Stumbling to Success – Trials of a Rookie Bowhunter

Guest post by our very own Gavin Harvey, CEO of Sportsman Channel. Gavin is an avid hunter – but is definitely more comfortable with a gun in his hand than a bow. Read below about his first bow hunt – and he got a doe! Yes, all you more experienced bowhunters just said a cumulative “argh!”

The instant after I released my hoist-cord and watched it float to the ground I thought, “I probably shouldn’t have done that.”

It was 9:30 on the morning of my first bow hunt – ever.  I had put in over four vigilant hours in the tree stand, a triumph in itself given all the time and effort I had invested to become a bowhunter.  I had seen several does and a few young bucks, but I wasn’t hunting the latter and I didn’t get a shot at any of the former.  I was witness to how amazingly sensitive whitetail does are to scent when a light wind-shift scattered one very promising encounter. I had experienced the adrenaline surge described by my bowhunting mentors as I silently sized up my prey below.  It was dead quiet for over 90 minutes and seemed like an excellent time to lower my bow to the ground and call it a morning.

Except I dropped the cord too.  And you know what happens next – this joke writes itself.  Rookie Bowhunter drops his hoist-cord instead of keeping it clipped to his body.  As if on the set of Dr. Doolittle, cue the fat doe entering from left to right, slowly, stopping at the 20-yard mark and presenting a spectacular broadside invitation.  As I steamed over my stupidity and desperately attempted to levitate my bow with mental telepathy (it doesn’t work), another doe – fatter and slower than the first – entered and presented the same taunting opportunity.

Thelma...or Louise? Photo credit: Avia Venefica

The eight to 10 deer I had seen in the first three hours of my hunt were nervous, working the wind, never still, and quick to leave.  Not Thelma and Louise – these gals couldn’t have been more relaxed.  When a dozen big black wild turkeys spilled out of the forest and into the clearing, it became clear to me that dropping my cord had triggered a divine hazing from Artemis, the goddess of hunting.

When Thelma and Louise finally meandered away and I descended the stand, I felt like I had failed myself and all the people who had helped me get into the stand that day.  A lifelong rifle hunter, wing shooter, and gun guy, it took me years to finally take the leap into bowhunting.  I was reticent about leaving my guns – (even for a day!) – to devote all the time I’d need to do the research, put in the practice, and obtain the license.  But for the past year I have been hanging around a lot of bowhunters at Sportsman Channel and Intermedia Outdoors, and they are a persuasive gang.

My hunt this day was made possible by a friend, Peter Tulloch, whom after a year of coaxing me to take up the bow, was now providing me generous access to a farm co-op in rural New Jersey.  Peter dialed in my marksmanship, navigated field tactics and stand safety with me, and put me in a potentially lucrative tree stand position.

And in exchange for his generosity and the help of all my other bowhunting aunts and uncles – because of an instantaneous mental lapse – instead of sharing in the joy of a first-kill all they would get is a good laugh at my expense.

Gavin is also an avid rifle hunter - here he is with a Mule Deer from last season

The afternoon hunt was slow.  Again, I was lucky to see some deer.  Again, they were nervous.  The wind was swirling.  A couple of does presented themselves, but all I had were straight-on spine shots.  A few minutes from sunset and the end of the day’s hunt, I was beginning that internal dialogue we all have with ourselves when we are not going to go home with a deer: “Well, I learned a lot today. And I saw some wildlife.  And isn’t it great just to be in nature, enjoying the outdoors…”.

I was ready to hang it up – when Thelma appeared.  Or Louise.  Well maybe it wasn’t Thelma or Louise but that’s the notion that got my turbo charging.  A mature doe, a young doe, and a young buck came into my range.  The mature doe was distracted, harassing and chasing off the young doe.  What a display of aggression, the mature doe standing on hinds and kicking at the little doe.  And then Thelma presented a clear broadside shot.

“Hello, old friend,” I said to the pounding in my throat and chest.  It felt good.

I locked the pin on Thelma, gained control of my breathing, and gently squeezed my release.  I heard the arrow whoosh and the broadhead “thwack!”  The three deer below leaped in panic; Thelma jumped, whirled, and froze.  I waited for her to fall.

I waited for her to fall.  And waited.  And realized – I missed.  I…MISSED!  My arrow was broken on the ground below Thelma!

My mind flooded with every hunting experience I have ever had, my hunting life was flashing before my eyes, I was dumbfounded and confused and reeling.  I went over every step of my shot and was convinced it was perfect.  Depression gripped me.  How could this happen?  Did she move, or did I flinch?  Did I practice enough with this broadhead?  Did I…Did I…

Did I realize that Thelma had not run off – and was still below – unaware of me?

Thelma was quartering away, snorting and stamping her feet – at the little doe.  It was as if Artemis, sensing how truly pathetic I was, sent the little doe out to help me.  Being the ace bowhunter that I am, I swiftly realized that I had several more arrows, and now would be a good time to try one of them.

Again I locked the pin on Thelma, gained control of my breathing, and gently squeezed my release.  The arrow whooshed, the broadhead thwacked – and this time there was another sound.  Thelma bellowed to high heaven and dropped at the shot.  I was shaking, as I did the first time I killed a deer with a rifle years ago.  She died there, sparing me the need to track her – as if Artemis had had enough of me for one day.

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