Are You Up to the Compound Bow Challenge?

Compared to pursing big game with rifles — or even crossbows — a compound bow takes more time, dedication and effort.
Are You Up to the Compound Bow Challenge?

On Sept. 12, 1962, I was 10 years old and, like my parents, was enamored with the country’s youngest president, John F. Kennedy. On that day we watched on our little black and white TV as he gave a speech to the nation at Rice University in Houston. The purpose was to persuade Americans to endorse the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the moon. In that speech Kennedy said something that has stuck with me ever since: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

As I grew older and became obsessed with athletics, I quickly realized I wasn’t the biggest kid, or the fastest, or the strongest. But man, was I focused on being the best ballplayer I could be. I endlessly pitched tennis balls against our garage door, shot baskets in the backyard until it was too dark to see, threw a football through old tires until my arm ached. I was all about the practice. With the encouragement of my parents, I was instilled with a serious work ethic and sense of purpose. Like Dad said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard enough.”

My Most Precious Trophy

I also grew up in the outdoors and went through all the classic phases of a sportsman: Shooting Stage, Limiting-Out Stage, Trophy Stage, Method Stage and finally, Sportsman Stage. It was when I had a chance to shoot my first compound bow in the early 1970s that the Method Stage hit me hard. I wanted to become a successful bowhunter for much the same reason President Kennedy had said we were going to the moon — because it was hard, not easy, and because it would measure the best of my own personal energies and skills.

Back then, hunting with my six-wheel Bear Alaskan compound bow meant I had to get within 25 yards of any deer to have a prayer of making the shot. I can’t tell you how many stalks I blew until I finally killed a little 1.5-year old forked-horn mule deer buck, but it was several season’s worth. This was back before treestands, rangefinders, release aids, Google Earth and even decent bow sights. That day remains my proudest as a bowhunter. That deer is my most precious trophy.

compound bowLooking Back — And Forward

I’ve been an outdoor writer for 40 years, and I’ve had opportunities to hunt some fabulous places with all manner of weapons: rifles, handguns, muzzleloaders, crossbows, and yes, compound bows. After all this time, I still get my greatest satisfaction from hunting with my compounds.

Part of it is because bowhunting, by its very nature, is not a spectator sport. You have your best chances hunting solo, or maybe with one other trusted friend, so there’s plenty of opportunity to reflect on the world around you. It’s an in-their-face game, where the object of the exercise is to use all your skills as a woodsman and hunter to get as close as you can without alarming anything. I also love tinkering with bows, arrows and accessories; working to get everything in perfect tune so my arrows fly like laser beams. And just like sports, you can’t fake it. You are not going to become a proficient bow shot without regular practice.

It’s not like that with rifles, or even crossbows. Sure, you have to dial them in and practice some, but once you do, the ability to make a killing shot on game at reasonable ranges doesn’t take weeks and weeks to perfect. Not so with a compound bow. In any bow camp I go to these days, it takes about 5 minutes to see who has done the work and is prepared, and who is not. I don’t have a lot of time for those who are not.

compound bowBecause It Is Hard

“We all naturally want to become successful . . . we also want to take shortcuts,” said eight-time Olympic speed skating medalist Apolo Anton Ohno. “And it’s easy to do so, but you can never take away the effort of hard work and discipline and sacrifice.”

In a nutshell, Ohno summarized why I love everything about hunting with my compound bow. To consistently give yourself a chance at success, you have to respect the process. There are no shortcuts to becoming a proficient bow shot, just as there are no shortcuts to becoming a skilled woodsman or becoming physically fit. It takes time, effort and a dedication that most people don’t understand.

Much of the time, all that hard work is done alone. There’s no one there to cheer you on, no social media instant gratification simply because today you decided to get up early and shoot a few arrows or hit the gym or go scouting rather than roll over for another dozen winks.

We do it not because it is easy, but because it is hard. And on those occasions when we find success, nothing tastes sweeter.

What are your thoughts? Drop me a note at and let me know.

Top image by Caleb Parry; courtesy of Mathews Archery




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