Three Arrows


I put three arrows through three deer and hung the results on the wall to honor the memory.

The first was aluminum – the culmination of beginner’s luck and a newly discovered talent. It reminds me of a young hunter nearing the end of his first season, overcoming shaking hands and pounding heart to cast it. Killing was new to me then and I haven’t forgotten the weight of the moment: the arch of the arrow; the crunch of red-speckled snow under foot; my breath rising in the chilly December air; Dad’s voice congratulating me on the phone.

Remorse. Joy. Pride. I never thought an object capable of retaining such things, but I relive the moment with every glance to the wall. That simple implement, that ridiculous tin can, is so much more than an arrow somehow. It represents an awakening – my baptism to the world of bowhunting.

The second – a cedar crafted by my own hand – weathered the challenges of public land, a two-year drought, and a shoulder blade to take a doe. It was nothing short of miraculous for an amateur like me. I believe it was my finest hour to this day. I scouted and stalked that deer, I intercepted her, and I made the shot. It wasn’t perfect, but the arrow was heavy and the broadhead sharp. What began as a simple cedar dowel – stained, lacquered, and tapered – turned vision to reality. I was continually evolving as a hunter in both skill and perspective and the proof now runs within its grain.

The third arrow is carbon fiber – a material of little meaning or attachment. It was circumstance, not fate nor opinion, that yanked me from my beloved cedars. Some would consider this a regression, but I’d found fatherhood twice between arrows one and three, and a lack of ambition from a surplus of diapers. Every second alone in my shop was now a cherished commodity and I reserved that time for writing or shooting. Carbons were easy and they always delivered.

When my very first buck fell to one, I had every intention of saving it. I cleaned it up the best I could and draped it across the little skull-cap mount I made. It stayed there, as the seasons changed and hunting season rolled around again. I looked at it daily, cherishing the details of that morning in November and all of the wonderful interactions and emotions that accompanied. That arrow had given me a lot; more than most people ever would or even could.

Last week, I took one final glance at the “soulless” bundle of fibers on the wall, and decided its fate was no longer fitting. Dormancy, after all, was a death sentence for any warrior.

I pulled it off the rack, running my fingers through the matted feathers. The blood flaked to the touch and collected in a dusty red pile on my workbench. The broadhead, dulled from the buck’s hide and rusted from the Michigan humidity, would require more. With a bit of light filing, it was ready for service once again. I was amazed at how quickly the transformation from “sacred momento” to “lethal projectile” occurred, but this was its purpose, after all. Swords are not made to stay in their sheaths.

I began to dab peroxide on the bits of blood I couldn’t remove by fingernail, but found it futile. It would never be clean again. I decided that was okay. The blood would pay tribute. The blood would bring luck. The blood would make memory. I would carry the warrior with me as long as it did so.

Do you retire your arrows after they’ve harvested game? Do you have an arrow story? Feel free to share it below or on my Facebook page.

Ambition aged 34 years

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Steve Angell with a beautiful Pope and Young pronghorn. Gross score of 74″.

The bowhunters I know have longstanding dreams afield. I do not.

I’ve been behind the riser for nearly a decade, but have always felt too new to the game to have any of my own. I’ve come a long way from “flingin’ and prayin’”, having shot several deer with my longbow, but it still feels like happenstance. Each harvest was a gift.

Not so for my more seasoned brothers. Each kill is purposeful, rehearsed, and earned. Two of my dearest friends, Steve Angell and Thom Jorgensen, are prime examples. They’ve logged more time into the pursuit of game than I have breathing. And, as if the almighty himself made it a point to reward the effort, both of them were recently very successful on an antelope hunt in Wyoming.

That is only the story’s conclusion (and a poor summary at that). I will not give you the details of their hunts, partly because I wasn’t present and because they are writers in their own regard. I’ll let them empty their quivers at the fire when they feel like doing so. Until then, I will elaborate about the dream of one of these gentlemen in particular. A dream that was 34 years in the making.

Steve Angell is one of the most dedicated bowhunters I know. He’s been at it his entire life and has wanted to take an antelope since reading about them in magazines, as a kid. Thirty-four years later – at the ripening age of 49 – he fulfilled that dream, tagging out on a 74” Pope & Young buck. It was the 34, not the 74, that flared my eyebrows when he relayed the story to me on the phone.

I turned 34 years old last December, which meant Steve had been dreaming of antelope my entire life.

I couldn’t imagine wanting something that badly. It really made me think about what I wanted to accomplish with my longbow. I thought hard about it that afternoon. I tossed and turned on it that night. One would think that knowing what he or she wants to hunt would be an easy feat for any hunter. It wasn’t for me.

It rained the next morning and I spent a lot of time indoors – journal open – wrestling with a black ink pen. I was down a pot of french roast and massaging a cramping hand by the time I finished. I read through my work and was introduced to a Nick I’d known all of my life but somehow never met.

The most intimate of truths screamed at me from the page. Things I was surprised to write, but didn’t want to read. I was ashamed of some of it, yet amidst all the self-deprecating scribbling, came true wisdom:

“You are a writer who hunts, not a hunter who writes.”

“You are never going to be the guy that organizes a hunt or knows all the answers at camp. That just isn’t you. You are there to observe, reflect, and share. In other words, you are just along for the ride.”

“You don’t care about what or where you are hunting. It is who you are hunting with that truly matters to you.”

I had never heard truer words and am thankful they were my own and not from the lips of someone I didn’t care for.

I’ve never had aspirations to hunt impala in Africa or chase grizzlies in Alaska. Not that I wouldn’t go if invited, but I haven’t laid awake in bed dreaming about the scenario. It may be because I’ve only hunted outside Michigan a handful of times. Or maybe its because I’m a bit of a pessimist blinded by the barriers in front of me. Either way, as John and Paul sang, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.”

And I will. I already have hunts in the works in Kentucky and South Carolina in fact. Maybe that is the key to unlocking the adventurous side of me. I may not have ambitions aged 34 years, but I’ve got the will to experience and record life and those I live it with, as I see them.

You need to live to do that. And I will. I’ll just need a friendly nudge from time-to-time.