Bowhunting has given me more pleasure in life than most anything else I’ve ever been a part of. Don’t get me wrong, I love hunting with firearms, too. But bowhunting is special because success is never assured. I like to tell people the difference between bowhunting and hunting with guns is like this. At a gathering of firearms hunters, everybody has pictures of their successes sprinkled with a few tales of woe.
When bowhunters get together, there are few pictures, but endless stories of the one that got away. “I was this close, then the wind shifted.” “I don’t know how I shot right over his back, he was only 22 steps away!” “He came to 100 yards and I just knew he was going to walk right past me, then for no reason at all, he just turned and walked away and I never saw him again.” I have about a million stories just like these.
There’s really not a lot about bowhunting I don’t love. There’s so much cool gadgetry to sort through I’m like a kid at Christmas choosing gear that’s just right for the specific challenges of any given hunt. There’s the planning and preparation, which gets really interesting when I’m going to hunt new ground in a faraway place. For many it’s looking at trail camera pics all year around, planting food plots, surveying local deer herds, maybe doing some predator control.
With the lengthy deer seasons afforded archers in most states, bowhunting also allows sportsmen to be afield for many months each year. The more time you spend in the deer woods, the more you learn about the game we hunt and the nuances of Mother Nature. And because we have to get so close to make the shot, bowhunting really is not a spectator sport like firearms hunting can be. This affords us lots of time to be alone with our thoughts, quiet time that is increasingly rare in the go-go world in which we live today.
What I really enjoy, though, is tinkering with my bow-and-arrow set-up, making sure it’s perfectly tuned with my hunting arrow/broadhead combination, getting the sight pins precisely set, then just going out and shooting a few arrows. As the days grow longer in spring and summer my routine sees me at my local shooting spot four mornings a week at dawn, shooting two or three dozen arrows each time while watching the world wake up. It’s a great way to start the day. Then once or twice a month I roll down to a fabulous municipal archery range where I can shoot a roving course with lots of angled shots through little holes in the brush. What a wonderful way to get tuned up for spot-and-stalk hunting challenges — and a great way to meet fellow bowhunters.
This commitment to shooting is a point I like to stress to all bowhunters regardless of age or experience. You do not become a good bow shot sitting in front of the TV or working your social media accounts. It’s an athletic endeavor, and like all good athletes, you have to practice both often and properly to achieve the proficiency required to be an ethical bowhunter. Nothing is more serious than taking a life, and we owe it to the magnificent game animals we hunt to work as hard as we can to ensure that when the time comes, we can place our arrows so that the animals die as quickly and humanely as possible. Every time.
Finally, in a world that seems to be dominated by cable TV shows, YouTube videos, social media posts and magazines that, if you didn’t know better, make you think that if a buck doesn’t sport giant antlers it isn’t really worthy of your time, never forget than in fair-chase hunting in general, and bowhunting in particular, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Getting close enough to make an ethical bow shot on any deer or big-game animal is extremely hard. One of my old hunting buddies describes it simply: “If it’s legal, it’s a trophy.” Truer words were never spoken. And meat you kill yourself is truly the sweetest of all.
I killed my first deer with a bow more than 30 years ago, after several fruitless seasons. Man! It was like asking the head cheerleader to the prom and having her say yes, scoring the winning touchdown, receiving my diploma from grad school. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and a years-long commitment of time and effort. But then, the best things in life really are the ones you’ve had to work hard for, are they not? Which is why I’ll be bowhunting until the day I die.
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