Lately I have felt a lack of challenge in my life. Not to say that my life is easy breezy, but I just don’t have major challenges to tackle these days.
The last major challenge I remember completing was United States Marine Corps boot camp. The feeling I had at the end of boot camp was better than any drug you could take. I was 17 years old at the time and the hardest challenge I completed before that was graduating high school a semester early, a piece of cake compared to what I signed up for in 2003. Sure I have had challenges in life since then, I graduated with a bachelors and a masters of science in geology, I got married and I am helping raise two beautiful children, but I consider these routine challenges in life. The challenge I am looking for is something that will take a lot of effort on my part, both mental and physical. At the end of it I want the same feeling I had when I crested “The Reaper” (a mountain you hike up in boot camp at the end of 50 plus miles of hiking that basically signals the end of Phase 2 of training and you are well on the way to claiming the title of Marine), I want the same feeling I got when my Drill Instructor handed me my Eagle Globe and Anchor and called me Marine for the first time, or the feeling I had when I stepped off the plane coming home from my 2004-05 tour in Iraq. I feel that challenges like these are what makes you appreciate life and it is time for me to take on a new challenge.
My challenge for 2018 is, like most aspects of my life, related to the outdoors and more specifically hunting. For the past 5 years I have done most of my hunting on my family’s property in Mississippi, which has its own set of challenges, but I can’t make the drive over there as much as I would like to. I need something close to the house where I can scout, set cameras, check them more frequently, and “run and gun” when the time is right. This is why for 2018 I am challenging myself with hunting public land in the Sam Houston National Forest. The challenge isn’t just to hunt, but my challenge is to harvest a mature deer (preferably one with antlers) with a bow on this public land.
Now you may be asking yourself, “why do you want to do this, or why is it important, or why with a bow”? For starters, hunting is hard and hunting on public land is notoriously hard. I have listened to numerous podcasts and read a lot of articles about public land hunting and in short the topic of discussion usually revolves around the amount of hunting pressure that makes it difficult to hunt these public areas. Second, I love to hunt. I enjoy being outdoors and more so interacting with nature. Hunting to me isn’t just about shooting an animal. Honestly I have shot more deer with a camera than a rifle or a bow. It’s about putting in the time and effort to understand a mature whitetail buck, where he eats, where he drinks, where he sleeps etc. How does he move between these areas? Why does he do the things he does? This aspect of hunting is why I am obsessed with it. Every time I step into the woods for a new season, it’s a challenge. This second reason is also why I am deciding to do this with a bow. I have taken a number of deer with a rifle, but I have never harvested a deer with a bow yet. What I have noticed through my years of hunting is that most of the deer I have shot are within bow range, I just happen to have a rifle in my hand instead of a bow. There is just something different about bow hunting, you have to draw the deer in closer to you, much closer than you would with a rifle. Once they are within range you now have to draw your bow back, compose yourself and release the arrow without giving away your position. I’ve been lucky enough to be in the stand with a bow when deer are that close and it is a thrill of a lifetime. I’m hoping this year to seal the deal.
Now enough with the romanticism of hunting and on to a little more about this challenge. I live in Magnolia, TX which is just outside the city of Houston. You wouldn’t think that there is a lot of public land hunting opportunities around such a large city, but about 50 miles outside of downtown Houston resides the Sam Houston National Forest.
From the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service website:
The Sam Houston National Forest, one of four National Forests in Texas, is located 50 miles north of Houston. The forest contains 163, 037 acres between Huntsville, Conroe, Cleveland and Richards, Texas. With land in Montgomery, Walker, and San Jacinto counties, the Sam Houston National Forest is intermingled with privately owned timber lands and small farms.
The forest is about 50 miles from Houston, which makes it about 15 miles from my house. This is the perfect place for this challenge because I can get in and out of the forest quickly to scout while also being able to hunt more frequently than I would in Mississippi.
163,037 acres is a massive area to try to hunt for one season, so I have narrowed down my initial scouting area to approximately 14,000 acres. From here I will do some aerial scouting using Google Earth satellite photos and topography maps as a starting point. A lot of pre-scouting work can be done using free software like Google Earth and an online plug-in for topography maps from EarthPoint.
With these I will be able to look for topographic features that funnel animals or I can use historical aerial photos to look for recently cut timber areas, edges of different tree species, or the change in canopy color to determine where there are large amounts of oak trees versus evergreens like pines.
A big part of this challenge will be the physical aspect of it. There are no ways to get into the forest with a motor vehicle. Almost everywhere that I am going to hunt will require hiking between 2-4 miles into the woods. The Sam Houston National Forest does have a number of forest service roads and hiking trails which will make my life a little easier, but I will still have to get off of these well used paths in order to find a good stand location.
For 2018 I have a lot of work ahead of me and I am hoping I can get it done. I will have to balance my family life, hunting in Mississippi and this new hunting challenge throughout the year which will require a lot of planning on my part. I look forward for what this season holds, stay tuned for updates throughout the year.
-The Family Outdoorsman