NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE

Bowen bags 18-point buck of a lifetime

By DARRYL WILLIAMS

District Conservationist

USDA NRCS, Crestview

My definition of hunting is applying the fair chase doctrine when pursing game. The Boone and Crockett Club defines it as “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”

Frank Bowen exemplifies this hunting ethic. When it comes to hunting, there is no substitute for experience and Bowen has decades. A truly experienced hunter has these traits, or he or she would not be a successful and long-time hunter.

If you talk with Frank, you will quickly learn he shares his knowledge freely through very detailed and colorful stories, describing a particular hunt. Of course, you better have the time to talk hunting because he certainly has plenty of stories to share, and everyone who has met him knows he is the consummate story teller around the Laurel Hill community. 

Recently, I asked Frank at what age he started hunting and he said he took a wild hog when he was 8 years old while hunting with a friend. Of course, he was very excited and couldn’t wait to get home and share his excitement with his family. He told his granddad about his first kill and then he was told to clean it. He thought for a few seconds and then asked how do you clean it? He granddad told him he’d figure it out, which he did. Ever since, he’s been hooked on hunting.

As a Laurel Hill native, hunting for him is part of his heritage and lifestyle. Wild game has been an important food source for his family for generations. His son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and other family members follow in his footsteps. He has taught them how to scout, plant food plots, study wildlife movements, follow a blood trail, and all about processing game for the dinner table.

The big one

Now for the story on this year’s biggest buck harvest. You see, Frank missed a giant buck last hunting season which he said was the result of a bad scope. He decided that he would hunt this trophy until he got him in his hands.

He got in the stand before daylight that fateful morning, hoping the deer would show up. 

“When it got light enough, he was out in the green field eating. I couldn’t get a bullet into him fast enough!” Bowen said.

He shot this bruiser at 96 yards and this giant came in with 18 points and weighed in at 180 pounds. The green measurement score was 170 and the buck was estimated to be 7- to 7.5-years old. For North Okaloosa County, a buck of this caliber is rarely harvested – or should I say – made known. Mission accomplished!

I asked, “Well Frank, how do you describe this hunt, which is a buck of a lifetime for many?” 

“Pure luck,” he replied with a chuckle. Sure, enough he did put his new scope (a Vortex Hog Hunter line optic with a red dot) to the test. 

After the shot, he sat back and thought about the shot placement. He picked up his rifle to look through the scope for his deer and noticed he didn’t have the red dot on. It was the biggest buck he ever shot and he didn’t have the red dot on. He added that the scope was meant to help him with his bad eyesight, and now we are back to his “pure luck” theory. Frank told me this story with a lot of animation and laughter in a way that only Frank can incorporate in a story.

Bowen has accomplished much with his determination and grit to finish a task and bring a smile to all who have heard his story. It is a fact that a good hunter has the experience, the patience, and finally the persistence to bag a buck of a lifetime in his own backyard. Congratulations, Frank!

Frank Bowen of Laurel Hill nabbed this 18-point, 180-pound buck from 96 yards.

Frank Bowen of Laurel Hill nabbed this 18-point, 180-pound buck from 96 yards.

WHERE IS THAT TURKEY LURKING?

A couple of Panhandle long beards unknowingly strut into range.

A couple of Panhandle long beards unknowingly strut into range.

Hunters should master the call early

There are plenty of turkeys in our area that were spotted during deer season. Public land hunts should be better than average this season and private land hunts will be excellent.

Let’s break down turkey hunting into two categories: preseason issues, and what to expect when the season arrives. Hopefully this article will help you increase your turkey hunting success.

PRESEASON

First, let’s focus on pre-spring turkey season must-dos. Long before Day One of turkey season arrives, the successful turkey hunters are practicing their calling abilities with a variety of instruments. Box calls, slate calls, and mouth calls are all effective. Some of the veteran turkey hunters that I talk to use a variety of calls when chasing after the elusive bird. 

Practicing with each device will increase your confidence and your ability to “sweet talk” big boy into range for a clean kill shot. Each sound that a hen or gobbler makes during the mating season can be reproduced on any of the calls. 

At this point, I need to bring to your attention that there are some other calls that are used by turkey hunters. These are simply known as the shock calls. A big gobbler will reveal his location by gobbling at other animals. When my uncle wanted to locate a gobbler, he would use a shock call. An owl, crow, young gobbler and even a peacock call was used to mark the bird’s whereabouts. 

From my perspective, having a plethora of calls and practicing diligently with all of them will greatly increase your chances of a successful turkey hunt. Just make sure to take all your calls with you on the hunt and make sure they don’t rattle around in your pockets!

SCOUTING

Now that the season has begun, let’s talk about dealing with scouting and some techniques that you may have used in your arsenal. How do you find out where the turkeys are calling home? You need to look and listen for clues that tell you where they roost, feed and also the areas they travel to and from. 

Tracks in the fields and roads will give you a starting place. Turkeys will fly to roost every evening. They will usually go to roost in pine trees on the lower branches. When you find the tracks in the road or in the field you need to figure out if they are leading to the roost or to the food. The idea is to hear them but to remain undetected by the birds. 

When trying to find the turkeys, I would much rather find their roosting spot than where they are feeding. One technique used in trying to find a roosting spot is to quietly slip into an area about an hour before dark and sit down. Eventually the turkeys will fly up to roost. Then wait until dark and slip back out of the area.

Turkey hunting is a sport that will get your blood pumping. It is a sport that will put your calling prowess to the test. I highly recommend you give it a try. 

Until next time, God bless and good, safe hunting.