it to be big for me. Not for him. He works with me as if he's invested in them. Truly selfless and genuine. For Steve, I am truly indebted.

Other notable people are my friends at Employment Connections who work with me and design their workforce on demand for me. I don't know where I'd be without your flexibility and your willingness to morph your services into exactly what I need.

Man, I can remember the first internet sale I made. I almost deleted the notification because I didn't even know what it was. I think I recall saying, "HOLY Sh*T! I think I sold one!" I think it took me 2 hours to process that first order. Since then, I've done substantially better. Throughout all the miles of stones traveled over and milestones accomplished, the product continues to shine, gain ground, and pull me through my mistakes or bad decisions as well as validating my beliefs in its effectiveness. H.U.D is far from a success, but measuring success has been much easier when you see your name in magazines or when people in the industry take you seriously even when at times you doubt everything about yourself.

I have managed to developed and acquired an excellent prostaff. A phenomenal website to highlight my product. Great success in the field with the decoys. Great advertising partners who believe in the products. A US Patent. It has been a great ride up to this point. It has taken tons of help from people from all over the country and world. What continues to drive myself are the people who invest their money in my products and the success they have in the field with them.

I can remember in the beginning, I often said, it's way easier to convince an animal my decoy is real than convincing a person that it works. And with all the success of Heads Up Decoy, we still have our skeptics.

My wife has been and continues to be my hardest sell. Morale victories and recognition has yet to convince her the sacrifices in time, money, the distractions, the irritability, time away, absence even when I physically present..and whatever else I've made her and our family go through, that it's worth it. But as I ease towards new milestones, I can feel what others tell me they feel...great things are coming so I'll keep trekking with a steady pace through the miles of stone building the best decoys on the market one at a time.

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts for the day.

Be Mobile...Stay Mobile

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Click on pics to enlarge and scroll
The spring and summer months find many preparing and gearing up for the coming fall. I find myself thinking and wishing I could spend more time trekking the mountains or scouring the plains for potential Heads Up Decoy victims. Scouting and preparing is an integral part of "today's" hunt. I sometimes hang my pending successes or failures on my summer preparations...which really isn't necessary. But, I'm a competitor and I compete against myself...and in some ways against my fellow bowhunters. Just as I hope everyone arrows the buck or bull of their dreams...I want the same for me. To do that, you have to get yourself ready for the 30 seconds.

The last 2 weekends I've been to the high country of Colorado, buzzed the open country of Kansas, and to the bow doctor to spin test my arrows. Let's face it, scouting and preparation builds confidence...or it can freak you out if you don't find what you want or when your broadhead tipped arrows fly down range all jabberwaulky.

It is certainly rewarding when you've identified a buck or high country basin to later have that animal on the ground or find that basin echoing with rut crazed bugling bulls. Scouting paid off. But, when the hunt turns tough, the buck disappears or that basin is empty, preparation, mental toughness, and drive will ultimately test your true hunting skills and grit. I can think of two seasons where this was never more evident. The 2004 and 2011 archery deer season.

In 2004 was the first year I took my scouting to new levels...and they have never reached that point since. The pending KS whitetail season found me glassing a beautiful velvet 11 point the entire month of July. When the season came upon me, I never saw the buck. I hung 17 different stands. I was anxious, irritable, and basically a basket case. I was questioning my bowhunting ability. Then on Nov 12th, his head appeared over the reeds of the marsh. When I hung the treestand in Sept, I weaved small limbs through the expanded metal. When you do this,  they retain their leaves. I grunted and kicked the limbs to simulate a rutting buck rubbing a tree. It worked just as I envisioned. He closed the distance from 200 yds to 8.

The 2004 bow season wasn't particularly fun for me. Had the season not ended up like that, I am not sure what impression it would have left behind, but I vowed not get too anxious or uptight again...when it happens it happens.

The 2011 season, now well into the Heads Up Decoy era, I found a great rolling pasture peppered with large yuccas secluded from the road and 1/2 mile from the river bottom. I didn't have to scout to know that this pasture would house a mature buck tending a doe in November. The Sunday morning before Thanksgiving week found a large mature whitetail materialize upwind of me as the morning light brightened enough to see movement through the binos. He was obviously preoccupied with a hot doe. It was the first big buck of 2011 that got me fired up. After 90 minutes of crawling, positioning, calling and ultimately decoying that buck in, all that was left was a small pile of hair from the chest of the great buck and a sick feeling in my gut.

I later arrowed a small buck the day after Thanksgiving. I looked back on 2011 as one of my most rewarding. I had never hunted harder or longer. 2011 tested my hunting grit and mental toughness to its limits. The antlers of the buck I killed did not reflect the size of the hunt.

For me, as I anxiously wait in anticipation the opportunity to arrow that big buck or bull, preparation goes beyond scouting. It's getting my mind right. Remembering that it's hunting and that anything can happen.

Good luck this season and Be Mobile...Stay Mobile

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bowhunting with HUD, Mathews, and Hunter

May 2nd-8th turkey season was my second hunt of the year here in WI. With a heavy Personal Training workload, a regular job and crappy weather my time was bound to be limited.
I literally had only 1.5 hours on each of the week-day mornings and a couple of half days open on the week-end. With our bird numbers really being hit hard the last few winters I knew my work was cut out for me!
Wednesday morning found rain, wind, and storms going strong….back to bed!
Thursday morning I headed to an area that was a small chunk of private land, close to home. I heard one Tom, several properties away but there was just no way to close the distance with all the private ownership between us.
Friday morning brought more wind, rain and fog and zero gobbles.
3:30 am Saturday morning I put on my Sitka Gear and woke my 9 year old son, Hunter. The truck was already loaded to go and 15 minutes later we were headed north on the 45 minute drive to a large tract of public land. Years past this had been a great area. The last couple of years however have been really tough on turkeys in this area so we weren’t sure what it would be like. Not having any MRI (most recent information) I decided to head in about 5/8 of a mile from the road to a transition area about 400 yards from a roosting area. Our timing was right and just as daylight was breaking; we were getting settled into our Double Bull blind. Within a couple of minutes we heard a Tom gobble in the typical roosting area. With no other birds gobbling, had I been solo, I would have immediately closed the distance with just the bow and the HUD decoy. Having Hunter along, I knew we would need the blind. 3 gobbles and 10 minutes later I made the decision to cut the distance. We quickly broke down our set-up and quietly tried to get closer.
After cutting the distance about 125 yards he gobbled again. At this point, not knowing whether he was on the ground or in the tree, I knew we had to get reset and quickly. Unfortunately even though the whole move took less than 7 minutes we never heard another gobble. I was wondering if we had spooked him or if he had just hit the ground and shut-up.
About 5:45 we spotted a hen feeding about 50 yards out. She spent the next hour within 50 yards just preening and eating. No suitors joined her and she eventually just worked off. By 6:30 Hunter was getting tired and ready to go. It wasn’t long after that he nodded off. Although we weren’t having much action I was confident because I knew there was at least one Tom in the area, plus I knew we were set in a great transition area. With my little man sleeping I knew we had bought a little more time!
About 7:25 I thought I heard two gobbles. I wasn’t sure but if they were gobbles this bird was a long ways off, at least a 1/2 mile to the SE. I still wasn’t sure whether I had heard actual gobbles or just ‘hopeful hearing’. A few minutes later I spotted the second hen of the morning coming from the NE. She was also taking her time preening and feeding, although she did keep moving at a steady pace.
Shortly thereafter a crow-flying overhead a few hundred yards to the NE elicited a shock gobble from a Tom. Pulling out my box call, I gave a few LOUD yelps. As still as the morning was, it allowed the sound to travel and I quickly got a response gobble from him. It was time to wake up Hunter and get this show going!
As Hunter cleared his head, I proceeded to close all the unneeded windows and arrange the blind space to prepare for the encounter! Knowing how the birds worked in this area had really been the key to our success over the last 7-8 years. Hopefully it would play into our hunt again this time.
With things in order it was time to start working him. Every time I yelped, cutt, or purred we got a response that was closer than the prior response. Within minutes of the original gobble he popped over the ridge into view at about 90 yards already strutting. He continued coming slightly SW, strutting in to around 65 yards which is where he hung up. For bowhunting turkeys I always set my decoys within 2-3 yards of the blind. This helps bring them in as close as possible. This is good for gun hunters and great for the bowhunter.
For the next 25 minutes he strutted back and forth, unknowingly keeping the blind between himself and the decoys. Every time I yelped, purred, cut, or scratched the leaves he would gobble or double gobble. It was an amazing show to watch. Unfortunately this area is rather open with all mature trees. It was great for strutting and vision, but he just wasn’t coming any closer without being able to see the counter parts that should be in sight.
There was a big blow down poplar tree obstructing his view some and also holding him up. At this point I knew there were only two options. I could either go silent and hope his curiosity got the best of him or crank it way up and hope he would get fired up and commit. I like to be in control of what the animal is going to do so I decided to go the ‘hot’ route. I knew if this didn’t work he would most likely slow down some and head out to the NW. Hopefully this would still allow us to cut out and circle around and get ahead of him and allow us to work him again.

I started with the box call, then worked in the Imperial Primos plate. (Yep elk call) I was calling hard, loud and frequently. He was going nuts and I could see he was starting to move, still fanning, to the west. When he finally cleared the blind and spotted the hen decoy he stayed in strut but starting doing small circles and finally started moving forward. Before he moved clear of the big dead fall it was plain to see the moment when he spotted the HUD. He locked on, came out of full strut and instantly went into a beard shaking side to side run. Hunter says in a not so quiet tone "Get ready dad, he’s running". I drew my Mathews Heli-m and by the time I was getting locked in he was wide open at 10 yards. I had to squeak out a yelp on the reed and by when he was at 3 yards I released. I had my bird down after some breath holding, a fantastic show and the knowledge that this hunt could not have happened without the HUD Decoy. What an amazing hunt made perfect because I got to share it all with my son.