I didn’t hesitate when Bowtech’s Jeff Suiter invited me on a Lone Star State hunt to be held on one of Mike Stroff’s Southern Outdoor Experience ranches. Yes, I’m a DIY guy at heart — always have been and always will be — but I’m not stupid, either. According to QDMA’s 2015 Whitetail Report, Texas boasts the most robust whitetail population in the country with an estimated number of 3,804,500 animals — up 13 percent from 2005. For comparison, the 13 states that make up the Northeast hold a combined total of 3,511,660 animals. Adding a little frosting to the cake, Texas boasted the highest number of antlered bucks harvested in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (2014 and 2015 data not available as of press time). Oh, and did I mention Stroff’s ranches are strictly managed, and he runs a clean, tight-ship outfitting business?
The problem: As I tend to do, I put the cart before the horse. When Suiter started the conversation with, “Dude, you gotta go on this hunt. Big bucks and plenty of them,” I pulled the commitment trigger before hearing the rest. Yep, I’m sure not stupid! I was actually ironing clothes for the 2016 ATA Show when Suiter called. The Show was just two days away, and I quickly learned the date of my Texas adventure was a mere two days after the conclusion of the ATA Show. That was going to go over well with my wife. And, of course, Suiter wanted me to take and test Bowtech’s shiny new-for-2016 penny, the Bowtech BT-X. A bow that he would hand me at the ATA Show. A bow I would fly home and have two days to set up and tune.
It took a bit of sweet talking, a dozen roses and a painful-on-the-wallet dinner to smooth things over with my lovely — and very understanding — bride. The issue of the new bow was more problematic. I was honestly nervous about hunting with a bow I’d only have a couple of days with which to get familiar. I take my job as a bowhunter seriously. I shoot almost every day and take a lot of pride in making lethal shots. Would I be comfortable enough to take a shot beyond 20 yards with a new-to-me rig? That was the question that kept me awake at night.
As it always is, the 2016 ATA Show was a blur. Between meetings and dinners and more meetings, the days passed at warp speed. Before I knew it, I was running around the show floor like a mad man trying to track down some much-needed gear. Yes, Bowtech’s Todd Snader had already handed over the BT-X, but I was short on accessories in my home bow shop. Not to mention I needed a way to get my new rig from Louisville back to Colorado.
Breaking Daylight Marketing’s Jim Velasquez, who was manning the Lakewood Products booth, was my first stop. Jim is an old friend and mentor and a man who has helped me greatly in this industry.
“Bud, the hardest thing about this hunt is simply going to be the lack of time you have to prepare,” Jim chuckled as he passed a Bowtech-branded G275-W Bowfile Combo case my way. The case, as with all Lakewood products, was rock solid, plus it came with a separate arrow case and accessory case that fit snuggly inside. Awesome. I also appreciated the interior support bracket and the case’s roomy, don’t-have-to-remove-your-quiver nature.
My next stop was to see my buddy Kevin Fry at Quality Archery Designs. I’ve grown to be a big fan of the manufacturer’s UltraRest HDX over the years, and Kevin simply smiled and said, “Just pick a color that will stand out good in your kill photos, brother.”
My last stop was the Wac ‘Em booth. I needed some more broadheads, and after anchoring a nice whitetail buck and a pair of free-ranging axis does on a Texas hunt earlier in the year with the manufacturer’s new expandable, I wanted to give them a second go. Stroff (one of Wac ‘Em’s new owners) was in the booth along with his compadre and business partner David Langston. Stroff filled me in on the details of the new ranch while Langston stuffed a few packs of the hot new broadhead in my pack.
My hectic shopping spree was over, and it was time to fly the “friendly skies.”
I walked in my front door at 11:00 p.m. on Friday, January 8. I was set to walk out that same door on Monday, January 11 at 2:00 a.m. to catch my flight out of Denver International Airport. I still had two days to prepare, right? I would be fine.
I spent my Saturday morning hanging out with my wife and playing with my three youngsters. My plan was a simple one: Have fun and play with the family, then spend the afternoon setting up and shooting my new BT-X. Yeah, that plan didn’t happen. Shortly before noon, my wife noticed a leak in the bathroom, and my investigation of that small leak ended with me crawling under the house and discovering a massive leak. Oh, the joys of home ownership. I phoned a buddy, and we spent the remaining part of the day acting as plumbers. My bow remained in its case.
After Sunday morning church, I was finally able to get to work on my bow. Thank the stars for Bowtech’s Binary Cam System (which is always easy to tune) and newly-integrated Micro Sync Dial. An enhancement to last year’s PowerShift Technology, the Micro Sync Dial gave me the ability to precisely time cam positon without having the bow in the press. This saved me a heap of tuning time and allowed me to move from the press to the paper tuner in record time.
My first shot through paper showed a slight left tear. No problem. The Binary Cam System and Micro Sync Dial let me remedy the problem in no time, and before long I was dropping arrows in the 10-ring of my Rinehart Booner Buck target from a distance of 40 yards. Yes, I wanted to stretch the new rig to my usual 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100 yards, but there simply wasn’t enough time, and I figured most of my shot opportunities would come at a distance of 20 yards or less. I was ready for Texas.
God Bless Texas
In case I didn’t make this point clear earlier in the article, I love Texas. I hadn’t hunted this particular ranch before, and I was excited to get in the field. Unfortunately, Bowtech’s Todd Snader, who was joining me on the hunt, had a few flight delays (gotta love airline travel), and we didn’t arrive at camp in time to get out for the first evening’s hunt.
Fortunately, the lodge was beautiful, and it was great to catch up with Stroff and his partner, Uncle Randy. I’ve known Randy for years, and aside from being a top-notch hunter, Randy is just a kick to have in camp. I was unpacking my bow and getting things squared away in my room when Stroff entered.
“Hey, bro, I’ve got a great spot for you,” Stroff started. “There are several shooters coming in, but it’s really open, and the shot could be a tad long. But knowing how you shoot, I know that won’t be a problem.”
Yep, my old buddy Stroff might as well have poured salt in an open wound. It wasn’t his fault. Stroff knows my practice regimen, and just a month prior I’d skewered an axis doe spot-and-stalk style at a distance of 56 yards with my Elite Impulse 31 at his Canyon Ranch.
Not knowing what to say and not wanting to let him down, I simply slapped him on the back and said, “Thanks, bro. I can’t wait to get out there.”
“The landowner on this ranch is super strict about management,” Stroff continued. “I don’t want you guys to have any pressure judging the deer, so I will have a guide with you. Randy is your guide, by the way. I know you guys have a blast together.”
This would be my first time having a guide sit with me on a deer hunt, but I had zero objections to sharing time in an Ameristep Carnivore with Uncle Randy.
After Stroff and I wrapped up our conversation, I ran outside and fired a handful of arrows at 40 yards to double-check my equipment. No problems.
Our morning hunt was awesome, and we saw some great bucks. One was a 160-inch 10-point that decided to pass back and forth in front of our blind at a distance of 12 yards. Yes, I wanted to kill that buck more than anything, but Uncle Randy identified him as a younger deer and one the SOE team felt would explode if left alone. I had to turn my back on that buck after a while. He was gorgeous, and had I been in the blind alone, an arrow would have flown.
The first evening followed suit. We saw plenty of young up-and-comers, but not a single shooter. Todd had blanked as well. Like me, he saw some good bucks, but they were just too young. Retired Pittsburg Steeler and two-time Super Bowl Champion Brett Keisel, who was sharing camp with us, did let a lethal arrow fly, and it was awesome to see such a humble man enjoy such a wonderful moment.
The morning of day two started hot. A gorgeous 10-point buck fed into range, but Randy believed him to be a four-year-old. The rule on this ranch was five years old or older. No exceptions. Though Randy and I bickered back and forth for a bit, I honored his wishes and let the buck pass unscathed. Passing on these giants was killing me.
On the evening of day two, I was presented with my chance. “There he is,” Randy noted. “He’s 54 yards and walking away. Man, what a heavy 8-point. When he turns broadside, let him have it.” I didn’t even pick up my bow. Randy turned and looked at me in disbelief. “What are you doing, bro? He’s dead-on 60 yards right now.”
As the buck walked away and melted into the dense South Texas brush, I explained to Randy why I couldn’t take the shot. Not only did he understand, but he slapped me on the back and said, “Veteran choice, my friend. Veteran choice.”
I didn’t sleep well that night, and our morning hunt on day three was somewhat of a bust. We returned to the same blind but didn’t see many deer. Of course, the 160-inch 10-point from day one made his typical showing. I grew to hate that deer.
It was our last evening, and Randy and I both agreed to return to the same spot we’d been hunting. We were actually cutting up and quoting a few movies when I caught movement coming through the brush. “Shooter,” Randy said instantly. That’s all I needed. Don’t give me the green light and expect any brake pumping. The old 9-point was broadside at a distance of 12 yards in no time, and I pressed my BT-X into action. The shot was good, and the Easton Flatline arrow tipped with a Wac ‘Em Expandable anchored the buck before he had a chance to leave the clearing. It was time for hugs and high fives. Man, I love bowhunting!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’m a DIY guy by nature, but this hunt was riddled with challenges. Aside from the time crunch involved to prepare and just get a bow set up and ready to hunt with, I was faced with having to pass up the opportunity at my biggest whitetail to date and hold out for a deer that ended up being aged at 6 ½ years old.