NO-BROWS: EVERYTHING SHE HAD DONE UP TO THIS POINT IN HER BOWHUNTING CAREER CULMINATED IN A VERY SPECIAL MOMENT.
Just 18 yards away, a beast of the forest stood totally unaware of my presence. I watched in awe as his front leg moved forward, giving me the perfect shot. I had done this so many times, I could just about shoot my purple recurve in my sleep. But, today was unlike any other. Out of all the arrows that had crossed my rest, this was the one that truly meant something.
My eyes followed the line from my purple fletchings down the arrow shaft past the broadhead and rested on the subtle rising and falling of his lungs. Instinct took over as I gripped the string and pulled it back to my cheek. Suddenly, the arrow was flying, and time stood still in those Maryland woods that winter afternoon.
Some of my earliest memories are of following in my dad's footsteps to the stand. I loved the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. I seemed to notice details on those walks that never stood out before.
I remember so vividly how dad's hunting clothes had a specific smell. They blended seamlessly with the cedar and pine branches that he stored with them. And then there was my favorite time of the morning, sitting in the blind watching the world come to life. The shadows played tricks on me as the morning light invaded the dark sky, and suddenly everything looked like a deer.
There was no doubt I was hooked, and once I picked up the bow, there was no looking back. I particularly loved the challenge that came with bowhunting. I felt connected when I held the bow in hand, not only to nature and the animals, but to my family and those many ancestors who had paved the way for all of us with just a stick and string in their hands.
Four years ago, I picked up a recurve bow, and my archery connection reached another level. I craved the moment of honing in on my target, no longer thinking of levels and pins but only feeling the natural motion of the bow. When I held the recurve, I could feel every fiber of my being light up. It was so beautifully basic, and yet at the same time, a great challenge.
I began to shoot every day, first 20 arrows, then 30, then 50. It seemed I could never get enough. The hours of honing my craft would serve me well that December afternoon as I faced off with a wide-framed buck I had watched grow for years.
The buck was named No-Brows for his trademark short brow tines. But, his antler width and the rest of his rack made up for any shortcomings. He lived on a farm I knew like the back of my hand. The problem was, he never made an appearance, unlike various other velvet bucks that showed up one by one on my cameras.
Early season passed, and still no sign of No-Brows. Just when I thought he was gone for good, he finally showed up in mid-October. While the other bucks were still traveling together in bachelor groups, he was always by himself.
Then, during a late-October hunt, I observed a smaller buck making a scrape. Out of nowhere, I suddenly scrambled to my feet when No-Brows burst onto the scene. I couldn't believe my luck as he walked directly toward my shooting lane. Then, it was almost as if he finally realized where he was, as he spied the other bucks and stopped dead in his tracks.
I debated taking the shot, as he quickly turned and paused to look back at the other bucks. But I refused to take a rushed shot, and instead I chose to watch him vanish into the thick brush. From that point on he became even more elusive, and every time I caught a glimpse of him it seemed he had a fresh wound on his face and around his eyes. Additionally, his neck now bore the scars of the battles he had endured.
No-Brows no longer danced on the outskirts of daylight--he went completely nocturnal. And although f knew I'd made the right decision during our first encounter, I felt he had won the war, and I all but gave up on him for the year.
The season seemed to fly by, and I watched the forest canvas before me change from green to red, and then to brown as winter quickly approached. Much of the Maryland hunting community had picked up their rifles, but I chose long ago to use my bow exclusively, and this season would be no different.
The magic of the rut had passed. It was now December, and I chose to sit in a spot that had shown great promise for a shot on a doe. To be perfectly honest, at this point in the season I would have taken any deer ... even an unsuspecting yearling would have been happily accepted into my freezer.
Refusing to admit defeat, I wearily made the ascent to my perch. This stand site was almost surreal, as it was surrounded by a host of holly trees, creating what felt like a nest. For whatever reason, the stand location just felt right.
The air was now crisp and refreshing, but the cold environment seemed to take away the angst of a season that had brought nothing but heartache. Replaying the encounters from the season, I couldn't help but feel like I had squandered them all.
But with refreshed determination, I prepared for a long afternoon sit. Within minutes, I heard a subtle shuffling of leaves. My senses became heightened as I caught a glimpse of movement. All I could see were white antlers moving through the trees. I was totally unprepared for the shock of seeing No-Brows in all his glory step into an opening.
For months on end I sat in the tree with my bow in hand, waiting for a moment just like this. At this point, all 1 had to do was stand and shoot. It seemed simple enough, but as No-Brows closed the gap, I realized how difficult it would be to stand up without his vigilant eyes catching my movement.
He took each step with caution. The fighting had taken its toll and made him flightier than ever. Each time his hooves padded the ground, I ever so slowly raised myself off the seat until somehow my shaking legs found themselves beneath me. I fought bravely against my nerves and waited patiently for the moment of truth.
My vision actually became blurry as he gave me the broadside shot. I couldn't believe it was falling into place. Throughout the whole encounter I kept expecting him to dash away, taking my dreams with him. But in that moment, and for some unknown reason, he was well within shooting range and standing still.
Just like Id practiced thousands of times over, I brought the arrow back to my cheek and focused on nothing but the spot I'd chosen. In a flash that seemed too surreal to be true, I watched the magic flight of my arrow zip to the spot I'd chosen. I could hardly believe my eyes as it hit true.
No-Brows lunged forward and snapped the arrow in half with a deafening crack. Reality crashed back over me with each bounding leap as the buck ran out of sight. I kneeled down on the platform in an attempt to keep my eyes on him. Then, without notice, I heard one final crash and the forest fell silent. There was not a single peep from the birds, not a squirrel shuffling by, not even a breath of wind to rustle the leaves. The only sound was my still-racing heart.
I sat there shaking before finally reaching into my pocket to send a text message to my dad, who was on vacation with the rest of the family. I couldn't believe he wouldn't be there for a moment that seemed to be a lifetime in the making. I could already feel his pride, as he sent back words of encouragement.
My brother was next to receive the news, and then my hunting mentor, who sat just a few hundred yards away. Although he had just started his hunt, he quickly climbed down, knowing I just couldn't wait any longer to begin the track. Each drop of bubbly blood seemed to bring both hope and fear at the same time, as my eyes frantically searched the woods.
Over the years, I had endured some soul-shattering blood trails. I fought off those memories, saying a silent prayer that this one would be different. I refused to give in to the panic that seemed to strangle me. I dropped to my knees when I finally spotted the motionless body.
The buck's wide frame stood out above the forest floor like a beacon of glory. I could fight the tears no longer, as I let the emotion wash over me. When I finally laid my hands on No-Brows, all the waves of worry were finally relieved. All was right in the world for those few precious moments. I already could feel the celebrations of all who had believed in me, taught me, and carried me to this amazing destination.
I stared at No-Brows and took in every detail, feeling the passion that connected me to those who had walked the woods long before me. Bowhunting has become such a vital part of who I am. The seed was planted long ago, but the sacrifice of that deer brought the bloom to life that winter afternoon when my arrow struck true.
The hours, the months, the years spent in the quiet woods had brought me to this moment. The hunts where I felt like I had nothing left made me realize just how much I had gained. No more do I walk into the woods just as a novice hunter with a bow in my hand. I now realize every step of my journey has been forever changed by a little purple stick and string, and my beautiful No-Brows buck.
The author was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, works as a cosmetologist, and is the Executive Secretary of the Maryland Bowhunters Society.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I shot a Blacktail, Sitka Edition, recurve (43 pounds @ 28 inches), Gold Tip Traditional arrows, and 200-grain VPA Rayzor three-blades.
Caption: When No-Brows gave me the broadside shot I'd been waiting for, I drew and focused on nothing but the spot I wanted to hit.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2019|
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