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Painted rocks: this writer will bet you that you're never too old to get started in bowhunting.

OVER THE YEARS, I've done my share of rifle hunting--moose in Canada, elk and mule deer in several states, whitetails in Texas and Idaho, and nilgai in Texas. However, in 1992, a heart attack in April, followed by quadruple bypass surgery and 18 days in the hospital, delayed a hunt in Colorado. In 1995, I broke my right hip. And in 2004, my gall bladder and I parted company. Plus, I have been diabetic for over 20 years. In short, my health has interfered with some of my hunting plans.

Last spring, I began watching bowhunting TV shows, which piqued my interest. So just after my 79th birthday, I bought a bow and set up a target in my backyard. Realizing the importance of gauging shot distance, I developed a system of measurement with spray-painted rocks: black (10 yards), brown (15 yards), red (20 yards), orange (25 yards), and yellow (30 yards). I also began lifting weights to get in shape. Despite my late start in life, I gradually developed confidence in my ability to hunt with a bow.

AND SO IT WAS THAT on January 2, 2006, at 4:30 a.m., I began the 600-mile drive from my home in Georgetown, Texas, to a ranch operated by Mesquite River Outfitters in New Mexico. I arrived in late afternoon, and my two companions, Hunter Henderson and Kevin Benoit from Calgary, Alberta, showed up about 9:30 p.m.

The next morning we set my ground blind up on a hillside 40 yards above a flat spot created by an earth-filled dam built across a canyon. The lake behind the dam provided the only water for miles. We placed my blind between two bushes near a well-used game trail leading to the water.

All day I watched deer running across the flat and along a tree line 80 yards up the hill. Big bucks were chasing does, and near evening, a huge 4x4 bred a doe under a big oak tree. That looked like the place to be, so I got out and moved my blind under the oak, finishing just after dark.

On January 4, many deer came within 50 yards of me, stopped, and stared at the blind. They knew something was different, but they didn't spook. Finally, a few came within range, and I passed on several small bucks, hoping one of the big ones would give me a shot. It never happened that evening.

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EARLY IN THE MORNING on January 5, as we were finishing breakfast, I suggested that maybe the deer could smell me. In response, my good friend Hunter nearly drowned me with Scent Killer until I felt it coming through my clothes. We had a good laugh over that.

Well before daylight, I arrived at the blind, which gave me plenty of time to lay out my radial pattern of painted rocks. I anchored a tape measure at the blind to center my arc of 180 degrees and placed a radius of color-coded rocks every 30 degrees, filling in with additional rocks at 20, 25, and 30 yards. Regardless of where a deer stood, I would know its exact distance from the blind. To experienced archers, this might seem extreme--or old-fashioned--but I found my system easier than using a rangefinder. As a neophyte, I used the lifetime philosophy I'd first learned in Boy Scouts: "Be prepared!"

At first light, I saw several deer on the flat, and through a fork in the big oak tree I spotted a nice buck off to the right, headed my way. I got ready, and after what seemed like an eternity, he came into full view. He was standing over one of my brown rocks--15 yards.

When I released the arrow, he jumped three feet straight up and ran down toward the water. Just as he was about to go out of view, he appeared to stop. Then he went out of sight, and I heard a noise that I thought might be him going down.

The television shows had recommended waiting a half-hour before pursuing, but I was out of that blind in a flash! After taking only four steps, I saw him lying there, 60 yards off, and let out a war whoop and danced a jig. Then I quickly looked around, hoping no one had seen me. I was elated!

To my amazement, the arrow had entered behind the left front shoulder and exited through the right. To those who had laughed at me for taking up archery, I had proven that the old man wasn't done yet. Lord willing, next January, you'll find this old man in his blind under that same oak tree, doused with Scent Killer, and keeping watch over his painted rocks.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: My oldest son lives in southern California, while his mother and I live near Austin, Texas. With USC and Texas vying for the National Championship at the Rose Bowl that year, my son, who has never won a bet with me in his life, thought his $100 on the Trojans was a sure bet. The game was played January 4, on the eve of my successful hunt. In the space of 10 hours, I had bagged one hundred and one bucks!

When the author is not chasing big game animals across North America, he can be found at home in Georgetown, Texas.
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Title Annotation:Senior Moments
Author:Mabry, Jack R.
Publication:Bowhunter
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:898
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