DEER WOODS, Ark. - If you are an Elite angler, competition never stops. Even during deer season.
Davy Hite showed that side of the Elite Series this week while sharing a deer stand in western Arkansas.
The long-time pro, fresh from spending a weekend at Bass Pro Shops in Memphis, took a little time to enjoy one of his favorite past times, deer hunting.
Actually he had hunted his away from his home in South Carolina to Tennessee. His first stop was watching his son, Parker, graduate from Army Ranger School, which allowed a couple of hunts around Fort Benning in Georgia. Then he was off to Memphis, Tenn. Following his appearance at the Pyramid, he got ready to hunt his way back.
A day after shaking hands and signing autographs with Ott DeFoe on the floor of the newest, some might say most extravagant, Bass Pro Shops in the country, Hite shared a not-so extravagant box stand on a windy, rainy day overlooking a large cutover in the Ouachita Mountains, west of Little Rock. The audience there wasn’t as eager to see him, but that didn’t damper Hite’s desire to sit and scan an almost half-mile of countryside.
“Anytime I can, I try and work in a hunt when the season is in wherever I might be,’’ Hite said. “Not only do I love deer season, but the opportunities are incredible experiences.”
Occasionally, they even offer an opportunity for a little friendly competition. An hour after scanning the hillside with binoculars, Hite laid down the challenge.
“You want to bet a six pack on who sees the first one?’’ he said.
Seemed simple enough on a lazy day in a deer stand. Odds in the neighborhood of 50/50 are always good against an Elite angler, even one who has beaten the odds by capturing a Bassmaster Classic and two Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles.
To survive on the Elite Series requires working harder, paying close attention to detail and having a determination to persevere. All of that played out as Hite spent extra duty with the binoculars pinned to his eyes. He would never put “seeing a deer first” on his resume, but he was nonetheless engaged.
Even with something as benign as a six-pack, the intensity ratcheted up. Luck, though, sometimes flows in weird directions. An hour later, Hite would drop the binoculars for a moment to look at incoming texts on his cell phone. At that moment the first deer appeared. When its arrival was pointed out, Hite responded like he had just lost a winning fish in the waning moments of an Elite event.
The deer didn’t matter. It wasn’t what Hite was looking for in quality, but it nonetheless served as a reminder that Hite doesn’t like to lose on any level.
That intensity would return 24 hours later. This time during a driving rainstorm while sharing a stand in the White River bottoms northeast of Little Rock. Before he could get settled, a monster estimated in the 160-inch range stepped out, hot on the heels of a doe. In bass fishing language, 160-inch deer are the equivalent of a 12-pound bass.
The deer would move by too fast for Hite to get a shot, but you would have thought a six-pack was on the line by the way his demeanor immediately changed. Things got real in a hurry. From that moment on, Hite was set to respond. Rain or not, he was measuring every change in front of him waiting for another chance. A buck chasing a doe meant the game was under way.
It was all a process Hite was familiar with. While the observer might assume he was just enjoying a day on the deer stand, to Hite it was part of a practice routine that benefits him every day he’s on the water. The competition, regardless if it’s for a six-pack, $100,000 or a title, just comes naturally. Other things you have to learn.
Hite points out that hunting, or really anything done outdoors, helps him as a fisherman. When you spend your livelihood in the outdoors – deer hunting, bass fishing, duck hunting – you always need to stay keyed in to environmental changes. Doing that with whatever you are chasing is practice at keeping your skills honed to be able to feel that change.
“You have to be aware of your environment to be a good bass fisherman and to be a good deer hunter, that’s for sure,” Hite said. “The direction of the wind, the barometric pressure, post-front, pre-front, all that stuff, has everything to do with the movement of deer and fish.
“They are so similar and I think that’s what helps you be a better hunter is to be a good fisherman and vice versa, I really do.”
Hite pointed to several things that took place during the two days clueing him in that something was getting ready to happen, then allowed him to make an educated assumption on what would or could take place next. For instance, the big buck chasing a doe could easily mean it, or another buck, could come back, even if only for a second.
On the first hunt, a quad of gobblers flew off the roost, and he knew after they fed for an hour they wouldn’t leave, opting instead to stay in the only open ground near them because the windy, drizzling weather didn’t make it safe for them to venture out. Once the turkeys fed, they jumped on top of a brush pile, and while one stood guard, the other three basically stuck their heads under their wings, safe from any predator.
“We guess at things like that a lot, and sometimes we are right, sometimes we are wrong,” Hite said. “But they make a living out there every day and their first instinct is to survive. And part of the reason they did that is because of the conditions made it not easy for them to be keen on whether a coyote was around the corner or not. I knew that, and it’s like that with bass.
“Now, obviously I don’t always catch the fish, so we’re not always right. And I don’t always kill the turkey or the deer, but I’m going to have better chances of it and better odds than somebody that’s not aware of those things, certainly better than someone who isn’t really practiced at observing wild creatures do what they do.”
Hite points to the last Elite Series event he won on Lake Pickwick. He won that tournament below the dam that separates Pickwick and Wilson Lake. Early on he shared that water with several boats, but things weren’t happening and they all moved on.
Hite might have followed suit if not for seeing those details and knowing things were changing.
“When the water first started moving, I could barely tell that things were about to happen,’’ Hite said. “But when 20 blue heron appeared from nowhere standing on individual rocks, I basically knew in my heart I’m fixing to win this bass tournament.
“It was an affirmation. It was like ‘oh boy, the waters moving. I’m probably going to catch them.’ Then all of a sudden there are 20 birds out there, and they truly fish for a living. And they got on point. They got intense. Then I knew it was all going to happen with those two things coming together, I knew I was about to win the tournament. I had zero at 11 o' clock, and an hour later I was on my way to winning.”
There are countless stories from Hite on seeing small things someone else might take for granted and turning those clues from mystery to winning ways. His first AOY title was saved by seeing nothing more than two shad jump in an area where conventional knowledge said bass weren’t. That revelation turned a zero into a limit and it allowed him to win his first title.
Hite points to the stories he hears all the time. The ones that start with “man, I lost an 8-pounder, or I would have won the tournament. It was just bad luck.”
Part of being a good angler is reading the signs that something like that is getting ready to happen.
“You always have to pay attention and be ready for the 8-pound bite,’’ Hite said. “If you’re really ready you know before you ever make that pitch there’s a good chance that it’s going to happen right here because of the signs, the pattern, all the things that you see – the wind, the current, all those things.
“When I’m keyed in, then I’m going to have a better chance of catching that fish. If my mind is wandering somewhere else and I don’t get a good hook set, or do something that I shouldn't have done; was that bad luck or good luck because you had that bite and didn’t land that fish or you did land that fish?
“It's usually preparation.”
Rick Clunn used to call that “cues” more than clues. Those cues are invitations to get into the game and play it the way the fish are playing it rather than the anglers.
“Being an observer is one thing, getting involved in the game is another,’’ Hite said. “You have to work on that, hone those skills and because deer and wildlife are so similar to fish, a lot of us spend our available time in the fall sitting on a deer stand because it helps me develop.
“That’s not an excuse to deer hunt. I’d probably still go because it gives me an opportunity to wind down from a difficult season. It actually keeps me sharp and not deadened to environmental shifts from being indoors. And it allows me to fellowship in a way where competition isn’t the driving force.”
Unless, of course, it’s for a six-pack.