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Home Sweet Home for Fred Eichler

No matter how satisfied you are in life, there's nothing like returning to your old home place.

Home Sweet Home for Fred Eichler

Despite a late start, this Osceola gobbler made a fatal mistake when he ran into my decoys.

Although Colorado feels like home, since I have lived there the past 34 years, I actually grew up in northern Florida, where I hunted whitetails, hogs, Osceola turkeys, and myriad small game. I also enjoyed catching fish in the brown, tannic-stained rivers like the Suwanee and the Santa Fe. Florida also had, and still does have, a lot of great bowfishing opportunities, and I spent many a day in my youth bowfishing for sharks, stingrays, gar, and tilapia.

One of my jobs as a young man was working at Bear Archery. They had moved from Grayling, Michigan, to Gainesville, Florida. I worked there in the pro shop and Fred Bear Museum under Frank Scott, who helped fuel the passion I already had for bowhunting.

As a kid, I learned to hunt with my dad on hard-pressured public land. I learned to play the wind, how to read sign, and how to hike farther to get away from people. After harvesting deer, hogs, and turkeys on public land, I was hopelessly addicted. My dad was a staunch believer in respecting the animals, and part of that respect was to eat whatever you killed. I learned that lesson early when my mouth was half full of baby teeth, after being forced to eat a robin I’d shot with my BB gun.

The challenge of bowhunting public land in the South is one I readily accepted and relished. Any deer taken was a trophy, and that way of thinking still runs deep in me. I never was bitten by the trophy bug, because my dad taught from childhood that all animals are equal. He said it was often more of a challenge to harvest a doe than a rut-crazed buck, and usually the best table fare was from the younger animals we killed.

I grew up hunting and bowfishing with my dad, and we continue to enjoy hunting and bowfishing together to this day.

Young deer, hogs, and jake turkeys were the norm. We did not own any property and couldn’t swing a lease, so public land was where it was at.

This past spring, I headed back to Florida to do some hunting. The difference now was that I had a lease there with some good hunting buddies, and we were respectful of one another’s space when hunting there together. We also didn’t have to worry about the safety issue, which can be even more of a problem during spring turkey season on public land with inexperienced hunters who may be a tad too anxious to harvest a bird.

For a bow, I took a new Mag riser recurve Bear Archery had come out with. Turkey was the main course, but I was hoping for a shot at a feral pig as well.

The first morning started a little rough, when the rental truck without 4WD I had got stuck in the mud. It didn’t do it by itself; I thought the little truck could make it. Problem was, when I got stuck, we were still almost a mile from where I wanted to set up my blind. My buddy Tim was with me, and we were hoping to film for an episode of “Everything Eichler” that would air on the Sportsman Channel. Getting stuck a mile from where we wanted to hunt wasn’t in the plans.

When filming, we have a ridiculous amount of gear. I had a Muddy blind, two Millennium chairs, three Montana Decoys, a Thermacell, my recurve, and a backpack full of snacks and calls. Tim had a large camera, two little GoPro cameras, a tripod, and a backpack full of spare batteries and gear.

My plan was to drive in early before first light, drop all the gear, and move the truck off a ways. Due to getting the truck stuck, we had to hike the majority of our gear in to where we wanted to set up. Tim fired up our mosquito defender and started brushing-in the blind, while I hiked back to the truck to get the rest of our gear. When I got back, I helped Tim finish hiding our blind and set the decoys out.

I had just got in the blind, when Tim spotted a small group of pigs that came out to feed in the meadow we were set up on. So of course, I completely forgot about the turkeys and went to put the sneak on some feral hogs.

The wind was in my favor, but first I had to slowly and quietly unzip the blind. After finally getting it unzipped enough to fit my body, I crawled out of the blind. It’s funny to me how excited I still get when sneaking up on an animal. In order to calm myself down, I kept telling myself it was just a pig.

Me and my buddy, Jose, with one of my larger Florida bucks from back in the day. Jose and I still hunt together to this day.

As I closed the distance to about 70 yards, the pigs started feeding toward me. It seemed like it took forever, but they were finally about 25 yards away and some were starting to drift into the thick palmettos to go cool off in the shade during the heat of the day. A medium-sized pig stopped to root up a bug or tasty root, and in doing so turned broadside. I felt that calm feeling for a second as I slowly eased my bow back while staring at a spot on the pig’s chest. My pink feathers stuck out of the pig’s side like a ray of sunshine through the clouds, and I heard a satisfying squeal as it charged into the thick brush. Tim had been filming the whole thing. Pretty cool way to get over getting the truck stuck earlier that morning, I remember thinking. I confirmed I had some good blood before sneaking back to the blind with a plan to take up the trail after we tried for turkeys for a little while.

My normal routine for turkeys when I am not hearing any in the spring, is to let out a few yelps every 20 minutes or so. I was about ready to call it quits, when a lone hen walked right up to the decoys. She was purring softly and went from decoy to decoy, waiting for them to move. Every time she would start to leave, Tim and I would call softly and she would come right back.

The hen had been with us for almost 15 minutes, when we spotted the red head of a mature gobbler heading our way. Then we spotted two more longbeards, as well as some hens and jakes, making their way to our decoys and the live Osceola hen.

One gobbler started picking up the pace as I slowly raised my recurve. He was obviously the dominant bird, and he headed right for my jake decoy. I am one of those bowhunters who takes the first shot that presents itself, so although I really enjoy and am impressed with hunters who let gobblers attack the decoys and hang out for a while, I’ve never had the patience to do that. As the gobbler came up to the decoy, I hit full draw and released. My arrow went right where I was looking, but my 35-pound limbs had driven it deep though not completely through the large Osceola gobbler.

The bird jumped up and took off, like my Muzzy-tipped arrow was no more than a distraction. I immediately nocked another arrow, and just as I was coming back to full draw to try a long shot at the departing bird, it sidestepped like a punch-drunk boxer and fell into the grass. I “Fredded-out” a bit, as it had been a few years since I had hunted Osceola turkeys and I was super excited with the beautiful bird and my shot.

With a bird down, a hog to go trail, and a truck still stuck in the mud, it was now time to phone a friend. My buddy Frankie was there hunting as well, and he came to my rescue when I explained my dilemma. Of course, I totally expected and deserved the good-natured ribbing I received as he kept us from having a super-miserable day.

I had to swing by my old stomping grounds, the Bear Archery facility, in Gainesville, Florida.

My hunt and trip were far from over. I spent some more time hunting pigs, fishing, and chasing fireflies at night — like I used to do when I was a kid. I also made a nostalgic visit to the Bear Archery plant, but unfortunately it was closed. So, I stopped by and looked at the archery range I used to shoot at and took a picture of the sign.

It’s funny how different jobs and people can impact your life’s course. I think I would have been happy working at Bear Archery the rest of my working career. But as it turned out, I think I was lucky to have moved to Colorado to pursue my passion of hunting, as well as guiding hunters for a living. Going home for me is always fun, and it floods my mind with memories afield — both alone, and with family and friends.

As a side note, while working at the Bear Archery Museum a little over 30 years ago, I got to walk around the museum with Bob Munger. He was one of Fred Bear’s old hunting buddies and had come to visit about a year after Fred had passed. I had recognized him, and it seemed to have made his day.

Although Bob never said so, I think he had come to just reminisce and think about his friend. As we passed a mounted turkey in the museum, Bob said that it was his turkey in the museum, and that Fred had never taken one with a bow. I am not sure if that’s true or not, or if Bob was just ribbing an old hunting buddy he missed dearly. Either way, it was a memory that will always stick with me. Bob actually signed a Fred Bear photo for me that day. It was 1989. Fred had signed it in 1968, which was a year after I had been born.


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