Hunting is all about firsts. The first morning, the first bow, the first shot. Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, in a bowl of mountains, meant we were destined to be outdoors. My dad hunted and provided for his five kids with venison on the table as a main staple. He shot recurves and taught us to do the same. As we grew up, we outgrew those old-fashioned bows for the better and faster compounds, which is where we stayed for many years. Dad still made sure we knew to “Practice, practice, practice.” However, there was always something in me that was drawn to traditional archery. Something about those bows…
As life progressed with college, marriage, children and a house, I found myself looking for and collecting recurves like my dad. A Bear Grizzly here, a longbow from my brothers, a Bear Kodiak there. I started leaving the compound in the house to practice with a recurve. I fell in love with it again. Not just traditional, but archery as a whole. The joy was back! As I still tell everyone, there is something about it being all on you. No blaming the sights, or release, or range finder. It is all on me, and I love it. I love the practice, the good shots and bad. I love that 20 yards, is no longer a gimme shot.
I decided in the spring of 2019 to fully commit to hunting with a recurve in the fall. I put in the practice time, I felt confident in my shooting, and I was determined to put the time in the woods. This fall was full of firsts for me, the biggest was it was my first year of carrying a recurve to the woods.
Friday, November 15, 2019
I was up early to ride with Scott Snyder, a friend of mine, down to his land in Juniata County, PA. The morning hours were fairly uneventful. I had a doe spot me moving to get my bow from the other side of the tree. She was safe at 50 yards. She watched me for several minutes before turning slowly and walking away. She moved another 50 yards away from me but she kept looking the other way. She raised her tail and bounded away, and was chased by what I am sure was a buck. I never saw his antlers though, so I told myself he was a monster.
Blood soaked arrow sticking in the dirt is a good sign.
We met at 11:30 am for lunch and to warm up in the truck. He brought soup and warmed it over his little Coleman stove. So good on cold days. That’s just something he does when he goes out for long sits in the cold. While we were sitting there talking in the car, a doe walked on the road, and was followed by a rack buck. Didn’t see too much detail but did see antlers. He wasn’t overly aggressive and pushy. They just walked off the road together.
For the afternoon sit, it wasn’t as cold as the morning, especially after some warm food and warming our toes in the car. I spent the afternoon reading a book about the Logan Guards from Lewistown during the Civil War. I am not good at sitting still in a tree, so one way it helps me is to read while looking around regularly.
At 3:45, I looked over and saw Snyder was standing and looking down behind us. We were in treestands about 100 or so yards apart. I stood, grabbed my Black Widow PSA and watched the same way he was. Then I saw her, walking up the hill between Scott and I, about 55-60 yards away. He grunted/bleated and she looked that way, but she was determined to head over in my direction, toward a field that was to my right. I started to tell myself to pick a spot. I repeated it over and over in my head while concentrating on that spot behind her shoulder. My feet were positioned the way I wanted, and she was heading right in front of my stand. She paused briefly behind two trees at 20 yards and my heart skipped a few beats for fear of losing the opportunity to scent or something. Thankfully, it was a brief pause before she resumed her slow stroll ahead.
I did not want to stop her, since she was slowly walking and was only 12 or so yards away, and feared a bleat would scare her since she was so close. I focused on a spot behind her shoulder and slowly drew back. I have no memory of the weight of the bow. I held at my anchor for just an extra second and then I released the string.
The arrow flew true to the spot directly behind the shoulder, just below half way down her body. She jumped and ran straight away from me. She ran only 30-40 yards and stopped, as did my heart! Even though I watched arrow and knew it was a good shot, I still expected the worst when she stopped. I could see the red arrow and fletching from my stand, so I knew it had gone through her cleanly.
She stood for an eternity, 15-20 seconds, and just looked around. I saw her head bob twice, then her rear-end shake and I knew she was going to go down. After a few more seconds, her legs buckled and she grew stiff, and fell over dead. I do not believe she had any idea of what had happened. The entire scene only lasted a few minutes.
I put another arrow on my string in case a buck was following her, and watched that way for a few moments. I hung up my bow and did several unashamed fist pumps and silent yells. I got my binoculars out and looked at the arrow and then at her for a few moments, but she never moved.
I knew I was in a special place—where my dream of shooting a deer with a recurve bow was accomplished. It was the best of the best scenario for any bow kill, let alone a recurve. A quick, clean, and efficient kill.
Scott and I both got down and met at the arrow. Blood was everywhere around the arrow, and the arrow was soaked. She didn’t bleed too much over the next 15 or so yards, but started to pick up after that. We walked over and celebrated. Scott told me that he thought I missed because he could see the arrow, and didn’t think a recurve could have a pass through. Then he looked over and saw me fist pumping so he knew then it was good news. It was easy going after that. She actually ran toward the truck and died only 30 or so yards away. She was perfect and beautiful. What a creature to hunt. I cannot believe how perfect the entire situation played out.
I was amazed at how calm my mind was before, during and after the shot. During those many practice sessions throughout the spring and summer, I would work to have a clear headspace to be consistent with my shots. My instincts totally took over. I remember chanting, “Pick a spot.” Just the week prior, I read several tributes to Paul Schafer of Silvertip Bows on the Schafer Silvertip website, and he described being so sure of his Cape Buffalo shot because he had mentally practiced the shot hundreds of times. I took that advice and sat in my stand for hours playing scenario’s out in my mind. Coming from right or left. Close or farther away. From behind me or facing me. So many times. As the situation played out, it was exactly like one of the scenario’s I had played in my mind.
I do not have memory of deciding to release or even drawing. Instinct took over. I can still see the arrow in flight, and it disappearing right where I was looking, focusing. It is one of the joys of shooting purely instinctive. Honestly for the first few moments, I was still in focus mode, watching and looking for a possible second deer, but after that had passed I was so overcome with happiness and such a sense of achievement. Like I was realizing what happened for the first time.
My brother, Noah, recommended writing down my memory of the moment. Three days later I am still so proud of what I was able to accomplish, and amazed at the simplicity and efficiency of that recurve. I also get to replay the entire day in fast forward and then slow motion the best parts. Such a blessing to be able to hunt in PA, carry that recurve, be given an opportunity and make a clean, ethical kill of a beautiful creature. God has blessed me for sure!
I would be remiss if I didn’t add some details of the setup. I shot a 58” PSAV Black Widow bow with a 60# draw at 28”. I used Gold Tip Traditional arrows with 500 spine, weighted up front with 100gr Gold Tip brass insert, and Bear Razorheads with aluminum screw in adapter, at 137gr. Those notes are all just so I remember all of the details.
As I think back about the reasons why I had this dream, I think of my dad. The practice sessions, stories, and his many recurves, but primarily his Black Widows that hung in his office or above the fireplace that we could not touch. I remember the Greybarks being there the most. He did it, and taught us all to shoot and to love to hunt with bows.
My brothers, the Bloodhounds, are the absolute best of friends. Together through thick and thin. As excited for each other as we would be if it were us. The best part of hunting is being a Harpster, and being together. All of them encouraged, believed and wanted this to happen as badly as I did.
The most beautiful place in the world is PA in the fall, in a treestand. Thank you, Lord, for the wonderful memory! Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to fulfill my dream!