My good friend Jim and I, being the outdoor enthusiasts that we are, decided that we wanted to try our hand at deer hunting with a bow and arrow. Why we would choose to return to the archaic ways of our ancestors when a Remington 30-30 was readily available is a good question. A couple of obvious reasons were that the hunting season for deer using a bow was much longer than gun season, giving us multiple opportunities to bag our trophy, and additionally we wanted to expand our repertoire; become more well-rounded. Whatever the reason, we went at the project wholeheartedly.
We first had to buy our equipment. Even though compound bows were all the rage, we decided to buy recurve bows; price being a major factor, but using the bows in the fashion of the original Americans had its appeal as well. We wanted the entire experience to be as authentic as possible and the Bear 45# recurve was perfect for our purposes. Once we bought strings for the bows and a few arrows between us, we were good to go. We decided that we should practice shooting our new weapons, never having shot one before being a pretty good reason, so Jim offered up his back yard as our shooting range.
Once he had obtained a bale of hay from a farmer friend, we met one afternoon to sight in our bows (a special sight was purchased and mounted to the side of the bow; something that the Indians didn’t need. Maybe they had better eyesight). I leaned heavily on Jim’s knowledge about such things; whether it be equipment or technique. The bale of hay was placed about fifteen paces and toward the back of the yard. We used a garage as a backstop in case one of us missed the target and an errant arrow went willy nilly through a neighbor’s window and into their living room.
Before I could shoot, Jim had to show me how to mount the arrow, adjust the sights, and pull back the bow. “These arrows are sharp, aren’t they,” I commented to him. “Of course they’re sharp. They have to penetrate the target. Besides, these tips aren’t even the one’s we’ll use for hunting.” At that he reached into his pocket and pulled out a deadly looking, four sided, razor-sharp arrow-head that resembled a stealth fighter jet or something flown by the Blue Angels. “Wow!” I exclaimed. “I betcha the Indians never had anything this sharp.” Jim told me to be careful or I’d cut myself, and after carefully examining the object, I gently handed it back to him without a scratch.
After watching Jim shoot a few arrows, and actually hit the paper target on the side of the bale, I decided it was my turn to give it a try. Pulling back the string on the bow took all of my strength and as my left arm began shaking, I wondered how accurate I was going to be. One problem I had, and one in which I struggled when hunting with guns, was that I could barely see out of my right eye (20-50 vision; eyeglass lens resembling the bottom of a pop bottle) which forced me to either shoot left-handed, which was not possible with this bow, or try to sight the target in with my bad eye. The only other option was to tilt my head in such a way that allowed my good eye to look through the sight, but this made shooting the bow nearly impossible. I settled for using my bad eye and this left me with the garage being the only target in my line of vision. I could make out the hay bale, but it was a blur; and the paper target was unrecognizable.
My first shot flew way wide of the target and the second landed in front of the garage, leading to a long search to retrieve my arrows. After much time and patient instruction from Jim, I was able to hit the hay bale every once in a while. Two hours later and with scraped arm and sore fingers I said, “I think I’ve got the hang of it now. When are we going hunting?” Jim wasn’t so sure and said, “You go on home and I’ll stay and practice some more. I have to be confident on the practice range as the conditions in the woods are much more difficult than this, and shooting from a tree requires much dexterity. Not only that, shooting at a downward angle from fifteen feet up in the air can alter your perception quite a bit and you only get one chance with a deer. I want to be ready.” I was convinced and said, “Well I feel pretty confident, but if you need to practice some more that’s okay. Just call me when you’re ready to go.”
When the time finally came for us to go hunting, we packed up our sleeping bags, hunting gear, and an adequate supply of food and drove about thirty miles out into the country to a spot that Jim had scouted out ahead of time. “There are deer signs all over the place; droppings, tracks and rubs throughout the woods.” I was excited at his report as we drove out in my old ’58 Chevy. It was late October and the warm sunshine was reflecting off the woods creating a palette of bright colors; orange, yellow, red, green, purple, and brown all adding to the beauty of the scene. We parked the car out in the middle of a large field surrounded by vast acres of wooded hills.
After walking the woods and picking out the ideal tree for early the next morning, we returned to camp near dusk. I was itching for the hunt to start, but knew we needed to get a good night’s sleep; four in the morning coming in just a few short hours. I asked Jim, “Where are we sleeping?” His look was incredulous and he answered, “In your sleeping bag Ronnie. That’s why we brought them.” I was surprised and inquired, “Where’s the tent?” Jim, as patient as usual, answered, “We don’t have a tent. We’re sleeping under the stars. Like the cowboys and Indians used to do.” “Oh” was all I could say.
As the campfire slowly burned out, the temperature began dropping abruptly and the night air became frigid; a frost forming on the outside of my sleeping bag as the thermometer registered below thirty degrees. Not exactly planning well for this trip, I didn’t think to bring an extra blanket or two, which led me to curl up in my sleeping bag in the fetal position; head tucked inside, trying to stay warm. Shivering, I finally whispered to Jim, “Jim. It’s really cold out here.” Jim didn’t respond at first but once I had awakened him he suggested, “Ronnie, the Eskimos used to sleep underneath a seal or bearskin blanket, completely nude. Their body heat was maintained under the natural insulation and they stayed warm all night. You ought to try that if you’re cold.”
At first I thought he was nuts, but the more I thought about it and the colder I became I decided to give it a try. Later, lying nude inside my sleeping bag, shivering so much that I couldn’t keep my teeth from chattering, I decided that Jim and the Eskimos were full of it and I put my clothes back on. I had made my mind up that I couldn’t take the cold anymore and got out of my bag and tried to restart the campfire.
All of a sudden I heard a sound that pierced the night air, a sound I had never heard in my life. It sounded like the sound a prehistoric bird makes in the movies, only about five times louder. The sound came again and as I stood there shaking, I tried peering through the darkness; sure that something was coming out of the woods to get me. “Hey Jim, did you hear that sound?” Actually, that was a pretty dumb question; the only way you could have missed the loud screeching was if you were deaf. Jim seemed unfazed when he responded, “That’s a screech-owl. Go back to sleep.”
Standing there, scared and shivering (from fear and freezing), I gave up on my sleeping bag and jumped into the car. I started the car and after running the heater long enough to make the inside of the car as warm as toast, I dozed off to sleep. This was repeated throughout the night; the cold air reawakening me and the car heater warming me enough to fall off to sleep once again. Jim, a true outdoorsman, never left his sleeping bag.
Four o’clock came far too soon and I awoke to the sound of tapping on the car window. Jim said it was time to go and after eating a Pop Tart we headed in opposite directions to our appointed posts. At this point I decided that sitting in a tree, waiting for hours for a deer to show itself, would be preferable to freezing near to death in my sleeping bag or car. Besides, once daylight had arrived, the warm rays of the sun caressed my face and allowed me to get some much needed sleep. What deer?