Since I was a child, I have been shooting bows since then. I love every minute of it. It’s brought me great joy and happiness since the beginning. I have been actively involved in archery since I was a child.
I continued archery as an adult because of the many benefits it offers me: calmness and discipline, peace of my mind. I am a lifer and will continue shooting until I “meet the eternal reward,” as my father would have said.
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Archery is something I love so much that I created a website dedicated to it. Although it doesn’t make you rich, I enjoy managing it and it brings me lots of joy. I want to keep this website up for as long as possible.
I have been a meat-eater all my life. However, I grew up in suburbs outside of a large American city so I never had the chance to hunt. Although I was aware that hunting was a popular pastime, it wasn’t something I had been exposed to. It was not something I had against. I have eaten meat all my life but never harvested any meat.
Finally, I did what every owner of an archery website would, and found a hunting guide to take my hunting. I searched online for a professional in my area and voila! Six weeks later I was sitting in a tree 20 feet above the ground, scanning the ground below. I was hoping that our treestand wasn’t a knockoff made of recycled parts.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. I went hunting and can say without any doubt that it was one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life. So I’ll start at the beginning. This is a long and very detailed article. I know it’s not for everyone here, but for new hunters, I believe all of these details, including the account of my emotions, can be very useful.
Okay, let’s get on with it.
How to choose a hunting guide and book a tour
Although I had intended to keep the details of how I found my guide to you, I realized that some people may need help with this step. You can skip to the next sections if you don’t want to read them.
It would have been much easier if I could go with a friend. But the two hunters I know are married, and their wives only had small children, so they were not “no-gos” for now. Instead, I used my preferred search engine to type in “bowhunting guide close me” Although I live in an urban area I was able to find a few options within hours of me so I had several options.
One man spoke a lot about the process. He talked about respecting the hunt, ethical harvesting (that’s, making sure an animal is killed quickly and painlessly), and what I could do to prepare. That approach was appreciated by me. If I’m going to do something, it’s going to be done right. I also wanted to be prepared, as I didn’t want any animals to suffer. I signed up, and he sent me my information through an online form.
An auto-reply email informed me that my sign-up had been completed and that my credit card had already been charged. Then I received nothing for the next four weeks. It turned out that people who live in the woods don’t have the best skills with email. I had to text him several times to confirm we were still connected.
He started to send me more replies as we neared the date. We discussed the gear I would use and, more importantly, which licenses I would need. Lucky for me, I live in an area that allows me to travel to four states in an hour or less. So we were able to choose. The state we chose (and the state he led almost all of his tours in) had an apprentice license program, so I signed up for that, and the red-tape/bureaucratic part of it was done.
I don’t understand why all states don’t offer an apprenticeship license. This is a great option because anyone who has been trained to guide can bring a new hunter to the woods. All that’s required to get an apprentice license is to pay. All you have to do is pay for an apprentice license and you’re good to go. Although there are restrictions (no muzzleloader hunting and no bear hunting), it is a great way to introduce new hunters to the woods. The apprentice license was like a blessing for someone who tried to hunt by himself but ended up getting tangled up on outdated state websites and confusing maps of public Land zones.
We didn’t talk about what weapon I would use. The apprentice license allowed me to use shotguns, bows, and crossbows. However, I was not interested in a shotgun. I also have a lot of experience shooting compound bows and am a very skilled shooter so I chose the crossbow. Yes, there is a heated debate in bowhunting about whether crossbow hunting can be considered “real bowhunting” because it is much more efficient than bowhunting. There are good arguments for both sides. As I said, I was certain that I wanted to kill the game without causing unnecessary suffering. A well-made crossbow and scope can let you shoot an arrow at 50 yards or more. I knew I would have the rest of my life hunting with a bow. I was determined to take every opportunity I could. That was it.
Get Ready for the Big Day
This was something I said earlier but it is worth repeating: Even though I had never hunted before, I would have learned a lot from it because I am the Managing Editor for this website. I manage the content of this website. I have hired about 12 bowhunters who are experienced and processed their work. I am not an expert but I do know a lot about it. I was aware of the resources I would need.
Camo Bodywear that’s both warm and quiet
We would be spending the majority of our day in the woods, high up in a treestand, and it was late October so I knew I had to have something to keep me warm. The NEW-VIEW Upgraded Hunting Clothes For Men was my final choice. I received positive reviews and the pattern was appropriate for the environment in which we were living.
It’s easy to get “into the weeds” when selecting camo (hahaha), but it was close enough.
My Big Dumb Beard Needs a Balaclava
This is a great item that should not be overlooked by new hunters. It was an excellent purchase. It was warm and didn’t feel heavy on my skin. It was also flexible enough to accommodate my beard, which I cut for hunting. The balaclava over it fits well.
This thing is my favorite. I love it so much that I wear it all the time to scare my wife. It’s hilarious to me (and it’s funny to her ).
A hunting knife for field dressing
To field dress an animal, I would not need a hunting knife. My field guide had a very expensive knife that we could use. If we were lucky enough to harvest an animal, we would also use his knife. I was okay with that.
A headlamp with red light and white light
They’re good to have, but they are essential for getting through the woods. It was a great help, as we stayed up well past the dark and I wouldn’t have been able to see much without it. Red light is essential for me. It provides great vision but doesn’t cause your eyes to contract. You can turn it on and off with your night vision intact. I also knew that it would require a solid white-light option. The range of the device was not necessary as our hunting environment is dense. The Petzl Headlamp I ended up buying, which has a good range. It was comfortable around my head and didn’t feel bouncing around like a car.
I am a gearhead, and I love reviewing and selecting products. This was a lot of fun for me.
A pair of sturdy waterproof boots
I already had a pair of rubber hunting boots that I loved, so I didn’t have to purchase them.
Crossbow Stuff: Last but not least
My guide was able to provide everything we needed: scope, broadheads, and rangefinder, crossbow, scope, treestand, rangefinder, rangefinder, etc., etc. So that was it. It was an amazing piece of art and cost thousands. It was a highly capable tool that could save the day (and I’ll explain how we get there).
I asked him hundreds of questions about his choices and he was extremely patient in explaining his decision.
How to Train and Get to Your Hunting Environment
The “day of” was spent at the archery range. We sighted in the scope with the crossbow and pointed at targets 10-20 and 30 yards apart. It’s amazing how easy it is for a crossbow to shoot. I have a lot of experience with compound and recurve bows and once you are proficient, the crossbow is a breeze. You can calmly shoot between your heartbeats and put a bolt on a target when you have a pair of shooting sticks.
After we felt ready to go, we went over the basics of tree-stand safety and game positions (broadside or quartering-towards or quartering-away). Then, we discussed the hunting environment and how to navigate it. My guide had hunted on public land before, which was fine. However, he used the OnX hunting app and found a man who would let him use his private land. This worked well too, as any deer that strayed onto the land wouldn’t be put under too much pressure.
After finishing up, we drove to the private property to get ready. We were warm and toasty on this beautiful autumn day. It wasn’t yet cold so it was still quite warm as we climbed onto the lot. The tree he had was a favorite tree, so he used it for his tree stand. Although the lot was quite large, it wasn’t indestructible. We knew exactly where we were going to be, but we followed the trail to find the options for treestands. As we walked along, we saw hoofprints as well as scats. It had rained in less than 24 hours so these were probably fresh. It was chewed off the stalk a lot, and my guide discovered some hoofprints next to some hard masts–acorns from an oak tree–which was another positive sign. Although we had some rubs, they were quite old and likely not from bucks who had been there recently. He said that it was okay.
My guide is a skilled tracker, which is true, but the truth is that the state in which we were hunting is practically overrun by deer. There is an insane amount of edge land, with suburbs right next to farmland and public hunting land. Then there are huge private lots that are wooded. And the Division of Fish and Wildlife desperately needed hunters to reduce deer numbers. My guy said to me that if I can’t get you to at least look at a buck today then I should retire and never return. We saw many throughout the day. It was almost like we were at a deer park once we had set up. But I’ll get to that later.
Tracking was my favorite part of the trip. Since I was a child, I have been camping and hiking since then. But the great outdoors has always been something I moved through. I would stop to enjoy the view but never really get into the details of the forest. It was all about getting to Point A and B, so hiking was mostly for me. I love to hustle. After my guide’s instructions on tracking – and to track, you have to slow down a bit – the entire forest floor was brought to life in a way I hadn’t seen before. Although it wasn’t very loud, it was certainly busy.
As we slowly, but quietly, walked through the woods, I noticed how *@(*#$@# heavy all of the gear was. It was heavy, but not too much. The crossbows, the tree stand, and a small backpack were all very heavy.
Reconnecting with My Fear of Heights, also known as Climbing the Tree Stand
Finally, we reached our spot, a mature oak tree with a fantastic view of three deer paths. One ended in a funnel. Even though I was inexperienced, I could see why this spot was so special. I also noticed that the deer were not pressured yet and it was early in the season. I started to feel hopeful. I felt very positive.
These good feelings quickly disappeared–they got scared, I suppose you could say–as soon I set foot on the climbing sticks. The guide asked me if I had ever been afraid of heights. I answered, “I don’t love heights but I’ll deal with it.” I realized then that my words might have made me appear a little more courageous than I was. I hated heights and have always loved them.
Oddly, I have never been able to overcome this fear despite having “conquered” it many times. I seem to end up at the top of everything every time I go on vacation, whether it’s a hiking, camping, or to a new place. My wife and I always end up on top of something when we go on vacation. Last summer, we were in Maine and reached the Beehive peak at Acadia. Two summers ago, we visited Ireland and reached the Cliffs of Moher. Three years ago, we traveled to Iceland and reached the top of the famous waterfall. The only time I haven’t had to face a fear of heights while on vacation is when I was on a beach vacation.
(And, don’t worry: I’m not complaining about this at all. It’s just that I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy such amazing adventures. These things are possible because I work hard, my wife and I save for them. I am aware that not everyone has this kind of opportunity. Just saying… heights man. (No, thank you.
Here I am, making my way up the treestand. I was used to pushing past this fear and so I would do it again. I focused on each step “one at a time” and maintaining three points of contact: both hands and the left leg on the sticks, then moved the right foot, both hands, and the right foot on a stick, then the left foot. Although it was slow going, I eventually got there. The hardest step was the one at the top when I had to get off the ladder and onto the porch on the stand. I hugged that tree like it were my brother, just returning from war.
Scanning the Forest Floor, also known as “I Am One with Nature”,
Once we got up there, my heart rate settled back down to normal–down from its “watching-a-horror-movie” levels–and the guide whispered some instructions to me. I was given the rangefinder by the guide and instructed to find the spots where deer might stop. The majority were between 20 and 30 yards away. This was a challenge but within my comfort zone. It took me a while to recall each spot. Crossbow scopes are so much easier than bow sites that I felt some confidence.
Then, we went hunting. We did absolutely nothing and did it as quietly as possible. It was expected to be boring. But, after about half an hour, the most incredible thing happened: The forest sprung to life. It clicked. I suddenly saw the whole environment as one organism. I noticed that small birds were appearing from the forest floor, much like popcorn popping out of a pan. I also realized that the squirrels I was ignoring had been gathering hard mast and placing it in a pile at the base of a tree. Two chipmunks met from opposite sides of a log, and they began flirting. The butterflies below me danced back and forth in a complex mating dance. It was a vibrant scene, and I was amazed at how active it was. While we tend to think of city life as being very hectic, the scene I was watching was just as busy. Although it was quieter and smaller, it was still busy.
It’s “Go Time …” After Someone Takes a Nap”
After a while, the forest floor settled down. My guide and I waited patiently until we finally saw the first chance: a young buck. I was able to see him just off one trail behind us. My heartbeat soared and I felt that rush of adrenaline that I had heard about. Even though we were high up in a treestand I felt as excited as if I was on the ground with the buck charging me. I thought, “Wow, this is going to happen,” but I allowed that thought to pass so I could concentrate.
I took slow, steady breaths to try and calm down. Crossbow in hand, I turned to see him, but no matter how far I tried, I couldn’t get a good shot. The buck was either too close to the tree or he was pacing behind a bush. Either way, the shot was not worth taking. After about ten minutes of watching him, he stopped behind another bush and moved further away from the trail, approximately 35 yards away. He then sat down. He got comfortable. Then, I took a break. For 45 min.
This was quite funny in retrospect. I went on a hunting trip, only to find a buck and then watch it nap. However, from the point we were at, it was impossible to get a shot off and would be unprofessional. After about 35 minutes, my mood changed from excitement to mild disappointment to finally anger. Get up! Get out! Do something nearby or get moving!
I didn’t say anything and kept my cool. I eventually managed to get my emotions under control and return to mild disappointment. After I had my head in control, my guide whispered to me, “Second Deer-11 o’clock” and, sure enough, another deer was about 60 yards ahead of us. Now we had one in front of us and one behind.
The first deer, the sleepy one, was about 35 yards from our rear. He walked forward to say hello to his friend and then he sat down. I turned off my safety and placed myself. The two deer crept slowly up to 30 yards from us, out in the open. Then, suddenly, they were gone.
The first deer ran away, and the sleepy fella followed him. They were gone in a flash. The dog had escaped from one of the nearby properties and started barking at the bucks. We were able to see them before they disappeared. I was shocked at the slow pace of the afternoon, only to have everything fall apart so fast.
My guide, who seemed older than his years, said that hunting has its moments, but that it is mostly about managing disappointments and sticking to your goal. I thought about that and began to rub my legs to get some blood. In years, I hadn’t sat so still for so long.
- Maybe This Time it will be “Go Time …”
The afternoon went on. The afternoon was slower than usual, but it was still enjoyable. There was less critter activity but the colors changed from the mid-day crimsons to the winter greys and greens. It was still an enjoyable experience and it was all that I got. As many of my friends told me, it is not a good idea to hunt for a buck your first time. It will ruin any future hunting plans.
We stayed for several hours more, until it was almost dusk. I felt the chill and was grateful that I had all the gear, as I would have been miserable without it. I started to calculate how long we could stay out. Then fate smiled upon us. A medium-sized doe, which was a decent size, came right on our trail. A buck between two and three years old followed her. Although not a fully grown animal, he was a mature sexually-active male. They were just to my right at 27 yards, and they were there at 11 o’clock. The doe was out in open, presenting broadside, while the buck was about ten minutes behind her at 10 o’clock.
I silently and carefully clicked my safety off, then aimed. I was able to see him clearly with the remaining light and steadied his vitals. Strangely, the adrenaline rush I felt earlier, the rocket fuel that made me go up to eleven didn’t arrive this time. That kind of made me feel… well, like an addict. I just sat there getting ready, feeling like a cold-blooded lunatic. I was puzzled as to why my heart wasn’t beating faster and my blood pumping fast. Why was I not on pins and needles, though? I wonder if the hour spent watching a buck sleep calmed me. It’s hard to know and it’s still not clear. But I’m grateful that it made it easier to aim.
Although the buck was wide side, I had to shoot through some trees to reach him from our angle. I asked him to move forward and waited for three minutes, my crossbow in hand. It seemed like three minutes, and the bow/crossbow was the heaviest thing I had ever owned in my entire life.
Finally, the buck moved forward. Although he was still behind some trees, I could see the shot and, as my guide instructed, I pulled the trigger.
CRASH! CRACKLE! CRACK!
There were lots of sounds, but very little movement. The light was dimming and I couldn’t see the details.
What happened? Nothing. The bolt had bounced off the branches, and it shot to my left. I was completely unaware of this. I had already taken my shot and had missed. I was ready for that to be processed in my mind, and that was fine with me. I would rather not inflict any fatal wounds entirely–but to my surprise …
They Stood Around!
Both the buck and the doe were still there. They had not fled, but they were moving closer to my view. I was able to see both sides of them. I sat still for a while, spellbound, and then I heard a whisper: “Reload!” Reload! “–from behind. “–from behind me. We now have a better shot chance than we had just a moment ago.
Later, I asked him why they didn’t run away. My guide explained that the buck was too young to know much, but was old enough to want time with the doe. It was also early enough in the season to allow them to be relaxed.
I was able to keep the cocking line over my shoulders so we didn’t have to go looking for it. I loaded another bolt and pulled back the cocking line. Although it is difficult to cock a crossbow on the ground, it is not difficult. It felt impossible to cock the crossbow in the treestand using legs that were asleep for hours. It was so difficult that I couldn’t believe it. I tried my best, but the crossbow string wouldn’t latch. I gave it everything I had and then gave it my reserve. It did NOTHING… then I gave the “grunter” and the meal was ready. The deer were still there when I looked down and loaded the bolt. They were not visible to me. The sun hadn’t been much darker in the last few minutes. I had to change the sight settings to green so they could be seen again.
It’s a shot that I remember fondly. I don’t recall thinking, “OK, this is clear. I’m going for the shot.” I simply got a line to the vitals and pulled out the trigger. It was strange, as it happened so quickly, It would have been nice to feel more confident. I would like to think, “This will do it”, but that may just be how it works. I shot, pulled the trigger, and let go of the bolt into darkness. It was all good.
My guide earlier in the day had said to me that it is difficult to know what’s happening after you lose an arrow or bolt. Indeed, an arrow rarely enters the game when you are there live. And it rarely expires right in front of your eyes. But you can gauge how the deer reacts to this. If the deer jumps high and kicks then runs away with his tail down and his head lower, it’s likely that you have connected with the vitals. This is the best-case scenario because the deer will die quickly and in as little pain as possible.
My guide claimed that I saw nothing. However, I did see a high jump and some mid-air kicks. But we couldn’t find the deer because it was completely dark by then. The deer was still alive so we stayed in the tree another 15-30 minutes.
We waited, now in full darkness–and I began to feel sick. The adrenaline rush from the day combined with little water (I was so in the moment all day that I didn’t take photos and wasn’t drinking enough) made me worry that I would vomit.
This made me panicky. When I throw up my blood pressure drops low and I frequently pass out. I didn’t want this to happen. In the past, it has been a problem where I throw up, fall over, and hit my head. If I had to vomit and end up in the treestand that would be very bad. It would be very, very dangerous, and I didn’t realize it before I went up there. But I was still strapped in.
I felt a bit jumpy. I wish I could claim to be John Q. It was cool up there. However, it had been a long, tiring day and I asked my guide if we could get down early. Because he was certain I had made a good hit, he said it would be okay.
We climbed down the treestand one limb at a time, and then we moved on. My fear of heights remains, as it was equally difficult to go down as up. But, we finally got down to the ground. I looked for the bolt that had ricocheted from the branches and my guide… I honestly don’t remember what he was doing. I was feeling a bit fuzzy, so I drank water and ate a protein bar. I felt much better almost immediately.
Tracking in Total Darkness
Let’s sum it up. We thought the bolt connected and I let it loose, but it wasn’t clear how. I felt an immense responsibility and the thought of just wounding an animal–well that was it! I realized how strange it was that while I can harvest an animal and I don’t like it suffering.
That was just a thought. I put it aside and started to think. The buck had fled and we needed it. We went to the spot where the shot was taken and looked outwards in foot-wide rings. The first ring was nothing. The second ring was nothing. Third, fourth, fifth, nothing. I began to worry that I had not connected with any vitals. I was worried that the wound wouldn’t bleed well and that we would not be able to find the animal. He’d also suffer for a very long time.
We finally saw the tiny, tiniest droplet of red, six feet away from the spot where we had remembered the buck standing. It was still a mystery to me how my guide found it. The tiny little droplet of red was located on the margin of a small brown leaf. It was still so tiny, maybe half the size of an ordinary button on a shirt.
He found another drop of the same size. Then he found a slightly larger one. Then two more, three more, and finally a few walnut-sized deer. They were everywhere until we found a trail and the deer was about 50 yards away from where I had pointed it at him. It was a fantastic shot, cutting through his heart, lung, and another lung. He was down in seconds, much to my relief. He was still holding the bolt, and the mechanical knife was bent back.
I took a good long look at him: he was a good size, with two smallish/medium-sized antlers, and two points on each one. After examining him for a while my guide told me that he liked his subdued nature. There are a lot of young men out there who just want to shoot something. “I don’t like this attitude.” He stroked his buck between the ears. “We must get moving. If you wish to pay your respects now, then it’s the right time. “
It was a good description of what I felt–subdued. I wasn’t feeling elated or boisterous and I certainly didn’t feel celebratory. I felt grateful and relieved, but I also felt sad. Later, I would explore my thoughts and realized that I was feeling respect. Respect for the animal, respecting the traditions of hunting, respect for an experience that had been hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years.
I am very grateful that these were my feelings as I sit here typing this. I don’t have anything against people who hoot and holler and celebrate. I get it. More than ever. My experience was not the same. I felt the oldness of the worldliness of the event. Although it sounds absurd, I felt as though I was part of an ancient society and had passed some ancient ritual that connected me with people from all over the globe. It’s a good reaction, but it can also be triggered by exuberance or reverie. Even though it was heavy, I am grateful for the feeling.
My guide was wonderful. He waited for me to finish my task and then let me go. Then he said, “OK, field dressing time,” and we got to work. He did the majority of it, or, okay, all honesty, he did it all. I was staring at nine months worth of meat in my freezer and didn’t want it to be punctured and ruined. Next time, I will be more involved.
That was what I was involved in, hauling the beast through the woods. That was hands down the most difficult part of the whole thing. My guide brought along a branch about two-and-a-half inches thick and 18 inches in length. He tied a rope around the antlers, to the stick, and that allowed me to drag the buck through the sticker bush. When I reached the forest edge, I was grateful for the protection my clothes provided from the burrs and the thorns.
Then, the buck was dragged across the stream and onto the back of the guide’s truck and the butcher’s.
Will I Be Heading Out Again?
It was, without a doubt, a wonderful experience that I treasure deeply. Even though it’s been several months, I still think about it daily. I also think about it as we cook through the venison. It was something I knew would be important, but it meant so much to me.
What’s next? I’ll be going out in the spring for a turkey hunting trip, probably with the same guide I thanked 100 times. I cannot wait.
That’s all for the enchilada. If you are still reading, thank you. It was a lengthy post and, as I mentioned, it was as long for me as for anyone else reading it. It was a long post, but I am grateful that you read it. If you are a novice hunter, it may help you. And if it is a veteran hunter I hope it will remind you of your first hunting trip!