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Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Updated: August 18, 5:23 PM ET
Season of firsts

By Joel Shangle
ESPNOutdoors.com



Editor's note: To accompany Deer Camp '09, we've asked athletes, prominent figures and outdoorsmen to relate their first deer kill.

You get a feeling that you don't want to be across the table from Corey Cogdell in her first-ever arm-wrestling match. Or her first-ever hand of five-card stud. Or her first-ever game of beer pong.

The 23-year-old Olympic trap medalist, who first stepped to the line in an international trap competition in April of 2006 at the age of 19, and just two years later won the bronze medal in women's trap at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, is one of those kinds of competitors.

First time vs. Cogdell, especially if it involves shooting or hunting, probably equals her opponent losing.

A lifelong hunter who's equally as comfortable with her Kimber .300 Winchester short mag or BowTech Equalizer in her hands as her Perazzi trap gun, Cogdell obviously has a natural flair for shooting and hunting.

Her 2009 big game season is a prime example.

Cogdell's first career mule deer hunt — in Wyoming in early November — ended with a mid-160s 4 x 4 buck on the ground. Her first career archery whitetail hunt a week later finished with a 155 , 13-point beauty bedded down with Cogdell's G5 Montec broadhead through his lungs.

Finally, in the third week of November, Cogdell dropped an 8-foot, 9-inch Kodiak Island brown bear with her .300 Winchester to finish off her first Kodiak bear season.

Three weeks, three first-time hunts, three trophies.

"I guess you could say this was a season of firsts," Cogdell joked two days after harvesting her Kodiak Island bear. "This has been a pretty amazing season."

Actually, for Corey Ann Cogdell of Eagle River, Alaska, it's been a pretty amazing career ... and it's just starting.

First rounds

Cogdell was born in the tiny hamlet of Chickaloon, Alaska (pop. 213), in the shadow of the Chugach and Talkeetna Ranges, in the Matanuska Valley.

The hunting culture there was, according to Cogdell "definitely a hunt-to-live mentality" where families shared the meat from moose or caribou kills, and her dad Dick, an avid big-game hunter, had a gun in her hands by the age of 2. Cogdell went along on her first moose hunt when she was 3.

Corey Cogdell
Cogdell shot her first round of international trap in the spring of 2006, and won the bronze medal in women's trap in the 2008 Olympics.

"I can remember me begging to come along, so he'd throw me on his shoulders, carry me around, and tell me to be quiet," Cogdell said. "He started teaching me at a young age how to hunt. I shot my first spruce hen or ptarmigan when I was 3, maybe 4 years old. I was a hunter a long time before I was a competitive shooter."

Cogdell got her first taste of competitive shooting at the age of 14 through her local 4-H club. She quickly graduated to national-level junior American-trap matches, and made the transition to the faster, more challenging game of international trap when she was 19 (the same year, incidentally, she killed her first moose: "One shot, in the forehead," she says, "and he dropped like a rock.")

Unlike the repetitive speeds and shot angles of American trap, which requires a world-class-level shooter to run 400 to 500 targets, international trap involves 15 clay throwers in a 60-foot bunker set at ground level, five shooting positions with randomized launch orders, much more severe shot angles (up to 45 degrees) and faster targets (up to 80 mph).

"To be honest, when you're shooting 400 or 500 targets straight, it gets kinda boring," Cogdell said. "The international style of trap was a challenge. You don't have to shoot a perfect score — if you drop one or two targets you're still going to be very competitive — but the mental side of it was so much harder than anything I've ever done before. That's where I think I excel. I haven't been doing it for very long, but I think I came into it with a strong mental game."

Cogdell shies away from the tag "natural" — "I'm not a pure natural shooter ... I've had to work really, really hard on this stuff" — but her learning curve at the international game was almost straight vertical.

She failed to qualify for the national team at a spring selection match in March of 2006, but by September had improved enough to win the Junior women's trap competition and finish third in the women's open division.

That performance earned her a spot on the national team and trips to the 2007 World Cup in Korean and Pan-American Games — she won bronze medals in both — and propelled her into the 2008 Olympic qualifiers, where she won the only women's trap position on the U.S. Olympic team.

Her mental game came into play in Beijing, where Cogdell finished the regulation trap competition in a four-way tie for third with shooters from Japan, Lithuania and Kazhakstan, and drew the last position in the sudden-death shoot-off. The three other shooters all missed their first shots, leaving Cogdell at the line with, as she describes it, "All this crazy pressure stacked on top of me."

"Every part of my body was shaking like a leaf," Cogdell said. "I think my eyeballs were even shaking. I can remember stepping to the line, saying a little prayer, and asking for strength."

Prayer answered: she hit the last target to win the bronze medal.

Little did she know that she'd have to rely on the same mental toughness a year later in a tree stand in east-central Kansas.

Corey's excellent adventure begins

Cogdell's 2009 big-game jag started on Nov. 2 as she touched down in Cody, Wyo., for a five-day mule-deer hunt with Monte Horst of Ishawooa Outfitters, in the Washakie Wilderness southeast of Yellowstone National Park. A 6-hour horseback pack-in brought Cogdell's party into the heavy growth of the Lappali Creek drainage, which is a major migration route for muleys leaving the Yellowstone high country.

Cogdell saw 40 to 50 deer a day early in the hunt, but didn't take a shot until she spotted a deep-forked 4 x 4 250 yards below her in an opening in the valley's thick timber.

"As soon as this one popped up, I knew he was the one I was supposed to shoot," Cogdell said. "He stopped in the opening and was raking the trees, and at that moment, you know you're seeing a deer in its most natural state. They don't smell you or see you. They're just doing their thing."

One well-placed 180-grain Winchester AccuBond Supreme behind the shoulder and Cogdell's season of firsts had begun.

Part II, the 'Last Minute Buck': Cogdell flew home for 12 hours, long enough to re-pack and grab her bow, before hopping back on a plane to Great Bend, Kan., for her first-ever whitetail archery hunt in the farmlands of central Kansas.

Corey Cogdell
Cogdell had to wait until the last 10 minutes of shooting light on a five-day hunt in Kansas to kill this 13-point whitetail. Part II of her season of firsts.

Her timing couldn't have been worse. After setting up tree stands in the cottonwood shelter belts that break up the field/prairielands near Sandhills Wildlife Area, Cogdell's party spent four 10- to 12-hour days in the stands, rattling, grunting, using scent and decoys, struggling to earn the attention of three to five deer a day (none of which came within 80 yards of Cogdell's stand).

"We got there right in the 'lock-down' part of the rut," Cogdell said. "We had does coming into heat, but not a lot of them. At that time, they're either scared out of their minds and running around so you can't hunt them, or they'll have a buck couple up with them and lay down with them, and then there's no movement going on. We saw maybe four or five bucks combined the whole trip until the last day."

Cogdell's last day in the stand played out exactly the same way for 10 hours. Rattling. Grunting. Sitting, sitting, sitting. Rattling. Grunting. More sitting.

Nothing.

"I was kinda feeling sorry for myself," she said. "I'm thinking to myself, 'I sat in this treestand for 10 to 12 hours every day, and I'm not going to get a buck.' I was bummed."

Around 5:30 p.m., with the last wisps of shooting light left and Cogdell getting ready to climb down and call it a trip, she spotted a buck 100 yards away, moving along the cottonwood row her stand was on, heading straight toward her. One problem, though: Cogdell's stand was mounted on the lefthand side of the row and the buck was on the righthand side.

"The only way I was going to get a shot was for him to go straight through the tree row," Cogdell said. "There were no trails for him to go through. So he gets about 30 yards away, stops for a second, cuts directly through the row, and then stops broadside at 20 yards. I was like 'Are you kidding me?' I had a shooting window between two limbs that was about a foot-and-a-half wide."

Cogdell unleashed an Easton carbon-core arrow, but with the light fading fast and limited visibility, she wasn't sure if she had hit the buck.

"I heard a 'thump', but I wasn't exactly sure of my yardage because he came into an area that be basically shouldn't have been in,' Cogdell said. "We sat for about 45 minutes and waited, and found him 50 yards from where I shot him."

Cogdell's whitetail was an even 5 x 5 with a kicker on each side and one point off the brow tine on the left side.

"When I shot him, I knew he was a mature buck, but he turned out to be a beautiful buck," she said. "I was super excited about that buck. That was probably the hardest hunt I've been on, and the hardest I've ever worked for a deer."

The Kodiak bear: Cogdell returned to Alaska the third week of November and went straight to Kodiak Island. She had already gone 2-for-2 on her first-ever Kodiak hunts in 2008, killing a Sitka blacktail and a caribou, but planned to hunt mountain goats with her bow on this return trip.

Corey Cogdell
Cogdell with a future bearskin rug, from the Kodiak Island brown bear she bagged on her first Kodiak Island bear hunt.

Cogdell had already spent a week on the Alaskan Peninsulain late October hunting for the island's legendary brown bears, so the plan in the back of her mind was to concentrate on goats and harvest a bear if the opportunity presented itself.

It did.

On the fifth day of the hunt, Cogdell and longtime hunting buddy Cole Kramer spotted a herd of goats on a snow-blown ridgeline on the north end of the island, west of the town of Kodiak, and started hiking.

"It was the jagged, crazy kind of mountains you see in the movies," Cogdell said. "I've never, ever hiked up a mountain like that. I couldn't believe I got up there."

After almost three hours of hiking through a deep valley and up the side of a steep ridgeline below the goat herd, Cogdell and Kramer stumbled across a set of bear tracks and a dug-out bedding spot in the snow. They followed the tracks further up the mountain and over the ridge, and saw that the bear had gone down into the valley they had just hiked through.

"I was still more focused on getting a goat with my bow, but while we were spotting goats on the ridgeline and figuring out an ambush location, we looked down into the valley and there, about 600 yards down the mountain we had just climbed, was a bear bedded down," Cogdell said. "Cole's pretty good at estimating sizes, so he looked at it for awhile and figured out that it was probably an 8-foot boar. We thought we should probably get a closer look at it, so we traversed back down the ridge and got within a couple hundred yards."

Cogdell saw enough of the big brownie at that point and decided to take a shot from 150 yards.

"I put so much work into it, at that point it wasn't about killing the most monstrous animal ever," she said. "He had a really beautiful, dark hide that he hadn't rubbed, and I knew he'd make a beautiful rug."

She sent a 200-grain DRT Terminal Shock bullet into the big bear, which made it over a small hill before falling over. He turned out to be 8 feet, 9 inches, with a dark brown hide and tawny-reddish flanks.

Three hunts, three shots, three trophies.

"My dad says that he's running out of room in his house for my mounts, and I'm pretty sure a brown-bear mount wouldn't even fit in my apartment" she said. "I'll have a nice rug made out of it."

Next up?

"I didn't get my goat," Cogdell said. "I really, really want a mountain goat with my bow. And I dream about sheep. I really want to go on a sheep hunt with my bow, too."

You get a feeling Dick Cogdell's house is going to get even more crowded.