Scroll to bottom to see photos from this hunt.
by Pete VanderArk
At our February, 2010 SCI-MI Fundraiser auction, I bought a certificate to apply to a hunt near Reynoldsville, in western Pennsylvania. This was donated to our chapter by Bob McConnell of Horseshoe Hill Outfitters. For me, this four-day hunt would include my choice of a 160-inch or larger whitetail buck or a 340-inch or larger bull elk, plus either a management buck or cow elk. (The balance of the cost would be determined by the size of the trophy animal.)
I was just a bit uncomfortable with the high-fence concept, but looked forward to the adventure, thinking I might write a story later for Tracker, and entitle it, “If DuWayne and Ron can do it…”
The choice of game was easy for me, as my wife Judy has a very large bull elk on our wall and also claims the biggest whitetail at our house, a very nice Saskatchewan buck. I chose the whitetail buck for the wall and a cow elk for the freezer, to share with family and friends.
Day 1, October 1, 2010. I arrived at the lodge in my pickup at mid-day, met some guides, and moved into my room — very nice quarters – definitely not roughing it. One of the guides offered to take me out to their rifle range and check out the zero on my rifle, a Remington Model 700 in .30-06. I had some new ammo that I hadn’t used before. My first bullet printed in the center of the make-shift bull’s-eye at 100 yards, and a confirming second shot strayed just a bit to the right. I was good to go.
This fenced property consists of 1,025 acres (about 1.6 square miles) of rolling wooded hills, food plots in various flavors, lowlands, creek bottoms, and brushy thickets. It is picturesque habitat for deer and elk, and the leaves on the hardwoods were changing to some delightful hues. There are gravel roads and two-tracks throughout, hunting blinds of various descriptions plus ladder stands for bow hunters. Ladder stands were in pairs, to accommodate both the hunter and his guide, who would always be the hunter’s side to judge trophy size and help with the shoot/don’t-shoot decision. All roads and stands seemed to have names for reference in placing hunters and locating game animals.
Three other hunters arrived: Paul, an elementary school teacher from New York City; Eddie from Texas and Cameron from Georgia, both successful businessmen. We were each assigned a guide for the duration of the four-day hunt. Paul wanted a 120-class buck as he said that was all his budget would allow. Eddie and Cameron each wanted a buck of 180-190 inches or better. I was the only hunter planning to take an elk along with the whitetail buck.
My guide, Todd, was an affable 30-something who obviously loves hunting, and was anxious to help me enjoy a successful adventure.
By mid-afternoon, Todd and I headed to our first stand, the “foxhole blind,” a six-foot square structure of 6×6 timbers half sunk into a knoll surrounded by feed plots. There was a roof over our heads, but the afternoon was bright, comfortably warm, and breezy. With the breeze to cover our voices, we were able to chat quietly and get acquainted, and I learned more about this operation and other hunts offered by Horseshoe Hill. As the afternoon wore on, we saw a couple of elk in remote corners and lots of deer at 60 to 200 yards, but no big bucks.
Day 2, Todd and I took a “mule,” an overgrown golf cart, to a heavily wooded hilltop. We walked the last two hundred yards up the trail in the dark to the “tin can blind,” a metal cylinder on stilts. It was a cool and very foggy morning. I was not optimistic about encountering game, as visibility was extremely limited. Nevertheless, as daylight brightened the foggy forest, a few elk ghosted through the trees on our left side. I quickly switched positions with Todd, and poked my rifle out the window.
“Shoot that cow?”
The big cow elk went right down, but struggling to regain her feet, she slid down the hill in the loose leaves. We exited the blind, walked down the path, and closed the deal. Wow! When it happens, it happens fast!
A phone call brought a tractor with a loader to recover the elk, and we moved to a different blind. This big wooden shed, “the produce stand,” overlooked an open hillside, but we couldn’t even see across the valley through the dense fog. As the sun cleared the fog, we enjoyed a colorful vista of hardwoods, pines and open fields, but no more game. Not this morning. We did a little tour of the property and went back to the lodge for lunch.
Paul had taken a nice 120-class buck and was thrilled with it. He’s new to hunting, and this was all he had hoped for.
The afternoon hunt took us to a tent blind on the edge of a feed plot, with brushy woods behind us, to the right, and straight across. The feed plot stretched several hundred yards to our left. Now the air was very still, and we couldn’t wiggle or whisper without being noticed. A bull elk and later a very nice buck stepped into a corner of the field, but they were quite nervous, and I didn’t get a shot. A couple of groundhogs nearby and several deer in the distance helped us pass the time.
Day 3, Todd and I headed to the “stockade blind,” a small enclosure of stacked logs with no roof to shelter us from a light drizzle. With improving daylight came increasing rainfall, and we tried to pretend we were not getting wet. A couple of young deer passed by close enough to hit with a rock, and a bull elk crossed over behind us. As we were discussing a move to a more sheltered blind, Todd received a text message notifying us of a nice buck that I would want to take a look at. We walked through the woods and met some other guides who pointed us in the right direction. But we didn’t catch up with the buck. Mini drives were organized and we moved to different locations on the property as guides and hunters tried to help each other find the right buck and be in the right place at the right time. Over the next few hours the weather improved, but no shots were fired. Finally, Todd and I waited at the end of a long, brushy, wooded area while several others walked through the thick stuff toward us. The drivers said several deer dodged them and cut through their line, but only a few smaller deer ran out past Todd and me. It was now well past lunchtime, and we decided to head back to the lodge. The sun was peeking through the clouds.
As we rounded the brushy corner of this thicket, I spotted a buck bedded in the dappled shade along with a couple of smaller deer, watching us pass by and hoping we wouldn’t notice them. I grabbed Todd and pointed.
“Look, a buck!”
I threaded a bullet between the saplings and anchored him on the spot. Again, a second bullet ended his brief struggles. Distance wasn’t a factor here. He had been close. Remarkably close. I was thrilled, and again it had happened so fast. I started shaking as we posed for trophy photos.
I’m a sucker for new products and the hype that goes with ‘em. For this hunt, I wanted to try the new Hornady Superformance ammo, which would offer magnum velocity in my .30-06. What I was able to purchase were loaded with 165-grain SST bullets. I would have preferred the Barnes TSX or Hornady GMX, as I have great respect for the mono-metal-style slug. We recovered both bullets under the hide on the off side of the deer, and both had lost some skin upon impact. The lead core actually separated from the jacket on one of them. I guess I can’t complain, as dead is dead, but I think the TSX pill would have gone all the way through. I believe the distance at which I shot the buck was too short for this bullet and velocity. For this hunt, any decent cartridge would have been okay.
Before the afternoon was over, both Eddie and Cameron had tagged really nice bucks, and we hunters were four for four. All happy campers. My 17-point buck scored 175 inches.
Was it really hunting? We had all wondered if we’d be posted over bait piles or feeders and told which animal to shoot. That definitely was not the case. Three of us at least had to work for our trophies, and we all agreed it was a very nice adventure.