Cuba father and son go Beast Mode at public land archery hunt

Beast tactics can mean different things to different people in various parts of the country. To me, using extreme tactics to get deeper or tucked away in secretive spots has been a significant contributor in my evolution as a hunter. In early November 2018, my fellow Beast, 16-year-old son TJ, and I set out for a new challenge on a new piece of public ground three hours away from home. 

For the majority of my 30-plus years of hunting, early November has been the epitome of hunting excitement, but strangely enough my lack of confidence always forced me to hunt where I was comfortable. After a couple years of learning Beast tactics, transitioning to a saddle, and embracing the public land challenge more than ever, I now had the confidence to go to a new piece of land last November. This was a big deal for me, and it was exciting to know that I could go to a new area, have an idea from online scouting, find hot sign, and get set-up in an area favorable for seeing deer and hopefully a mature buck. Having this confidence is both empowering and very satisfying as a hunter. 

After the three-hour drive, we went to bed with rain in the forecast, but the impending excitement to explore a new land was contagious. TJ and I were staying at a buddy’s cabin, which neighbored the public land we were hunting. 

The first morning was a bust. After a couple mile walk, it started pouring as we were setting up. We hunted in the stiff rain and wind for an hour and half. Soaked and cold, we walked back to the cabin with no wildlife seen. Some would be dejected, but that doesn’t help the situation at all, so we set out to dry our clothes as best we could and wait out the rain, while talking about saddle hunting and best tactics with our buddy Chris. 

Early in the afternoon we headed out in the light rain with mostly dry clothes. Our plan was to bike back farther than most are willing to walk, but the heavy rains rendered the trails far too muddy to bike, so we huffed it back quickly, carrying most of our clothes on our packs with all our other gear. We had an intended area where we wanted to go, and planned on reading sign once we got to that area –our typical modus operandi.  

After finding a nice rub line, adjacent to leeward bedding and good scat all around, we began climbing a gnarly, small white oak with lots of branches that overlooked suspected bedding, with a small patch of green grass in between. As we were both getting settled into our saddles, facing opposite directions in the same tree, we saw the first deer, two does, entering the grassy meadow below. 

TJ had to quickly and quietly pull his bow up and finish getting situated. Not long after, a fork horn followed them and then a nice eight-pointer with a wide rack started after them. We tried to grunt at him, but he wasn’t interested in veering off the mature doe’s trail. After chasing off the little buck, the nice 2.5-year-old walked out of site 200 yards away, following the does. I didn’t know if we would be able to get him to come back, but a few minutes after a rattling sequence, he emerged into the small natural meadow again and was walking slowly but steadily in our direction. 

After what seemed like an eternity, I grunted to bring him into shooting range, and he came right up the hill directly behind me. The tree was shaking with excitement as my son’s nerves weighed against his logic, and the buck worked his way through the thick cover now at 30 yards at his one o’clock. Then, as all good killers can do, the tree suddenly went still as focus and intent filled the 16-year-old’s racing mind. Still walking and starting to work away, the buck was now at 22 yards and at TJ’s eleven o’clock. He stopped the buck in a narrow window and everything went calm for about three seconds … then THWACK! The sound of a great hit echoed through the valley, and the buck crashed off through the brush in telling fashion.

After waiting about 30 minutes I could tell his excitement was sublime. We knew it was a good hit, but with the wet leaves we could not hear the crash. We climbed down quickly and left everything but the Go Pro and TJ’s bow. At the site of the shot, we discovered that TJ got his first pass-through archery shot, so we figured there would be good blood, and there was. The double lung pass-through did not disappoint, and the blood was spraying out both sides as we quickly covered the distance to the buck. A nice 2.5-year-old eight pointer and my son’s first archery buck, first deer from a saddle, and first archery kill with me in the tree with him all added up to be one of the most memorable hunts for both of us. His 16th deer harvested was definitely one of the most rewarding.

As most Beasts know, the work begins after the trigger is squeezed. We had our work cut out for us with a 2.5 mile drag, including a dandy of a hill to start. These harvests are earned, not given, and we earned our keep that night by dragging that buck. After the large and rough terrain of the initial hill, we took turns between dragging the animal and carrying both packs, with one front loaded. It was work, hard work that made the legs burn with each step.

That night was filled with great storytelling and rehashing of the events. Our buddy and gracious host Chris killed a great eight pointer, as well, and as the others arrived the excitement increased and the night grew longer.

The buzz of the alarm was not welcomed by most at 4 a.m. the next morning, but Beasts are Beasts and do Beastly things. TJ and I were the first ones to set out on our long hike, but the others weren’t far behind and had equally daunting hikes in the dark. 

The evening prior, as TJ gutted his deer, I took a quick walk to scout the area that I intended to hunt the next morning when I could hunt by myself and really get into the area I targeted from cyber scouting. Now, as I dropped TJ off at his killing tree for operation slick head, I set out into the dark and unknown timber with no trail to follow other than the blue beacon on my OnX phone app. My intention was to reach a specific prominent leeward slope with a stiff prevailing wind, but I had to do this in the dark in completely unfamiliar territory. 

As it usually goes in the dark in unfamiliar timber, I did not just walk a straight line to my intended area, but I was able to get there and set-up just before daybreak.  I knew I was deep in bedding, and with the current conditions I was not too worried about first light movement. 

Sure enough, I saw no deer in the first 45 minutes. Then I saw a little buck work through right underneath me. Then the rain decided to make another fabulous appearance, and a steady shower ensued for the next 45 minutes. It was cold, windy, and I was wet but not daunted. As soon as the rain stopped, the deer started piling onto the leeward slope with groups of does passing through at a steady rate, tempting me each time and also confirming my spot, entry, and wind/thermal direction. With those conditions aligning well, I knew it was only a matter of time. 

The steady stream of does lasted most of the morning, but then a lull hit and I didn’t see any deer for a while. Around 11 a.m. the woods erupted behind me. It was two mature bucks fighting. I caught glimpses of them thrashing through the timber 200 yards away and could tell both were mature bucks fighting for breeding rights on that leeward slope and all the does in the bedding area. 

Experience has taught me to hold tight in these situations and call to the victor upon defeating his opponent. As soon as I could hear the fight no longer, I waited about 30 seconds and rattled my antlers together aggressively. Before I could even put the Black Rack up, I could see the big buck running in to investigate the intruders of his freshly-defended domain. At times like this, when I know the buck is mature and a target, I do not look at the rack and solely focus on the kill zone of the animal. As he charged in, I could hear him breathing like a beast, as if to warn intruders of his approach. Finally, at eight yards he stopped in all his glory and aggressive posturing to survey the timber and find his next victim to punish. He was at my six o’clock and facing me. I had to wait. His breathing was so loud it sounded like he was roaring and practically right underneath me. It was a sound I will not soon forget. 

In my saddle the six o’clock shot is easy, but I thought he was going to my left, so I had to cross over for the shot and was currently “stuck” while he searched the terrain. When he started moving, I swung back over and came to draw as he was now at eight yards and at my four o’clock. I stopped him at three o’clock and let him have it. From the drop shot angle, I hit him high, back, and to my side of his spine, and the arrow pierced both lungs, heart and lodged itself into the opposing front shoulder, rendering it useless to the animal for his attempted escape. This can be a tough shot, but if one can draw that imaginary line through the vitals and connect it, it is a lethal shot indeed. 

After the hit, the buck whirled, jumped and ran off. Again, the leaves were too wet to hear the crash. When he whirled, the arrow must have drawn back some, as I could see it sticking out more than I liked. Then I saw a deer’s tail running off about 200 yards away, and I feared it was him. 

Much to my chagrin, the right thing to do was to wait. TJ came over to my area, and we enjoyed lunch and he took a nap as I pondered the situation and waited patiently. Nearly four hours later, we took up the trail. With the angle of the shot and lack of pass through, the blood trail was slim. In typical fashion, TJ scoured the oak leaves for blood while I scouted ahead, looking for a dead deer or other sign; and sure enough, I found him piled in a little gully just 80 yards from the shot. He was a brute of a 4.5-year-old mature and dominant buck with a thick, nine-point rack. 

Now, we really had our work cut out for us, as we were 3.5 miles back in the deep timber, but this time we had the aid of a deer cart that made the job easier than the night before.

That night in camp, my son and I were able to bask in the glory of doubling up on unfamiliar public ground. Using the tools of Beast Tactics and the determination to hunt hard in the face of adversity can be the difference in a successful harvest, but it is always a pleasure being in the outdoors experiencing our wonderful public lands regardless of harvest. 

Everybody wants to be a Beast until it comes time to do the Beastly things that Beasts do!

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