When bowhunters hunted with bows

I was 14 years old in 1972 when my first hunting bow arrived in the mail. Archery deer hunting was fairly new and with few deer in Southwest Kansas there weren’t many archery hunters to ask advice of. For reasons I don’t remember, the bow of choice was a 52″ Bear Kodiak Magnum pulling about 50lbs. With fiberglass arrows and bear razorheads I was now a bowhunter. Only one arrow was shot at a deer from that bow. The muley buck broke from tall weeds surrounding an old homestead. As he bounded through the milo field the arrow raced through the dry Kansas air. Where it went, I have no idea. It did not, however, meet up with the deer.

Growing up in Southwest Kansas had many great benefits. One of which was being only four hours from the Rocky Mountains. My folks and both sets of grandparents loved the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. By making sure I went on everyone’s vacation I could spend a couple of months every year in the mountains. Their love for the mountains was contagious and it’s never left me. With a growing infatuation with bow hunting and the existing love for the mountains it was inevitable, time to try elk hunting. This also necessitated my second bow which came with a little more research. It was in my humble and accurate opinion the best bow made at the time, a Jack Howard Gamemaster Jet. Sixty-six inches of smooth speed and power. In those days, there were no commercially sold elk calls and little information available. A few deer fell to the Gamemaster but the elk remained untouched.

The late 1970’s brought changes, college and the advent of the compound. The Gamemaster went into the closet, replaced by a Jennings model T. Bitten by the “latest and greatest bug”, I quickly moved to the top of the line a Jennings Arrow Star. Along with this came all the other “necessities”, cross-hair sights, string peeps and mechanical releases. This rig put a Kansas whitetail in the fridge every year, but some life events put the elk hunting on hiatus (marriage, kids, a real job). Several years later my Dad and I found ourselves riding up a trail in the Colorado Flattops for a drop camp elk hunt. It was the last trip the Arrow Star would ever make afield. I swear it weighed thirty pounds as I lugged it through the mountains.

We named the bull Scragg because of his guttural roar. He had no whistle at all, just a growling scream that said, “I’m the baddest dude on this mountain”. I didn’t expect it, but I could hear him crashing through the trees towards me. Whatever came out of my bugle in elk talk had him in a rage and somebody was going to get a whooping!  As he broke through the trees it was a sight I’ll never forget. He was a massive six-by-six  whose dark rack sported beautiful ivory points. Frankly, the moment was unsettling. It was the first bull I ever called in fighting mad. As I tried to hide behind a three-foot-tall juniper, I wasn’t sure who was hunting who. Estimating the shot at 40 yards, when I brought the cross-hair sight up on his shadowed body the pins just disappeared. I shot two arrows before he’d had enough. Neither connected.

The next shot was a truly close encounter. Cow calls brought in a spike bull to 5 yards when he smelled me and bounded off. I made a quick bugle to pretend I was a bull who ran him off. It was quickly answered by a bugle. A couple of cow calls and the bull was headed my way. He was coming up the mountain the same way the spike had come. The previous day I had scolded my Dad for drawing to early and spooking a bull. All I was thinking was draw at the right time. As the bull walked by at six yards and was about to walk out of sight I realized that I had certainly hadn’t. I started the draw and the bull jumped two yards and stopped broadside. Somewhere between trying to find the peep sight and the cross hair sight the release went off and I watched the arrow fly over his back. I thought I might have killed him when I threw the bow down the mountain after him.

That compound did not end up in the closet, frankly I can’t remember what ever happened to it.  I just couldn’t help but think back to a more simplistic time when I would just focus on the spot and the recurve put the arrow there.  I’ve hunted with traditional bows ever since. Prior to this year my greatest hunt ever was calling in and taking a bull with my recurve bow and lodgepole pine arrows, with my 80-year-old father sitting beside me. It was 30 years after Dad I first took to the mountains bow hunting for elk. The area was new to us that year and Dad was hunting with a cow muzzle loader tag. Dad, my son and I sat on the mountain thanking God for the opportunity to be together and share this hunt. Dad looked at me and said, “next year I’m bow hunting”. And at 81 he did.

Of all my hunting buddies, I’m the only one that shoots traditional equipment. You can imagine the fun I had ribbing my high-tech hunting buddies on that hunt. There’s just something special about shooting a bow and arrow as they were created thousands of years ago. Genesis 21:20 says: God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.  On my office wall, I have the words of Saxon Pope who said,“The long delicious trails and mountain paths are yours. The ecstasy of cool running streams I give you freely when athirst. And last of all I leave to you the thrill of life and the joy of youth that throbs a moment in a well-bent bow, then leaps forth in the flight of an arrow.” If you’ve never tried shooting or hunting with a real bow, do it. There’s magic in it. Oh, I mentioned above that elk hunt with my father had been my best , prior to this year. I’d like to share that with you. But that’s another story.

One Comment on “When bowhunters hunted with bows

  1. I love that story too, and as you know I couldn’t agree more about your perspective on bows.


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