Tag Archives: bowhunting

FIRST LIGHT

First light

At first light I returned to where we had last seen blood. A sparkling sheen of frost on the fields, thin ice on standing water, and my breath hanging lazily in the air made the stillness feel full and close like a heavy flannel. I hoped that morning would show us that Cam’s buck had simply laid down last night and the small roaming sweeps of our flashlights had simply missed spotting him. Cam was at school. I walked with my thoughts.

After two hours I had to resign myself to the fact that he wasn’t going to give himself up. But as disappointed as I was that this is the turn events took, I have to move past last night’s speculation. Whether other hunters claimed him, or he simply ran far further than we thought conceivable, that animal walked into Cam’s life yesterday afternoon and gave him the gift of firsthand awe, wonder, and appreciation.

Listening to him describe the deer and the moment, reliving each sense, was poetry. His color and muscled stature. The almost wide-eyed look and breathless jitters of being in rut. How unreal the sheer size of his antlers looked when he turned his head. Leaves crunching under another, smaller buck’s hooves. The warm light of sunset. At 14 he is in possession of an awareness, calmness, and understanding of the natural world around him that I didn’t truly come to until I was an adult, in spite of growing up fishing and hunting with my dad. Cam takes nothing for granted. He accepts that things happen for a reason, broadens his perspective, and moves forward with gratitude. Life’s lessons are for learning, not lamenting.

I know that too soon his life will take him far and wide as he settles into his place and purpose. As a parent, this is my hope. But right now his journey is just beginning. And I’m fortunate enough to be able to share this stretch of it with him.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

THE RANGE OF OUR UNIVERSE

Aleida shot her first deer, a healthy 2 year old four-pointer, during archery season last year. It was her first trip into the woods as a hunter. We had made our way to the buddy stand in the dark, following the soft circle of light from my headlamp, and sat next to each other listening to the close sounds of pre-dawn, waiting. At one point she even leaned against me, putting her head on my shoulder for a short snooze. A small thing to her, but a giant gift for the father of this fourteen year-old.

The buck walked in ten minutes after shooting light started to push the shadows out of the mid-October woods. She spotted him at forty yards, browsing his way towards us, and nudged me to point him out. He’s a good one, I said. You ready? She nodded. Up to that point I had already steeled myself for the possibility that she may say that she’s not ready when she finally saw a deer.

There is a huge difference between what a first-time hunter pictures while shooting with field-tips at a target in the backyard, and the reality of being in a stand, coming to full-draw, and releasing a broadhead on an actual whitetail. When you exhale, settle your sight behind that deer’s shoulder, and let your arrow jump from its rest, you immediately gain a whole new understanding of life and death. You become an active participant in an ancient custom and rite of passage which takes one life in order to sustain many others. You become a provider. That’s heavy stuff for any first-timer, let alone a teenager.

Practice Practice
For three months prior to their first season opener, she and her brother had spent an hour every day they were with me (the divorce had our time split 50/50) fifteen paces from the foam block target. Aleida shooting my old Mathews MQ32, which was my dad’s before it was mine. Cam shooting a new Mission Hype DT. They had a routine for each practice session, from set-up to pack-up, and knew the range of their shooting universe. Three arrows apiece getting closer and closer to each other each round they shot. Siblings getting closer, too. As I sat and watched proudly, memories of my own routine and time spent as a teen in my parents’ backyard 10, 15, 25, 30 yards from a hay bale came rushing back. The range of my own universe, and the ethics, commitment, and passion I learned from my dad coming to life in my own kids. They would be ready when they entered the woods. Ready to make their own choices, earn their own success, and own their own mistakes. Life could bring it on.

At forty yards the buck dropped his head to browse and Aleida stood her bow upright on her knee. At thirty yards he passed behind a couple smaller trees and she stood up. As he passed behind a big, old oak she came to full draw, leaned into her harness tether, and followed him out. 20 yards. He’s a little outside your universe, I whispered. Put your pin just an inch or two higher. She nodded. I grunted to stop him. I could hear her count to one in her head and then the arrow was gone. The green and yellow fletching appeared exactly where it needed to behind the buck’s shoulder and he bolted into a thicket, stopping on the far side where he wobbled and went down without another sound or move, 35 yards from our stand.

Aleida and her first deer, fall 2015

Fall 2015

I started bow hunting with my dad when I was 12, and was in the woods with him every season till I graduated high school and left for the Army. It’s been many years since my dad and I have bowhunted in the same woods. Years since we’ve ridden together in his pick-up before dawn with coffee and high hopes that the rut and an overnight snow will have the deer moving. Years since we’ve laced up our boots at the tailgate, shook hands and said Good luck. Shoot straight before heading into the dark. I miss it.

It took 17 years from that first mild pre-dawn October morning when I picked my way to my stand as a 12 year old who was scared of the dark before I killed my first deer with a bow – a sturdy 8-point. I was in a small patch of woods that I scouted myself, in a stand that I had hung myself. Dad was in his own stand of timber about a 15-minute drive away in the hills of South Bristol. I still don’t know how I managed it, but I grunted that buck away from two doe to within three steps of my stand. My shot was true, and I field-dressed him where he dropped 25 yards away. After a great deal of individual effort, once I got him packed into my old Volvo wagon, I drove the 15 minutes south, parked next to my dad’s truck in the gravel lot across from his woods, and waited for him to finish his morning hunt and walk out. I was in tears from the moment he waved as he walked out of the tree-line toward me. I didn’t think I could’ve felt any happier or more proud than in that moment. Of course, sitting next to Aleida after we watched her buck fall – after I had watched her confidently extend the range of her universe – proved that yes, actually, I could.

I bowhunt almost exclusively. Not that I don’t like shotgun or rifle, but more because I don’t have access to property that would make gun hunting worthwhile. I hunt close quarters and I’ve been fortunate to keep meat in the freezer pretty consistently in the years since my first deer. For many of those deer I leave the woods to get my kids because they love being a part of tracking and finding dad’s deer – my latest buck included (and which I’m still in shock from – story to come). My dad comes out for some of those excursions, too, and I catch him smiling at the kids and just how happy they are to be there, hunters themselves in the thick of it all. I still don’t miss a chance to help my dad track a good buck that’s proving hard to find, or is simply to heavy for him to drag solo. It’s an important part of the fabric of our family. And it’s a tight-knit fabric at that.

The gang, fall 2011. Photo: Grant Taylor

Fall 2011 • Photo: Grant Taylor

The gang (minus Aleida), fall 2016. Photo: Grant Taylor

Fall 2016 • Photo: Grant Taylor

Aleida’s first request after we saw the buck fall was to text papa, nana, and the boys. See if they can come out, she said. They’ve got to be here. After asking when we can climb down and find him, she stated that the best part, dad, is that we don’t have to sit in the woods for two more hours and can go get breakfast. After almost two more hours of work, with her brothers, grandparents, and cousin in-tow, we finished dragging her buck up and out of the woods, and did just that.

This story has taken more than a year to find daylight, and I’m not sure why. It’s probably one of the most important and significant experiences I’ve had as a father. And with Cam already settling into a very mature level of comfort in the deer woods, and Jonah on deck for next fall himself, I know there’s more coming. But maybe the venison chili we’re still making with her deer needed to simmer on the stove longer (everyone asks if it’s her deer we’re eating). Or maybe I needed the context of a year’s-worth of life passing to fully appreciate it. Regardless, I’m grateful that my kids are reminding me just how important it is to pay attention the range of my universe, as much as they’re finding the boundlessness of their own.

4 Comments

Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

OF BLOOD AND BOWS

The family tree on my dad’s side is planted in Canada. Winnipeg specifically. But we’re only able to follow our blood back so far before the records and family get tight-lipped. See, my dad’s great grandfather took a Native American bride, and the marriage was considered a big no-no in their day. No one up that way will acknowledge or talk about it. So, I don’t know anything about my great-great grandmother other than she was full-blooded Blackfoot. I have no name, no pictures, no story other than what I can imagine about her and their life in the still-wild landscape of southern Manitoba…and a gut feeling that her spirit has made it down through the generations to me, and likely my kids. But that’s a story for a later date–I’ve got a lot more digging to do. Even so, I think our Blackfoot roots figure into the experience my dad and I had a couple weekends ago.

Saturday morning was cold and snowy. Grant Taylor was coming by the house with a collection of Black Widow custom recurves and longbows for me and my dad to try out. Grant had done a photo shoot for the folks at Black Widow and had been given the green light for us to give them some exercise. Since we were going to start the morning on a target upstairs in the barn, I plugged in a couple ceramic space heaters early, hoping to take the edge off the cold by the time we started. Grant arrived and, after some coffee and hunting conversation, we headed for the barn. The heaters did about as much good as a fart in a mitten. I think the barn might have been warmer if opened the hay door on the front.

Black Widow PMA

PMA Camo hunter

Grant strung seven or eight bows crafted from layers of exotic woods like Bocote, Honduras Rosewood, Tulipwood and Tiger Myrtle along with layers of red fiberglass and black phenolic. We put the shooting block in one corner and set up in the opposite corner, ten paces away. I was struck by the intricacies and beauty of the design and craftsmanship, their quiet strength and quickness, but it was the profound calm I experienced when I knocked and drew each arrow that made me feel as if I was uncovering some sort of truth in my soul.

Dad used to hunt with a recurve, but his last time in the woods with one was just before my mom was pregnant with me. Dad lost track of that bow when I was little, most-likely after a few years of hunting with his new compound. I, on the other hand, have never known a shot without cams, cables, sights, an arrow rest, and at least a 50% let-off when at full draw. I looked forward to shooting, but I was quietly glad to have the broad side of the barn as the backdrop.

Grant had given me a brief lesson about instinctive shooting–the art of hitting a point on a target using no sights or reference, relying only on one’s spatial capacity to judge distance, speed and trajectory. Grant instructed that I needed to pick a very small spot on the target, focus on it and trust my gut on when to release. He had learned in an instinctive shooting course taught by G. Fred Asbell out in Nixa, Missouri that this method uses the same part of the brain that tells you how hard and high to throw a ball to someone at different distances. With practice, finding that small spot on the target, whatever the distance, becomes second nature.

We each shot at least six arrows from the seven bows Grant had lined up. Another couple dozen from the two that felt and shot the best for each of us. In the entirety of my years flinging arrows into haybales, 3D targets and shooting blocks with my compound, I have never felt as confident or calm at full draw as I did during those 70+ shots I took. There’s an honesty and strength about it. A physical and spiritual connection. It’s trusting in something that I can’t control, but must pay serious attention to. Instinct, man. It’s crazy.

Now, I’m not sure whether flint spear/arrowheads can be given credit for the advent of bowhunting, or hunters finding themselves having to now chase down quicker/smarter/farther-ranging quarry in a post-mammoth world. Regardless, I’ve come to see that there is nothing more simple or brilliant in design and function than a recurve or longbow. They are utility in its purest form. The poetry of necessity.

Black Widow PLX

Dad, longbow and arrow in flight

Dad fell immediately in love with a longbow (the PLX, in Honduras Rosewood), smiling after every arrow found its way into a tight shot group. After shooting it myself, I couldn’t have agreed with his sentiment more. But, not wanting to limit myself, I also chose a handsome take-down recurve (the PMA, camo hunter). Even though there was only a pound and a half difference in weight (1.75# vs. 3.25#), it felt much more substantial. The recurve seemed to hold steadier for me…most-likely a product of having only ever shot a compound. That said, I could absolutely see myself holding steady with the longbow and more time shooting…and eventually taking that prowess from the target to the woods. In the meantime, we took them out to the backyard and a 3D target so Grant could get some shots of them (and us) in action.

Black Widow PLX with beavertail grip

Longbow with beavertail grip

take-down PMA recurve, camo hunter

Camo Hunter, taken-down

Standing outside, snow falling, geese honking in flight north from the lake to corn stubble. Ten paces from a 3D target looked twice that with all that open space behind it. Even so, I felt more in tune with that distance. As if shooting these bows, learning to trust my instincts, helped me get a little closer to our family’s story.

On my way

5 Comments

Filed under In the woods

SHOOT, SHOOTING, SHOTS

I had the rare opportunity to spend a day shooting custom-made exotic-wood Black Widow recurves and longbows this past Saturday with my dad and Grant Taylor. Grant was enlisted to do some higher-end product photography for BW and was sent almost 10-grand worth of these amazing bows to work with (and shoot while he was at it).

This was only my second time shooting traditional. Ever. The first being two weeks earlier. I will hunt big game with one of these at some point. It was that solid of an experience. I’ll figure out the whole how-to-afford-it thing later…

While I work on the story, I thought I’d share some of Grant’s shots of our… shoot.

Focusing on a very small spot

Dad and longbow

Beaver tail grip on the longbow

Grant taking aim with a recurve

My favorite...the Camo Hunter

Arrow in flight

My last group. I'm beyond sold...

I just really dig this shot of dad and I

4 Comments

Filed under In the woods

HEADLAMPS & HOMEMADE BOWS

The leaves aren’t the only things that turn in this neck of the woods once Fall arrives. In our barn, upstairs in the hunt/fish lodge, the fishing gear that has been sitting in various states of take-out and put-back for the past four-or-so months has do-si-do’d with my hunting gear. Chest-packs and tackle boxes, rods and kayak paddles have changed places with tree stands and goose blinds, compound bows and camo clothes. A bittersweet swap, this season, leaving one girl at her front door while another waits in the truck honking the horn. Fortunately, my wife is remarkably understanding.

While my annual shift in pastimes is essentially no different than it ever has been, there is one welcome addition to the mix: the boys. Their enthusiasm for all things wild and fishy is not new. I’ve told many a story about their outdoor revelry in previous posts. But this past weekend brought about an outdoor first for them. And a bit of perspective for me.

Saturday morning was windy and cold. Not creep-into-your-backbone-make-you-have-to-pee cold, but cold enough. Like a headlamp with fading batteries, the exactly-half moon cast the woods in a soft light under a cloudless pre-dawn sky. The deer would be moving and, in the dark of ten minutes to six, my gut was telling me that they’d be moving in my direction. At ten to nine a big doe made good on my gut’s intuition.

Broadside at 35 yards, but walking. I drew, put my 30 yard pin juuuust a touch high on her shoulder and let loose an arrow which found the heart of a very big shag-bark hickory behind her. That tree didn’t stand a chance. I lost sight of her at about 80 yards as she headed into a thicket. Figuring my arrow found a twig or branch somewhere between my bow and where she had stood, I counted it a clean miss and hunted for another hour or so. At 11:30 I started my walk out, heading to my trophy hardwood to retrieve my arrow.

When I got there however, the arrow told another story. It had found it’s mark prior to finding the tree. Considering the doe’s unhurried retreat, I figured the shot was probably good but not stellar. I decided I’d better let her be for a little while longer, left the woods and went home to get my blond bloodhounds. No sooner had I told them I had a deer down and needed their help tracking her, every piece of camouflaged clothing they owned was on and they were yahoo-ing their way to the truck. They’ve only ever seen the deer in the back of the truck when we brought them home. This was their first time to actually be a part of the hunt.

Holding his homemade stick-and-string bow, Jonah, told me, Dad, I’m gonna bring my bow in case there’s another one around. Followed by, can I use one of your arrows? I don’t have any.

Cam demonstrated a make-shift karate kick-chop that he would employ if the wild-animal need should arise.

We were off.

My dad met us for the search. I gave the boys the lay of the land.

You’ve got to be quiet and whisper when you talk. If she’s still alive we don’t want to spook her. Make sure you stay behind Papa and me. And if you see something, I added, give me a psssst!

They started right off into the brush ahead of us, jabbering away. In a short while they got the hang of the search. Pointing things out to each other, giving me a pssssst! every now and again to point out a red leaf or show me a cool new stick that was perfect for another bow. We followed the trail for a half-hour before I spotted the doe.

I see her! said Cam, following the direction of my point.
So do I! said Jonah, not really seeing her yet.

After a holy cow and she’s-a-big-one and the obligatory can I touch her eye? I got to work. The next half-hour was full of more anatomy and physiology questions than timeouts in the last 2-minutes of a college basketball game. My guess is that when they get into dissecting frogs or pigs in Biology class, the girls will be scrambling to have them as partners. We got the doe in the truck and took her to get set for the freezer. On the ride home, the boys were both off out the window with their thoughts.

That was cool.
Yea, Dad, that was cool.


The next day was Halloween. After trick-or-treating, I got a text from my dad that he needed my help. He had been out in his stand that afternoon and had shot a big buck around dusk. Dad saw him go down. Thinking the jig was up, he made his way over toward the deer only to have it jump up and bound off in the direction of a 40 acre swale field and thick stand of pines. Night settling in, along with snow-showers, he decided to head home and get a hold of his own bloodhound. Cam wanted to go with me, but bedtime won out.

As I hope they boys and I will, Dad and I have tracked many, many deer together. Our purposeful zig-zags covering acres and acres of fields and woods, day or night, regardless of weather. We strategize and hypothesize about likely directions and how far they might have run before lying down again. We joke and talk about life. We learn more about each other with every deer we find. It’s a big part of why I enjoy hunting as much as I do.

Snow-showers turned into good old fat, wet flakes. I could see from his headlamp, Dad was slogging his way through a stand of cattails. I was working my way back down through the swale field toward him, shining my flashlight back and forth from over my head, when I caught sight of the buck’s antlers.

Got him! I hollered. Right up here, pop!

ALL RIGHT! was the response, followed by, OK. I’ll be there in a second, bud… I’ve gotta say a little prayer.

He was a beautiful deer. A big 9. Needless to say, we took a few breaks on the drag back out to the truck. On the ride home, we were both off out the window with our thoughts.

Glad I was able to help you find him, pop.
Wouldn’t want to be out there with anyone else, bud.

13 Comments

Filed under In the woods