The Bowhunter Featured Articles
Have you ever noticed that things tend to come back around? Bell-bottom jeans (thanks Lainey – they are awesome), Barbies – seem to be even more popular now than when I was a kid, songs – old classics being covered by new artists (did you watch the CMA’s? – there were some cool renditions done this year). Why do these things circle back? I think it is because they remind of us times gone by, someone we love, or maybe it is a way to turn back time. When we can connect to a song, a toy, or a clothing item from our past, we can reconnect with those memories and for a moment forget the troubles of the world. This is a feeling that I think hunters feel more often than others. We feel this sensation every year.
Hunting is often a tradition passed on from generation to generation. That special time leading up to the season, in the woods, back at camp or reflecting on previous years, is something that you could never put a price on. Some may never know what it feels like to be a hunter, the highs and lows, the excitement and heartache. There are many that want hunting banned, and many others that depend on the meat to survive the year. Then there are those like I used to be, with a curiosity, but absolutely no clue what it meant to be a hunter, or where to start. I had the lift kit equipped truck, four-wheeler and camouflage. I loved country music and had friends that hunted, but there wasn’t a single person on my family tree that had ever spent time in a tree. As a 4th generation Florida native, I could find shark’s teeth, cook a nice southern meal and take you to church Sunday, but hunting was never on the agenda. Little did I know, finding deer sheds, cooking venison and sitting in the stand for hours (my kind of church) was a way better fit for who I really am and the type of life I wanted to live.
So how did this Florida girl become a bowhunter? I met a guy. Without all the details, because frankly, he hates that, and you probably don’t care to read about it – here’s the short version. Anthony and I met while I was visiting a friend in North Carolina. He and I hit it off and ended up spending the entire night talking… about hunting. I shared with him my only experience and knowledge of hunting, which included “running dogs” once in Georgia. It seemed a little crazy to me, but the hunting camp and good food were 100% something I could get behind. The look on Anthony’s face when I talked about using dogs to chase deer out of the woods I remember to this day. Needless to say, that was not at all his style of hunting. He spent the next few hours educating me on bowhunting, sharing trail camera photos and his passion for these animals and the outdoors. I fell in love that night. I’m not sure if it was with Anthony, or hunting. Okay, maybe it was with both, but that conversation truly changed my life. It opened my eyes, my heart, to an entirely new way of living. A whole world that I didn’t know existed simply because no one in my family was a hunter.
I ended up leaving Florida and moving to upstate New York, where Anthony is from. Shortly after, I got my first bow. It was a camo and pink Hoyt Vixen, and I couldn’t pull it back to save my life. I also learned in this process that I’m left eye dominant, which blew my mind! I am right-handed, and probably would have never known this without getting my first bow. I spent the next few weeks trying to build my strength so that I could finally draw my bow. The day had come, and I couldn’t wait! To the yard I went, targets set up, first arrow released, and, I cried. What an empowering feeling it was to release that arrow. I remember to this day, almost 14 years later, that feeling and how much I loved shooting for the first time. From there we started attending 3D shoots in the area. I was never an athlete, but archery was something I picked up quickly. I also learned in this process that I am slightly competitive, and I liked winning trophies. My intent was not to hunt, I just liked shooting my bow and it was something we could do together as a family. After a few months of target shooting, I decided to take a hunter’s safety course to learn more about hunting. It was a very rewarding experience. We were taught so much about conservation and what a gift hunters can be to the animals and the outdoors. This experience really started to shift my thinking about hunting even more. I loved animals, but learned that this is even more of a reason to hunt. I liked eating venison, so why not try to bring some home myself? The decision was made. I was going to try to bowhunt that season. At this point, I had been shooting my bow consistently about 6 months and felt very confident out to 30 yards. The season was just around the corner, so I had little time to learn all about things like getting “scent-free,” yes, this was completely new to me too.
The time had come. The guys were heading up north and dropped me off, in the dark, at the stand. They told me to be ready at sunrise. I sat in the dark for what felt like an eternity. I was terrified at times to be honest. It was dark. I was alone. There were noises I’ve never heard, but I just tried to focus on what I needed to do if I had the opportunity at a deer. Then came the sun, and then came a buck. I was shaking so bad I couldn’t even stand up! Then another one started walking toward me but turned in the other direction. At this point I realized I may just be on a sightseeing adventure that day. I gathered myself over the few hours. It started to get hot. It was so hot I ended up in that stand wearing my camo pants with a bright purple sports bra. Around 11 a.m. I was about to get down. My (now) husband Anthony (spoiler alert, we got married) had no service up north, so I was texting our friend, Blake. I told him I didn’t think the deer would be moving in this heat. He said to stay put and give it a bit longer. About 15 minutes later, the tree to my right started moving. I saw white horns moving back and forth fiercely! I played out the scenario in my head and where my ideal shooting lanes were, and he followed the script to a T! The next text to Blake was something along the lines of, “I just shot a buck! He was at 25 yards, and I saw him go down!” About 5 texts later, Blake finally believed me. We tracked the deer, even though I knew where he was. Blake wanted me to have that experience, which I am so thankful for to this day. And then, there he was! I successfully harvested a buck with my bow! What a feeling, and my husband had no idea because he had no service. When the guys got home, they saw me in the front yard with my bow, and my first buck!
While not every hunt after has been that successful, the feelings leading up to the season, the emotions in the stand, the preparation and excitement are all still there. The opportunities that hunting has awarded me are endless. I have been able to travel and bowhunt in Kansas, Ohio, Iowa and now Wisconsin (where we live). Getting to see the world, different hunting terrains, meeting new people and even having some Prostaff opportunities along the way, are memories I will never forget. Above all else though, hunting helped me to find something that I truly loved and wanted to share with others. Hunting also brought me someone I love, and together we have created a family that we can now share this passion with for years to come.
The hardest thing about living in a hunting household? Balancing it all. Anthony and I both work full time. We both want to hunt. We both need to spend time in the yard shooting our bows, and we have 2 little ones under 4 years old running around who want to be a part of everything we do. How do we find balance? We involve them as much as possible. I’ve noticed a lot of families stop doing things when they have kids. Don’t! I am astonished at how much our toddlers have absorbed about hunting at their age. We are blessed to have the opportunity to share this life with them. They want to shoot their bows too. They want to drive around looking for deer. They want to check the cameras, plant the food plots and fill the water holes. Don’t shut them out; bring them along. The investment in them is the best one you can make, and it sure beats them sitting inside staring at their devices. We are also blessed to have family nearby. There are days we can both go out and shoot our bows, or both go out and hunt, and we are very fortunate to be in that situation. If you aren’t, consider a date day or a sitter so that you can occasionally enjoy that time together. The main thing I have learned in my journey from a Florida-born beach girl to a Wisconsin bowhunter is that family is everything. I wrote my book (H is for Hunting – available on Amazon) for my kids, and for other families to enjoy together. My hope is that we all remember H may be for Hunting, but F is for Family and the outdoors is the perfect place to spend time together and keep the tradition alive for generations to come.
2010 – First deer – Upstate New York
At the end of May I received a phone call that would change my life for the next five months. I was notified that I was one of four people to draw a 2023 elk tag in Wisconsin. Josh Spiegel, the wildlife biologist for the northern elk herd, was the one who called to inform me of my once in a lifetime opportunity. While talking on the phone, it took a while for the news to sink in. Josh was very helpful with my questions and what the next steps would be. This elk hunt was to begin on October 14, and any weapon legal for deer could be used. Starting in mid-October, I knew it would be a post rut hunt. With a bit of research, I learned about previous Wisconsin elk hunts and studied the map of the Clam Lake elk range.
As the summer progressed, I thought about the hunt and my desire to do it with a longbow. I hadn’t taken a big game animal with a rifle in 25 years and wanted to at least give my archery tackle a shot with the longbow. I contacted a friend of mine, Jim Neaves of Centaur Archery, to have him build me a new longbow for the hunt. I owned several already, but thought it was a good reason to have another one built. The new bow was in my hands by the first of August and I wasted no time in shooting it daily. I matched the bow to a set of bamboo arrows I made from raw shoots, with feathers from turkeys my friends and I had harvested.
My first trip to the Clam Lake elk range was a Sunday drive up to the area with my wife Lisa to get an idea of what the area looked like, and where I could stay while on the hunt. As I drove around the area a sense of panic set in; it was nothing like any area I had ever hunted for elk. There seemed to be no hills to glass from or meadows for feeding areas. Josh had told me that the elk like fresh clear cuts with new aspen growth and I was able to find some areas like that in the Flambeau state forest areas of the elk range. As my wife and I drove around the southern end of the range we were able to see some farm fields. I had her mark them on the map thinking if there were elk in the area that is where they would be!
One of my friends had provided the contact information of a past successful elk hunter, Jim Schmidt, who I was able to meet for breakfast one morning. Jim shared a wealth of knowledge about a lot of aspects of the hunt and the layout of some areas to scout in the elk range. With that information, I made several scouting trips to the area in August. On one of those trips, I was able to meet Mark Heath, who has been a part of four successful elk hunts in the area including the first elk in Wisconsin harvested with a bow just the year prior. I realized having his eyes up there and helping logistically with the hunt would very much be an asset. He is an avid hunter who I really enjoyed spending time with. Mark was extremely knowledgeable about the area and the elk. He was instrumental in putting a plan together for the hunt. I was able to locate elk each subsequent trip I made in August and September. On those trips I laid eyes on a couple of good bulls, and several smaller bulls. But, that was pre-rut and I knew that things would change by October 14th.
On September 8th the DNR hosted a mandatory Elk Orientation in which we were able to meet our fellow hunters and the area wardens. Topics covered included the history of the elk herds in Wisconsin, the specific laws of the hunt, information on the area we were hunting, hunting methods and steps to take after an elk is harvested. This was very informative and made for an enjoyable day. The realization that hunting elk in Wisconsin with a longbow, and being successful, was going to be a tall task, but one I was excited to try. I was able to make a couple more trips up to the area, finding elk each time, but not getting a sense that they were very patternable. They seem to be very nomadic, and the large number of bear hunters seem to push them around. I was told that in October there would also be several grouse hunters in the area moving the elk around.
I decided that I would spend the weekend prior to the start of the hunt up there and then come home for two days, and then head back up Wednesday prior to the Saturday opener. My uncle Sheldon Voigtlander agreed to accompany me and to help me with the hunt. He has been instrumental in my hunting my entire life and I was happy he was coming along. He took me on my very first bowhunt when I was twelve and fueled a lifelong passion.
We headed up to the area on Saturday, October 7 and walked the areas where I had seen elk, found some sign and tried to figure out a way that the elk could be hunted with a bow. On Saturday evening we laid our eyes on a herd in the southern part of the elk range, in the original area I had marked on my first trip in July. We had seen a bull cross the road coming from the Flambeau River heading west. We went to the field where we thought he was heading and found two, five x five bulls with several cows and calves. Mark had told me this was a good area and it also was the area from which last year’s bowhunter had taken his elk. These elk were in an area that seemed to give me hope that I might be able to pattern them. That evening while watching the elk, I noticed a UTV parked on the road, also watching the elk. I assumed that they must be local and went to see if they could give me any insight to the elk in the area. After talking to them for a few minutes, I could not get over the feeling that I knew this person from somewhere. It turned out I was right. Roger Ferries was from my hometown of Sparta and I had known him for quite a while – I just could not place him in the unfamiliar surroundings. He said he owned a cabin just down the road.
The next day Mark, Sheldon and I walked the fields and that was the first time I realized the elk were eating acorns along the field edges. I drove home Sunday evening optimistic that I was going to be able to get on the elk with a bow. As I was driving home, I received a text from Roger that I was welcome to stay at his guest cabin while I hunted. That was unbelievably good news and was such a relief! Finding lodging during a hunt that could take a while was difficult, especially lodging that was close to where I wanted to hunt. It's amazing the generosity of fellow hunters and I was excited to be able to share the hunt with Roger as well.
On Wednesday Sheldon and I traveled back to the area to try to start patterning the elk. We soon found out they were indeed nomadic. We saw four bulls in a field that was being seeded with winter wheat south of where we had previously seen the elk. We found the main herd about a mile further to the south of where they were on Saturday. In the meantime, Mark was trying to locate elk in the northern part of the state forest. He had found a good bull up there Monday and was going to see if he was staying in the area.
On Thursday morning we saw a bull chase a cow across the road heading east where we had seen elk cross the road on Saturday evening. The main herd was still in the fields south and east of where we had seen them on Saturday. They were in an area outside the elk zone and not huntable. That evening we made a plan for Mark to stay up north to try to locate the bulls he had seen the week prior, and for me to go east of the river in an area that I saw elk in the beginning of September. Sheldon was going to keep an eye on the elk in the southern part of the unit. Sheldon was able to watch a few bulls in a field, two spikes and a five x five.
Friday brought a steady rain lasting all day, which made scouting tough and tracks difficult to find. We did manage to see a cow elk cross the road, heading east in the same general area where we had seen them earlier, crossing back and forth from the public land along the river and the farm fields to the west.
Saturday morning, October 14th, opening day arrived with no real plan firmed up for me. I was starting to doubt I could do this with a longbow, as they were not responding to calls and I had not seen them in any one area on a consistent basis. I spent the morning hunting an area to the north where I had seen elk earlier in the month, doing a little light calling. Mark was scouting areas north of me and Sheldon was scouting areas to the south. With no real plan still in place, we decided that we could put up a stand at noon where we had seen elk cross the road occasionally from the river bottom to a food source. Mark and Sheldon would continue to look for elk in other areas while I hunted that stand. The tree stand was on the south side of a trail that we could see they were using on the Flambeau state forest.
I climbed up into the stand about 3:30 pm with little confidence I would see an elk. About 5 p.m. I looked east and noticed a yellowish colored object about 80 yards from me. It was the distinct color of an elk. As it walked closer, I could see it was a spike. It felt like an out of body experience to be in Wisconsin and have an elk walking to me, with a valid tag in my pocket. When it was about twenty yards away, I could see two more elk coming. The second one was definitely a branch antlered bull. I noticed it had turned down fronts and recognized him right away as what I thought was the second biggest bull in the area. They were walking the path that I needed to get a fifteen-yard shot. I let the spike walk by my shooting lane and toward the road. The target bull needed to come just five more steps and he would be broadside to me. I was standing, with my tab around the string when a truck came down the road behind me, noticed the spike elk and stopped to look at it, with me in a tree only thirty yards away from the road. I could hear people talking in the truck, as they noticed the bull in front of me as well. It seemed like an eternity, but the truck finally pulled away. As it did, the spike spooked back to where the five x five was standing. They just stayed there, with the five x five quartered to me behind a tree. They didn't move for what seemed like fifteen minutes. Finally, the spike turned and walked back down the trail toward the road and the five by five took two steps in that direction as well before stopping to give me a fifteen-yard standing broadside shot. By this time, my nerves had settled back down and I was able to walk myself through my shot sequence as I drew and made sure of my follow through. I was able to watch my arrow hit the small spot I was looking at and sink to the fletch. I instantly knew the shot was lethal and a rush of adrenalin set in as I realized I had just shot a Wisconsin elk with my longbow and self-made bamboo arrow. I watched as he ran off knowing that it wouldn't be a long track job.
I waited an hour in the tree stand before contacting Sheldon and Mark to help me track and recover the bull. He went about one hundred yards before expiring. We were able to load him up in an otter sled and get him out of the woods easily for an animal that large. I GPS-marked the location where I had arrowed him, knowing that it was necessary for registration. Next, I called the DNR biologist, Josh Spiegel, to come to the kill site to start the registration process. It still seemed like a dream at this point. While waiting for Josh to come, Sheldon said, “You know people will not think this was too hard to do because you got one the first day of the season.” I thought, “you are right,” but I also knew I had spent twenty days scouting, hours looking at maps, shooting hundreds of practice arrows and yet it came down to just being lucky. I'm okay with that.
Hunting with a traditional bow means a lot to me. I tell people that it's not the “how big” for me, but “the how.” You must beat all five of an animal's senses at close range and then rely on your ability to make the shot. You must also be willing to accept that sometimes (actually, most times) the animal wins. That's what traditional archery means to me.
My equipment for the hunt consisted of a Centaur Archery Longbow at 51pounds at a 28” draw, self-made bamboo arrows with wild turkey fletching and a Centaur Archery Short-Mag single bevel 2 blade broadhead.
Wisconsin Elk With a Longbow!
By Chris McDonald
How I Became a Wisconsin Bowhunter
By Kimberly Ondiska