Kentucky Outdoor Adventure: Chasing the Big Bucks
Early rut season in Kentucky will show a hunter exactly what they’re made of. Timelessly illustrated in John Prine’s “Paradise,” it is rife with schizophrenic temperature shifts, dense flora, interwoven with unpredictable terrain that’s etched onto jagged rock. Competing with noisy small game hunters, all while healing from last year’s Blue Tongue outbreak! BUT…bourbon country is home to some monster bucks.
I managed to train after my day job shifts. This was made incredibly convenient by the Chickasaw Archery Club in Shepherdsville, KY. I joined the club during my stay at Fort Knox. The facility is as nice as any I’ve seen. Boasting a full archery workbench and 24-hour member access, the grounds are complete with a well lit, climate controlled indoor 40-yard facility and numerous outdoor ranges. To top it off, they also maintain an 18-station 3D shoot through range.
For those readers in the Fort Knox region of Kentucky, you can find out more about this club at www.chickasawarchery.com.
Originally, I met Drew at Marty Neal’s shop. Marty owns Traditions Archery Outfitters. There he made adjustments amongst other wizardry to our bows as we all bragged on our respective setups. Drew got on with me immediately. He graciously invited me to hunt family land and would later guide me through some fantastic WMA’s. Our first stop would be to their hunting camp in Breckenridge, KY.
Upon arrival, the boys and I lugged our gear into the cabin. The three of us made up our bunks. Moments after firing up the generator, we dusted off some old Jim Shockey tapes and settled into our sleeping bags. As we drifted off to Jim’s familiar voice in some distant corner of British Columbia, I remained eager to get an early start.
Up and dressed posthaste! We began our ascent into the rocky foothills, black against a purple predawn sky. Today Drew and I would be hunting from a double stand while his brother-in-law made his way to a stand a few hundred yards beyond us. Once we brought our bows up, we painted our faces courtesy of Predator Warpaint.
Early rut had Drew and I running our calls very conservatively, roughly a short series of grunts every half hour or so. In the beginning of the season, bucks typically do not respond much to doe bleats or rattling. I found my Extinguisher call handled the task quite nicely. It is exceptionally versatile as well as authentic sounding. Bucks to bucks--it’s tough to beat!
Temperatures rose with the sun. We found ourselves in a sweltering post-summer Kentucky afternoon. Deer simply were not leaving their bedding. In the distance we heard the rumble of thunder, which we monitored with radar only, having cell service 50 feet up a tree.
The boys and I rode it out until lightning and driving rain grounded us. Back at the cabin we fired up the smoker and I rustled up some smoked BBQ chicken and mashed potatoes on the fire box. Now in dry clothes, we ate and played vintage hunting tapes. When the storm finally broke, I strapped on my boots and bow.
We decided to salvage our last two hours of daylight. I threw on my Ghillie Top over my Rhodesian shorts and stalked through the damp forest to a small stand, where I stayed vigilant against the fading light. As the law allows, sundown followed me out of the bush to camp. It was time to call it a night.
The following weekend I would find myself heading to the Knobs State Forest WMA. There I would be stalking my way around the hedges of this overgrown field to a natural blind friends had made the season prior. The vantage point here was fantastic, while also offering considerable concealment. I had the wind to my face from the moment I settled in. Right up to the moment, freedom lovers started setting off Tannerite about 150 yards away.
My spot was blown, literally. Angrily, I started back to the truck to wait for those folks to clear out. After my hackles went back down, I ate some lunch on the tailgate and decided to head back in and hunt the evening. Again, I sat enjoying the wind in my favor. Silence returned, less a squirrel or two. However, my deer never showed.
We found ourselves again deep in the Kentucky forest. The decision came to change up our tactics. Starting at first light, Drew and I began a slow stalk in hopes of “jumping” our deer. Arrows nocked, we inched along ridges, through saddles, into the valleys below. Covering several miles, we maneuver into a spot that squirrel hunters hadn’t ruined yet. As morning continued, the familiar reports of rimfire rifles echoed through the trees. I remember thinking to myself, “How the hell has this short-sightedness prevailed during bow season?!”
This, combined with torching temps, made for another lackluster day. Digging deep for patience and praying to the great Spirits, we silently lay in wait. While sitting in the blind, Drew and I discussed things that would make ground blind hunting better. We came up with several ideas. One of mine, which Drew liked best, is currently in prototyping phase with Gauge Outfitters.
I’d like to change gears and discuss some of the other adventures I had during my tenure in Kentucky. Fly fishing Otter creek and the several rivers that lace Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana together made for some wonderful and relaxing journeys. I made my way up into the mountains and caves of the state to enjoy some of America’s many treasures. Otter Creek State Park is home to a beautiful stony river teeming with fish. The cool water offered a welcome reprieve from the summer heat. I strapped on Keen River shoes and waded from boulder to boulder. I found great success with some elk hair flies and nymphs. As I was often alone and do not have a camera crew, you will have to imagine my success as I remember it!
Camping In Carter Caves National Park was simply incredible. Gorgeous landscapes and outdoor activities are many. Working my day job in Louisville and the hustle-bustle of city life quickly faded into my rear view mirror as I took my Corvette from concrete jungle into the ebb and flow of steep graded and winding Appalachian roads. I had been planning this escape since arriving in the Bluegrass state. My primal inner self had been dying to take over and explore!
As I took to the chore of setting up my encampment, a labor of love to me, I routinely raised my Marmot Limelight 3 Season and gathered wood for a cooking fire. This blaze would double as my evening’s entertainment. This whilst engaging with spirits, some distant, some distilled... “Just five miles away from wherever I am.”
I will leave you all with some final photos of this trip and the promise of an update if I am able to return to Kentucky before the end of the 2020 season. I will now be gearing up for a week-long trip to Prey, Montana, where my wife and I will be spending the Christmas holiday. We will get in as much Fishing and adventure as we can in big sky country. Which I will be happy to report on in my next Installment of Gauge Outfitters fledgling chronicles.
Director of Research & New Product Development, Gauge Outfitters.