Humble Beginnings

My wife shooting her longbow at a 3D course.

The old buck approaches from the West and my heart races as I ready my bow to meet him. Leather-clad fingers meet waxed Dacron, as they search for smooth plastic. A cool morning breeze licks at my nose, chilling the sweat from the hike in. “So far so good.” I tell myself. “But you haven’t won anything yet, Nick.”

The old boy continues on at a strong November clip. His neck bulges with desire and purpose. My skin begins to goosebump. I count the yardage down by fives to keep my cool but know it is pointless. The antlers aren’t helping.

“Antlers…the old guys at the range told you not to look at those, Nick. They said you’d lose it if you did. Probably miss high.”

I chuckle at the advice, which is a bit like reminding someone not to look down while scaling a steep cliff. The thought takes the edge off, allowing me to gather myself in time to catch my target broadside near a patch of dogwood 15 yards away.

“Pick a spot, Nick. Thats what all the magazines say. Pick a spot, draw to anchor, and release. Its that simple.”

I find a crease behind the shoulder, focus on it, and begin to draw.

“Honey?! Are you still down there?”

The voice echoes down the stairwell and yanks me back to reality. It belongs to my wife Jessica who sounds less than enthusiastic about the track of time I’ve lost. I respond with a less than enthusiastic “yes”, as my fantasy buck dissipates into the basement walls. He wasn’t the first. He wouldn’t be the last.

This was a common interaction in 2009. I was obsessed with my new hobby but Jessica and I were living in a major city, which wasn’t supportive of it. Operating a weapon within city limits was against the law and my fences weren’t high enough to disguise the activity. Our 100-year-old home included a Michigan basement, which hardly qualified as such. It was basically a cellar and half of that space was an enormous furnace that looked and sounded like a monster when the lights were off. At 6’3″ I couldn’t stand or walk upright without hitting my head on the rafters, so shooting a bow was out of the question without adjustments. Since modifying the house was out of the question, I would need to adjust my shooting style.

I brought my longbow downstairs, knelt down on the cold concrete, and canted it just enough to clear the floor joists. It was awkward at first but I was comfortable enough to try an arrow after a few test draws. There were only seven yards from stairwell to target, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t afford to drive 45 minutes to the nearest range multiple times a week and I couldn’t stop shooting my bow. I was committed to making it all work.

Some nights I crafted elaborate hunting scenarios like the one above. Others I concentrated on form and release — eyes closed in front of a cardboard box stuffed with an old blanket. There were nights I just read, learning everything I could from books, magazines, and forums. This was valuable time spent. All of it crucial to my bowhunting education.

I look back on those days with pride. They are proof that you can make something happen if you want it badly enough. But there is something else to glean from these humble beginnings and that is to remember what it is like to be new. This isn’t always easy to do for those of us who are now firmly entrenched in the archery lifestyle. We have a community around us. We have or know of places to shoot and land to hunt. We belong to organizations and have¬†shooting events on our calendars that span the entire summer.

In short, we have it figured out.

There are many who have not and we need to be patient with these people. We need to reach out to them and find a way to share our knowledge without being spiteful or annoyed. Recognizing how overwhelming traditional archery/bowhunting can be is the first step. Understanding that no two paths are the same is the second.¬† I still shoot with a fairly drastic cant due to all of those hours spent flinging arrows in my basement. I snapshoot and anchor to the side of my face because chronic hand pain from years of football will no longer allow a deep hook to the jaw. These are but two examples of why I shoot the way I do and I know I’m not alone.

The traditional way is individualistic in nature. We each have our own way of doing things, which was shaped from the parameters of our reality. It would do us all some good to go back to the beginning, remember what it was like to be new, and learn from the trip. It will change your perspective and make you smile in the process.

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