-Youth Replenished for Aging Hunters
By Jim Low
Only 7 a.m., and my mind already wandered. The temperature was in the low 40s, not bad for bowhunting in early October. I was excited about being in my favorite tree stand, 20 yards from the intersection of two deer trails, a creek and a clover field. Yet, I had to discipline myself to stay a while longer before climbing down to have breakfast and run errands. A moment later I was very glad I had.
A flash of motion in the pasture 100 yards away caught my eye. Before I could fully raise my crossbow, two does had jumped the fence onto our property, crossed the creek and bounded to within 40 yards. Already spooked by something, they now were standing directly downwind of me and were on full alert, tails up, ears swiveling and noses trying to pinpoint the source of human scent. The larger doe decided it was time to leave. She took a dozen quick, tense steps, moving cross-wind until she reached the trail junction a mere 20 yards from my stand. There, she paused to test the wind again. It was a fatal mistake.
The sharp thwack of fiberglass limbs snapping forward was followed by a hollow “whop” as the bolt struck home. Startled by the sound and taken through both lungs by a 1 1/8-inch broadhead, the doe bolted toward toward the creek bottom at the northern limit of my property. A moment after she disappeared from sight, I heard a crash, then brief thrashing. My first crossbow deer was unconscious within seconds of the shot.
I retrieved my bolt, which was buried 6 inches in the soil even after passing through ribs and vitals. Then I looked for a sprig of shrubby St. John’s wort to place in the doe’s mouth. It might seem silly to some, but I like the old Indian tradition of thanking the deer for giving its life. After doing so, I set to work.
WHY A CROSSBOW?
I sold my compound bow last year as a concession to age. Surgery on both wrists put me out of the bowhunting business several years ago and I missed it. So, halfway through archery deer season, I got a hunting methods exemption card allowing me to hunt with a crossbow. I never got a shot at a deer, but it felt good to be back in the game.
Today, no one needs an exemption to hunt with a crossbow in Missouri. The Conservation Department made crossbows a legal method for the archery hunting starting this year. This means that hunters with joint problems and those who lack the strength to draw and hold a vertical bow now can enjoy archery hunting.
My new bow – a Parker ThunderHawk – throws bolts, as crossbow arrows are called, at 320 feet per second – 221 mph. The optional scope with a lighted, multi-dot reticle allows accurate shooting at dusk and dawn. I also opted for a rope-and-pully device that makes cocking manageable for almost anyone.
Even with these technological advantages, the most important things that define archery hunting are as true with crossbows as with longbows. Shots must be taken within 40 yards, 50 at most. Beyond that, arrow drop is too rapid for accurate shooting. As with vertical bows, shot placement is more critical than when hunting with a gun, because there is no devastating shock or ability to break large bones. And if you miss your fist shot, the complicated cocking process makes a second shot with a crossbow even less likely than with a vertical bow.
My first crossbow kill was textbook, with the doe giving me a close, broadside shot, and the broadhead piercing both lungs. If I had any doubts about the ThunderHawk’s ability to do a vertical bow’s job, they evaporated when I walked up on my doe. She was a fine animal, sleek in her new winter coat and in the full flush of vigorous youth. After checking and field-dressing her, I drove her to a nearby locker plant and donated her to the Share the Harvest program. Her lean, organic, free-range meat will feed a family fallen experiencing hard times.
I did keep a few things, however. One was her beautiful loin meat, which I harvested before driving to the locker plant. I dropped these off at the home of an old friend. Joel and his lovely wife, Marty, love venison, but declining health has ended his hunting career. His delighted surprise when I handed him the prize cuts was worth their weight in gold.
I also kept memories of the crisp morning air, the blaze of sumac and dogwood leaves in the field edge and the inexpressible thrill of that moment when the doe’s life hung in the balance. When she might have turned and run but didn’t. When I might have decided to wait and see if a buck was trailing the pair of does. When my shot might have missed.
Possibilities. That’s what October is to me. Boundless potential. This might be the only deer I kill this year. I might or might not shoot a turkey for Thanksgiving. The spiraling woodcock might elude me and my dog, and ducks might arrive and be gone before I get a good crack at them. This could be the last year I climb a tree and watch nature’s parade. But in the middle of Missouri’s golden month, everything is still possible.