Reflections on “Unsuccessful” Hunts

“You packed and ready to go?” asked Sean Lingl. I was….but really did not want to drag my Boyt travel bag and gun case down stairs to head to the airport to begin the long flight back to Texas. The hunt had been a fun one. For several days Sean a long time friend and ace black bear guide, Jamie Romeril blacktail deer hunter extraordinaire, cameraman Jason Miller and I had been hunting on Vancouver Island. What had started out as blacktail deer hunt I had set up with Sean at the Dallas Safari Club convention, soon headed toward a black bear hunt. I had dearly hoped to take what some biologists, such as Valerius Geist, describe as the only true Columbian blacktail deer, those uninfluenced by mule deer or whitetail blood, as those on the continent can be.

I learned much about blacktail deer found on Vancouver during our hunt. They are tough to find when the weather is not “nasty” meaning rain and fog. If the weather turns fair and sunny, deer have a way of disappearing. The first three days of my hunt that’s what we encountered, blue-bird, chamber of commerce weather. Hunting hard in prime areas spending much time glassing, covering huge areas of country and all we managed to see were two blacktail deer, both does. Admittedly we did see deer in the headlights each morning right in front of Sean’s home/lodge (www.canadianguideoutfitters.com) when we pulled out of the drive on our way to head to the lake and there board his boat to make our way to the deer hunting areas.

 

I had hunted Columbia blacktail deer in the past in northern California in Humboldt County. I managed to take an extremely nice 5×5 that just missed the all-time Boone and Crockett record book. I also hunted them farther south in California where I took a couple of good representative bucks.

 

A bit farther north of Vancouver Island, south and west of Juneau, Alaska I had previously taken Sitka blacktail deer which are to me the most beautiful native deer in North America. While they produce relatively small antlers, their capes are strikingly handsome!

 

Our third morning of a nine-day hunt, before breakfast, Sean announced. “Got you a black bear tag. We’re switching to bear hunting. But if we see a buck we’ll go after him as well. Want you to use my .375 Ruger. I’ve got a box of Hornady 300 grain DGX as well for you to use. (I had brought my Ruger American .30-06 using American Whitetail ammo.)” Sounded good to me.

I dearly love hunting black bear!

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That first afternoon bear hunting from a distance we spotted what we all agreed was a monster black bear.   We thought would likely square at least 8-feet. We watched him 30-minutes as he fed on spawning salmon. Problem was, we were in Sean’s big boat and could not get within a mile of where the bear was. He was one of twelve bears we saw that afternoon.

 

Next morning, we towed a small skiff with us to the back of the lake where we had seen the big boar. We started seeing bear immediately.

 

It took some doing but we eased the skiff in between logs and over sand bars, where we could watch the spot we had seen the big bear the evening before. Two streams loaded with spawning salmon flowed into the lake near we had beached the boat.  We sat quietly watching a big bear start making his way toward us, crawling on nearby logs and then diving into the water after salmon. After feeding he shook himself starting his nose and ending up with his tail! The boar, which would square very close to 7-feet if not more, initially got within about 20 feet of where we were sitting. When he came closer I bolted a round into the chamber. The boar finally sidled within less than 12 feet before turning and walking away. I suspect he heard me sigh when I finally started breathing regularly again.

 

We saw more bears that afternoon, two every bit as big as the one we nearly had in our lap…. Just before we needed to get across twenty plus miles of lake, fraught with an occasional log that would do considerable damage to our boat should we unknowingly strike it, we spotted the monster from the day before. He was back almost exactly where we had seen him the day previous. Soon as we spotted him I looked at Sean and then at Jason. Jason was shaking his head in a negative manner. “Not enough light…” Legal hunting hours and sufficient light to film not only the kill but then the recovery are two totally different things. I looked over at Sean. He shrugged his shoulders. I dearly hated walking from that bear!

 

Next morning motoring our way to the back of the lake, “He was there the last two days, surely he’ll be back again this afternoon,” said Sean.

 

“Surely he will…” I added.

 

On our way we spotted a bear walking the shoreline. We beached the skiff, got out and ahead of the bear. There we waited. On came the bear getting ever closer. I sat quietly, not moving, right on the shoreline. The bear came closer, and closer and closer. When it got to within touching distance with my rifle I stood up. The bear simply backed up, then walked around me, back to the shoreline and continued on its mission…

 

While waiting for the big bear, we looked over eight other bears. The biggest likely would have squared 7-feet or so.

 

Late afternoon, “Larry, we’ve got to get back to the big boat if we hope to get back to the lodge tonight. Doesn’t look like he’s coming out this evening…” I hated to leave, but understood.

 

The next days we continued hunting black bear both on the lake and on salmon streams. We saw a lot of black bear including several I well may have shot hunting elsewhere. But the vision of the 8-footer kept coming back. I had taken many black bear in the past and I wanted the next one to be very special…. I left Vancouver Island without a bear but with fabulous memories!

 

Unsuccessful hunt? NO WAY! To me the hunt had been tremendously successful! I got to spend time watching and learning about bears, learned about the region we hunted, and spent time with several truly special people as well as some of the most beautiful country in the world. In every way the hunt was hugely successful!

 

Back home in Texas, “Larry, I know you have wanted to take either a red sheep or an Armenian sheep here on the ranch (the FTW Ranch). Why don’t you come up and hunt for four or five days? We’ve got a precision class going on next week, but no one will be hunting. There are a couple of really good rams in Pasture 5 (referring to a part of the extensive ranch which at time was not under high fence). Eff can help you look for them.”

 

I told Tim Fallon I liked how he thought. Tim and I have hunted throughout the world together from Alaska to Austria to Kyrgyzstan to Uganda to western Africa, to Scotland, Sweden and Norway and numerous points in between. His FTW Ranch is where they do a tremendous amount of hunter and shooter training through their Sportsman All Weather All Terrain Marksmanship (S.A.A.M.). I had shot on the SAAM ranges numerous times. I knew the ranch’s canyons were deep and the sides steep; rugged Texas Hill Country covered with juniper, laurel and oak. I also knew there were many places for the Armenian and red sheep to hide. I also knew those same slopes were home to some truly big aoudad.

 

I had taken numerous aoudad in the past, including a couple of rams that were in the 32-inch class. But, I had never hunted the much smaller Armenian or red sheep, both of which are indigenous to Iran, Iraq and that part of the world.

 

We spent three days glassing, more glassing and even more glassing, watching hill sides where previously Eff had seen sheep. We also spent time watching waterholes using my Nature Blinds Stalking Shield as a ground blind and in stalking. We still-hunted along the edge of deep brushy canyons and walked numerous miles. And for our efforts? We spotted two groups of rams both at extremely long distance.

 

For the hunt I borrowed one of Tim’s Ruger FTW Hunter rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor shooting Hornady ammo. Before hunting I spent time on the FTW/SAAM ranges shooting out to 500 yards. The Hornady/Ruger combination proved extremely accurate. I knew I could take a sheep at that range without much difficulty. But doing so would merely be “shooting” and not really “hunting”, which I equate to getting as close as possible before pulling the trigger.

 

The sheep we saw were 560 yards distant. We tried to get closer. But by the time we dropped into a canyon, came up the other side and peaked over the ridge they were gone.

 

That third afternoon I got within less than 15 yards of a monster aoudad, well over 30-inches. He was almost too close! I had gotten to within near touching distance by paying attention to the wind and moving slowly and cautiously only when the ram had his head down and feeding. I turned him down!

 

Next morning, we were out before first light sitting on a ridge were could glass four different drainages. Just about time it got light enough to see, fog rolled in, dense fog! So much for glassing. I looked over at Blake Barnett my show co-host/producer and this hunt cameraman and then at Eff. Both just smiled and shook their heads.

 

The fog hung in until mid-morning. That’s when we spotted three rams, all massive and long horned. They were well over a thousand yards away.

 

We scrambled in their direction, taking advantage of a deep cut that lead toward where the sheep were feeding. When we thought we had cut the distance to about 600 yards we eased to the top for a quick look. As we were glassing they fed into the canyon behind them. Soon as we did we took off at a fast walk. Hopefully they would continue feeding just out of sight or bed there for the rest of the morning.

 

However, the sheep apparently had another destination in mind. From just above where we watched them disappear we glassed, but our efforts were for naught. They were no where to be seen.

 

Heading back to the headquarters we spotted three rams a long way away. We glassed them just long enough to realize one of the rams was truly a good one. Just as we determined that to be the case they dropped into the dense juniper canyon and disappeared.

 

After a quick lunch we were back looking for sheep. We found aoudad, including three really big rams. “Maybe I should reconsider and go after an aoudad.” I said out loud without really addressing any one in particular.

 

“If that’s the case you should have shot that big ram you passed on!” said Blake. “He was every bit as big, if not bigger than the one I shot for the show.”

 

“We’ll hunt him tomorrow, but today we’ll keep hunting Armenian or red sheep…” I responded, all the time, knowing he was right!

 

As it worked out we did not see any red or Armenians that afternoon. We did see aoudad.. We got within about six feet of a herd of aoudad twenty, including a really big mature ram with long horns, long mane and chaps, and huge of body. Problem was, the six feet that separated us was solid juniper. There was no way to get a bullet though all that cedar….

 

Wish I could tell you the last day I shot a really nice mature Armenian or red sheep. But that would be a lie! Wish I could further tell you I returned a month later and shot a big red, Armenian or aoudad ram. I did however hunt another five days. During those days I saw sheep a long range, well beyond 800 yards and each time I tried to get close they gave us the slip.

 

Unsuccessful hunts? Again, NO WAY! I got to spend time crawling in the Texas Hill Country, spent time with old friends, did a lot of shooting when not hunting on the FTW’s many rifle ranges, and once again learned exotic introduced sheep are not “easy”!

 

While I enjoyed those hunts, I now have ever greater resolve to have the Wildlife Gallery do their taxidermy magic on one of the red or Armenian sheep that make their home on the FTW Ranch.

 

Please watch our “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” on Sportsman Channel on Sunday nights at 10:30 pm eastern, as well as during the week. For weekday times please go to www.trailingthehuntersmoon.com.   To learn more about the FTW Ranch and S.A.A.M. go to www.ftwsaam.com.

 

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