For several years in a row my husband, Stan traveled to Montana to bowhunt early season whitetails with Mike Watkins, owner of Trophies Plus Outfitters. He always brought home a great buck. Stan and Greg Miller hunted together many times and shot several great bucks for the early episodes of North American Whitetail TV. In fact, Stan started calling Greg the Velvet-Master after he killed a number of early season bucks there in the velvet.
Located in the southeastern town of Alzada, the Watkins have access to several thousand acres of prime whitetail and mule deer habitat in both Montana and Wyoming. I have been fortunate to kill both whitetails and mule deer while hunting with them, but on all occasions it was with a rifle. When I was fighting breast cancer I would always close my eyes and go to my “Happy Place” during radiation treatments. That place was always Trophies Plus Outfitters. I would replay the many great hunts, and in my mind would follow Mike around in big sky country searching for my next trophy. It’s been 5 years since my diagnosis and so far so good. So, after chasing bucks with a rifle for so many years, it was time to try a bowhunt. After-all, Stan had made it seem so easy all those years and this was my happy place. What could possibly go wrong?
Unlike rifle hunting, chasing whitetails with a bow and arrow can be frustrating. But isn’t that one of the reasons why we love the sport so much?
Prior to my arrival, my guide had been watching a field where several nice bucks came out to feed each evening. A couple of bucks showed up like clock-work, passing by a big pine tree each time they entered the field. When I arrived in camp my guide explained the situation. “We have been seeing these two bucks almost every night. We hung a stand in the corner, the wind should be right.” I was confident this was going to be an easy hunt. I’m sure all you bowhunters just recognized my first mistake-thinking a whitetail would remain predictable. It could be passed off as a rookie mistake but I have been hunting 30 years. It crossed my mind that these western bucks weren’t as wily as the Midwestern monarchs we were used to hunting. Second mistake, too cocky- once again underestimating the whims of a whitetail.
The author’s husband Stan (pictured here) has found much success in his wife’s “Happy Place”; which just happens to be at one of their favorite western outfitters camp.
How many times have you chosen one stand only to wonder if you should have been sitting in another? It is tough when you can see the other stand choice. I will give you the condensed version of the hunt. The bucks came out in a different spot. We tried the stand again. The bucks came to the field at that different spot. We moved the stand. They came out where they were supposed to the first night. We played this game for the entire five day hunt and never did get either of those bucks in bow range, although we saw them nearly every night. With a gun it would have been an easy hunt. With a bow, it was super challenging. If I had not been able to see the bucks, I’m pretty sure I would have stayed in the original stand location and trusted they would eventually come by within bow range.
In the end I would rather eat a tag sandwich from Montana than not chase whitetails in big sky country at all. Next time I plan to stand still and not let them win the mental chess game. Well, that’s the plan right now sitting here at my desk typing this blog. What would you do?