Illinois Outdoors

Tele-hunter now a buffalo soldier

September 25, 2007 at 02:30 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was published Sept. 25, 2007 in the Peoria Journal Star.

Tim Wells has been in iffy situations before.

There was that time he charged a grizzly with a bow and shot the bear in the skull, only later pondering what might have happened had he missed.

There was the time he almost suffered hypothermia while hunting wolves in Canada.

But last week’s experience in South Dakota is one Canton tele-hunter Wells calls “the closest I’ve come to death while hunting.”

An accomplished bowhunter who has compiled numerous hunting videos and is host of a television show at 10:30 a.m. Sundays on WYZZ-TV (43), Wells has a passion for spearhunting. “I like the challenge,” he said.

He survived one of his more unusual challenges earlier this month in the grasslands of South Dakota.

“I always wanted to do a spear hunt for buffalo on the (Great) Plains. At first I envisioned doing it on a horse,” Wells said. “But nobody wanted to let me use their horse, because they thought their horse might get killed.”

Instead, Wells first tried to crawl close to a bison, mimicking a method used by Native Americans. In the process, Wells learned bison are not as dumb as he first thought. At least they aren’t dumb on Shannon Yeske’s 7,000-acre ranch 1 1/2 hours north of Mitchell. Yeske books numerous buffalo hunts through his Northern Plains Outfitters company, and so his bison have a natural fear of humans.

While Wells crawled within two yards of a big bull, the animal fled when he made a move to stand and throw his Cold Steel Samburu spear.

After that, Wells decided to try another “old-school” approach, suggested by Yeske. Years ago, when bison still roamed the plains, Native Americans chased herds past hunters who would throw spears or shoot arrows at the stampeding animals.

For some reason, that appealed to Wells.

So he built a flimsy grass blind in a low spot between pastures, positioned one cameraman directly behind him and placed his father, Dave Wells, on a ridge nearby with another camera. Then Yeske got the herd moving in Tim Wells’ direction.

“I thought they would come single file,” Wells said. “All the sudden, I looked over this ridge and here came 100 buffalo running full tilt right at me, running about 20 yards wide. I’m thinking, ‘What the heck have I done?’ You could hear their hooves. It was like something from the movies.”

The lead bison brushed Wells’ blind. Then another big 1,600-pound brute came right at him.

“As he came, he veered a little bit to the right and I made the throw and stuck him good,” Wells said. “My dad got some good shots and the cameraman behind me got it, too. I think it’s probably the first video of its kind.”

You’ll be able to see that footage later this year for two reasons: Wells escaped unharmed, although afterward the cameraman behind him said “Never again”; and Wells has a 20-week deal to air his “Relentless Pursuit’’ show on Fox 43.

Sunday’s program featured footage of Wells killing a 196-inch typical mule deer last September in Alberta. Upcoming shows no doubt will include plenty of other big-buck hunts, since Wells - like many hunters - is gearing up for the Oct. 1 Illinois archery deer opener.

But like Wells’ love for spearhunting, his approach to bowhunting is unusual, as we’ll discuss from 7-8 a.m. Saturday on my weekly radio show. In a nutshell, Wells tries to ambush bucks by hunting almost strictly from the ground. Why? Of 25 mature bucks photographed by his trail cameras in recent weeks, only one picture was taken without the assistance of a flash.

“It’s pretty obvious if you’re going to shoot a really big deer, you’re going to have to be deep into his lair so you can get to him at the last legal shooting hours,” Wells said. “Otherwise you’re going to have to wait for the rut.”

That’s why during the first few weeks of bow season, Wells welcomes wind and rain - conditions that allow him to get close to bucks while hunting on foot.

“If you’ve got access to a lot of acres, still hunting is the way to go early,” Wells said. “But for a guy who hunts 100 acres or less, I wouldn’t recommend it, because you are going to spook those deer off your property.”