Bowhunting is certainly not for the faint of heart. And it is certainly not for those who can’t take humiliation or disappointment very well. It is, however, probably one of the coolest activities on this planet! Okay, it sounds like I may be overstating it a bit, so let me revise it a little. Taking an animal with archery equipment is an accomplishment almost beyond words. Whether it is with a longbow, recurve, or compound bow, that euphoric sensation that comes with it, whether from success or failure, simply cannot be duplicated while hunting with any other weapon. In a lot of ways, bowhunting is a lot like life.
Case in point: my son Nicholas (who is now 17) has been bowhunting quite seriously since he was twelve. He had some close encounters during his first years of bowhunting. He came to full draw a couple of times but just couldn’t get things to gel. Either the deer turned, stopped, or simply just busted Nick drawing his bow, you name it. And honestly, there were a handful of deer he should have shot that he chose not to in that time also.
The really cool thing is, after one of his close encounters, he turned to me and said, “Man, this bowhunting sure is hard. These deer are tough! This is way harder than gun hunting, but I love it way more than gun hunting! This bowhunting is the best!”
He has since taken some deer with his bow, including a very nice buck last year, but the fact that he had that attitude regarding trying to take a deer with stick and string before he ever actually doing so reassuring to me. It told me that when he finally was fortunate enough to take a deer with his bow that he would know what I already did; that the reward of taking a deer with archery equipment is surreal. I had explained to him that the reward of success with archery equipment is greater because of the difficulty associated with bowhunting, and I think he knew that before I told him.
As a bowhunter, you are intentionally placing limitations on yourself. You are purposely stacking the odds against yourself. That in and of itself hints at what kind of personality it takes to do this. To possibly have the deer of your dreams just out of range, or worse yet, in range but not have a shot opportunity for various reasons such as obstructions, etc., can be painfully frustrating experience. The first thing that goes through your mind when this happens is, “Man if it was gun season right now I’d have the perfect shot.” Well, other than the fact that a gun and a bow are each effective weapons, that is where the similarities stop. Possessing the resolve to know when it is not ethical to make a shot, even though you want to, and sticking to that resolve is just a part of the emotional roller coaster that is bowhunting. The act of getting your bow drawn while not being detected by the ultra-keen senses of a white-tailed deer is another part of what makes bowhunting an extreme challenge.
This column is not meant to demean gun or crossbow hunting in any way. I usually hunt with a gun also when it is firearms season. However when it comes to the level of commitment that is required to become a responsible bowhunter, there is no comparison. And, to be able to deal with the flood of emotions, or the heartache of having to watch the buck you’ve been dreaming of wrapping a tag around all year depart unscathed because you simply did not have a clear shot or he was just a little too far, well you better have some pretty thick skin if you are a bowhunter. And the fact that Nicholas is embracing all of this, no, flourishing in it, well that makes me flood with just as much emotion. It hopefully speaks to his character and gives me encouragement that he will tackle all of life’s challenges in this manner.
So, don’t let the self-imposed restrictions of bowhunting stop you from enjoying it or keep you from having confidence when out in the field. Heck, if you’re a bowhunter, you can’t lack confidence or you won’t enjoy it. Instead, enjoy how close it really brings you to the animal – both literally and figuratively. When success does come with stick and string, it is so much sweeter.