For most hunters that decide to make the transition from barrels and bullets to strings and arrows, it can get off to a tricky start. I began hunting with my dad when I was young, probably 7 or 8 years old. I remember when I finally got to carry my own gun, a 20 gauge pump action with slugs. Back then, we were not allowed to harvest does in the county we hunted, so although seeing many deer I wasn’t able to close the deal. I got my first bow when I was 12, an old Bear Grizzly II from a pawn shop. I shot daily until I could shoot 3-4 inch groups at 30 yards, shooting barebow with fingers. When I was 13, on that same property I had hunted all those years, I set up a stand for my first bowhunting experience near a pond with a steep ridge to my back loaded with white oaks. That first morning, a nice 8 point came trotting towards me grunting lowly and checking the ground, as if there was a doe ready for his acquaintance. I was so excited about seeing a buck in the woods, I didn’t even raise my bow to shoot! I saw him again the next day, but this time he was right behind a doe and never came within 50 yards of my stand. Finally at 14 I harvested a doe with my bow and the rest is history, I have been hooked since that day.

Fast forward now about 15 years, a friend of mine has a better story. In 2006, Byron Howton, a friend and colleague of mine, started bowhunting. He bought a bow early in the year, practiced until he was sure about himself, and sought all the info he could gather from friends and more experienced bowhunters. He scouted a piece of public land, on Skiatook WMA, and found some good places to hang stands. Then, to my amazement, he harvested a legal doe in the first few weeks of the season. We were all happy for him, especially being his first bow kill and doing it on heavily pressured hunting ground. Then, rifle season rolled along, he took the week off work and bowhunted the entire time. On November 16, he and his wife Melissa took to the woods. She set up in a ground blind about 60 yards behind his treestand. They were on stand well before legal light, and the weather was calm and clear. It was a quiet morning, a few hours passed and Melissa decided to leave the confinement of the ground blind and still hunt a little. She hunts with a crossbow, so there is the advantage of being able to shoot without movement. After Byron saw her moving out further, he decided to give a couple soft grunts with his call. After the second or third grunt, a nice 8 point cleared the brush about 60 yards out. He was in no hurry, not like was seeking the call, but made the journey towards it anyway. After he got within 30 yards, Byron drew his Reflex bow, and settled the second pin behind the bucks shoulder. He released the arrow, but with the excitement, didn’t see the impact. But then he saw as the buck was running off, the quarter of his arrow shaft sticking out from the side of the deer. He waited about 20 minutes, then decided to get down and check for blood. He and his wife found the deer only 35 yards away, hit through both lungs. You can imagine the excitement now, two deer in his first season, one of which is a nice buck. I’m glad everybody is not the successful their first season, or there would be no place left to hunt!

No matter if it takes a week or 10 years, harvesting an animal with a bow is an experience to behold. I have forgotten deer taken with rifles, but remember every arrow flight that penetrated a kill zone. It’s always like slow motion for me, and the excitement never goes away. I still shake like a squirrels tail even when it’s a doe I just took. I guess if that ever went away, it wouldn’t be so addicting. If you are a beginning a bowhunter, and having bad luck like so many of us have had, don’t get discouraged. Use every moment in the stand as a learning experience. Remember where the deer came from, and where they went. What time they moved, the time of year and what the food sources were at the time. After you spend time and keep compiling this data, you’ll eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together. Success in the woods is not always harvesting animals, but seeing them in their natural state undisturbed. You can learn things in early bow season about deer that you never would have known if you weren’t out there, putting in your time. Not everyone is going to have a first season like my friends, but if you keep at it, eventually you will get something on the ground, and then start doing it consistently.

It’s even more of a challenge for an experienced hunter to teach children. They want results, and if they have multiple outings with no sign of deer, they can quickly become frustrated and bored. Reassuring them that success will come, and maybe mixing in a few squirrel hunts in between deer hunts will help. If they can get out in the woods and move around a little more, and bring home some squirrel for the pan, it can help to rekindle the drive to pursue more challenging game. The main thing is to find something positive about each outing. Something you see in the woods that may seem insignificant to you could spark a lot of interest in someone of lesser experience. A good example is as the sun goes down in a draw, feeling the rush of cooler air. Thermals are a complicated but interesting event that happens in the woods. Explaining what causes these and how they affect scent control and stand placement can be very educational to a beginning archer. At the same time though, don’t overload them with information and confuse them to the point of boredom again. There is a fine line between good hunting education and cramming for a final exam type of education.

Byron has been bitten by the bug now, and he has started to shoot 3D tournaments with us now. He has talked about hunting non-stop since Jan 15th, the end of our season in Oklahoma. He has also kept the fire burning in me, which usually dies about December, when I have spent so many hours in a stand I begin getting burned out. I didn’t harvest a single deer last year, but had several within a few yards of my stand. I count that as successful, I could have easily taken a couple of deer, but decided to let them walk for another year. That’s easier to do on private land, where they have a chance at making it. Only the good Lord knows what this October will bring us, but I know one thing for certain, my friends and I will be in a tree somewhere waiting to find out!

-Tim Hicks