After playing baseball for 25 years I can remember my days in the sun ‑ both of them.
Some high points come to mind… stealing a base and knocking in the game winning run a couple times, but unfortunately there were many more times when I missed fat pitches that came “right down the pipe.”
As a kid, baseball was very important to me. It was one of the ways I defined myself. In sports, athlete’s go for it. They swing for the fence, sometimes connecting and often failing. But in hunting, “going for it” often has unintended consequences.
My first year of deer hunting took place in 1971. I unleashed a rain of arrows on the deer of Lassen County. I finally killed the twelfth buck I shot at. It was not an efficient event, nor was my conduct a standard to follow. I wasn’t thinking about those things. I just wanted to kill a buck. I thought hunting was a sport. Amazingly, I didn’t wound any animals before I finally killed my buck.
A few years later, while hunting in Oregon’s Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, I shot at a forked horn mule deer. The arrow was on line but fell low, hitting the buck in his left front leg. The sight of him stotting off on three legs with his front leg dangling by a tendon comes to mind.
As vividly as a recall the thrill of my first buck, I also recall my anguish of wounding that forked horn. We have limited ability to control the course of events in the physical world. Going five for five or hitting a home is a great thrill for a baseball player, and killing a nice buck is just as thrilling for the hunter, but once one has wounded an animal the difference between these activities is made much clearer.
Unlike baseball, my archery hunting carries on. I’ll never go five for five again, but I may take a great mule buck with wide antlers. Maybe it will happen this year. I’ll never go back and analyze my swing to figure out why I couldn’t hit more balls over the fence, but I can improve my shooting technique and self control. I can care for my equipment and tune my bow. I can practice to become the best archer I can be.
My archery career is still in full bloom. I can become a better archer and a better hunter, but I must spend time evaluating what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
A friend of mine recently discovered his grandfather’s bow, a hand crafted Osage orange wooden long bow. He was excited by the find and committed himself to hunting with it. He has sought out advice from professionals and is preparing to hunt with the primitive weapon. I hope it will be a satisfying hunt for him.
There was a time when I made a similar choice. About 20 years ago, I purchased a long bow and vowed that I would hunt mule deer with it. I remember my first stalk. I came around a large boulder on a Nevada mountain within 15 yards of a modest three‑point buck with pitch‑black, velvet antlers. I drew and released. The arrow sailed several feet over his back as he walked off. I have never felt as defeated as I did at that moment. I had no chance. At fifteen yards, the buck might as well have been 100.
I wasn’t prepared to wait for the ten yard shot, so I hung the primitive bow up, realizing I would never acquire the skill necessary for effective big game hunting with a long bow. If hunting were just a sport, there would have been no reason to give up on the primitive bow. But, hunting is not a sport.
You can treat hunting like a sport, but if you do so long enough, you’ll probably agree with me that hunting is a unique activity which has great merit, very personal results and is best practiced with a high level of individual integrity.
That’s why it’s so worthwhile.
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