It is September yet

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Today is the opening day of Montana’s archery hunting season, for deer, elk, moose, and so forth.  Unlike years past, I was out (in the rain) this morning as the sun rose, bow in hand, hoping I could get within 20 yards or closer.  I’ve been practicing since spring, and while I was hoping my effective range would be further, the longbow learning curve has had multiple plateaus, and while I’ve found more joy in the act of shooting a longbow than any firearm, I haven’t been able to like it enough to shoot more than 2-3 days a week.  I’m on the multi-year plan with bowhunting, and the reward of just being out today, under such stringent dictates, was more than reward enough.

I had a good plan, based on deer crossing a half-plowed, half-grass field.  Extra sun along the dirt/grass interface has produced a 6 foot wide band of grass 4 feet tall, more than enough for total cover while crawling.  In the dark I walked out and sat in the grass, 200 yards from the nearest tree.  As the sun began to come up I panned the distance for deer, and after a few minutes noticed a skunk, coming right at me.  And it started to rain.  Under the circumstances, it seemed like a good idea to get up, circle the skunk, and retreat to the biggest nearby ponderosa pines to not get soaked.  Crossing the creek, I spooked a deer, which stood in the semi-darkness at 80 yards, snorting at me.  20 minutes later, just long enough to begin questioning my move, plan B appeared in the form of three deer down the other field, 300 yards away.  The tiny creek edged the field all the way, screening my movement.  10 minutes later, and most of the way down the field, plan A came back into play, when the same (I presume) two deer I’d observed weeks before crossed the field diagonally, passing right by my original sitting place, hit the creek line, and continued towards me, feeding casually.

With nothing to loose, the three deer on the other side of the creek showed no sign of heading out, I waited as the pair fed my direction.  The wind was horrible, and as I guessed once the deer were dead downwind they sensed something was not quite right, and gradually reversed course.  Now, back to plan B.  The three deer had continued to hold to the edge of the field, and if they continued as before they’d pinch down to the end and meet the creek.  I’d ideally be waiting on just the other side of the 5 foot band of brush, and get a shot.

That did not happen.  I got into position, which involved a drenching 50 yard full belly crawl, only for another hunter to wander through the field at the other end, sending two of the three deer off into the woods.  Inattention before crawling had filled the objective lenses of my binoculars with dew, and it took me minutes to clean them well enough to see with certainty that the third deer was also not in view.  A quick sneak down the other fenceline might well have gained a shot, as the small buck was actually feeding ten feet back from the field, in a big gap between trees, but I didn’t know that until I had backtracked 100 yards, at which point my careless manner had revealed my human presence fully, and I was due home shortly.

In other words, a good first morning of the season.

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7 thoughts on “It is September yet

  1. Dave
    Not to pick a fight, far from it, but to open some dialogue on bow hunting.
    First question, why do you hunt? I’m guessing there are a myriad of reasons, but probably isn’t to have a healthy source of protein. That’s my prime motivation. Yeah, getting out in the woods in the fall is great, but that can be accomplished in other ways.
    So, we hunt for food. What’s the most efficient way to accomplish that? Well, a rifle. No question. Our number one priority as hunters is too take the life of our prey in as humane and speedy method as possible. A bow just does not accomplish this at all. If one is looking to increase the challenge, well, who are you doing that for? It’s not for the animal. It’s a purely selfish motivation. As I said earlier, our first responsibility is to take them life quickly. In perfect conditions, this can be accomplished, but the field rarely give us perfect conditions. There is certainly enough anecdotal evidence from the field of people losing arrow hit prey. Yes, things can go sideways even with a firearm, but the chances are much less.
    In the mountains behind my cabin is a bow only permit Sheep hunt zone. This year alone there have been two cases of guys hitting and losing the Sheep. Yeah, bow hunting is certainly a harder proposition given the closer ranges you have to achieve, but is this fulfilling the hunters responsibility to take the life quickly?
    Bow hunters I know swear up and down that this would never happen to them, they only take the perfect shots etc, but if one is honest, we all know that one starts taking greater risks when presented with an opportunity.
    If one wants a challenge, why not just become a better stalker and shoot from shorter ranges? Or, get back in to alpine climbing etc. I posit that as responsible hunters we owe it to the animal to put our own ambitions aside and to kill quickly and efficiently.
    Again, I am not trying to pick a fight or condem your methods, just curious on your rationale for hunting in this manner which seems to not really jive (in my own flawed opinion) with your ethics as portrayed in your writings.

    • Perfectly fair question, and no offense taken. Jim Shockey has said that his choice to hunt with a muzzleloader (scare quotes on whether an in line qualifies) is about having some of the range limitations of a bow with the lethality of a rifle. A very logical stance, though as I’ll say below probably fewer reasons to not go this route for Canadian residents.

      My reasons for bowhunting, in no particular order:

      -I’ve always wanted to learn to shoot a longbow, and after I’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency why not take it into the woods for a “real” test.

      -Bowhunting opens vast opportunities in the lower 48 which given the state of point systems will likely never be available to me any other way. I speak of both species and areas here.

      -Guns are loud and have recoil and I’ve never liked either. Even with hearing protection it seems obvious to me that a given number of shots fired will screw up my hearing, and I’d like to put that off as long as possible.

      I passed on a shot this afternoon which was an ideal setup and just within range, but on a deer which was very aware of me and thus highly likely to jump the string. No question in mind that the wound/loss rate is higher for bowhunting, and I think that just needs to be kept in mind. It’s hard not to let your shooting ability improve when a certain amount of desire is in play, and doing so is probably even more difficult and important with a bow.

  2. Have you tried making any bows? I have a couple buddies that have really gotten into it (arrows as well). Like anything, lots of opportunity for tailoring to your needs and sounds like a pretty easy learning curve (for the bows at least).

  3. Pingback: The 76th deer – Bedrock & Paradox

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