- Steve sb Bowman
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With gun season closing in, I have a few more days to comfortably scratch my back against an oak tree about 15 feet off the ground with bow in hand.
It's a sedentary activity that I share with several thousand bowhunters across the nation, one that brings out the passion of the hunt probably more than any other deer hunting activity.
Every bowhunter has his reasons for that passion. I can't speak for them, I can only try and relate why it's especially compelling to me.
Bowhunting, in its most basic form, is the most skilled of hunting sports. Bowhunting is archery and all the skills that come with it. Holding a bow at full draw and letting an arrow go and having it hit a mark at a distance looks easy when Robin Hood does it. It doesn't exactly happen with the same ease in real life.
To propel an arrow shaft accurately in the woods requires that everything come together perfectly in one fluid motion. There can't be any shaking arms, anchor points have to be exact, arrow paths have to be open, releases have to be perfect. Everything has to come together, and to do that takes practice and preparation.
If other hunters spent as much time looking at a target and honing their skills as a bowhunter, there would be fewer misses and a sharp decrease in ammunition sales.
Bowhunting is about the skill of the hunt, knowing the habits of deer. Bowhunters have to become intimate with feeding patterns, travel routes, and know not only where a deer will be, but exactly where it will step.
Bowhunting is up-close and personal. It's an in-your-face style of trying to get near a deer that has 10 times the senses of anything we can comprehend.
To bowhunt successfully means putting yourself in the exact position the deer will be. It's not throwing up a stand and hoping a deer will walk within 100 yards. For a bowhunter, a deer standing 100 yards away an easy shot for most rifle hunters might as well be in the next county.
Getting close to a deer is the essence of bowhunting. It's where the sport gains its honor and respect for the animal.
Apache indians, the mentors of most bowhunters, knew the importance of the honor in the hunt. According to legend, to them an honorable kill was one where the fletching of an arrow was still in the hand when the arrowhead touched the deer.
That's close. Few bowhunters get that close anymore, but it can still be a game of inches.
Bowhunting is waiting not only for a deer to get close by today's standards, but waiting for it to take one more step a few inches one way or the other, to slip in that shooting lane or away from a bush, or move its head to look away.
Bowhunting is hours of being able to easily pull back an arrow and send it to a target. But with a live animal within range, pulling back an arrow with your body full of adrenalin can be like trying to rip apart a phone book, or as easy as slicing butter. You just never know which one it will be.
Hundreds of deer have been spooked by the struggles of a bowhunter trying to pull his bow. The sight must be interesting to a deer, a grown man wrestling with a stick and string with beads of sweat popping out everywhere.
The struggle is often followed by watching a spooked deer run from within 15 feet of your stand to 100 yards and the next county.
Bowhunting takes paying attention to the smallest details. An aluminum arrow falling off an arrow rest and onto a bow's riser happens often in practice, but in the deer woods the small metallic click of an arrow meeting a riser sounds like cymbals crashing. Often the crescendo is followed by watching a spooked deer run from within 15 feet of your stand to 100 yards and the next county.
Bowhunting is forgetting to turn the bill of your cap around on the first hunt, a realization that doesn't take place until the string is three quarters of the way back and your draw knocks your cap off or in front of your eyes. It's watching a deer spooked by a falling hat jump from within 15 feet of your stand to 100 yards and the next county.
Bowhunting is defining and understanding the habits of a deer so well, only to have it appear on your left rather than your right side. It forces you to move around on a small platform while a deer, which is often scared of acorns hitting the ground, waits underneath you. The creaks and pops of a deer stand can sound like an automatic weapon, sending a spooked deer running from within 15 feet of your stand to 100 yards and the next county.
But bowhunting doesn't always boil down to the shot. Many bowhunters go days or weeks without getting close enough to shoot. Bowhunting is about waiting, and waiting some more, and hoping that when things start happening, the moon and stars will align perfectly so that caps, falling arrows, creaking deer stands and all the other unforeseen little disasters don't become a factor.
Somewhere in all that and more is an excitement that only a bowhunter can understand, and good enough reason to climb 15 feet or more up and wrap their backsides around an oak tree.