All Photos Credit: Foss Media
The low-lying Alaskan sun began to feel warm on my neck as we slipped into a moss-covered boulder field from the thick alder patch below. Arrow nocked, I glanced at the sparse grass blades rustling beside me, indicating that the morning thermals continued to strengthen. Peeking over the rotten cliff band revealed a handsome, heavy antlered non-typical Sitka blacktail below me, now up from his mid-morning bed. His gaze was focused down the mountain at my friend, Cole, who was 400 yards below us, intentionally crow-calling and buck-grunting like his life depended on it to distract the alert deer from my presence.
I confirmed the distance on my rangefinder a second time…forty-two yards.
I ducked out of sight and coaxed my bow to full draw before stepping cautiously to the edge of the cliff. My heart pounded. This was easily the biggest blacktail I’d laid eyes on over three trips to Kodiak Island. Thoughts raced through my mind as my sight housing fumbled to find the sleek hide of the old giant. I noticed my site bubble rammed into one corner of the level and canted the riser. I remember having the scattered notion that either these deer truly are tiny bodied or this looks a lot longer than forty-two yards. The THRUMMM of the arrow being released broke my misguided thoughts and the arrow buried harmlessly in the soft dirt below the deer.
Hi, my name is Adam and I suffer from target panic. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Sometimes I slap the trigger of my release. Others, I hold my pin low, jump to the target, punch the release and hope for the best just like I did on that warm November day in Alaska. In more cases than I’d care to admit, I grip my bow as tight as a golf club rather than remaining relaxed and calm as I engage in hostage negotiations between my own mind and an inanimate object.
Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. There are fleeting moments of precision, smoothness, and tranquility at full draw but that often comes with months of continuous practice and is as fickle as a feather on the wind. In any event, it’s been a year or two since my proficiency has been on par with modern compound bow and arrow technology.
Almost to my surprise, I was able to redeem myself, albeit on a smaller yet equally tasty, blacktail buck just days after my arrow sailed under the large non-typical. I calmly centered my pin in the center of the buck’s chest, smoothly released and watched him topple stone dead.
Sure, I could muster excuses about a busy life, the challenges of practicing outside in the winter months or suggest I don’t want to “overtrain.” But the reality is, regardless of the justification, I’ve gone from shooting arrows almost daily as part of a consistent — and enjoyable — routine to a panicked and compressed handful of days of stick-flinging a week before leaving for a hunt.
My interest in archery began on a cheap youth fiberglass recurve not long after I learned to ride a bike and I’ve been shooting and hunting big game with a compound bow for some eighteen odd years. I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt in some wild places and connect with animals, some with skilled, well-placed arrows and some that were a flat-out fluke.
I’ve stood and hunted with remarkable hunters and crack bow shots. I’ve seen their ability to stack arrows and marveled as they calmly set their slider, and released a long bomb destined to pierce the lungs of an unsuspecting animal.
Perhaps what draws me to bowhunting most is the notion of it being an evolution, a journey of sorts. It’s damn humbling at times. And it has an addictive quality like nothing else, almost like a No Limit Hold ‘Em game of poker combined with a Tough Mudder race — if you’re into those sorts of things.
A quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, Rounders, feels fitting now more than ever. At a certain point, the main character, Mike McDermott (played by Matt Damon) narrates, “Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career. I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I can’t stop thinking of how I lost it”. These words ring harshly true at this point in my bowhunting career.
Bowhunting can make you seriously question why you bother in one moment, and the next make you feel a sense of purpose, completeness, and destiny. I’ve had those feelings inside a few hours of each other on a hunt and I’d wager if you’re reading this and are a bowhunter you may share the sentiment.
And so, in the journey lies a quest to always be better, with the accepted knowledge that I’ll never be a “perfect” bowhunter. But especially at this time of year, when looking at what I can do to seek out those fleeting moments of success, the lowest hanging fruit for me is my archery skills. I mean shit, the fruit has actually fallen to the ground in my case.
Over the coming months, I’m going to launch into an exploratory quest with the goal of hitting the summer hunting season the best shot I’ve ever been and with the most lethal confidence I’ve ever carried. I’m going to abolish my own stereotypes, hindrances, and setbacks and seek guidance from trained competition archery coaches, test different techniques, release aids, equipment, and philosophies. I’ll explore the mental side of archery and bowhunting in an experimental fashion. Not to find a silver bullet of archery proficiency, but rather to develop a holistic approach towards training a stronger mind, becoming a better hunter and living a better everyday life through intentional thought.
There’s an ocean of fantastic information about these topics seemingly around every corner, so my aim is not to regurgitate the words and advice of smarter archery gurus, but rather absorb that information and hopefully inspire further self-reflection by other bowhunters.
They say if you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the poker table, then you are the sucker. The next time I’ve got a seat I’ll be a little sharper and a little steadier.