Shooting Through It

Some people are emotionally strong — born to push on and move forward. They need only look out the window to sift through the muck of a bad day and find the gold. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who constantly struggle with stress and worry. They need the assurance that everything will be okay and the time alone to realize it. My wife is the former. I am the latter. When I get ornery and cloud up her day, she has little problem letting me disappear to figure things out. My bow usually tags along for the ride, especially when in a season of some kind.

An example of such an adventure took place earlier this year. It was the first week of my very first Spring turkey season and it wasn’t going very well. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing, or even where the birds were. What I did know was it was humid, the mosquitos were bad, bug dope wasn’t working, and I was tired of waiting on the possibility a turkey would somehow manifest in front of my longbow. Leaving had more appeal, but leaving the woods was out of the question. I needed to be there badly. There was more on my mind than bugs, turkeys or lack thereof, and while I didn’t intend on stumping, that is what I ended up doing.

It was great for the most part. The bugs swarmed when I’d pull an arrow, but left me alone as long as I had my facemask on and was moving. It was difficult to breath and I was a sweaty mess within minutes, but it was better than any alternative I could think of at the time.

There wasn’t anything particularly wrong per say. It was gloomy, I was alone, and had nothing but time, which can be harmful to the thinking man and in this particular instance, the topic was death. I hadn’t lost anyone close to me and I knew I wasn’t dying, but I simply couldn’t shake the thought of the end. I believe it may have had something to do with a lady on our street passing away a few days prior. We didn’t know her well, having only lived in the neighborhood for a couple of years. She lived alone and kept to herself for the most part. Our paths crossed only twice since the move, both of them on Halloween when my daughter rang her doorbell. She was nice enough, but seemed uninterested in having a relationship with us. We learned she lived there most of her life, even remaining after losing her husband to cancer 20 years prior. As fate would have it, she died of the same. We first heard of her condition the previous November. Our neighbors were friends of hers and told us the news. She hardly came out after that and had a driveway full of visitors on a daily basis until one day I noticed several vehicles at her house and a note taped to the door. She was gone.

I remembered driving by on my way to the store that morning and getting choked up about it, despite my not knowing her. A heaviness hit me and I lost it in the car. Part of it was the usual sympathy for her and empathy for the family, but the bulk of it was guilt and fear. The guilt came from my not knowing her despite living by her for so long and for not visiting her when she was sick. It wasn’t that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind, I just couldn’t bear starting a relationship with someone, knowing they were going to die soon. I just couldn’t handle that pain, especially when I had grandparents of my own to think about. I wasn’t strong enough to set myself up like that. Plus, I was scared. Cancer can take anyone at anytime. I knew from experience. My wife knew from experience. I didn’t want to watch it. I didn’t want to see the terribleness of it. Moreover, I didn’t want to think about how it could happen to me and what I would leave on the table if it happened — my girls in particular.

“What if it all ended tomorrow?” I thought. “Hell, what if it all ended after this arrow? I could fall and cut my jugular somehow.” I supposed. A shudder rippled through me. There was so much I hadn’t seen and too much I hadn’t done. I’d barely hunted. I’d barely had an adventure outside of my own backyard. Suddenly the bugs didn’t matter. I knew there was somebody, somewhere in a swamp or in the bush having an adventure and I was rummaging around a piece of overhunted public land shooting stumps and avoiding malaria.

The trail forked in front of me, but the shooting looked more promising to the right, making the decision easier. The remains of a rotted turkey-sized stump proved too much to pass up. I burned a hole in the center, drew to anchor, and released. The razor-sharp three-blade plowed into the rotted husk and out the other side with a satisfying thump. It felt good, not good enough to lighten my mood, but somehow good enough to leave the subject.

A friend had just made a similar shot only he’d put it through a hog down South. “I’ve never been hog hunting. I wish I could do that.” I thought as I wobbled my arrow free of the log. I imagined him triumphantly returning to camp – longbow in one hand, hog in the other. “I bet I could do that. Why couldn’t I? He’s no better a hunter than I am.” While better than death, jealousy wasn’t what I was going for and frantically searched for another target to clear my head. An eroded mound of hickory seemed the perfect way to change the channel. I drew, released, and watched as the arrow made swift work of 30 yards and met its mark, disappearing through the stumps interior. I’d made a shot like that on my very first doe and was thankful for the memory, though I always felt it was beginner’s luck. A fluke even. “Time to put that one to bed.” I smirked, as I drew a second arrow and shot again.

The woods grew thicker and the bugs followed suit as I moved further down the trail, but the shooting was too good to stop and there were more demons to expunge. The timber had been clearcut at one point, producing stump specimens of every conceivable Michigan genus. It reminded me of summer roving with my father back home, which lightened the mood substantially. I couldn’t wait to bring him here in the summer. We could shoot for hours and never run out of targets.

I shot dozens of arrows; each one pulling me further from the dark, and when the trail ended I emerged a soaking, stinking, itching, bleeding, yet perfectly happy mess. In fact, I drove home in complete silence and didn’t even notice.

The girls met me with a hug the moment I opened the door and didn’t seem at all phased by my disgusting state. Jessica, on the other hand, suggested I take a shower immediately and asked me to fill her in over dinner. The hot water was exactly what I needed to wash away the grime and add a fresh perspective the events of the day. I entered the dining room to find my family waiting for me and sat down feeling truly blessed. Jess let me get settled before asking the million dollar question: “So how’d it go? You seemed kind of bummed out earlier. Did you see anything?”

“Only what I needed to see.” I said. “Maybe next time I’ll even get at turkey.”

I’ve shot through some fairly heavy things in my life and am certain I’ll continue to do so. The bow will always be there when I need it and I am grateful for this blessing. Has archery helped you in a similar way? I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below.

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6 Responses to Shooting Through It

  1. Steve says:

    I love this story! I hope to employ this method soon. Only one thing stands in my way. Depression has robbed me of my love for archery. It is very real and the fact that I no longer wish to do what I love to do only makes it harder. Soon, with help I WILL be back in the woods doing what makes me happy, clears my head and makes everything right with the world. Thank you for putting a light at thw wnd of my long dark tunnel!

  2. Randy Hynes says:

    Great article, Nick! Appreciated it.

  3. Stargirl says:

    I feel the same way about shooting a bow and I’m only just picking archery back up after a 20 year hiatus. Why I took such a long time off, I don’t know, but I wish I hadn’t. I’d probably be in a lot better place mentally right now. I can’t wait to get back to being good enough to go stumping. I’m not really interested in shooting animals since I won’t be good enough to do it humanely for a long time, if ever, but the idea of stumping sounds like the best form of therapy ever. There’s just something about loosing an arrow, it’s like the heaviness of my worries go with it. The worries may still be there, but they are easier to carry afterwards. Doing it in the woods at natural targets sounds even better. Great post.

  4. Thanks for sharing. What a wonderful post…I think many of us find that solace in archery and wilderness, even when we’re not necessarily looking for it. May we all return home a “perfectly happy mess.”

  5. Dan breen says:

    I lost my wife to cancer three years ago. Just now getting back to hunting . We were together for 32years. Every time Tbm came in the mail carol would say ,well see you later. The day we laid her to rest I came home and guess what was in the mail ! A little releaf. But I always kept on shooting my longbows I’ve been shooting for50 years thank god for archery and the woods we go to and the deer and other game we hunt

  6. I am flattered by the response to this post. Truly flattered. I am honored to have written something that so many relate to. I’ve received more feedback on this post than any other in this entire blog and I’ve been doing this for several years now. The blog’s name is “Life and Longbows” because I always dreamt of sharing elements of myself – the good, the bad, and the ugly” – with all of you without holding back. Somewhere along the way I became a little hesitant to do so. Apparently I need to do it a lot more, so you can expect more of this kind of writing in the future. Thank you again for sharing your stories with me as well.

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