Author: Emily Courtney
I hate bowhunting. It’s difficult. And when there’s a much easier way to achieve the same end, I find it infuriating to torture myself into doing it the hard way. But that’s also why I love it. Many of my bowhunting friends find themselves in this same paradox. It’s the challenge that draws hunters in to this particular weapon of choice, and it’s that same challenge that also causes most of us to threaten to hurl our bows into a lake at least once a season.
I resisted the trend for a few seasons when it first became popular again around my junior high years. I finally caved sometime during high school. I couldn’t resist having an extra month at the beginning and end of my deer season anymore, even if I did have to use a bow. At that time, I’d only been hunting “seriously” for about four or five years, but I felt like it had always been a part of my life. I grew up in a hunting family, tagging along to the blind as a little kid with my grandpa and dad. As I grew into my teen years, my brother pulled me closer to the lifestyle, and taught me, and helped me become a hunter in my own right, and he was the main force urging me to pick up a bow. I started out as a rifle hunter, which most kids do, or did back then. My resistance to try bowhunting in the first place was rooted in all of the same reasons that I still hate it now. The season begins when the weather is still summer-like, which to me, is not pleasant weather in which to hunt. You have to be closer to the deer to make a shot, which makes everything about the hunt itself more challenging. Mastery of the weapon is more challenging, and comes with more variables that can increase the chance of a missed or poor shot. It just seemed like so much more work to get the same thing, and I was doing just fine with my trusty .308. Ultimately though, my brother wanted me to try it, and I realized that it would result in more time in the woods with him, so I gave in. We found a used bow and he began giving me archery lessons. I took to it pretty well, and actually shot in some competitions in high school. It was all just to hone my bowhunting skills, though.
I hunted with a bow for six seasons before I made a successful shot and recovery. After the first couple of seasons, I thought, surely I’ve paid my dues, I’ve put in my time, and it will all come together next season. Then the next year came and went, and my luck didn’t change. I kept gun hunting some weekends just to keep meat in the freezer. I was tempted to give up many times, but after so many seasons I started to feel like I had something to prove. I wouldn’t let it get the best of me. My brother and I had put in so much time and effort; scouting, planting foot plots, hanging stands, clearing shooting lanes, target practice. Not to mention time in the stand. All of my hunting buddies joined the cause, too, and would let me hunt all of their best spots, help me strategize, and give me a morale boost when needed (which was often). In my sixth season of bowhunting, I was in college and hunting on public land near the school most of the time. I had a couple of close friends I’d hunted with there in past seasons, and we had our favorite spots, but that season we decided to scout out some new ones. We found a spot that we thought seemed promising, hung a stand, and I hunted there most weekends for the first month of the season. I didn’t have many sightings, and was beginning to think our instincts about the spot had been off, but then, in the second weekend of November, I was hunting that stand when I got my first bow kill; a doe at 10 yards.
It’s difficult to convey the range and depth of emotions that event caused. I felt elation, intense joy, excitement, happiness. I also remember feeling an immense relief. The pressure was off; I had done it. A huge weight was lifted. And I was proud, so proud. To get my first bow kill, on public land, after six seasons of trying, felt like quite an achievement. I also felt some sadness. There’s always some sadness mixed in when I kill an animal; grief for the life I’ve taken, a somber gratefulness for the sacrifice it made to sustain my life. I feel these things every time. But there was something else as well. A different uneasiness I hadn’t felt before. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was so proud. Because I had intentionally made myself work harder than necessary to get something, and then finally achieved it? It felt like I was playing a mind game with myself. And it made me wonder, exactly what was the end I was after? I had always been convinced that all I really cared about in this hunting thing was the camaraderie with my family and hunting buddies, and putting some meat in the freezer. That it was never about the sport of it, or the trophy, and that somehow, that attitude made me better than some of the other hunters out there. I was one of the good ones, and I could hold my head high when I called myself a hunter. But what now, had this bowhunting thing changed that? It certainly seemed like I cared about the sport now. But was that such a bad thing? What was wrong with appreciating the thrill of the hunt? I had all of these thoughts and feelings racing through my head and heart as I sat there on the forest floor with that doe’s head in my hands. But I realized that none of that really mattered. Regardless of my motivations, or what weapon I chose to use, I would still be a hunter.
For a while after that, I resented bowhunting for bringing about that inward struggle. And even though I eventually came to appreciate the introspection as personal growth, I wrestled with whether I would continue pursuing game with a bow. After all, it still seemed like more trouble than it was worth most of the time. I have always been taught to work smarter, not harder, and bowhunting is the opposite of that philosophy. I still hate how hot it is in the stand on October 1st. I still hate how that one doe you didn’t see will catch you drawing back every time. And yet, something about it keeps pulling me back, season after season. The sense of accomplishment as a hunter when you kill a wild animal with a bow is truly like no other feeling. I suppose that’s why, here I am, six years after that first bow kill, about to enter my twelfth bow season, and I’m still trying for my second bow kill, just chasing that feeling.