Seven steps for staying in the thick of bowhunting for as long as you can
Our church held a wild game feed last Saturday night. Once a year the sportsmen at Heartland EFC gather to embellish stories, show pictures, and feast on a variety of savory dishes--pheasant, bear, bison, deer, and goose. At one point, the discussion turned to bowhunting.
"I used to bowhunt, but my wife begged me for years to give it up, so I quit," an older man stated.
"Yeah, I gave it up too," replied another sportsman. "It became too hard to pull back my 60-pound bow."
Yet another man chimed in, "I took a nasty fall once from a tree stand and decided that's enough of that!"
Eight sportsmen in all divulged their previous passion for bowhunting. All eight had a different reason for abandoning the sport for easier hunting methods. As I listened, each story sunk my spirit lower and lower. Would I end up the same? Would bowhunting someday become too hard for me, too dangerous, or too annoying to my family?
Safety is the number one key to staying in the bowhunting game. Injuring yourself while hunting is a sure way to cut short your archery tenure.
The morning after the game feed I sat in a tree stand. It was a crisp, December day and I had one remaining doe tag. As I waited for the deer to wake up, my mind raced to put together a strategy for enduring in this sport known as a "young-man's game."
Avoid The Comparison Trap
Do you say things like, "I shot a 115-inch buck last year, but I should've waited for a bigger one." Or, "I shot my best deer ever, but it's not as big as I had hoped." If so, you've likely succumbed to the comparison trap.
Our enjoyment in bowhunting decreases when we stop accepting ourselves. When we compare our deer to the deer in hunting magazines and videos, we pressure ourselves to achieve that level of success. Pretty soon, no deer we shoot looks good. Karl Marx wrote, "A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small, it satisfies'¦ But let a palace arise beside the little house, and it shrinks from a little house to a hut." For most of us, our bucks will always look smaller than the ones on the videos.
The key to fighting the comparison trap is simple--stop caring. Stop caring about how big your buddy's deer was this year. Stop caring about measuring up to hunters on videos. Stop caring about clearing the bar that is set by the pros. Instead, allow yourself to rejoice in a 100-inch buck, or a doe, when you make an excellent, ethical shot. If you want to enjoy bowhunting for decades to come you must slay the comparison beast.
Bowhunting is a physically demanding sport. Archery hunters often hike long distances while carrying heavy gear, to reach their hunting haunts. We pull back and hold 50-, 60-, even 70-pound bows. A few times a year we drag a 150 to 200 pound deer up hills, over logs, and through cornfields. A typical hunting season stresses, strains, and challenges the ablest of bodies.
Weekly cross training will help you enjoy the rigors of bowhunting. Burning calories on a treadmill or an elliptical machine for 30 minutes a day, four days a week is sufficient for good cardio-health. One friend and archery hunter, Charlie Alsheimer, spends 30 minutes on a treadmill, seven days a week. At 60 years of age, Charlie credits these workouts as a key to his enduring enjoyment of bowhunting deer.
In addition to maintaining a healthy heart, it's also good to train specifically for bowhunting. A couple products, which train muscles for the motion of pulling back a bow are the Rotaflex and Bowfit archery exercisers. Machines such as the Rotaflex and Bowfit mimic the motion of drawing and holding at full draw. A work-out of 10 minutes, three days a week, will significantly improve arm strength and help ensure the ability to archery hunt for many years.
Keeping your body in good hunting shape is a worthwhile challenge. Not only is it important to keep up your health through exercise, but to keep your bowhunting muscles in tune and ready to draw unexpectedly on a big buck in a cold November tree stand.
Mix It Up
My dad is a marathon runner. To challenge himself and keep his enjoyment-factor high, he also runs 5K's, half Marathons, and rides a bike. Bowhunting is no different. To maintain lifelong enjoyment in this sport requires variety, challenge and change.
Frances Bacon wrote, "Nothing is pleasant that is not spiced with variety." To keep bowhunting fresh, try new hunting strategies each year. Hunt from a ground blind. Try out the spot-and-stalk method. Use a buck decoy. Put down your trusty compound bow and pick up a recurve. Fletch your own arrows. Videotape your hunts or take a young person with you. Buy yourself archery lessons. These are just a few ideas, but as you plan out your season each year make sure you include new challenges, strategies, and goals. This will add a sense of newness to a familiar sport.
Gain Sideline Support
Many archery hunters have hung up their bows to save their marriages or renew their relationships with children. These were likely good decisions. Spouses, sons, and daughters will only stand for being second-place to a husband or father's obsession for so long. As I listen to reasons why sportsmen give up bowhunting, disapproval from family is a common answer. An archery hunter's tenure doesn't need to end this way.
Many archery hunters have given up the sport they love due to pressure from family. It's important to balance family and hunting, and to gain a sideline support team that feels as important as they should.
It's hard to enjoy longevity in bowhunting without the loving support of family. Spouses and children don't need to hunt to participate, but they do need to feel included. Gain family input on decisions like when to hunt and how much to hunt in order
to keep your conscience clear and keep your family happy.
Suit Up Properly
I used to sit in rickety old two-by-four stands with no concern of falling. Then I fell. I didn't fall far, but my seat broke and my leg lodged between two limbs. I limped home that night, went online and purchased a full-body harness. I've never sat in a portable stand without a harness since.
Wearing a safety belt or harness is just one vital requirement of longevity. It's also wise to carry a cell phone for emergency use. Many hikers and backpackers employ a GPS unit in case they get lost, carry extra water, and leave a note on their car signaling their planned destination. These are also good ideas for archery hunters, as well. To enjoy archery hunting over the long haul requires a few well-planned safety precautions.
Hunt In A Pack
We often give up the things in life we do alone. Without others to share our enjoyment, celebrate with, and cheer us on, we lose interest quickly. Dag Hammarskjold wrote, "Friendship needs no words--it is solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness." Buddies are essential ingredients to longevity in bowhunting.
Possibly the most important thing to remember is that bowhunting is supposed to be fun. Whether hunting with family, friends or even going solo, archery hunters need to enjoy their time outdoors.
While a wonderful sport for spending time alone in nature, archery hunting is even more enjoyable with friends. I live in a small town in rural Nebraska, most of my friends hunt in different areas of the state, yet, because we call, email, and hunt together occasionally, we feel we hunt as a pack.
Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship." When we link up with a few other people who love bowhunting as much as you do, you're set for a long and enjoyable bowhunting experience.
It's Supposed To Be Fun!
These ideas came to me as I sat on the stand. I might have come up with a few more, but my mind shifted gears when a twig snapped behind me. Three does grazed toward my stand. The lead doe was the largest and she walked within 25 yards and provided a quartering away shot. My heart pounded as I slowly drew my bow back. I squeezed the release, she ducked the arrow, and five minutes later I was on the ground scraping dirt off my broadhead. Score another one for the deer. I went home empty-handed, but with an enormous smile on my face. What a blast!
Bowhunting needs to remain fun if we are to stick with it. We stay committed to the things in life that are enjoyable, give our lives meaning, and don't cause us to worry. George Burns once said, "If you ask me what the single most important key to longevity is, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension."
Bowhunting, if it's meant to bring anything to our life, it's supposed to bring fun. Yet, fun evaporates when we compare our bucks to the ones in magazines, or put bowhunting ahead of other more important priorities, or simply fail to train and prepare for the challenges we experience in the stand or out in the field. And when fun evaporates, our bows begin collecting dust. It doesn't have to end this way. Follow these intentional steps today, and you'll still be bowhunting tomorrow.