Clumsy Predators


As seen in the Winter 2019 edition of STICKTALK, the official publication of the Michigan Longbow Association. You can expect content like this (and more) quarterly for a mere $20 a year. Check out the MLA here.

It began on a dreary afternoon that was nowhere near inspiring or even remotely special. In fact, it was rainy and much too warm for the likes of October. The latter I could tolerate. The former is what kept me out of the woods that morning. I’d weathered the rain before. It wasn’t the discomfort that kept me in bed. Rather, it was something my old friend Hawley would always say that stayed me from the woods.

“Hunting in the rain ain’t no damn good. If matted fletching and poor arrow flight don’t get you, the lack of blood will. You won’t find a drop of blood once that rain begins to fall.”

I knew he was right. But advice – no matter how accurate – isn’t always potent enough to slow the beating of a hunter’s heart. Precipitation might have kept my bow on the rack that morning but nothing short of a hurricane would do so twice. I was headed out the door and into the woods when our cuckoo clock chimed 3 p.m.

My footsteps were quiet as a result of the morning soak but my ears rang from the water spilling from the still-green oaks and maples. I would need to move slowly, rely on my eyes, and shift very little once settled. The land moved here. It climbed, crawled, snaked, and swirled – everything but lay flat. I loved all of it but favored one chunk of earth (or lack thereof) in particular: “The Brown Bowl”.

The bowl was a canyon with steep, wooded slopes on all sides, a creek up the center, and a muddy slough to the South. A series of sister ridges rippled out beyond its edges – the aftershock of some ancient geologic event. The shifting wind, ample browse, and natural funnels made this piece a fantastic choice for anything furry and 4-legged. It had been a year since I hunted this property and the idea of crossing paths with a wayward whitetail washed away the morning’s disappointment. I shouldered my bow, checked the wind, and set a course for success on the eastern edge.

Rubber boots seemed the obvious choice for the hike in. The forests’ sloppy surface squished and belched beneath my feet and licked at my calves wherever water collected. I giggled at the sound, knowing full well my six-year-old would do the same had she been there to witness.

“You tooted, Daddy.” She would squeal. “You smell like stinky farts.” And there would be no defending myself, as there was always plenty of evidence to back up the accusation. Mackenzie enjoyed the squishy things and didn’t mind getting her hands and feet dirty. Her favorite hobby was making slime from baking soda, glue, saline, and food coloring, in fact. The basement was littered with the remnants of the activity, which drove me crazy more often than not, but was worth the joy of observing her creativity. Her sister Aubrey shared her passion for the gooey. She loved the water and embraced it at the expense of material things such as boots and snow pants. She never met a puddle she didn’t like to stomp in.

I smiled. The thought of my children followed me everywhere – even those places I sought to exclude them from – but they were never totally absent. They added to the experience, in fact. Trudging through mud, sloshing through puddles, and destroying perfectly good trouser bottoms were all part of the adventure. That was what hunting was — after all — an adventure, which were usually silly things. They began in the thrill-seeking, logic-bypassing portion of your brain, are encouraged by the heart, and culminate with little more than the desire to have another. Everything was an adventure to children below the age of ten. Hunting wasn’t any different for adults below the age of 100.

It was the notion of adventure that carried me to the creek, which was usually a few inches deep and narrow enough to jump across with solid footing on either side. I discovered the ongoing rain had made it anything but. It had increased a foot in all directions with loose slop on either side. Even with the rubber boots, crossing it the traditional way would make for an unpleasant evening sit. I wasn’t willing to risk it and looked up and down the bank in search of a means to cross and remain dry while doing so. A solution presented itself within the bowels of a recently felled maple, spanning bank-to-bank.

“Why that’ll do just fine.” I thought. “It appears my luck is changing for the better.” I would soon be reminded of karma’s delicate balance. That maple was as slick as a freshly caught brown trout and crossing it didn’t go as smooth as anticipated. My rubber boots had succeeded in keeping my feet dry and scent contained but failed miserably where traction was concerned. Had you witnessed the beginning of my ascent, you wouldn’t have noted anything out of the ordinary. I set out across the log creeping cautiously – toe-to-heel – as if stalking a Pope and Young caliber animal. I learned to trust my toes afield. They kept me quiet and upright no matter the obstacle and I am certain the results would’ve been similar had I stuck with the plan. I did not. I chose hubris over caution, straightened up, and strutted the remaining feet to the opposite bank. It was there, where log met earth, Mother Nature would remind me how insignificant I was.

The log had been there for some time and the bark around the end had been worn away to the bare flesh beneath, which had been marinating in the rain for several days. Add a little bit of mud and carelessness and you’ve got a recipe for the greatest tumble this particular stretch of woods had ever seen. It happened fast. My head went back, my legs shot skyward, and my arms flapped helplessly in a circular motion. Several preservation-inspired thoughts shot through my mind mid-plummet: “Save your head. Save your shoulder. Save your bow.” They were not in any particular order, so I tried to do all three at the same time. I dropped my shoulder, rotated to my left, stuck my bow out to brace my fall, then pulled it back to keep from damaging it.

The results were mixed. My forearm and hip took the brunt of the impact, causing my entire left side to go numb with pain. My bow quiver popped off, cartwheeled into the bank, and rattled to a halt in the mud. My lungs emptied. My eyes filled with stars. Never, in all of my years playing contact sports, had I taken a hit like that. I tossed my bow to the bank, rolled to the arm I could still feel, pulled myself to my feet, and immediately checked to see if anyone had seen the mishap. My entire existence was on fire – my body from the pain, my mind from the embarrassment. I gathered my gear, hobbled to a large oak, and sat against it to re-strap my quiver and get my head back into the hunt. And I might have stayed there had it not been for the repressed voices of over a dozen football coaches screaming at me in unison.

“You’re fine Viau! Get up! Nothing is broken! Rub some mud on it! Walk it off! You’ll be fine! You’re tough! You ain’t hurt! The game ain’t over! Get up! Get back out there!”

And I did. I stood up, grabbed my gear, and slipped down the trail towards the Bowl. Whether it was the manifested collective of barking coaches or my unwillingness to revisit the bridge mattered very little. I was there to hunt and I was going to hunt – even if it killed me.

The walk was uphill and seemed longer than usual from that point. I looked forward to it most hunts. The rolling, hardwood ridges and brush-covered flats had begun Autumn’s transformation and the air always had a potpourri smell to it. Pain aside, I loved hiking these areas. There was something about elevation that made the experience more exciting. Hunting terrain like this was a game of give and take with little in your favor. You needed to understand how the wind affected your scent and be ready to adapt when it changed. You needed to sit extra still when it was time to sit, move extra slow when it was time to move, and avoid wet logs at all costs. These were things I learned the hard way – the latter being my most recent entry – with very little to show for it save for a handful of near successes, a numb arm, and a sore hip. But I regretted none of it. Nor would I ever stop. If I took my lumps on one ridge, I’d climb the next. There was always another ridge and adventure waiting on the other side.

This hunt would be no different. The lumps had been taken and the next ridge was ahead. An eerie feeling washed over me as I climbed it. The steady breeze gave way to sporadic gusts with periods of stillness sprinkled between. Water dripped from the canopy above and steadily pattered the ground below. I moved in silence. I could hear everything. And could see everything once I got to the top of the ridge. That is where I saw the feathers – small pile at the base of a maple. An unlucky crow had met its end by the claw and fang of a predator far more efficient than I. I couldn’t help but envy the beast. What stealth it must have required to get that close. What skill to kill so quickly – so efficiently.

“I bet you never make a mistake.” I thought, examining one of the feathers. “I bet you’ve never missed an opportunity.”

Suddenly a loud “CRACK” erupted from a hollow to my right. The rustling of leaves came after, followed by the un-mistakable sound of claws on bark. I crawled to the edge and peered over, hoping to catch a glimpse of the perpetrator. What I saw was the epitome of woodland comedy. There, in on the trunk of a large maple, was a bobcat, clinging to the trunk by one paw. He flailed there, searching frantically for a foothold but, finding none, plummeted to the earth, in a twisted ball of furry fury. He stuck the stereotypical feline landing, but slipped on a wet log, dragging his rear-end behind him. He stopped, looked around, shook the water from the tufts behind his hind legs and walked off into the woods, as if nothing happened. It was sad to see bad luck befall such an efficient killing machine. I felt bad for him but a whole lot better about myself.

I rolled to my back and laughed, right there in the wet leaves. I had witnessed some hilarious activity in the woods, usually by squirrels or chipmunks, but never from a predator on a stalk. It was a very special moment. Something I would probably never see again.

“What a pair we make.” I chuckled. “A couple of clumsy predators making the best of bad situations.”

I climbed to my feet, bushed myself off, and was about to continue on when I noticed the feathers out the corner of my eye.

“Maybe there is hope for me yet.” I chuckled.

I plucked one of the primaries, stuffed it in my pullover, and headed up the ridge, in search of redemption.

If you enjoyed this please consider purchasing a signed copy of my book. You can do that here. It is also available on Amazon in both Kindle and print. I will also be at the Traditional Bowhunters Expo in Kalamazoo this weekend. You can find me at the St. Joe River Bows booth. 







No Such Thing as a “Sure” Thing.

Hunting on an amazing property in Georgia with a longbow on my lap.My southern luck has never been the kind I want.

I’ve always been somewhat of a homebody. I’ve often favored the familiar and embraced a routine. I’ve never had big bowhunting aspirations. Hunting throughout the state or in exotic places overseas has had little appeal to me. While seeing other hunters doing fantastic things in fantastic places has created moments of envy or jealousy, I’ve always viewed the adventure itself with a “wouldn’t it be nice” attitude.

Hunting out-of-state wasn’t a consideration early on. I could hardly navigate a small piece of local public land, let alone piece together an adventure in an unfamiliar area hundreds (or even thousands) of miles from my home.

Meeting my friend, podcast partner, and Georgia native Steve Angell changed all that. He invited me down to hunt with him in 2012 and we’ve been rotating ever since. Visiting Steve is like hunting with an outfitter. He scouts the locations and stays clear of them until I arrive to increase my chances. He makes ground blinds, hangs treestands, and does everything within his power to increase my odds at a hog or whitetail. Yet, despite all of his efforts, nothing has worked out.

My first trip included rain, hours of uneventful staring, and chiggers. My second trip was a hog hunt with frigid temperatures, cramps, and clustered pigs with little desire to move. The third trip, while much better, resulted in an arrow in a sapling and two flustered does I am certain are still sounding their alarm on their respective properties.

The worst of the worst was a special hunt on Cumberland Island — a historic and fairly remote place “spilling over” with deer and wild hogs. At least, that is how it was advertised to me. The island, while very interesting from a historical standpoint, provided the worst hunting experience of my life. It rained constantly, the bugs were terrible (ask me about my dung beetle incident some time), and I didn’t see anything save for the occasional wild horse and an armada of armadillos.

The hunting was so awful, Steve and I had all but given up the third day and decided to hike the four miles across the island and see the Atlantic Ocean. I can assure you this wasn’t nearly as glamorous as described. Our clothes were damp, we were exhausted, and my feet were blistered from heel-to-toe, as the result of an ill-fated decision to break in new boots without bringing spares. By the time we traversed the sandy trail and reached the beach, my feet were screaming.

“I cannot take another step in these damn boots, Steve!” I proclaimed, collapsing against the side of a dune.

“Well take ’em off then!” He laughed. “The beach might feel good on your feet. Do what you’ve gotta do, because we have another four miles back to camp!”

“Thanks for the reminder.” I quipped, stripping off my socks and working my toes into the sand. “At any rate, I’m sure this will all be worth it. I haven’t seen the ocean in several…YEEEOOOOOWWWW!”

My blistered feet exploded with pain. It was as if I’d just stuck them in a box of rusty treble hooks.

“What the hell is that!?” I exclaimed, falling back into the dune. “I feel like I have barbed wire in my feet!”

“Uh oh.” Steve said. “Sand spurs. Shoot. I should have told you about those.”

“Ya think?”

I picked up my foot and found several marble-sized burrs stuck to the bottom. Only, they were nothing like the burrs I was used to. The Michigan burr was little more than an annoyance with its velcro exterior. These were a completely different contraption — sinister and defiant — with long criss-crossing barbs that dug into your flesh with the intention of staying there indefinitely.

“Is there a trick to removing these damn things?” I spat.

“Nope. Afraid not.” Steve laughed. “You just have to give ’em hell and get through it.”

His words stuck with me the remainder of the trip. You know a hunting trip was terrible when the highlight was watching the place you were hunting fade from the deck of the boat leaving it. And I didn’t even mention the fact that my flight was delayed due to the aftermath of an actual hurricane.

I couldn’t wait to get home.

Another rainy experience bowhunting in Georgia.

While not nearly as bad as Cumberland, my most recent trip was equally uneventful. Steve had access to prime hunting property on leases near his home and two hours South. He had abstained from hunting both (for the most part) and was confident they would at least grant me an opportunity based on his scouting, the sign, and lack of human interference. I was ecstatic the moment I got off the plane. I had several days of hard hunting in front of me and intended to make the most of every minute.

And I did. I logged over 40 hours on stand and saw a total of three deer — all at once with no shots. The weather was good, save for a little bit of rain at the beginning and end, the locations were fantastic, and the sits were enjoyable. Everything was in place with the exception of the deer.

Steve was flabbergasted. He was certain I would have an opportunity with all of the preparation he had put in. He was still droning on about it on the way to the airport.

“I’m sorry Nick.” I did all I could, Brother. There was sign everywhere, the acorns were dropping, the wind was fine for the most part. I don’t get it.”

“Well, that’s hunting I guess. These are still wild animals we are talking about.”

“Yeah, I know, but I’m still irritated. I hate to see you go home empty-handed again.”

“There’s no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to bowhunting. That’s why I love it.”

“Well, I’m starting to think you’re just bad luck.”

“Could be.”

“Or that you smell bad. Real bad.”

“That is probably true.”

“Well, I can tell you one thing…we are never hunting in Georgia again. If you visit, you’re coming down to fish. We can hunt some other damn place.”

“Fishing it is.”

Luck is a funny thing — especially when it comes to hunting. Some people believe in it to the point of superstition and adopt rituals to preserve it. Others think it is rubbish. Then there are those who blame it when bad things happen but scoff at being “lucky” when it swings in their favor. I have spent time in every camp and am still not sure where I belong.

I’ve had good and bad experiences afield. I’ve been blessed and I’ve been cursed. I’ve been lucky and I’ve been unlucky. But I’ve always been fortunate. And I’ll never stop trying.

I’d like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and pray that you find GOOD luck the remainder of this hunting season. In the meantime, tune in to the Traditional Outdoors podcast. Also, with Christmas around the corner, please consider purchasing a signed copy of my book Life and Longbows. You can find it here or on Amazon in both print and on Kindle. Good Bless You!