Bowhunting Is Brotherhood

Few bonds are as strong as those formed in the bowhunting woods.

Bowhunting Is Brotherhood

I take a couple out-of-state hunting trips every year with family and friends. These short, fun-filled weeks are always the highlight of my season. As the years pass, I have found myself cherishing the memories made and taking enjoyment in the process of preparing for the hunts as much as the hunts themselves. The building excitement as every piece of gear is carefully checked and packed — examining maps for hours with buddies, strategizing setups and access routes — fill my body and mind with great joy.

My 2017 DIY trip to South Dakota with a group of friends was one full of great memories, experiences and filled tags. It was a trip that really put hunting in perspective for me, and serves as a reminder to what it’s really all about. To tell the story though, we need to go back to the 2016 season.

Highs and Lows

My 2016 trip to South Dakota began like many hunting trips that involve a group of amigos; phone calls, group texts and emails back and forth checking gear lists, lining up departure and arrival times and assigning meal responsibilities. Since each of us were making the trip from a different state, we needed to make sure we were on the same page. Brothers Toby and Mike Shaw were driving all the way from Michigan to set up camp. I have known Toby for years and had shared camp with him multiple times. I hadn’t met Mike prior to this trip, but knew these two were cut from the same northern Michigan cloth of hunting, fishing and just living the outdoor lifestyle. Good friend and first-class archer Jeremy Eldredge was driving over from Utah, and David Langston, who knows his way around a bow, was making the trek all the way from Alabama.

The dates we would be hunting were the last four days of October and the first two of November. This is great pre-rut timing when mature bucks would likely be cruising for those first estrous does. The plan was to catch bucks on their feet in the mornings hitting scrapes and checking doe bedding areas on their way back to bed. Then in the evenings, ambush them on their way to destination food sources to check does and grab an evening snack. It was a straightforward plan, and sounded simple enough, but as all too often happens, the pre-rut killer, warm weather, reared its ugly head.

For weeks leading up to our hunt, conditions had been very dry and hot. We stayed optimistic with rain and a cold front in the forecast, though. Nothing was going to keep us from having a great time, and with so much ground available in that part of the state, we knew we had to stay persistent and scout until we found the deer. Our concerns about the weather were quickly pushed to the back burner after Toby killed his best buck ever at 30 yards from the ground along a waterway on the very first morning. Talk about starting off strong. We were instantly charged up to stay after the bucks and keep the momentum rolling.

The next few days offered tough hunting as the hot, dry weather returned. However, the much-anticipated cold front was about to hit. I had been hunting a draw of cottonwoods and Russian olives bordering a river that a lot of deer were using as they transitioned from bed to food. The evening of October 28 was a great one. The cold front had bucks on their feet early. I had a very close call with a big 10, and decided I was going to spend the rest of the trip hunting that draw. I got the wind I needed two days later and went back in, eager to see what the evening had in store. An hour into the hunt, I spotted two bucks sparring on the edge of a block of timber a couple hundred yards away. When they separated, I could clearly see one was a nice, wide typical 12-point. The subordinate buck worked off and the 12-point started feeding. I picked up my rattling antlers and smacked them together with a hard, quick sequence. Just as I got them hung up, I turned back to see the 12 running straight at my tree. As I came to full draw, he stopped broadside at 30 yards. I settled in and let it fly, and my heart instantly sank.

I watched my arrow disappear slightly back from center mass. I had missed my mark well to the right and knew I was in for a long night. I spent the next hour watching him slowly walk back toward the thick timber from which he’d come, stopping and standing for minutes at a time, but never bedding. Daylight faded as the buck entered the cover, and I quietly got down and backed out of the draw, praying with every step for a quick recovery the following day. 

The next morning was October 31, Halloween. Historically, with a touch of irony in this case, it’s my favorite day to hunt. There is just something special about it. Fall is in full swing, the infamous “switch” is flipping or about to be flipped.

As the sun rose above the horizon, Mike, David and I slipped back to the base of my tree to start taking up the blood trail. I had already prepared myself for finding little blood and tough tracking in waist- and even chest-high CRP. The plan was to put Mike on the blood trail from the start and David and I to move ahead to where I saw the buck enter the cover the night before.

Mike, in his early 50s, was born and raised in the vast big woods of northern Michigan. Through our long conversations in camp and now watching him take the trail, it was clear to see he was skilled in the art. He didn’t miss a single detail.

After going a short distance, David and I moved ahead and went to the edge of the cover where I last saw the buck the night before. After a few minutes of scanning the edge, we found a few blood drops, confirmed the line and motioned for Mike to join us. From there it was three hours of pin pricks of blood, constantly reaffirming last blood and making small circles to find the next sign. We eventually lost blood, and the track altogether, in the tall grass. In a last-ditch effort, we decided to line out and make passes back and forth toward the river, thinking the buck would head for water. If that didn’t pan out, I would return that evening and glass with hopes of possibly spotting him. After lining out and walking another 300 yards, I was just about to peak my head over the lip of the riverbank when I heard an echoing, “Yeah!” As I whirled around, I saw Mike jumping up and down yelling, “I got him! I got him! He’s right here!”

If you have ever been through a marathon of a blood trail, you know the exact feeling I had at that moment. Relief, excitement, joy and thankfulness, all rolled up in one big shout and awkward, high-stepping sprint through the tall grass toward Mike. After a giant bear hug and tons of high-fives, we all sat down and let out huge sighs of relief. As bowhunters, that rollercoaster of uncertainty, doubt, fear, excitement, joy and countless other emotions are a full-fledged attack on the nerves to say the least. There were multiple times throughout the tracking job that I had reached a breaking-point of frustration and discouragement. Mike’s tenacity and positive reinforcement through the entire day kept us all pressing on and committed to the goal of finding my buck. His attention to detail and focus on the task at hand was truly something you had to see to fully understand. Heck, I was there, it was my deer and there were moments where I didn’t even fully understand it. It became clear that this was the beginning of a great friendship, and I had a feeling this wouldn’t be our last trip together.

After a long, tedious tracking job, the author was finally able to get his hands on the big 12. It just goes to show persistence often pays off.
After a long, tedious tracking job, the author was finally able to get his hands on the big 12. It just goes to show persistence often pays off.


Fast-forward to our 2017 return trip. On the drive up to South Dakota, I was flooded with more memories from the incredible week we all shared the year before. As the mile markers passed by and the countryside became more remote and open, I declared to myself I was going to do everything I could to help get Mike on a good buck.

After arriving at deer camp, the usual formalities took place. We unloaded gear and food, caught up on how everyone’s deer season had started, and passed some back-and-forth jabs about the highly anticipated MSU Spartan and UM Wolverine football game.

Unlike the year before, we hit a cold front (one that would last the entire trip) perfectly. We spent the first morning checking a few spots for fresh sign and getting a few stands in place. After the amount of activity and high-quality sign that I saw in that cottonwood draw the year before, Toby and I agreed that we needed a stand back in the same tree where I had success. As we grabbed a quick bite for lunch, we huddled on where everyone would hunt for the afternoon. Most of us were spreading out across a few observation spots to try and get eyes on some mature bucks with hopes of making the group more efficient on where we would concentrate our efforts for the rest of the week. Toby and I looked at Mike and jokingly let him know that he was simply planting his rear in the cottonwood draw.

Mike got in early the first afternoon and things picked up right where they left off the year before. With the cold front hitting, does and a few young bucks moved early, making their way to the milo fields for the evening. Shortly after the does, fawns and few young scrappers moved through, then more bucks appeared and began to make their way down the draw toward Mike. One of them was a beautiful, heavy 9-point with a tank of a body. Mike knew this was a no-doubt shooter, and stood up to get in position. As the buck continued down the draw, he began angling on a trail that would pass in front of Mike. As the buck got behind some Russian olive, Mike came to full draw. The buck cleared the cover a little quicker than expected and Mike stopped him quartering away at 20 yards. Mike explained that everything felt right and he was confident in the shot, knowing he needed to aim back to allow for the angle. He released and slid the arrow up into the rib cage. The buck whirled and ran up the draw and out of sight. As Mike replayed the shot over and over in his mind, each time he became a little more concerned that he might have gotten only one lung.

After waiting for total darkness, Mike climbed down and snuck out of the draw. We all reconvened back at camp and decided it would be best to wait and recover the buck first thing the following day.

The next morning, Mike, Toby and I slipped into the river-bottom draw. It took only about 10 yards of tracking steady blood for the sign to really pick up, and 40 yards further we were standing over Mike’s biggest buck to date.

I couldn’t have been happier for Mike. Helping him recover his 2017 buck that he shot from the same South Dakota tree where I killed my 2016 buck was more than enough to make my entire season a success.

Class-act bowhunters, Toby (above, right) and Mike Shaw (below) show off their SoDak bucks. Toby arrowed his 2016 deer from a makeshift ground blind, while brother Mike took to the trees in 2017.
Class-act bowhunters, Toby (above, right) and Mike Shaw (below) show off their SoDak bucks. Toby arrowed his 2016 deer from a makeshift ground blind, while brother Mike took to the trees in 2017.

Common Threads

The hunting experiences of 2016 and 2017 have left a lasting impact on me. If you’ve ever met anyone like Mike, you can understand how easy it is to create a friendship with that person. He isn’t one of those loud talkers that demands attention and loves to tell stories about how great he is. Mike’s the guy carrying on casual, humble conversation that reflect his character — a hardworking, God-fearing family man that cherishes the little things. He’s someone you respect and truly enjoy spending time with. Hunting brings these types of people together. It’s where the Mikes and Tobys of the world can be found feeding the passion and answering the call to connect with other like-minded diehard hunters in God’s creation.

Left to right: The author, and brothers Mike and Toby Shaw enjoying quality time in the whitetail woods.
Left to right: The author, and brothers Mike and Toby Shaw enjoying quality time in the whitetail woods.


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