We have the tremendous privilege of publishing, each month, on bowhunting.net, chapter by chapter the full book ‘An Empty Quiver – A Lifetime of Bowhunting Adventures’ by Dr. Dave Samuel. Our heartfelt thank you goes out to Dr. Dave one of our industry’s most educated, avid bowhunters and conservationists. Thank you for this honor Dave. And now, Chapter 1. My Most Important Hunt
The date was August, 1970, and I was on my first western bowhunt. It was in the Bookcliff Mountains near Debeque, Colorado on Roan Creek. The guide was John Lamicq, the first full time bowhunting guide in the country. And he lived and hunted in the best mule deer country (at that time) in the world.
I’d started my professor teaching career at West Virginia University the previous year, and took some of my savings to buy this hunt. At the time it seemed like a big investment, but looking back, it’s hard to believe the cost of the hunt. For a full five days with meals and a tent camp, you paid a whopping $125. And the nonresident license was $25. My how times have changed.
John took 25 or so hunters a week, housed them in a tent camp on the mountain on public land, then drove us in trucks to stands on private land. There was oil shale there, but it really hadn’t been discovered yet, so the dirt road was used very little, and the hunting pressure was minimal. On the other hand, the mule deer bucks were awesome and comparatively plentiful. No question, at that time this area had the best trophy mule deer hunting anywhere. Ten years later when elk moved into the area, and oil shale was being discovered, things would change, but when I hunted there, it was mule deer heaven. From 1970 to 1976, I drove west almost every year, just for the opportunity to chase monster muleys.
The deer were great, but what made this hunt so special for me wasn’t the fact that it was my first of many western bowhunts. Nor was it the fact that I was in such beautiful mule deer country. No, what made this important was the fact that there were two men in that camp who wanted to start a bowhunter magazine. Don Clark and Bob Shissler, two of the original four founders of bowhunter magazine were in the same camp, and luck and God put me on a path of destiny as an outdoor writer the very first day of the hunt. I have no notes on that hunt, so what follows is written from memory. The day of the hunt is one I shall remember till the day I die. Forty-two years later, I remember it as if it were yesterday. Here is what happened on that day in August, 1970.
After a long thirty-hour drive from Morgantown, West Virginia to John’s camp, I settled in. I was the youngest guy in camp, and frankly there were some bowhunting ‘stars’ in camp that made me feel a bit out of my league. It seemed that everyone there was experienced, except me. But it was a thrill just to be there and I soaked up every second of the hunt.
The season opened on the third Saturday of August, just before my semester started at West Virginia University. The night before the hunt John went over the hunt rules. He outlined the laws, and also the ethical rules he had. He ended by saying that we’d depart early, so get some rest and we’ll see you at breakfast.
Long before daylight John and his assistants drove all the hunters a few miles, then through a gate to private land, and from there to various ridges where John had placed a number of tree stands. Everyone had an assigned stand, and the pickup time was around 10:00 A. M. because it was hot that early in the season and by 10:00 all movement was over till evening.
I was in the first truck, and just as we got to the gate separating public from private land, three dandy muleys in velvet (all bucks were in velvet that time of the year) jumped across the road in front of the truck, and down the mountain. As someone got out to open the gate, I jumped down and told John that I’d hunt here. I’d come all this way to hunt bucks, and here were three. Why go any further?
The old timers in the trucks snickered politely at the young guy who wanted out. “Dave, I’ve got a great stand for you, so get back in the truck” John said. But I insisted that this would be fine, and John reluctantly relented. “OK Dave, but be at the gate by 10 A. M. sharp. Don’t get lost and don’t be late.” They were still laughing at the neophyte as the trucks went through the gate.
In the dead silence that followed, as I closed the gate, I wondered if indeed I was being foolish. Well, no matter, I was here, so down the mountain I went. John told me that there would be sagebrush and scattered pines the first third of the way down, then big timber thereafter.
I slowly descended until I hit the big timber, as dawn peaked through the trees. I then paralleled the mountain along the edge of the timber, glassing the sagebrush ahead. Around 7:30, I spotted some movement about 200 yards away. There they were. The same three bucks we’d seen on top, feeding slowly in my direction. They all were dandy bucks, and I watched them for a few minutes, then moved up the sagebrush to a point where I thought I=d have a chance at an ambush.
The wind was perfect, cool air going down the mountain. At 100 yards two of the bucks headed straight down the mountain, and one of those was the biggest of the bunch. But the third buck slowly fed in my direction. I knelt behind a small spruce and waited. Remember this was a time when there were no compounds, and I was shooting my old Bear Kodiak recurve, instinctively.
My arrows were three fletched with white feathers (I still shoot three fletch white feathers) and tipped with Zwickey broadheads. When the buck went behind a tree at twenty-five yards, I came to full draw. He came out slightly quartering toward me, and not knowing any better, I shot. You guessed it, the arrow entered behind the shoulder, caught the back of one lung, the liver and the stomach. He turned and ran out a trail paralleling the big timber. It was fairly open and I watched him run for 100 yards, then slowly walk another 300 yards before he entered a wooded ravine.
The excitement was more than this ole country boy could bear, so I laid down and waited 45 minutes. The blood trail was scant, but his tracks were evident on the trail in the dry dust. Every ten yards or so I’d find some blood, but it didn’t look promising. When I got to the big timber, heavily used cattle and deer trails went everywhere (I was on public land and cattle could legally be grazed there). With no blood and lots of deer tracks, I had no idea which trail the buck took, so I methodically went out each trail for 200 yards, then returned, dropped down to the next trail and followed it.
This went on for an hour, then suddenly, and luckily, there he was. This mule deer wasn’t the biggest buck on the mountain, but he would make Pope and Young, and I was thrilled. I quickly gutted the buck, put out some orange flagging and headed up the mountain for the gate. I arrived fifteen minutes early, and laid down to rest.
When the trucks and the hunters arrived, I opened that gate, and when John said, “Hop in.” I told him I needed help. “John, I shot one of those big bucks we saw this morning and need help getting him out.” The guys in the back of the truck acted like they didn’t hear me. Truth was, they didn’t believe me. So, when John gave me that questioning look, I reiterated that I’d killed a buck and needed help getting him to the truck. This time the guys heard me and several jumped out to help. When I told them the details, ten or so, and John, followed me back down the mountain to the buck. John quickly quartered the tagged buck, caped out the head and shoulders, and everyone grabbed some of the meat and up we came. I shouldered the head and cape. Yes, I was a proud bowhunter.
I spent the rest of the week tagging behind John, helping hunter’s blood trail deer, and making new friends. John Rook from Ohio was in that camp. He had a patch over his eye, and that gave him a unique look. I believe he’d lost it getting kicked by a horse, but I’m not sure. I do know that a few years later John lost sight in his other eye, and over the next thirty years, we became good friends. John was one amazing bowhunter and since he became blind, he has taken many Pope and Young animals with his recurve. It’s true, and another story. John was an inspiration to many and his recent passing leaves a hole in bowhunting that will never be replaced. He was special.
I also got to know Don Clark and Bob Shissler from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and near the end of the week they told me that they were part of a group of bowhunters, including a guy named M. R. James, who were going to publish a new bowhunter magazine. On the last day of the hunt, they asked me if I might be interested in doing some writing for their new magazine. It seems that they wanted a wildlife person with bowhunting experience to add that perspective.
And so it was that when I got home I sent them a sample of my writing. It was bad, but they liked it and hired me. I brought in my twin brother to help and we wrote a column called Woodlands and Wildlife. After a few years, Bill dropped out, and I continued doing the column by myself.
Getting that buck was a thrill, but it also allowed me to meet the bowhunters in the camp because I wasn’t sitting tree stands all day. That buck kicked off my career in outdoor writing, and from there I was asked to serve on the National Bowhunter Education Foundation Board, and several other volunteer organizations. My volunteer work on behalf of hunting continued, and my outdoor writing career did as well. Both grew over the years, and as I write this, it is my 41st years with Bowhunter magazine. So now you know why this was the most important hunt of my life. Thru that buck, doors opened up that I didn’t even know existed. It literally changed my life, added memories that gave my existence meaning. And, yes, opened up new hunting opportunities that I could have never had without him. Since that time I’ve taken many bigger animals, but none meant as much to me as that velvet-antlered muley, from the Book Cliffs of Colorado.
The men who created Bowhunter magazine were special people. Over the years I’ve worked for three editors, M. R. James, Dwight Schuh, and Curt Wells. I know many writers who would kill to write for these men on a regular basis. But I’ve also worked with a number of wonderful staff out of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania office. Everyone has always been professional, courteous, patient, and helpful.
As I noted above, that hunt led to lots of volunteer work on behalf of hunting. I always looked at the volunteer work I did on various pro-hunting, conservation boards, as a way to give back to bowhunting. I was able to use my knowledge of wildlife, conservation, and the anti-hunting movement, to write and work on these boards for the good of bowhunting.
God blessed me with two great careers. A wildlife professor for 30 years, and an outdoor writer for at least 42 years (and counting). I owe this buck a lot. I owe the folks at Bowhunter magazine a lot as well. They are the very best. Always were, still are.
Note: Don Clark not only was a great bowhunter and one of the original founders of Bowhunter Magazine but also instrumental in founding of the Archery Hall of Fame: Sadly, Don passed away March, 17, 2013: My Friend, Don Clark
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. David Samuel spent 30 years as a professor of wildlife management at West Virginia University. He is now in his 44th year with Bowhunter Magazine, where his Know Hunting column still appears. He currently writes the Know Whitetails column for the Whitetail Journal, The Future of Hunting column on www.bowhunting.net and writes a weekly outdoor column for WV newspapers. His activities on behalf of wildlife are diverse: from initiating the West Virginia Bowhunter Education Program to helping get bowhunting legalized in many European and African countries.
He has won honored lifetime achievement awards from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, the Wildlife Society, the Quality Deer Management Association, and Whitetails Unlimited. He is in the SCI Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame, and his greatest honor was being inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 2007. He has written 9 books, with his three most recent books being Whitetail Advantage, Whitetail Racks, and the one being presented here, An Empty Quiver – A Lifetime of Bowhunting Adventures. You can find the table of contents for the two whitetail books, and get autographed copies of all three of these books on Dr. Dave’s website, www.knowhunting.com.
For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel