Learning the ropes from Yamaha Whitetail Diaries Crew
When the big-bodied 10-point whitetail deer first came into view, part of me was surprised the sound of my heart beating furiously didn’t scare it off. My whole body shook like I was cold and wet, even though it was a beautiful late afternoon in south Texas. I was in a wholly unfamiliar situation and despite the fact that I was the one with the bow in my hands, my adrenaline-addled brain was having a hard time deciding if this was a fight or flight situation.
Honestly, I’d never imagined myself to be a hunter, despite growing up in a smallish northern city surrounded by wilderness on all sides. Despite liking the sound of things going “boom,” guns were never my thing and when I took up archery a year and a half ago it was just about competition and having fun. That outlook changed after receiving one email from Yamaha.
Yamaha prides itself on being an outdoors company. That means helping to keep trails open through its GRANT program and supporting hunting and fishing initiatives. It also means designing vehicles to help people who take full advantage of the great outdoors – specifically, the Yamaha Viking and Viking VI Side-by-Sides.
Yamaha also sponsors a hunting show, Yamaha Whitetail Diaries, hosted by Wade Middleton. It was this relationship that brought me to south Texas for my first hunting experience. Yamaha invited me out to the hunting lease operated by Middleton and his crew for a three-day adventure I will never forget.
To say I was nervous when we pulled into the gates of the lease property is a wild understatement. I was the only person at the ranch who had never hunted before and wasn’t certain how I’d be received. Fortunately, my friends at Yamaha are always welcoming and so were Wade and the Whitetail Diaries team.
It was already well past sundown and we were planning to get up in the wee hours to head out to the hunting grounds. Concerned I wouldn’t be able to shoot my bow before the morning hunt, a powerful camera light was set up and pointed at a target so I could fling some arrows. I was also worried what kind of shape my Athens Judgement compound bow would be in after two plane rides, but my SKB iSeries Bow Case was able to stand up to the abuse of airline baggage handlers and kept everything safe and secure. It’s an impressive case and was the envy of the other bow hunters on this trip.
Once I was ready to shoot, I nervously sent my first Black Eagle Zombie Slayer arrow flying past the target and into the bush. This was not a proud moment and certainly not the first impression I was hoping to make. Happily, I quickly settled down and started to feel much more at ease with my bow in the new surroundings. After shooting, I grabbed some dinner and chatted with the other hunters before laying down for a very fitful sleep.
At some unholy hour, long before the sun even thought of peaking over the horizon, we received the wakeup call. It was time to go. I quickly ate some biscuits, drank some juice and put on my full hunting outfit for the first time. I kept all the gear in a Scent Safe Bag with a Fresh Earth Scent Wafer. Everything smelled like dirt – though not in a particularly unpleasant way. It was a strange feeling putting on clothes that smelled like freshly turned soil, but my inner nine-year-old liked smelling dirty and I was hoping that would be enough to cover my scent and fool the deer.
Five of us piled into a Yamaha Viking VI with all our gear and made our way to various hunting sites. I was sent to a large ground blind with Jeff the cameraman. Some corn was spread out and we settled in and waited for daylight.
We saw a lot of deer milling about in the morning, though it was mostly does and some really young bucks. As soon as I saw an eight-point saunter by, I was ready to go. Jeff, however, let me know he wasn’t old enough, though he sure looked big enough for me. He hung around all morning and, despite my attempts to convince Jeff otherwise, I never got the green light. We stayed put for a few hours while the deer hung around. Even though we didn’t see a shooter, it was awfully nice just sitting quietly and watching the deer through my Leupold BX-3 Mojave binoculars.
Wade picked us up late in the morning in the Viking VI and took us back to camp. After filling up with the first of many awesome meals prepared by the camp cook, Abraham, I took out my Athens Judgement and practiced for a couple of hours. There are few things I enjoy more than flinging arrow after arrow into targets. It’s become a bit of an obsession.
I was joined by several other shooters and we made our way out to a 3D archery course the Whitetail Diaries crew set up – with targets placed between 20 and 50 yards away. With my Spot Hogg Hunter five-pin sight and Trophy Taker SmackDown Pro arrow rest dialed in, I was ready to go. Unfortunately, I made a mediocre shot on the first target and had to play catch-up the rest of the round. It was just a fun event, but since I was only going to get one shot at a deer, any questionable shot could potentially turn disastrous. When the tournament was over, I headed back to the range for more practice to work the bad or nervous shots out of my system.
Later in the afternoon, we got geared up again, loaded up the Yamaha Viking VI and returned to our same ground blind. Much like the morning sit, we saw a collection of does and the same eight-point buck I was eager to shoot all morning. I was pretty much resigned to just relaxing and watching the deer again, and that’s exactly how it played out for a couple of hours. That all changed when Jeff quietly let me know that something good was coming our way from the right.
Quickly, I picked up my binoculars and had a closer look at a mature 10-point buck. While the eight-point looked great to me before, I now understood what a real shooter looked like. His body was massive and his face looked older. It was at this point that my body was doing things I didn’t want it to do. My hands were shaking and my pulse was racing. He wasn’t yet within range, but I was absolutely not confident enough to take a shot at any distance at that point.
As luck would have it, this brute of a deer was in no hurry to meet my arrow. He seemed more aware of his surroundings than the other deer and moved very deliberately. For at least 10 minutes (which felt like an eternity), he was either in front of a doe, behind a bush or tree or out of reach of the window on my side of the ground blind. Ever so slowly, he worked his way towards me, giving my body time to calm down.
Looking through my Leupold RX-1200i TBR rangefinder, I followed him as he got past the last tree. He presented broadside at about 20 yards. I was hesitant to draw back my bow or move at all, as a young deer was maybe five yards away to my left and I was sure it was going to bust me and send the big buck running.
When I finally did draw back my Athens Judgement, the young deer was oblivious. I settled the top pin of the Spot Hogg Hunter sight on the deer’s lungs and the let the arrow fly. I could hear the arrow, armed with a Trophy Taker Ulmer Edge mechanical broadhead, make contact and the buck kicked up his back legs before he took off running.
At this point, I was pretty much in a state of shock. I thought I’d made a good shot, but we hung back in the ground blind and called Wade to let him know a deer was hit. We waited in the blind for about a half hour or so as I ran the shot back over and over in my mind. When Wade arrived, we got organized and started the tracking process.
My arrow passed right through the deer and was easy to find. The blood trail, though sparse, was easy to enough to track in the sun-baked dirt. It was staring to get dark so I followed the blood with a flashlight while Wade and Jeff pointed out the tracks. After the open dirt section, the deer ran into some bush and the blood trail picked up. Not far into the growth I saw some antlers on the ground. I found my deer maybe 75 to 100 yards from where it was hit.
The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. We took some pictures and I apparently talked about the experience into the camera, but I didn’t have much memory of that until I saw the footage. My shot landed a bit right of the lungs and took out the liver. Still an effective and humane shot, but I was somewhat disappointed. Under normal circumstances, I’ll keep my arrows inside a two-inch group at 20 yards and usually slapping against each other. This one was several inches to the right. Adrenaline was the likely culprit and I was probably gripping the bow too tightly.
We loaded the deer into the back of the Yamaha Viking VI, picked up two more hunters and went back to camp. Wanting to get the full hunting experience, I did the field dressing myself, with Jeff directing me. I made a small incision with the main blade on my Outdoor Edge Flip N’Zip knife and used the curved gutting blade to do the rest. I can’t say enough good things about how sharp that knife is and how easy it made the whole process.
I spent two more days hunting – this time looking for a boar in a tree stand – but came up empty as heavy rain rocked us for the remainder of our stay. I should point out that despite sitting in the rain for hours on end, my RedHead Squaltex II Bone-Dry Jacket, StormTex Rain Pants and Big Timber Insulated Waterproof Hunting Boots kept me remarkably dry. I’ve used plenty of rain gear on ATV rides and have always been disappointed, but this stuff just works.
Even without seeing a boar and spending lots of time in the rain, nothing can take away from the awesome experience I had in south Texas. Yamaha and the Whitetail Diaries crew introduced a total newbie to hunting and I can’t thank them enough. The Yamaha Viking VI six proved to be perfect for hunting, as we somehow carried five adults, hunting gear, camera gear and a 200-pound deer without issue.