In bowhunting, there are many factors that decide your fate. It's like the million little parts of a model car that need to be glued together in just the right spots for the wheels to turn.
Some elements are physical, such as the bow and accessories you choose. Others aren’t the type that come wrapped in plastic at the store. As complex as the equipment side of bowhunting is, it’s just one candle on a senior citizen’s cake compared to the mental side of the game.
If you head afield without a healthy dose of confidence, bowhunting will eat you alive. If you lack patience, you’ll starve. And if you aren’t determined, you’ll never taste success. Of all the adjectives I could use to describe an accomplished bowhunter, the one that tops the list for me is passionate. Archery is much like golf; you don’t just go out, buy a set of clubs and shoot par the next day. Archery is a lifestyle you have to live if you want to be good.
The final element that’s going to make you a better bowhunter is experience. And this one just takes every single one of the qualities above, combined with time. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to fast track your learning curve, but you can avoid some common mistakes by heeding the advice of others. I’ve got a lesson for you that I learned the hard way. And maybe if I share what I learned, you can bypass the bumps and bruises.
It was a week before bow season. I was in the backyard, pounding away on my Block target. My first few groups were perfect. A few shots later, my group was still tight, but a bit low. I quickly blamed it on dropping my arm. My next arrow bounced off the ground and into the target! Dumbfounded, I stared down at my bow in disbelief. I tapped the riser to see if there was any vibration, and there it was. It was my rest. The bolt that screwed into the riser was loose, and my rest had sagged down lower with every shot.
I got my Allen wrenches out and fixed the problem. I even made a Facebook post to share what I had just learned. I preached about how important it was to check your equipment on a regular basis. Inspect and tighten all of the screws and bolts. Examine your strings and cables. And just give every part of your rig a once over before shooting or hunting.
Well, on opening day, just seven days after delivering that lecture, I was 25 yards from the mule deer of my dreams. He stood up out of his bed and stretched. He was a 240-inch, non-typical buck. His antlers were covered in drop tines and stickers. I had invested countless days and immeasurable blood, sweat and tears to get this opportunity.
I drew my Diamond bow. I rose up out of the grass. I took careful aim. I settled my pin right on the buck’s heart and squeezed. The giant buck bounded away with purpose. He ran 150 yards and stopped. Instead of tipping over, he lowered his head and, to my dismay, started grazing. I stared in disbelief. I had done everything perfectly. I was focused at the time of the shot. I went through my mental checklist. I harnessed my emotions and kept buck fever at bay. And I executed a perfect release. But the buck was unscathed.
What I didn’t do was listen to my own advice from a week before. Reviewing the video footage, we could see I shot under the buck. As I watched my arrow on the camera’s viewfinder, my heart sank. I looked down at my bow and reached for my rest. It was loose, again. This simple, small detail cost me a monster buck, and all I had to do to prevent it was examine my equipment before heading afield.
There are many lessons to learn on the rocky road to earning your badge as an experienced bowhunter. Hopefully, this sad story helps you dodge at least one of those bumps in your road.