I'm seemingly on the worlds longest bow hunt and I'm beginning to wonder why I do these things to my self. Self flagellation is an indescribable cold wind that blows steadily in the face ands finds a micro-hole in the back of your jacket and shoots mist to trickle down your spine, it's the cold induced stiffness and pain in an old mans knees that doesn't leave until a couple of hours in a warm truck, and it's the yearly ritual of a bow hunter.
Is this the punishment that I meter out to myself for the karmic penance of my asshole younger self? Or is it the enjoyment of many hours of singular solitude spent in the grey and bare hardwood stretches of my home state? It would be easier with a rifle but seeing how my family doesn't depend on me as the sole provider of meat on our table and my proclivity for doing things in an older and more traditional style (read: harder) I find myself on this quest. In the woods. With a bow.
The natural world has allowed me glimpses of secluded beauty such as fat red squirrels thundering through the bare branches of an overgrown fencerow hickory, chattering at their ilk as if having a very normal conversation, or an eagle gracefully gliding over and hunting the riparian zone next to the old Salt River. His eyes black and unforgiving as the 3am darkness of this rural and isolated spot, he hunts with the grace and economy of movement that the human race can only emulate. A red tailed hawk swooped in on the old-school deer tail that I hung from a tree and occasionally wiggle to entice the larger game closer and trick them that a doe in estrous is waiting in this copse of trees. I could feel the wind off his wings as he flew in near to the locust tree I had chosen as cover for my disciplining endeavor in cold boredom and that old and fat red squirrel stopped his dance when he saw the shadow, his conversation became quiet again. The hawk, at least, had been fooled long enough to take a closer look at my ruse, unlike the bucks I have been chasing.
The Salt River is just but a few steps away as is the memories of warmer summer days when we would fish it's pools for the not quite as elusive smallmouth bass. The river’s banks show the signs of raging spring runoffs from the past, and the sycamores stand in testament to the ravages of time, sentinels of the river and farmlands’ stories. This is where I have been obsessively spending my time, energy, and efforts, trying to, and as of the present date, unrewardingly futile, bag my first buck by archery.
Deer have come easier in the past but I have stubbornly refused to pick up a modern firearm during this years effort, instead I'm attempting to hunt with grace and style in the manner of those that came before me. Granted, they didn't have a fast and accurate compound bow made of high tech and modern materials, but I think we might have shared the same cold misery.
The mast crop this year in Kentucky is down and, as a result, I have chosen to hunt the edge and corner of a farmers corn field rather than a ridge top of red and white oak. My most recent spot is in a natural funnel and corridor between the white tails bedding area and food plot; The river borders one side, and old fence row of stacked stone and overgrown junk trees provides enough cover to let them move uninhibited from one area to the next. At least, they seem to be moving when I'm not around.
But at what point do I admit defeat and walk away? To accept that my skills aren't what I think they are and that my attention to tracking and deer sign aren't honed enough to bag a deer at close range? Am I deceiving myself that this isn't just an endeavor in dumb luck? Or do I continue stubbornly on, in the same manner in which I live the rest of my life?
I've had the chance for several shots but have chosen to pass for one reason or another. A doe came through at 18 yards on my second day in the stand but I decided to wait and see what else might be around. On day 4, a young crab claw spike appeared at 35 yards but I opted not to draw back. Let him grow into something.
Days 5-18 became a monotonous slog of long sits in the stand as the weather became warm and the herd turned nocturnal and back to their summer patterns. Fresh scrapes and rubs appeared almost daily and I moved my stand twice during this period to take better advantage of travel corridors and changing wind directions. If success in bow hunting is measured by deer in the freezer, then I didn’t meet the challenge but the opportunity to sit in one of God’s green acres and watch the patterns of a Kentucky meadow show themselves piece by piece was more than reward enough. The hectic days of travel, traffic, and job responsibilities were gone, replaced by the singularly soothing sound of a slow moving and meandering river, the chirp of a thousand songbirds, and the occasional visit from a family of raccoons. The disingenuous layers of modern living and the noise associated with them had been pealed back to reveal a truer and clearer world, one uncluttered with the petty personal politics and machinery of man but certainly not without its own sense of subtle chaos-albeit it on a much quieter scale.
On day 19, 2 two-year-old 6&8-point bucks came within range within ten minutes of each other. Unfortunately, due to a head cold and another multiple hour sit, I missed the opportunity to draw on the first one. He was moving quickly and wouldn't stop but I feel confident that had I not been sickly or distracted that he would have been a fair shot. The second provided me with an ethical dilemma as he stopped at 45 yards and just behind some 6' horseweeds that grow prevalently in the area. My 500-grain rig might have punched through the hollow horseweed but the thought of wounding, and not dispatching the buck quickly and responsibly, prevented me from letting the arrow fly. Damn ethics.
It's now day 21 and the high wind speed has prevented me from sitting comfortably in the old sycamore tree on which I chose to hang my stand. Instead, I'm sitting on a pickle bucket in a semi-dry creek bed that sits slightly lower than the field and it provides enough natural grasses and fencerow limbs to break up my silhouette; only my head is able to poke over the berm occasionally to look around. The light of day is falling fast and that somber and heavy lead color Kentucky sky that holds fast in our fall is getting darker; the clouds seem to be pushing the air around me down and closer to the earth and I feel the stillness of oncoming night. This might be the day where everything comes together.
Hope and obstinate perseverance are forced to mix like a bad pair of dance partners in my mind, and I, unwilling to let this test and quest go, remain cold and alone in the woods.
***written in the field