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Monday, December 22, 2014

Where the Wind Blows

author Tate Haines

We crawled into the blind late in the afternoon on October 31, 2013.  My brother, Travis, and I had set out our trail cameras early in the summer and we had a pretty good idea of what deer were frequenting our property.  Now, we sat in the blind hoping to get eyes on any of the five or six nice muley bucks that had been posing for us throughout the summer.  It was the perfect evening; no clouds, comfortable temperatures, and not a breath of wind.  The kind of weather that you hope for every time you head into the field, but as anyone that has been hunting in NW KS knows, is extremely rare.  Our usual plan of attack is to use well concealed blinds to spot from, formulate a plan of attack, then put the HUD into action.  A few doe started to move into the area from various directions followed by a few small bucks.  There was probably fifteen or twenty deer in a spread out group, but nothing to get too excited about.  It was getting close to dark when a familiar buck came strolling into view.  He was probably a few hundred yards out from us, but the size of his body and unique rack made it pretty obvious which buck we were now watching.  The smaller bucks stayed clear of him when he walked through the group and began to beat and rake his rack up and down a small cedar tree along the creek.  It was getting too late and he was too far away to execute a decent stalk, so we reluctantly snuck out of the area, hoping we would come across this guy again in the next few days.

The only thing more obnoxious than the screaming alarm at 4:30 a.m. the next morning was the sound of the howling NW KS wind, which was holding steady around forty with higher gusts.  This particular part of NW KS has about ten trees, total, and I was sure those trees were probably resting somewhere in Oklahoma after a ride from the NW wind.  Lots of people would have turned off the alarm and tried to sleep off the wind, but I don’t get too many days in KS each year so we hunt any and all weather we encounter along the way.  Since the previous nights’ events were still on replay in our heads going back to sleep was probably out anyway.  While cussing the wind we geared up and headed out to the blind, assuming it was still there.  Surprisingly enough the blind managed to hang on through the night and we were settled in before the sun came up, waiting to see one of our big bucks walk, or blow by.  It was pretty uneventful up until about 8:00 a.m. when a few doe came into view followed shortly by the same buck from the night before.  He seemed pretty interested in one particular doe and soon bedded down out of the wind with her, settling on the East side of a tree surrounded by tall weeds.  This spot put them about three hundred yards straight West across a bare field from us.  Travis suggested we ease out of the blind, circle around, and come in from a pasture on the West side of their location.  This seemed like the best option as we could make a wide circle around and above them on a hill to the North and eventually come in from the SW.  We would then be hidden by the wind break the buck and doe were now laying in.

We slowly moved out of the blind and along the edge of a creek.  When we were about directly North of the buck, we spooked a group of fifteen mule deer from a wash.  The group blasted out of the wash and ran right behind our buck.  By some miracle, the rut and wind saved our plan and our buck stayed put as the group went screaming behind him and the doe.  We continued with our plan and circled down through the pasture.  By 8:45 a.m. we were moving through in the middle of a bare, worked up field about one hundred yards SW of the bedding location.  We moved slowly and stepped softly as we made our way across the field trying to minimize how much dirt we made swirl up in the wind with each step.  When we got to the back side of the weed patch I nocked an arrow and made sure the HUD muley doe was still securely in the bow mount.  The weeds were tall enough that we couldn’t see the deer from the SW side of the weed patch, but we knew about where they were laying the last time we had eyes on them.  I moved into the weeds first with Travis directly behind me.  I got about five feet into the ten foot wide patch of weed when I saw antler tips sticking up seven yards in front of me.  In about the same amount of time it took me to realize what I was looking at and pull back to full draw, the buck saw the HUD and pushed his thick body up to a standing position, as did the doe.  The buck stared at the HUD for a few seconds while the doe started to get nervous and walk away.  The buck lowered his body just a bit and looked off to the East, a gesture I knew meant he was about to blow out of there.  I pulled back on the trigger of my release, let the arrow rip, and heard that beautiful sound of an arrow blasting through ribs at 320 ft/second.  The big guy ran to the East about fifty yards, stopped, and started to sway from side to side.  I expected him to drop, but he somehow mustered up the power to go another two hundred and fifty yards before he dropped at the edge of a creek bed.

 The trail cam pictures we got of this buck throughout the summer didn’t do him justice.  The mass and symmetry of the rack was amazing.  After we recovered the deer, I was too excited to truly appreciate his body size.  When we got him to the processor, his hanging weight (gutted, skinned, lower legs, and head removed) was 166 pounds.  The manager of the processing center felt compelled to call and tell me this because my buck outweighed the other twenty deer he had taken in that year by at least twenty pounds.  The rack measured in at 162 3/8 gross, 151 1/8 total Pope & Young score.  The P&Y Measurer told me that out of all the years and hundreds of deer he had measured, mine was very unique in that all circumference measurements were perfectly symmetrical when comparing the left side to the right side.

In an industry being flooded by the “latest and greatest” gimmicks to get you that trophy buck, there are few products that actually live up to their claims.  I know without the HUD, that buck would have flew out of his bed and been in the next county before I could draw my bow back.  I have had many close and personal experiences with the HUD that would have been impossible otherwise.  From a rutting buck running at me full steam to a doe sniffing the toe of my boot as I sat against a tree with the HUD in my lap, there is no other product that will give you this kind of edge.  The area of NW KS I hunt is probably one of the toughest places you could ever find to try spot and stalk hunting.  The HUD is a game changer in this area, and anywhere else you can use it.  Thank you for such a valuable tool!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One of Those Days

author Nathan Sullivan

November 7, 2014 was a great day with the Heads Up Decoy. I started the morning hiking and glassing some open country near a creek bottom looking for a mature buck to intercept. After only seeing a couple small bucks and a few does by mid-morning it was time for a new game plan. I circled to get the wind in my favor and slowly approached a small secluded draw that I knew deer frequently bedded in. When I was near the edge of the steep banks I clamped the HUD Whitetail Buck decoy to a bush a few yards in front of me and got in position in the shadow of a large cedar. I started by throwing out some loud grunts and doe bleats followed by a short but loud rattling sequence and then finished with a few more grunts. I quickly grabbed by bow knowing that any buck that responded could be there in a hurry. However, after about five minutes I was doubtful that anything was coming since it was such a small area of cover that was within earshot of my setup. Just when I was getting ready to gather my things to leave I turned my head to see an old mature whitetail standing at 20 yards looking for the source of the fight. He immediately spotted the decoy and laid his ears back and bristled up. He then started circling toward the downwind side and ended up within 15 yards before catching my scent and bolting. He was a great buck with incredible mass and double split brow tines but was missing most of one side of his rack from an earlier battle so I let him walk. What an exciting encounter! I walked back to the truck with a smile after being reminded why we bowhunt.
Later that afternoon it was unseasonably warm, so I wasn’t expecting a lot of deer movement as I headed to my tree stand. It was after sundown and I had yet to see any bucks but was still hopeful since a few does were feeding nearby. Just before dark I saw a large-bodied deer approaching quickly in search of a hot doe. After a quick look with the binos I decided he was a potential shooter and grabbed my bow. When he was 30 yards out he spotted the decoy, which I had clamped to a plum bush only 5 yards in front of my stand. Like the buck from the morning encounter, he too immediately took on an aggressive posture and began approaching the decoy stiff-legged and ready for a fight. I still wasn’t sure this was the buck I wanted to end my season with but when he was nose to nose with the decoy at only 5 steps, temptation got the better of me and I decided that this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. After the shot he only made it 70 yards before piling up. He may not be my biggest buck but the encounter certainly made for one of my more memorable hunts.

If you haven’t yet given a Heads Up Decoy a try this season, I highly recommend it. Whether you are hunting on the ground or from a tree, it brings a whole new level of excitement to bowhunting that will have you wandering why you didn’t try it sooner.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Breaking the Seal

"Bow season for elk is simply too short and the distance too far for a flatlander."

"The opportunity to elk hunt with a bow is both a blessing and a curse."

"Is the idea of bowhunting for elk better than the actual act itself?"

These are some of the things running through my head during every CO OTC elk hunt. Let's face the reality...hunting elk in Colorado is hard to do as a non resident. I've eaten a bunch of tags...including this year. But, I always cross the state line with optimism, hope, and confidence that this is the year to break the seal.

As Heads Up Decoy continues to grow my time during my day for other things gets smaller. My brother Jeff joined a team and  entered a weight lost contest that started on March 1st of 2014. It was a life changer for him. I can remember talking to him over the years that physical conditioning for an elk hunt needed to start early in the year at the least and should be a year long endeavor. As Jeff was shedding the pounds, I was doing what I could to try to keep up with his exercise regimen. When the dust settled, Jeff had lost over 40 pounds and was in top physical shape.

Now, there are always several angles to approach a Colorado elk hunt depending on one's personal beliefs. Here is a retrospective look at the 2014 hunt.

I thought I was in manageable physical shape. The key word is "thought". I came into the hunt with a respiratory bug and on the first hike in, I knew I was going to struggle. My legs were dead and my lungs were struggling to recover from moderate climbs in the thin air. So, with my physical conditioning on the ropes, the confidence in a the mental component was sinking fast.

Brother Steve glassing and brother Jeff crouching.

So, make sure you go into an OTC elk hunt in the best possible physical conditioning. Eliminate the that component of the hunt so you can focus on a strong mental game for the grind that is OTC Colorado elk hunting. You cannot understand the ease of a topo map at the dining room table...and real topography at 11,000 feet. You can get any where on a map, but can you get there when you show up?

Aside from the physical issues I was having, there were people in every place we hiked into. Another part of the mental game that you have to prepare for. We were blessed with fair weather and comfortable nights. The mountain thermals were cooperating...but the elk were not. It's a grind for someone that does not live in elk country. Be ready and don't give up hope no matter how bleak it's going.

The week soon turned into a rodeo and the optimism gone and a new focus of being home with the family was in the head. Choose your hunting partners wisely. When you are down, they need to be up. When they are down, you need to be up...and for me, my hunting partner who had worked his *ss off to be ready for this hunt was focused in the final moments before we sacked our bats and headed for home.

A sequence of aggressive cow calling and a bugle triggered a response in an old spot that was our last resort. Jeff did not hear the bugle and as he continued his calling sequence. I knocked an arrow, put the cow elk decoy in the bowmount, and scanned the open bench and waited for the bull to appear.

Tiptoeing undetected was a small bull that busted when Jeff shifted his calling position. The bull was not alone on this mountain. Multiple bulls were bugling in the waning minutes of shooting light. Guess we were in for the next day. The optimize meter trended up as we circled the mountain in the truck hoping to find our old camping spot. On the way, we were pleasantly surprised to find the area was basically absent of hunters considering it was the last weekend of the CO muzzleloader season.

A quick lesson here was....don't be afraid to make something happen...and stay focused until it's truly time to call off the hunt because things can and do happen quickly in elk country.

The next morning came quickly and we were ready for the hunt as we sneaked up a small brushy washout under the cover of darkness as to not be detected by passing hunters who typically focus their attention on the mountains on other side of the road. With shooting light upon us, the calling set ups came and so were all the satellite bulls. Folks, it is amazing the stealth of a 500-600 lb animal. Small bull after small bull came into our sets undetected. It was frustrating since the moto for the day was, "If it's legal and brown...it's down." The calling and the decoying was working, but we couldn't catch a break on a shot.

Over the past several years of being in the archery industry, I have come to realize one characteristic of great bowhunters, those that I have known for a long time and those that I have met because of the decoy business.  The best bowhunters fail a lot. They continue to place themselves in a position for an opportunity. The best bowhunters are always giving themselves a chance by being in animals. You cannot rely on luck (although there is always a component of good fortune in every successful hunt) or develop any proficiencies without giving yourself multiple opportunities. Eventually, you will get a good shot with repeated opportunities. And that is what I told my brother on a several occasions. What I learned this year is, hunting elk is far easier than finding elk.

The action had slowed a bit later in the morning so it was time to take a break, have some food, determine what the thermals were going to do, and then devise a plan for the remainder of the day. After choking down a protein bar and a swig of water, a cow mewed from below. We grabbed our bows and set up and called. Nothing emerged from the dark timber...but a distant bugle. I had complained earlier in the morning about the fact that we hadn't turned up a herd bull. Multiple encounters with small bulls...there has to be a "big boy" around here somewhere. The distant bugle was followed up with another bugle from the other direction. An obvious mature sounding bugle. Then another bugle. The bull was moving our way, but he was well above us.

The thermals had a consistent upward trend by now, Jeff and I followed our wind up the steep slope...sometimes gagging from the smell of our own 7 day musk. The objective was to cut the bull off and get at his level to increase our chance to call him into bow range. The bull was bugling regularly as well as the other bull that was at our opposite side. Once we reached his level, We set up and things got serious fast.

A small rock slide blocked my ability to move ahead of the caller. I was forced to stay behind a beetle killed pine otherwise I would have been in full sun. Aggressive name calling type discourse was coaxing this bull closer our way. The bull was slightly below us...which was great. I gambled thinking he would approach from the lower end of the slide giving me multiple shot opportunities at varying distances.

There was a lull in the exchange, before I noticed a very large animal emerging from the timber and into the middle of the rockslide. A cow! 20 yards with a very large bull in tow. I shimmied over disregarding the cow and her focus on me. Unfortunately, the bull's first pass was well above the slide before he closed from above. Once in bow range, his vitals were covered with a small grove of sapling aspens presenting no shot and only 40 yards away. At this point, I was shocked by 2 things, the size of the animal...well over 300 inches and the fact that he could not smell my 7 day, no shower, aroma.

I was very comfortable with my set up. The bull was either going to come below the slide or above it. I had a shot at either position. However, I was not anticipating the bull angling up the slope as far as he had. As I reflect on the sequence, I am embarrassed about the thoughts rolling through my mind...and probably the reason that fate did not turn out in my favor. I was thinking about hero shots and articles and all the "post game" discourse rather than staying in the moment. Shame on me. Never count your chickens before they hatch! The bull finally angle above me enough to get into my wind and he eased off with his cow in the direction they came.

The hunt was not over, there were several bulls sounding off on the mountain in our opposite direction. After a quick, "What the hell happened?" conversation with Jeff, we quickly descended down the mountain a 100 yards and sat up again on the bull bugling below us. The timber was dense and our set up was not ideal, but fine for the cover.

It was evident this bull was not a big bull so I quickly exchanged my bugling to sweet cow sounds boosting his confidence. The small bull bugled from a comfortable distance away while other sneaking 600 pound ninja's came in. One ninja/satellite bull appeared at Jeff's right at a mere 10 yards before he was detected. Slowly swinging his bow in his direction sent the woods a blaze with crashing timber. A short moment later, another bull slithered his way into the set up. Using multiple cow elk sounds and the decoy well in view of any approaching bull, a shadow gave away the presence of a small bull.

Calculated steps finally led the bull into a shooting lane a short distance from Jeff. TWHACK!!! Not being able to see Jeff. I was grateful to hear that familiar sound. I waited a half second before easing down the slope to find my brother sitting there calm and cool as a cucumber. "Don't tell me you miss!" I said. Jeff says "No, I am pretty sure I made a good shot"...and moments later we heard the bull expiring a short distance from us.

His demeanor is a little different than mine. I have a tendency to show emotion. Jeff acted like it was his 100th elk. Jeff had the mind set months ago that he was going to kill an elk and to do whatever it took to do it. I am so proud of him for finally breaking the seal for us. We've been so close on several other trips. But this day, we failed enough before we finally got it right.

The authors gear:
Hoyt Carbon Spyder
Grim Reaper 100gr Hades Broadheads
Rocky Mountain/Bugling Bull Game Calls
Tenzing day pack
Lowa Boots
Sitka Gear Optifade Clothing
Tru Fire Hardcore Release
GoldTip Kinetics Arrow
VaporTrail Limbdriver rest
Black Gold Vengence bowsight
Tight Spot Quiver
Benchmade HUNT knives
Heads Up Decoy Cow Elk and Bow Mount

Friday, August 22, 2014

Heavy Hearts and Love Crazed Bulls

After 12 years of applying for a Black Hills, SD Archery Elk tag, I finally received that "You were successful" email from the SD GFP!!! My husband was the first person I told...by excitedly making a gesture of drawing a bow and doing a little happy dance! He knew right away what I was trying to tell him. We were going to be chasing bulls this September!!! I had seen a few ads for the Heads Up Decoys & loved how the easy to carry, lightweight design would pack thru the elk woods with us. I ordered one.

Preparing for my hunt was bittersweet. One of my Sister-In-Laws had been battling cancer for many years and her latest admittance into the hospital was proving to be one she would not walk away from. All our family had been gathering at the hospital for many days, giving support and spending short visits with Dawn. I was having a tough time juggling my feelings and not really making a definite decision to leave for the hunt. But, as I was sitting near Dawn's bed on the evening of Aug. 28th, she asked, "When do you leave for your elk hunt?" I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and told her it was a month long season. She knew I was hesitating to commit to leaving and told me to "Go kill a big one." Leaving her room that night, she smiled that beautiful smile as I walked thru the door.

My husband, Rick, and I left the next morning, Aug. 29, for the Hills. We hadn't been out to do any scouting yet, so thought we'd make the 6 1/2 hr. drive and get a couple days of searching out areas where the elk were hanging out, before opening day.

We weren't seeing many elk and the heat had everyone pretty quiet. We did encounter a couple herds and spotted a couple nice bulls. Sunday morning, the 1st of September arrived...with temps in the 90's. We hunted hard that day and the morning of the next, but with no responses to any calls and ridiculously hot temps, we decided to travel back home and make a plan to return as the weather cooled off & the locals reported bugles being heard. We arrived home late that night and didn't drive up to the hospital. The phone rang early in the morning...Dawn had passed on to Heaven around 3 am. She never gave up the fight, but her body just couldn't handle any more. She was laid to rest on Saturday. I thank God the last picture in my mind was seeing her smile as I walked out of her hospital room that last time.

I was determined to fill this tag in her honor. On Sept. 15, after lining up someone to do chores while we were gone and my Mom to watch our 3 kids, we headed west again. For the next couple days, we definitely saw an increase of rutting activity. Bulls were bugling early mornings and evenings, with dropping temperatures making it better each day. We had a close encounter with a very nice 6x7 which never offered a shot. He had been splashing in a waterhole below us and not expecting him to come running directly to me when I cow called, my set up wasn't the best. We had no time to get moved into better positions and utilize the decoy like it should be. He ran up the hill directly at me and instead of taking a path towards the left of me, giving a perfect open shot at 25 yds, he went to the right of me. Stopping directly on the opposite side of a short cedar tree I was sitting behind. I could hear him breathe and see his right eye stare thru the branches, right into my eyes. I spun on my knees as he took long strides past me, & hoped to find a window to draw on him, but it wasn't to be. He disappeared silently. Leaving me in awe of what just happened and a bit disgusted. But, that's hunting.

Another encounter that proved to leave us in awe again came on an evening hunt overlooking the same waterhole. A growling bull was on the far side across the draw, still hiding in the trees, but answering my call...alot!! When he stepped out around 300 yds away, we could tell he was nearing that 400" class! He talked back to me for nearly 45 minutes and showed off his rack as he laid his head back and hit himself in the rump! He wouldn't come across the draw. He hugged that treeline, just screaming and growling to every cow call I made. Rick was up behind me and to my left 30 yds or so. In all the excitement and trying to videotape this bull, he didn't get the decoy up and visible. Not really sure this bull would have seen it that far away anyways and thru the darkness of the timber as light was fading fast. He was one of those majestic bulls in my dreams and I'm happy we got to witness that show!

On the morning of the 19th, we decided to go back to that lucky waterhole. We sat right up on the edge of the water near some deadfall. Rick was about 10 yds. to my left and behind me a bit. He had the decoy ready. We heard 2 bulls bugling to the NW, up in the trees. I let out a couple calls & they responded immediately. You could tell by the bugles that one was an immature bull and one was a mature, growler...maybe that 400" class bull! They both kept answering my calls, but the younger sounding of the two was getting closer. He finally stepped out of the trees and headed our way. He was a rather goofy looking 3x4. It was like we had him on a string as he walked right to us. He saw that cow head decoy and fell in love instantly! He came to about 6 yds. of me and then noticed me, but didn't bolt. He stared me down and looked back at the decoy, then back at me. Finally he had enough and slowly trotted back toward the spot he exited the trees. I kept calling, trying to coax the other bull from his hiding. But, instead, this same young bull came back a second time. I guess he just couldn't resist the "Love Doll on a Stick", as my husband named her!! About 2 hours had passed now, and it sounded as the older bull was going deeper into the woods, NW away from us. I decided we were going to meander up into the woods and try to follow him. Not knowing what excitement lay ahead!

We got back into a tall, lush grassy area full of elk beds. This is where he had been talking back to us from earlier. As we traveled on, we started hearing cows and calves talking...then more and more different bugles. We topped a ridge that had a pretty sharp drop off into a small, narrow drainage. It was mass confusion as cows were running back and forth as younger bulls were trying to steal them from the herd bull. We could only catch glimpses as we tried to stay back and hidden, as not knowing where a set of eyes might detect us. Then, I heard a bark. Another young bull, I'd say a 2x3, did just that....detected us intruders! He ran right into the herd and off they went. Not completely blowing out, but disappearing into an Aspen thicket. We gave them a couple minutes and continued on our pursuit. I kept cow calling every so often as I was walking. At times you could hear the herd stop and then the sound of satellite bulls rushing into the herd. They kept the boss bull on the move almost constantly. We ended up coming to a intersection of 2 old logging roads. We were going to sit down for a quick rest, but just then a cow came running by about 50 yds. in front of us, with a young satellite on her tail & a bigger, nice satellite behind him! Things were getting really vocal again, so we found some trees to get set up by and began calling pretty much nonstop.
Knowing there were several more bulls in the area and a herd bull somewhere, we hoped to lure one from the outskirts of the herd. All of a sudden another young, small bull noticed the "Love Doll"! He was in love, too. Even after getting directly down wind of Rick, he still had to get as close to her as he could. Close enough to blow elk snot on my husband! Oh what fun we were having!!!

After that unbelievably close encounter, we headed up a hill that would top out and then descend as quickly into another narrow, deep gully. But, before we could reach the top...surprise! Another young satellite falling in love with the decoy! Rick was about 25 yds. walking behind me, holding her in front of his face. This bull, again...looked at me, then the decoy, then me, etc. He knew it wasn't right with me in the path to the gal he was making googly eyes with, but he really didn't care! I think there were so many satellite bulls dogging the herd bull and his cows, that they were getting so worked up from anticipation of getting close to a cow, they started losing their good sense! This bull was directly above me about 10 yds. as we were sitting on the side hill, about half way up. He took another step right at me, then another and another. Finally, he was about 5 feet from me. I had an arrow nocked and my release on the string, but having no intention of shooting this 4x4. As he was looking right over top me at the decoy....I watched his eyes...he'd have an intent look of love as if the potential to get close to this "cow" was possible. Then a look of "What the heck is happening to this gal?!" Then, that love struck look came back across his expression again! Later, to find out Rick was playing with him a bit...moving the decoy in front, then to the side of his face. No matter, this immature Romeo didn't care, he was going to check out this cow! He looked down at me for a last time and began to step right on me!!! I threw up a rock at him quickly, which only made him sidestep a bit. He finally lost interest when we walked toward him, hiding Love Doll. As we quietly slipped down the hill into the drainage, you could feel the damp, cool area we were entering. The grass was tall & there was moss hanging from the spruce trees & lots of deadfall of pines from the beetle infestation the Hills are experiencing. It became darker and cooler as we walked deeper into the area. Perfect elk area!!! We could hear the cows, calves and bulls talking. We literally crawled under the low hanging spruce and came up on a thicket that contained a growling bull. It sounded like the herd bull. Rick sat back behind me about 30 yds. and I got sat up, tucked into a spruce behind me. All of a sudden...chaos! The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up as an earth-shaking bugle, growl and scream projected right into my face!!! The herd bull was only about 25 yds. from me, but all I could see was a glimpse of his horn and brown/tan hair! A younger bull rushed into the middle of the thicket, then a calf came running out and almost ran into me. I heard cows talking as they ran the opposite way to my right. I quickly cow called, trying to make the herd bull think he'd left a cow behind. Then, suddenly, a younger bull appeared above me about 35 yds. away. He started walking right at me after noticing that decoy Rick was holding! I took a quick look at his rack, noticed he had some decent width and figured he was at least a 5x5. His head was behind some branches at about 20 yds. so I drew my bow. I focused on the kill spot in the front chest that I'd studied on a photo of elk anatomy...just in case this was the only shot I was presented! And, this is all he was going to give me! As he got to 12 yds. from me, he stopped and noticed something wasn't right. He looked at me, then the decoy, then me, and as his legs quivered a bit as if he was going to bolt, I release my arrow. I watched the arrow and pink lighted nock disappear into him...he spun, with blood squirting, staggered 3 steps and fell a little over 20 yds from me...all 4 hooves reaching for the sky!!! I ran up to him as he was taking his last breath. I turned and yelled to Rick that "He's done!" He couldn't believe it as he ran up to me and lifted me up for a hug! In less than one minute from the time I released my arrow, he was dead!!! "I did it!!! This one's for you Dawn!!!"

We had hiked about 6 miles following this herd and didn't know how close we could get the pickup to haul him out. I began opening him up to retrieve my arrow. As I looked inside, I could see my pink lighted nock glowing next to his heart. Sort of fitting as a tribute to those fighting and those who have lost their battle with cancer. My broadhead was situated right above his 'tool'. I had severed the top arteries of his heart, stopping him so quickly. I'm so happy I had practiced a shot like this and researched the spot on the chest that was needed to kill an elk. It wasn't a shot I ever wanted to take, but I was confident in my shooting ability and knew at 12 yds., I would have a better chance for a clean shot.

An unexpected thing happened as I was quartering him. We heard a strange moaning, almost screeching noise in the woods near us. Rick and I looked at each other, both wondering if it could be a cougar, as some people had warned us of after getting the smell of blood in the air. Then all of a sudden, less than 30 yds. from us, a 40 ft tall pine slowly fell and uprooted another big pine on its way down! Thank God they fell parallel of us and didn't fall over top of us and my elk!! We both asked each other at the same time..."Is this some sort of sign? Good or bad?!" Maybe it was someone's way of telling us from up above that they knew we'd succeeded!

After I got my bull quartered up, bagged and ready for hauling out, we took off to try to find a trail or log road we could use to get the pickup in as close as we could. We found an old log trail that needed a few branches cut to be passable and hiked a longer, but easier walking way across country to the truck. By the time we got drove back in as close as we could and packed him all out and loaded, it was dark. I shot him right at 11:05 and we were finally driving out by 8:00. We hiked over 15 miles that day and worked our butts off...loving every second of it!!! Borrowing Dawn's motto of "Life Is Good" couldn't be more fitting. The memories will last forever. Even if I didn't kill a really big one, he's still a trophy and means a lot to me in more ways than one.

Rick and
I had so much fun using this Head's Up Decoy...aka..."Love Doll on a Stick". We can't wait to use her again and have told all our friends the amazing success it brought. I'm planning on taking the mule deer doe decoy I bought with me this year on a bow hunt out west. Excited to see the outcome!! Thanks for a great product!!!
-Shauna Woodward. Tulare, SD

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First Date with Daisy

At Eye Level contributor Darren Padilla
  Santa Fe, NM

A few years ago, my son and I were on a late season mule deer archery hunt in southern New Mexico when we realized the potential of using a decoy to attract bucks during the rut.  The rut was in full swing and we were having a blast stalking bucks who were busy trying to keep tabs on the does.  One morning, we spotted a big mature 10-pt buck tending a few does across a large wash.  A smaller 10-pt buck was hanging around trying to steal a chance at a doe, when he began staring at us.  Now, we were just hiding behind some creosote bushes glassing them, but he spotted us and came trotting over from 300 yards away.  Amazingly, he must have mistaken us for deer in the bushes.  The buck came to within 30 yards of us.  We never did get that buck, but the idea dawned on us that we needed to try a decoy!  We agreed that we needed something light to carry and it had to have BIG mule deer sized ears.

After that hunt, I researched the decoys on the market and over the next couple of seasons, but nothing seemed to be what we were looking for.  Then, I came across the Heads Up - Mule Deer Doe decoy.  It was just what I was looking for and I just had to get one for our upcoming hunt.  Heck, the price was right as well.  I placed my order the month before our hunt and chose to get the bow mount along with my decoy.  I borrowed an old stabilizer from a buddy and installed the bow mount on my Hoyt Spyder 30.

Opening day on January 1st, 2014 was going to be the test.  We soon spotted a nice shooter buck chasing a small herd of does.  I got the nod and went after them with the decoy in one hand and my bow in the other.  When I got to within a couple of hundred yards, I started stalking with the decoy up and facing the direction of the deer.  I came around a bush and had a doe bust me at about 60 yards.  I just froze and held the decoy up in front of me.  After about 20 seconds, she wagged her tail and continued feeding from right to left.  Wow!!!  The stalk would have been over right then and there if I hadn't been for my Heads Up Decoy!  Although I never did get a shot on that stalk, it was the decoy’s first test and it won me over…Hands down.  During the hunt, my hunting partner and I both used the decoy with good results.  We were able to get much closer to the deer with the decoy.  On another memorable stalk, we spotted a huge fork antlered buck tending a doe from about a mile away.  This time it was my buddy’s turn to try the decoy.  He’s a big guy about 6’ 3” and is he’s a traditional archer.  Mule deer hunting in open desert with a recurve?  Are you kidding me?  Well, using that decoy, he easily got to within 100 yards of the buck and doe with very little cover while they kept a watchful eye on him.  A young spike was with the buck and doe and decided to come visit the decoy and my partner.  He walked to within 15 yards before he winded my partner and took off.  That didn’t phase the buck and doe!  He watched them feed and romance closer and closer to him.  The deer were so calm with him and the decoy in plain sight that he even witnessed the buck mount the doe right there in front of him at 40 yards!  Wowzers!!!  Eventually, they winded him too and it was over. That clinched it for my buddy…he was a believer now.

The weather was extremely windy during our hunt, so I didn't get a chance to use my bow mount very much.  It’s not something to use in windy weather because it’s like bolting a kite to your bow.  Here’s a good tip for windy conditions.  Because it was so windy, I had to figure out how to carry it without it catching in the wind and flopping around.  Since I use a belt mounted bow hook to carry/hold my bow while I hunt,  just slid the decoy in the bow hook on top of the bow handle and against my body and was able to carry the decoy in place along with my bow in the high wind.  The handle was positioned to the front so I could grip the decoy handle and the bow with one hand as I walked.

In summary, the Heads Up - Mule Deer decoy more than met my expectations and it will be going on all my future mule deer archery hunts.  What I learned, is that when you hold the decoy up between you and the deer…where the deer can see it more than you, the deer focus on the decoy even though you are there too.  If you get busted, just keep the decoy up and the deer will calm down and go back to what they were doing.  I guess they think you’re a funny shaped deer, or just another herbivore.  The decoy even helped me sneak among cattle without causing a stampede!  I hate when cattle stampede and blow out a good buck when I’m on a stalk.  The decoy worked so well, we decided it needed a name.  I named her “Daisy”.  This is a highly effective decoy that is perfect for spot and stalk, or still hunting methods.

Darren Padilla - Santa Fe, NM

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What is "AT EYE LEVEL"

What is "AT EYE LEVEL"? AT EYE LEVEL is a more formal means for our customers, partners, and friends to share their experiences with Heads Up Decoy. If you have a success story with pictures to share on this blog...we have a space for you. If you have quality video of an animal reacting positively to our decoy...we may use it. If you have a full blown video of a hunt with a story line and would like to produce it...we may use it as part of our "AT EYE LEVEL" experience.

We've always assumed that feedback would come in...and it has... but in reality...life happens and time passes along with the desire to email or call to share those moments. We see results most often through forums with customers that have used Heads Up Decoy with great results but haven't necessarily notified us, but are more than willing to step up and support us...THAT'S GREAT!

As a small company in a "watered-down" industry, we rely on the sense of connection with our customers, friends, and partners to help us spread the word and to share some of the experiences that are unique ONLY to Heads Up Decoy as well as those that are more conventional. Through customer and partner contributed blog entries, photos, and video we believe that we will provide a sense of connection with our company. For example, a gentleman sent me this photo late last year...and we used it in our first EVER Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal ad.

In our 2014 Video Trailer introducing our AT EYE LEVEL experience, much of that video was submitted by customers, friends, and industry partners. And it's good stuff! You can be a part of that.

If you are willing to share your story, photo, and or video, simply contact us at info@headsupdecoy.com and type in the subject line AT EYE LEVEL. Let us know what you have and if we use your material we will send you various Heads Up Decoy prize packs.

We will review the material with you and go over the disclaimers in personal conversations.

We appreciate your support and we look forward to a great 2014.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Two for Two

by Carl Woody

A Mule Deer tag is hard to come by if you’re a non-resident wanting to hunt the Plains of Kansas. While I’m not superstitious, I was fortunate enough in 2011 to draw a Archery Mule Deer tag. This was the first time I would have an opportunity to hunt the beautiful animal. I had dreamed of hunting a mule deer for years with my bow. It was finally going to happen. As far as a mule deer destination, Kansas probably isn’t even a thought for most people. But in 2009, that was my first time too hunt Kansas and I was their bow hunting whitetails. While I did manage to take my best whitetail to date I kept seeing mule deer and that got me eager to hunt them.

Now 2011, I had my Archery Mule Deer tag and on Halloween I traveled to Kansas. Arriving mid afternoon I scouted that evening and saw some nice bucks. The next morning I was perched on a hill glassing the area.  I found a nice buck and made a stalk up a CRP drainage. I had bought a mule deer doe decoy from Heads Up Decoys and I used it on my approach. As I made my way under a fence and up the drainage I eased the HUD mule deer doe decoy up in front of me. A moment later I noticed the buck looking my direction.  He saw the decoy and headed right in my direction immediately. I stuck the decoy in the grass in front of me and got ready. Within seconds he covered 100 yards. He got to 30 yards and I eased my bow back. He was so focused on the decoy he never flinched and kept coming. At 20 yards the shot happened with the arrow blowing through the front shoulders. He turned and ran over a little rise and out of sight. I ran 50 yards and looked over the rise and he was going down 40 yards from me. I watched for a moment realizing what I had just done. Actually what the HUD mule deer doe had just did for me. I looked back over my shoulder at the HUD decoy sitting up in the grass and smiled. Then turned back toward my buck and thanked God for the opportunity and for making me a bow hunter.   My first mule deer…I was hooked on bow hunting mule deer.

Going into 2012 I opted not to put in for a tag with other obligations to take care of that fall. Then came 2013 and I was going to put in for a mule deer tag. With the tag’s so hard to draw I thought there’s no way I would be fortunate enough to get another mule deer tag. When the draw results came out I was going back to Kansas with my second mule deer tag. I was ready for another opportunity at a nice buck.
With two hunting trips in 2009 and 2011 under my belt and a scouting trip in late August 2013 I was set for the first of November for my hunt. I wasn’t going to just settle for a buck, I wanted a true trophy, a 170 of better! With all the prep of my gear, practicing countless hours shooting my bow the time was here. I arrived Halloween evening and with the wind howling from the northwest at 35 plus (welcome to Kansas) I opted to glass from the truck that afternoon. I glassed a cut corn field from a distance and saw lots of deer with two bucks worth a closer look the following morning.

The first morning found me several hundred yards from the cut corn. As day light slowly started to come to life I could make out mule deer and over the next  few hours I watched as the deer moved in and out of the field and bedding in the adjacent draws. While I did see the two bucks from the night before they weren’t what I was looking for on this trip. At mid morning I met up with my uncle. He had been scouting other places and we compared our buck sightings of the mourning. It was clear he had seen a deer I wanted to get on.

I made a plan for the afternoon and at 2pm I was dropped off at my destination. As I got my stuff ready I couldn’t help but notice the wind was ridiculously high. I’m talking guest to 45 maybe more! I thought man if I get a shot it’s going to have to be top pin range in order to make a ethical shot with the wind like this. As I started to head west in the pasture I knew where I wanted to be.

There was a deep draw about ¼ mile from me that ran north and south, to the south about a mile was a cut corn field and I knew the deer would be headed to that field to feed that evening. As I moved closer to the draw I saw a vantage point that I wanted to glass from. I started to crest over the hill when I suddenly saw the rear end of a mule deer doe standing at the bottom of the draw. I instantly dropped to the ground. I glassed the area and there were four does and a true trophy mule deer in the mix. The first thing that got my attention was the deep rear forks  on the right side.  As soon as I saw that I thought there’s my boy. From there I was probably 200 yards from the group. It’s a miracle they hadn’t spotted me! But with the wind and my camo leafy suite they probably both saved me.

I watched the buck for several minutes and it was obvious they weren’t going anywhere. There was a deep cut that fed down off the hill into the draw about 100 yards to my right and they were standing at the mouth of the cut in the draw. I back tracked out of sight and moved down the cut towards the group. I noticed a dog leg in the cut so I made my way to that point. I peaked over some yuccas and there they were about 100 yards. The bucks rack was breath taking and I knew I was going to do all I could to get a shot at him. The problem was I couldn’t get any closer from here because of open space. I watched him for over an hour though my 10x binoculars. He had mass that was top notch and extra points that made me drool! As the afternoon got shorter the does began to slowly move south to that corn field. I thought I’ve got to get ahead of them in the draw and hopefully ambush him. I back tracked up the hill and ran 500 yards to the south to another cut that ran down into the draw. I stopped at the top and got down behind some yuccas to collect my thoughts. I couldn’t see the deer yet and was waiting for them to appear any second but they didn’t. I said to myself, I need to get down this cut right in the edge of the draw to have a chance.

I started working my way down slowly with the HUD mule deer doe up in front of me.  I kept thinking that any second they are going to walk out but they didn’t.  I moved on and finally got into position.  I peaked over the edge and could see 80 yards or so and no deer. Perfect I thought, I got some tumble weeds and put them in front of me for a little cover and had some yuccas behind me…this was perfect. I sat there and realized the wind had died some and that the draw was a wind brake which was great because that meant I could shoot across the draw if needed. 

I ranged some land marks to make sure everything was ready. I looked back up the draw and saw the does headed my way. I got ready. The does fed by and I ranged them, 31 yards, 34, 35 and 38 yards. They never looked my way and kept on south toward the corn. I kept waiting for the buck. I slowly looked up the draw, no buck yet. I eased up and crawled back behind me with my HUD mule deer doe decoy  and stuck her in the ground so he could see her when he got about 50 yards. I hurried back to my position.  It was about 5 minutes and he appeared headed my way. He was walking and feeding down the middle of the draw right on the same path as the does.  As he came down the draw he made his way to the far side of the draw. I bleated and he stopped and looked straight at the mule deer doe decoy. With his attention focused on the decoy I eased my bow to full draw. He never knew I was there. At 47 yards I settled my 50 yard pin and the shot happened, the arrow flew true and the buck went down in sight. I sat there for a few minutes thanking God for making me a bow hunter and the opportunity to see a buck of this caliber and to have made an ethical shot. As I walked up on this deer I noticed more mass and character than I had earlier that afternoon. I had truly out done my 2011 mulie buck. That’s what I had hoped for. I had succeeded on two archery mule deer hunts in Kansas and I pay a lot of that success to the HUD mule doe decoy.  Mr. Roe is making an awesome product for us bow hunters. If you’re going to spot and stalk mule deer you’d be crazy not to have this decoy with you at all times. It can and will make your hunt more successful period.  Like Mr. Roe says, Be Mobile… Stay Mobile! Thanks for offering a superior product for us bow hunters!!  Keep up the great work!!

My buck 2nd buck gross scored 172 5/8 inches and netted 166 2/8.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Welcome Distraction

Welcome Distractions

Matt Dorram

Bow hunting elk has always been my passion. The close encounters with wild rutting bulls and the adrenaline rush that follows is not easily replaced by any other activity on earth. Once in a while, another hunting opportunity comes along to distract my attention away from elk, even if only for a brief period.

I hadn’t ever hunted big game with my friend, Doug. In fact, we hadn’t seen each other much at all since our school-age days of hunting waterfowl together as often as humanly possible. We re-connected through social media and decided to hunt elk in an area we had both considered for many years, but never actually visited. My primary objective was to help Doug kill a big bull with his stick bow. I knew the area well enough to know that big bulls were killed every year; perseverance was going to be the key to our success.

After a brutally early wake-up, we drove through the hours that nearly all sane-minded people slept and arrived at our “trailhead” just before dawn. It was early September and the weather was perfect for the long hike ahead. Our plan was to make camp about 4 miles deep and explore our new surroundings in search of elk—and maybe a bear. Over the next couple days, we hiked, glassed, and found very little fresh sign of elk. We did manage to locate a decent bull and his small harem on the second evening just above our camp. After 30 minutes of calls back-and-forth, the wind completed its predictable downhill swap and the game was over.

Day three began without a single bugle. I was beginning to think that there weren’t many elk in our particular basin. We hiked farther up the drainage; a direction we hadn’t yet explored. As we progressed, faint bugles could be heard in the distance. The topography of the land made it very difficult to decipher exactly where the sounds were coming from. A small bull responded to our pleading cow calls and moved in quickly for a closer look. Doug elected to pass on the bull, still confident we would find some of his big brothers and cousins.

The once-distant bugles became much closer until it was clear that elk were rapidly moving our direction over the adjacent ridge. We quickly crossed the valley floor and began to climb the opposite mountain in pursuit of our newly-arrived quarry. We worked several great setups in customary caller-shooter style. Doug needed only inches or steps on several nice bulls for shot opportunities to emerge. During the action, one particular bull was ripping deep and distinctive bugles every couple minutes as he worked across the other side of a nasty slot canyon. After some discussion and reluctance, Doug launched himself down the precarious slope hoping to get across and ahead of the bull as it moved. My calls slowed the bull somewhat, but he was determined toward a location which would become his bedding area for the day. The nasty combination of steep terrain and almost impenetrable jungle of scrub oak and thorny brush prevented Doug from continuing his advance. Doug was able to see the bull at one point; he was massive. The giant’s frequent bugles were now stationary indicating he had found his bed. Doug returned to my side of the slot and we made a plan to climb around and above, hoping to find a better avenue and favorable upslope midday wind.

After a climb in the growing heat, Doug and I found an excellent perch among some cliffs where we could glass the slope below. The big bull was mostly quiet now, only an occasional bugle which let us know he was still in the thick tangle. As we glassed the terrain and pondered a new strategy, a large oak tree began to sway back-and-forth. I immediately thought we found the bull’s exact spot by him rubbing a tree. This hope was quickly replaced by another reality—a bear was in the oak tree gorging itself on the abundant acorns. This was an elk hunt until now. Enter the welcome distraction.

I had been searching for an opportunity on another bear for some years. After spotting the first bear, two others were located the same way. We watched these bears for about twenty minutes trying to decide which to pursue. We hoped we could kill one without disrupting the resting bull only a couple hundred yards farther down the hill. We picked some landmarks along our stalk route and began our descent into the bear infested scrub.

We advanced along our predetermined route and came to our final landmark. Doug was armed with the video camera; I was armed with my new Xpedition Archery killing machine. As anticipated, I moved slowly around a final tree to find the big bear its original location. With film rolling, my first arrow sailed harmlessly under the bear’s chest (most guys would have probably used a rangefinder in this situation. I’m a knucklehead sometimes). The clatter of the arrow through the trees below caused the bear to ignore the task of eating and look around for the cause of the commotion. My second arrow found its mark and the bear instantly fell out of sight into a tangle of oak brush. As with many of my attempted video kills, the entire sequence wasn’t captured on camera; Doug was busy watching the action and filming the ground at his feet (easy to be distracted after stalking to within 30 yards of a bear!). We sat for an hour, uncertain of the exact location of the hit. Neither of us relished the thought of tracking a wounded bear through this thick, tangled mess. Our bull sounded-off a few times to let us know he was still there, almost taunting us in the process.

As we cautiously approached the last know location of the bear, growls, snapping, and thrashing erupted from the trees 5 yards to our left; it seemed that our wounded bear scenario was about to begin. Doug and I looked at each other, knowing what lie ahead as we mentally prepared for the worst. As I stepped to my right to find a place to sit and gather my thoughts, dark fur was visible on the opposite side of a boulder. My bear was dead only feet from the point it was impaled by the arrow. It was lying still and had obviously been that way since just seconds after the hit. The other bear that growled at us must have been approaching with cannibalistic intentions.

We skinned the bear, snapped a few photos, and bagged all the meat. It was still early afternoon when we finished the task and our big bull was still only a short distance downhill. We made a half-measured stalk attempt on the bull, setting up to call once. The terrain and vegetation was just too thick for a stalk on the resting bull. Although the big bull never came to investigate, a nice satellite bull was quite interested in the seductive cow calls I delivered. This bull managed to get around Doug and to within 5 yards of me—twice! After another missed shot opportunity for Doug that day, we decided to get busy packing meat. Certainly, these elk and the big bull with them would be nearby in the morning, right?

Most hunting stories contain great lessons learned. This is where our lesson enters the story. Never willingly walk away from a great bull hoping to find him the next day. I knew this already, but even seasoned hunters make mistakes. We never found that bull again, and our valley was once again quiet without his presence. To my friend, Doug: Thanks for allowing me the welcome distraction and your help with the nasty pack-out. I’m sorry we left that bull, let’s get him this year!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In The Thick of It

Going back to the fall of 2012, I'd say I have been in a little bit of a bowhunting funk. The 2013 spring turkey season was the lowest. The weather did not seem to cooperate and I found myself pressing. There was some good moments during the turkey season, but selfishly, most of my memories revolve around my own missed chances.

On Friday April 11, 2014, I had the pleasure of hunting with my 6 year old boy. I was so proud of his effort, focus, and desire to hunt turkeys. We hunted outside of a traditional blind setting. I had a great time...sure I had a couple of impatient dad moments :-). Kaleb had a few moments when he protested the pace and few times that he expressed his opinion that I should shoot even though the birds were 150 yards out because an arrow can go a long way...it was a great and memorable experience. We saw a ton of turkeys too. That helps.

This past weekend, it was good to relive the days when the turkey decoy was almost 100% effective with multiple shot opportunities and close encounters. There are days when everything goes right and on Saturday, things worked...but it took some work and patience. Myself and prostaffer David Gillan were able to get into birds at will. We took advantage of a great, but hot, spring day...and the turkeys cooperated.

Most of the birds were on the adjacent property. What we did was back off the property line and laid down sequences of hen calls. Once the birds crossed the property line, they were able to see the decoy mounted to the bow. In my opinion, it's good ethics to give a buffer to a property line any time, but it's also important when decoying turkeys with a Heads Up Decoy. If you crowd a fenced property line, the birds WILL hang up for sure strutting on the opposite side fence leaving you in misery. If you back off 80+ yards the birds will go under the fence and come charging or strutting into bow range. It was a great day and it was good to be relaxed and in the middle of the action.

Here are some images of the the spring thus far...Pic heavy.

Loud Mouth Hen from Heads Up Decoy on Vimeo.

Heads Up Decoy Turkey Charge....short video from Heads Up Decoy on Vimeo.