What's Your Bowhunting Character?

Following hunting regulations is easy when the game warden is looking over your shoulder. The true test of a bowhunter's character lies in the decisions that must be made alone in the field.

There are plenty of ways to test a person's character, but I can't think of a better one than bowhunting.

For starters, bowhunting is literally a matter of life and death. And even if the life in question is that of an elk, turkey or whitetail deer, it's still damn serious business, as BOWHUNTING Adventures Editor Patrick Meitin is fond of saying.


Of course, only the very worst "slob" hunters are truly callous toward the killing of game, and even serial poachers take pains to hide their cheating ways, lest they become pariahs in the hunting community.


The vast majority of bowhunters -- myself included -- would never dream of taking an animal out of season or exceeding the legal bag limit. Those sins are too blatant, akin to a pastor having an affair with a member of the congregation or stealing money from the offering plate.

But in smaller, subtler ways, all of us face character tests every time we head afield; and how we respond to those tests speaks volumes about not just who we are as hunters, but as people. Don't believe me? Well, read on.


Have you ever been tempted at the conclusion of a particularly good evening hunt to stay on stand "just 10 minutes" past legal shooting hours? How about setting up a treestand "just a little bit" over the neighbor's property boundary? Or forcing an arrow toward a trophy buck standing "just a few yards" beyond your maximum effective range?


Now, let's say you find out someone in your local bowhunting club is the kind of guy who does all those things regularly. Is that the kind of "sportsman" you want to share a hunting camp with? I'll bet it isn't. Moreover, I'll bet it isn't the kind of person you'd want coaching your son's Little League team or taking your daughter on a date either.

As the old saying goes, character is who you are when no one is watching.

In Decisions Made Alone (p. 51), Minnesota archer Taylor Kendall relays a touching, real-life story about the kind of private decisions that reveal our bowhunting character.

Confronted with the gruesome sight of a three-legged fawn -- and with only a single, either-sex tag in his pocket -- Kendall had to make a quick choice: put this suffering animal out of its misery or continue his obsessive trophy quest for the monster buck he so badly desired.

He chose the former, not because there was a written regulation that required it or because he wanted to win the approval of others -- simply because it was the right thing to do. That, my friends, is an ethical bowhunter and the kind of example we can be proud to share with the non-hunting world.

In my bowhunting career, I've had only one experience similar to Kendall's. It happened years ago when an obviously wounded 6-point buck came past one of my Pennsylvania treestands. This smallish buck was definitely not what I had my sights set on, and Pennsylvania regulations allow hunters to take only a single buck per year.

Still, my gut told me making an attempt to kill this deer was part of living up to my end of the bowhunting bargain. The problem was, the buck was going to pass behind a forked tree, offering only a fleeting shot opportunity between the two main branches of the trunk. I drew my bow, settled the pin on the vitals and squeezed my release. Thwack! My arrow lodged squarely in the left branch of that tree trunk, and the buck trotted away.

Part of me -- the compassionate part -- felt sick to my stomach as the buck disappeared from sight. Another part of me -- the selfish part -- felt relieved my buck tag was still attached to my license. But at the end of the day, I could lay my head on the pillow and sleep soundly knowing I had at least tried to do the right thing.

Chances are, you'll never encounter a situation like the one Kendall faced. But you'll surely face temptations to compromise your ethics in exchange for a shortcut (or at least a perceived shortcut) to success. Most of the time, we bowhunters don't have anyone around to witness our actions, and let's face it, with the woefully small law enforcement staffs most wildlife agencies employ, the odds of actually getting caught for a rules infraction are slim. Because of that, the inner devil sitting on your shoulder may tell you bending the rules really doesn't matter, but you know better.

Because it's not just a hunt. It's who you are.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

CenterPoint CP400 Crossbow – First Look

CenterPoint CP400 Crossbow – First Look

CenterPoint Archery evolves in design and performance with the introduction of the new CP400 Crossbow.

Center Shots: How to Improve Your Bow Tuning

Center Shots: How to Improve Your Bow Tuning

Field editor Bill Winke goes over steps you can take to improve the tuning on your bow.

Ravin Broadheads – 3 New Mechanicals

Ravin Broadheads – 3 New Mechanicals

Designed exclusively for their crossbows, Ravin has announced three new mechanical broadheads to maximize penetration and overall performance.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

We've rounded up the best new fixed-blade broadheads from the 2019 ATA Show. Check out our top picks! ATA Show

New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2019

Brian Strickland - January 10, 2019

We've rounded up the best new fixed-blade broadheads from the 2019 ATA Show. Check out our top...

Going from field tips to broadheads requires arrow tuning on a higher plane.

 Good broadhead flight How-To

4 Steps to Perfect Broadhead Flight

Bowhunting Online Staff

Going from field tips to broadheads requires arrow tuning on a higher plane. Good...

Check out our picks for the best new bow sights from the 2019 ATA Show! ATA Show

Best New Bow Sights for 2019

Tony J. Peterson - January 10, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new bow sights from the 2019 ATA Show!

Mid-Summer Is Prime Time to Watch Large-Racked Bucks — and Stoke Fall Enthusiasm! How-To

Summer Scouting Spectacular

Bill Winke - July 17, 2019

Mid-Summer Is Prime Time to Watch Large-Racked Bucks — and Stoke Fall Enthusiasm!

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

In the late summer of 2013, Ohio bowhunter Chad McKibben began collecting trail camera pictures of Stories

The Five-Percent Buck

Brad Fitzpatrick - September 08, 2016

In the late summer of 2013, Ohio bowhunter Chad McKibben began collecting trail camera...

Following a look into the changing face of bowhunting, we hosted a live roundtable event with some Stories

Top Women Bowhunters Tackle Tough Topics

Emily Kantner - July 11, 2017

Following a look into the changing face of bowhunting, we hosted a live roundtable event with...

Former Steelers DE Brett Keisel shares why bowhunting has become his passion. Stories

Brett Keisel: From the Gridiron to the Treestand

Emily Kantner - July 27, 2017

Former Steelers DE Brett Keisel shares why bowhunting has become his passion.

Editor Christian Berg details his exciting 2017 deer season, and shows that hunting smarter ' not harder ''can bring plenty of success. Stories

Don't Hunt Harder. Hunt Smarter!

Christian Berg

Editor Christian Berg details his exciting 2017 deer season, and shows that hunting smarter '...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Bowhunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now