by Fred Eichler
I am often asked my opinion on what the most challenging animal to hunt with a traditional bow is. It is not an easy answer. I have had some hunts where the most difficult animal to hunt were the ones everyone told me would be easy. Caribou for example have been super tough for me in the past simply because I didn’t time the migration and the caribou were as scarce as hen’s teeth. It is hard to shoot something that is not there.
So the word challenging can mean a lot of different things to different people based on personal experience. A species that may seem like a relatively easy one to harvest one day may be super difficult the next. Lady luck sometimes plays a factor on hunts as does Murphy’s Law. For example, Antelope hunting is easy if you hunt an area with limited waterholes and the weather is hot.
If a hunter goes antelope hunting on a week where there is excess water or it happens to rain that hunter could sit a week without having an antelope come within good binocular range. Those two hunters would have very different opinions on the difficulty level of antelope hunting.
It seems I often have challenging hunts in locations where everybody tells me it is going to be a super easy hunt and things just don’t turn out that way. Like the Sitka blacktail hunt in Alaska with my good friend Mike Palmer a few years back. We left with high expectations of harvesting Sitka blacktail. I even purchased 3 tags because everyone I talked to said it was a super easy hunt and that the blacktails would be everywhere. Turns out the island we hunted had been hammered by the locals and a freak snowstorm left huge drifts that made it tough to get around. Needless to say neither of us shot a deer on that trip and I only spotted one buck that managed to elude me despite the deep snow we were both struggling with.
Sometimes I read articles or watch TV shows where I am convinced I am just a bad hunter because sometimes others make it look easy. I cut my teeth watching Larry Jones and Dwight Schuh on VHS tapes where Larry would shoot Roosevelt elk at spitting distance. My success rate on public land Roosevelt is one out of four. Talk about taking a guy down a few notches.
I am not complaining mind you. I love bowhunting and it doesn’t take an animal harvested for me to count a hunt as successful. However, if I was completely honest, I do occasionally use success, shot opportunities or lack thereof as a barometer of how good a hunt is.
I go on some hunts that I expect to be tough. Coues deer for example is one that I go on and fully expect not to get something. When I do it is a huge bonus.
I should probably switch my way of thinking and always plan on not harvesting an animal on any hunt I go on but my optimistic nature just won’t let me do that. The hunts where everyone says it’s soooo easy and the description I get is, “It’s just like shooting fish in a barrel” are the type hunts that when I leave empty handed I feel like a goober.
Sometimes hunts are challenging due to weather conditions like on my blacktail hunt. I have also been on hunts where terrain or lack of cover made getting in close to an animal dangerous or difficult. Public land hunts can also be challenging due to both hunting pressure and other hunters. I have even had four-legged predators blow stalks for me that seemed like a done deal.
So for my simple answer to the question, what is the most challenging species to hunt with a traditional bow? For me, my answer is all the species of sheep. Mostly because of the difficulty getting to where sheep live and because once you get there the cover is usually sparse. They are also sharp-eyed and sheep avoid predators by going to even rougher country that is often impossible to follow them into.
My more complex answer on the most challenging species would be all the animals I was told would be easy that didn’t end up that way. I hope I am not alone in my feelings of ineptitude on hunts that no one seems to have trouble with but me. If I am alone and no one else has had tough hunts for so-called “easy” animals to hunt like javelina, caribou, Sitka blacktail, Kansas whitetails or spring black bear, please don’t tell me.
As my wife often says to me when I have a confused look on my face when I don’t understand something, “Ignorance is bliss.”