By Brandon Adams
Like many young men from central Oklahoma, I grew up playing sports, farming, and hunting with friends and family each fall. While I love just about all forms of hunting, bowhunting is my ultimate passion. About 10 years ago, I was fortunate to start working in the bowhunting industry, and since that time ‘ve rubbed shoulders with some of our sport’s foremost authorities — visionary bowhunters with the ambition needed to accomplish their goals. Watching them chase their dreams got me thinking hard about setting some bowhunting goals of my own. What are my bowhunting goals? Where should I focus my bowhunting ambition?
Two years ago, it hit me. I’ve always been proud of the bowhunting opportunities that my home state has to offer. Oklahoma features huntable populations of five different free-ranging big game animals: whitetail deer, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, and black bear. Perhaps the most overlooked opportunity is that tags for all five species are available over the counter! I had never heard of anyone attempting to take the Oklahoma Big 5. I was sure there were hunters who have accomplished it over the span of their careers, but had anyone ever done it in a single season? All with a bow? I didn’t know the answers, but my goal was set — to complete the slam in one season.
These animals do not all live in the same area, but I was fortunate to have access to whitetail and mule deer through a Major League Bowhunter lease in the Panhandle. I still needed the other three. As a part of the “millennial” generation — I hit up Instagram. In January 2018, I reached out on my IG page and laid out what I needed to obtain this goal (elk, bear, and antelope property). Within an hour, I had permission on thousands of acres for antelope with Zac Albin in the Panhandle. A short time later, I had a contact in southeast Oklahoma for bears with Jason Curtis of Offgrid Whitetails.
The elk was a different story. I went through many twists and turns, trying to nail down a property to chase a screaming bull. I eventually contacted a buddy, Brett Carden of Western Oklahoma Trophy Outfitters, and he gave me Trevor Johnson’s number and told me good luck! I called Trevor, and quickly had access to a property in southwest Oklahoma — one of the best areas in the state for big elk!
Having obtained permission for all five species, a different type of work began. Lining up overlapping hunts would be difficult. Bear season opened October 1, and the earlier you can hunt the better, because when the acorns start falling the bears get off bait stations and hit the oak flats. Elk season opened October 6, and ran until October 10. Antelope ran October 1–14. My plan was to hunt bears on the opener, then drive across the state on October 5 for elk. If I was fortunate enough to kill a bull early, I’d hightail it to the tip of the Panhandle and chase antelope until either I killed one, or the season closed on October 14. The rest of the fall would be relegated to mule deer and whitetails. That was the plan, on paper anyway.
After a half-dozen trips to southeast Oklahoma, with the guidance of Jason Curtis who runs commercial bear hunts on the same property, I was ready to hunt on the opener. Accompanying me on this hunt was my dad, Homer Adams, who would also be bear hunting. My blind was sitting 20 yards from a plastic barrel that I had been filling with various “goodies” for the previous two months. I had cleared a path in the leaves leading up to the back of the blind, so I would have the ability to sneak in quietly. Trail-camera photos showed several shooter bears were frequenting the bait station at all hours of the day.
On opening morning, I walked up the side of an oak and pine-covered mountain over an hour before daylight, with feelings I’d never felt before on a hunt. I’ve often hunted/filmed on great properties, but this was different. This was a new type of pressure from all the time, effort, and money I had poured into this, and upcoming hunts.
Field Producer, Josh Anderson, and I tip-toed to the back of the blind, opened the door, settled in, and peered through the dark timber, spotting a shadowy blob moving on the bait station. We did it! We snuck into the blind with a big bear a mere 20 yards away. Now it was just time to wait for daylight to roll in.
The next hour went by very slowly, as brightening skies began to show through the leaves. When it was clear we had enough light for an ethical bowshot, I slowly raised my bow, drew back, and settled my pin on the mature boar’s vitals.
My arrow found its mark, and the bear ran 25 yards before expiring in front of the blind. Emotions ran over me. This was a feeling I had never felt before. I had set my mind to achieving something incredibly difficult, and this was the first confirmation that it was real and within reach. The first leg of the Oklahoma Big 5 was complete.
My dad ended up killing a bear that afternoon from the same blind, making our hunt together even more special. I stayed and hunted deer for a couple days, and then headed to southwest Oklahoma the morning of October 5 for my much-anticipated elk hunt.
The opener brought rain and wind. We heard and saw bulls, but we were unable to get within bow range. On October 7, we fought through torrential downpours until early afternoon, and almost closed the distance. But ultimately the bad weather won, and we retreated off the mountain, soaked, freezing, and ready to fight another day.
October 8 brought much of the same — wind and rain. We chased a bugling bull all morning over some of the roughest terrain I’ve ever faced. Then the bull went silent, as the rain continued pouring heavily. Our morale was low, and as we were about to leave, the bull let out a midday bugle within 200 yards of us. After a couple different setups, we finally got inside his “bubble” and he couldn’t resist.
When the bull showed himself at 30 yards, I drew my bow back. The bull walked straight at me, stopping at 20. After I’d been at full draw for over a minute and a half, the bull let out a roaring bugle and began closing the distance to the decoy Trevor was holding 40 yards behind me, giving me a 15-yard broadside shot. I was lucky enough to put my arrow right behind the bull’s shoulder, and he dropped within 100 yards.
Not only was this my first archery elk, this was one of the most crucial legs of the Big 5. And after my very first mountain pack-out, — luckily with the help of Trevor Johnson, Josh Candelaria, and Josh Anderson — I was on my way to the Oklahoma Panhandle to chase pronghorns with Zac Albin.
On October 10, I began my pronghorn hunt with temperatures in the 30s and a bitter wind. Antelope were plentiful, yielding many failed attempts over the first day. October 11 was a different situation, as rain and fog covered the flat ground and made spotting anything over a couple hundred yards away impossible. The fog broke at midday, and we spotted a shooter buck almost immediately and began our stalk.
Our attempted stalk didn’t pan out, so we began the trek back toward Zac and the landowner at the truck. While waiting on me to return, they had watched a big buck bed 300 yards from the parked truck. With 45 minutes of daylight remaining, I started belly-crawling toward the buck in eight-inch-high grass in hopes of getting within bow range. After getting to about 100 yards, the buck stood up and began walking toward me. The only problem was, I was stuck in the middle of about as much cover as a living-room carpet.
The buck spotted me as I tried to rise up and range him. The now-curious buck was at 75 yards. I drew my bow, settled the pin, and squeezed the trigger. My arrow flew over the buck’s back, and he bounded away 10 yards. Now at 85 yards, I knew this would be my only other opportunity at this animal. I drew back, released, and was fortunate enough to make a good shot. The buck only ran a short distance before going down.
In 11 days of hunting, I had taken three species I’d never hunted before, all from my home state, and all right on schedule. Now I had three months to hunt muleys and whitetails.
I waited until November 1 to start hunting mule deer. This was more in my wheelhouse, as I have killed multiple Oklahoma mule deer with a gun, and I’ve been fortunate to arrow several muleys in Colorado with my bow.
On November 4, after several days of hunting and scouting (you’re always scouting when you’re hunting mule deer), I was perched on the side of a hill, wearing a ghillie suit. I had seen several shooter bucks walk by this particular spot during my first three days of hunting. As darkness began to close, I was texting on my phone, helping a buddy get his truck into an area to retrieve his own downed buck. Unbeknownst to me, the most mature buck I had seen all week was at 20 yards and staring at me. Talk about egg on my face.
After the big-bodied animal had enough, he bounded off. I grabbed my bow and raised up, and when the buck stopped at 54 yards, I let my arrow fly. The buck ran 100 yards and died within sight. I was beyond elated, and I now had over two months to kill a whitetail before the season closed.
Now, for a bit of irony. On the “easiest” animal, is where it got rough. I hunted several times in southeast Oklahoma, on the same property where I’d killed my bear. Although the bucks were plentiful throughout the property, I encountered mostly young bucks.
Around Christmas, I ventured up to north-central Oklahoma with buddy Jonathon Epps, of Smoketree Hunting. We had some great hunts, but no opportunities at a mature buck. After Christmas, I traveled back to northwest Oklahoma to hunt the same property where I’d shot the mule deer two months earlier.
The conditions were exactly what you hope for on a late-season hunt — bitter-cold weather and I’d be hunting a good food source. On January 1, we found ourselves perched in a cottonwood, hoping to catch a buck we had seen the night before on his way to a big wheatfield. Temps were in the mid-teens, and the wind was very cold but blowing in the right direction. At 4 p.m., we spotted the buck we had hoped to see headed our way. It moseyed closer and closer, eventually choosing a trail that would put him at 15 yards.
The buck was at about 20 yards and facing head on when he spotted the two giant blobs in the otherwise bare tree. A staredown ensued. I did everything I could to not fall out of my stand from violently shivering due to the bitter cold. The buck had seen enough and started to leave. I drew back as he turned, and at about 30 yards I let my arrow fly. The arrow found its mark, and the buck fell within sight about 150 yards from the tree.
Over the next few days, emotions began to flood in as I realized that I’d achieved my goal. I was fortunate to have the blessings of my wife, Brianne, and two daughters, Addison and Brooke. Knowing how many days and mental hours it would take me away from home, their support never wavered. Every animal I put on the ground was a mature animal. Each animal also offered a challenge I had never experienced before, and all five meant more to me than any other animal I’d ever taken.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife helped me with support footage and expert interviews for our upcoming “SLAMMED” film, and they told me their records don’t show anyone having harvested all five of Oklahoma’s big-game species, with a bow, in one season. I’m humbled to know I was the first.
Author’s Notes: On these hunts, I used a Mathews Triax, Bloodsport arrows, Gravedigger broadheads, QAD HDX rest, HHA Optimizer sight, and Realtree camouflage. I need to offer big thanks to Major League Bowhunter, Offgrid Whitetails, Trevor Johnson, and Zac Albin, plus the various field producers who followed me with video cameras. Please tune in to our two-hour special, “SLAMMED,” on The Sportsman Channel this fall, as well as on MOTV.com.