Along The Trail 11-17-16

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Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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By the time this week’s column hits the paper, firearms season for deer will be in full swing and based on the photos on social media, the opening weekend has been a good one. Plenty of deer have been taken and by the looks of things, lots of nice bucks have fallen. Congratulations to all the successful hunters and good luck to those still in the field.

Several years ago, I had made the decision to no longer hunt with a firearm during deer season. This past weekend, I had a fellow hunter who was visiting our state from Maine ask me why I didn’t use a gun.

“Doesn’t using a bow, especially a longbow put you at a disadvantage?,” he asked.

I thought about it for a moment and it’s not that I’m opposed to using a gun. I grew up hunting deer with a shotgun and always enjoyed it, but over the past several years as I’ve changed, so have my thoughts on hunting from a personal perspective.

At this stage in my deer hunting career, I’ll be perfectly fine if I never take another deer. I’ve killed more than my fair share, some with a gun, but most with a traditional bow and arrow. I explained to my friend from Maine that for me, I’m more interested in the method I use to take a deer than if I actually take the deer. I told him that I had just lost interest in shooting a deer with a gun and that I’m not going to starve to death if I don’t have venison in the freezer.

Everyone has different motivations for why they choose to hunt. For some it’s a trophy set of antlers. For others it’s tasty protein. For others it’s about time with family and friends; still for others it’s about communing with nature. My personal motivations are wide and varied for my time chasing deer. I enjoy the challenge that using traditional archery gear provides. It forces me to “hunt.”

My choice in weapon limits my effective range, thereby forcing me to get closer to my prey. The way it works for me, using my longbow or recurve has made me become a better woodsman. It forces me to learn the patterns of the deer, their daily habits. It’s taught me that if I want to bring home meat and hopefully a nice set of antlers as well, I have to get inside the deer’s comfort zone. I enjoy the chase and challenge more than I do the kill at this point.

When I’m “stick bow” close to a deer, even if I choose not to take a shot, I feel like I’ve accomplished something special. To go into the woods, into the whitetail’s living room and beat him at his own game makes my heart tick and my pulse race. As much as I try to improve my hunting skills and woodscraft, most of the time, I’m still no match for a buck’s wild senses.

Several years ago, I had lost that excited feeling when I carried a gun into the woods. I had been fortunate to have good places to hunt and in all honesty, it had become easy to kill a deer. Almost expected… The challenge had disappeared for me if I had a rifled slug gun in my hand. It wasn’t a matter of if I’d take a deer, it was only “when” I’d take a deer. I no longer have interest in shooting a deer that was 100 yards away from me – I had switched from hunter to shooter. Traditional archery gear has made me a hunter again, an extremely humbled hunter most of the time as my success rate is far lower than my failure rate. There have been many times since giving up gun hunting that tag soup was the only meal my hunting season provided.

So, to all my fellow hunters out there, hunt ’til your heart is content and hunt in a way that you enjoy the most and if you’re getting like me and you feel the challenge of the hunt slipping away, don’t be afraid to grab your bow and head to the trees during gun season. It might just re-ignite that old feeling that brought you to the woods in the first place.

– David Hewitt