Hail Marys, 4th-down Conversions Pave Way to Early-season Bowhunting Success
Like his days playing football, Outdoor Channel host Jordan Shipley is seeing a parade of Hail Mary plays, audible calls and fourth down conversions during the early days of the 2016 deer season. Except this time, the score is tallied in inches of antler growth rather than points put up on a scoreboard
For Jordan Shipley, early deer season has always been about new beginnings, primarily on the football field where he excelled at the sport for so many years.
The most prolific wide receiver in Texas high school football history, Shipley went on to have an outstanding career at the University of Texas before beginning an NFL career that was cut short due to injuries.
Now well into his second career as co-host of The Bucks of Tecomate and Tecomate Whitetail Nation television shows on Outdoor Channel, Shipley is also the director of sponsor relations for Tecomate Wildlife Systems in San Antonio, Texas.
Not to mention a pretty good deer hunter when duty calls and it's his job to try and get a buck on camera.
In the first full year of Shipley's outdoors industry career, he had nothing short of a dream season with a number of good animals harvested on camera, several of them taken early on in the filming process.
Call it first strike ability in the first quarter, a huge offensive showcase that got Team Tecomate on the board early and often.
But sometimes in the outdoors television game, hunts are difficult and it's necessary to make adjustments at halftime in an effort to finish strong, even if it's still the first quarter of a long deer hunting season.
With the 2016 filming season underway, Shipley has already experienced the need to win in the fourth quarter twice during the first couple of weeks of September. The first time was in Kentucky while bowhunting velvet-rack bucks and the second was in Kansas as he used a smoke pole to seal the deal.
"Much like when I played football, the opening date of the season is what's in your mind throughout the offseason while practicing and preparing for what's ahead," said Shipley of his Kentucky archery hunt that began on September 3.
Hoping to tag a record book contender from the deer rich Bluegrass State - and perhaps a velvet racked buck to boot - Shipley was excited for his whitetail season opener.
"Kentucky is a state that has gotten a great deal of attention lately and rightly so," he said. "The fact that they only allow one buck to be harvested per hunter helps, as well as some good genetics and nutrition."
With farm fields full of corn and soybeans, not to mention abundant high protein browse and falling white oak acorns in the woods, it didn't take long for Shipley to figure out that the season's first action might be tough.
"We joked that these deer had a buffet at their disposal (with) just about everything they wanted in close proximity," he said. "The hard thing about hunting deer that have access to an abundance of food is that they inherently have low stress (on them) and are therefore living on their terms."
And the result? "They can be fickle creatures," said Shipley.
Nonetheless, Shipley and his bowhunting campmates - Ryan Maisenbacher of Rocky Boots and Tecomate pro-staffer Sam Shackelford - hit camp with high optimism even as they realized the long odds stacking up against them.
"With several factors working against us, including an unusual abundance of food, hot temperatures and almost dead calm, circling winds, (the) bucks (were) shedding their velvet (and) we knew it would be tough," said Shipley.
And the result? "Tough it was," he lamented.
In four days of hunting, Shackelford never saw a buck and Maisenbacher saw one younger buck, a lot of does and some turkeys.
Things weren't much better for Shipley. But with one extra day of hunting allotted in his schedule, he was hopeful that something good would happen on day five of his hunt in the state of Old Kentucky Home.
"We had been hunting the same spot (while) hunting a couple of deer that weren't showing (themselves)," said Shipley, noting that they had gathered nighttime photos of a couple of bruiser bucks on the Reconyx game cameras.
"I always say I go after the biggest buck we have on camera that's showing up in DAYLIGHT, although it can be hard to leave a (real) giant that has not showed himself (yet)," he said.
Down to his final afternoon of bowhunting, Shipley realized it was time to call the deer hunting version of an audible play, opting for the proverbial Hail Mary toss that he has been on the receiving end of several times during his football career.
"We went to a spot that no one had been to so far," said Shipley. "The hunt started (off) quickly with several does and turkeys coming to drink at a waterhole that was about 30 yards from me before (they began) filtering down to the (soy)beans to feed.
"After a long dead period, two bucks appeared behind them and my heart quickly started pounding upon seeing them," he added.
Why? "Because they were the first bucks I'd seen (on the hunt)," said Shipley. "But it didn't take long to realize they weren't shooters."
Just when it looked like the game might be lost, a third buck showed up on the scene, albeit not in the most friendly position in terms of wind direction.
"I found myself thankful I had sprayed down thoroughly with a new scent elimination product called Scent Thief because the bucks came straight downwind of us, (stopping around) 15 yards (away while) milling around and feeding on acorns," said Shipley.
While it took a while for a shot opportunity to present itself on the best buck, eventually the tall-tined velvet racked Kentucky 10-pointer made his way to the waterhole where Shipley brought his Hoyt Carbon Defiant bow to full draw. With the buck at 30-yards, the bowhunter cut the shot and suddenly found himself on the scoreboard.
"A double lung shot put the buck down within 70 yards and the hard hunting made the reward especially sweet," said Shipley. "The buck probably would have shed within the next couple of days but I'm glad he held on (to the velvet)!
"We (had) a cooler full of organic venison and my first Kentucky and velvet buck in tow," he added. "What a way to start the year!"
A few days later, Shipley found himself on familiar ground in Kansas hoping to continue the hot streak that members of Team Tecomate have enjoyed over the past couple of September early muzzleloader seasons in the Sunflower State.
But like his Kentucky bowhunt, the offensive attack that Shipley had hoped for started off in slow gear as few good bucks came calling.
"This was the slowest hunt we've ever had at this property," he said. "The full moon and winds shifting directions almost daily didn't help the matter."
Neither did an abundance of corn and soybeans brought on by good rainfall this year.
But working with the Intel provided by Reconyx game cameras, Shipley knew there were good bucks in the area even if they weren't showing themselves during daylight hours just yet.
"We had to change our (hunting) spots about four different times," he said. "Finally, on the evening of Day 6, we got it done and I killed a 150-inch gross whitetail with my new Nitride series Traditions Vortek StrikerFire muzzleloader."
Needing the deer hunting equivalent of a fourth
down conversion, Outdoor Channel television
personality Jordan Shipley downed this big
buck in the final momentsof his early season
muzzleloader hunt in Kansas. (Photo courtesy
of Jordan Shipley/Tecomate Wildlife Systems)
If his Kentucky hunt was about an audible Hail Mary play call to go to a previously unhunted spot, Shipley's Kansas hunt was about persevering to the end, toughing out a difficult hunt with a fourth down conversion as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
After reflecting on his tough six-day hunt - post-game film study, if you will - I asked Shipley what he learned in Kansas.
"The main thing to remember about hunting an agricultural heavy Midwestern property is that the deer are on their terms there and will usually be nocturnal," he said.
"That's one reason that good optics are a must since they will often come into play as the last 15 minutes of legal light arrive. That's when about 90 percent of your action will be in that situation.
"But the main lesson I learned on this hunt was to go to the spot that has the most shooters in the area rather than trying to hunt an area with only one shooter, even if he's a little bigger.
"You're counting on a buck to mess up (early in the season) and the spot I ended up in did not have the biggest bucks on the property. But it did have the highest number of mature bucks on any part of the property."
Shipley said that when a hunter has only a limited number of days to hunt - just like Team Tecomate typically does when filming a hunt - such a strategy is paramount to avoid eating a deer tag sandwich.
"That dynamic totally changes when you're hunting a property you live near and can hunt all year long," he said. "In our case, we're (filming and) trying to hunt the biggest mature buck we can find within a certain amount of days."
Because of that, his woodsy strategy is pretty straight forward early on in the fall deer hunting game.
"Always go after the daylight deer in a pre-rut feeding pattern," said Shipley. "(Because) you can waste a ton of time otherwise on a deer that will not see the light of day until the rut (takes place)."
With two early season bucks on the scoreboard, Shipley's 2016 deer hunting game is off to a very solid start.
But with other hunts scheduled - and the best part of the whitetail season still to come - the grand autumn game that he now plays is far from over.