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Deer contest taps local hunt guide

Jason Verbeck, a hunting guide who lives in Brewster and Spokane, has been selected as one of 40 hunters from across the country to participate in a deer hunting contest in which no deer are killed.
Jason Verbeck, a hunting guide who lives in Brewster and Spokane, has been selected as one of 40 hunters from across the country to participate in a deer hunting contest in which no deer are killed.

A Spokane man is the only Westerner among 40 hunters invited to participate in the inaugural Whitetail Pro Series deer hunting contest that’s being filmed for the Outdoor Channel.

Jason Verbeck, 26, has been hunting since he could tag along with his grandpa near his hometown of Brewster, Wash. But next week, the area hunting guide will be helping the American Whitetail Authority pioneer a hi-tech competition.

He’ll be shooting blanks at Texas whitetails while trying to outscore other competitors. Winners will be picked based on what judges see later in video recorded through digital rifle scopes mounted on their rifles.

“I’m a little mixed in my feelings,” he said. “I’ve always been taught to be very familiar with my firearm before going hunting, but now I’ll be going out with something I haven’t experimented with. It’s a wild card.”

Nothing will be killed or wounded in a contest with no live ammunition, but the location of the crosshairs – “shot placement” – at the moment the gun is fired will factor into the score for each hunter.

Verbeck will head to Texas next weekend to compete in a field of 10 hunters selected for the third of four preliminary rounds. The top qualifiers will head to the finals at the end of October near Giles Island, Miss.

Verbeck is one of only three hunters in their 20s among the overall field of 40 hunters. Most of the participants have many more years of experience. The oldest is 67.

Greg Koch, founder of the AWA, made tour stops at Bass Pro Shops earlier this year to interview potential participants in a search for the best whitetail hunters in America.

But he never reached the West.

Verbeck got wind of the contest and sent an application that apparently stood out in the crowd.

“Maybe I’m just the token Westerner,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Verbeck, who guided part-time while attending Washington State University, was the manager at Abercrombie and Fitch for two years before hanging out his Okanogan Outfitters shingle full time two years ago.

He’s not daunted by his underdog status in the Whitetail Pro Series.

“I see this as an adventure,” he said. “I’ll be out of my element, competing against several guys who live and hunt around Texas and Oklahoma.

“They know how the rut works there, how it affects rattling. They have more insight on what stage the deer are at.”

But he’s confident his overall hunting skills and his emphasis on fitness will put him in the hunt for first place.

He’ll be competing at The Big Woods on the Trinity River, a 7,500-acre private hunting resort of river-bottom marshes and lush neo-tropical hardwood forest.

He’s scouted the area by poring over topographic maps and Google Earth.

“The vegetation looks really thick,” he said. “It will be different than the wheat-field country where I got my whitetail buck south of Freeman (Wash.) last fall,” he added with a chuckle.

“The Texas place is managed for trophy animals and it has little hunting pressure going into this competition. I’ll start by hunting escape routes and try to use the movements of other hunters to my advantage.”

Having a cameraman following him through the woods won’t be totally foreign.

“We’ve been filming our guided hunts for the last few years. I know its tough to make sure the cameraman has light and the right angle. I can work with that.”

He’ll have to make the most of the two scouting days he’ll share with the other hunters before the three days of competition.

Then he’ll have to rely on his instincts during the hunt and the objectivity of judges scoring his deer and shooting precision.

The competition is a big commitment for the young hunting guide. Although manufacturers have showered him with free gear because of his involvement in the contest, he has to cover all the expenses.

He’ll have to endure the 35-hour drive to Texas – “I can’t fly with all of my tree blinds, ground blinds, decoys and other gear” – and if he’s one of the top two qualifiers, he’ll have to turn around a week later and drive to Mississippi.

“I’m checking out the options for crashing at somebody’s place,” he said. The contest requires the hunters to pay for their own travel and lodging.

And he’ll be giving up a good chunk of the Northwest hunting seasons in which he makes his living.

“But I won’t miss my personal hunting,” he said, noting that he chose to hunt deer with a muzzleloader this year in seasons that opened earlier this week.

“There’s a chance I’ll have my Washington deer tag filled before I go to Texas.”