“Hi Chris, I think I hit a doe tonight. Give me a call when you get a chance.” That was the message on my phone. My dad, who had finally retired from a job of 46 years the previous spring, was enjoying the well-deserved reprieve bowhunting with his favorite longbow. At the close of each evening hunt, he would text me a short report of what he had seen from the deer stand.
Ridiculously long work weeks, shoulder surgery, a knee replacement, and his unselfish willingness to give up the best stand locations to his sons and grandson had hindered his ability to take a deer of his own for a number of years. Nonetheless, his goal stayed the same year after year—to shoot a deer on the property he had purchased with hard-earned funds, earned at the small-town machine shop he had worked at for most of his adult life.
Ten years prior, Dad had informed me he was going to try hunting with a recurve bow. My anguished reply was, “Oh no, why are you going to do that?” The reader may question what effect his hunting with a recurve would have on my own life, but you see, I had been following my dad’s lead since I was just a child and knew that his new outdoor interest would morph into my own obsession. Prior experimentation had taught me that traditional equipment would eat up a great deal of my extra time, which was limited due to a young family and a full-time job.
Early memories of Dad’s gun cabinet and his Ben Pearson bow hanging on deer hooves screwed to a board generated wonder and awe of adventures out in the big woods. I can still fondly remember my first hunting forays with Dad, and our burr-infested Springer spaniel, Lucky. The dog and I would wait anxiously for Dad to arrive home from work so that we could walk the grassy fence line behind the house. Lucky and I both had more enthusiasm than brains. Our excitement would come to a fevered pitch when Dad finally pulled into the yard and then went into the house and return with his Remington 870 shotgun.
The author’s father with his spike whitetail buck.
I would wear an old bird vest Dad had given me that hung to my knees with almost as many burrs as the dog, and off the three of us would go, me stumbling along and the dog bouncing through the cattails like a pogo stick. Not being able to see or know what direction I was going was more than unsettling at times, especially considering that a bird could boil out from under my rubber boots at any minute. When a rooster would follow the script, and Dad successfully downed the bird, our small group would beam with pride as we marched back to the house. Even Lucky was excited to show Mom and my little brother the bounty that we had “skillfully” collected. To this day, I can still smell that old wet dog and the gun oil, and see the soft, iridescent feathers of the rooster pheasant.
Deer hunting in Minnesota during the 1980s was a tough proposition, due to low deer numbers. Dad would check the mail daily leading up to the opener in hopes of a coveted antlerless tag. The meat was of more importance than horns. Dad’s pre-hunt preparations were always fascinating to this young nimrod want-to-be. An old brown suitcase would sit at the bottom of the stairs in the basement a week before the gun opener. I would badger Mom into letting me borrow her small blue suitcase, placing it right next to his. Carefully, I observed Dad as he packed for the hunt; white cotton long-johns, flannel shirts, electric socks, wool pants, orange hat, and coat. I would pack my suitcase, too, then sit on the couch next to Dad and oil my Red Rider BB gun as he ran an old cloth diaper over his prized Remington .308. It would be several years before I would get to experience my first “up north” hunt.
In the late 80s, Dad bought a compound bow, and the Pearson recurve rested on the wall. In the spring of my first legal year to hunt, I decided to use that old recurve for the upcoming bow season. I found all of Dad’s accoutrements and just enough money for a new string and a shooting glove. All summer, arrows sprang from that string. Arrow after wood arrow pelted straw bales until, by late summer, I was able to keep most of them in a paper plate at ten yards.
Taking a break from bowhunting one fall, but more than likely just feeling sorry for his son, Dad handed me his compound to try out. Sights, rest, release, and perfectly spined aluminum arrows made me turn into a Robin Hood with my first volley of shots. The Ben Pearson went back on the hooved board in the basement. We would hunt together with the compounds for the next 20 years, chasing whitetails, mule deer, antelope, and bears.
“Here, just give it a try. It’s fun!” Dad said, offering me his Hoyt recurve bow. I was able to fight him off for a year, but it was a losing battle. The flight of the arrow and simplicity of it all proved an addiction I couldn’t resist. Soon we both were amassing collections of new and old bows, trying different arrows and broadheads, and learning to make strings and accoutrements. Traditional archery had put the fun back into bowhunting, not only in regard to the learning and tinkering with different equipment, but also relieving the pressure of the kill itself. It seemed to bring back the childhood joy of just being outdoors again.
Shortly after his shoulder surgery, Dad had sent his trusty Kanati longbow back to Jason Kendall, an excellent bowyer from Iowa, to have him reduce the weight of the limbs. Friends and family tried talking him into switching to a crossbow, but he would have nothing to do with one of those cumbersome “contraptions.” After spending a couple of years building up his shoulder muscles again and shooting his lighter weight bow, his tight groups returned. He used his first summer off from work since he’d been a teenager to make heavy carbon arrows with two-blade Zwickey heads honed to a scary-sharpness.
He spent time on his new tractor working food plots, knocking down an old shed, back-filling gravel, and mowing trails—worries about him staying busy after retirement proved unfounded. Up to that point, the bow season had offered him more deer sightings than the last five combined. He seemed rejuvenated by hunting and no longer appeared exhausted and sore after a long work week. Sooner or later, the perfect opportunity would present itself and it did on that particular early November evening.
The author’s oldest son and his father skinning out the fat, heavy spike.
By the time I was able to return Dad’s call, I could tell he had settled down a bit, but the dreaded “hunter’s doubt” had also seemed to take root. Unable to find blood due to his flashlight failing him, he had quietly sneaked out and was planning to return to look for blood in the morning. I would be working until 1:00 a.m. and told him that I’d be up to the hunting shack around eight o’clock or so to help him look for the deer. After a few hours of sleep, I was on the road by seven. Not realizing it had snowed overnight, I soon noticed the roads starting to get icier the farther north I drove. and the temperature had dropped considerably. The going was slow, but eventually my truck pulled into the yard at the hunting shack around nine o’clock. Opening the door, the smell of fresh coffee and Dad’s concerned face greeted me. “Chris, you didn’t have to drive all the way up here. I might have missed anyway.”
As we readied our gear, I could tell by the spring in his step that maybe he wasn’t quite as concerned about the shot as I had initially been led to believe. We were soon making our way through the thin layer of freshly fallen snow. A fresh scrape and deer tracks swerving haphazardly about gave us a glimpse of the early morning activities. Upon arriving at his hunting location, Dad positioned himself in the exact spot he had been standing the night before. He then directed me to where the deer had leaped for cover at the shot. Searching under the skiff of snow, we soon found blood. Dad then pointed out where he had last seen the deer.
The trail slowly materialized, and soon I had located a brown lump in the swamp grass. After I gave a shout and a wave, Dad was by my side post-haste. Seeing the worry melt off Dad’s face like the morning snowfall was worth the two-hour drive. I immediately commented on how big the doe was and told him to hold her head up for pictures. That’s when we realized it was a buck, with two and a half inch main beams! Great pride beamed from him when I reminded him the deer had been taken on his own land.
Nice bucks had fallen to Dad’s well-placed arrows in the past, but to him, this deer was hard-earned. Shot from the ground at eight yards with a longbow after years of rehabilitation, frustrations, and limited time afield, the deer amounted to a trophy of a lifetime.
I will be forever grateful to my father for introducing me to the beauty of the outdoors and teaching me that hard work and standing by one’s convictions does pay off in the end.
Equipment Notes: On this hunt, Chris’s father carried a 40# Kanati longbow, Easton carbon shafts, and Zwickey broadheads.