April 18, 2023
“Another 60 miles,” I groaned, as I crossed the U.S. border into Canada. I had been white-knuckle driving across ice and snow for nearly 10 hours, and I was tired.
But the thought of big Alberta mule deer kept me going. My pal and outfitter Duane Nelson was waiting in camp, and we planned to be glassing vast stretches of prairie the next morning.
I enjoyed excellent bowhunts in 2022, yet despite my success, shooting critters last year was unusually difficult.
The 500-mile drive from my home in Wyoming to southern Alberta seemed like déjà vu — because it was. I had already made the 1,000-mile roundtrip journey just days earlier. Duane’s area in southern Alberta only allows November deer hunting four days per week, and I had opted to bowhunt rutting muleys during the November firearms season.
Wednesday through Saturday in early November went by without even one Pope and Young buck to be found. The mating season seemed slow to start, and bucks were smaller than normal. With plenty of office work to do, I drove home the following Sunday and hit the road for Canada again two days later. Biden’s gas hike did not help.
Just before dark on Day Five, Duane and I found a solid 165-inch 5x5 chasing does. Next morning, I stalked the deer and made a nifty 35-yard shot. I did not relish the 500-mile return trip over snow-covered roads, but I had my 2,000-mile mule deer.
Earlier in the year, I bowhunted pronghorns in my home state. My normally productive antelope spots had been hammered by hemorrhagic fever the previous fall, and at least half the pronghorn population had died — and almost every mature trophy buck was history.
After several long days of glassing, I began to lose hope. A few juvenile bucks with tiny horns were chasing does — females that would normally have been dominated by impressive bucks. For me, the fun of pronghorn hunting is stalking males with tall and massive headgear — 2022 was not the year for that.
I was hiking one afternoon, when a lone buck stepped out of a draw. Given what I had been seeing, this animal looked freakishly large. I tiptoed down a ravine, peeked over the edge, and nailed the “monster” from a bit over 30 yards. His horns later scored a hair over 73 P&Y points — smaller than most I have taken in Wyoming. But this buck had somehow survived the plague and given me a rare chance to score.
I love bowhunting truly wild, fair-chase bison, and I secured a coveted Wyoming buffalo permit last year. For some unknown reason, normally productive bison habitat was devoid of buffs in 2022. During long hours of hiking and searching for fresh tracks, I came up completely blank.
Meanwhile, a rifle-hunting friend of mine was having identical bad luck. We compared notes almost daily, with the same depressing results.
Finally, after days of glassing empty terrain, I spotted two bull bison one afternoon as they ambled between thick patches of timber. I quickly sneaked over soft snow to within a scant three yards of the closest one. Even at pointblank range, I could not find a clear lane through the dense brush.
Several nervous minutes later, one of the bulls stepped into the open at 25 yards. One G5 Striker broadhead from my Bear Alaskan bow put him down inside 50 yards. Then the all-night butchering began.
On most bison bowhunts, I’ve seen several dozen buffs. But I saw only two in 2022. My gun-toting buddy had it even worse. He shot his own bull after exactly 30 days of hiking till his legs would barely hold him up. His was the only bison he found during all that time. Without extreme persistence, both of us would have gone home empty-handed.
Kodiak, Alaska, is known for nasty weather. But the summer of 2022 was the worst even longtime residents could remember. Bush pilots were cancelling charter trips left and right, and many hunters and fishermen found themselves stranded for days on end.
In early August, I took a solo backpack trip on Kodiak for Sitka blacktails. I was lucky to fly in and out of camp on schedule, but I spent more than 60-percent of my time seeking shelter inside my tiny dome tent. Winds were so severe, the rain fly on my 100 mph-rated tent ripped in multiple places. Thank God for duct tape!
In spite of wretched conditions, I enjoyed several long Alaskan summer days of serious spot-and-stalk hunting. It was up before dawn, hike 10–15 miles over rough terrain, hope the clouds did not drop around my ears, and reach the tent again after dark. I got caught in sudden storms twice while miles from camp, but I slogged back using a GPS and my knowledge of the country.
Even with the foul conditions, I managed to take three awesome nontypical velvet Sitka bucks. I was hunting the only area where I had ever seen more than one nontypical Sitka deer in the past, and I was specifically looking for weird, oversized specimens.
Official scores for all of my 2022 Sitka deer beat the existing P&Y velvet nontypical World Record. My best is the largest ever recorded for an archery Sitka buck in any record-book category, with a net score of 1170⁄8. I consider it the single-best animal I have ever taken with a bow. All measurements will be double-checked by a P&Y panel prior to the April 2023 Awards Convention in Reno.
One key to bowhunting success is never giving up, and my difficult 2022 archery adventures proved this to me in spades!