May 15, 2021
As the wind picked up speed and the threatening storm clouds drifted closer, we were forced to discuss a couple different options. We could head for the truck, of course, but we might be able to wait it out with the hopes of being in the perfect position to capitalize on a shooter buck moving about post-storm. There were two key factors at the time: we were sitting in a sturdy hard-sided ground blind that should adequately shelter us from what looked to be an electric hour or so, and it was also the final evening of our Oklahoma whitetail hunt at the Canadian River Hilton. With me for the decision-making process was Erin Hutchison — Media Relations Manager at LaCrosse Footwear — and guide Evin Welty. Our verdict came quick, and it was unanimous — we were in it for the long haul. More on that in a bit!
Before The Hunt
When it comes to whitetail hunting, Oklahoma is a bit of a sleeper state. You’ll often hear about Illinois, Kansas, Iowa and the like, but rarely will Oklahoma be placed in the “upper echelon” of midwestern deer states. However, as we all know, that doesn’t completely tell the story — especially when you’re visiting a particular outfitter with a reputation that precedes itself. You see, we were at a place that Mossy Oak has hunted with for the last 20 years. Simply put, you don’t return to the same place year after year without the complete package of great hunting and an even better camp atmosphere.
This time around, Mossy Oak invited two other manufacturers to co-sponsor the week with them and join in on the fun — LaCrosse Footwear and Leupold Optics. Each of them extended an invitation to a member of the outdoor media, and I was lucky enough to once again get a call from what I personally consider to be the best rubber boot manufacturer in the industry. This hunt was scheduled for the opening week of the Oklahoma firearms season — a rare opportunity for me to go in search of big bucks without archery tackle. I don’t think I could’ve accepted the invitation any quicker than I did.
In a few short weeks it would be that magical November time, and it truly couldn’t come fast enough for me. Western Oklahoma — ready or not, here we come!
Sooner State Arrival
No matter the outcome of the week ahead, it was certainly going to be one of my most memorable hunts from the last 10 years with Outdoor Sportsman Group. With ongoing COVID-19 protocols in place across the country, this was my first work-related hunt I was able to participate in since late-2019. In fact, it was my first work-related flight of any kind since the 2020 SHOT Show had come to a close in January. It was finally time to get back to what our company excels at — chasing big critters and creating top-notch content for our audience. I had pulled up to the Harrisburg International Airport many times before, but I’m honestly not sure I ever was THAT excited to get going.
Upon arrival at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers Airport, I met up with Hutchison, Leupold’s Shawn Skipper and DeerCast’s Tim Kjellesvik for the two-hour drive to camp. We needed to make sure our rifles were on point and ready to go for the next morning’s opener. That was especially important for me, because I was hunting with a Savage 110 Ridge Warrior that I’d never shot before. Fortunately, that potential worry was gone after just a few shots. Mossy Oak’s Jake Meyer had already done the hard part for me before the gun had arrived in camp!
After our first delicious meal in camp — something that was certainly a sign of things to come during the week ahead — owner Justin Eakins (and wife, Katie) gave us the lowdown on their properties, explained how they operated their outfit, and told us what they expected from their hunters. It was apparent from the start that they ran an operation that would not only produce immediate results, but also feature sustainable success for years to come.
One more sleep!
With eight hunters in camp, big bucks started to drop early and quite often — highlighted by Skipper’s wide 9-point not far from where I was hunting on the second evening. For me, however, the sightings were few and far between — perhaps because it seemed as if massive Oklahoma turkey flocks were following me everywhere I went for the first three days!
The rest of the camp was having great success, so I knew that patience was something I simply had to put into practice. As all outdoorsmen have undoubtedly experienced at one point or another, that can be extremely hard to do — particularly when you’re seeing the big bucks that are being brought in after nearly every sit. In fact, by the time we reached the final day there were only two tags left to fill. One of those was taken care of on the final morning. The other — well, you guessed it — was mine.
Beating the Buzzer
I’m not sure why I was so confident heading into that last sit. Maybe it was the fact that this particular camp was one of the best I’d ever been a part of despite not killing a buck yet. Or, it could be that I’m a notorious last-day shooter and I’d been in this exact same spot a lot more times than I wanted to be over the years. Whatever the reason, I felt like we’d be celebrating a perfect week when we got back to camp that night.
Then came the deteriorating weather. Before it blew in, we were keeping an eye on plenty of deer in the area. I also was in the same blind that morning and had seen three promising, but younger bucks. It was only a matter of time, right? Was the weather going to disrupt our plans, or would it play right into our hands? It downpoured for the better part of an hour, and with it came dark storm clouds, loud thunder, crazy lightning and high winds. Let’s just say you wouldn’t describe the current situation as “ideal hunting conditions.” Just as we suspected — and hoped for — however, things amped up quickly when the weather finally exited the area.
The yearlings were the first to return, followed almost immediately by some does and a few young bucks. But after watching and waiting for four days, Welty and I finally had the, “whoa — here we go!” moment that we were searching for all week. Coming from the extreme left side of our blind was a buck that featured visibly tall main beams. He was in and out of view so quickly that we couldn’t get our Leupold BX-5 Santiam HD binoculars on him for more than a few seconds. That was enough time for us to judge him though.
“I think he’s a shooter,” Welty said. “We’ll make sure, he’s going to come back.”
Indeed he did.
After a 20-minute wait that seemed like two hours with last-light approaching, the buck reappeared and started working his way back to us. This time, I got a great look at him through my VX-5 scope. As we originally thought, he featured good height and solid mass. Although he didn’t showcase the width like most of the other bucks we’d seen brought back to camp during the week, Welty gave the seal of approval with a confident, “Take him.” With a rifle in my hands, the path he took gave me a short 60-yard shot — the proverbial layup if you will.
Deep breath. “Don’t punch it,” I reminded myself. Bang!
As I was preparing to follow up if needed, Welty and Hutchison simultaneously put a stop to that just a few seconds after the shot with the two words every hunter longs to hear.
From the high fives and fist bumps of genuine excitement to the hugs of relief after the fact, this hunt was everything I hoped it would be. It’s not easy to bring a group of people together — some of whom you’ve never met — and expect a media hunt to go off without a hitch. This one did, and it was because of our three great partners — LaCrosse, Leupold and Mossy Oak, all of which are industry leaders in their respective categories — and a top-notch outfit like the Canadian River Hilton.
Everyone wants to fill a tag — and we're certainly glad all of us did — but it will always be the people that make the trip. This time, we had it all. To those involved in making this hunt such a memorable one during a challenging time, I offer a sincere “Thank You!”
On Your Feet
For most of 2020, including this hunt, I wore the 17-inch LaCrosse Alpha Agility boots. They’re lightweight (only four pounds per pair), flexible and comfortable. That shouldn’t surprise anybody if you’ve worn LaCrosse boots before, but what might is how easy they are to maneuver in. Too often I hear that rubber boots are made only for treestand hunters and that you can’t get out and walk anywhere. To that, I say you’re wearing the wrong rubber boots!
One night as the evening light faded and little was happening at our chosen spot, we opted to hustle over to glass a large plot on the edge of the property. In order to get there with enough time to make a move if deer were present, we needed to take the road less traveled. In this case, that meant going up and over a barbed-wire fence before continuing on to the top of a large nearby hillside. As is turned out, there were deer beginning to feed into the area, so I quickly entered a gully that would allow me to stay out of sight while working my way down to a spot within shooting range. There ended up being no shooter bucks that time around, but I was certainly in place had there been. Simply put, I couldn’t have gotten there as quickly or as comfortably without boots that worked, and I know going forward that I’ll have them on my side.