Over at Deer and Deer Hunting they were looking for a quick show of hands over which folks enjoyed Bow or Rifle the most. Overwhelmingly, folks picked bow for a variety of reasons.Here’s my answer:
Okay, I’ll go against the flow here and say modern centerfire rifle season. Mind you, up until 2007, I was a dedicated bowhunter for all of 24 seasons. I have crawled on my knees to get out to my stand after surgery. I have gone bow hunting during snow emergencies. Also, I am not trying to disparage bow or any other hunting pursuit. If my shoulder had been in better shape, I would have been out this year too.
So why do I say rifle?
My hunting situation has changed dramatically over the years. When I started bow hunting back in the early 80’s, I was a single, unfettered urbanite, and I liked the chance to get away from it all. Bow hunting was a replacement for caving, climbing, and other dangerous endevors. I got the feeling that if I kept on the way I was going my number was going to be up pretty soon. Bow hunting was my retirement. I bowhunted as intensely as I’d done the other stuff.
Then I got married ( to a bowhunter) and started having kids, and all of a sudden it was no longer practical to keep it up the way I had. Bowhunting got to be a half-day/once-a-week thing. For a guy who lives in the ‘burbs with a wife and kids, it is hard to keep up the practice and hard to put the time in the field. Bowhunting is a very solitary pursuit. It does not mix well with small children.
Passing it On:
I have 3 sons. Two like hunting. One courted the bow for a while. He may go back. Another just has not had a willingness to put in the time. The fact of the matter is that small kids can shoot, but until they can pull a 40 lb bow in this state, they can’t bowhunt. My sons were done with Hunter Ed early, and were out with me even earlier. However, the basic fact is they could not have withstood the rigors of bowhunting early on. Firearms were the answer. Also, I found it extremely hard having a kid and a bow in a stand– even a buddy stand. I have seen kids as young as 3 take deer in Kentucky. You just cannot do that with a bow.
Practice, Practice, Practice:
Part of the reason I screwed up my shoulder was that they passed a local ordinance barring me from practicing in my own back yard. I also had a neighbor who came over and told me he intended to see the law was enforced and pointed out my target. The nearest archery range was a half-hour ride. Lack of practice, lack of room, etc. etc. You get the idea. On weekends, I’m out on the farm scouting. I’m in with the deer and turkey. The last thing I want to do is be stuck looking at a hay bale or stuck at a shooting bench with my rifles.
When I messed up my shoulder a year ago August, I was just shooting my bow. I felt a twinge and gave up for the day. By the next day I had pain, and I had pain until Thanksgiving and beyond– could not lift my arm over my head. 49 is not 29 or even 39. Now I am 50. If I screw something up, I know I’ll be feeling it for a while.
The other thing that just sucks about growing old is eyesight. I found I just could not see the pins and the game anymore. I tried a red-dot scope, and a couple other gadgets, but I found two things were happening to my eyes. One was focus, and the other was the ability to discern detail in shadow. When I looked through a peep sight at a pin, what was beyond was now a black curtain. My last few seasons, my eyes were giving out long before legal light. With the right optics, that does not seem to be be a problem with a rifle.
This is not true for everyone. One of my fellow pro-staffers at Heirloom, Ralph, took up traditional bow in his eighties. He’s still out there hunting at 84, bagging deer in Hawaii.
For you guys that are up to your eyeballs in it, I know this is a hard thing to see. I was there too, until about 8 years ago. Bow hunting ends up being really 4 things in one. It’s like trying to tapdance while playing badmitton in the middle of a baseball game. You’ve got the climbing treestand– those are a hobby unto themselves. Then you have all the gadgets– the scent bombs, the calls, the decoys, etc. Then you have the whole archery thing. The deer themselves become of tertiary importance after you get all that going. About 4 years ago, I went out on an unseasonably hot October afternoon, and became overcome by the heat. I had to dump the climber, dump the decoy, dump the bow, and dump all the gadgets and crawl back to camp and dowse myself with the garden hose to keep from succumbing. It was an epiphany.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but a bow was frankly getting in the way– both in aspect of practice, and in the aspect of having to pick hunting venues that required close encounters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still taking the majority of my shots that would be easy chip shots with the bow. However, I now give myself permission to situate a stand where a 50-60 yard shot isn’t out of the question. This year, I bagged one at 150 yards. I didn’t feel any better shooting that far, but I really did not feel any worse.
Ohio is really a bowhunters paradise. They hold off the shotgun season until December, and there is non-stop bowhunting from October to January. That’s where I bowhunted. Then I moved my hunting to Kentucky, because I acquired 200 acres. Kentucky seasons are different. Bow starts in September, but it really is quite hot in September. October is great, but you have Yute Season and early Smokepole Season and then there’s a week and then Rifle Season starts. KY is a fantastic place for firearm enthusiasts. In a lot of ways, I went with the flow. In September, I had to face up to the fact that I’m really not into bow hunting yet. Even when I could, I was holding off until Oct 1.
Shaman, what is it you really want?
Good question. I finally sat down and asked that question. I realized that in 4 of the 7 seasons I had been on the farm in KY, I had passed on great deer in archery season, because I wanted tags left for rifle season. Bow had become a hindrance to scouting for rifle season, and practice for bow was getting in the way of enjoying the other early seasons (like squirrel) with my sons. I was now down to 2 weekends of bow a year in October. One in November, and then the freezer was getting filled so bow hunting was no longer an option after Thanksgiving. On top of that, I found that for all my years of hunting, what I really enjoyed was the time afield. Actually killing a deer was sort of an anti-climax.
So why rifle? Why not smokepole? Why not crossbow?
Honestly, I think I just put the issue of method aside. I still do not ascribe to this whole “4 Stages of Hunter Evolution” thing. I really don’t consider myself a Sportsman, and I’m certainly not a trophy hunter. Put me in the right mood and I’ll still put the crosshairs on a three-legged doe. When it comes to it, I realize I love reloading and load development. I haven’t shot a factory load at a deer since the early Nineties. I also love being out with the deer and turkeys. What it really comes down to is that when I’m out scouting, I’m out scouting. When I am out to fill the freezer, I’m out to kill. The difference between a bow at 20 yards and 30-06 at 20 yards is tremendous.
I remember my first bow kill. I nailed the buck pefectly with a broadside shot at 10 yards, and he took off with my arrow sticking out of his side. I waited a half-hour, and then went down and found the shaft of the arrow and 10 yards of blood and then nothing. I tried for the next half hour to find a drop of blood. I just sworn off deer hunting entirely, when in the failing light, I looked out into a pasture and saw the big buck dead in the middle of the field a hundred yards away.
When the Big One came out last year, I plugged him inside easy bow range with a slightly downloaded 308 Win, and I was glad I did. Wham, Bang, Done. No half-hour wait. No blood trailing. He ran towards the neighbor’s fence and collapsed about 10 yards from crossing it.
When smokepole season comes around, I’m out with my Hawken. If KY opens up the crossbow season to include all of bow season, I may buy one. It will be a few years, and by then my youngest will be close to hunting on his own.
So there you are. My hunting buddy Hugh, armed with a 4X scope on his bow told me years ago: “I’m 49, and I can see the writing on the wall. I don’t know how many more of these seasons I’m going to have, but I plan on enjoying them.” He shot and missed twice that year. I suspect his eyes had something to do with it. After that, he moved off and I never saw him again.