Interesting… It was as if the arrow was born there. Its footed end buried deep into the termite mound at the very same spot I had chosen…the spliced, and somewhat tattered fletching eclipsing the view of the tiny mark on my target. Nothing is more enjoyable to watch than a well-shot arrow speeding its way forward. And how strange it is that we know, seemingly before arrow has departed custom made riser and Flemish twist string, that the shot is good. For an archer, life as it stands does not get much better than that, in my opinion.
Over the past two and a half years life sure has sent its fair share of curve balls down range. Some I handled well and others…well let’s just say, they got the better of me. An ex-wife, lawyers, heartache and even the breakup with a new girlfriend and the loss of her love seemed to deflate my lust for life and the things I once loved to do so much and thought of so often. I had not so much as even drawn a bow, let alone hunted with one over this turbulent time and it was beginning to change me and have far reaching affects on my hunter’s heart and wandering sprit. My soul was now a shell. I felt void, empty of the affection I had once felt for the smell of the bush on an early morning hunt, well-made arrows, a sharp knife…or anything, in fact, to do with hunting and archery. This, coupled with those above mentioned curve balls was in itself a recipe for depression, or as Churchill called it…”The Black Dog”. Luckily, I could see the writing on the wall and knew something had to be done to jolt me from this rut, and as it seems when you want a change, it comes looking for you.
I received a phone call from a close friend of mine regarding a trip to Cape York that he was planning in the winter months of the year. We’d be hunting the northern parts of Australia for a week, searching for wild boar and fishing for Barramundi…no finer remedy for a trouble spirit could I wish for.
I had first met Dave and his family some years back whilst seeking permission to hunt our Chital deer in the Basalt regions of central Queensland. At first our relationship was purely a business-like transaction. But after a short time we’d become close friends and a lot of the time spent on his property I found myself giving him a hand about the place rather than hunting. We enjoyed each other’s company that much. Dave ran the place by himself, and I enjoyed helping out whenever I could. It also helped him finish those tasks often put off for hired help…and cheaper too. My reward was just getting away from the daily grind of life and taking in a more simple existence, that of running a cattle property in the bush.
We’d talk all day and most of the night on just about every subject there is to talk about. And I really think in those periods, two men working with no set timeframes, talking over freshly brewed coffee in the early mornings or a cold beer as the sun sets, with no hidden agendas or pressures, can form a solid and unspeakable bond and a deep trust in one another. We were just two men fixing the problems of the world, one simple common sense solution at a time. If the opinions and beliefs of an Infantry veteran of three different foreign conflicts and his mate with generations of cattle raising behind him don’t matter or hold some merit and weight…then I am unsure who’s does!
So, with the world’s problems solved, it was time to head north into Cape York–one of the last frontiers still left in Australia–and I could feel, as we travelled inland along the dusty roads, my batteries and character recharging all over again. New life was being breathed back into me again as the smell of the outback filled my senses tenfold. I was awake, ever vigilant and now thriving on a primeval surge to walk the bush in search of game again…and I loved it. I swore to myself to never let the rough patches of life get in the way ever again of what drives me and keeps me fresh and sharp. Man truly was born to hunt and fish.
Being the only bowhunter in a camp full of rifle hunters, one has to be stoic, if not staunch of his belief in his chosen hunting methods in the company of said outdoorsmen. Not to mention when he strings his longbow, attaches a bow quiver of handmade footed shafts and steps outside the hunting shack for a few practice shots, he also has to hold his own in the confidence department as well.
Dave smiled as the other two hunters followed me outside for a look at this modern day Robin Hood and his strange way of “sighting in his weapon”. He had seen me shoot before on a number of occasions and witnessed the end results of many a deer–and many lost opportunities–whilst stalking the wild deer herds on his property, and he knew I could hold my own. That made Dave a true believer, just as much as I was, when it came to hunting with a bow. He often expressed his respect for the shear time, money and effort I placed into not only hunting with a traditional bow, but the labors I had invested in making my own arrows and the amount of practice one needs to put an animal on the ground, spot and stalk style. He just preferred to shoot and tinker–just as I do with archery tackle at times I might add–with precision rifles and high-end optics. Each to their own I guess, and another example of the friendship between Dave and I that we could respect one another’s differences on hunting methods and not be bothered by the differences.
Anyone who has been to northern Australia will surely note that we have an exceptional number of large termite mounds, ranging from knee height to well over 12 to 15 feet tall in some areas. These mounds of hardened mud and soil are outstanding substitute targets for the roving/hunting archer, as it keeps his eye and shoulders sharp and in focus for the hunt. I love nothing better than to stump shoot my day away whilst hunting. It keeps my mind alert on the technique needed to shoot a longbow well. I also think it erases all the bad shots stored up in that dreadful and evil place where bad shots live when not in use! The sooner those bad shots are recalled and dealt with on a termite mound the better…rather than on a live animal is my theory. Anyhow, I just love to shoot arrows full stop.
It was these termite mounds that aided in me putting on a brief clinic on shooting, hunting, history and the reasons why I hunt with a longbow. My two ‘students’ were solely of the opinion that long-range precision rifles are the only answer to most questions asked of hunters these days.
With the purpose of my arrows grouping silently, one beside the other 20 odd yards away–as if guided there by some Jedi mind trick, I am sure they thought–I mentioned it was fine to have such a point of view on various hunting methods. I just let my shooting be deeds to my actions and ethics from then on over the course of the trip. Heck, even I was a little surprised at my shooting after such a long layoff. Naturally though, I acted as if this excellent portion of shooting was an everyday occurrence on my part. After all, are we not all ambassadors to our sport when afield?
That was the only pressure I had put on myself the whole time Dave and I were away on the hunt together. I made my mind up early on to just enjoy the time away and the gift that this trip was to me and Dave. I was in a rebuilding stage of my life and this, I had planned, would be a foundation.
The first morning had us up early; the plan was to head to a likely looking swamp to see if any wild boars were there from the night, tossing up the mud looking for bird’s eggs and the likes. Dave, being a man who enjoys the improved things in life, had cooked us all breakfast to be served up with cold fruit juice and freshly ground espresso coffee. No finer way to start the day when in the bush I say, and after that was put away we were off as the dawn was slowly upon us and we wanted to make a start on the day before the heat sent the hogs into their bedding areas.
I was purely acting as spotter for Dave on this first sortie, as it hardly entered my mind to be walking in an extended line into a swamp after hogs…me armed with my longbow and the three others with bolt action hunting rifles. It just doesn’t seem right to me, nor does it have any thoughts of entertainment either. So after the morning’s fire mission with the boys at the swamp, with a number of pigs dusted, it only cemented in the fact that I’ll always be a man who would rather hunt with stick and string than with anything else, and I was preparing my own methods of hunting the property at hand in the coming days.
That evening after dinner found us circled around the fire, a cold beer in hand and a ceiling of stars above us for company. We chatted away and in due course our conversations naturally turned to our private lives brought on by the truth elixir called whiskey. It was then that Dave had let us all know his marriage of 25 years had been like the many hogs of the morning hunt; dusty and dead. The enormity of what he had just said came as a slap in the face, a force solid enough to sober any man and I sat in shock, unable to speak as I tried to comprehend what he had just opened up to us all.
Without going into details of someone else’s marriage breakdown, suffice to say the marriage had run its course and Dave was at peace with it all and with a smile on his face he was looking forward to the new chapter in his life. I too had finally found my own peace and had made the decision months ago to walk down the tunnel–after no one else turning the lights on for me–and turn the darn light on myself. Life is too short, too precious, too much a gift–as cliché as it sounds–to be caught up in the negativities of it all.
It was around this same campfire, on the same star filled evening, just after Dave’s confession that the penny had dropped as all four of us were now either separated, to be divorced, or divorced period. Well gee huh! Reading this I bet you’re thinking “Man, these guys must be all whack jobs or something!” But I can assure you that all four of us are just your average, everyday lads who all have kids, who all have good careers and who all had come together to enjoy what men enjoy…hunting and fishing for Barramundi. But for some reason this was the hand we were all dealt so we did the best we could and all moved on with life.
We did not hunt much really for a group of hunters in the next few days; rather we decided to try our luck with the great fishing that was on offer…to see if we could land the mighty Barramundi, both for sport and to fill our stomachs. I put aside any plans of hunting as hard as I liked, as I felt the need to keep a close eye on Dave to see how he had handled all this. He was right, he really was over it all and well and truly ready for his second crack at life. I did not want to busy myself with the worry of his failings, but I held some concern for a close friend I thought may be in need, but alas…he was fine.
With Dave sorted, plenty of fish caught, rifles shot and many a funny conversation had during the week, I felt I was neglecting my other mate…my longbow and it’s quiver of footed arrows. This situation had an easy remedy, so I spent the evening preparing my daypack for a long day’s march and hunt ahead of me. Water, food, camera, map and compass are the many bits and pieces I lumber myself with when I am planning to be gone from dawn till last light.
I would strike out before first light–after coffee and Dave’s cooking as you would expect–and head off into the bush in search of a boar supporting sound ivory, or the odd scrub bull gone wild and also roaming the property.
Now, I would be very fond of writing here and now how I sent spinning arrow forth, thus anchoring down many a tusky boar, but I came up empty handed. I walked a fair amount off my boots searching both swamps, dried riverbeds and all other likely spots that would support a sleeping or feeding boar, but I feel the days shooting prior to me getting out for my own hunt may have spooked my quarry far and wide.
I did spend the morning stalking a solid scrub bull, but he was himself stalking one of the local females and never yielded his shoulder or the distance between us. So I did what any man does when this happens…I sat and had lunch and changed my direction, making my way toward the large river system in the hope of finding a boar sound asleep and offering his vitals to an instinctive shooter.
I was lucky enough to, in fact, find such a prize but the river bottom breeze is a fickle mistress at the best of times, more so being in the latter half of the afternoon and I was left holding the bag…quiver full and all accounted for.
On our journey home I sat staring out the window, looking at nothing in particular but taking in all before me…at peace. I pondered how I was rich in time spent afield, rich in the company of good men–albeit bachelors, each and every one of us–and rich in knowing I was myself again, back where I needed to be, back on the path as a hunter and at the top of the food chain.
Sure, no animals presented themselves, and I am long fixed of the rash need to blood every arrow, but I sure know I killed the devil out of many a termite mound and that’ll give those worker ants something to pass the summer months till I return again to the north, longbow in hand and soul ready to yet again sponge in all that I can from it.