Magic!!!

“Gotcha!” I thought to myself, as the giant forked-horn buck I’d been trying to outwit for for a week now walked calmly behind the huge boulder in front of me.  The buck with an inordinately large 2×2 rack would reappear in a few seconds, broadside at 10 yards, and my first bow-killed big game animal would be mine.  It was a slam dunk, and knowing that, I confidently drew my Pro-Line “Typhoon” compound.  Standing at full draw, I remember thinking that this bowhunting thing was going to be a snap, and though only a forked horn, he was really quite a good buck for a Southern California coastal deer.  Oh, what a silly young man I was, because there, early in my first archery season, I was about to get hit with a big dose of the “Magic.”

When the buck disappeared behind the rock, I whispered to my buddy (ten feet behind me and to my left) not to move.  Being perfectly concealed, and anchored for release, I was already hoping the buck didn’t run too far down into the canyon he’d just come from, so the pack job wouldn’t be too brutal in the August heat.  Just then the tall, dark, deeply forked antlers came into view, followed by his head, then neck, then…then…then he was staring bug-eyed in my direction with his shoulder and chest still hidden behind the rock!  Well, not exactly in my direction, but more over my shoulder in my hunting partner’s direction.

There we stood, facing each other in a surreal standoff for what seemed a very long time (probably about three seconds) then he was bounding off across the hillside, very much alive and un-arrowed.  I was still drawn, absolutely unable to comprehend what had just happened?  Letting down, I turned to find my friend at full draw, still tracking the buck that was now 75-yards out and rapidly leaving our hunting zone.  Incredulously, to say the least, I asked him angrily what the hell he was doing?  He sheepishly explained that he’d been drawing to get a “back-up” shot when the deer had appeared and busted him.  I was speechless!!!

That was almost 40-years ago now, and in the ensuing four decades I’ve had far more of those experiences than I care to think about.  I call them “Magic Moments,” and as crazy as this might sound for a grown man to put in print, I’m being quite literal when I call them “Magic.”  I truly believe that the big ones, the real trophy class animals many of us love to pursue, have a special magic that often keeps them out of our freezers and off our walls.  I’m sure all of you have your own tales of woe, but the following are a few of my own award-winning “Magic Moments”…

In 1992, the last year I hunted with a wheelbow, I was fortunate enough to draw an Idaho bighorn sheep tag.  I spent 27 days backpacking solo in some brutally rugged country, but didn’t see my first ram until the 11th day.  When I finally spotted that first group of six rams, I was elated not only to have finally found the object of my quest, but to have found six of what I considered “shooters” at the time, with the smallest over 150.  It was the larger one that had my attention from the instant I saw him, however, and though I was no sheep expert, I was sure he was nicely over 180!

The sheep were bedded on the knife edge of a ridge, and within an hour and a half I was within 30 yards, concealed in the trees, but still had no shot due to some vegetation.  I nocked an arrow and figured I’d wait for the big ram to move and give me a clear shot.  I waited for what seemed like ten eternities (maybe two hours) then finally decided to try and make something happen.  My patience wore thin quickly back in those days!

I figured I could slowly sneak at an angle uphill to my left for about 10 yards and have a nice shot downhill to my right, and the big ram would be the closest from that vantage point.  It would be steep and risky, but I thought I was up to the task, so I quivered my arrow, took off my boots and took three noiseless steps upward.  I hadn’t had my eyes off the rams for more than 20 seconds. When I glanced over to see them all on their feet and walking, in all directions, right at me!  The lead ram was, of course, the giant and he was already through the bushes that had prevented an earlier shot. I was pinned.

Not only had I quivered my arrow, but the sheep were now approaching from my right, exactly the wrong direction for a right-handed shooter.  By the time I could get very slowly turned and get an arrow on the string, the monster of a ram had jumped up on a VW-size boulder and was staring intently at the strange looking bush I hoped I was imitating from a mere 12 yards.  It must have seemed odd to him that even though there was virtually no wind, the bush was about to shake off all of its leaves!

If I’d been shooting a stickbow, as I have from that next season to the present, I’d simply have drawn and shot him dead in one fluid motion.  The compound bow in my hands that day, however, required a little more time to complete the launch sequence, so there we stood, staring at each other, he into my blue eyes and I into his yellow ones.  This standoff lasted for probably three full minutes, during which time he never looked away or moved a muscle, while the other five rams stood in a line just below the big rock.  Suddenly, I felt a very slight breeze on the back of my sweat-soaked neck, and I knew it was now or never, so I began to draw.

In a fraction of a second the ram bolted off the boulder and amazingly landed squarely on top of the first sheep below him, with both of them going down in a tangle!  They recovered instantly, though, and all six rams disappeared downhill into the trees in a flash, leaving only the dust-filled air and the sounds of their hasty retreat behind.

Still shaking, I placed my arrow back in the quiver, laid my bow down, sat down and proceeded to cry like a baby.  The physical and mental exhaustion of eleven days spent humping the steep mountains alone finally took their toll, compounded by the chance of a lifetime at a huge bighorn ram evaporating before me.  Dang, if I’d just worked my original plan and stayed put for another two minutes, I’d have had him cold!  What caused those rams to choose that exact moment to move?  Magic!

On an elk hunt in New Mexico’s famous Gila National Forest I had chased a 370-class bull for well over two hours, engaged in a non-stop bugling/raking battle, when the huge 6×6 finally had enough.  He stashed his cows and came back arrogantly to take me on!  I crouched, arrow nocked, Habu recurve at the ready, and when he began to clear the last juniper, I drew.

The lower tip of my bow brushed a jawbreaker-sized pebble that rolled a few inches downhill.  That ever-so-slight noise was enough, though, and it was over in an instant as he left the scene like a rocket.  The distance had been a whopping 8 yards!  Magic!

Also in NM, I had stalked in my sock feet to within 25 yards of an unsuspecting 190-inch mulie buck.  All I had to do was take another three steps on large flat rocks to clear the low rimrock, and he was mine.  Yeah, right!  In that moment I heard a faint noise from behind me, and so did the buck.  He whipped his head around and began to stare right over my head in the direction of the noise.  Again, I was pinned!  The noise quickly grew into the very recognizable sound of a 4-wheeler coming in our direction, and the buck was now on full alert.

Sixty seconds later, I helplessly watched as the oblivious elk hunter passed just 20 yards below the 4×4 that had crouched down in the tall grass, only to explode in the opposite direction once the noisy machine had passed.  Why had that happened at just the moment I was within seconds of success?  Magic!

In Sonora several years back, I had crept quietly to a distance of just 20 yards from a GIANT 10×13 muley that I knew would easily top 230 points.  He was bedded in a cholla cactus patch and was asleep.  Let me repeat that…HE WAS ASLEEP!!!  It just doesn’t get any better!  After a 45-minute stalk, my predetermined launching pad was just four feet to my front right, and it was going to be a cinch to get there undetected, giving me a clear shot with my Habu longbow to the enormous buck’s chest.

Another distant noise caught my ear. This time it turned out to be five does and a little forked-horn buck.  They were running from heaven knows what, and of course came straight to the bedded monster like they were on a string!  I had needed that additional four feet to get a shot with him bedded but could have taken a shot from where I was when he stood up. But the new arrivals milled around the big deer, blocking any chance for a shot once he got to his feet.  Then they all proceeded to run happily off into the sunset (literally), never knowing I was there, only to leave me standing quite alone in the Mexican desert.  You’ve got to be kidding me?  Magic!

Though I unfortunately have a much longer list of similar stories, the Gold Medal winner comes from an elk hunt in Nevada, where I was one of three lucky non-residents to draw archery bull elk tags for the 2001 season.  As I knew I’d never draw that tag again, I was really intent on taking one of the huge bulls Nevada is known for.  Early one morning I’d located an absolutely monstrous bull on the top of a huge mesa probably three miles long by a mile wide.  It was covered with fairly open juniper and pinion, so I knew I was going to have to call him to me, as a stalk just wasn’t in the cards.

The good news was that for some unknown reason, right in the middle of the rut, this GIANT bull was alone!  I figured he was about 700 yards distant, but in that flat country, with cold crisp September air, I was sure he would be able to hear my bugle.  I ripped a shrill, but short blast with my mouth diaphragm and grunt tube to get his attention, and he responded immediately.  A couple of minutes later I sounded off again, again he fired back and he was coming!

Maybe ten minutes later, having bugled and cow-called a few more times, the bull was practically in my lap.  He’d stopped on the far side of a juniper at less than 20 yards and was tearing it to shreds.  I was standing in a perfect position behind two junipers that came together at the bottom, forming a “V” through which I had an unobstructed shot, regardless which side the maddened bull came around the tree he was destroying.

I knew that I all I had to do was make a soft cow call and the game would be over.  Checkmate!  It was at that moment that I once again (this is getting old!) heard something in the distance, and the bull abruptly stopped raking.  I could make out the shape of his head and neck through the thick branches and could see he was looking over his back in the direction of the noise that was getting louder and more distinct.  It wasn’t mechanical, though, like the earlier mentioned 4-wheeler, but I couldn’t yet figure out what it was?

In a few seconds I began to recognize the sound of hoof beats, and it was coming from a single animal.  Was another bull charging in to join the fun?  This could get really interesting really quickly, I thought, and I got ready to shoot.  You’re not going to believe what happened next, because that was 18 years ago. I was there and still don’t believe what happened!  Out of nowhere, and at a dead gallop, came a stunning black stallion, as wild as the bull I was hunting, and with three square miles on top of that mesa in which to run, where do you think he ended up?  Yep, you guessed it, he ran squarely between the huge bull and me, stopped and whinnied, spooking him instantly.  And that, as they say, was that.  In the blink of an eye I was once again standing alone in a wild place, having had a closer than close encounter with the trophy of a lifetime, only to be foiled by what?  A foul wind?  An inadvertently snapped twig?  Bad luck?  Misaligned stars?  You may say yes to one, or all of the above, but I’ll argue it was something more.  Something more supernatural.  I’ll argue to my dying day that the big ones are MAGIC!!! –Lew Webb

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