In December of 2016 I began to hear rumblings of the possibility of the closing down of the hunting for non natives on the Leaf River Caribou herd. This is a species that I had not hunted and had hoped I would have an opportunity to hunt in the future. This caribou is classified as a Quebec Labrador and is one of 29 species recognized by the Pope and Young club. There are 5 species of caribou in the list of 29 animals.
I began calling outfitters, booking agents and friends and was unable to find a spot. One booking agent was waiting for a deposit from a hunter and I sent my deposit in to him hoping that I had a chance. Thirty days went by and the agent contacted me and said he was cashing my check because the other hunter had backed out.
I would be hunting with Alain and Louis Tardif who have been operating Leaf River Outfitters since 1989. In 1990, Alain drove a John Deere catipillar into the camp to clear a runway to bring in lumber and supplies. It took 28 days traveling and pulling his fuel by sled and never shutting the engine down.
Fast forward to September 23rd as I stepped out of the Otter plane. It took five different planes to finally get to camp. I would be in the main camp on The Leaf River with 18 hunters and two other groups of hunters would be hunting out of different locations in lakes camps. I would be the lone bowhunter of the 30 total hunters for the week hunt.
I would be hunting with a guide and a rifle hunter on the first day. We traveled down river five miles and back up another river two miles to start our first morning's hunt. After climbing several hills and seeing no animals, we sat to glass miles in the distance. After about 10 minutes, a herd was spotted heading in our direction. Dave, the rifle hunter I was paired with, shot a great bull out of the herd of 45 animals about 2 hours later. I was by his side helping him judge and pick out the best trophy.
The wildlife and fishing was spectacular and took turns between glassing trophy bulls and catching fish.
On day three, after hearing most hunters where tagged out, I started becoming concerned. With a caribou migration you never know if you have a thousand more animals coming or none.
We were returning to camp and noticed the rocks on the shore were wet from caribou crossing the river. It appeared we had just missed a large herd that had just crossed. We parked the boat and started glassing hoping more animals would be coming. Tommy our native guide spotted the first bulls and we knew that we had to travel up river as fast as possible in hopes of intercepting the herd as they crossed. l traveled a miserable half mile up river running, stumbling and falling trying to get to the herd in hopes of a shot. As I came to a clearing in the timbered ravine a saw caribou crossing in front of me. My guide had fallen far behind and was not behind me. I snuck to the edge of the clearing as many caribou ran by. I was at a loss as to how many had run by and how many were yet to come . I tried my best to select a shooter and let an arrow fly at 40 yards. My shot was a little back because of me not judging the speed of the moving target but my caribou was down quickly as about 50 more animals trotted by heading south across the tundra. This was my forth caribou hunt but the first time ever being in the migration path and I truly wish all of you have a chance to experience it. INCREDIBLE!
I really hope that the outfitters and indigenous people can work out a solution so those wanting this experience can make it happen. As of now this looks to be an end of the era .....
In the winter of 2013 I began to take notice of a great young 5x5 that had survived the rifle season and was showing up in the center of my property quite frequently. I thought to myself that this young buck held some promise to turn into a trophy class animal. I came across one of his shed antlers in late February and was convinced that he was only a fine looking 2.5 year old buck.
In August of 2014 I started getting frequent pictures of this buck and decided to give him a name as we do with several buck each fall on the land that we have. In the past we have had names like Stilletto, Lighting, Harry, Buckzilla, Fourplay, Pappy, Crown Royal, Old Guy, Tight, Crazy Legs and many others. This young 5x5 became known as Joker.
These names help myself and others that hunt with me keep track of which buck we are talking about. It seems to make it easier to explain rather than describing a buck by his rack each time. For example, I saw that narrow 5x5 with the short brow tines that is usually near the food plot that had turnips in it last year. It is easier to say, I saw Slim from the Gnarly Oak at the Trouble food plot. And, yes, we also name the stands and food plots.
During the fall hunting season I had an opportunity to harvest Joker on 4 different occasions. I passed him up because I had other bucks that were more mature and I was pleased that Joker was staying near the center of the property for the most part. I run up to 30 trail cameras during the early fall on mineral sites. Mid September I relocate the cameras to scrapes and funnel trails. This practice has provided me with valuable information on the habits and rutting behavior of individual bucks.
In Jokers core area, he was competing with mainly two other bucks that were more aggressive and more mature. I allow friends to hunt my property with the understanding that they can only shoot a 4x4 or smaller buck. This management practice allows novice hunters to take any buck other than the upper end trophy bucks and the experienced hunters can help take out the older Bully Bucks that have less trophy potential. Harvesting the Bully bucks give the chance for younger bucks like Joker to establish a home range without getting pushed off the property and relocate onto the neighboring property. In late October 2014 my son filmed me harvest Swagger, one of the two mature bucks in Joker's core area.
Late in the season a Bully buck was harvested with a bow and another 4x4 was harvested with a muzzle loader. These two bucks were aged by a Montana lab to be 4 and 8 years old.
In February, 2015, I located both of Joker's sheds and he would have scored in the mid 130s.
With the temperatures in the 90s in mid July, it was time once again to get the trail cameras out and working again. It wasn't long and I was getting velvet picture of Joker once again. The interesting part was that he was almost a mile away from his core area from the fall rutting of last year. Around September 3rd, Joker appeared on a camera back in the area he had been in 2014. During the middle of September, he started scraping and rubbing in all the same locations as in the past. Now Joker carried an impressive 160 inch rack ! Around Halloween I began getting photos of him in the day light.
On the morning of November 6th, I was sitting in a funnel area on a high ridge. I started a rattling sequence and followed up with some light grunting, Shortly afterwords I caught movement coming my way. It was Joker and I prepared for the shot. At 60 yards I looked again and did a double take ! %^%$@# Joker had broken the whole right side of his rack completely off just near the brow tine.
I was disappointed to say the least but it was an awesome experience to have this great buck walk past at 7 yards. I ended up having this buck within bow range another 6 times before the season's end.
I was fortunate to find the left shed and also the two pieces of the broke right side. The two parts were almost 3/4 of a mile apart.
This brings us to the 2016 summer scouting season. Once again Joker was first located more than 1 mile away from his core area.
And, on cue, Joker appeared back home early in September. I was getting 20 plus pictures per week of Joker on scrapes, all during the night. I predicted that his rack would now score around 170 inches.
On November 1st I recorded my first daytime pic of Joker chasing a doe near noon across the top of my farm dam. This was one of the funnel areas I had planned on taking advantage of during the rut.
I hunted the next 15 days in various locations and never laid eyes on Joker once. And to make matters worse, the last picture of him was on the 3rd of November. Things were not adding up, and I began to question my every move. Was I just one step behind Joker or had he been rutting in a new area? Did Joker chase a doe in heat onto the neighboring property and get wounded? I knew the neighbors well and was pretty sure they would be showing proud pictures of their success. Did he get poached and taken away? I checked a camera on November 20th and it showed a trespasser on my property with a rifle ,climbing tree stand and rattling horns over his shoulder. The main issue with the picture was that it was taken November 10th, two days before the rifle season.
I switched my hunting to other mature bucks and harvested other bucks on the Indian Reservation and my property. This still gave me 1 Nebraska tag for Joker. The trespasser was located on two other cameras, and has been identified and the issue is in the hands of the law enforcement.
The season ended with a tag in my pocket and me wondering what had happened to the incredible buck, Joker. In early February I start my shed hunting. I allow myself to go into areas that are deemed off limits until the season is over. I wondered if Joker got wounded during a fight and died in his bedding area. So last week I entered the bedding area and found the carcass of Joker in less than 15 minutes. I had dreamed of having his rack in my grasp but not in this way. I was saddened to find him and knew that our chess match was over. The method of Joker's demise sickened me.
Mother nature took Joker in a very cruel and unusual way. Joker had laid in his bed and rolled onto his side to scratch himself with his rack and got his leg entangled in his rack! Joker's horns now score 177 ". This ends a chapter that defiantly consumed me for the last few hunting seasons. With his demise this brings an end to the chess match between myself and the great Joker.........
Over the last few years I have been very fortunate to have gone on some great hunting adventures. Some hunts have gone very well while others have left me rethinking my life as it flashed before my eyes.
In 2014, I had a near death experience on a remote river bank while hunting Grizzlies in British Columbia. I returned home to Nebraska quite shaken from the experience. While she didn't know what happened, my wife still sensed something was wrong. After contemplating a few days about telling my wife of my experience, I confessed.
I told her the story and she asked if I would ever hunt a Grizzly or Brown Bear again. Later that week she asked me again. I told her that I would indeed like to hunt big bears again. She told me I was sick in the head and should get some help. Not understanding my desire to pursue a grizzly again she asked, "WHY?!"
I tried to explain it was probably similar to a Nascar driver or Bull Rider cheating death and wanting to continue their pursuit. I promised to increase my life insurance if I ever went on a hunt of that nature again.
Eventually, I met a dedicated bow hunter and Alaskan Outfitter named Frank Sanders and made plans to hunt the Alaska Peninsula with him. Frank has a camp that is two miles up the Iniskin river from the ocean at the base of the mountain. He is able to conduct hunts every other year. Being booked with rifle clients for 2016 and 2018, Frank said that he would be taking an Australian friend rifle hunting after he was finished with his clients and would allow me to help cover the cost if I wanted to join them. I would be the first archery hunter to kill a bear in that camp if successful.
The days are long in the spring with good shooting light from 5 a.m. until almost midnight. Each morning I would leave camp and climb about 1,500 vertical feet to a rock and watch for bears that might appear along the river. If a big bear was located, I would try to determine it's route of travel and plan a stalk. Once a plan was made, which usually included crossing the river, the hunt was on.
In nine days of hunting only about two stalks per day were put into motion. Most resulted in not seeing a bear because they fed back into the alders.
On day four, I found myself and a young guide crossing the mountain horizontally trying to keep the wind in our favor and stay above a large boar that was sitting along the river in the wind seeking relief from the swarms of mosquitoes.
About a hour later, we were within 30 yards but the bear was in the alders. We knew this because we could hear him growling at a young sow that had just swam down the river towards him. I drew my bow on the sow and settled the sight pin at about 30 yards, but this was not the bear I had been dreaming of. I let my bow down and could hear both bears go through the cover and away from us.
On day nine at around noon, I located a big bear feeding on grass along the alders across the river. We scrambled to the river and crossed after heading upstream 500 yards. The large light colored bear was still feeding as we secured the raft. We began to sneak through a tide water slough towards the bear and after about 400 yards we peaked over the bank and...No Bear! After searching for several minutes in the last known area we had seen the bear, I finally saw just the top of his shoulders in a small depression near the alders. We needed to close the distance of 200 more yards quickly.
Running on swampy, marshy tundra in high knee boots is rough. At 100 yards I was able to put some shurbs between the bear and myself and close the distance to just 40 yards. Finally, as the boar began to enter the thicket the arrow hit quartering forward in the big bruin!
After watching and listening for a solid hour and not hearing any movement, we entered the thick alders in search of a, hopefully, dead bear. Fifty yards in and my bear was located! After pictures and skinning out my trophy for a life sized mount, I planted a traditional lucky Buckeye in the Alaska Peninsula tundra.
I can truly say that the training, including shooting and running, I had done before this hunt was a key ingredient in the outcome. If you're ever fortunate to get the opportunity be prepared and good luck!
This is the time of year that most hunters put aside their bow hunting gear and pursue other activities. For myself and many others it is just the perfect time to regroup and prepare for the upcoming fall season.
Personally, I have found most of the sheds I have been looking for or the grass is tall enough that I have given up. I believe the planning you do this time of year can play a big part in your success in future seasons
Now is a great time to improve tree stand placement and shooting lanes. It is also time to improve the safety of your stands for yourself and some of the less experienced hunters that might accompany you in the fall.
This is the time of year to soil test food plots and lime them if needed. And if you are using any Roundup ready food plots it is time to get them sprayed.
There are countless things you can do now to improve your fall success.
Enjoy your summer, but don't forget to prepare for fall.
Some people have trouble deciding how to spend their spare time when it comes to outdoor activities. Trying to decide whether to go fishing, water fowl hunting, golfing, or even watching football. For myself the decision is always something to do with bow hunting.
There are always trail camera pictures to file into folders on my computer, land owners to reconnect with, tree stands to move or clear shooting lane for the next season.
One of the most important things I do in the cold winter months to improve my odds of harvesting a target buck is reviewing my trail camera pictures and videos. The picture of the buck above is from the 2014 season. This buck was named "KICK BACK," because the G2 tines tilt back more than normal. Keeping track of this buck in earlier years and learning his habits, travel patterns and feeding habits proved valuable in the late season of 2015.
Kick Back had a great growth spurt in 2015 and was a buck that was moved to my hit list. This buck lived in big timber and received a lot of hunting pressure.
Nearly all the hunting pressure this buck would encounter came from the same direction. I was able to access his core area from the opposite direction through property that was off limits to the other hunters. Using this information to my advantage and keying in on Kick Back's late winter food sources was the key piece of the puzzle to filling a tag on this heavily hunted monarch.
For me the season never ends, there are countless things that can be done to improve on future seasons if you are willing to put forth the effort. To me some of the off season activities can be as enjoyable as the actual season itself.
Good luck shed hunting and keeping your mind" hunting" all year!
3 Bulls. 3 States. 3 Species. In less than 30 days...
As I take the time to sit and text this blog, my emotions are still at a high level. It is hard to put into words the roller coaster ride I am just stepping off of!
It was just a few short weeks ago that I realized I had the opportunity to try something that probably few bow hunters have had chance to accomplish.
My personal goals where to harvest one each of the 3 North American Elk species with my Xpedition bow. And a bonus to the goal would be that all the bulls would score above the P.Y. minimum.
My tradition of planting a "Lucky Buckeye" after each trophy animal harvested was carried out with pleasure.
I had agreed to do this blog for the Nebraska Bowhunters Association to help promote the good work the club has done and bring more attention to a great organization that I feel every bow hunter in this great state should be a member of.
If everyone that is a member would share this blog and ask a nonmember to join the NBA I would be thrilled.
Thanks for following along and good luck!
At the end of day two, I have yet to here a bugle. The terrain is fare steeper than I had envisioned. The timber is steep and dark and we are seeing elk in the clearcuts in the early morning and late evening.
My attitude is still positive and only time will tell as we try to figure out these bulls. I have seen 16 spike bulls and about 30 cows.
With less than ideal weather conditions and temps in the mid 90s. I shot this bull after he had cooled off in a wallow and was heading for cover at 4:00 in the afternoon. With very little elk movement I got lucky to catch this bull on the move in the daylight.
Nebraska residents are very fortunate to have such quality elk. And bow hunters are able to hunt them first during the rut.
As a customary tradition I plant my lucky Buckeye after each trophy animal harvested.
Follow along this weekend as I travel to Oregon to hunt Roosevelt elk...
Last night I sat in a cedar tree hoping this 6x6 and his cow would wonder my way. .NO DICE
The bulls rack floats as walks with his head held high traveling through the corn .. I called him into 80 yards and then he left not wanting to leave the hot cow he was with.
Today I have not located a good bull. Hopefully this evening he can be found again.
Tomorrow is opening morning for a limited number of resident archery elk hunters here in Nebraska. I am one of the lucky tag holders and I am very excited about what the next few days well bring.
My prescouting and trail cameras have pinpointed several good candidates. The landowner permission has been granted on several great locations. If the weather cools down it might be a great hunt.
I have the next 5 days to fill my tag. So follow along and I will try to keep you updated.
Mike Lutt has been bow hunting since 1976 and has been a member of the NBA for 30 years. He has been married for 32 years to Rhonda and they have three children that are out of the nest! Mike spends hours scouting and bow hunting in Nebraska and any other place he can find.