“So, are you going to hunt with a crossbow this year?” a friend asked. I glared back menacingly, then answered as nonchalantly as I could, “If I can’t draw a bow this fall I’ll video tape some of my friends getting their deer.” Inside I was dying. Miss an entire year? I couldn’t bear the thought.

It all began with a slide on the ice and the sudden stop when I impacted the end of a guardrail. I totaled our car and nearly myself in the process. After the normal excitement of ambulance attendants loading me onto a back board and the ride to the hospital came the evaluation process. I’d actually gotten off quite lightly–broken nose, bruised ribs and (I thought) a bruised shoulder. Right away, I knew something wasn’t quite right. Normal, simple tasks were impossible. I tried shooting one of my lighter bows and my shoulder protested painfully. After several doctor visits and an MRI it was confirmed. I’d seriously torn the rotator cuff in my right shoulder.

My shoulder surgery took place on May 1st., four and a half months before the Maryland bow season opener. “Worse than I originally thought,” my surgeon commented. “I used four anchors instead of two.” My fall elk hunt was now out of the question. I’d never be up to the 65 lbs. I use for out west, even though initially I entertained the fantasy.

Walking around the Baltimore Bowman’s Rendezvous two weeks later, my arm in a sling, a regular comment I heard was, “I know what you had done! It’ll take at least a year, but, keep at it and you’ll be okay.” Sheepishly I replied, “I’m hoping to shoot a light bow at Denton Hill by the end of July.” The response I got was laughter mixed with sympathy. “It’ll take a year,” they repeated.

More determined than ever, I did my exercises faithfully. By the end of July I was shooting a 33 lb. recurve at Denton Hill in Coudersport, PA. Not exactly in the “macho zone” but a humble beginning. My plan was to move up slightly in weight by the end of August, two weeks prior to the September 15 season opener. My son, Jared and I had built a bow when he was 12 that pulled 35 lbs. at his then 25 inch draw. (He now stands at 6′ 2″!) I was always amazed at how his bow could “spit” an arrow 120 yards up the hill to the elk silhouette at Denton Hill. Placing it on my bow scale, I drew it down to a full 28 inches. 42 lbs! Perfect! While still a far cry from my normal 65 lbs., it would be heavy enough for a whitetail, yet light enough to accommodate my gradually improving shoulder. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined I’d be hunting with that bow. I’d considered it a toy and almost sold it at the swap meet. Now it was going to save my entire fall season.

September 15th rolled around and found me sitting in my treestand with my son’s sweet shooting
little “spitfire” and new, lighter spined arrows to match. To improve penetration, I’d recently switched to STOS broadheads for my elk hunting. Now they’d give me that little extra boost for my light set up.
No shot opportunities presented themselves that first evening. Friday morning found me back on stand full of expectancy. A doe and yearling passed 50 yards below me early that morning ignoring my pleading bleats. At 7:30 A.M. a doe appeared 25 yards below my location. Gradually she worked her way up hill. When she presented an ideal shot at 15 yards I drew and released. On impact, she raced down the hill from the direction she’d come. From my perch, I could see the back half of my arrow lying on the ground. Examining it through my binoculars, I thought it looked a little long. I grimaced at the thought of possibly hitting bone and not getting the necessary penetration. After allowing ample time, I carefully descended to check on my arrow. Comparing it with those remaining in my quiver, I’d achieved an acceptable nine inches of penetration. A few steps further and I found the front half of the shaft with the broadhead still attached. Realizing my arrow had passed through buoyed my hopes considerably. Following her line of flight proved easy having seen her almost the entire way and now with an ample blood trail. Just out of sight in a shallow creek bed, I found my doe. My son’s bow and its lighter draw weight had proven more than adequate for the shot. Hallelujah! I wasn’t an incapacitated bowhunter after all!

By no fault of the bow and totally my own, I managed to miss a buck during the remaining weeks of the season. Yet, my goal had been met of rehabilitating my shoulder and being able to continue hunting with traditional equipment. With the season now over and continuing my stretching and weight training exercises, I hope to move up slightly in weight this spring. Following the one year anniversary of my shoulder surgery in May, I hope to pull my original “elk poundage” of 65 lbs. If this proves impossible, I may need to switch to a more manageable 55 lb. recurve to accommodate my western hunts.

To any of my fellow traditional archers who’ve sustained an injury, please be encouraged. You can come back, but it will require discipline on your part. (Isn’t that the reason we’ve chosen traditional tackle?) The best advice I received from my surgeon, therapist & friends was; “Do exactly as your therapist tells you and don’t quit doing your exercises.” A sad comment I often heard from others was, ‘I stopped doing my exercises and never fully recovered.’ Fortunately for me, the goal of getting back to my traditional equipment provided the needed motivation to continue working out long after I’d have liked to quit. I’m committed to doing my exercises until at least the one year anniversary of my surgery and beyond if necessary. Our love for the sport of traditional archery and all things wild provides a goal worthy of pursuit. Hopefully, with the encouragement and help of our friends, we’ll be sending cedar shafts flying for many years to come. In the mean time, God bless & happy trails!

With his understanding wife, Donna, Stuart Osborne lives in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, where he keeps in touch with his three grown children, a son-in-law and (hopefully) future traditional bowhunter and grandson, Kaden.