Bowhunting is supposed to be a solitary sport where you spend all day hanging in a tree with nothing but your thoughts and the hoped-for interruption of a whitetail.
You are your own critic. If you move prematurely, make a poor shot or don't take a shot at all, you have only yourself to blame.
Sometimes you learn something; other times you learn to live with your mistakes.
I think most bowhunters like it that way. I know I do, at least for the most part.
Last season, though, Lee Walt and I tried a new form of bowhunting, a double-team effort that was born from season’s past. Each opening day, Todd Crook and I spend the first couple of days on a stand at Walt and Dino Miller's deer club along the southern end of the Arkansas River.
The rules of the club don't allow guests to shoot bucks, so Crook and I are there to do the honors on the numerous doe in the area. Meanwhile, Walt and Miller concentrate on bucks.
This is one of the great things about being a bowhunter. Most clubs have recognized the need to kill more doe, but it's not something they are all fired up about getting done. Bowhunters, on the other hand, relish every hunt, regardless of whether it's a doe or a buck.
So, when clubs with too many deer want to rid themselves of a few doe, bowhunters can often wrangle themselves a lot of introductions to some pretty good places.
But as is usually the case when I go on one of those doe-only trips, all I ever see are mostly bucks -- normally a good one, too -- while the buck hunters are besieged by doe.
That was the case last year. So, this season we figured out a way to take care of it.
Walt and I decided to hunt together. He was in one tree, and I was in another a few yards away. By the end of the day, it gave me a different perspective of a sport I thought I knew pretty well.
Double-teaming is an interesting way to hunt. With small clicks of our tongue or whistles, we could let the other know when a deer was close. With four eyes scanning the thickets, I'm certain we picked out deer that would have passed unnoticed if either of us had been by ourselves.
Wide eyes and pointing fingers provided other means of communication. Picture a grown man with eyes as big as pancakes and a fist full of fingers pointing straight up and held close to an ear, and you get a good vision of what Walt looked like when he noticed a nice buck slipping in behind me.
It paid off in the way we had hoped, but in other ways as well. The morning hunt produced two bucks and two doe. One buck, a small six-point, wasn't deemed worthy by Walt, and the other, a nice eight-point and definitely worthy, was thought to be a bit too far.
Or maybe Walt didn't want to miss in front of a spectator. The pressure he felt was double.
For me, knowing that you can't shoot a deer allows you to sit back and relax. The only tense moments were wondering if Walt was going to take the shot.
On the other hand, the tense moments of making the shot with an audience watching switched to my tree stand when the doe showed up. Either way, it's always nice to drop an animal with a bow, but it's nicer when you can share it with a friend.
The circumstances of a deer being in range, drawing the bow and making the shot is something that has taken place many times in the past 20 years. It's something that happens where you remember the view from your eyes only.
It's a different view watching it from another vantage point.
That afternoon, Walt enjoyed the same tense moments with a really nice 10-point, the one that produced the wide eyes and the fingers extending out of his head as he communicated to me that it was coming.
It was behind me and off to my left, just movement out of the corner of my eye, but I could see every move Walt made.
I'm sure I've had the same look on my face in the past. I had just never had the opportunity to reflect on it until then.
If you want to understand the attraction and excitement of bowhunting, there's nothing like watching in real time the actions of a deer and the reaction of a hunter trying desperately to make the right moves right before your eyes.
I know I get excited, but I'd never seen excitement until I looked in Walt's eyes while he was looking at the deer, waiting and hoping for it to get closer.
I've felt tense, but I'd never seen tense until the deer lifted its nose to test the air for a warning scent and the activity translated directly to Walt and straight through his spine.
I've been calm, but I'd never seen the eerie calm that takes over the instincts of the hunt and allows a hunter to get the job done until I watched Walt in painstakingly slow motion ease the bow in position, draw and concentrate on what he was doing.
I've been gratified by a good shot, but I'd never felt the instant gratification I felt when I heard the familiar thwack of arrow hitting a target and saw Walt's calm turn into a silent celebration of pumping fists and dance steps on a small platform.
I didn't have anything to do with the shot, but I will never forget the process seen under a different set of circumstances.
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