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.
Last week while working off Thanksgiving leftovers at the YMCA, I struck up a conversation with the fella pedaling next to me.
Our discussion not surprisingly turned to bow hunting and archery. He asked how I had gotten interested in my type of hunting – and a half hour later, I had finished my story. His eyes were slightly glazed over and he looked a little tired. I’m not sure if his condition was brought on from boredom of listening to me drone on about traditional bows or the fact that he’d ridden 10 miles on an exercise bike.
Late autumn of 1991. It had been cold and a dusting of snow-covered the ground. An early Sunday morning should have found me in a church pew, but instead I was crunching across the frozen ground towards an old cedar tree on one of Roy Turner’s farms. The sun had already broken the horizon as I climbed up the tree limbs and settled in on a couple of old slats nailed up as my tree stand.
I’d been bow hunting for 5 or 6 years at this point as a young man and had taken a handful of deer with my compound bows, but this hunt would be different.
This time I was packing an old recurve bow and half a dozen cedar arrows with me to the woods. As a 21 year-old, money was hard to come by and I had just recently broken my compound bow beyond repair. Buying a new one was out of the question between paying rent and utilities. Just when I thought my bow season was over, a friend gave me the recurve to try. After a couple weeks of shooting the simple bow, I felt confident enough to give it a whirl.
I hadn’t been in the seat too long when I noticed a small deer nibbling its way towards me. I can still see him as if it were yesterday. Two nubs on his forehead told me he was a button buck, fat and fuzzy, but I wasn’t being picky. If the fella gave me a shot, I’d take it. The young deer browsed on low hanging twigs as he made his approach. My heart raced and my breathing was out of control. I was certain that the deer would hear me panting as he stepped closer and closer. “Pick a spot, PICK A SPOT” raced through my brain as the button head stepped clear of some brush less than 10 yards from my hiding spot.
The deer stood there broadside, completely unaware of the hunter in the tree above him. I focused behind his shoulder and instantly, the wooden arrow was on its way. The small buck jumped at the shot and ran a few yards and then stopped, looking around, confused.
“How did I miss?” went through my head.
I peered at the ground and saw my arrow buried in the snow and leaves. But, as I gave it a closer look, a pink spray covered the white of the snow. I looked back towards the young deer to see him collapse in a heap.
Over, finished and done in a matter of a few seconds.
I sat in my tree for the next 20 minutes trembling from the adrenalin rush mixed with the chill of the December air. I finally climbed down and retrieved my arrow. A perfect pass through shot. The big old broadhead had performed perfectly and would be re-sharpened to play its role again. I walked the short distance to the dead deer. I vividly remember that odd combination of emotion. Excitement, joy, a sense of accomplishment, all tinged with a touch of sadness from having taken the animal’s life.
Before I began the messy work of field dressing the deer, I sat down for a few minutes in those woods on a Sunday morning and thanked God for what just happened and the course that old recurve bow and the little deer set out for me. I’ve taken many deer since then, but none have impacted me like the first one taken with traditional archery gear. It lit a spark in me that burns brighter today and hopefully will continue to burn as long as I’m able to take to the woods.
– David Hewitt