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Recharging the batteries: bowhunting is many things, not the least of which is getting in touch with nature and ourselves.

It seems that in today's hunting world, everything revolves around the harvesting of trophy animals. Additionally, it seems that the word "trophy" is too often defined as "large antlered." What's wrong with this picture? Are large antlers the only trophy to be had in the overall bowhunting experience? Really, truthfully .... should this be the main force driving our desire to hunt? Not hardly; not even close. And after all, what is a "trophy" anyway? What about the solitude of a quiet day in the field? What about a western sunset that sets the sky on fire? Trophies? I most definitely think so.

Truthfully, as I reflect over many of my past writings, it seems that I can be found guilty of focusing on the "big antlers" aspect of our sport. And I have to admit that there's certainly something about that "antler addiction" that many of us find ourselves overly involved in. Once a junkie, it's very hard to reform. But as I've grown older, one thing has become strikingly clear. It's the memories of the hunts; the savvy gleaned; the deep-rooted values that a life spent out-of-doors has brought me, that means much more to me than the pile of antlers that are collecting dust in my attic.

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Certainly, when we talk about philosophies, we're trekking on delicate ground. Nevertheless, in the following lines, I'd like to attempt to provide some food for thought. A chance to take a deep-breath and let all your great outdoor memories come to light; a chance to really get a feel for the true reasons that you go afield each season. Hopefully, my ramblings will stir something up in you that will make you want to pursue the "real" trophies that are out there in unlimited numbers. Lose that antler fetish for a while, and let's take a walk on the wild side of our bowhunting passions.

Heartsblood

Even though it's been 40 years now, I clearly remember the call of adventure-combined with youthful enthusiasm-that first lured me to field and stream. It was the pull of things new, unknown and dangerous. I was an explorer, a conqueror of a world that offered unlimited challenges at every turn. The animals, the woods, the hills and valleys; I simply needed to know more-much more. Through the victories and defeats, the fun and the pains, I learned, and yearned, to ever elevate my experiences.

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When I got my first "toy" bow, there wasn't a grasshopper, butterfly or mouse that was safe in my "neck of the woods," my parents yard. I remember hurrying home from school to grab my stick and string, always ready to go on another "safari" in the far-away plains of my mind. As I began to grow-in both years and experience--my ramblings began to expand.

By early adulthood, the lure of the out-of-doors was quickly becoming a large part of "who I was." My bow had become mechanical, my desire to spend time afield, spiritual. Nowhere else could I feel closer to my Creator than in His great creation. Whenever I graduated high school, I followed my blue-collar roots and chose construction work as my occupation. Knowing full well that this line of work would allow me to have an extremely flexible work schedule, I planned to work whenever hunting seasons were closed, then disappear into the woods whenever they began. To the mind of a young man freshly out on his own, this seemed to be a very nice arrangement.

For the past 25 years, I've made the most of this lifestyle, spending about five months each year on my do-it-yourself, bowhunting adventures. This is what keeps me young at heart, happy and full of purpose. This is what helps me to face the tough times of life each year, and get through them. Weird? Probably. Selfish? Maybe. Peace for a soul that has to deal with a helter-skelter world on a much-to-regular basis? You better believe it.

How do you explain a guy like me? Maybe I'm a few bricks short of a full load. Maybe I'm a good example of selfishness gone to seed. Whatever the case, it seems that I've always lived for the chance to go afield, bow-in-hand. People often ask me if I'm afraid of the "jungle" out there? In truth, I feel truly endangered with every day I spend in the rat race. Society and civilization; now, that's a jungle, that's a scary place. On the other hand, the woods, the animals, the elements, they are things that I live for-in communion with. Nowhere do I feel more at home, than in the middle of nowhere.

A few years ago, a stark reality was brought to my life-my father passed away while he was on a creek bank fishing. He could have left this life in a lot of ways, none of which could have been much better. Now, as for me, whenever my number comes up, I hope I'm blessed with such a peaceful parting. Maybe my heart will simply give out one day while I'm packing my bow around at timberline. Maybe I'll fall out of a tree stand and break my neck-I just hope I'm about 90 when it happens!

Soul Food

As the sun rises over the distant snowcapped peaks, I poke my head out of my warm, down bag, and feel the jolt of the thin, cold mountain air. Man, it's good to be alive! The solitude is so overpowering that I can literally sense its presence all over me. From my perch here, high on the side of a 13,000-foot mountain, it seems that the whole world is laid out below me-the "real" world, that is. Somewhere, the "fake" world is hustling and bustling to get ahead. Funny thing is, I think it's really me who's actually way ahead of the game.

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The sound of trickling water reaches my ears, soon overshadowed by the piercing whistle of a rutting bull elk. Quickly vacating my warm cocoon, I slip into my shoes, grab bow, and head across the frosty tundra. I'm predatory today-in pursuit of my yearly supply of meat. There's country to be experienced, animals to be hunted-I feel important, necessary, productive.

An hour later, I slide my frozen hands into the warm body cavity of the elk. Somewhere inside me, some-thing hurts for the loss of this animal's life, yet at the same time, my heart races with joy over the bounty that the stag will supply. I've played an important role in something big this morning; I've been part of a much larger plan than any scheme about dollars to be earned, or bills to be paid. The blood that surges through my veins is full of adrenaline and testosterone-euphoria floods my soul. I feel razor sharp.

High above the ground, I sit on the side of a big red oak tree, listening to the sounds of coyotes howling in the distance. Below me, a fox squirrel scurries about, busy burying acorns just ahead of the coming winter. A new day on the prairie is arriving, bringing with it the promise of solitude beyond compare. I'm thinking, dreaming about things that matter very little. Rolling hills of grass stretch in all directions, causing me to envision the vast herds of buffalo that used to roam all about this country. Geese honk overhead, part of a story as old as time. Why do I feel so alive today? Am I doing anything worthwhile? Are there definite answers to these questions? Who worries about the answers anyway?

As the midday sun spills down upon my stiff body, warmth permeates my clothing, causing my eyelids to become heavy, and my attentiveness to wane. Climbing down, I pull a sandwich from my pack and wash it down with a soda. Lying back on the carpet of oak leaves that surround me, I drift into unconsciousness-complete peace. Sometime later, cobwebs slowly begin to clear from my mind, as I sense something about. The rustling of leaves becomes louder as I realize that I have a visitor. Popping one eye open, I stare into the piercing gaze of a big white-tail buck. Though I'm glad to meet him, I really didn't have it planned this way. As I stare into the eyes of the old monarch for a short moment, I know that I've momentarily slipped out of my world, and into his. Does he feel me inside his spirit? Is my intrusion into his very being an insult?

As I watch the old timer turn and ghost away, I consider myself better for the experience. I'm totally energized; stoked rim-full of satisfaction and peace. For a selfish moment, I make myself believe that my intrusion into the buck's spirit was completely justifiable-a rare chance for me to see from different eyes, to feel from a different perspective. As I relax again, I realize that, yes indeed, today I'd received a real trophy; one that couldn't be measured in inches or pounds. Smiling, drift back to sleep.

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The shortcut up the mountain seems harmless enough. It appears that the narrow chute leading up the massive rock buttress certainly offers good access to the summit of the mountaintop high above. There are big bucks up there; I know, because I've glassed them from across the valley. I'm in a big hurry to get to them, so I start climbing at a frenzied pace. With the lust for massive antlers clouding my judgment, I push myself to the edge of my abilities. Soon, the terrain around me starts to become extremely difficult and dangerous. Ignoring the uneasy feeling deep down inside my gut, I convince myself that this hoped shortcut would save me a lot of time.

Nearing the top of the chute, things quickly get vertical. Not wanting to lose all the effort and time I've invested in my climb, I look for any hope of gaining the summit. Moving around the slope horizontally, a thousand feet of open air yawns eerily below me. Looking above, I convince myself that I see another route to the top. Now, however, the stakes will be much higher; there will be no ability to come back down. Strapping my bow on my backpack, I start climbing hand over foot. My heart races as I place myself in increasingly dangerous situations. Finally, in a moment of time, I find myself hanging by toe and fingernail on the rock face, unable to move any farther upward. As the realization of my predicament settles into my soul, I freeze, totally panicked-one slip and I'm dead. A presence is near, a reality not to be explained. The grim reaper is looking me square in the face and I instantly feel the hollow, coldness of his dirty work.

A short time later, I find myself sitting on safe ground, unsure of how I even got there. The emotions that flow through me are overpowering, strong, life changing. I vow never to put myself in such a situation again. I've learned something about myself, and life, today; something that can't be put into words. Though I'll bowhunt another day, I'll never do so from the same perspective. I kneel in a moment of silence, very thankful to still be in the game.

Conclusion

Certainly, as people, and archery hunters, we all go through many stages of change. The reasons that we go afield are as varied as are the personalities and ages of those who participate. Goals and priorities that may seem very important to us at one time, often seem silly only a short distance down the road. Ultimately, it will be a lifetime of memories that we have gleaned from our time afield, that will mean the most to us in the end.

Don't get so caught up in today's trophy hunting frenzy that you drive yourself mad in an insignificant pursuit. Feed upon the vast storehouse of mental and physical blessings that our natural world, and its animals, has to offer. Bowhunt for the right reasons, have fun and pass it along-herein lies the true reward of being a real outdoorsman.
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Author:Claypool, Eddie
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:2031
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