Going Traditional For Texas Bucks

This father-and-son bowhunting team has seen their efforts rewarded with P&Y-quality bucks from several regions of the Lone Star State. They're here to share some of the secrets of their success.

Bob and Rob Lee pose with some of the mounts from the Texas trophies that the two have killed over the years.
Photo by Jennifer Lee

It was getting late in the day, and late in the deer season, when bowhunter Bob Lee heard a distinct, pig-like grunt: the unmistakable sound of a rutting whitetail at close range.

The two small bucks and single doe already out in front of his well-concealed ground blind snapped their heads to attention in the cool air. Suddenly, the source of the grunt emerged from tangled mesquites and oaks. It was a mature 8-point buck, now walking closer, to within 21 yards. Recognizing the 8-pointer as an old deer, Bob eased the taut bowstring of his 54-pound recurve to his cheek. An instant later, the skinny carbon arrow struck tight behind the buck's shoulder.

After a short time had passed, Bob knelt beside the fallen 6 1/2-year-old buck. Its rack later scored in the mid-130s, easily qualifying for Pope & Young recognition. Yep -- a mighty fine deer for Menard County!

A couple of weeks later, on that same well-managed ground in Central Texas, another crafty bowhunter connected on a trophy whitetail. This time it was Bob Lee's son Rob who was drawing down on a 140-class 10-pointer. His shot was true, and the old buck crumpled within sight. Another well-placed arrow fired at 20 yards from a ground blind, and two great bucks taken during the 2004 season by a pair of dedicated bowhunters.

So what makes their story unique? Not only that this the two members of this father-and-son team share a passion for bowhunting Texas whitetails, but also that they're serious about their tackle: Both men hunt exclusively with recurve bows.

According to a recent survey by the Pope & Young Club, of the 4,331 whitetail bucks entered during the 23rd recording period from 2001-02, 96 percent were taken with compound bows. Obviously, the modern compound with its faster cams and high let-off is the overwhelming choice of today's bowhunters. But there are still thousands of American bowhunters who shoot quality bucks every year with simpler tackle. Bows with sleek lines, fine woods and no wheels have a certain appeal all their own. Recurves and longbows are deadly in the right hands -- and Bob and Rob Lee of Jacksonville, in East Texas, are two bowhunters whose instinctive aim consistently fills their freezer with tasty venison.

Rob Lee has a 3,400-acre deer lease close to home in East Texas that he shares with a few other local bowhunters. But that's not the only place he hunts: The Lee team annually treks to other parts of the state to hunt with friends. Central and South Texas are frequent haunts when they get an invitation, and they've even been successful in far West Texas hunting big-eared mulie bucks.

The hogs, javelinas, turkeys, elk, nilgai and other species filling their bowhunting trophy rooms were all taken with simple but beautiful recurve bows of the Lees' own design.

The senior Lee, a recent inductee into the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame, and his son shared with me some insight into their bowhunting tactics and details on equipment. Their tips should help other archers successfully tag a buck. Their tips might also help make a smoother transition from compound to recurve for hunters considering a switch.

BOB AND ROB LEE ON BOWHUNTING

When I interviewed Bob and Rob Lee, I asked them to share some background about themselves. Bob, 76 years old, has been involved in archery and bowhunting his entire life. He started Wing Archery in 1951. For Bob, the company began as a hobby and evolved into one of the world's premier manufacturers of traditional archery equipment. It was also during this time that he produced the first laminated takedown bow, which established the popularity of the three-piece bows on the market today. In 1968, he sold Wing Archery and was not to reenter the manufacturing world until 1989, when he and Rob launched Bob Lee Archery, their current partnership.

When I cornered Bob and asked about his bowhunting success, he was modest. "I'm hard-pressed to say how many deer I've taken with my bow over the years," he said, "but I'm sure it is in the three digits, with a significant amount of them being Pope & Young trophies. I've never been one to tally numbers like that."

Rob Lee's 50, and has been hunting with a bow since age 11. He began learning the bow-building trade from his dad in 1989, when they partnered to launch Bob Lee Archery. Of course, he's been around the bow-building business since birth.

Like his dad, Rob was modest and reserved when questioned about his prowess with stick and string. "I estimate that I've taken 60 to 70 deer with traditional equipment," he said, "and that of those, 10 ranked as Pope & Young."

Like most Texas archers', the Lees' hunting season starts with the archery-only deer season in October. Strategies change a little as the season progresses. The senior Lee shared some thoughts on how he hunts.

"I hunt from tree stands and ground blinds," Bob related, "and in October, when the deer are feeding on plentiful acorns, they are not going to come to corn very well.

"The rut varies quite a bit from state to state, so one needs to take that into consideration and adjust techniques and strategies according to the region being hunted. Later in the season, as winter comes into force, acorns dissipate and deer become more dependent on 'unnatural' food sources.

"Some people have a dim view of hunting from stands and feeders, and I can appreciate those opinions. But I do know one thing: If you don't use these techniques for luring in game, you will be required to wait a much longer time on Mother Nature to deliver one to you."

Rob has similar strategies, focusing on natural food sources early in the season and then switching to other techniques as the season progresses. "For October hunting, one is primarily relying on natural food sources as locators. As the true winter months arrive -- December and later here in East Texas, for instance -- hunters must rely on planted food plots, automatic and manual feeding, protein products, etc., to help maneuver whitetails and other game into your designated area. This becomes a much more calculated and regimented way of hunting."

While the Lees' hunting strategies might be similar to those of most other Texas bow-benders, their tackle requires them to make adjustments for setting stands. "There is quite a diff

erence in setting a stand for traditional equipment over that of a compound," observed Bob. "For traditional shooting you need to position yourself to be able to achieve a range of 20 yards or less, as opposed to a range of 40 yards or more for a compound.

"With compound shooting, you can draw your bow and hold almost indefinitely. With a traditional bow, that's not a practical scenario. Because you are holding the total weight of your bow while at full draw, the traditional shooter must be able to draw just prior to release."

Shots need to be closer with traditional tackle, so the extra length of a recurve compared to a short-axle compound makes brush clearance an issue with every setup.

"When choosing and setting a hunting post, whether it be a tree stand or a ground blind, allow more clearance for the use of traditional equipment," said Rob Lee when we talked about setting up blinds. "Often, the hunter is dealing with a longer bow than what he may be accustomed to, so maneuverability is important.

"Most important, plan for closer shots. I try to limit myself to 20 yards and less. It's not that accuracy, proper penetration and kill shots can't be achieved at a greater distance -- it's just that they become less likely. And from an ethical and humane standpoint, I use this as my standard."

The Lees have a couple of favorite retreats they hunt almost every year. Their hunting tactics are the same even when the region of the state they hunt changes. Bob's favorite spot is in Central Texas.

"One of the areas where Rob and I hunt is the Texas Hill Country, specifically around Menard. If you are going to be successful in bowhunting, you must place yourself where there is a significant number of deer. If your goal is for a trophy whitetail, you should seek out those ranches that specialize in that type of buck.

"Some hunters will spend years logging hour after hour in areas where they rarely see any deer, much less a quality animal. I prefer dedicating my time to a place where one has a good chance of not only getting a shot, but aiming that shot at a worthwhile target."

When pressed for his favorite hunting location, Rob admitted that each region has its appeal, but for him, South Texas is tough to beat. "My favorite area to hunt would have to be South Texas, due to the quality of the herd as well as the opportunities afforded to bowhunters. Access is everything, and with a larger number of deer, as well as the heightened quality of the population, more game presents itself.

"This is, of course, an advantage for any hunting scenario, but it is especially important for bowhunters and even more so for traditional bowhunters. Dad and I are both fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hunt on several exceptional South and West Texas ranches -- and it just doesn't get any better!"

A good place to hunt is always important, but there's more to being a successful bowhunter than just the real estate where you set up your stand. Bob and Rob are exceptionally careful to cover their scent with both a scent-control soap and laundry detergent. And however obvious it may seem, they both believe good camouflage is still a must. Rob shared some other details that, he feels, are critical for success.

"I think that one of the greatest virtues you can have in bowhunting is patience," he offered. "The patience to sit still, the patience to log long hours in the stand and the patience to pick a visual focal point on your game before releasing. This last item is crucial: Reduce your target mentally and visually to a small area on the animal and block out all other areas when directing your arrow. I also limit my trips in and out of the stand. (scouting kept to a minimum, for instance.)"

Bow tackle is always a very personal choice, and Bob and Rob have their differences. But one constant you'll find is that they both firmly believe that bows of light draw weights can be deadly. In the past, Bob shot bows of 55 pounds for deer and 65 pounds for elk, caribou and other large animals. Advancing age and numerous surgeries on his neck and shoulders have led Bob to drop his preferred bow weight to 45 pounds. With this weight reduction, he's still been able to take several nice P&Y trophies.

The bow he's shooting now is a 45-pound 60-inch Red Wing Hunter model one-piece recurve, which is a new spin on what was their best-selling bow at Wing Archery. The arrows he shoots are 28-inch-long 35/55 Goldtip carbons, and he's using the Wensel Woodsman three-blade cut-to-the-tip broadhead.

Rob is currently hunting with their newest bow model, a one-piece recurve called the Falcon, an anniversary model of a bow produced under the same name during Bob Lee's Wing Archery days. Rob's bow is a 62-inch model drawing 54 pounds at his draw length. His arrows are 55/75 Goldtip Traditional carbon shafts tipped with 125-grain 4-bladed cut-to-the-tip Phantoms from Muzzy. He also equips all of his personal bows with a bow-mount quiver. This allows for quicker arrow nocking with less movement and noise, which he feels makes a big difference in being able to pull off a second shot when, literally, seconds count.

GOING TRADITIONAL FOR THE FIRST TIME

While statistics still show compounds to be the preferred tool of bowhunters, those numbers can be deceiving. Today, there's a growing interest in shooting stick bows. Bob Lee shared some of what he tells a compound shooter considering a stick bow for the first time.

"When I talk to a compound shooter who is interested in traditional equipment, I stress upon them the importance of not overloading themselves with bow weight. The average man can shoot weights between 40 and 55 pounds. What many don't realize is that with a traditional bow, the shooter is required to hold the total weight of that bow at full draw. Over-bowing can spoil the joy of traditional shooting.

"Another recommendation I offer is to form an alliance with an experienced archer who will spend time getting them started with proper size, weights, form, etc. Bad shooting habits are easier to avoid than to break.

"In addition, most compound shooters have used a sight from the time they began, so they may be new to the dynamics of instinctive shooting. This is yet another reason that beginning archers should limit themselves to what they can comfortably control. And the 40- to 55-pound bow range is more than adequate for proper penetration of most game. This poundage can be increased over time, especially through the use of takedown bows (heavier limbs for hunting, lighter limbs for targets.)"

Rob Lee mentioned other things to consider. "For the first-time shooter," he said, "I would suggest that the draw length be 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches shorter with a recurve over that of a compound bow. As for arrows, I suggest aluminum or carbon shafts, with the latter providing better penetration."

In closing, I asked Rob to share any other words of advice that might help archers be more successful with simple recurves and longbows.

"I hav

e three words of advice for bowhunters: Practice, practice, practice!" he said with a grin. "It's also important to mirror your practice setups with that of your hunting situation. For instance, if you're going to be hunting from an elevated position, such as in a tree stand, you should simulate that scenario in your target practice. Likewise, if you're hunting from a sitting position in a ground blind, you can mimic that setup by shooting while sitting atop a five-gallon bucket. Anticipate all elements and prepare for them."

In my mind, Bob and Rob Lee are inspirational to the rest of us common archers. They keep it simple at a time in history when high-tech gadgets run rampant. Some might call them old-fashioned, but their success speaks volumes. I can only hope that I'm still pulling a bow and thumping big old whitetail bucks half as often as 76-year-old living legend Bob Lee continues to do. His testimony alone should be enough to get any Texas bowhunter off the couch and into the woods this fall!

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

For more details on Bob Lee Archery, contact: Bob Lee Archery. Bob and Rob Lee, P.O. Box 1215, 425 SE Loop 456, Jacksonville, Texas 75766, (903) 586-1877, Or you can e-mail info@bobleearchery.com, or go to:

www.bobleearchery.com.

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