Published by SEAL Archer on 15 May 2008
A tired bow and the ghosts of the volcano
It was a cold rainy morning. I walked around the cactus, trying to avoid the spines that tried to reach out and attack me. The sharp edges of the volcanic rock cut deep into my lug-soled boots as I climbed higher against the driving rain and into the cloud shrouded hillside. Razor bladed sawgrass provided a lifesaving grip, but only to a gloved hand. It was steep, almost vertical, and a single slip could be fatal with a 400 foot drop that awaited me if I lost focus, if even for an instant.
They were here. Sign was all around me. Droppings, hoof prints, bent and nibbled twigs, and bits of hair clinging to rock and bush. Their trails often leading to meadows, but just as often to the bottomless abyss I spent the day trying to avoid. They are the ghosts of the volcano.
This day was a first for me, and a transition into a more challenging hunting lifestyle than I had previously experienced. I was bowhunting for feral Spanish Goats in the Waianae mountain range above the beautiful Makaha coastline on the leeward side of the tropical island of Oahu. Unlike the better known Koolau mountains on the windward side of the island, with its spectacular display waterfalls, the Waianae range is usually dry, covered with cactus and sharp rocky outcroppings. The range, less that 20 miles to the west is more like the Arizona desert than a tropical island. This was not my first time on the mountain, but one that helped me develop more respect for both my quarry and the legions of primitive hunters that shared this experience before me. The journey, however, was not quick and painless.
On a hot sunny Saturday, many months before, I joined a friend on a hunt for these goats. Outfitted with high power rifles, we hiked up behind a resort to reach the high meadows where he had heard goat herds were plentiful. His story proved to be very true as there were hundreds of goats all over the hillsides. The lay of the land, while hard to navigate, proved too easy at providing shots of 100-200 yards. A herd of 50+ animals would look across a ravine at us and freeze in that 3D-target pose, taunting us to shoot. As a Navy SEAL, my job insisted that I use stealth and cunning to effect my mission, and getting in really close was part of the job. My off-time activities required no different discipline, so taking an easy shot was not an option for me.
I calculated that a 50 yard shot would be much more challenging, so proceeded to move in closer. The terrain, with its dips, gullies, and 10’ grass makes a simple stalk much harder than first observation would make one believe. That said, a single fatal 50-yard running shot on a nice horned Billy proved to be unfulfilling and would be my last.
As a career sailor, family man, and multi-hobbyist, my budget did not allow for me to rush out and buy the latest high tech bow and arrows to move me in the direction I needed to go, but I needed to fulfill my hunting drive. A trip to Virginia to pick up a diving system proved to be just the ticket I needed to reach my goal. Perusing the want ads, I found an ad for a compound bow with accessories for $65. I arrived at the residence where a woman showed me the bow her brother had left in her garage years before. It was a beautiful thing. An early 1970’s Browning Cobra compound bow, one piece of dark walnut from wheel-to-wheel with a thin layer of black glass backing. It was much lighter than the more modern composites and drew 47# at 28 inches. She told me it included 9 arrows with target tips and 5 broadheads, mounted quiver and pin sights. She let me walk away with the bow for $45, a great deal for both of us.
Practice, practice, practice. I sighted in my “new” bow at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. After several days, as I was getting much better at hitting the target, the brittle plastic sight pins started to break and fall off. I managed to keep one on the bow and positioned it for 20 yards, the distance I decided as my personal shot limit. After all, the challenge of getting close is what made me transition to archery. Once I could hit an 8” paper plate from all angles and body positions while estimating my distance, I felt ready to head back to Makaha.
The island of Oahu has very liberal hunting rules and I was allowed to take one goat and one pig per day, with the season open all year. However, getting to the animals and taking them proves much more difficult than the numbers would appear.
As I started, I am back on the mountain and the weather is terrible. Clouds poured over the Waianae range’s prickly back and pelted me with rain as it tried to toss me off the cliffs before I reached my objective. I followed nearly invisible trails as they snaked through the rocky outcroppings and elephant grass. The herd posted nanny goats as lookouts, sounding an alert when I approached inside of an imaginary 50yard circle. As I would crest a ridge I would be greeted by hundreds of tails disappearing over the next ridge. The 20 yard limit was much, much harder than I could have imagined after getting my first 50 yard goat.
With the wind in my face I rounded a trail to find a small Billy blocking my path. He was 10 feet from where I stood. Reflexive action and recently developed muscle memory positioned the bow in my outstretched arm, the peepsight aligining my eye with the single 20-yard pin. Before he could move, my pin just below his jawline, I released my arrow. Time stood still. I could see the arrow flex, the plastic vanes starting to rotate as the arrow slid over the rest and left the bow. The animal stood still as my arrow sailed cleanly between its broad horns, over the cliff into the rocky ravine beyond. My heart dropped just as fast and missed a couple of beats as my arrow missed its target. At 10 feet, the Billy was too close to me, and was something I had not practiced.
An hour later I saw the back end of a large horned, brown billy round a corner in front of me. I could hear his padded hooves on the rocks as he circled back on a ledge above me. I leaned into the cliff face to nock an arrow and draw the string. The trail was less than 2 feet wide and the drop was not something I wanted to think about. I pointed my arrow upwards in the cocked bow and slowly leaned out across the trail. My movement caught the goat’s eye and he peered down at me…from 8 feet away. This time, shooting instinctive without my sight pin, I “felt” the arrow into his chest and watched him vaporize.
I waited about 30 minutes, sitting on the trail, pondering the outcome. I knew it takes some time for the broadhead to do its work, and I needed the time to hydrate and get my heartbeat back down to a normal level. The vision of the events played over again in my mind as I sat looking at the sparkling azur coastline 2500 feet below me. It took me about 10 minutes to negotiate to the point above me where the goat had been. A pile of long chest hair told me that my arrow had been true.
All my reading of bowhunting articles, practice, and my patience while sitting on the trail had paid off. Following the blood trail was as easy as following a painter splashing bushes with a soaked 8 inch wide paintbrush. I could picture the blood spurting from the clean wound with every step the goat took. The animal ran less than a hundred yards, losing several parts of my broken arrow along the way, before coming to rest in a 50 foot deep ravine. As the adreneline started to drain, I climbed down into the ravine and got down to the task of dressing out my kill.
In the spirit of the native hunters, I wanted to honor this animal for giving his life to me by using every part of it that I could. My son and I tanned the hide and made a quiver for his small target arrows, while the feet became part of a rack for our bows and arrows. The horns and skull were European-style mounted and the meat fed many friends as I danced around a BBQ fire and recounted my hunt.
My arsenal of bows has since been modernized, but my first compound is still my favorite and most productive with fish and game. The secondhand bow, once doomed for the landfill, became a legend in the hands of a believer in the true spirit of the hunt.
© 2008 Chuck Cardamon