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traditional archery

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In the Beginning, Part 2

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      The next time I saw him, it was late September.  I was running a little late getting out of work, and I as hurried to my truck the dark sky was threatening rain.  I'd been watching the radar all day and I figured it wouldn't rain until sometime around 9pm.  When I arrived at the forrest service gate, the wind had picked up considerably.  It was close to 5pm and I still had a good long walk into the ridge I wanted to hunt.  I hesitated, and almost drove home, but something beckoned me onward.  I settled into my climbing stand about 45 minutes later and surveyed the ridge.  There was a deer trail, that looked more like it had been made by cattle, just 15 yards below me.  The sound of dropping white oaks was all around me.  This ridge came off of the hilltop pines where the buck had been spending his time this summer.  It was on the far opposite side from where we had previously met.  The wind was good for this side, and with the acorns, the dropping temps, and some luck, maybe I'd find him again.  I was startled back to reality by the sound of an acorn smacking the dry leaves.  I reached into my pack and pulled on my vest, as the wind was cold and it was already starting to spit rain. That's when I saw her.  A doe had stepped into an opening in the trees about 75 yards away.  She was acting nervous, and looking around frantically.  The wind was strong on my right shoulder so I was pretty sure it wasn't me that had alerted her.  I reached for my bow and put slight tension on the string.  Suddenly she bolted, running right at my position.  She came by me in a whirlwind of dark hair, leaves, and terror.  I was frozen in disbelief as I watched the doe the miss a small ditch, trip and fly end over end.  She rolled right to her feet, came up digging hard and took off around the ridge.  My heart was pounding in my ears so loudly I could scarcely hear the wind blowing.  I was trying to process what had just happened when he showed up. He was trotting fast from the same direction she had come.  He came down the trail, under me, and stopped at 12 yards quartering away.  In one motion, I came to full draw and released.  The next image I recall was that big buck streaking down the hill with way too much arrow protruding from his shoulder.  I had hit him high, and square in the shoulder blade.  This was the first deer I had ever shot with a traditional bow.  This was my first season.  This was the biggest buck I had ever drawn on.  Thoughts were pouring into my mind like water into the rising creek below me.  It was raining now.  "Fantastic," I whispered.  I lowered my bow and descended the tree.  I looked for an hour in the rain, knowing full well the shot was far from lethal, but unwilling to accept it.  I gathered my things, and started the long, dark walk out.  

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The Silent Treatment

The silence was painful.  Dawn was breaking as the slate gray sky grew ever lighter in shade with every passing minute.  I scanned the skidder row in front of me, where the now thinned pines met the hardwood drain.  Without moving my head, I glanced over at my hunting partner, and caller, Nathan.  I could tell by his body language he was getting anxious.  We had set up close, maybe a little too close.  The downed saplings and piles of pushed up brush had made navigation in the dark difficult.  Now we sat quietly waiting for a sign that he was there.  Last weekend, Nathan had, had him hammering away at every sound he made on the slate.  Today was a new day.  Maybe the 42 degree night had them shut up.  Or maybe those guys Nathan had seen slipping out of this bow only area with shotguns had been back in here.  My mind wandered back through the years of mornings spent hunting Tom, when he never made a sound.  Long mornings spent running and gunning spots with our owl hoots, yelps, and cackles left unanswered.  Endless afternoons spent napping in the woods in areas we knew he liked to be.  I snapped to attention as a set of soft tree yelps broke the morning's silence.  The calls echoed out across the pines and chased themselves down the bottom.  I held my breathe to keep the sound of it out of my ears, that I might not miss a distant gobble.  The silence was so heavy that my ears were ringing.   We waited quietly, concealed in the brush.  Surely he would get fired up any minute, after all, we knew where he lived.  Sometimes the cold makes them gobble late, everybody knows that.  Heck, he might not even fly down until late morning.  I fingered my shooting tab nervously.  I looked down at my longbow, running my eyes over the arrow, checking that I had clearance to draw and shoot.  I stared out at the lone hen decoy, and as my mind played out the scenario, my heart began to beat hard in my chest.  I could see his tall dark form slowly exit the dark woods.  His skepticism turning into excitement as he broke into a full strut.  I could here him drumming, dragging his wings in a slow figure eight, an ancient dance older than cypress in this swamp.  As he passed around the decoy, his fan slowly obscured my view of his head.  I raised my bow slowly and came to anchor in one fluid motion.  I focused slightly above midline through his tail feathers, and began pulling through the shot.  As the arrow flew through my minds eye I was once again brought back to reality by a sharp cackle followed by a louder series of raspy yelps.  There was no answer.  Silence.  

After a while, we slowly rose and collected our gear.  We made our way down the forest service road, stopping to call occasionally in hopes of finding a player.  As we moved down the road, we could see a power line ahead.  We observed from a distance, slipping ever closer, watching carefully for any sign of a dark body.  Nathan remarked that he had previously heard the gobbler moving towards the power line, down through the hardwood bottom.  We finally peeked around the corner and out into the open.  Feathers littered the ground, and I felt my face go red.  "They killed him." , Nathan said.  We stood there in silence.  Finally, Nathan made his way back towards the road and I fell in behind.  As we passed through gate, I looked up and saw the large green sign that read, "Archery Only".  

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I dropped the tailgate and opened my box containing my cast iron skillet.  As the bacon sizzled we talked about the morning and our disappointment with what we suspected had happened.  We weren't upset that the turkey was dead.  As traditional bow hunters that hunt public land, we mix it up with hunters using firearms regularly.  We were upset because we felt like the trespassing hunters had stolen our experience.  As I piled the second egg onto Nathan's sandwich, he took a large bite, and after chewing for a moment he said,"It's alright, this is a fine consolation."

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