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Bowhunting.com Wins the Campbell Outdoor Challenge

by Justin Zarr 13. November 2008 02:03
Justin Zarr

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Campbell Outdoor Challenge, let me take a quick second to explain exactly what it is and how it works.  The Campbell Outdoor Challenge is a television show that showcases a series of hunting events for a variety of animals around the country.  Each event consists of several teams participating and attempting to earn points in order to win their respective challenge.  Points are awarded to both the hunter as well as the cameraman and are based on a variety of factors, not just the harvest of an animal.  As anyone who watches outdoor TV or videos knows, there's a lot more that goes into a successful production than just killing animails.  Your hosts have to be entertaining and knowledgable, and the cameraman has to do his job of not only capturing the hunt on film, but doing a good job of it.  Low light, rain, wind, branches, leaves, and a variety of other factors are stacked against the cameraman when attempting to capture good footage of a hunt which makes winning this type of event no easy task!  All teams participating in these events hunt at the same time under the same conditions, which puts them on an even playing field and affords nobody any sort of competitive advantage.  If you want to win you need to bust your butt and spend a lot of time in the field!

I was lucky enough to participate in, and win, the 2007 Archery Whitetail Qualifier event last October as part of Team HuntingNet.com.  Along with my cameraman (or is it camerawoman?) Christine Appleberg we were able to capture two doe harvests and a nice buck harvest on film which was enough to put is into first place by the end of the competition.  It was a great experience and if you want to read the entire story of last year's hunt, you can click here.

This fall I was fortunate enough to return to the Campbell Outdoor Challenge as part of Bowhunting.com's Team Farm Credit along with my hunting partner and cameraman Mike Willand.  Mike and I have been hunting together since high school and finally had the opportunity to get out on some good hunts this fall, which was a blast.  If you've never filmed your hunts or been with a good friend in a tree to share in the experiences of a November rut, I highly recommend it!

Our first day at this year's Campbell Outdoor Challenge we elected to sit in a pre-hung stand setup and see what we could see when the sun came up and then do some scouting and stand hanging from there.  As we thought, the morning was rather uneventful as we spotted a few does and some 1 1/2 year old bucks off in the distance but nothing close enough for a shot or even good video.  At around 9 am we packed it up for the morning and decided to hang stands for the remainder of our trip.

Mike and I are firm believers in aggressive whitetail hunting which includes staying mobile and hanging stands on the freshest sign we can find.  Some people like to sit back and hope the deer come to them, whereas we like to put ourselves in the middle of their bedrooms or feeding areas and try to capitalize on the element of suprise.  This technique requires a lot of hard work, a lot of standing hanging and moving, and a lot of getting up real early in the morning!  It's definitely not for everyone, but has proven to be successful for us over the past several years and we're sticking with it.

Two of the most important tools in our arsenal are our Lone Wolf treestands and climbing sticks, and our Hooyman Extentible tree saw.  With two Alpha Hang-On stands and a set of 4 climbing sticks we can get 20 feet up in just about any tree in the woods whether it's crooked, leaning, straight, or branched.  Because of the Lone Wolf's light weight we can pack these stands in quickly and quietly without working up too much of a sweat which affords us the opportunity to hang and hunt stands that same evening, or even in the dark for a morning hunt.  Combined with our Hooyman saw which allows us to trim shooting lanes without the need for a full size pole saw, this has proven to be a deadly combination.  Check out the bottom of this blog entry for links to more information about these great products that are available for purchase right here on Bowhunting.com.

In any case, after our 1st morning hunt we hung three additional sets on our assigned piece of property.  One of them was on a fresh scrape line we located that ran East and West on our hunting grounds.  This particular scrape line was on the edge of some old cut timber that had started to regrow and was super thich and nasty (a perfect bedding area) and some open timber to the North that held a lot of acorns and was surrounded by cut agricultural fields.  With the amount of fresh sign in the area we knew the bucks were using it to work their scrape line and check for any does that may be coming into heat early.  We knew this would be a good morning spot for the South winds we were having, but we'd have to get in real early in order to avoid spooking any deer that may have come in from the fields before daylight.

Our 2nd and 3rd sets were located at the opposite end of the property along the edge of a cut corn field where the deer were feeding heavily.  One of the stands was right on the edge of the field, which would allow us to shoot anything that may be feeding behind us.  The other stand was 80-100 yards inside the woodline where we hoped to catch a mature buck coming to the field to feed after dark.  These big bucks don't like to show their faces in the daylight if they can avoid it so many times they will stage about 100 yards in from the field and work rubs and scrapes while waiting for darkness to fall before entering the field.  So after some excessive trimming (it was THICK in there!) we were set up and ready to go.  We headed back to camp for some lunch and a shower.


The view in front of our stand from the first evening. 


The view to the left and behind our stands.  You can see the cut corn field where the deer were headed to feed at night.

That first afternoon on November 4th temps were in the mid 70's so we elected to head out to our stands a little later than usual.  Those temperatures will subdue deer movement until dark, or just before dark, so we figured there was no need killing ourselves in the heat by sitting on stand any longer than we needed to.  While most teams in camp headed out around noon or 1, we waited until 3 to leave and were in our stands by 3:45 with an hour and a half left until dark.

After our pre-hunt interview we settled in for the evening and it wasn't long until I spotted several does working their way toward us.  I woke Mike up from his cat nap and we both redied ourselves for the shot.  Just like we planned the doe walked into the shooting lane that Mike had trimmed out only hours before, and gave me a perfect broadside 15 yard shot.  I sent an NAP HellRazor tipped arrow from my new Diamond Marquis (which I love by the way) and it connected just a bit lower than I had hoped, but good enough to get the job done.  After a relatively quick recovery Mike and I had put our team on the board with a successful doe harvest.

As per the rules of the challenge I was awarded 74 points for my contribution to the hunt (half of the doe's 148 lb weight) and Mike was awarded his points for the footage.  I don't have the score sheet handy right now, but I do know that we were unable to receive any points for pre-harvest footage.  In the case of a doe harvest you receive points for every 30 seconds of footage before the shot, but this doe had come in so quickly we were unable to get more than 15-20 seconds.  In many cases the hunter/cameraman can't control how quickly things happen, but in other cases such as when the animal is feeding or walking slowly you can stretch the hunt out in order to provide more footage for the viewer to watch.  So with this minor setback our score was good enough to put us in 2nd place behind a team that brought in a ridiculous 170 lb doe that night.  She was huge!!


My 148 lb Southern Illinosi doe, taken the first evening of the Campbell Outdoor Challenge.

The next morning Mike was up as the hunter and I was behind the camera.  We have a working agreement that we switch off days of hunting and filming to keep it fair for both of us, which isn't a problem.  Although I would like to be the hunter every time, I have just as much fun being the cameraman as I do being the hunter.  And if you are reading this thinking "Yeah, right!" I say try it yourself!  You'll see!

Our alarm went off at 3 am and after a quick shower and some breakfast we were on the road by 3:45.  To be honest with you, we were up and on the road before most other teams in camp even woke up at all.  Like I said, we're pretty dedicated to this style of hunting and it's not for everyone!  After a 20 minute drive, getting dressed at the truck, and the walk to our stands we were set up by 4:45 about an hour and 15 minutes before shooting light.  Just enough time for a cat nap in our tree!  And yes, we were both wearing our safety harnesses!  Treestand safety is not something we mess around with and you won't find two more safety conscious hunters out there.  We always wear our full body harnesses and strap in as soon as we're in our stands.

Around 6 am just as we were waking up from our dreams of Booner bucks and it was getting light enough to see the forest floor we had a 1 1/2 year old buck walk 10 yards from our stand.  With a few quiet smiles Mike and I knew that once again we had set up in the right place and were in a killing tree.  From that point on we had deer all around us.  Two 1 1/2 year old bucks put on a good show for us by fighting with each other, a small button buck circled the bottom of our stand looking lost like they do, and a few does snuck in behind us headed from their feeding area to their bedding area.

As I was focused on filming a nice 1 1/2 year old walk by our stand Mike tapped me on the knee and said "Buck coming".  I quickly swung the camera up and got on the buck as he approached.  I could see he was a nice 10 pointer with good brows and decent mass and tine length.  I let Mike know he was a shooter and he got ready for the moment of truth.  As if he read the script, the 3 1/2 year old buck walked perfectly in front of our stand and offered a broadside shot at 12 yards while he was standing in the scrapes we had discovered the day before.  Mike drew, grunted to stop the buck, and let his NAP Nitron tipped arrow fly.

Unfortunately the hit was a few inches further back than we wanted, but we knew it would be lethal.  Mike turned around with his trademark grin as if to say "Did that really just happen?"  Only three sits into our trip and we had put down both a buck and a doe, and we had excellent footage of both!  Clearly our hard work had paid off and we put ourselves in a position to be successful rather than simply waiting on a hope and a prayer that something would walk by us.

We reviewed the footage a few times in the tree before deciding to back out and head to camp.  It was only 6:30 am and we had plenty of time left in the day.  So we grabbed our gear, climbed down, and headed back for some real breakfast and some relaxation before taking up the trail.  At 12:30 that afternoon we set out after the buck with our guide Troy to help.  Unfortunately at 2 pm I kicked the wounded buck from his bed and my heart sank as he bounded off through the woods.  After calling Mike and Troy over to tell then what happened we all agreed to back out and come back the next morning, giving the buck some additional time to expire.

The morning of November 6th was again warm with a heavy dew following some rain the evening before.  We knew the blood trail would be next to impossible to pick up so we fanned out across the forest looking for Mike's buck.  After only an hour or so of searching, Mike and I were able to locate the deer not 150 yards from the original point of impact.  I am always amazed how a wounded animal will circle back to where it came from after being shot.  It seems like every trail I've ever been on the deer have done the exact same thing.  Amazing!

To say Mike and I were relieved to find this buck would be a huge understatement.  Nobody feels worse about losing an animal than the hunter, but you can bet that the cameraman comes in a close 2nd place.  He may not have been the biggest buck in the woods by any means, but we could not have been any happier to recover him successfully and to say we filmed two successful deer hunts in less than 2 days on a piece of property we had never even set foot on before.  I don't care who you are, that is an accomplishment for any bowhunter/camerman team!


Mike's 2008 Southern Illinois 10 pointer.  He gross scored 133 1/8".

With our two succesfful hunts and the quality of our footage we were able to finish this year's Campbell Outdoor Challenge Archery Whitetail Championship in first place, becoming the first team to ever successfully defend their title.  My personal thanks go out to both Christine Appleberg and Mike Willand for not only their great skills behind the camera, but also their peformance in front of the camera and for putting up with me for a week!  I also want to thank Todd Graf with Bowhunting.com for sponsoring this year's team and giving us the opportunity to prove we could do it.  I told you so!

And last but not least a big Thank You to the entire staff at the Campbell Outdoor Challenge.  John, Jeremy, Travis, and the rest of the gang are a great bunch of people that work their hardest to organize these events and make them as enjoyable and successful as possible for everyone who participates.  If you're interesting in learning more about these events, or possibly putting a team together to participate in them, check out their website at http://www.campbelloutdoorchallenge.com.

This year's episodes will begin airing on Versus starting in January on Wednesdays from Noon-1 pm Central Time.  So set your DVR, you won't want to miss the smiling faces of Bowhunting.com on your TV screen!

Gear Used on this trip:

Lone Wolf Alpha Hang-On Stand & Climbing Sticks: Once again, one of the most important, if not THE most important tool in our hunting arsenal.  These stands are extremely lightweight, super strong, quiet, easy to set up, and very versatile.    If you want to kill deer you need to hunt them where they live, which means sneaking in close and setting up right on top of them.  With our Lone Wolf gear we can get in and get the job done.  BUY NOW>>

Hooyman Extendible Tree Saw: Until this year we had only a few limited options when hanging stands on the fly.  Either carry a full size pole saw with us to trim shooting lanes (which sucked), go without trimming lanes (which also sucked), or tape our hand saws to a limb and make an impromptu saw (which was a total pain - especially if you forgot your tape!).  The Hooyman saw folds down to a compact 12 inches so I can carry it easily in my pack, and extends to 5 feet which gives me just enough reach advantage to cut down some of those pesky limbs that get in your way.  It's the perfect compliment for our hunting style and I don't go into the woods without mine.  BUY NOW>>


Using the Hooyman saw to cut down a few limbs before an evening hunt.

NAP HellRazor broadheads: The 2nd doe I've shot with this head this year and it was devastating.  My shot was a bit low but managed to take out the doe's heart and completely shatter her off-side leg/shoulder on the way out.  And I don't just mean it stuck in the bone, it completely broke it into several pieces.  This is one tough head!!!  BUY NOW>>

Gum-O-Flage & Chlor-O-Flage: When you're getting right ontop of deer to hunt them scent control becomes key to your success.  Mike and I have both been using these products for several years and have the utmost confidence in them.  Some people believe in scent control, while others don't.  We're not trying to change your mind if you don't, but if you do and you aren't using these products you really should look into them.  They work, trust me!

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