Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

We bowhunters know that when the season gets here we have no idea what surprises may come our way.

By: Johnny Costello

We, as bowhunters, know that when we prepare ourselves for an upcoming season we have no idea what surprises may come our way. Isn't

that the excitement of it all anyway?

Well let me tell you, there was no way I could've primed myself enough for what was to come my way this year. We started our year typically by scouting every weekend from the beginning of July on.

Along our travels we found some new promising areas to add with our good ole standbys, and things began to fall together quite well. Before long we had many feed/mineral sites cultivating and they were all spruced with trail cams and treestands. The first few weeks the activity was minor but slowly began to increase until every one of our stations were being overrun with does.

A few spots had some average bucks passing by but we weren't interested in these. Our sights were on the migration in November so we weren't expecting any jaw droppers until then. In the first week of August I made my rounds through three counties and switched the game cam cards with fresh one then headed home. Lisa and I began screening our photos with no expectations of any big surprises. Boy were we wrong.

As I was skipping through an SD card I caught a glimpse of a night photo that almost knocked me off the chair!  Here was a buck deep in the photo that resembled a muley with a rack much larger than a typical Blacktail!



Where this brute came from I'll never know but what I did know was the game was on. I began visiting this set-up wearing rubber boots and gloves each time, while being completely sprayed down with Dead Down Wind Evolve 3D with Scent Prevent Technology. I was packing in every mineral supplement I could think of with every trip. I left the site each time by rubbing the surrounding trees with Conquest Scent's Evercalm. It was paying off as his interest for my plot was increasing but still only nightly. This was good enough. I knew I had plenty of time to sway the buck I named ‘Jethro’ into breaking his nocturnal habits. The early season, which opened Aug. 27th so I kept praying he would put his guard down enough to show himself during the day. That day came at 7:35 a.m. on Aug. 20th. and the fever set in.

After a very long week I found myself 30 ft. up a madrone tree at 3:30 a.m. of opening day, only to learn that this would be the beginning of a very long rocky road. I sat in that tree many a long day during the early season without even a glimpse of this buck. Obviously he was much smarter than I was hoping for. All along I was eating up valuable elk hunting time because these seasons run parallel to one another. During that month I shifted gears a few times to try and bring an elk home and one of the weekends I chose to chase elk ‘Jethro’ showed up at my empty stand at 7:30 a.m.. When early season finally ended my freezer was still empty. Now my only hope would be during late season.

During our off-time Lisa and I kept an eye on our sites and enhanced them continuously with every trick in the book. During this time the buck showed himself just enough to keep me on full alert. Then one evening while studying an SD card from the Rogue unit we got another shock.We saw the Cactus Buck, another buck that set us crazy with anticipation.



Most hunters don't get a chance to hunt either of these bucks in two lifetimes. We were stoked. Now it was Lisa's turn to get excited. She was going to try for the Cactus Buck. Once again we upped the ante by increasing supplements and scents to our new hotspot, along with a few mock scrapes. Let the games begin.

Another buck we named Barnacle Bill began making his visits almost daily but only at night. By mid-October he began following the does in under the sun, and Lisa began really chomping at the bit. Things were looking good but as I said earlier this was to be a season of surprises. After many daytime visits in a row, Barnacle Bill ceased coming in on Oct. 24 th. Simultaneously, a monstrosity bear appeared to stake claim and was there every night, all night



We assumed this was the sole reason for Bill's  disappearing act. This was no ordinary bear. In fact, my dear friend Jim Ponciano holds a world record for taking a black bear with traditional archery gear and when he analyzed my photos he felt that this bear rivaled his record easily. Of course, because it was in late fall, this bruiser was 100% nocturnal and since we can't hunt bears over any type of lure in Oregon it ruled out any chance of hunting him.

When I finally settled down I realized the only choice we had was that somehow, that bear had to go if we were ever going to have a chance of seeing Bill again. So there we were, pulling all of the deer/mineral blocks etc., leaving only the plot itself. It worked, kinda, the big bear left and the deer slowly returned, but no Bill.  Jethro hadn't been showing up lately either. No matter what, Lisa and I weren't about to give up. We were in too deep to fold now, especially knowing the bucks that were out there. I was now faced with splitting my attention between the two hot sites while continuing to maintain my other stands for some special friends who were flying in to film a hunt.

Late season's opening day arrived and Lisa and I hunted her area hard for the entire weekend. Lisa had to work the following week so I switched strategies and decided to hunt my area.

My friend/mentor Scott Haugen advised me to film this hunt on my own and low and behold on the third morning Jethro appeared. along with a severe rain storm.  The shock and awe of his dynamic appearance was overwhelming to say the least. It had been such a long wait for this moment but I had my camera mounted on a tree-pod and because of the torrential downpour I had it covered and pushed to the side. Not quite far enough however. Because of the angle of his approach, the brush and the blinding rain I was in a position of trying to awkwardly shoot around the camera. In doing so I tried to force the shot and I made the granddaddy of all mistakes. It was all over in the blink of an eye and I had missed. I couldn’t believe it.

To make matters worse, I never saw that great buck again. I did keep my promise to Lisa and focused of my energies into helping her fulfill her dream. Along the way she passed up a number of shot opportunities on mature bucks just to save her tag for Cactus Bill. She suffered many long days in extreme weather conditions to no avail. As she continued to hunt for this great buck my friends Bob Fromme, Jerry Morrison and Dave Ferrario arrived for their hunts.

I had to leave Lisa on her own for the remainder of the season and turn my attentions to Bob, Jerry and Dave. My job was to assist them getting in and out of the backcountry each day. I've gotten to know Bob and Jerry well through the years and have learned that their passion for hunting is highly contagious. I learn so much from them each time I hunt with them and this visit was no different.

Bob's dedication to archery has put him in a class by himself. Through all of his years of success in the field and decades of incredible hunts and TV shows, he is highly regarded as being one of the greatest bowhunters in the history of the sport.  On that note, he sure didn’t need much help from me, other than my quad and some of my trusty VS1.

I told Bob about my screwed up encounter and like a good friend he provided some much-needed counseling. Renewed, I decided to hunt a piece of timber on the other side of the unit while waiting for them each day. While they were having non-stop action I was barely keeping my eyes open. This went on for days until I suddenly realized that my season was almost exhausted as I was and all I had to show for it was a sore butt. Lisa was feeling the same in her neck of the woods. I found myself climbing down at 10:00 a.m. to go search for some new hope. As I hiked in to one of my partner's abandoned food plots I was surprised to find a number of fresh buck rubs along with a few active scrapes.

As I scanned the area I had to swallow hard to get my heart out of my throat. I quickly raced the fifty-plus miles back home like my hair was on fire. I grabbed a Double-Bull Blind along with a proto-type of a slick creation called The Blind Web by Spidy Gear and hauled (sore) butt back to my new found hot spot.

My bud Ponciano sent me the Blind Web to field test. It was his invention and he wanted my opinion. It sure looked like what I needed. Jim is known for his woods savvy and amazing elk-calling expertise. I have taken many animals using blinds but what I struggle with most is the art of brushing in a blind efficiently and quickly.  Once I figured out the predominant winds I popped the blind up and stretched the web over it. Jim was on to something. Within minutes I had the blind completely weaved with branches, brush and fir clusters. The blind melted into its environment and I was ready to go.

Blind before brushing in.

And after brushing in with Spidy Gear.

The next morning I crawled into my fort at 3:30 a.m. after hanging VS1 strategically around the perimeters and hunkered down for daybreak. As shooting light began to show itself so did a huge buck. Ten minutes later he couldn't help himself and came into my scents on a rope with his lip curled, eyes back, nose up and nostrils dripping. His carefree approach was what we all dream about and all he found was the arrival of a perfectly tossed arrow from my trusty Bear Carnage. Game over.



Two weeks later my friend Craig called me and told me that while shopping at Sportsman’s Warehouse he saw a rack that looked a lot like Cactus Bill, the buck Lisa had her sights set on.  Well Lisa and I hurried over and sure enough, a fortunate rifle hunter had taken her buck in late October. And so it goes.

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