05 June



Meet Patrick Fitzmorris, Project Leader- Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge


I was fortunate to have spent the opening three days of our 2024 Turkey season with the new manager of our Dale Bumpers White/ River National Wildlife Refuge, Patrick Fitzmorris. I learned that Pat brings a diverse and valuable background to his position as the recently appointed refuge manager. His experience working in refuges across the US, including with black brants in Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and at the Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota's "duck factory" region, made him a natural candidate to lead a nationally known waterfowl refuge like our Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge.

What was really cool that I found out about Pat was that, before his work within the refuge system, 
Patrick's passion for duck hunting led him to work as a biologist for Ducks Unlimited, where he dedicated seven years of service. Additionally, Patrick spent eleven years managing a state Deer Association, where he played a crucial role in fundraising efforts and coordinating volunteer initiatives.

It is also comforting to note that Pat, as an avid hunter, has consistently advocated for hunting and fishing opportunities for the general public. Pat said, “We are land stewards, and that respect and care for public lands is why I got into this profession. I value public lands, fish, wildlife, and habitat more than I can explain. Trying to make a difference in outdoor recreation and providing that experience is what I’m all about. I think the vast amounts of public land in the U.S. are what make America great! Providing hunting and fishing opportunities is in our mission statement, and protecting wild lands and abundant wildlife is essential to the quality of life in America.”


During his short time as manager of our refuge, Patrick has successfully collaborated with volunteer organizations dedicated to public land stewardship, like the Arkansas chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Friends of the Refuge. His background in working with private non-profits has proven to be a valuable asset in fostering these partnerships.

Patrick acknowledges that balancing the need to protect and conserve the refuge’s habitat and its wildlife for future generations while maximizing outdoor opportunities for today's sportsmen can be challenging. Having a degree in wildlife management will only get you so far when heading the largest and most popular wildlife refuge in the state, as it is more about managing the public than managing wildlife.

There has been a lot of buzz around some state-level hunting regulation changes for 2024, and some refuge users have questioned how it might affect the rules on Dale Bumpers

White River National Wildlife Refuge. As most know, the refuge, following its more restrictive wildlife refuge mandate, may or may not follow state regulations. To get the refuge facts, I reached back out to Pat to get the skinny on how these new state rules might affect the refuge regulations this year.

1. Spinning Wing Decoys: Though state WMAs are going to allow them, the refuge will NOT.


2. Straight-Walled Cartridges: Straight-walled cartridges will not be permitted during the refuge's muzzleloader hunts.


3. Maximum Size of UTVs: The maximum size of UTVs is increasing from 1550 lbs dry weight to 1750 lbs dry weight, allowing most 4-seat SXSs. We have had a lot of requests for this and have decided to allow larger UTVs.


4. Take of Feral Hogs: For all those who have said “Huh?” when told you could NOT shoot a hog during early bow season, the refuge will allow the take of feral hogs during any BIG GAME season. Previously, you could only take feral hogs from November 1 on. Now, you can take them anytime archery deer season is open, as well as during the modern gun and muzzleloader seasons.


5. Afternoon Scouting for Ducks: Afternoon scouting for ducks will NOT be allowed.

04 July

America's Greatest Conservation Program May Soon Die.


Congress is on track to kill off the most effective conservation program in American history.  The Land and Water Conservation Fund. (LWCF) Over the past fifty-two years this behind the scenes program has protected over seven million acres of wildlands and recreational areas for wildlife and
outdoor loving Americans.

Say you've never heard of the LWCF?  The fact that the program operates quietly behind the scenes without fanfare and recognition puts it at risk.  So it's important you know the program's history, funding,  and just how incredibly effective it has been as a conservation tool.

Here's a primer: In 1964,  Congress, yielding to pressure from the oil and gas industry struck a deal  to open America’s fragile offshore areas for drilling. In exchange, the oil companies agreed to pay a royalty on the oil and gas they produced. Much the same way they pay private landowners, but in this case, the “deal” was with public landowners, the American people. It was a publicly supported solution that, in more civil political times, had bipartisan support in Congress.

The deal, a straightforward and pragmatic trade-off, was to utilize revenues from the depletion of one natural resource, in this case offshore
photo: DOI
oil and gas, to purchase and preserve natural habitats like those found within our national parks and wildlife refuges.  As a royalty, not an income tax,  it rises and falls with energy production. Energy companies liked it because they only pay for what they bring to market, and American taxpayers liked it because it required no additional income tax.

As the principal funding source for federal land acquisitions and grants that support state and local recreation needs, the LWCF has provided lasting tangible results benefiting every Arkansan. So much so that EVERY county in Arkansas has a state or local park project, either by acquisition or development,  that has been funded by the LWCF.  From sportsmen utilizing the waterfowl-rich habitat of Cache River
Of the 500 plus refuges across the U.S.,  Cache River Refuge is one of 
the refuge systems highest priorities for LWCF investment.
photo: Jim Taylor
Wildlife Refuge, to families picnicking in the green grasses of Burns Park, to romantics witnessing sunsets on the blue waters of Degray lake, we've all benefited from the LWCF.

Yet sadly, this important conservation program has come under increasing attacks. Each year Congress pilfers and plunders this fund by diverting most of the 900 million dollars in royalties it collects toward uses other than for what was intended. Worse yet, Congress, under continued pressure from the oil lobbyist they depend on for campaign money is on track to renege on the 52-year-old agreement entirely. (Energy companies forked over a whopping 25 million dollars to sway congressional members last year!) Without action by Congress to renew the program, it will die on September 30, 2018.

Think about it.   As a land-owner, how upset would you be to have an oil company negotiate a deal to drill on your property, strike oil, promise you compensation,  then renege on your promised royalty payments? In slick, ruthless oil baron fashion, this is exactly how our parks, wildlife refuges and the outdoor loving American public are being swindled.

Hunting is permitted on most public wildlands purchased with LWCF money.
photo: usfws
Broken promises in Washington are nothing new. But this is one promise we must hold them to. I say, so long as offshore wells and drilling remain, royalties should be collected as originally promised and utilized for the establishment and protection of our ever diminishing habitats by means of national wildlife refuges, national parks, and other public wild-land programs.  All who cherish Arkansas's wildlife; all who hunt, fish, hike, bike, and bird watch should take action now and urge your congressman to support full funding and permanent reauthorization of the LWCF before it's too late. 

 http://bit.ly/2Q2uzUb



Author- Jim Taylor, AWF Board member, public land advocate, and bow- hunter. Jim often shares his thoughts on conservation, public lands, and bowhunting in Arkansas through his blog at www.BowhunterChronicles.com


1. Act was passed in 1965. http://lwcfcoalition.org/about-lwcf.html
2. Center for Responsive Politics, Top Interest Groups Giving to Members of Congress, 2016 Cycle https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/mems.php?party=A&cycle=2016



Learn more
Federal Funding for Conservation Programshttp://www.rff.org/files/sharepoint/WorkImages/Download/RFF-BCK-ORRG_LWCF.pdf
http://lwcfcoalition.org/about-lwcf.html


14 January

NRA vs Hunters

Hunting writer Bobb Robb recently ranked the NRA as "number one" on his list of "Top 10 Pro-Hunting organizations"?  Yes, even ahead DU, Safari Club, Boone & Crockett,  and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  

The NRA is the nation's premier gun lobby organization. They deserve a HELLUVA lot of credit where credit is due....but NOT as our nation's #1 Pro-Hunting group.  Over the years I've watched the NRA morph into something most hunters can't even recognize anymore.  Pro-gun they are, and I'm thankful for them, but they long ago stopped lobbying on behalf of hunters, wildlife conservation, and the public lands in which we pursue our sport.

In the South, we cherish our guns like family heirlooms. But the reality is, most guns(aside from your CCP pocket pistol), would likely just sit gathering dust without the wild places in which to hunt with them.  For that reason, we must also remember to support true pro-hunting/conservation groups that aggressively advocate for wildlife, conservation, and habitat in which that wildlife lives.

As the NRA has become more narrowly focused they no longer offer one-stop shopping for hunters wishing to donate money for their hunting related causes.   Sure, support the NRA.  But if you also care about wild places and want a place to hunt with your guns,  you can't call it "one and done" by donating to the NRA.     There are many fine hunting organizations battling for wildlife, habitat and conservation causes that need your help too.  Some well know groups I also support are Back Country Hunters & Anglers, DU, & Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  Support em!




09 January

Arkansas' Top 25 Public Deer Lands

Wattensaw WMA- Number 15 on the list.
Can you name Arkansas' most productive public hunting area?  I analyzed AGFC's deer harvest data from all 131  wildlife management areas(WMA) and national wildlife refuges(NWR).   Rather than just looking at the total deer taken,  I compared each WMA's deer harvest numbers to the total land area within each WMA to arrive at a “harvest per square mile” ratio.   This enabled me to find the true producers among Arkansas'  public deer hunting lands.

Arkansas Public Land Deer 
First I focused on popular  WMA's and NWR's of at least 5,000  acres in size.  I then ranked/sorted them in order of the most productive deer producers in the chart below. This is a more reliable method of comparing deer hunting productivity of public lands than just looking at the total number of deer taken.  For example, a hunter might be initially impressed by the 807 whitetails harvested this season on  White River National Wildlife Refuge,  until you consider its vast expanse.   Its 250 square miles gives it a harvest ratio of 3.2,  which is slightly better than the state WMA average but puts the refuge in the bottom spot on our 2016 list of top 25 deer hunting lands in Arkansas.

Like it has for many of the previous seasons, the primitive weapons-only area of  Trusten Holder reigns supreme as Arkansas's most productive public land for deer hunting.   At 9.9 deer harvested per square mile,  Trusten Holder is 4.5 times more productive than the average 2.2 deer bagged per square mile on public hunting lands within the state. 

**Gene Rush WMA located near Jasper  was vaulted to the number 2 position due to more liberal rules imposed after the discovery of CWD in that area.  I dont look for it to last at this position.



Rank Management Areas Harvest YTD WMA in Acres Harvest Per Square Mile
1 Trusten Holder WMA 126 8,173 9.9
2 Gene Rush WMA 303 19,944 9.7
3 Freddie Black Choctaw Island WMA (East &West units) 94 9,501 6.3
4 Moro Big Pine Natural Area WMA 158 16,000 6.3
5 Ed Gordon Point Remove WMA 85 8,694 6.3
6 Lafayette County WMA 139 16,739 5.3
7 Holla Bend NWR 58 7,057 5.3
8 U of A Pine Tree Experimental Station WDA 95 11,850 5.1
9 Fort Chaffee WMA 477 66,000 4.6
10 DeGray Lake WMA 100 14,000 4.6
11 Cache River NWR 482 68,000 4.5
12 Big Timber WMA 291 41,111 4.5
13 Pond Creek NWR 189 27,000 4.5
14 Rex Hancock Black Swamp WMA 49 7,221 4.3
15 Mike Freeze Wattensaw WMA 123 19,184 4.1
16 Petit Jean River WMA 99 15,502 4.1
17 Poison Springs WMA 138 22,162 4.0
18 Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMA 108 17,524 3.9
19 Beaver Lake WMA 48 8,007 3.8
20 Harold E. Alexander Spring River WMA 81 13,939 3.7
21 W.E. Brewer Scatter Creek WMA 29 5,002 3.7
22 Norfork Lake WMA 56 10,000 3.6
23 Wedington WMA 83 16,000 3.3
24 Casey Jones WMA 277 54,066 3.3
25 Dale Bumpers White River NWR – North & South Units 807 160,000 3.2

 

22 November

Canned "hunts"- It Aint Hunting

Shooting an animal trapped inside a fence does not make you a hunter. 

You want to feed and raise a penned animal to kill and eat it?  Fine, I'm a meat eater too and won't be hypocritical. But like Stolen Valor, don't represent yourself as a hunter because you ain't worthy.   

As ethical, fair chase hunters who respect the game we pursue and the wild habitat in which they thrive, we should be enraged these for profit shooting operations continue to masquerade as "hunts".   Call em what they are; caged animal shoots. 


19 January

Our Public Wild-Lands Under Attack

Anti-government radicals have brought a lot of attention to our national wildlife refuges.  Armed with guns and a twisted agenda, they've taken over one of our nation’s oldest wildlife refuges, Malheur Refuge near Burns, Oregon.  With comical claims that it's illegal for the federal government to own land, they've vowed to remain until the refuge relinquishes ownership.
San Isabel National Forest- Colorado

I chuckle as the media  broadcasts the Bundy brigade's demands to have the refuge "returned to the people". Returned to who? I want to ask.  Bundy and his militia? For 107 years the refuge has belonged to all Americans. You, me and future generations of Americans. It is not their private land, never has been. These guys need a history lesson.

Caribou National Forest -Idaho 
Like most public lands in the West, the birth of Mahleur Refuge can be traced back to unclaimed federal land. Land so rugged, so economically un-viable and inhospitable, that the hardiest of settlers avoided it. Even when offered up free for the taking under the Homestead Act. So, in a story common to the birth of many refuges, this land offering no economic incentive to develop nor hope to profit from it, was left vacant and unwanted.

The concept of national wildlife refuges as a tool to protect wild habitats was first conceived in 1903 by one of our oldest hunting organizations, the venerable Boone and Crockett Club and its influential founder, Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt, an avid hunter, had witnessed the near extinction of American buffalo as well as wading birds decimated for their plumes. Demand for fashionable ladies hats combined with unregulated hunting meant that a safe-haven or " refuge" for wildlife was needed. From its 3 acre start with
Pelican Island in 1903, our system of refuges now protects a network of over 500 areas critical to wildlife from Key West to Kodiak.

Coeur d'Alene National Forest- Idaho
Roosevelt and fellow Boone and Crockett Club members had the rare ability to look beyond their generation.  Because of their forethought, modern sportsmen are able to experience these wild places much as they were 100 years ago. Intact and unspoiled.

Here in Arkansas our position within the Mississippi flyway has benefited us with the establishment of ten national wildlife refuges. Most protect dwindling bottomland forest and wetlands along flood prone rivers that serve as stop-over points for migratory waterfowl. Though they have a "wildlife first" mandate they  also provide some of the finest deer and duck hunting in the nation.

Uncompahgre National Forest- Colorado
Arkansas sportsmen may be quick to dismiss this call by armed radicals to turn over refuge lands so far away. We shouldn't. Because these homegrown terrorist, with their twisted ideologies, are hell-bent on slitting the throats of ALL public wild lands.

The attack on Mahleur, should be a wake up call. A warning, like the canary in the coal mine, to all sportsmen about this growing threat toward our public wild lands.

As America grows more crowded and disconnected from nature (94% of the US population lives in metropolitan areas) public lands will be increasingly vulnerable to changing  political winds, exploitation, and indifference.

National Forest Lands- Idaho
Public wild-lands need an enduring voice. Someone to step up and speak out against lawmakers who view our BLM lands, National Forests and Wildlife Refuges as a burden. Simply unused real-estate to be developed or resources extracted. A taxpayer asset to be divvied up and bargained away during elections.

Fortunately today's sportsmen remain the strongest advocate and best hope for securing the future of our public wild-lands. Any call to steal our public wild-lands from us will be met with overwhelming objection from those who revere it the most. The American sportsmen.

Jim Taylor

19 September

5 Tactics for Refuge Whitetails.

Urban hunting?...Not me. No way.

How about public land hunting in  41 or 103 acre WMAs?  Too confining for my sense of adventure. (Yes..Arkansas has a 41 acre WMA..See end note)

I positioned my stand near one 
of the refuges many ox-bow lakes to 
intercept this heavy racked 9 point. 
Tiny, claustrophobic  cubes of  remnant forests where slamming doors and  car horns drown out honking geese overhead have never appealed to me.    I want big.  I want wild.   I want big enough to get lost in.

THE BIG WOODS  CHALLENGE
As a hunter who obsesses over the adventure of the hunt more than the kill, I'm drawn to big forests devoid of artificial advantages created by man.

Like my self limiting bow and arrow, big forests also challenge me. That challenge, that slight edge retained by my quarry, is what lures me to return, with bow in hand each fall to the largest remaining tract of bottom land forest in Arkansas; the 160,000 acre river bottoms of the Dale Bumpers-White River National Wildlife Refuge

But big forests, not yet carved up or cleared by dozers and plows, can challenge modern day bowhunters. Without man-made funnel like effects of hedge rows, barb wire fences, agriculture field lines and corn piles....many simply don't know where to begin when faced with 160,000 acres of untamed river bottoms.

FIVE TACTICS I USE FOR REFUGE WHITETAILS
Any one tactic by itself could put a refuge whitetail in front of me ... but the more I combine into one stand location the better.  
Pinch point -North Unit of the refuge.
1. Locate natural "pinch points" and "bottle necks".  With over 300 lakes on the refuge, consult your topo map to zero in on natural pinch points created by lakes, streams and rivers that lay in close proximity. Locate your stand inside  these natural funnels to intercept traveling deer.

Lush vegetation along rivers edge.  
2. Hunt South Facing River Bluffs.  Natural forest openings carved out by the river allows sunlight to reach the forest floor 30 or 40 yards beyond the river bluff, especially those South facing. This natural occurring “edge effect” created by  bluff openings produces a never ending solar powered buffet of greenbrier, honeysuckle and other  browse for hungry whitetails.

3. Know Preferred Food Sources. 
Persimmons:  Silence interrupted by the sound of a ripe persimmon slapping down through overhead leaves as it torpedoes to a sugar bursting thud onto the ground beneath my treestand is the ultimate confirmation of my refuge setup.   If you're lucky to find one loaded down, (or even better, a group of them) you've got a hot spot.

Loaded Persimmon trees are favorite "hot-spots"
Overcup and Nuttall:   Few oak species are as well adapted to tolerate the seasonal flooding and poorly drained soils  within the refuge  as our Nuttall and Overcup.    Though  important fall food sources, they are so  abundant and wide spread that simply  finding  acorns under a tree won't guarantee you deer activity.   For example, the 2014 mast crop was huge,  I  easily located a  dozen Overcup  trees that had dropped so many acorns they made walking difficult.  Yet I  struggled  to find cracked acorn hulls, deer scat or tracks.  Then, in un-explained randomness,  the next Overcup
Overcup
tree I looked under was littered with feeding activity. What's up?   Deer are creatures of habit and security so I suspect that once they find a tree dropping acorns they utilize it to the exclusion of others, bedding near by and returning to eat at their leisure.

4. Ditch the Public Land Crowds. I'm amused by hunters who complain  about too many hunters  on public lands yet they never get the connection between roads and crowds.  For a host of reasons, these "average Joe hunters" never venture far from access roads and ATV trails.  Maybe it's  fear of getting lost, dread of packing an animal out, or general laziness.  Bottom line is, the further you distance yourself from access roads and ATV trails the more likely you will find undisturbed deer habitat.

5. Sit Tight.   If you hunt public lands it's inevitable, that in spite of your best pre-hunt planning  and scouting, you will sometimes find  yourself encroached by other hunters.  When it happens ... don't sweat it..  just sit tight.   Average hunters are too impatient to sit long.  Never confident in their stand selection, as daylight cracks they are soon out of their stands, aimlessly wandering and stirring up bedded midday deer that they never see..... right past your stand.

Good luck and enjoy your Big Woods  hunting adventure.

Jim Taylor


Three Arkansas based national wildlife refuges that are big enough to get lost in:
Dale Bumpers White River NWR- 160,000 acres
Cache River NWR- 67,000 acres
Felsenthal NWR- 65,000 acres


*Roth Prairie WMA- 41 acres. , Cedar Creek WMA 103 acres


21 August

I'm fast becoming a fan of Clay Hayes.

"I started this project in the spring of 2012 with the dream of changing the face of hunting media. I knew what I wanted to say; what I wanted to show and represent. What I never expected was the level of interest from both hunter and non-hunters alike for what I’d always felt was a minority interest – the simple, honest, and ethical hunt. The kind of hunt where things like woodsmandship, effort, and wildness – as opposed to record book status and mechanical advantage – take center stage. In other words, I wanted to show what hunting really is, or can be. I wanted this film to be the antitheses of mainstream hook and bullet media." Clay Hayes

His “Untamed” video debuted at the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Rendezvous in Denver. Since then, it’s toured around the US and Canada with the Hunting Film Tour. It’s also touring with the Outdoor Film Tour & Festival and received the Pope and Young award for best bowhunting film. Learn more about Clay and his work at www.twistedstave.com

22 May

Hunt out West? ...Your Public Lands Are in Jeapardy.

Hunt out West?

Hal Herring's latest article in Field & Stream exposes the truth behind a regurgitated effort by some members of congress  to "dispose of certain public lands".

I hunt out West and with few exceptions  always on public federal lands.  Transfer of national forests, or BLM lands to states and ultimately privatization would be catastrophic for public land hunters.

For the misguided  who argue that transferring to states would keep it public. Know this. States have neither the money nor immunity from the torrid of profiteers lying in wait  once this land is removed from federal  protection.  Want proof?

Hal notes: "Western states have been selling their lands since they were awarded them at statehood.

New Mexico has sold off 4 million of its original 13 million acres.

 Nevada, awarded 2.7 million acres at statehood, has 3000 acres left.

 Montana has sold 800,000 acres of state lands so far. Idaho has sold 1.2 million acres.

Colorado has sold 1.7 million acres.

Arizona has sold off 1.7 million acres. "

Not very reassuring.

Also:
"• In Colorado, 82% of existing STATE lands are completely off limits to hunting, fishing and camping. "

"• In Idaho, recreation is allowed, with a permit, as long as it does not interfere with revenue generating activities.

• In New Mexico, camping on state lands is allowed only with written permission from whoever is leasing them.

• Firewood cutting is prohibited in state lands in New Mexico and Montana.

• Access to state lands in Montana, Arizona and New Mexico requires the purchase of a permit.

• Montana requires a special-use permit for trapping, or to camp for more than two nights. "

http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/the-conservationist/the-return-of-the-public-land-privatizers?dom=fas&loc=contentwell&lnk=read-more

27 December

White River Refuge- If You Want Easy, Don't Come Here.


Abundant  Acorns- Overcup here.  
Yes, I still make annual excursions to bowhunt the  refuge, but it had been ten years since I'd applied for the refuge's annual  muzzleloader  hunt.

Here's my adventure.

Friday October 17th,  Refuge Scouting:
Finding concentrated deer activity on the refuge can be difficult and always requires  a lot of foot work.   As I began scouting I found Overcup and Nuttall acorns carpeting the forest floor. It's counter intuitive I know, but the bumper crop of acorns this year didn't make it any easier.   Yes, plenty of fall food for deer; but when acorns are scattered in this way, deer are also scattered.    With my daylight to dark wide ranging scouting effort I  was able to find  three  promising stand locations to choose from.


Fresh scrapes line the lake.

Saturday October 18th. Opening Day (Lakeside location.)

Saturday morning no deer sighted.

Saturday afternoon about 5pm, a young fork horn stealthily appeared  fifty yards to my right skirting the lake's cypress lined edge. He was about to pass between me and the lake when he finally caught my scent, reversed course and  bolted a short distance,  only to resume his stroll until he was out of sight.

Other than a midday lunch break and lake side nap  I remained in my  Summit climber till dark. Throughout the day,  I  never heard or encountered another hunter. Excepting a few faintly heard, far off distant shots as the day passed, I was totally alone.  Thanks to the remoteness of the refuge's 160,000 acres and the laziness of most hunters  it is still possible to hunt in solitude. (Enthusiasm for the lost art of walking seldom propels today's hunters more than a 100 yards from their truck or ATV),
Lunch and nap on lakes edge.

As  evening came, the lake behind me held on to the fading light of dusk  much longer than the darkening forest in front.   With light too dim to now shoot I carefully cracked open the breach of my gun,  plucked out the gold colored 209 primer  and lowered my muzzleloader to the leaves below.

Remote unnamed lakes still exist on the refuge. 
Light cast from my small flashlight was barely sufficient to guide me through the ritual of unhooking my Summit climber from the soft barked tree  I had just descended.   As I readied my stand for packing....reality crept into my thoughts;  As seductive as this unnamed lake was,  I knew it was unlikely my schedule would permit me to return this year. The thought of not returning saddened me.

With treestand now strapped to my back I quietly began my trek out.   I had made the decision that tomorrow morning I will relocate along the rivers edge 12 miles South.

Sunday Morning-October 19th,  (Rivers edge location.) 
A few years back I gave an old  aluminum mountain pack frame new life by zip-tying  it to the bottom of my climbing treestand.  The wider padded straps and hip belt offered  more comfortable weight distribution on longer hikes than the circulation robbing cheap-o straps supplied by the treestand folks.

Rivers edge. 
So with my modified treestand on my back and my day-pack "piggy backing" on my treestand,  I marched off  into the predawn darkness, flashlight in one hand,  gun clutched in the other.

The weight of my  stand, pack, gun and  early morning darkness  made the hike seem uncharacteristically  longer than the three quarter mile jaunt it was.  The 15 foot cone of hazy light  projecting from my bobbing flashlight did  little to show where I was  going...only where I  needed to place each successive step.   My GPS  provided continued corrections to my heading while my flashlight  showed me where I needed to place each step along the way.

I arrived at the rivers edge just as twilight  began to reveal potential trees that I might ascend.  The open sky above the  river allowed light to hit the forest floor much sooner than might elsewhere.  I quickly positioned my climber  high enough to survey the open forest in front, while behind me the rivers edge would channel any flanking deer to within 75 yards.  

As the rising sun began to scatter golden like lazer beams across the forest floor a coyote appeared.  He hopped up on a log, then stopped, as if to soak up the warm rays for few seconds before continuing off  with that purposeful gait that coyotes always seem to have. They  never linger and always seem like they have some place else to be.  But on this day his schedule permitted him to stop and linger in the sun's warmth.
Shared duty to protect this dwindling habitat.   
Time 8:15am. Ninety yards in front of me  under a tall Overcup,  a chocolate racked buck appeared heading my direction.  As he moved closer I cocked and  readied my muzzle-loader.  At 60 yards I raise to shoot; I aim, I  squeeze, the hammer falls, snap!  But no boom, just silence as the buck, still unaware of my dryfire continues to close the distance.  In my rush of excitement combined with my un-practiced hand I had flipped the safety/hammer block the wrong way preventing the falling hammer from striking the pin.   As the buck moved ever closer,   panic sets in as I fumbled to re-cock the hammer, the buck now almost under me.  This time...snap- boom!  The 50 caliber 200 grain Sabot bullet found its mark, humanely dropping the heavy horned nine point buck like a sack of potatoes. And down just fifteen yards from the base of my tree.
Drag system in place. 

Fifteen yards from the base my tree  BUT a very long three quarters of a mile through the refuge timber to my  4-wheeler.

Fortunate thoughts.
After climbing down I  rushed  over to admire what the refuge had produced; and had now provided me.  There was no longer a need to rush though, because from here forward, I wanted time to slow  down.

As I knelt next to him  I tried to process the conflicting  emotions that sometimes haunt me when I take the life of such a majestic animal. Though a strong hunter's instinct resides inside me I have always felt a huge sense of respect for all wildlife and a sense of duty to protect this ever dwindling habitat in which they reside.

To the leaders before me who had the forethought  to set aside this slice of vanishing bottomland  wilderness we now call Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge, I  remain forever thankful.  For without  their wisdom and unselfish ability to look beyond their own generation I would not be able to experience these adventures.

The Greater the Effort...
As I leaned into the first twenty five yards of dragging my trophy I must admit three quarters of a mile started to seem a little daunting.  It made me think of  those hunters who refuse to venture too far off the road. If they could see me now, would they gloat? Would they say; "I told you so?"  My response would be that few things worth having are free from effort or sacrifice.  If you want easy; go buy your burger at Walmart. Don't come here.

Light from the rivers edge shines behind me.
Over five hours later, I sent a final text to my  worried wife that I had managed to get all my gear, treestand and my prized chocolate horned buck to the truck.

The saying "The greater the effort the sweeter the reward" rang very true for me.  With  my energy and strength nearly exhausted, and the once seemingly monumental task now completed, the reward was feeling mighty darn sweet.

Jim Taylor,