Red Dirt, Prairie Wind and Dusty Echoes in Bowhunting's Heartland

Red Dirt, Prairie Wind and Dusty Echoes in Bowhunting's Heartland
Outdoors 365 columnist Lynn Burkhead shows off his 130-class Sooner State buck. (Brian Strickland photo)

Sitting in a treestand last week in the red dirt country of the state of Oklahoma, I had the faintest of sensations that I had somehow been there before. Even if I had never set foot upon the rocky and dusty soil that my ladder stand was occupying.

For starters, in some ways, I was returning to my bowhunting roots since a Bear Archery compound bow was hanging from the bow hanger screwed into the elm tree I was perched against.

Years ago, when the bowhunting bug first bit me, I marched down to my local sporting goods store, the old Barrett Cut-Rate Drug emporium that carried a little bit of everything in my North Texas hometown.

Including my community’s best overall selection of hunting and fishing gear, which explains why I walked out of the store one day with a brand spanking new Bear Archery Whitetail II compound bow, the best of the day and top of the line back then.

With arrow speeds that seem tortoise slow today, I mastered the loopy trajectory of launching a broadhead-tipped arrow – if I remember correctly, my pins were set in five-yard increments instead of the 10-yard gaps of today – and started down the road to becoming a bowhunter of white-tailed deer.

These days, more than a couple of decades removed from that purchase, I’m a 40-something-year-old man with several speed-freak bows hanging in the man cave along with some decent-size whitetail racks collected at various stops along the hunting trail that I’ve traveled.

As the bowhunting industry has exploded in innovation and popularity, my modest stick-and-string collection has grown to include several top-shelf bows from a variety of manufacturers, bows that are whisper quiet, deadly fast and quite impressive.

But somewhere along the way, my original Bear compound bow got lost in the shuffle and was sold in a garage sale, even if it did bear the name of the most famous moniker to ever be heard in archery circles. And that of course is the legendary Fred Bear, the grandfather of all that we bowhunters enjoy and take for granted today.

Fast forward to my Sooner State deer hunt last week thanks to an invite to the Bear Archery media hunt at Scott and Joni Sanderford’s Croton Creek Ranch near Cheyenne, Okla. (

As the wind blew steadily on a beautiful early fall afternoon – and with a blood red full moon soon to be rising when dusk fell on the southern Great Plains – I was now toting a Bear Agenda 6, a modern rocket ship of a bow.

With blazing arrow speeds of up to 350 feet per second, ample forgiveness in a 32-inch axle-to-axle frame and the ability to repeatedly drill an arrow and broadhead combination into the 10-ring boiler room of a whitetail, I’d have to say that in my opinion, this Bear Archery offering is among the best bows that I’ve ever shot.

A great respecter of bowhunting’s tradition and history – and the rich legacy of Fred Bear – I found myself brimming with confidence as I climbed into the stand for my first deer hunting sit of the year.

But despite the great location – Oklahoma is a sleeper state for big whitetails in general and Western Oklahoma is a can’t miss part of that – I was soon lost in deep thought as a parade of turkeys and deer began to move towards the food source I was guarding.

Part of that treestand introspection came from circumstances earlier this year that found me facing my second life-threatening surgery in the past decade for a heart ailment. Just a few months ago, I wasn’t even sure whether bowhunting for whitetails would still be in the cards this fall.

But thanks to the work of my surgeon, Dr. G. Kimble Jett, and most certainly thanks to the grace of God, here I was anyway, hoping to find a new set of headbones for the wall and a fresh supply of lean venison destined for the freezer.

With this smorgasbord of thoughts swirling in my head, I went on bowhunting autopilot, just sitting in a stand, enjoying the afternoon and whatever it would bring and thinking of all of the blessings I have before me including the gift of life itself, the wife and children that wait for me back home and the ability to enjoy this great pastime of bowhunting.

Just a couple of hours later, however, I would have to admit that my confidence wasn’t nearly as high as the day’s adventure wound down. Despite a steady stream of deer, I had yet to see anything with antlers.

So in the last half-hour of legal shooting light, with the deer moving towards a nearby food plot, the resignation was slowly coming on that today’s state of high anticipation might very well have to turn into tomorrow’s hoped for opportunity.

Or maybe not I thought as a tall-tined Sooner State 10-pointer popped into view not 20 yards away from my hide.

A couple of steps later, the buck was at 17 yards and I found myself at full draw, going through the quick mental checklist of whether or not he was old enough, had big enough antlers and was a buck that I was willing to burn my tag on so early in the hunt.

As the words yes, yes and yes rolled through the noggin, my autopilot kicked in again. Settling the top pin on the quartering away buck, the shot was released and the combination of a Carbon Express Maxima Red arrow and a Rocket Sidewinder broadhead were quickly on their way.

Hard hit, the buck crashed away through the brush and shinnery oak and all became still.

A half-hour later I found out why things had gotten quiet so quickly when guide Jason Coffin and I made a 20-yard recovery – a personal record for me – of a 130-class buck that was almost instantly felled by a devastating arrow wound through both lungs and a main artery.

With the late afternoon breeze fading away, the moon was beginning its rise on the eastern horizon as a band of coyotes yipped and yapped, serenading us as they whipped up a wild as the wind prairie song.

Somewhere in the post-hunt work that followed, my guide Jason interrupted my thoughts of a perfect hunt in a not-so-perfect year.

“Lynn, I don’t know if I told you this earlier,” he said softly. “But the stand you were hunting in this afternoon, it’s the same stand that Mike Lambeth hunted in last year when he killed his big buck here.”

With that news delivered, my eyes moistened up as I thought of my late outdoor writer friend who had tragically passed away earlier this year while on an Oklahoma spring turkey hunt.

On the very day that I came home from the hospital after my heart surgery to be exact.

And right then and there, it made sense to me why all of this had seemed so familiar.

Because even though I had literally never been here before, I had none the less found myself in this very spot on numerous other occasions.

A spot where so many others have stood before me as they contemplated the mysteries of life, the goodness and blessings of God and the wonders of chasing a wily whitetail with a modern stick-and-string.

Whether they were legendary bowhunting figures or simply good friends, I was standing in a place where the dusty echoes of archers who had gone before me were still inspiring.

Echoes that were still being heard loud and clear as a warm and soft evening wind danced its way across an Oklahoma red dirt prairie.

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