The air draped over me like a warm, wet bed sheet as I inched my way into the darkness above. Halfway up the loblolly pine I paused, laboring to catch my next breath. The heady funk of bug spray filled my lungs and stung my eyes, challenging my resolve to continue my ascent aboard my climber. Determined, I flicked the trickle of perspiration from the tip of my nose and pushed myself higher.
I still vividly recall the excitement of that morning many decades ago. For months, I’d spent every spare minute in the backyard lobbing arrows into a makeshift Styrofoam target from my new Fred Bear Whitetail II compound. It was on this day, my first in an elevated treestand, that I was confident I would harvest my first archery buck.
Ironically, things don’t always go as planned — it would be three more seasons before I’d arrow that buck.
BIRTH OF A BOWHUNTER
The bow opener arrives early. So much so, you’re almost invariably hunting in late summer. Here, you fight oppressive heat and humidity, while battling back the hordes of critters that creep, crawl, slither and mount aerial attacks. Those of us addicted to archery often have a difficult time explaining our affliction to the uninitiated.
Admittedly, the path to bowhunting success is a long journey. It’s a protracted slog, one fraught with countless pitfalls and failures. Archery isn’t a sport one picks up and immediately finds any level of consistent success (in all but rare cases). There is a lengthy learning curve, one with plenty of lessons learned along the way.
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Shooting a bow well is an athletic endeavor, one not unlike acquiring a good golf swing or mastering the perfect pass. Accomplished shooters spend countless hours on the range honing their skills. Once the bow has been “mastered” (a word I use loosely) on the range, that skill set must be transferred to the field.
Interestingly, most new bowhunters quickly realize that slinging arrows in the backyard is nothing like the actual hunt. Consistently crowding arrows into the bullseye on a backyard bag target is a cinch compared to converting an “in the field” shot opportunity on a live target.
Field shots invariably present a plethora of uncontrollable variables, which affect your success. Making this conversion requires spending plenty of time in a treestand, ground blind or on spot-and-stalks.
Depending on how you hunt, you must also deal with varying degrees of shot difficulty and familiarity. No two shots are the same. Likewise, no two animals approach from the same spot nor from the same angle or move at the same speed. Add to the mix terrain changes, varying hunting heights, shot angles, target distances and weather extremes, and it is easy to see why delivering a lethal arrow to a live target is difficult.
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Almost universally, seasoned bowhunters will tell you bowhunting is tough. Over the years, I’ve made just about every imaginable (and unimaginable) mistake while in the field. Some, admittedly, were so bad I’m almost ashamed to claim them.
Along the way, I’ve shot the ground blind (many times), dropped my quiver out of my treestand (often) and misjudged distances more times than I can count (back in the day we didn’t have laser rangefinders). I’ve committed the mortal archery sin of dry-firing both compounds and crossbows, resulting in their catastrophic demise. And I’ve left my release on the truck seat more than once. I’ve climbed the wrong tree and been hopelessly lost while in what I swore were familiar woods.
While bowhunting can be tough, rest assured there are few sports that are as satisfying when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. While some of my miscues seem almost comical now, at the time they were anything but funny. However, it’s these mistakes that teach us hard-earned bowhunting lessons, and those lessons lead us to become better bowhunters.
In this column I hope to provide you with information you cannot get elsewhere (think Internet). I’ll share insight from my 50-plus years in the archery game. You’ll have a front-row seat to the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly. We will drill down deep, and hopefully uncover tips and tactics that will make you a better bowhunter.
On occasion, we’ll critique gear, taking note of the best available and calling out that which is hype. Along the way, I promise to never sugar-coat it. We will also feature guest columns from archery experts who’ll help you be a better bowhunter.
I invite you to join me as we embark on a new archery adventure together.