In the past several years, I’ve became hooked on a very difficult style of hunting: stalking with traditional bows on public land. I’ve taken a dozen pigs and a couple deer this way, but this season ended with a most spectacular surprise.
On the final weekend of January, I had my either-sex deer tag remaining. After letting many deer walk, I was finally ready to tag-out if a deer offered a shot.
I grabbed my 70-pound Martin recurve, two arrows and headed into the woods, expecting nothing more than to shoot a hog or two. I typically see a dozen or more hogs every time I venture into palmetto country in Louisiana.
I went to an area where I stalked a 3-pointer back on Christmas Eve. I had filmed giving that deer a pass after shooting a nice silver-and-grey-spotted pig with my Martin.
Sure enough, with the rain as great noise cover, I saw hogs up close as usual. I drew back on a big one at 3 yards, but it ran off before I could release. A bit later, another pig broadside at 9 yards barely dodged my arrow.
But the arrow disappeared under a puddle and I couldn’t find it. After 10 frantic minutes of crawling and digging my hands deep into the mud, I located it completely buried. That very arrow would soon become invaluable.
A little later, I stalked some pigs and lined up a 10 yard shot in the palmettos. My 720-grain arrow tipped with a 190-grain Simmons Tree Shark connected with a large pig, but it took off with my arrow sticking halfway out. The hard rain instantly washed away any blood, so I headed out of the woods for lunch and planned to come back to track.
While walking out, I noticed a doe moving fast my way along a trail through the palmettos, but I had no time to take cover. The doe stopped at 20 yards in range, but was facing me. With no shot offered, it skipped off. That was a fun experience, but nothing too spectacular.
Suddenly 100 yards further, I see a racked buck walking to me nose down where the doe passed. I quickly ran ahead to hide behind a tree this time.
A buck preoccupied with late-rut activity was going to walk 10 yards from me. I was thinking no way this was actually going to happen — then, it almost didn’t.
The buck suddenly stopped about 25 yards off and started sniffing the air. The wind was wrong. It was nearly broadside, but never saw me. I made that shot thousands of times in practice, but never in the rain with a wet arrow.
The beaver balls and wet fletchings sent a spray of mist into the air as I sailed my arrow. The heavy arrow seemed to be going in slow motion and falling too low. However, the quick deer began to turn around and dipped down as well.
After all those years and thousands of miles covered with my traditional bows wanting a racked buck, in the rain that final weekend lightning had struck - my arrow disappeared behind the deer’s shoulder.
It hit further back than I wanted with that spin move putting the shot at a hard quartering forward angle.The buck skipped a few times then slowly walked off - typical of a liver/gut shot. I just sat in a puddle soaking wet, completely mesmerized by what had just unfolded.
But then bad news came: When I went to look for my arrow and any blood with no intention of tracking yet, the buck was sitting on top of a mound 50 yards away just barely in site. Before I could back out, it spotted me and disappeared further into the palmettos. I was devastated that I had pushed the deer without even attempting a track. The rain continued, and washed away any potential blood trail.
After an agonizing sleepless night, I found my beautiful 8-pointer early the next morning about 100 yards from the shot in thicket palmettos, ending my season better than ever before.
My Tree Shark broadhead caught part of the liver upon entrance and exited far back from the angle. I’m glad I was using the largest cutting two-blade broadhead on the market.
Here’s some information on my unique glow-in-the-dark blade-aim gap shooting style utilizing a fixed creep. I explain it in this video, along with some GoPro footage of that rainy hunt.
I got into recurve hunting several years ago intending to take my hunting to the level. Without knowing any other traditional hunters, I had to learn how to shoot on my own. It was definitely a tough road at first.
The instinctive routine seemed to work so-so for me, but shooting cold on the first shot wasn’t always perfect, and my longer 25- to 35-yard-range groups were never acceptable.
I just kept practicing, shooting thousands of arrows a month and trying new things. I soon figured out that gap shooting was the ticket to my success.
Most gap shooters aim by using their arrow point, and need to estimate 12 to 24 inches under their target for where their arrows will hit. Longer, full-length arrows shorten the gap, but it’s still usually more than a foot of aiming low. Plus, every 5 or so yards the trajectory changes by several inches, which needs to be calculated.
However, aiming at the ground underneath a deer with no ability to see the tip in low light was never appealing to me. Instead of doing all that estimating, I created a different form of gap. I started using the upper blade tips of my broadheads as the aiming reference. Suddenly my arrows landed exactly at the spot my blade tip was focused on.
Still, arrow trajectory changed over distance, but instead of aiming low or high I began using a string-walking variation called a fixed creep.
I applied a second nock two fingers widths under the arrow. Depending on the distance to the target, I apply my index finger up, down or centered on that second nock. The lower my hand is placed, the closer the arrow shaft is to my eye, which makes for very easy aiming. Staring down the shaft makes shooting to the left or right nearly impossible with a smooth follow through.
After putting my three fingers where I need for the correct distance to the target, all I need to do is close one eye and put the blade top where I want it to hit. And the blade hits, alright. So far I’ve harvested 24 big game animals with my unique shooting style from my traditional bows, along with several squirrels, rabbits, grouse and many bullfrogs.
No subconscious instinctive site picture or large gap estimations were ever needed. It’s just a simple precise aiming system using a stick, string, arrow and broadhead. It’s similar to shooting a compound bow with a single upward-facing pin.
I can shoot instantly when I hit anchor, but often draw and hold for several seconds just like a compound bow waiting for the shot.
Another unique tactic I created is applying glow-in-the-dark paint markers on the back of my blades. During low light hours, I can see better with my glow-in-the-dark blades than I can from my lit pins in a compound bow through a peep.
With gap shooting, I can pick up a bow I haven’t shot in months and hit dead center on the first shot, instantly shooting tight groups. Shooting cold becomes no harder than shooting warmed up. This is critical in hunting situations, where you get no practice shots.
Traditional archery has now become my new addiction. I find the trials of hunting animals go from simply getting a shot opportunity for an easy kill with modern weapons, to needing honed-in shooting skills with mental and physical power — and endless preparation — with heavy traditional bows. And that’s the type of trial that gets me excited about a hunt.
Just know the deer will usually win most duels, so expect lots of bittersweet memories in the field.