All posts by Nate

Drop-Tine Obsession

(Story published in Huntin’ Fool Magazine, Aug. 2011, Vol.16, Issue 8)

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I first spotted the great buck, which I simply called ‘The Drop-Tine,’ during the 2008 season while bow hunting a heavily hunted public area of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Northern Utah (known as Monte Cristo by the locals). He was the most amazing buck I’d ever seen, with a wide sweeping rack and long matching club-like droptines hanging down below his ears. I had been exploring foreign hillsides all morning when I bumped him from his bed at the edge of some pines. As he quartered away I was able to get a quick shot off, but in my haste I misjudged the distance and the arrow flew low. The arrow hit some dead-fall in front of him, arrow shattered, twirled through the air, and bounced off the deer’s rump. I merely spanked him, and then he was gone. Having never seen a buck of this magnitude in the wild, and on public land for that matter, I became instantly obsessed. But for the remainder of the season I was unable to relocate him.

Monte Cristo is your standard north/south rocky mountain range in Northern Utah. It has everything mule deer love: tall mountains covered in aspen and pine trees, endless steep canyons and ridges, and rolling sagebrush hills. Water is scarce in most places, but adequate enough to support plenty of deer and elk. For decades Monte Cristo was one of Utah’s premier deer hunting spots, but in recent years, deer populations have declined drastically due to high hunting pressure and diminishing winter range. With very few peaks from which to glass and covered in dense timber, Monte Cristo is not a spot-and-stalk area. Big bucks are only found by busting brush in steep wooded areas, making it very difficult to locate them with any consistency.

In 2009 I planned to exclusively hunt The Drop-Tine for six days, beginning where I left off in 2008. But the great monarch managed to elude me up until the third evening when he busted out of some trees 40 yards above me, stood for a second atop a sagebrush knoll silhouetted against a twilight sky, and then disappeared before I could raise my bow.

By the sixth and last day I was getting desperate. My plan was to carefully still-hunt the entire mile-long ridge where he lived, as well as the adjacent canyon. For twelve hours I snuck slowly through the woods without rest, glassing every inch for antler. But he was nowhere to be found. Both physically and mentally exhausted, I was ready to give up. With my head hung low, I turned back towards camp. Seconds later, as I rounded the end of the ridge, The Drop-Tine suddenly exploded from a bed 40 yards below me in a thicket of trees. Through a cloud of dust I watched the big barrel-bodied deer bound away. I could hear him running for half a mile down the canyon and up the other side. I thought I was going to cry as I plopped down on a dusty game trail and dug my GPS out of my backpack. That day he had bedded half a mile from the last place I saw him. How do you hunt a deer that doesn’t move in the open during daylight, that is never found in the same place twice, showing up anywhere at random like a ghost?  The wise old buck lived a life without pattern; that is how he had eluded hunters for so long.

The 2009 season was over; time to throw in the towel. Every night for the following year, when I turned out the lights before bed, the image of The Drop-Tine silhouetted against the sky would pop into my head. I lay awake night after night pondering the mistakes I’d made and planning new strategies for taking the mystical beast the following year. I was Ahab, and he was my white whale.

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In the summer of 2010, as soon as the snow melted off the mountain, I went scouting for The Drop-Tine, but was never able to locate him. A week before the August archery opener, my brother Brent spotted The Drop-Tine while checking trail-cams in the area. Those trail cameras, by the way, never did capture the ghost’s image. Back home, the ‘Great Recession’ was taking its toll on my small photography business, leaving me with a lot more time than money. So, I used this to my advantage, planning to hunt The Drop-Tine on two separate trips totaling ten days.

The archery opener started off slowly. But on the fourth morning, while sneaking to one of The Drop-Tine’s old beds, he, along with two smaller bucks busted out of a new bed fifty yards below me. That was the last time I saw him that week. A second 5-day outing the following week turned up nothing, and I finally accepted the fact that the old buck had grown tired of my chasing him and moved to another area. At that point I had no choice but to give up. He was a deer beyond my caliber for sure, and I had already wasted way too much time and too many tags pursuing him. I thought about all the other hunting opportunities I’d sacrificed while chasing just one deer and was ready to make peace with my failure once and for all.

The next weekend, which happened to be the last day of the archery deer season, my girlfriend (now my wife) Esther and I embarked on a two-day elk hunt into the same area, but on a neighboring ridge where I’d seen more elk sign. Our objective was cow and spike elk, but on the drive up all I could think about was The Drop-Tine and how dejected I was. Esther lent a sympathetic ear to my rant:

“No one’s going to kill that buck. He’s gonna die of old age in a field one winter and there’s nothing I can do about it.”  I didn’t digress. “I wish I’d never seen him, at least then I could enjoy deer hunting again. And yet, I’ll return again next year to chase a ghost through empty woods. I have no choice…”

The next morning we woke before light and snuck into the elk area, setting up on opposite ends of a steep timber swathe used as a bedding area between feeding areas. As I sat watching the big September sun rise slowly above the horizon, all was quiet, nothing stirred. I was beginning to question our setup when suddenly my eyes caught the motion of wide antler tips swaying through the brush 50 yards downhill. Great, the elk herd is moving in, I thought as I raised my binoculars. But through the glass a deer’s head appeared, then two huge drop-tines! I couldn’t believe it. Three years and eighteen total days spent hunting for this creature, and now here he was, walking right towards me!

The buck followed slowly behind a sparse line of pine trees, offering no shot. I began frantically searching for a shooting lane when I suddenly realized that the tree line he was following ended abruptly right in front of me. If he kept his course, he’d pop out 20 yards in the open! A quick glance at grass to my left indicated the wind was starting to swirl. This is never going to happen, I thought. He’s too close. But the buck kept coming, slowly and cautiously at first, then picking up speed.

At that point I was a nervous wreck; my hands were shaking uncontrollably and my heart pounded so loudly that I was certain the buck would hear it too. In a full panic I glanced down at a sticker on my old Browning bow which reads, Stay Calm, Pick a SpotOkay, at least I can pick a spot, I thought as I drew my bow back. A second later the buck’s shoulder appeared and the arrow was off; I don’t even remember releasing it. As the huge buck spun and blasted out of sight, I caught a glimpse of my orange-fletched arrow sticking out of his side.

Shot location and distance.
Shot location and distance.

Everything was suddenly quiet again, as if nothing had happened. I sat dumbfounded for a second, awash in a swirling mix of dumfounded disbelief coupled with adrenaline screaming throughout my body. In an instant, I dropped my bow and went sprinting back through the woods towards Esther. She hopped out from behind a stand of pines, bewildered by the sight of a crazy man flailing towards her. “I just shot my Drop-Tine!” I yelled. At that moment, The Drop-Tine had finally become My Drop-Tine.

A tedious, half-hour tracking job over a sparse blood trail eventually led to the downed deer. The arrow had pierced both lungs, but the huge buck still covered 150 yards in great leaps and bounds down a nearly vertical slope. He expired on a steep, brushy slope, landing on top of his sprawling antlers which anchored him from sliding down the mountain. At the sight of the downed deer, a sense of relief and accomplishment came over me which can never be explained. After three years of failure, my wildest dream had come true, and I was finally liberated from my obsession.

Still in a daze, Esther and I pried the mighty buck free of the tangle and marveled at his majesty. I’d watched, even in fleeting glimpses, as The Drop-Tine grew bigger and more spectacular than I ever could have imagined.

The Drop-Tine’s rack measured nearly 33-inches wide and gross-scored 200 5/8 (194 6/8 net P&Y).

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Secret Bowhunting Tip #1: Weight is Everything

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Be prepared. – Boy Scout Motto

Be prepared, not OVER-prepared. – My Motto

In this article I’m going to address weight issues. I’m not talking about body fat; if that’s an issue then it’s a personal problem. No, today I’m talking about unnecessary items we carry into the field, and which are most likely hampering our success.

Utah offers a great opportunity for bowhunters who still have unused archery tags at the end of the general season. It’s called the Wasatch Extended Archery Hunt. The “extended hunt” runs from the middle of September clear through the middle of December, and encompassing the entire Wasatch Front, and even the entire deer rut. I usually see more giant bucks during the extended hunt than the whole general season and scouting trips combined. The biggest downside to the extended hunt—particularly in November and December—is the steepness of the terrain coupled with deep snow and cold weather.

In late November, 2012, I hunted the extended hunt for a few days alone. There’s always a little apprehension when venturing into those steep and freezing mountains alone. No one knows ever knows exactly where I’ll end up, including myself. To feel safer that year, I brought tons of extra gear including extra clothing, food, water, hand warmers, boots, and even some reading materials for when I got bored. In other words I over-packed, and that was a big mistake. Instead of taking three hours to drag my sled up to camp, it took five and I didn’t get to bed until 1:00 am. For the duration of the trip, my legs cramped, I blew through my water, ate more food, and had to rest more frequently. Although it was warmer than previous years, I was more tired and miserable. Miraculously I arrowed a nice buck two days later, but with so much new weight, I had to leave half my gear on the mountain and return the next day to retrieve it. Not fun!

In 2013 I returned to the same spot alone, only this time I brought my brain. Before the trip I went over the list of junk I hauled up the mountain last year and then crossed out almost half of it. Most of that ‘extra stuff’ served only to make me feel safer and had no real use for hunting. Some of the items included extra food, extra water (I could just filter water as I went and /or eat snow), extra boots, a pillow, books, propane, extra knives, hand warmers, utensils, batteries, archery tools, a handgun, extra flashlights, lighters, etc. I also noticed that my big, leather hunting belt weighed twice as much as my skinny “church belt,” so I wore that one instead.  I even cut the tags off my clothes and the handle off my toothbrush. All in all, I probably removed 30% of my pack weight, and man did it pay off. I got up the mountain in record time, ate less, and covered more ground than ever before. You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to be quiet while carrying a heavy day pack. In the end, I didn’t miss any of the junk I left home. Well, at first I did miss my handgun once I learned there was an active cougar den with kittens only 300 yards of my tent!

For most people, it’s hard to believe that such small items matter that much. But in truth, these items have a compounding effect. You never know which erroneous item will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Weight is especially  a negative factor when hunting in snow. More than anything else, a pair of heavy boots will fatigue you in the snow. For years I had two boot options for various weather conditions. One pair is a heavy, high-top, insulated cold-weather boot, and the other is a lightweight, breathable, un-insulated stalker-style boot. In 20I3 I stopped using the heavy boots altogether. What I found was the heavy boots always got too hot, primarily because of the amount of steep terrain I was covering. They were also noisy and very heavy compared to my stalker boots. Now, the stalker boots weighed only half as much (similar to tennis shoes),  but there were two minor drawbacks. First, my feet always got cold when I wasn’t moving, and second, they had minimal traction-tread. To counteract the cold, I simply wore two layers of wool socks. As for traction, I simply used a pair of lightweight ice cleats which worked wonders in the snow.

The next time you return from a grueling backcountry bowhunt, empty everything in your backpack onto the living room floor, and then make a list of everything you didn’t use. Is there still a tag on your tent? Why did you pack it into the woods? Were you going to eat it? Is there half a tube of toothpaste left in your toiletries pocket? Why did you pack extra paste?

Weight is everything; that’s what I learned in 2013. And surprise, surprise, fear is your worst enemy. Fear is why we over-pack. The more afraid we are of the mountain, the more extra stuff we cram in our packs; you know, just in case… And then there’s the great gear paradox:  the more we fear failure, the more hunting gear we carry around in our daypacks. Bowhunters, heed my plead:  You are the predator, not the crap on your back. You are too be feared, not the mountain. All that extra weight is an anchor keeping you from your goal. Pack light. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be prepared, not over-prepared.

Click here for my Secret Bowhunting Tip #2: Success is a Decision

The Learning Meadow: My Son’s First Deer

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Three years ago I took my son Jake to the Sawtooth Range in Northwestern Utah for his first muzzleloader deer hunt. It was a bust. There were too many people and not enough deer.

While bowhunting on Monte Cristo last year I stumbled upon a promising new area that very few people know about. There’s a nice feeding meadow atop a steep slope there. The first day I stumbled across 3-point buck feeding leisurely, but passed on him in hopes that Jake would find it during the fall muzzleloader season.

In September (2011) I took Jake to that little meadow, but lo, there was no 3-point. Instead, there was a giant, heavy racked 4-point bedded near the opposite side of the meadow’s edge. At the same instance we spotted him, he spotted us and stood up, offering a perfect broadside shot at only 75 yards. Well, Jakey had only practiced shooting square targets, and as much as he struggled to get this mighty beast in his sights, he just couldn’t. Frantically, I whispered, “SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT…” But didn’t. Instead, the buck turned and disappeared into the trees. At that point I almost blew my lid. “WHY, WHY didn’t you shoot?!” I implored. Jake replied, “I couldn’t see it in my sights good enough.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but what could I say? I was a frazzled mess as we trudged back down the hill towards camp. The next day was a bust and we went home empty-handed.

The following year, in spring of 2012, I went to Sportsman’s Warehouse and bought Jake a life-size, cardboard deer target. Never again would he shoot a square, paper target. A square target looks nothing like a deer or anything else you’d find in the wild. So, he practiced on that deer-shaped target during the summer while we made plans to return to Monte Cristo and our secret little feeding meadow in fall.

On the second evening of the hunt, we climbed up the mountain and sat in the trees at the edge of the meadow. A little while later, just as the evening light was fading, we heard a rustling in the brush. Sure enough, a respectable 3×4 buck with tall antlers slowly materialized at only 75 yards away. It wasn’t the same great buck as before, but it was good enough. Jake got into shooting position, but the cover was too thick for a shot. Fortunately, the buck continued feeding along and started walking right towards us! At fifty yards the buck suddenly jerked its head up as it recognized us as humans. Jake was ready and shot. As the smoke cleared, we could see the big deer prancing down the hill unscathed. We walked over to where the buck was standing and there was no blood. Jake missed it, plain and simple. This time I wasn’t upset and just asked him what went wrong. After thinking about it for a minute, he figured he must have dropped the gun at the shot, causing the bullet to travel beneath the buck. In other words, he didn’t follow through. At that moment, the feeding meadow would forever be called, “The Learning Meadow,” as Jake was learning some valuable lessons there.

Monte Cristo is tough! The next day, there were no bucks anywhere near the Learning Meadow. Another lesson: you can’t shoot at a deer one day and expect him to return the next. On Monday, we sat in a promising new area with lots of deer sign. But Monte sucks, and we saw no bucks. Shooting light was fading fast when we decided pack it up and move uphill towards the Learning Meadow. Maybe we could catch a last minute buck out in the open. As we approached the top of the draw opposite the Learning Meadow, a deer suddenly jumped out of the trees right in front of us and bounded across the open sagebrush hillside. Right away, I could tell it was a buck; a small buck, but a legal buck nonetheless. I asked Jake if he wanted to shoot it, and he said yes. Unfortunately, the buck was bounding directly away from us and offering no shot. Jake dropped to one knee while I set up the shooting sticks, just in case it stopped. Near the top of the ridge, 120 yards away, the buck paused and turned broadside. Jake was ready. Through a cloud of white smoke we watched the buck drop straight down like a sack of potatoes. Neither of us could believe it!

Jake’s eyes were wide with excitement as he stood over his beautiful trophy. I congratulated him and told him I was proud. The buck fell only a hundred yards from the Learning Meadow. Later that night, we dragged that little buck right through the Learning Meadow on our way back to camp. We took a break there. The meadow was dark and mysterious, but the lessons Jake learned were still there, burning bright as day.

Step #4: Releasing the Arrow

In this lesson you will learn how to properly release an arrow.

Nocking an Arrow

The end of the arrow has a notch in it called a nock. The nock attaches to the string just below a “nocking point.” The nocking  point is a fixed point on the string that aligns the arrow with the bow for every shot. On most bows, the nocking point is a small brass bead clamped onto the string. The arrow nocks–or locks–onto the string right below the nocking point.

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With traditional archery (longbows and recurves), the arrow has three feathers, and one of the feathers is a different color. This is called the cock feather. When you nock an arrow, be sure the cock feather always points out. This keeps the arrow from deflecting off the bow.

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Odd-colored feather always points out.

With compound bows, the orientation of the cock “vane” (compound bows have plastic vanes, not feathers) depends on your arrow rest. The most common arrow rest for compound bows is the drop-away rest. With drop-away rests, the cock vane isn’t important as there is no contact with the bow. With other types of rests like the one I use, called the Whisker Biscuit (see photo below), the cock vane must point up. The Whisker Biscuit has stiff bristles on the bottom side which help support the arrow, and the vanes must clear these.

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Compound bow with a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest. Notice how the cock vane points up.

Anchor Point

The last step is to acquire an anchor point. The anchor point is two or more spots on your face where some part of your release hand, arrow, string, or release aid contacts your face. Anchor points are vitally important to consistent shooting and accuracy. Therefore you must establish consistent anchor points from the get-go.

Anchor points are different for everyone, but the most common are:

  • string on the tip of your nose
  • a finger touching the corner of your mouth
  • side of thumb touching your jaw bone
  • arrow fletching touching the face

When shooting any bow, I make sure the string touches the tip of my nose and the side of my thumb touches the back of my jaw.

 

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My compound bow anchor points: tip of nose on string and thumb at back of jaw.
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Traditional recurves bow anchor points: side of nose, back of jaw, and corner of mouth.

Note: In beginning archery, many of my students are afraid to have string contact with their face. This is totally unwarranted. Remember, when you release the arrow, all that energy leaves your face unscathed.

Finally, we’re ready to shoot an arrow!

Here are my quick steps to releasing an arrow:

  1. Nock an arrow on the string below the nocking point. You should hear a soft “click” as it locks onto the string.
  2. Grasp the string with three fingers. Your three fingers will hook onto the string somewhere between your first and second finger joints. If you are shooting a compound, ignore this step and simply attach your release aid to the D-loop.
  3. Pull the string across your chest, not towards it, and align the string with your eye. In essence, you should split the target with the string and look down the arrow to aim, but keeping your focus on the target, not the arrow.
  4. Back tension release: As you draw the bow, your back muscles are doing all the work. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring the string to your face.
  5. Establish your anchor points.
  6. Release the arrow. Release happens as you simply open your hand. With a compound bow, you simply touch the trigger.
  7. Aim with the point of your arrow while looking through the string. With a compound bow, place the appropriate sight pin on the target.
  8. Follow through.  Without proper follow-through, you’re dead in the water. Follow through means that both arms (bow arm and release arm) continue in opposite directions at the shot. This is called “finishing the shot.” Your release hand should continue backwards (not up or out) towards your ear. The last thing you should feel is your release hand brushing past your face and touching your ear. This will reduce oscillation and increase accuracy.
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Anchor, release, and follow through.
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Traditional bow follow-through: Hand brushes face and stops at your ear.

 Final Thought

Archery is a complex skill that cannot be mastered in a day, any more than other muscle-memory skills such as golf or skiing. In the movies they make it look easy, and many of my students have the misconception that they can pick up a bow and start shooting simply by mimicking what they’ve observed. But without spending a lot of  time on the basics, you’ll immediately develop bad habits which take a long time to break.

Accuracy comes from focusing on each step, one at a time. After many hours–maybe even months–these steps will gradually become one subconscious step called FORM. Once proper form is established, your only focus will be on aiming. This is should be your goal.

Step #1: Proper Archery Stance

Step #2: Gripping the Bow

Step #3: The Release

Step #3: The Release Arm

The release arm, (aka the string arm or shooting arm), is the arm/hand that holds the string while drawing the bow. If you are right handed, then it’s your right hand.

In traditional archery you have the option of wearing a shooting glove or finger tab to protect your first three fingers (index, middle, and ring finger). Although it is perfectly fine to shoot with bare fingers on a light-poundage bow, it can be very painful with a heavier-poundage bow.

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Glove-style release aid.
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Finger tab release aid.

 All modern compound bows should be shot with a mechanical release aid.  Unlike traditional bows (longbows and recurves), compound bows are designed to be shot in-line. With traditional bows, the string will oscillate side to side as it rolls off your fingers. This is normal, and the arrow will correct itself in flight. With compound bows, the arrow leaves the bow at a much higher speed and therefore, oscillation will cause the arrow to shed speed and energy as it tries to re-adjust itself in flight. Therefore, the arrow should be shot with minimal or no oscillation. In order to accomplish this, the arrow connects to the string in a D-loop tied onto the string and the release aid attaches to the D-loop. This keeps the shooters arm, release, and the arrow pinch point in perfect line with the arrow and reduces oscillation.

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Compound bow D-Loop.
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Mechanical release aid for compound bows.

As an aside, my person favorite release is the Fletcher .44 Caliper Release. This is the smoothest, most reliable, and least expensive release I’ve used.

With traditional archery, you have two options for grasping the string: a) one finger above/two below the arrow nock, or b) three fingers below the nock. The advantage to having three fingers below is that it brings the arrow closer to your eye which helps with aiming. I’ve personally found that three fingers below dramatically increases my accuracy. Try both and see what works best.

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One finger above and two below.
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Three fingers below. This brings the string closer to your eye.

Click here for the next lesson: Step #4: Releasing an Arrow

Part 4: The Good Fight

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“Keep up the good fight.”

How many times have you heard that? “Keep up the good fight!” What the heck does it mean?

In my last post, I wrote about adversity and how each year, right before the bowhunt, the metaphoric ‘steely claws’ tighten their grip, making life downright miserable. As this disrupts my focus on the hunt—the one thing I fight for all year long—then I have no choice but to fight back. So today, I’m addressing the good fight.

My research tells me that ‘the good fight’ is a reference to the biblical figure, Paul, who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) Though once a Christian reference, the good fight now refers to anyone who fights for what they believe in.

For me, the good fight is the fight against evil or any unfair person or entity. It’s the fight against selfishness and those who unfairly take advantage of others. It’s the fight against governmental intrusion into our personal lives, over-taxation, ignorance, and general stupidity. I fight against anyone who tries to steal or destroy my feedom, property, or peace of mind. Sometimes I simply fight weeds in my garden or insects in my house. I fight daily for my tiny little space on this planet.

Now, let’s get back to the Christian reference. In Christianity there’s a whole lot of gospel about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and basically maintaining the peace. I like that…but it doesn’t apply here. After all, Paul was a fighter. He fought the good fight (whatever that was), and ever since, Christians have been fighting against something, whether it was persecution, evil, or for our country’s freedom. Occasionally throughout history, Christians even went looking for a fight, as was the case with the Crusades and the Thirty Years’ War. The point is, good people always have and always will fight for what they believe in. That’s the good fight!

Years ago I was on a bowhunt and minding my own business. I returned to my truck one night and found that someone had cut up my back tires with a knife. Long story short, I was lucky to get off the mountain. For a long while, I was filled with pure hatred and ready to fight. But with no known assailant or motive, I wasn’t allowed to fight, nor was allowed to forgive. Thus, the fight stuck with me for a long time.

As with any marriage, my wife and I occasionally have a good ol’ fashioned brawl. We’re both somewhat bull-headed and prone to skirmishes. But later, after we’ve made up,  she tells me how she hates fighting. And in a jovial way, I tell her that I love fighting! Fighting is how you resolve problems and address relationship-corroding issues. Like it or not, fighting is progress. After a good fight we usually feel better. It’s just a matter of perspective, I guess.

In the recent past, I had two conversations about the good fight with two different people with whom I’m close to. They are both good people, but had exact opposite opinions. The first person said something along the lines of, “You shouldn’t fight! It’s a waste of energy. Instead, lie low and stay out off the radar. That’s what you need to do to protect yourself and your family.”

At first this made a little sense. But after further contemplation, I realized I’d never heard anything more selfish and stupid. His argument admits there will always be evil, but we shouldn’t do anything to stop it. What a pile of crap! In his defense, he was trying to convince me not to be a martyr; not to waste my energy fighting “the system,” a battle which I can never win. But I still disagree.

The second person I talked to is a fighter. He believes you should always fight. He actively fights against liberalism, stupidity, government intrusion, over-taxation, corruption, and any other kind of evil on a daily basis. He’s a family man, a devout father, and a Christian. He’s humble and kind and one of the few great people I know.

I say fight the good fight! Fight evil where you can. Avenge the evil done unto the innocent. Hunt the hunters. Any person or entity that exacts purposeful harm onto another person should be fought.

By absorbing all the pain caused by unchecked aggression, you invite despair, depression, and madness into your life. When I was a kid, my dad said, “If anyone bully’s you at school, I want you to punch them square in the nose as hard as you can. Don’t worry about getting in trouble; I’ll back you up.” Now, my dad was a very peaceful person, but he knew that by allowing myself to be bullied would set my life up for failure.

Kids these days are encouraged NEVER to fight back. When my son was very young, I told him to fight back against bully who hurt him. Much to my chagrin, he refused adamantly, pleading that it was ‘against the rules.’ This pacifism attitude is very unhealthy in the long run, as well as completely un-natural. Without the fight, some kids eventually absorb so much mental torture that they crack, and one day they bring a gun to school and kill a bunch of innocent people. And every time this happens, society divides the blame into  three categories: 1) blame the gun, 2) blame the bully, and 3) blame mental illness. The truth is: BLAME SOCIETY for teaching the kids NEVER to fight.

In conclusion, life can turn on you in a second. There is too much evil and too many controlling mechanisms all collaborating against you. Happiness is fleeting and no one is immune to calamity. By ignoring the good fight—by allowing blatant evil to thrive—you indirectly hurt the innocent. It reminds me of a quote by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Evil thrives in a pacific society that teaches kids never to fight. Fighting back is healthy and natural. If you never fight, you’ll eventually lose your freedom, and then your mind.

Fight the good fight!

Part 1:  Overcoming Adversity

Part 2: The Steely Claws

Part 3: Constants, Controls, and Variables

Part 3: Constants, Controls, and Variables

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So, this is a good year; my worst was 2008. I won’t get into the specifics, but rather what I learned as a result of determined contemplation of what adversity means:

Life is made up of three controlling mechanisms. They are as follows:

    1. Constants: Things you cannot change: i.e. genetics, age, physiology, general appearance, I.Q., gender, etc.
    2. Controls: Circumstances or occurrences that are out of your control: i.e. accidents, illness, other people, the economy, death, etc.
    3. Variables: Things which you have control over: i.e. attitude, lifestyle, relationships, career, extracurricular activities, etc.

These three mechanisms of control dictate our daily struggle, mind-set, attitude, and ultimately our success. We can control some things, and are controlled by others. But what I want to focus on today is the greatest enemy of peace, which is Controls. Controls is the great fear and the great unknown. It can change your life in a second and you never see it coming. It is the finger of God. It is fate.

 Some may argue that our attitude can eliminate the effects of controls, or that our happiness is purely dictated by our negative reaction to stressful events. This is the case when, say, your car breaks down or you catch a cold. But if your son gets flattened by a garbage truck or your house burns down, well, positive thinking won’t help much, at least not in the short run. You are no longer in control, but being controlled.

So what can you do to avoid controls?

Nothing. You don’t have to like it; flee from it if you can. We are justified in fearing Controls. You can never control the Controller. But when crap happens, fight it if you can, embrace it if you can’t. Turn tragedy into action, not reaction, and you’ll get through it, eventually, and  be stronger for it.

You will always have controls. This is how we learn and grow; this is the purpose of life. There is no pleasure without pain. The knife is honed by friction.

Click here for Part 4: The Good Fight

Part 2: The Steely Claws

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In my book, Zen Hunting, I address two important life concepts which are linked. The first is what I talked about in my last blog (Adverse Conditions), and the second is “the steely claws of responsibility.”

The steely claws of responsibility represent the controlling aspects of daily life which causes stress and affects our mood in adverse ways. These metaphoric ‘claws’ grasp hold of us when we least expect it and keep us from our goals or happiness. Examples might be a car crash, a serious illness, family emergencies, financial struggles, etc.

How do the steely claws relate to bowhunting? Good question. Allow me to get personal:

This year was going quite well in almost every way, and until recently I thought I’d be going into the bowhunt next month with a stress-free mind and a positive attitude. But, in just the last week or two, I have endured surprise attacks from every direction: financial woes, family problems, work problems, and car problems. As the stress and negativity mounted, I was suddenly hit with déjà vu. This sort of thing seems to happen every year at almost the same time, and in similar ways, and as far back as 1997 when my now ex-wife ran off with another man from her work. That year, I went into the woods feeling like I was going to throw up on my boots every second of the day. The fact is I can’t remember the last time I entered the peaceful woods without some huge, black cloud looming over me.

This is NOT a pity-party. This is just how life works. You see, when I go into the woods this year, I’m going to shoot an innocent and beautiful animal to death in cold blood with a razor-tipped arrow, and then watch it die right in front of me. Do you think that sort of action is free? Do you think the Natural Universe would allow me to do this without some sort of sacrifice? Every culture in the world previous to ours knew this. We just forgot.

Nowadays, a failed hunt results in a little disappointment, and maybe a razzing from fellow hunters. In ancient times, a failed hunt meant starvation. Do you think those ancient peoples—for tens of thousands of years—didn’t experience some level of stress prior to and during the great hunt?

And so I embrace it. The long-term effects of stress can be very harmful, but the short-term effects are good. Stress raises my heart rate, focuses my mind, and separates the trivial from the important. The regular seepage of adrenaline into my blood gives me an energy boost on an otherwise hot and lazy day. My patience is thinner, but my decisions are quicker and clearer.

As dreadful as it might be, ‘the steely claws of responsibility’ exist to help me succeed in hunting and life.

Click here for Part 3: Controls, Constants, and Variables

Part 1: Overcoming Adversity

Part 1 of a 4 part series on life, hunting, and overcoming adversity.

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Adverse Conditions = Success

In teaching advanced archery, one of my lessons revolves around ‘adverse conditions.’ What I mean by adverse conditions is that when you’re shooting arrows in your backyard, you are generally shooting at a large target, on a flat surface, at a known yardage, and in fair weather.

But the inexperienced bowhunter quickly figures out that in the mountains, everything changes. Now you are shooting kneeling down on a steep hill, through some brush and limbs, at an unknown distance, with a fly buzzing around your eye, and aiming into the sun. No wonder so many bowhunters have such poor success! In the real world, whether fighting the mountain or fighting the rat race of life, we are constantly battling adverse—or at least unpleasant—conditions. We must learn to welcome adversity and use it to our advantage.

The secret to successful shooting, then, is to practice in adverse conditions. Place as many mental and physical obstacles between you and the target. Have your shooting partner yell or poke you right before you shoot. Shoot at unknown distances. Shoot with a strong crosswind. Shoot through heavy cover or around obstacles. Do whatever you can do to make practice harder and it will pay off in the woods.

From years of real-life hunting experience, I’ve learned that the biggest obstacle is yourself. Even if you shoot 10,000 arrows in the preseason, you’re never really ready for that buck-of-a-lifetime to step out in front of you. And when it happens, I guarantee you’ll come unglued! My brother, Russell, relates a story of this happening to him many years ago when he was still new to bowhunting. A small, two-point buck stepped out right in front of him at only fifteen yards. Sure enough, the instant pressure caused him to send his arrow plowing into the dirt at the buck’s feet!

So how do you prepare for that kind of pressure? The following are some of the best ways I’ve found to create high-pressure practice:

  1. Don’t shoot square targets; shoot realistic 3D targets. If you don’t have a 3D target, you can always dangle small balloons from a string in front of your target. You’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to hit them as they dance around in the breeze. Not only will this prepare your mind for realistic situations, but it’s a lot more fun.
  2. Compete! At least once or twice a year, sign up for a 3D tournament, even if you aren’t that good. Competitions–especially ones with lots of money on the line–always raise adrenaline levels. If you aren’t up for a formal competition, you can create competitions by practicing with a couple friends. Put a couple bucks on the line and watch the competition soar.
  3. Sprint to and from your target to get your heart rate up, shoot quickly, and repeat. I admit, it’s not a fun way to practice, but it helps.

Remember, overcoming adversity is how we grow stronger in life and bowhunting. Anticipate it–even welcome it–and you’ll be better for it.

Click here for Part 2:  The Steely Claws

Step #2: Gripping the Bow

The bow arm is the arm/hand that holds the bow up. It’s sometimes referred to as a “dead-post” because it doesn’t really do anything special, other than hold the bow. This being said, your bow arm has the greatest effect on accuracy. This applies to both traditional and modern bows.

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Bow arm grip

The steps to proper grip are as follows:

1.  If you are right-handed, grip the bow with your left hand. This is called your bow arm/hand. But you’re not really gripping the bow; you’re simply holding the bow and pushing it forward. If you grip the bow too tightly you’ll torque it side to side, causing you to miss left or right. The best way to avoid torque is to lightly touch the tip  of your thumb and index finger together and allow your other fingers to remain relaxed.

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Relaxed grip

2.  Keep the bow’s grip settled in the “throat” of your hand (between your thumb and index finger.) Keep your wrist straight so that it’s in-line with your forearm bones. If you allow your wrist to bend outward it will cause the bow to settle at the base of your thumb, which causes movement. As you relax your grip on the bow, you will feel the bow settle at a balanced fulcrum point in the throat of your hand.

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Correct wrist position
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Incorrect wrist position

3. The most common mistake for beginner archers is to allow the elbow to bend downward. This increases the chance of slapping your arm with the string. Therefore, you must bend your elbow slightly outward. This might seem a little weird at first, but in time it will become natural.

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Elbow bent outward (CORRECT)
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Elbow bent downward (INCORRECT)

4. As you draw the bow back, your bow arm pushes the bow forward. Remember, your back muscles are doing all the work. As you squeeze your shoulder blades together, your bow arm and your shooting arm apply pressure in opposite directions. At the shot, both arms continue in opposite directions. This is called follow through and will be covered in a future post.

Click here for Step #3: The Release Arm