In this article from guest author, Mike Dwyer, we learn more about the ongoing story a new bowhunter’s pursuit of his first bow kill. Bowhunting, as Mike has learned, is not about the mere physical act of releasing an arrow – it’s about a mindset.
Growing up I loved archery. I started with a little 15-pound compound and later a 30- pound recurve. My dad set up some hay bales for practice and I spent many afternoons there. In time I became a decent marksman but never really thought about bowhunting. Back then we only hunted deer with guns and archery was an off-season hobby.
In 1996 I was looking for a way to extend my deer season and so I purchased a PSE Nova from Cabelas. After a trip to the local archery store to have it tricked out with all sorts of bells and whistles I was sure I would bag a deer that fall.
That same summer that I purchased my PSE, my brother also bought his first bow and we begin to practice regularly. As the season neared we anxiously waited for opening day. We were young and full of bravado. I think we spent more time planning how to drag our big bucks out of the woods than thinking about what kind of nerves it would take to kill a deer. Since we were hitting the bull’s-eye most of the time in the backyard we thought that we were ready to go.
Looking back I can see that our attitudes were part ignorance and part over-confidence. In the close Kentucky woods of my teen years, guns were more forgiving because of their flat-shooting and knockdown power. I knew exactly how far I could shoot and hit my intended target. I hadn’t yet realized just how different a bow was.
“…there’s more fun in hunting with the handicap of the bow that there is in hunting with the sureness of the gun.”
– Fred Bear
That first season we were fortunate in that we never shot at any deer. I say fortunate because I now know that we weren’t ready. We hadn’t practiced in the right ways and hadn’t put enough thought into what we were doing. As a dedicated conservationist and ethical hunter I am glad that the deer stayed out of our way that year.
Thankfully I got smarter about preparation and with each bow season I spent more and more time practicing and planning for a successful hunt with a clean kill. I did see deer while in the stand but it never worked out. Frustrated, I eventually put away my archery equipment and it would sit in a corner of the basement for over a decade.
In 2012 I dusted off the Nova and decided to give it another try. I began to practice after work nearly every night. With the draw weight increased, the switch to lighter arrows and the addition of a few new parts, I felt confident in my equipment and my skill…until I got spooked.
Instead of making my first hunt of the season at the spot I had planned for, I took a last minute invite to hunt on a friend’s farm. He gave me a good location, but it was in a stand that I had never used. As soon as the sun came up everything felt off. It was higher than my stand at home and stood on the side of a steep ridge. The angles were not what I had prepared for and instead of being excited I was filled with nerves. I didn’t want to make a mistake that I knew would haunt me for years to come.
Again, the hunting gods were kind and I saw no deer that morning though if I had, I honestly don’t know if I would have taken the shot. After hunting for nearly 30 years I have learned to trust my gut and that day it was screaming at me to use restraint that day. Bow season continued uneventfully last year and I went on to take a deer during our modern gun season. A successful bow hunt would have to wait.
I learned an important lesson last fall which was that for me, bow hunting is the ultimate test of my confidence as a hunter. It’s not about the physical skill. I know I have that because I see the results in my practice sessions. It’s the mental game. It means conquering the voices that tell me to stick with my .243 and the easier shot. It means sticking to my plan and channeling my nerves into a successful hunt. If I can do one day I know that I will have passed an important test on my road to become a complete hunter. After all, I don’t have to kill my own food. My local grocery store has all the meat I need. I am out there because I am trying to achieve excellence in my chosen sport. Making that first bow kill, despite all of my doubts, is an important step towards that goal.
Mike Dwyer is a writer and outdoorsman from Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, hunting and the pursuit of what Teddy Roosevelt called the ‘strenuous life’. His work can be found at Ordinary Times and at mikedwyerwrites.com. Mike is also active on Twitter and Facebook.