In pursuit of my first whitetail deer, I joined two of the industry's most reputable brands on a week-long adventure.
I was probably 10 years old the first time my father took me deer hunting. Beaming with optimism, I watched as the forest presented every sign of life that morning, except the kind that travels by hoof, and quickly learned about that timeless virtue that eventually shapes any good deer hunter: patience.
More than 18 years later, I find that my exercises of digging deep have evolved into violent, clawing strokes, as I've still yet to lay hands on perhaps the most commonly harvested game animal North America has to offer.
It's as if I went backwards. I've successfully hunted a good deal of game animals and explored wild lands in far-reaching corners of this continent, all before conquering a feat most hunters cross off the list as kids. Call it a curse, call it user error, call it whatever you want. Whitetail deer have gotten the best of me all my life.
Then the tables turned.
When I saw what was in store for a recent trip with Mossy Oak and Academy Sports + Outdoors, it felt as if fate had replenished my depleted store of hope. These brands are navigated by experts in the art of deer hunting. For the first time, the odds felt like they were in my favor.
Welcome to the Sooner State
Mossy Oak has an annual tradition of visiting a particular ranch in western Oklahoma, but this year invited Academy Sports + Outdoors, as the two collaborated on the new line of Magellan Outdoors Pro hunting apparel that donned an exclusive camo pattern: Mossy Oak Terra Range.
We arrived at Canadian River Outfitters located near Crawford, Oklahoma, where we immediately hit it off with both new and familiar faces. We immediately began sharing predictions drenched in confidence, a tradition that's crucial to the beginning of any good hunt.
All of the other hunters were ripe with bowhunting experience, whereas I could only draw on my non-deer hunting accounts for reassuring perspective. I've shot hogs with a bow, and I'm pretty good at nailing carp, but there isn't much more in my quiver, if you'll pardon a sappy pun.
The topography was about what you'd expect from western Oklahoma, as rolling hills afforded our eyes with visibility all the way to the horizon, while shelter belts of trees draped a curtain over our quarry.
The temperature was cooler the first few days, but heated up during the day around midweek. Rain was in the forecast toward the end of the week, so all of us were hoping to bag a deer in the first few days.
Nothing makes hunting a new place more exciting than doing it with new gear that gives you an edge, and the items Mossy Oak and Academy were showcasing included some big-label features while managing some groundbreaking prices.
It's no secret that the market has seen a wild spike in price points, especially across the apparel sector. Top-shelf brands are charging an easy $1,000 for one full system, often more. While there are cheaper options on the market, they tend to severely lack in quality, which is noticeable when you're on a long hunt like this that requires you to really put each piece to the test.
However, if you know anything about Academy Sports + Outdoors and their private labels, surely you're familiar with their ability to bridge the gap between quality and affordability. Their new Magellan Outdoors Pro line somehow manages to provide outdoorsmen and women with even more bang for their buck.
Additionally, the Terra Range camo pattern worked great in this part of Oklahoma, but I can really see it working everywhere. Mossy Oak wanted to make a camo pattern with a color pallet that captured as many natural elements as possible, while also creating a break-up texture for optimal concealment. Using colors of Blank Ink, Burnt Olive, Beluga, Moss Gray, Ivy Green and Grape Leaf, the Mossy Oak team came out with what might be the most universal camo pattern I've ever used.
The Magellan Outdoors Pro line debuted with essentially two systems, one for warm weather and one for cold weather, and because it was early archery season we spent the majority of our trip in the lighter system.
The pullover uses a gridded fleece material with Agion Active scent control, and its aerodynamic, fitted hood simultaneously maintains airflow and provides concealment and UV protection.
The pants, on the other hand, use a woven polyester-blend fabric, which also features Agion Scent control. They also come with Cordura reinforcement fabric for the kick plate to keep the bottoms from wearing out after only a season or two.
From the four-way stretch fabric to the mesh-lined zipper pockets and silicone printed interior waistband, these pants are unquestionably a savior when it starts heating up in the blind.
I hunted for most of the week in this system, and found myself more comfortable than I've ever felt sitting in the deer woods for a long period of time. I'd say this system could stand up to any premier-brand I've ever tested, and comes at only a fraction of the price. The pullover comes in at $49.99 and the pants cost $69.99.
We did use the cold-weather system for one day of the hunt, and we were all profoundly impressed by the quality, the warmth and the attention to detail for these sort of hunting purposes.
Each piece also uses Agion Active scent control, but both were designed to fight Mother Nature's toughest elements.
Not only is the jacket insanely warm, but it's also windproof and waterproof, and also features Cordura fabric at the back hem of the jacket to prevent wear and tear.
The beauty of this three-in-one concept is that it could pretty much cover all of your hunting needs on its own. The outside layer serves as a waterproof shell or a rain jacket if the inner jacket is removed, whereas the inner jacket can provide insulation for your do-it-all jacket, or it can serve as a medium-weight puffer.
The pants offer waterproof cargo pockets, a Thinsulate down blend paired with high-pile fleece and Cordura reinforcement kick plate fabric. They also come with removable back suspenders to meet your preference.
Retail prices for the cold-weather jacket and pants come in at $169.99 and $129.99, respectively.
The Magellan Outdoors Pro hunting apparel line also features the Pro Hunt Gridded Fleece Beanie, the Pro Hunt Hat, the Pro Hunt Gridded Fleece Gaiter and the Pro Hunt Gridded Fleece Liner Gloves, all of which added invaluable comfort and concealment throughout the hunt.
I don't think I differ too much from the average hunter when I say I always prioritize my boots when purchasing hunting apparel. To me, boots are undoubtedly the most important piece of hunting gear you'll buy, so it's always worth spending a little extra money. But man, these boots were incredible and unbelievably affordable compared to many of the boots I've bought in the past.
The Pro Hunt Men's Scaloth pair comfort and durability with ease, by combing a leather upper, waterproof protection, Scent Mask technology, 400 grams of Thinsulate insulation, memory foam footbeds, memory sole midsoles and a slip-resistant rubber outsole for a retail price of only $99.99.
These might be the most comfortable hunting boots I've ever worn over the course of a week.
The Pro Hunt Mens' Vivor Boots offer many of the same features but add a level of ruggedness with a rubber upper and a 15-inch silhouette.
As opposed to most mud boot concepts, these are particularly easy to get on and off, as they sport a slip-on style with YKK zippers on the medial side.
They are on the heavier side, however, and come with 800 grams of insulation. But should you be up against foul weather, the Vivor boots can handle it all for a retail price of only $99.99.
The Magellan Outdoors Pro lineup features two bags, both of which proved to be highly functional and extremely durable, as they got a ton of use throughout the hunt. The Pro Hunt Day Pack came with me to the stand every single day, essentially serving as my home base, as it serviced all of my hunting needs.
With a front panel that opens into a gear shelf, a reinforced tree hanging clip, quiver attachment clips, a bow/rifle holder, a 2-liter hydration bladder and a reversible orange/camo rain fly, this pack isn't missing anything you'd wish you had once in the field.
It also uses micro tricot material to stay extra quiet, and double-padded back and shoulder straps to stay comfortable no matter how much weight you're carrying.
The Pro Hunt Waterproof Dufflebag true to its name, as it features fully welded TPU material, a waterproof zipper for the main compartment and waterproof zippers for three external accessory pockets. You could leave this bag outside during a flood and your gear would stay completely dry.
It also uses padded side carry handles and neoprene-padded carry handles that double as shoulder straps should you want to carry it like a backpack.
Both bags retail for $99.99.
Into the Woods
Once equipped and ready to go, I grabbed my pack and my crossbow and jumped in the truck. Each hunter went to their own blind or treestand for the first evening with a quiver full of broadheads and an irrational anticipation of success.
My first spot was actually a tripod stand just over the western border on Texas soil, where I'd see three does and one spike buck, plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the days to follow. My default Texas hunting license, where I live and do a lot of bird hunting, allowed me to hop over the line and get what I hoped was a prime stand location.
That first day was quiet, and I didn't see much at all. When it was all said and done, only one buck went down the first evening, a younger buck that took a bad hit and needed to be recovered the next morning.
It wasn't until the second day that I came back across state lines into Oklahoma, where I would post up in a ground blind about 30 yards from a trail camera that had seen a mature 6-pointer every single day that week.
A guide sat next to me with confidence, noting the consistency of this particular buck's behavior.
Endless movement defined the evening. Groups of does came through one after another, followed by groups of 20-30 turkeys, but not one buck.
This would be cyclical, as the same wildlife frequented our spot for the rest of the week, but only that first Texas spike would cross paths with me. However, my fellow media professionals had a little more luck.
The second evening yielded perhaps the best buck of the trip, as Drew Pellman of Petersen's Bowhunting was fortunate enough to watch this one walk up inside of 20 yards for a textbook shot. Because this was the first big buck of the week, each of us picked Pellman's brain for any kind of insight that would allow us to achieve the same kind of success.
With the bar raised higher than this buck's impressive G2 antlers, every one of us was starting to feel the pressure.
The next morning brought two more bucks back to deer camp, the first falling to Mossy Oak's Jake Meyer, and the second falling to Academy's Travis Schaefer, who coincidentally was sitting in the same Texas stand I started in. My curse continued.
Each of these deer reinforced just how many quality bucks western Oklahoma has to offer, as these deserved a spot hanging on a wall just as much as Pellman's buck.
With only two nights left, the ranch owner offered me a chance to switch stands, but it seemed foolish to abandon a stand again, as I'd already paid a price for doubting my first spot. So, I decided to stick it out.
Rooted Television's Ben Cole's decision to also stay put paid off big time, as the first buck to approach his blind all week nonchalantly turned broadside right in front of him, offering up the perfect shot opportunity.
Harvesting what was apparently his best archery buck to date, Cole's luck felt like a sign that one more day in my same blind would have to produce eventually.
In fact, when we pulled the SD cards from the trail camera, we were able to see that the mature 6-pointer we'd been waiting for had visited our spot every single day we hunted it, it was just usually in the middle of the day.
Again, I had the choice to move, but it felt too risky to abandon ship with only a day left.
The Deer Drought Lives On
We hunted both the morning and the evening of the last day with high hopes, but once again, I saw everything but a buck.
Unlike many other deer hunts I've experienced, this didn't feel anything like a failure. For starters, our group collectively harvested five bucks, a feat few deer camps can ever claim. Similar to any hunting expedition, it's always a team effort first, and I wasn't alone in striking out. With a double-digit sum of hunters, some of us were inevitably going to leave empty-handed.
The wins came in the form of newfound friendships, unforgettable experiences and timeless knowledge you only gain from getting out there and taking your chances.
Not only will I always remember this particular hunt, but I'll remember the people, the time we had, and the first look at camo I'm likely going to wear for a long time.
However, if you can, I ask you to say a prayer or cross your fingers for me to fill the freezer on my next attempt. Something just doesn't feel right about having gone this long before finally putting a whitetail in the freezer.
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