Thursday, January 12, 2012

The making of a traditional bowhunter...

     Autumn of '91, a perfect evening for hunting as I gathered up all my gear and headed out the door to my truck. I fumbled around trying to carry everything at once instead of making two trips...big mistake! My bow slipped out of my grip and bounced across the sidewalk with a crash! An explosion of fiberglass and cable...My sight pins were smashed and the peep shot off the string. In an instant, my archery season was over and after a few choice words, I felt sick...I worked six days a week at the local sporting goods store just to make ends meet as a young man, and extra cash to replace my bow was completely out of the question...It was either eat and pay rent or buy another bow...tough choice, but my desire for food outweighed my burn for the hunt and the thought of moving back home was even less appetizing to me or my parents...

     The next morning at work, all I could do was look at the rack of new bows and drool...One of our regular customers came in to swap stories and basically loaf. He was a personable sort of guy and always had a story to tell. He was big in primitive weapons; self bows, recurves, longbows, flintlocks...He was experienced in them all. I told him my sob story about breaking my bow into pieces and he asked me if I had ever considered a recurve. The thought never crossed my mind, but it made no difference because I had no cash. I might as well pick up tiddly winks or checkers at this point... Our conversation went on and he piqued my interest as he talked about bow making, cedar arrows and instinctive shooting, but after he left the store, I didn't think much more about it and I went on my daily routine.

     That afternoon, my old customer came back, but this time he was carrying something...He reached out his arm and said "Here ya go"...he was holding an old green recurve. Not the prettiest piece of wood and fiberglass, but certainly usable. I looked at him with disbelief and asked him what he meant. He told me the bow was mine and then gave me a half dozen feathered, wooden arrows to go with it. I was shocked and thanked him for the bow, but had no idea how to shoot it. I had been a dedicated compound shooter since I was 13 years old and without sights and wheels on a bow, I wasn't sure I could hit anything, let alone a deer. My friend told me to just "shoot" the bow. Don't over think it. Just like throwing a baseball from short to first or shooting a free throw, it'll come naturally.

    
     For the next week or so, I shot during every free moment I had. It wasn't pretty...I had arrows skipping all over the back parking lot at the store. I shot so much that I wore blisters on my string fingers. Eventually, I was able to keep the arrows in the target butt. Slowly, the arrows formed groups and the circle became tighter. A few more days of shooting and the recurve seemed to become an extension of me and I could keep 5 of the 6 arrows in a pie plate at 10 or 12 yards. My buddy stopped by one afternoon to check on my progress and after watching me shoot a handful of arrows, he thought I was ready to hunt...I wasn't so sure, but I thought "what other choice do I have?" I was seriously "jones'ing" to get back in my treestand...so the recurve was my tool out of necessity.

     Finally, Sunday morning rolled around. My day off...yes, I should have had my butt planted in a pew rather than up in a tree, but at 22 years old, a man's priorities aren't always what they should be...I sat up there surveying everything around me and thought how much different the old, static recurve felt in my hand compared to my compound. The maple bow's handle was wrapped in leather and it felt warm and soft in stark contrast to the cold graphite, fiberglass and aluminum that I had been used too...Maneuvering the longer bow in my stand took some getting used to, but I found a comfortable spot to rest it across my lap. It was good to be back...


     The first couple of hours passed and not much action. The typical squirrel circus act and the chattering of songbirds, but the deer were slow. Finally, some movement down the trail. A small deer was working it's way through the brush and if all went right, it would pass almost under my tree! My heart jumped into my throat and beat like a drum! My pulse pounded into the side of my temple. I could feel myself shaking and watched the single-beveled broadhead on the end of my arrow dance as the deer inched my way...I closed my eyes and begged to calm down. Breathe deep...inhale, exhale...When I opened my eyes, the little button buck was less than 5 yards from the base of my tree...Now or never...The string came back with ease. The nerves were gone and predator mode kicked in. My index finger touched the corner of my nose and in an instant, the arrow passed through the deer and buried into the ground beneath him...I stood in shock as he jumped and ran less than 50 yards before piling up. My knees gave out and I had to sit and catch my breath. Did that just really happen, I thought almost out loud. I closed my eyes again and replayed it over and over just to make sure it was real...


     I recovered my soaked arrow and followed a trail that even a blind man could see to my deer. A fine, fat little button buck, but he was a trophy to me! I could barely contain myself! I knew from that point forward, there was no turning back...an addiction had started!


    It's been almost 22 years since then and I've shed a lot of hair and gained some girth along with some aches and pains, but I'm even more hooked on traditional archery now. That fat little deer and an old yard sale recurve and a friend named Bob Blair planted a seed with deep roots and helped my love of hunting and the outdoors flourish, almost to the point of obsession...Just this last fall, I passed the old recurve on to another aspiring traditionalist and I hope they create many of their own memories out in the trees...