Austin Kincaid was five years old when he started shooting a bow. Twenty-three years later, nestled into the elevations of Mt. Hood in Oregon, you will find a beast. No product endorsements or television shows—Austin trains year-round for his season with an intensity that borders on fanaticism. Who would have guessed the passion ignited two decades earlier? It all started when two dads took their kids to the range on Saturday mornings in suburban Chicago.
Back when cell phones were the size of shoe boxes and mounted permanently in the center console area of the car (and called car phones), Austin lived next door to his Godfather, Jim. Austin’s dad, Rick, and Jim were good friends. Most Saturday mornings, Jim, the passionate hunter and marksman, would talk his buddy into loading the kids into the minivan (sans car phone—that was in the Chrysler K-car) and depart for G.A.T. Guns in Dundee, Illinois. Destination: target practice or archery class. On a good day, both.
“I remember plinking with the .22 at marshmallows on the little pond in the back of G.A.T.,” recalls Skyler, Austin’s next-door shooting buddy from back-in-the-day. Skyler, now 26, is currently serving in Afghanistan as a Cavalry Scout for the US Army. “I remember Austin as the kid that would shoot the most. He always wanted to practice longer and his dad would have to drag him away from the range.”
Fast forward to today.
Austin hunts in the high elevations and farther-in terrain around Mt. Hood, Oregon. Success rates are 8% for all tag holders and less than 1% for mature animals. Austin figured out that there was far less hunting pressure if he could get w-a-y back into where the animals were relaxed and comfortable. However, that meant an area with no ATV access. One had to hoof it in and hoof it back out again. With a successful day under his belt, that meant bringing the deer out on his own power. For miles. Across rugged terrain.
It takes an entire year of training to be prepared for that kind of hunting.
“The only thing that works for me is flat out hard work and a little bit of heart,” shared Austin. “Getting into tip-top shape for the mountains is the only edge I have against the rest of the public land hunters.”
In the summer while the animals are in their lazier hot-weather state, hanging out in open areas feeding all day, Austin is doing the exact opposite: hammering the gym four days a week, cramming 50-plus miles running trails, and eating a very lean diet.
Later, during the rut, the animals drop deep into dark canyons moving quite a few miles every day. That is where Austin prevails–where no other hunters can be found.
“The challenge of getting to that one moment of truth is well worth 11 months of training and preparation,” added Austin. That is dedication…and pure passion for the sport of bowhunting.
Austin loves bowhunting for the “one and done” experience. He may only get one shot at an animal while bowhunting, and he may only get one shot at an animal all year. Eleven months of training. One moment. “If I ever lost that feeling of capturing the moment, I would hang up my equipment,” Austin added.
The other thing that keeps Austin hunting is the eating of the wild game.
“It is the healthiest meat in the world. We use deer and elk meat for everything and rarely buy meat from the butcher,” added Austin. And of course, there is the experience of just being in the woods, whether alone or with family or friends that share the hunt.
One of Austin’s training strategies is to shoot his bow every day. E-v-e-r-y d-a-y. It might be only one arrow or it might be 300; but he makes sure he fires it off. Austin’s fiancée Khara has grown to love the sport through Austin’s passion. She started learning archery skills and worked her way up to hunting-ready draw weight. On her first elk scouting trip on an August morning, Austin called five velvet-horned giant bulls over.
“One got within three feet of Khara before I had to spook it from running her over,” Austin reminisced. “She was hooked on the thrill from that moment on.”
Austin and Khara have a May 18, 2013 wedding date on the calendar. While the guest list will be short on who can make the hike, the lovebirds will exchange their vows w-a-y back into the elevations of the Cascade Mountains near Hood River. I wouldn’t expect anything less from this beast. And if he wanted to carry her all the way back out, I bet that he could.
K.J. Houtman is author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for 8-12 year olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.
Images courtesy Austin Kincaid