It seemed that Tony and I had been sitting in the blind for a very long time when the doe came slowly down the draw to the waterhole. As Tony fired up the camera and I started to draw I thought to myself, ” Finally, after four long hunts the Bad Penny is going to have a chance to get the job done.”
This story started over a year ago when my son Joe met Tony at an apartment fire. Joe is a Fort Worth fireman and Tony was in the process of cooking some backstrap when he had a small kitchen fire. Fortunately everything turned out well with little damage to the apartment. Joe called me as soon as they returned to the station and told me about the fire and that “the guy that lives there has targets, mounts, bows and every kind of bow hunting equipment imaginable.” Turns out that Tony is Tony Dukes of RED, WHITE, BLUE OUTDOORS. He has hunted all over the world and has collected nearly every animal there is to hunt. He also coordinates, films and produces hunting shows with returning veterans, firefighters and law enforcement personnel. As time went by and I got to know him I found that Tony is more dedicated to serving his fellow man people than anyone I have ever met.
While visiting with Tony some time later Joe mentioned that I had served in Vietnam and am an E.M.T. and volunteer firefighter. Soon thereafter Tony called and ask if I would like to join him and another veteran on an axis hunt at the ranch near Mason. Of course I accepted and then couldn’t sleep until we left. Was I ready? You bet! I had my new Bowtech Tribute, my Carbon Express arrows, my Magnus Stingers and all the other gear that I felt I needed for a hunting trip with the big boys. I even had Nikon binoculars and rangefinder and my Predator camo outfit. After all, if this hunt was going on a T.V. show I had to have all the right stuff. At least that was what I told my wife.
The hunt was great! Great food, great companionship, and a good place to stay. The only problem was we saw a lot of great white tails but only one axis and he was never in range. Fortunately the other vet did get his buck on the last evening of the hunt so we did get some good pictures.
A couple of months later Tony called. “Art, we’ve got to get you on film so I’ve got another hunt set up at the Blue Mountain Peak Ranch near Brady. Richard and Shirley have donated the hunts on their new ranch. Do you think you can make it?” Hey, I was ready to go before he hung up.
Since Tony had to pick up a Master Sergeant that had been wounded in Iraq and would meet us later, Rex Downing, Tony’s cameraman and good friend and I drove to the ranch and met with Shirley the owner’s wife. She showed us where the lodge was and told us to make our selves at home. After leaving our gear in the lodge we scouted the area and found that one of four blinds that were set up had a lot of fresh sign. We decided to let Tony and the MSgt. have that blind and Rex and I would hunt the others. So, for the next four days Rex and I sat in our Double Bull blind and saw absolutely nothing. The Tony and Msgt. saw some great deer and had a couple of shots but missed. On the last evening just before dark Rex and I saw a great buck on the other side of the fence. It was 114 yards which is just a little too far for me so we sat at watched. That buck just stood there, looked over the fence and grazed until it was too dark to shoot. Talk about adding insult to injury.
By now my patience is wearing a little thin and I don’t think I’m going to be able to help Tony get anything on film. However Tony keeps telling me, “Have patience, keep the faith and something good will happen.”
Some time later Troy and Lorri Reeves, one of Joe’s friends who own Boulder T Exotics at the I.O. Ranch near Throckmorton donated two turkey and hog hunts to Tony. By now I think Tony was either feeling sorry for me or was worried about his reputation as a hunter and guide so he ask me to come along. C.D. Holley was the cameraman with me this trip as Tony was working with the Special Forces Sgt. Major who had come with us. Troy has some nice exotics on his ranch but as my luck would have it C.D. and I hunted hard all day but never saw hide, hair nor feather. See a pattern here beginning to emerge here? I’ve earned the nickname of “Bad Penny” nickname by now, Rex makes fun of my hunting skills and my son and grandson are accusing me of putting a hex on our hunts. However I know if I just hang in there and be patient sooner or later some good luck will come my way.
Some very nice folks at the MC Longwater ranch near Richland Springs donated a two-day turkey hunt to Tony and he was sure that we would be able get a turkey on film. The ranch is in some beautiful country with large trees and lush green meadows. We patiently sat in our Double Bull blind all day and late in the afternoon had a tom come calling. He gobbled and strutted but never slowed down as he passed by just out of range. He was still gobbling as he went out of sight over the hill behind us. The next morning we set up in a beautiful little valley full of grass and ringed in trees. As the mist formed and then dissipated it brought back some memories of the pretty part of Vietnam. Well, those memories were all we got on that trip because we didn’t see another animal all day.
By now I felt like Tony figured out that I wasn’t going to be able to help him and he would write me off as a lost cause. Boy was I wrong. He had the faith. He knew that with patience, that we could have a successful hunt and the patients it takes to accomplish it.
So later that year when Tony called and told me that Matt Burrows of Sticks & Strings Outfitters had scheduled an antelope hunt for us the next month I felt much better. He told me, “It’s near Melstone, Montana and we are going to hunt until we get something on film. This ‘Bad Penny’ thing has got to end.” So what else could I do but accept?
Since Tony needed to return to Fort Worth as soon as the hunt was over we decided that he and I would drive to Montana and he would fly home from Billings. My wife would fly into Billings and then she and I could take the vacation that we had been putting off for a long time.
Upon arrival in Melstone after a long two days drive and a blown out tire, (bad omen I thought) we met our cook and followed him out to the ranch. We were hunting with Grizz of Rawhide Outfitters out of White Sulpher, Montana.
They lease a large area Northeast of Melstone during the antelope season strictly for bow hunting. We were to hunt waterholes using the blinds Tony had shipped to Grizz prior to the season. Since it is usually hot and dry waterholes makes good since. But when we got there the temperature dropped and there was rain in the forecast. (Another bad omen I thought.)
Author poses with Tony Duke and his ‘lope.
On the first day we sat at a small waterhole situated on the downside of hill. We had our backs to the draw running into the water and could see over the dam into the distance. During the day we watched pronghorns move in the distance and enjoyed the company of a muskrat that lived in the pond. He would swim around and nibble on reeds that grew on the edge but when a hawk flew over he was gone. At one time a little herd of small does came in to drink but since it was the first day we passed on them. Late in the afternoon I happened to catch movement behind us and watched a large buck cross the hill. Later he came down the draw to drink. In order to get a shot we were scrambling around trying to open the blind enough for me to shoot and for Tony to be able to film the shot. When the time came to shoot I think I had one knee on the ground, one foot on the chair, one arm wrapped around the camera tripod and the other hanging out of the blind. Needless to say I missed but only by inches. But since we’re not playing hand grenades or horseshoes it didn’t count. The buck ran off a little ways and then slowly worked his way back up the hill and out of sight. By now I’m thinking “Here I go again” but Tony told me to “have patience, we’ll have another chance.”
The next day brought cold weather and a very good chance of rain. In that country when it rains the dirt roads don’t get slick they get gummy. The mud sticks to the tires and completely fills the fender wells so that steering is impossible. About noon our guide drove up and told us to load up because we were going to the house unless we wanted to spend the night in the blind. That was a no brainer. So back to the camp we went. When I woke up during the night it was still raining and I started having bad thoughts again. We had driven 1392.1 miles to get here and now we were going to get rained out. I was in dire need of some of Tony’s’ faith.
The next morning brought cloudy skies but the rain had stopped and Grizz allowed that it would be dry enough to hunt that afternoon. Sure enough after lunch we took off and got to hunt till dark. We still hadn’t seen anything close enough to shoot but I was beginning to feel better about our chances.
Before we went to bed we decided we to hunt a different waterhole in hopes that the goats (as they call pronghorn up there) would be there. Sure enough they were. We watch quite a few but they would never come in to drink, they were just traveling through. The most exciting thing that happened was when a little bird that was being chased by a hawk flew into the blind and hit me square in the chest. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the bird or me. I was just glad that the hawk didn’t follow him in.
Grizz said that he had seen some good bucks at a different location on the ranch so the next day Tony and I were dropped off about a half-mile from the blind and slowly worked our way up a draw and around the dam of the waterhole. We had been there quite a while when two great bucks come toward us, one from the right and the other from the left. I was worried that when they saw each other neither one would come in to drink and I said so to Tony. That’s when I learned that there is another tool that good hunters need besides patience, perseverance, and faith. It’s a positive attitude. Tony let me know in no uncertain terms that you do not think negative thoughts while hunting because it will affect the outcome. And it did. Both bucks stood around sizing each other up and then walked off, never coming close to the water. Boy did I ever feel like an idiot. Here I had the chance of a lifetime and blew it. But again Tony said, “Have patience.”
Grizz congratulates a happy ‘Bad Penny; Art.
When we saw the doe coming down the draw I can guarantee that I didn’t think anything but very positive thoughts. I pictured her walk to the water, taking a drink and giving me a good shot. And that is exactly what she did. After I shot she wheeled and ran up the side of the waterhole with blood pumping out her side with every step. I watched her as she slowed to a walk, then to a wobble and then went down. Needless to say Tony and I were ecstatic. I’m not sure which of us was more excited. Tony, because he had every bit of it on film or me because I had finally been able to have a successful hunt.
Art takes a great buck to cap a perfect hunt.
Now that I knew that faith, patience, a positive mental attitude and the will to persevere are as important tools as quality hunting equipment the next day was the icing on the cake. Since we knew that there were good bucks in the area we returned to the same blind. Sure enough a nice buck came down the draw to the same spot as the doe had the day before. I took a deep breath, drew and released and had what we had set out for nearly a year ago, a successful hunt and a show for Tony’s program.
That evening after our animals were processed we drove up to Roy Campbell’s’ shop in Lewistown, Montana. Roy owns Central Montana Taxidermy and had seen Tony’s show and was so impressed by what Tony does for veterans that he offered to donate a mount for Tony. The mounts in Rosy’ shop were beautiful and when he delivered mine in May I was very pleased.
The next day Tony and I bid farewell to Grizz and his crew and drove to Billings. Tony flew back to Fort Worth, my wife joined me and we continued on for the rest of our vacation.
So what have I learned from this experience? That there are some very unselfish people out there that care deeply about their fellow man and that it takes more than good equipment to be a successfully hunter.