It’s that time of year again – hunting season. I always dread the hunting section – because I never know what to write about.
I’ve never hunted in my life, and I don’t know anything about it.
After thinking about some options, and remembering the response I received two years ago from my crossbow story, I thought maybe I should learn how to shoot another weapon.
This year, I set my sights on the compound bow.
I contacted avid hunter and Dunmore resident Shawn Bland, and asked him to show me the ropes.
We tried to set this up for last year, but due to scheduling conflicts and my procrastination, it just didn’t work out.
A year and a dozen texts later, we finally got together.
I was slightly nervous the day of my lesson because weapons freak me out, and I’m a worst case scenario type person, envisioning things like accidentally shooting my instructor in the leg, but I managed to hide it.
To delay my embarrassment at the bow, I asked Shawn about his history with bow hunting and the tools of the trade.
Coming from a family of hunters, Shawn first picked up a bow at the age of four and has never stopped shooting.
“I was raised into it,” he said. “Dad always went hunting, and I wanted to be like Dad. If I could, I would be in the woods every day of hunting season.”
In preparation for my lesson, Shawn gathered up everything needed to shoot a compound bow, and he also showed me a recurve bow, which is stripped to the basics – a bow with a string.
“It’s just simple,” Shawn said of the recurve. “That’s all there is to it. Your compound has your cams and everything. Basically what it is – where [the recurve] doesn’t have any wheels or pulleys on it – cams increase your strength overall. The recurve would have about a forty pound drawback compared to the compound – it has seventy – so it’s a lot easier, a lot faster and a lot more modern.”
With the compound, the shooter can decide how many bells and whistles they want to go with the bow. There are a lot of accessories, like laser sights, arrow stabilizer, shock absorbers and more.
“This one is pretty basic,” Shawn said, showing me his Reflex bow. “You can get into three, four thousand dollars worth of shooting equipment. On the front are your regular sights – these are good up to twenty, thirty, forty, fifty yards. This is your stabilizer. If you didn’t have that on there, as soon as you let go of the string, it would shake you and jar you pretty good.
“I like the KISS logic to it – Keep It Simple, Stupid,” he continued. “I could go put on lights that project out into the field and range finders and all that. But I like to just keep it the way it is.”
While Shawn hunts with both bow and rifle, he said he prefers bow season because it’s longer.
“I like bow hunting more just because the season is longer,” he said. “Deer season – I’ve got two weeks. I’ve got to run and kill a deer. As compared to bow hunting, I can start tomorrow and go to the end of the year. I can just be out hunting all the time.”
Bow hunting does take more skill as it is usually easier to get a deer with a gun.
“It’s a lot easier,” Shawn said. “I shot my buck last year – I had to shoot at him three times. All I had to do was just work the bolt. This thing – you get one shot and if you’re lucky, if you miss, he’s going to turn and go ‘what was that,’ as compared to running away.”
After the lesson – and my inability to delay it any longer – we headed out to the target and set up 10 yards away from the cube that would be my pin cushion for the day.
Shawn showed me the proper stance, handed me the bow with an arrow loaded and stepped back so I could take my first shot.
I clicked the string release into place and pulled, but it didn’t budge.
I should mention that earlier I told Shawn I would need a bow that was set on “weakling,” but instead I got one set to 65 pounds.
I laughed. He laughed and went to find a different bow.
Determined to shoot, I tried the next bow, a PSE.
It budged a little, but with a lot of effort.
More laughter ensued. All I could think was, “Great, I’m too weak for this, and I’m going to need a toy bow and arrow.”
Instead, Shawn brought back a third option, a Golden Eagle children’s bow.
“Please tell me that’s not your first bow,” I said, picturing a four year old shooting better than me.
He said, “No I think it was my second one.”
I pushed my embarrassment aside and made a mental note to get a membership to the Wellness Center.
We loaded the bow and I took a shot – missing the target completely. But at least I was able to pull the string.
I shot three more times and managed to hit the target once. The others flew around and over the target, sticking into the ground.
I continued to shoot and managed to hit the target several times. It was exciting every time I heard that “thunk” of the arrow hitting the cube – even if it wasn’t in the center of one of the four circles where I was aiming.
I eventually told Shawn to join in, and we had a friendly contest. Surprise, surprise, he was better than me, although there were a few times I managed to get my arrow close to his.
We joked about trying to “Robin Hood” the arrows, meaning shooting at and splitting your opponent’s arrow which was already in the target, but we didn’t manage that feat.
Before I knew it, we had been shooting for more than an hour, and I only stopped because my arm was getting tired. It was a lot of fun trying to hit the center, and I didn’t even mind all the friendly jabs Shawn made at my shooting skills.
I warned him that I was going to start working out and would be back for another round of competition.
Much like I experienced two years ago with shooting the crossbow, shooting a compound bow is addictive. It’s definitely harder to master, and you are not guaranteed a direct hit from the very beginning, but I think I prefer the compound bow because it’s easier to reload and is more my speed.
While we were shooting, Shawn and I talked more about hunting and I told him I enjoyed shooting at the target, I don’t think I’ll ever want to hunt.
Although I will never have a shooting experience beyond a target, I do respect the hunting tradition when it’s done right, and I understand the draw of the woods.
We all have the hunter gene; some are just more inclined to use it.
“It’s in your blood,” Shawn said. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s in your blood because you wake up and just going to the tree stand and watching the sun come up – it’s not so much the thrill of the animals, but it’s being outside in nature.