At 8 years old my first bow was a bear recurve in all red with a black rubberized grip that you shot the arrow off the shelf. I would practice in the back yard with my family as we would always shoot at straw bales with a paper plate attached. At 8 years old the goal was to hit the plate at varying distances even using varying arrows. Some arrows were aluminum, some wood, some straight, some not so straight, some longer and some shorter.
The youth red Bear bow I used as a kid.
Eventually I moved on to a York Compound bow that was a hand-me down from a family friend. This bow had 60 percent let off and I really felt like I was in the bowhunting game with this deer slaying device. I even had all my arrows match for the very first time. At 12 years old I harvested my first buck which was a 4 pointer in the big woods of Vilas County WI on public land with that bow.
Later in life, I moved on to different compound bows that included a Browning, a few Mathews and a Bowtech. I shot some really nice bucks with all of them and kept up with the latest trends in sights, rests, arrows etc. However, the turning point came about 7 years ago with a public land brute of a buck I named Iron Sides.
Iron Sides was a huge buck (from my standards) that came in one frosty November morning at approx 9 a.m. I was set up in a huge pine and Iron Sides was walking down a trail that ran about 30 yards in front of me. When he hit the opening of some brush I released my arrow. At the point of impact my arrow hit off of him and literally helicoptered about 5 times straight up in the air. He took off and I was literally in awe as in “what did I just witness”.
As I got down to inspect the arrow I noticed there was no blood on it. However, on the ground there were just a few specks of blood and a tuft of deer hair about the size of the palm of my hand. I was absolutely perplexed by what just happened. I remember playing the situation over in my head and it just didn’t make any sense. Until I looked at the broadhead. It was gone! Literally missing! I was like “Did I just release an arrow at a buck of a lifetime without a broadhead?”
Then with further inspection of the arrow I noticed that the ferrule of the broadhead was still intact and that the broadhead had broken off at the ferrule. Now I was like, "This makes sense". My educated guess was that I shot forward and that the arrow hit the shoulder blade and it broke off at that point there. Two other theories I came up with is that the broadhead may have come un-screwed partially causing the break and/or the ferrule/broadhead was junk and made of porous material.
Either way, I told myself that was never going to happen again. After seeing the arrow literally bounce off that buck he gained the name Iron Sides. He was seen on trail camera about 2 weeks later.
Iron Sides was a true public land giant. His pic here, 2 weeks after the "mishap".
The year after I was due for a new bow. The Bowtech I had was currently 8 years old and I was going to upgrade. Wisconsin already had the crossbow season intact for 2 years prior and the idea of a crossbow really gained my attention for a myriad of reasons. The main reason is that if I had a superior technological weapon that Iron Sides would have been in the back of my truck that afternoon.
So I made my decision, I was going to purchase a crossbow. It satisfied my earlier statement in regards to the error of the bow. (At least that’s what I was blaming it on). There is no way It could have been user error. *Sarcasm*.
In the 5 years I owned the crossbow I harvested 4 good bucks. All of them went no less than 100 yards.
A public land buck I harvested with the crossbow.
There were other benefits as well. I didn’t have to shoot throughout the year. Once I was sighted in, it stayed sighted in. I didn’t have to have it tuned. I could shoot further out in regards to accuracy than I did with my compound bow. I could shoot sitting down easily and actually preferred. The scope allowed more light for low light situations and the magnification helped me in picking out the spot. The power, speed and accuracy of the crossbow was also unmatched to my former compound bows.
There were also caveats to the crossbow. This included the weight of 9 lbs compared to the average weight of the compound bow of 5 lbs. You had to be careful of getting the limbs coming in contact with a tree when discharging the crossbow as it would cause damage to the crossbow itself. The serving on the string would wear out and it was not cheap to have a string/serving switched out. The scope would also fog up from time to time especially as I was holding the crossbow up to my face as I was waiting for a buck to come in. (breathing on it)
The crossbow I used for 5 years. The Horton Storm RDX.
The turning point…..
After 5 years of hunting with a crossbow and shooting my last buck with it I was just not satisfied with “bow hunting” anymore. Literally every buck I shot was a slam dunk with the crossbow. The challenge for me was gone.
No, you can never say that you would harvest any deer within 40 yards all the time but that's what it felt like. It felt like it was way too easy.
As one gets older I feel like you start to look back at what was and not what is. What I mean by that is that you tend to associate those good times from the past with the people, the woods and even the equipment you used. This was something I missed. Holding the bow in my hand made me feel like I was when I was in my twenties. I missed the release dangling off my wrist. The practice draw just after I would get into my stand just to make sure the shoulder and bow are ready to go. The feeling of being a bowhunter again.
Other thoughts started popping in my head after I was thinking about making the switch back to the vertical bow. When I first purchased the crossbow my family and friends gave me some hell. I’m pretty damn stubborn and I didn’t let their ribbing get to me. However, one good friend of mine said something to me that stuck. As he put it “You were the last person I would expect to get a crossbow. Big strong guy like you who can probably pull back a 100 pound bow, a great bow hunter and you're going to a crossbow!” I laughed it off but inside it resonated with me.
I also started to make the excuses to myself of why I should stick with a crossbow. First it was that I didn't own land and the competition of other hunters on public and some private lands I had permission to hunt made it "tougher". I felt I needed a edge. I also started wearing glasses for the first time and that I felt like I needed the magnification. That I was "protecting" my shoulder over time. Etc.... They were excuses to validate the use of the crossbow. When I catch myself seeking validation it's usually for the wrong reasons.
Eventually, I started to reflect on what I wanted out of bow hunting. I have learned that it’s not the trophies, it's not about owning the newest and prettiest equipment or even hunting the greatest property. For me, it was how it made me feel. I needed to feel like I was a bowhunter again. However, what does it mean to feel like a bow hunter?
Studies have shown that you will only feel true fulfillment in your career when you are applying your max abilities and skills for a greater good. For most it’s not always about money or even prestige. While that’s a bonus, happiness comes from knowing that you are using the max of your abilities in the career that you choose. Have someone that has the ability to be a CEO placed in a position as a bridge tender and you will have someone who is not feeling fulfilled in their career. They may be happy with a lower degree of stress but in most cases they will feel unfulfilled.
Working in personal training and physical therapy I have realized that the level of accomplishment only correlates with the level of work that is put into the challenge. If I give a personal training client an easy workout when they could have done more they will feel short changed. Also, as a trainer and therapist, most people have no idea on how much they can perform and accomplish. You can always do more than you think….always.
Even in the gym, you have to put in the work for the reward.
That same theory was in alignment with my choice of going back to a compound bow. I needed to do more because….. I could do more. If I consider myself to be an above average bow hunter I need to place myself in that mind set. For me, I knew I could get closer to my quarry and not shoot out to 60 yards. I wanted to know that I had to stand up to shoot in most instances. I knew that I had the wisdom of when to draw a bow back and when not to. That was all gone when I used a crossbow.
For myself, I needed to get back to a vertical bow. For the first time I really understood what bow hunting is. It’s not just killing deer or harvesting the biggest buck. It’s about skill and challenge and those things that are good for the soul. It’s bow hunting and it’s not supposed to be easy. We are living in a society where we feel that everything we pursue should only be able to make life easier. Easy gets us complacent and being complacent impedes progress. As a society we are forgetting that.
A year ago, I put in the time and effort to get back to bowhunting. Shooting consistently in the backyard and developing my draw cycle muscles to pull back 70 lbs again. Working on form and even more so concentration along with breathing properly for the shot. It all came together on a late October bowhunt last fall when I placed an arrow through the 9 pointer's heart at 32 yards.
The daily practice with the Bear Whitetail Legend payed off. That ghost hovering above my bow may have even been Fred Bear himself.
It felt good again to call myself a bowhunter. I looked at my bow after I made the shot and I knew right away that this was who I am. After 5 years away from the vertical bow I didn’t miss a beat. However, It wasn’t that I could just pick up a vertical bow and make it happen like the snap of a finger.
It was the natural process of preparing myself for the opportunity of that buck like I did in all the years past as I always did when I shot a compound. I trusted the process and when I trust the process of preparation I have 100 percent self confidence in my ability to capitalize when I have to. I’m by no means an expert in archery but I have always had a knack for making the shot when it counted. It’s almost as if bowhunting for whitetails chose me and not the latter. In a way I feel bad that I walked away from it to dance with the crossbow when the vertical bow has always been the girl that loved me.
This writing is not about what you should shoot but how you should select your style. I’m not here saying that crossbow hunting is wrong. However, I will say that the vertical bow is more pure. There is a sense of bliss and Zen when shooting archery. Simplifying the process but at the same time always trying to be perfect, at the same time knowing that you will never get there.
I have even taken up traditional archery and I can say it’s even more of a joy to shoot that longbow than the compound. This year's goals include taking a doe with the longbow as I become more proficient with it. The traditional archery process is even more complex in gaining the skill to become effective for whitetails. However, it’s the process that offers the reward and not vice versa.
If you’ve read this far, then I will presume that you have already made an opinion on the article. Some of you may have made a presumption that I hate crossbows, people who shoot crossbows or anything to do with crossbows all together. Personally I feel they have their place but I also now feel it’s a sacrilege to consider them to be considered part of the archery season.
Archery is a skill. Archery is an art. Archery takes dedication and practice. Archery has limits. It always has and always will. The modern crossbow and what is more concerning is the future crossbow does not fit in what is considered archery. To look at your DNR regulations and see the phrase “archery season” including crossbows, now makes me cringe.
My attempt to get a doe with the longbow came up empty but not empty handed.
Playing devil's advocate I have to say that I now understand what archery is because I also knew what crossbow hunting was. One cannot say that a certain food tastes better or worse if one has nothing to compare it to. It was because of my experience of hunting with a crossbow for 5 years to tell you that there is a difference between what is archery and what is “considered” archery. Because of this experience, for me personally it is not the same.
I will even go one step further and raise the blood pressure of a few of you by saying that even most crossbow hunters do not want to be associated with the crossbow but merely the kill. Over the past years I noticed more online photos on hunting forums reveal 3 distinct photos. The hero shot with the compound bow laid across the buck. The crossbow laid across the buck and finally no bow laid across the buck. In most cases, the hero shot with no bow visible in the photo is “usually” (not always) a crossbow kill.
After digging a little further on that particular hunters FB page you would see them showing off their crossbow somewhere down the line. They want to reveal their trophy buck but it's as if they don’t want the public to know it was with a crossbow. Is this everyone? Of course not. It happens to be my personal observance, nothing less, nothing more. Also, there are a lot of you who are proud to shoot your deer with a crossbow and display it across your deer and more power to you.
Do crossbows have a place in the “archery season”? In my mind they are for those, within reason that cannot physically pull a vertical bow back. Whether it be due to age (too old or too young) or have a true disability. However, yours truly from working in healthcare understands that anyone can find a Dr. that can prove that you have a disability. Don’t believe me…just look at our welfare system. Crossbows should be allowed during crossbow season and not archery season. When should crossbow season take place? That’s a different deal for a different day.
The purpose of this article is not to create an argument, debate or even for discussion. I don't argue or even debate anymore as it's a waste of my time. I may even lose a few followers because of it and that’s fine because they are prolly not about the Oak & Iron way which is about putting in the work to become a better hunter. This article is just about myself sharing my bow to crossbow and back to shooting a bow.
I would say if anything, the purpose of this article is for you to take time to reflect who you are as a bowhunter. Asking yourself where you come from and where you want to be in your hunting journey.
We all have to make choices in our lives. Hell, I had to make the choice of publishing this article and the blowback that might get thrown back at me. However, that reflects the problem I had with whether to utilize a bow or crossbow. In the end, I realized I had to stay true to myself and go back to the bow. Just like this article, I had to stay true to who I was and publish my experience. As I have aged, I don't hide my convictions anymore or worry about political correctness, even in the hunting industry.
I hope you enjoyed the article no matter which side you stand on. Whether you shoot a vertical bow or a crossbow, please get out and practice. Luck always favors the prepared.
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