In my three score (60) years on earth, I bet I can recall 100 ‘firsts’. Unforgettable moments, events, sights, passages, tastes, smells and places were all experienced for the first time leaving a powerful impression; destined to be recalled and relived thousands of times more. Everybody has these. Defining moments in our lives. How about your first girlfriend, first kiss, first love? First taste of homemade ice cream or hot bread pudding? First time to taste a salty oyster or swim in the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. First time to hold the tiny hand of one entering this world, and the frail hand of a loved one departing it. On and on, memories are a blessing and a gift, the story of our lives, and should not be taken for granted as this gift is denied to many.
Of course for those of us so afflicted with deer fever, our first ‘miss’, and our first actual deer killed with bow and arrow represent memories seared into our brains. For me these events are even more intense than the first deer with a gun, maybe because the level of difficulty in my case was many times greater. How many ‘firsts’ can you remember?
I mentioned previously I was ‘height-challenged’ when I started seriously hunting, to put it mildly. I am that guy that curses himself for even getting on the Ferris Wheel, as it nears the top of it’s circumference, and I claw my girls arm and hang on to the bar with a death grip! I remember my first bungled shot at a deer like it was yesterday and it had a lot to do with being eye-level. I had set up in my climber about 10 feet off a clear deer trail and gotten up at least a full 8-9’. Trouble was I was down slope from the trail so any deer that came along would be eye level about ten feet away. Trust me, I am sure there are other neophytes out there just as pitiful as I was, but I was doing the best I knew how, and I was ‘in the game’, learning the hard and slow way.
Dern if a little 60 pound doe didn’t come trotting down the trail and stop right in front of me broadside and stare at me with those big doe eyes. She seemed not afraid at all as if she was willing to sacrifice herself to help me out. Or maybe it was more like she was asking, “Hey dude what’s up?’ Meantime I’m having the most intense heart palpitations and adrenaline rush. It changed my brain for life. I could never go back to how I was before that moment. That rush of undiluted adrenaline hits me hard every time and I crave it and will go to any length to experience it over and over again.
I managed to get my bow up and drawn and I think I forgot to put my pin on the vitals and released the arrow in one more or less continuous motion, that I have replayed in my mind only a few thousand times. I’ll never forget the sound of my arrow hitting the tree above and behind her. Thud! Bo-ing! Broadhead went all the way in and arrow just sat there vibrating for about 5 minutes. Years later we would walk by that tree in the woods, and see the thunderhead still in the tree getting slowly absorbed, but not fast enough to suit me. I knew I had blown probably the best chance, maybe the only chance I’d ever get at a slow-thinking deer. So another deer of many was educated by me. She may have grown up to be a smart old unkillable doe! You’re welcome!
The first deer I managed to kill with my bow after so many misses and bungled opportunities, went down like this. My brother Scott and I were at the family property near Angie, LA on the Pearl River in October, just the two of us, heading out with high hopes for one of us to get one. The plan was if somebody shot one they would go holler for the other one even if it was prime time, to come and help with the tracking and dragging. So I start watching a little chubby one eating acorns around 4. Took 20 minutes getting heart and breathing settled down. Shot her and she went down. I had the quivers and shakes so bad I could barely keep in the tree. Then I heard Scott yell for me from the trail, “Hey Mark I got one!” It was unreal. I managed to holler back, “I got one too!” The celebration and joy we felt that afternoon both of us shooting deer with our bows was as good as it gets. What a happy, triumphant moment. We actually did it. We were adult bowhunting beginners figuring it out as we went in a world far different than today’s. If we had been conquering conquistadors it wouldn’t have been better!!
Shortly after killing this first one my appetite for more went crazy. I couldn’t get enough. I was slowly getting higher in the trees but not without plenty of fear. Nothing compares to my experiences with climbing spurs that I still have and look at all the time asking myself if I am ready for another go-round with these things. My fearless friend and neighbor Steve, who had the access to the property in St. Francisville, and was trying his best to help me out, used climbing spurs without a thought to access his dozen or so lock-on stands, usually 25-30’ up at a minimum. He advised me to get some spurs and a lineman’s belt, and gave me permission to hunt a couple of his stands. So I did thinking, “How hard can it be?”
I remember my first experience with my new spurs. This was in the days before YouTube instructional videos and I think I forget to ask anybody how exactly should I use them. I drove up by myself from Baton Rouge to St. Francisville one cold December morning – below freezing and 10-15mph northerly breeze. The stand he sent me to was 30’ up in a bare oak whose bark was slick and hard and pretty well frozen and nicely resistant to the spurs! So this is how bad I wanted to kill deer with my bow, I would subject myself to the abject terror of climbing this frozen tree in spurs, heavily bundled in plenty of clothes, in the dark, with no training or explanation about how to even use spurs let alone the lineman’s belt. By some miracle I got up the tree, got above the stand and had to step down into it, get the spurs off, bring up my bow, sweating profusely by this time, really just hoping I would survive the ordeal. If I looked down I would have died I’m sure. The tree was swaying with the breeze. I was freezing and figuring this was a lost cause with the wind and all. But sure enough here comes a nice fatty who stands there and gives me a nice broadside look at her. Clear evidence that being 30’ up even in a naked tree takes you out of their line of sight. I don’t know how I got the bow drawn but I did, and I shot the deer and she went down while still in the patch. Then the shakes and quivers took hold, and I had to pee so bad I was about to drizzle. So I had to get spurs back on, shaking, and leave the relative but meager security of the tiny lock-on I was on, and attack the side of the tree with the spurs and get myself down. By yet another miracle I got down. More evidence that God looks after fools and rabid deer hunters.
The thing about bow hunting is it forces you to improve a hundred skills related to hunting in general and to develop extraordinary patience. You must be able to read the woods and determine stand placement and get right on top of them and make continuous fine adjustments. These skills bleed over to gun hunting and nearly all the deer I have shot with my .270 have been inside of twenty yards. Mostly because that’s how I scout now and how I set up on them. I want to get close and personal. Now that my bow skills have taken a decidedly sharp turn for the better I am considering going after them bow only. The thought of shooting one with a gun seems a little dramatic. I don’t think I am ready today to put my gun away but I can see that day coming. Particularly since getting enough meat for the year with the bow is not a problem any more.
- Mark A. Wilson