Bowjunkie’s Revenge - or -
How The Emu Got Hammered

By Bill Bahr

His steps were silent - muffled by the dew-covered grass. The pre-dawn mist drifted around his legs as he crept slowly forward, eyes locked on the dark ground where he expected to see the spoor of his quarry.  For years the primeval forest had grudgingly yielded her bounty to this stealthy predator.  Few had escaped his cunning ways and finely honed skills. 

The frosty stars lit the dim trail as his hunter’s senses told him that his prey was very near.  He paused and searched the forest floor for a familiar cloven hoof print or nibbled leaf - but instead saw something that transformed his steely confidence into quivering terror. 

Each of its two giant feet had three long reptilian toes, tipped by deadly curved claws.  Its powerful legs rose upward, black and scaly, to a brownish gray muscular body.  Its long black neck and head were arched back into a striking position, and its sharply serrated jaws opened as it towered over the terrified hunter. 

Sounds like one of the raptor scenes out of Jurassic Park doesn’t it, but if you ask Mike Fitzgerald, or “Bowjunkie” to his friends, he will confirm that this nightmare really happened several years ago.  Mike has bowhunted the Sam Houston National Forest, just north of Lake Conroe, for many years and has successfully harvested both deer and hogs within its boundaries.  He knows the SHNF area of Texas pretty well and never expected to be attacked by any of its native species, much less by Big Bird’s evil twin.  

How, you ask, did we get Emu’s in the SHNF?  Pretty simple explanation actually.  Like most other exotic animals spread across many Texas counties, the Emu was imported to the U.S.   As early as 1930 an attempt was made to add Emu’s to the growing list of agri-businesses in Texas, with their meat and hides as one source of revenue and their oil as another.  Emu oil is thought to have many therapeutic qualities particularly in treating joint aches and pains.  When the Emu market took a nose-dive many Emu ranching operations simply turned them loose rather than continue paying the food bills.  Capable of producing 50-100 chicks per year, an adult Emu can live for 50-60 years in the wild.  Emu’s and other ratites (large flightless birds including the ostrich and rhea) have been so successful in surviving wild dog and dingo predation in their native Australia that ranchers there have erected thousands of miles of fences to keep them out of their cattle operations.  Although ratite’s normal diet includes insects and vegetation, it will readily eat grain-producing crops, and will suck up corn and protein feed like giant vacuum cleaners. 

Douglas Bahr’s re-enactment of an Emu attack

Actually Mike was pretty lucky considering the circumstances.  A full-grown Emu can stand six feet tall and weigh over 130 pounds.  Although not normally aggressive, they are quite capable of defending themselves using their clawed feet as primary weapons and also their sharp beak if necessary.  In the early morning darkness Mike had surprised the Emu (a rather mutual feeling Mike said) and was knocked backwards when the bird delivered a cheap shot to his chest.  Basic instincts took over and Mike drew his K-bar knife, preparing for battle “mano-a-mano”.  Fortunately for Mike (or the Emu, depending on your PETA membership status) the Emu decided that enough damage had been done and made its exit to parts unknown, leaving Mike with a bruised chest, soggy shorts and one heck of a story.  It also left Mike with a score to settle and this is where our story continues.

Mike and his fellow GBOT buddies Greg “Hammer” Klausmeyer, Jeff “Jagman” Gage, Tomme  “Doc” Actkinson, and yours truly were lucky enough to be invited to participate in a management hunt to restore a healthy buck / doe ratio on Keith Warren’s ranch in central Texas.    

What, you ask, are GBOT’s ?  The Groovin Bowhunters Of Texas are a small but dedicated group of bowhunters who abide by an ethical hunter’s code that requires proficiency, hard work, a willingness to honor the animals we hunt, a spirit of adventure that allows us to laugh and enjoy each other’s company, which explains the wig-o-flage. 

Ok, so where was I – oh yeah, we were invited to hunt on Keith Warren’s ranch near Nixon, Texas.  Yes, this is the same Keith Warren who has the hunting and fishing “Outdoor Adventure” syndicated TV series, as well as a weekly syndicated newspaper column.  And yes, he recently caught some flak from the bowhunting crowd for some of his opinions about the “draw-loc” archery device and the use of crossbows during the general archery season.  More details on that controversy can be found at under the “Live Hunt” section.  Anyway, we were here to hunt, not debate, so we started getting ready. 

Chris Lange, the ranch manager, told us that we needed to take at least five does during our two-day hunt, but not to shoot the “management does” that had orange ear tags.  Chris finished the ranch rules and concluded by telling us about a renegade ratite on the ranch that had successfully eluded both bow and gun hunters.  This turkey-on-steroids apparently was costing Chris a fortune in protein feed/corn and had to go.  Jagman rose to the occasion and made things interesting with a $5/person bet on who would be the Emu’s executioner.  Bowjunkie’s eyes narrowed in anticipation as he tested his K-bar’s edge for possible re-engagement with his archenemy.  The morning weather looked pretty grim as we headed out, and the predictions of weekend thunderstorms were soon to be tested. 

We were in our stands before first light, and I was excited to have a mature doe broadside at 15 yards.   I was satisfied that there was no orange ear tags and had just prepared to draw when a loud “braaaaakkkkkkkk” noise spooked both the doe and me.  She sprinted for the next county and I almost fell off the ladder stand.  Whatever made the noise stayed hidden from view but not from my imagination.  

We hunted for 2-3 hours then came back to camp to see what the morning had produced.  Everyone but Hammer had been skunked, and the only thing more frustrating than his grin was seeing him collect the $25 Emu pot.

Apparently the sound that I heard while at my stand was the Emu’s morning wake-up call.  It headed in Hammer’s direction, so he was the first GBOT challenged by theEmu’s anatomy – just how big is an Emu kill zone anyway?  True to his GBOT name, Hammer dropped the proverbial hammer on ‘bro emu’, which not quite fully grown still weighed 65 pounds.  Hammer described the Emu’s demise as being similar to that of a “giant chicken going in very big, very fast circles”. 

Needless to say, Bowjunkie exhibited mixed emotions of joy for his brother GBOT’s success and sadness at the loss of an opportunity for revenge… not to mention the $5.  Emotions however were quickly put aside because the GBOT team still had work to do.

We returned to the stands at 11am and hunted for several more hours before the first of many huge thunderstorms forced us to make a speedy retreat back to the shelter of camp.  The rain, thunder and plenty of lightning had us pinned down and no one was eager to return to their tall metal “lightning rod” ladder-stands under those conditions.  We were wet and cold and decided to start a fire, but all the wood was soaked.  Bowjunkie poured gasoline on the logs and was about to do his best Buddhist Monk impression before we convinced him to use the TNRCBIS (Ted Nugent remote control bonfire ignition system) method of fire starting.  It actually worked, but the wood was so wet that it soon fizzled-out once the gas had burned off.

Finally the storm pattern slowed down and we got back into the stands at 4pm only to have it start raining again 20 minutes later.  Since the electrical aspect of the storm had let up, we stayed in place for 3 more hours until it was too dark to shoot. 

Kind of hard to tell which one is the Emu

Bowjunkie and. Jagman practice remote control fire starting.

Our stories back in camp that evening were a repeat of the morning’s adventures.  All had gotten wet and cold, most had sore butts, many had seen deer and some had even taken shots, but no one had come back with venison.  I had a clean miss at 15 yards, shooting past the doe just as she unexpectedly turned.  Hammer had drawn blood with his shot so tracking began just after dark and continued for hours.  Following a scanty blood trail at night is always difficult, but this night was particularly frustrating because the ground was covered in a thick carpet of red, orange and brown post oak leaves, wet and shining from the misting rains.  Late that night we ended our search, knowing that we would continue the next day when daylight would make the job a little easier. 

The next morning, afternoon and evening were frustratingly similar to the previous day.   Early in the day Jagman nailed a doe but he and Bowjunkie had to spend 3 hours on hands and knees tracking her before the weather forced them to stop.  As the day progressed the rain and electrical outbursts became even more intense, forcing us back into camp for hours at a time.  

Hammer was successful in taking a good doe during a break in the rain but also continued his search for the doe that was lost the prior evening.   Knowing that the rain had probably dissolved all traces of the trail he finally concluded that the first doe was unrecoverable.  In true GBOT fashion Jagman and Hammer each burned a doe tag thus honoring the deer and losing of the privilege of using that tag later in the year.  Although some may think that burning tags is elitist or meaningless we feel that it is the final and logical step that ethical hunters should take when deer go un-recovered.

Flaming tags – definitely not groovy.

Fate however always seems to have the last laugh, or in this case the last smile.  Late that evening, as we got seated for the final few hours of our hunt, Tomme remembered that he left his release back in camp.  Not wanting to disturb his fellow GBOT’s, he decided to leave his bow at the stand and walk rather than drive back to camp to get the missing release. 

On his short cut back to camp Tomme noticed a doe lying down in the tall grass.  She was hiding and definitely not wanting to move so he passed by as if he’d not noticed.  As soon as he retrieved his release he returned to the stand for his bow via a wide path around the doe.  Stalking quietly back to within 20 yards of the doe Tomme hoped that she would still be there.  She was there, but was ready this time to make her exit when he put her down with one shot.  As he looked at the fallen deer it became obvious that it was Jagman’s wounded doe, tracked earlier in the day to within several hundred yards from were she had finally hidden in the grass. 

And what about Bowjunkie’s revenge?  Even though Hammer had provided some relief, it was clear that ‘Junkie’ and his K-bar would just have to continue lurking in the SHNF, hoping that the big black bird was still there and still ready to rumble.

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