Little mistakes and unfamiliarity can foil a sportsman, whether he’s trying to fill a big-game tag or win a national deer hunting contest.
Verification comes from Jason Verbeck, the Eastern Washington hunting guide who represented the West last week in a Texas shoot-and-release whitetail hunting contest.
Verbeck was one of 40 hunters selected to compete in the four preliminary rounds of the new Whitetail Pro Series in which participants record their hunt and shooting accuracy through video-camera rifle scopes.
No blood is shed. The hunters shoot blanks.
Since the story appeared in The Spokesman-Review on Oct. 3, the contest has been covered by The New York Times. CBS News is making plans to report on the championships set for Sunday through Oct. 31 in Mississippi.
But Verbeck, 26, failed to get past the first heat, for reasons most veteran hunters have experienced in some way.
“He had some issues with the scope; a couple of poorly placed shots cost him dearly, and the 40-hour drive didn’t help,” said Brian Lynn, a website consultant from Liberty Lake who helps judge and facilitate the contests.
“Then he just had some bad luck to top it off.”
Having been involved with all four preliminary events, Lynn ranked the Texas contest ultracompetitive, perhaps because it was dominated by younger guys.
“They all got along, but nobody wanted to lose and the mental pressure they put on themselves was huge,” he said.
“Even the two older gentlemen felt it. One said, ‘I’ve only had this much adrenaline surging through my body at one time in my life – and that was two years, five months and eight days in Vietnam!’”
Verbeck drove back to Spokane, arrived at 6 a.m. Wednesday and was headed out hunting with live ammunition just hours later.
But first, he offered an upbeat report on his experience.
“I was constantly in bucks,” he said noting that he had a good shot at second or third place, which would have qualified him for the finals.
“I had a bunch of technical difficulties. The scope didn’t record on a couple deer I rattled in. Another one ran straight in and the judges deemed its horns ‘unscorable’ since they couldn’t see much of the rack.”
And just when he’d succeeded in rattling in a beautiful 155- to 160-inch buck to within 40 yards, the batteries went dead on his video scope.
He lost points on a few shots because he failed to properly focus the video scope, which requires manual adjustment.
The older hunters in the competition probably used wristwatches to check when the day’s official shooting times began and ended. But Verbeck, like most 20-somethings, relies on his cell phone for clockwork – and it cost him.
“His phone went off and spooked a buck at 12 yards,” Lynn said. “It was on silent, but he hit a button while trying to check the time and it said, ‘Please say a command.’”
Verbeck also had issues with the clunky large rifle on which the scope was mounted.
“The gun was probably one of the most awkward horrible guns I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It had to have had about a 7-pound trigger pull.”
Lynn said Verbeck caught onto Texas-style hunting quickly, but bad luck was on him like a bear on a carcass.
Apparently a worker on the ranch where the contest was staged drove into the field Verbeck was hunting one morning. “And then a big piece of roading equipment was parked in front of his blind the next day,” Lynn said.
“It sucks, but at the same time, similar things can happen to anyone out hunting,” Lynn said.
Despite the setbacks, Verbeck impressed the Whitetail Pro Series organizers and gained respect from the dominant contingent of Southern boys. He’ll be invited back to compete next year in the made-for-cable TV event.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” he said, noting that sponsorships are rolling in and he even booked some trips for his Okanogan Outfitters guiding service.
“I was very worried about being outclassed by some of the hunters there. That was definitely not the case, though.”
He said he’s far too competitive to settle with sixth place. “I’ll have a year to study and refine everything I do for whitetails, as well as buy one of the guns and scopes to be familiar beforehand.”
To equalize his odds with the others, he’s made a list of essential gear he’ll need before heading South again.
“I’ll need a couple platform stands like they use in Texas – those briar bushes the deer feed on down there are so tall it’s hard to hunt them efficiently.
“I also think I could have been a lot more successful with a decoy. I rattled in two 150-class bucks right to the edge of the tree line but could not entice them out.”
And for his birthday, maybe his family should get him an old-fashioned wristwatch.