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.
The arrow buries into the target, just behind the foam deer’s shoulder. I take a couple steps back and send another on it’s way, the string slipping from my fingers. The second shot a few inches back from the first, but still in the target’s vital zone had it been a live deer. I pull my bow back for the third time and focus my gaze on the other arrows’ brightly colored feathers sticking from the side of the target.
I feel the leather of the old shooting glove come to rest at the corner of my nose, I subconsciously exhale and the arrow zips on its way, slamming between the other two.
As I walk to retrieve my shots, I ask myself “Why can’t I shoot like this in competition?”
I pull the arrows, one in the 10 ring and the other two solidly in the eight. I march back through the freshly mowed grass and send another down range from about 15 yards. A “gimme” shot under most instances, but still one that needs to be practiced when shooting instinctively. I walk further back, somewhere between 25 to 30 yards and launch the other two. One hits tight to the fake deer’s shoulder, the other a little too far forward for my liking. I have no real measure for my practice distances other than estimating in my head.
My style of shooting doesn’t require a range finder or even known distances. It’s a process of muscle memory and repetition that hopefully pays off during hunting season with an up close chance at a deer.
I spend the next half hour or so repeating my practice.
Most of the shots where I want them to be, but a few random fliers as a result of a lack of concentration or sore shoulders or both.
I take a seat on the edge of my back porch steps to regain my focus and look towards the woods behind my house.
The trees are now thick and heavy with summer foliage. Made up mostly of black locust, ash and poplars, the edge is bushy with honeysuckle. A deer trail leads from the thicket into the edge of the yard and skirts along some brush until it drops back into the tree line. I can only imagine the deer that walk through the yard at night and away from my prying eyes and those of my dog. The old canine will still occasionally let me know when one passes through when he barks, but his game chasing days are behind him as he ages and he’s no longer a threat to a fleet footed deer.
Hearing loss and arthritis have taken their toll on the old fella, not unlike a lot of us these days….
I pull an arrow out of my back quiver and shoot from a kneeling position. Not a shot that I’m likely to take at a whitetail, but if I ever head West after an elk, a shooting form that would come in handy. The arrow strikes where I was looking and kills the target. I move to another position and send another on its way with the same result. “I should quit now while I’m ahead,” I think to myself as I pull another arrow from the quiver. The third arrow splits the distance between the first two.
A tight group, one that I can wrap my hand around, the kind of grouping that never happens when you have an audience.
I place the arrows back into the leather quiver and think about shooting some more, but just then a twinge of pain, ever so slight creases through my upper arm, a hint that my rotator cuff is reminding me that maybe my dog isn’t the only one that is getting older.
Time to go in for the evening and think about the hunts that lie ahead this fall – and maybe an ice pack for the shoulder….
– David Hewitt