Illuminated nocks

I’m going to skip the whole philosophical debate about illuminated nocks and hunting for this post. For the safety of other human beings, I need to be shooting a highly visible arrow if I get a shot at a black Cape Buffalo. While fletchings of certain colors and mounting methods can make my black arrow better, they can’t match the visibility of illuminated nocks.

In the past I used Nocturnal brand nocks with my Black Eagle arrows. For the most part they worked very well. On the plus side, I NEVER had a single shot fail to light it up. That a pretty big thing in the pros column. The cons: I did have them go off in blinds and on stand by bumping the string. Even worse when hunting hogs at night is having to stare into that nock trying to find the little hole with a knife tip to turn it off. Speaking of that knife tip, I HATE that you have to have some tool to turn them off.

I went to the local archery shop (might as well be my second home) to buy some Nocturnals and the owner showed me his arrows setup with Carbon Express “Launchpad” nocks. The price is the exact same. The CE is supposed to be lighter at 18.5 grains, but on my scale they both read 20 grains. The final difference, no tools to turn off the CE nock, just pull and twist.  I bought one pack and shot them that night. Sure enough, they performed exactly as promised and I was very happy with the results.

I will note, this “one size fits most” is really on the tight side of my Black Eagle Outlaws in .300 spine. Every time I needed the nock tool to push them in.

Happy as I was I bought a second pack and outfitted a few more practice arrows with them. On two arrows I couldn’t get them to sit all the way in, so I left a tiny gap figuring the first time I shot them they would settle in. Maybe 1/32″ extra gap. Minuscule.  When I shot those two arrows, they lit. On the second shot, neither of them lit. On 5 more consecutive shots they failed to light.  I pulled them out and they were working perfectly. I reinstalled them by hand to the proper mounting depth and they worked perfectly on every shot since then.

I guess it pays to follow the instructions. I’m glad I resolved this before getting frustrated and going back to Nockturnals. I really don’t want to need tools afield just to deal with my nocks, especially true with TSA and international travel on the horizon. Simple is best.

What is a “trophy” Cape Buffalo?

It seems that in recent years hunting has gone in a direction I don’t like. There is a vocal group with a perverse fascination with whitetail deer and some magical number of inches of horn. This group must also have an inordinate number of dollars-per-hunter in order to capture so much media and marketing attention. Even on the rare occasion when I’ve harvested mathematically impressive animal, it’s had nothing to do with a “trophy value” in my heart.

If ever an animal should challenge a hunter to question their thinking on what constitutes a “trophy” animal, Cape Buffalo should be that species!

Let’s consider first an animal that should score very well by Rowland Ward standards:


Like many of the top trophies in the book, this is a cow. My first problem with using “inches” to define what is a “trophy” is this: why should a healthy mature cow be removed from a heard just to satisfy some fabricated measurement system requirement? I don’t intend any disrespect to anyone who decided to anyone who has killed cows with wide horns, but I have to point out that raw inches is a bad way to evaluate a trophy.

Let’s consider another animal’s horns:

Unlike Rowland Ward, Safari Club International only considers bulls for the books. The bull above has a good number of inches and I would think would easily make the book. Here is the rub with this: Many animals grow bigger antlers or horns every year making a high number of inches desirable.  Cape Buffalo are born without horns, and they grow them outwards until they start fighting when they reach sexual maturity. It’s possible a bull might have its highest “score” the day before he hits sexual maturity. A handful of the bulls currently in the SCI top 20 were bulls that were not mature. In whitetail terms it would be like adding a spike to the P&Y book. It just shouldn’t happen.

From the same site, here is another picture to look at:

What a fantastic animal! Here is a mature bull with flattened out horns and a hard boss. This animal would probably score lower than the first two, but this is the type of animal ideal to hunt. His removal from the herd would not hurt the herd in any way, and he is possibly in that wise/wary but non-breeding/on-the-way-out end of the spectrum.

That website is quite interesting, as well as a few chapters in Africa’s Most Dangerous.

Finally let us consider the “scrum cap” bull:

A bull like this would score very low on the SCI scale, but just look at this old battle worn veteran! Everything about this bull is exactly what should constitute a trophy pursuit. Everything except the measurement and inches that would have him be a “trophy” officially.

Not many folks are interested in buffalo hunting, if you made it this far into the post my hat is off to you. I personally find it very interesting how the idea of “inches” that works so well for deer and elk, does so poorly for buffalo.

While a nice symmetrical set of horns looks nice, and it could put a hunter in the record books, a true trophy to me has nothing to do with what anyone else can see or measure. It’s all found within one’s self and what they see when they look out into the world.

Buffalo longbow

I bought a longbow to hunt Cape Buffalo in 2013. It is a Northern Mist Whisper longbow 85@30 at 68″. It’s a dandy bow and I got a hog with it in 2014. As I was getting ready for this hunt, the logistics involved with a one piece bow kept coming up. Finally, I realized that I really did need a takedown bow for this adventure.

It’s been over two years since I seriously hunted with a ASL, I’ve been hooked on my Black Widow PL longbow because I shoot it better than any other bow I’ve owned. I love ASL bows, especially the last three I am down to, but this is a dead serious endeavor and I think the best thing I can do is mimic the bow I shoot best in every possible way.

Black Widow Bows is building me a 2 piece longbow that matches my current bow in every aspect except draw weight. It will be a few weeks before it gets here, but I trust it will be exactly what I need for hunting Cape Buffalo.

Funding your dream hunt

I have been very fortunate in my life and I’ve had the opportunity to have a few “once in a lifetime” trips already. The picture above from Wyoming Pronghorn 2016 stands out as one of those for sure!

People sometimes can’t believe some of the trips I’ve done, or what I have planned for the next few years. I’m going to do one post explaining how I pull off all of the hunting and trips that I do.

Rule #1, you do not talk about fight club. (Couldn’t resist.)

Rule #2, there are two sides to every coin. I will cover all the ways I accumulate cash later, but the other side of saving is spending. Spending wisely! Big trips might take years to plan, you have plenty of time to figure out how to make it cheaper. Easy things to shop are travel expenses, taxidermy fees, and buying any special but required equipment either used or on sale. Every dollar you can avoid spending makes saving so much easier!

Big tip here: If you know a particular outfitter you want to go with, find out if they donate hunts to non-profit organizations. It’s often possible to bid on donated hunt packages and win at less than face value. In a few weeks I will be at a banquet that has an all-inclusive hunt donated that I would really like to do. I will probably lose it, but I will be ready to bid up to 80% of face value when I go. If I win, I will have saved at least 20% on another “once in a lifetime” adventure.

Rule #3, put savings on the monthly budget. I have a small amount for entertainment on my budget for movies or meals out, but then I have a larger amount for “future fun.” I have to put up the money towards my next trip as soon as I’m paid or I will find something else to waste the money on.

Rule #4, put it on autopilot! Twice a month money goes from my bank to my long term hunting account. I started a Wealthfront account and I dribble in my future hunting dreams without ever having to do anything about it.

Rule #5, gather the Acorns before winter. Aside from the budgeted amount I save every month for my future hunts, I have turned on a “round up” savings mechanism. Acorns monitors all of my credit cards and my checking acount, every transaction that goes through, it rounds up and withdraws from my checking account. While it does cost $1 per month, which is incredibly high from a percentage perspective, it does encourage me to stash about $40-$50 extra per month. So while it might cost me $12 per year that I really don’t need to spend, it does bank up $500-$600 that I wouldn’t otherwise save. That money goes a LONG way towards out-of-state camping hunts!!!

Rule #6, Be the CHANGE you want to see in the world. I would like to see my freezer full instead of empty, so when I pay cash for something I always pay with a bill. All coin change I get in a year goes in a jar. It always comes out to a few hundred dollars each year. I always have my guide’s tip plus emergency cash ready to go before any trip. Boy Scout motto, be prepared!

So there you go, there’s nothing magical in the plan. Just a little bit every two weeks, a little bit every time the card swipes, and a little bit every time I get coin change.

Those links for Wealthfront and Acorns are referral links. If you plan to use either of those services anyway, please consider clicking them to help me fund my next hunt!

I wish you the very best in your planning of your dream hunt!

Pumping up the draw weight

I was going to wait until January 1st, but I couldn’t help myself. I took an arrow and put a loop of tape around it at 29.5″ (my true draw with ASL longbows.) I strung up my 75# JET Wolverine and took a few practice draws tonight. Man, that bow felt great! The weight was fine, and holding it at anchor brought a nice muscle burn after a few seconds on each draw.

Every bit of burn felt like I was just a little bit closer to hunting buffalo next August.

I’ll be drawing this bow every morning between now and May 1st before I get my first cup of coffee. After that I’ll be on my 85# longbow until the hunt.

Every day, I am one day closer.

Africa 2017, preparations begin!

After doing much research and more than a little soul searching, I’ve decided to hunt Africa next year.  To be blunt, my desire to hunt a few animals over there has been uncontrollably strong. I want to experience the African bush, meet the people, and pursue the animals. The thing that weighed directly against this idea is the fact I’ve never pursued an animal I didn’t intend to eat.

That last part was a real gotcha for me, I’ve gone back and forth on the idea for years without coming to a clear conclusion. At least, until now. I was very fortunate in harvesting 4 animals this year, and with my freezer being so full I was able to give some meat to friends and family members who cherished the gift. This got me thinking about the stories of a Professional Hunter (PH) I met a while ago. He talked about American and European hunters shooting trophy animals and all of the meat not consumed in camp feeding nearby villagers. I read many accounts from both folks with hunting experiences over there, as well as a few articles from anti-hunters. Both sides gave some excellent points to really help me challenge my internal position.

Land in South Africa is privately owned. Just like ranches in Texas, everyone fences off their land from their neighbors. Whatever animals are within that fence are the property of that landowner. Landowners need to manage the herds at a healthy level so they don’t overpopulate leading to a crash or a disease break out.

That last part is important to understand. There are x number of hectares for a given ranch, only so much food can be grown in that land area. If there are too many impala, some must get killed to prevent them all from starving. These herds will be managed to a given number. Some animals will be killed by either paying hunters, or hired guns.

While other countries in Africa have held more appeal to me personally due to lack of fences, what I’ve come to appreciate about South Africa is just how well they have designed their hunting system. Truly it’s remarkable, when I look at all the different game laws in all the different US states, it’s amazing we don’t take some proven practices from them.

There are just a few animals I get really excited about, the vast majority I could take or leave. I must say the Cape Buffalo is singular in it’s effect on me.  It is by far the biggest and most dangerous of any animal I want to pursue in my lifetime. When it came time to plan my hunt, it was the one hunt I had to do.

Dare To Bowhunt is the operation I have chosen to go with. They hunt exclusively with bows, and Lammie himself is a recurve guy from what I’ve heard from some of his past clients.  I don’t have a long list of animals I want to hunt in Africa, but I will pursue the Buffalo first and foremost. Being a hog hunter, I really hope to get a chance at a warthog. I’ve also heard that impala is delicious (and VERY abundant on the property) so I’d like to harvest one of them too.

Given that a longbow Buffalo hunt is a pretty serious endeavor, I started preparations back in September. First thing was to come up with a workout plan to slowly build up to a point where I could comfortably handle my 85# longbow again. Most important part of the plan was minimizing the risk of injury ahead of the hunt. I have read and reread repeatedly Africa’s Most Dangerous and Buffalo! which I borrowed from my friend James.

January will bring the purchasing of some boots better suited for this environment, moving up to my 75# longbow for winter leagues, and purchasing airfare. It feels good to be doing so many preparations this far out, hopefully it will remove stress as the time gets closer.

The Dogma of “Quality” Deer Management

I must start by saying, I’m a huge fan of QDMA as an organization.

I believe QDMA is the backlash of failed State run game management. Even now, 30 years after the founding of QDMA the state of South Carolina allows hunting for archery and firearms from August 15th until January 1st. Bag limit is one buck per day, except on Sundays unless you are on private land. So if you hunt public land 6 days a week, and can get access to private land on Sundays, you could kill 107 bucks per year per hunter. That is over the counter. You can additionally apply for anterless tags or use generous landowner tags if you know someone.

There was a well earned reason for the backlash! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to pick on South Carolina. It is a state that I truly love to hunt. I was shocked to buy a Georgia hunting license and find that it allowed me to kill up to 10 deer, 1 bear, unlimited hogs, and turkeys. While I appreciate their marketing departments zeal in recruiting me as an out of state hunter, what is the herd effect of issuing licenses this way?

What do you do if you can’t change the state regulations, but you see a sick herd? Grassroots says you collect up your neighbors, compare notes, educate one another, and agree to fix your local herd. It’s a situation where “what is right” is more important than “what is legal.”

Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a bunch of time with a biologist and a landowner going over a property and discussing habitat and management strategies. I found out later the biologist was the founder of QDMA, and the landowner was the first president of QDMA. Small world huh?

Here is the first thing I realized about these two, they are very dynamic people. They both look in the micro at any immediate area, and can instantly relate it to a macro level of herd management. They seemed very comfortable looking at 10 or 20 acres, then go straight into the macro issues facing a 3 county area.

The big thing I realized in the next few hours as a fly on the wall, these guys were not set on any “4 points on one side” sort of hard rule. In reality, 4 points on one side probably wouldn’t be a hard push on the property we were on. Instead they were really focused on the overall health of the land and the animals living there. It was a very dynamic discussion.

Dogma. Where I hunted today in Michigan was a non-QDMA tract ajoined to a few QDMA tracts. Several men are very stringent about their 8 point (Eastern count) minimum on any buck killed. I decided to target a button buck or a spike.

“Sacrillege!!!!” you say. I thought about it long and hard, I tried to think of it like a biologist. Here is what I realized:

  1. QDMA is working! There are many bucks 2.5 and 3.5 years old, and maybe even a few older. A few very good looking 8s, 10s, and even a 12 point or two. The mature bucks are in great shape but I don’t see any on camera nearing the end of their natural life. These are breeders that are spreading great genes! We need these bucks alive and rutting as many does as they can!
  2. This county was hit HARD with EHD for two years in a row. Herd die off was estimated at 50% each year. When herds are at 25% of their counts from just a couple years ago, it would be an injustice to kill a doe. They are EHD resistent and proven breeders. I saw one doe with two fawns, and one with triplets. Clearly I couldn’t shoot a fertile doe like that with the herd down the way it is.
  3. Yearling does will be critically important in recovering the herd over the next several years. These are completely off limits to my conscious.
  4. Dry does, you know, the big old horse heads. I would have gladly taken one of these, but it’s hard to know if they are past their mating years, or if they just lost this years young to a car or coyotes. Better to pass on these if not certain (and I’m rarely certain.)
  5. What does that leave? Immature bucks, or not hunting. Sure if a cow horn came by that would be a great cull, but I’ve never seen one in this county. Removing a spike would ensure it didn’t breed a doe, and it would yield a good amount of meat. I’d rather hunt and pass than to not hunt at all. I did have a button buck at 1 yard today, and had a slam dunk shot lined itself up I would have taken it. I’d say the chances of him making it through firearms season is very slim, and I would have liked that tender meat for my freezer. Alas, the shot was never right. I’ll just hold out for a spike or a cow horn in that county.

Clearly there is a difference between meat-harvesting and trophy-hunting, but for the meat hunter it’s important to consider all aspects of the current herd when deciding what animals to pursue. Likewise, I don’t think “4 points on one side” is the end-all answer for trophy hunters. If your land and habitat can lend itself to a much higher quality animal, why not go to a 4.5 year or 5.5 year minimum for trophies? There are a lot of 2.5 year old bucks killed in the name of quality deer management and it has little to do with their potential, their place in the reproductive lifecycle, or their true trophy quality.

If you hunt deer, I ask you to consider the big picture before considering what you will pursue when you go afield. If you are a non-hunter, consider every animal raised in a pen will be killed regardless. I’m very honored to be connected to these herds and to be very selective about what I harvest in each area I hunt.

Treestand System

stand setup

*** UPDATE*** I recently found out that my Muddy Pro Sticks were recalled years ago. I tried to get in touch with Muddy via their website to get replacement parts to make my sticks safe, but I never received any replies. Although I was perfectly happy with the idea of buying the parts and paying shipping to keep my beloved sticks, it seems they must be terribly busy with other things. Now I have Lone Wolf climbing sticks, but I will leave the rest of the post as it originally read.

I have used maybe a few dozen treestands at this point, and I’ve owned 5 different hang on models and 7 different pairs of sticks to use with them. While I know lots of guys who’ve used many more over many more years, one good thing is that all of my experience at this point has been in the last 6 years.

When it came time for me to invest I thought long and hard about the different styles, and I immediately eliminated ladder stands due to my mobility requirements. I like the idea of a climber and have many friends that love them, but you always end up with the “hunting the tree instead of hunting the spot” problem. While a hang on system maybe have more parts, you can get into some crazy trees and sometimes it’s those crazy trees that are where the animals are going to pass. I decided that a hang on stand would be right for me.

I had many friends encourage me to invest in a Lone Wolf, and I ignored them and bought a bunch of cheaper stands instead. In total I bought 4 stands that together cost much more than a Lone Wolf, and then I bought the Lone Wolf and gave away all the other ones. I purchased the Lone Wolf Alpha 2 at Cabelas using points. While I love this stand, had I needed to pay cash out of my wallet I would have bought a XOP Air Raid instead.

While I think my stand was amazing coming out of the package, I was inspired by Jason at the TBWPODCAST to do a little better. I wrote up how I used rubber, zip ties, and military surplus gear to drastically improve how quiet and comfortable my stand is to use. Read about it HERE if you missed it before. The final modification I made was to remove the beloved “batwing” and go with an EZ-Hang strap. Look at my zip tie and Yak Grips in the Sticktalk article, those are really slick!

With my treestand 100% awesome, now I needed sticks to get me up there. Muddy had just released their new Pro Sticks and I was intrigued. While I much prefer three long sticks to 4 short ones, these had a few HUGE advantages over the LW sticks. First the rope and cam buckle system is absolutely perfect. It is actually impossible to make metal to metal noise with one of these sticks. Second, every step is a double step so you don’t have to swap your step from side to side. As a nice bonus they are geared together so if you pull one side down it brings the other side along with it.

Assuming I’d hang my first stick at waist or chest height, I could set my second stick across the top of the first. That left me two sticks to figure out. I ended up putting two loops on each side of my harness at my waist, but out of the way of my lineman’s belt loops. I also added 550 cord loops to two of my sticks, now I can click them in to my waist with rubber covered mini carabiners. Other than the loops on two of them, I have not modified them in any structural way. I did wrap them with Howie’s Hockey Tape on a slow winter weekend last year, but functionally they are just like they came from the factory.

So aside from the hardware, there is one trick that makes all of this work especially good for me. I walk to my tree with my stand on my back, and my backpack hanging on it. I have my bow in my right hand, and my sticks in my left. At the bottom of the tree I always do the exact same thing:

  1. I put everything on the ground.
  2. I put on my harness, I put my EZ-Hang strap in my right cargo pocket, and my second strap in my left cargo pocket.
  3. I take my lineman’s belt and attach it to my harness.
  4. I have a rope permanently attached to the top handle of my backpack, I fish it all out and make sure its tangle free.
  5. There is a loop 6′ up from the backpack handle, I secure the top limb of my longbow to that.
  6. The every end of the 30′ rope has a loop on it, I attach it to my right side mini carabiner.
  7. I put the stand on my back like a backpack, without using the waist belt.
  8. I put the first stick on the tree, balance the second stick on the first, then put my other two sticks on my sides with the mini carabiners.
  9. I climb up on the first step and wrap my lineman’s belt around the tree and adjust the prussic knot to fit.
  10. Put on the second stick, climb up to the bottom step of it.
  11. Pull the third stick off my right side, mount it, climb onto it’s bottom step.
  12. Pull the fourth stick off my left side, mount it, climb up to it’s bottom step.
  13. Take EZ-Hang strap out of my right cargo pocket, put it chest high and cinch it up.
  14. Get a really good check on the lineman’s belt, loosen up the shoulder straps, and hang the stand on the EZ-Hang.
  15. Make all adjustments for the platform angle, etc.
  16. Install the second strap on the bottom button, cinch it up tight, double check platform level, try to twist sideways, etc.
  17. Take rope going to the backpack and longbow off the mini carabiner, put it on the top (unused) “button” on the stand.
  18. From top step, install tree tether as high up as I can reach, click the strap from my back onto it.
  19. With seat up, step down from the top step of the fourth stick onto the platform.
  20. Give it a one legged kick/push/and apply weight while keeping 3 other points of contact.
  21. Move second foot over, feel it out, remove lineman’s belt.
  22. Drag up bow, put on seat.
  23. Put backpack’s handle on the top step of the top stick. Secure excess rope.
  24. Sit down, put an arrow on the string, put the lower limb in my boot, and hunt!

OK, that looks like a lot of steps but as long as you prepare at the base of the tree for the steps you’re about to perform, it just flows from one thing to the next.

One thing I realized in typing this up, instead of putting the loop on the string between the backpack and the treestand, I want a 6′ rope on the bottom of the backpack to go to the bow. This way I can drag up the heavy backpack and hang it then bring up my bow last (without a second haul rope.) It is good to maintain a “beginners mind”!

Philosophy part 4: The Morality of Killing

After reading parts 1-3 I hope everyone (hunters, non-hunters, and anti-hunters) realize that I’ve given my pursuit quite a bit of consideration.

  • I have very good reasons for wanting to get high quality meat unavailable from our industrial meat growing and slaughtering operations.
  • Likewise, I have seen that an arrow can produce a far more peaceful death than a bullet.
  • Finally, I am very selective about what species I even endeavor to pursue based on ecological and ethical reasons.

In this post I want to talk about the act of killing itself. I have killed countless mosquitoes. I have on a few occasions accidentally run over squirrels.  I bought a nice leather jacket once. Years ago I purchased a good amount of meat at the grocery store or local butcher’s shop. All of those things boil down to killing. What’s worse, it’s the type of killing that almost nobody really thinks about.

When I go hunting I make a very conscious choice to go way out of my way to try to kill an animal. I think it’s good that the direct effect of being “successful” is front and center in one’s mind as they lace up their hunting boots. When I kill a specific animal I’d say my feelings are split between gratitude for all nutritional benefit I will receive, and remorse that a wild animal died so I could get it. I’ve never seen anyone shed a tear buying a steak wrapped in cellophane, but maybe they should.

I’ve studied the teachings of the Buddha, and I can clearly understand the philosophy behind not killing anything including insects. I think it’s admirable that some people can live with this level of consciousness. The main takeaway I have from these studies is the idea of “wholly good.” It could be looked at this way: If I kill a pig and eat it, it is not wholly good. It was clearly bad for the pig, and even though I received nutritional benefit, I had to kill the animal so that was not entirely good for me either.

This is wonderful when you are sitting on a pillow and considering the way that people get their food in first world counties today. Where it starts to get tricky is when you are looking at a male black bear and considering it might kill a dozen cubs per year. It doesn’t seem to me that letting that bruiser walk is really doing a favor to their herd or the ecosystem. Killing that bear is actually beneficial for everyone but that individual bear.

As a hunter out in nature, you are faced with many questions about what you should kill and what you should let pass. One example from a couple months ago; I had a coyote right in front of me in Wyoming on the opening day of pronghorn season. Ranchers (especially sheep ranchers) would consider it a great kindness for a hunter to kill all of them that they could. Moreover getting it and it’s smell away from the animals it was spooking (the ones I wanted to hunt) would have helped me too. Alas, I never even considered shooting him. I took a few comical pictures of him dancing around a waterhole with a doe pronghorn and I’ll cherish that memory forever.

I just got back from a week long hog hunt, and when I say hog I really mean to say feral pig. A very destructive animal planted in the new world to be a source of protein for the people who would inhabit this land in the future. In essence, a “put and take fishery” except for pigs. One day I had an immature sow, maybe 75 pounds within 5 yards of me. Why would I do harm to an animal that hasn’t even begun to participate in the cycle of life? A pig twice that size would yield much more meat meaning that I could kill half as much and still eat just the same. A few days before I had a male boar just coming into his prime walk in very close to me. He was asserting himself as a alpha boar by marking out his territory, but he lacked any nicks in his ears, or deep scars on his sides common with older boars. He has all the structure to support the heavy shields that will develop with time, and the heavy layer of fat that will come as well. He’s just still a little trim, I’m guessing around 250 pounds. He walked straight into my shooting lane at 10 yards and stood broadside. My bow was ready, and I could have easily taken a shot. So why didn’t I? Because he is just coming into his prime. He might have mated a few sows already, but the gene pool hasn’t been significantly diversified since the passing of the old alpha boar that has been running that swamp since 2009. If he lives a few years more it will be great for the herd.

When a hunter has a weapon in their hand they have a great deal to consider before they ever get to the point of trying to find a shot. To me this is a process of trying to rule out a shot instead of trying to find a way to justify it. If I can disqualify an entire animal for some ecological or “health of the herd” reason, that makes things much easier. Last spring I had a big group of mature hogs come marauding into my stand one evening. There were 13 hogs in total, and since no animal was off-limits for either of the reasons above I quickly settled down to the two I would take a shot on if presented. The oldest, biggest sow would produce the highest yield of meat. She was also wise and held back in the bushes for a long time after her offspring came browsing in. The other was the smallest male, about 150 pounds. It would be a great size to eat, and given the number of larger boars present I knew he had little chance of being part of the gene pool for the foreseeable future. Neither of those two hogs presented a clean shot opportunity, and so I let them all continue on their way.

I hope this helps folks who do not hunt to understand what many of us hunters go through before we ever decide to try to take an animal while afield. For many of us it’s much more involved than what the hunting television shows would have you believe. For a little deeper look into some of the emotions I experience while afield, I would invite you to read another hunting story I wrote a while back.

Philosophy part 2: Why I Bowhunt

In Part 1 I talked about why I feel driven to eat wild game instead of commercial meat. Today I’m going to describe my path from rifle hunting to bowhunting, and hunting with a longbow specifically. This was a very conscious decision based on my personal ethics.

I grew up just down the road from Paul Schafer, but I never met him. Most of the hunters I grew up around felt that bowhunting was an immoral way to pursue big game, so I didn’t have a chance to socialize with any bowhunters to learn what it was really about. I really wonder what turns my life might have taken had I met Paul when I was a young teenager.

During the years of hunting with rifles I cleanly and swiftly killed several animals. Actually recounting them now, all of them were killed with a single bullet and recovered within 100 yards. While my personal successes were text book, I was on several hunts that didn’t turn out nearly as well. I saw other hunters miss shots for various reasons. I saw hunters get bad hits requiring long tracking journeys, a few included lost animals. I saw three occasions where wounded animals were kicked out of beds and additional shots were required to bring them down.

Twenty years later I realized that I could no longer support modern “farming” systems. I knew I would have to return to hunting for my own meat or become a vegetarian. I found myself at a moral crossroads. One option was that I could go back to hunting with a rifle with that big BANG noise and the animals getting hit with a projectile so hard it can damage a great deal of precious meat. Another option seemed intriguing to me, converting to bowhunting. As for becoming a vegetarian, I was determined to avoid that if at all possible.

Bowhunting wasn’t an easy choice for me given my well ingrained prejudices against it. I invested a lot of time researching how bowhunters go about the pursuit, and even more time dissecting hunting stories from the point of the shot to the recovery of the animal. Most of what I read provided very little helpful information. I watched several videos posted online, and most of that was initially useless as well.

As time went on and I read more and more about bowhunting, I realized two things started to become clearer. First, is that the guys shooting old wooden arrows with 2 blade heads seemed to get more consistent “pass through” shots leading to a faster death. Second, the guys shooting longbows and recurves sometimes shot animals and they didn’t seem to know they were hit. The more research I did on quiet “traditional” bows and heavy arrows with super sharp two blade heads, the more confident I became that this was the most ethical way to kill an animal. I purchased a longbow and began learning the skills needed to bowhunt ethically.

With my longbow I have shot through animals that didn’t know they were hit. More commonly, I see animals look at where the arrow hits the ground than towards me and the sound of my bowstring. My game recovery distance has averaged HALF of what my rifle shot animals ran with that big dose of adrenaline after the gunshot.

With my personal experiences over the past several years, I am now confident I made a great decision to become a bowhunter.  I believe that my bow and arrow are more humane than any slaughter house practices, or the bullet from a gun. This is why I am a bowhunter.