A return to the basic principles of bowhunting makes for a more enjoyable and successful hunt.
It had been raining for three days, and the forest was soaked. I had not planned on going out that morning, the last day of the season. I had given up. I hunted hard for the opening two weeks of the Maine Spring Turkey season, but the gobblers were not responding to my calls. Frustrated, by mid-May I had given up hunting and started fishing instead. The last day I had been out, over two weeks before, I literally walked in the door, unstrung my Kodiak Hunter, picked up my fishing rod and swore off the remainder of the turkey season.
So that last day of the season, after three days of rain, I had planned on sleeping in. I woke up at 4:00AM, and unable to return to sleep, decided to brew some coffee and watch the news. As I prepared the coffee I remembered that it was in fact the last day of the season. The rain had stopped, but the moisture hung thick in the air. I decided “what the hell”, and figured that I would rather spend my morning in the woods “living”, as opposed just sitting in front of the TV stagnating. Given my lack of success during the previous weeks, my hope for seeing any birds was low, but I figured that I might see a woodchuck. I had not laid out any gear as I had not the faintest thought or inkling of going out again this season and was not in the mood to dig everything out of the closet and risk waking the wife, so I decided to just grab the bare essentials and go. After all, the turkeys were not going to respond anyways and I looked forward to the fresh air and just listening to the songbirds welcoming the morning sun.
I left the camouflage jumpsuit, gloves and gear bag in the closet. I did bring a Primos mouth call and my camo hat with the mesh face cover, and wear my camo hunting boots, but I wore just an old pair of blue jeans and a solid blue color shirt. Due to the moisture in the air and in the woods, I left my coveted early 60’s vintage Ben Pearson Colt 52 lbs recurve on the rack. I also passed over my mint 1968 50 lbs Bear Kodiak Hunter as well. I reluctantly decided to take my “beater bow” instead. I had purchased the PSE 50 lbs Blackhawk recurve almost 18 years ago, and it has always preformed well–a strong, hard hitting, well built bow. But since I have become addicted to shooting vintage Ben Pearson’s, Browning’s and Bear’s, the PSE has been used as a spare, something I’m not afraid of scratching or getting wet.
So without camouflage clothing, aside from on my head and feet, no gear, no heavy pop-up blind, no folding chair, and with only a recurve, three arrows and my hunting knife, off I went into the darkness. As I drove to my hunting spot in my truck, sipping my hot black coffee, I had second thoughts about the wisdom of my unplanned trip. I was tempted to just continue driving, get a doughnut and a paper and return home. But the trees called to me as I drove by, so I stopped, parked the truck and ventured in.
At least the walk in was quiet, due to the rain soaked forest floor. The woods smelled damp and musty. The stalk in was also more enjoyable than my previous hunts this season, as I wasn’t lugging the pop-up blind, chair and gear, only my bow in one hand and three arrows in the other. I found a large pine tree and positioned myself next to it, keeping the tree between myself and the direction that weeks before the gobblers had called from. I drew the bow to full draw a few times, just to get the rust out of my joints and stretch the muscles a bit. I nocked one arrow and set the other two point down, leaning against the tree where I could reach them if need be.
It was starting to get light, so I made a few half hearted hen calls. A gobbler responded far off. This was going to be a repeat of all the previous days I had hunted here this season, I thought. Probably the same wary old tom, who had no intention of leaving his roost. I put the call back in my pocket and leaned against the damp tree, scanning the ground for movement. I listened to the song birds chirping and started to focus on the direction off to my right, where I knew that there was a stone wall where woodchucks liked to take up residence. As I watched for a woodchuck and observed the woods come to life, it dawned on me that in my rush to get out the door with the bare minimum of equipment, which I had accomplished, I neglected to bring my small bottle of Ben’s 100 fly dope, which was still in my gear bag, in my closet. As I considered different areas of the bow riser to duct tape the bottle to when I returned home, the black flies swarmed about and feasted on my exposed hands and the back of my neck.
Half an hour and two pints of blood later, something caught my eye. Off to the left, movement. It was the gobbler and a hen slowly working in toward my direction! I had given up on turkeys and was surprised to see them. I repositioned my three fingertips on the Dacron bowstring, one over, two under the nocked arrow and readied my loose grip on the PSE recurve. The gobbler had the lead, and when he moved behind another tree within range, blocking his view of my natural blind, I stepped out with one foot to ready myself, cant my bow and begin my draw. Busted! I forgot about the hen, who spotted my movement and bolted in reverse. The tom was quick to turn and start running after her as well. The range was 21 yards when the Bear 100 grain Razorhead tipped Easton Legacy 2016 connected with him, striking him in his mid section and penetrating to about half of its length. I can’t recall much of the shot, aside from starting the draw and focusing on an imaginary spot in the center of the running bird. I was on autopilot during the release, but I do believe that I came to my anchor point, and the picture of that white feathered arrow sailing magically through the air and striking its target will forever be etched in my mind.
The alarmed bird let out a noise when the arrow struck its mark, then he tried to fly, but his efforts were in vain and he ended up crash landing into some nearby trees only 100 feet or so away. I knew I had hit him good and he was hurt. So I watched him run off, and I leaned back against that big old pine tree to give Fred Bear’s razor sharp arrowhead time to do its work. As I waited I thought of how close I came to staying home. Had I done so I would have missed out on this beautiful experience. The god’s of the hunt had blessed me!
After a good 45 minutes, I took my bow and two remaining arrows and started to slowly stalk in the direction that he took off in. I paced off the shot to 21 yards, and then continued in the direction he had traveled. I found my arrow, bent, bloody and bleeder blades missing. It must have worked its way out of the chest cavity after he crashed and started running through the brush. As I slowly made my way through the saturated Maine woods, I caught up with him about 150 yards away. He tried to run, but he was smarting pretty badly at this point, so I was faster. I closed the distance to 10 yards and put another Bear Razorhead into him as he attempted to cross a swampy area. That shot anchored him in the water and the hunt was over.
As I walked out of the woods with the gobbler, I realized a few things. First off, I was lucky, very lucky that the birds didn’t come in behind me or they might have busted me before they were in range. Second, I didn’t need the full camouflage jumpsuit, the pop-up blind, folding chair and assorted gear (except for my fly dope!) that I had previously been lugging around. I used that pine tree as a blind, and I didn’t start moving until the gobbler himself was crossing behind another big tree. By the time the hen busted me, I was ready to shoot and the gobbler was well within my range. By remaining perfectly still and utilizing natural cover, and with a huge blessing from above, I was successful. Third, I realized how important my practice sessions had been in my backyard. All those informal 15 minute sessions shooting at pine cones and tufts of grass with Judo tips helped to sharpen my instinctive skills and to tone up my muscles. And fourth, I seriously doubt that had I been armed with a compound bow, trigger release and sights that I would have killed this turkey. When the hen alerted him, I never would have been able to put a pin on him, drawn back and been able to get off an accurate shot in time, as he was running too fast. Shooting instinctively off the shelf, all I did was pick a spot and the shot took care of itself, as I had programmed my mind and body previously during practice.
I tried to find a tagging station close by, but the one I usually use had closed months earlier due to the bad economy. When I drove to a store in the next county to tag the bird, it was not quite 7:00AM and there were five or six hunters outfitted in camouflage clothes standing around inside drinking coffee. As I entered and walked past them, I heard them talking to each other complaining that the birds were just not responding this year and that there was no sense going out at this point. Outnumbered and not seeking confrontation, I wisely bit my tongue but thought to myself “Are the gobblers hiding back in the snack section of the store, or over on the other side by the freezer?” The sun was out at this point and I couldn’t imagine wanting to stand around inside grumbling when one could be out in the woods, but “to each his own”. Then the owner’s dog ran up and smelled the blood on me, drawing attention to the bloodstains on my blue jeans, alerting everyone to the fact that I was there to tag a bird and not for the social hour or to buy beer. It suddenly got quiet. As the clerk took my information, the talking started again, but at a much lower tone, as they were obviously trying to hear the details of my success. When I was asked by the clerk what gauge shotgun I had used and I responded that I had used a recurve bow, the store grew silent again. The veil of silence remained, hanging in the air like a thick fog until I left.
The gobbler was not a big one, only 15 pounds, but he had a 9″ beard when stretched out. He could have weighed 25 lbs and I wouldn’t have been any happier, as I took him with a stick and a string. My wife was not very happy when I woke her up “early” on her Saturday off to take a few pictures, but she got over it soon enough. I reminded her that she knew I was a hunter when she married me and that there were husbands out there with worse vices.
I learned an important lesson during this turkey season; it is not the gear and gadgets that make the hunt, or the hunter. In addition to luck, it takes skill, knowledge, and perseverance. Actually, I already knew this, I had just forgotten. I just needed to be reminded of the basics. I had originally learned these basic principles about bowhunting way back in 1981 when I read “The Archer’s Bible”, the revised edition, by Fred Bear. I think that it is time that I put on a pot of coffee and read my well worn and cherished copy once again, cover to cover.