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The 'Nature' of Bow Hunting
Previously Published in the Michigan Streamside Journal
“When we go hunting, it is not our arrow that kills the deer, however powerful be the bow; it is nature that kills
him.” Big Thunder, late 19th century Wabanaki Algonquin hunter
Tens of thousands of years ago, somewhere on the steppes of Russia, in the foothills of the Alps in Bavaria, or
perhaps, on the plains of the high desserts of Wyoming, a stout, powerfully built hunter stalked an animal he
planned to kill for food. As he carefully approached his quarry, the hunter tensed the muscles needed to draw
the bow and arrow in his hands, then, as he found his mark behind the beasts’ shoulder, he relaxed his
fingers from the string sending his arrow towards the animal’s vitals, bringing the life of his quarry to its
natural end. The ‘wheel of life’ for that preyed upon creature had come full circle. His spirit was released. The
prey had succumbed to the predator.
Over my fifty-four or so odd years on this planets’ surface, I have hunted and fished for most of the game
species that call this State of Michigan home. In this life-long quest, I have used rod and reel, bow, rifle, pistol,
shotgun, slingshot, trap, net, spear and crossbow; to capture, kill, and sometimes release my quarry. I have,
and continue to, hunt and fish in all seasons of the year, in all the varied areas of our State. However, out of all
of the outdoor sports that I participate in, nothing captures my heart, my spirit, and my interest as reverently,
as whole-heartedly, and as fervently, as hunting for the white-tailed deer with a bow and arrow.
I developed most of the hunting skills that I currently possess during my younger years while hunting deer
with a rifle and a shotgun. It took me quite a few years to get to where I could consistently come home with
venison for the freezer. As my confidence increased, my interest in making the hunt more demanding grew
with it. Soon, instead of just spending my time watching runways and feeding areas for deer, I took to moving
carefully through the woods, seeking them on their own terms. In the early 70’s, the growing band of bow
hunters caught my attention. Soon I bought my first bow, a Fred Bear recurve, and spent the summer
practicing with it until I could place the required five arrows in the nine-inch pie plate at twenty yards. That fall
found me tied by the waist to a tree, sitting in a stand fifteen feet off the ground. I was now a bow hunter.
For a number of years I would venture out into the deer woods of Northern Michigan to sit in a tree stand
whenever I had the time. I took many deer with my bow; bucks, does and fawns, perched above the ground,
just waiting for them to come into range. Soon though, the same old hankerings began to rise. I felt that I
needed to move to another level. I needed to make the hunt a bit more exciting. A bit more challenging. That is
when I decided to try, once again, my hand at stalking and still hunting. This time though, it would be with a
bow. Stalking with my bow would prove to be much more difficult than it ever was with a gun. However, it
would prove to be much more rewarding of an experience, even when I did not release a single arrow.
The legacy of the bow hunt
For tens of thousands of years, native peoples the world over have hunted for food and sustenance with bow
and arrow, club, spear or sling in hand. They honed their tracking and stalking skills so that they could
stealthily approach game to make the killing shot. Then, about two hundred years ago, advancements in
firearm design encouraged people to replace the more ancient weapons with the more modern, the more
efficient, and easier to use firearms. The aged skill of killing with a bow and arrow all but disappeared from the
face of the earth, at least in our more modern cultures. However, about sixty years ago, some contemporary
hunters, among them our own Fred Bear and the famous Howard Hill, realized that there just might be a more
sporting way to take game. A re-birth of archery hunting was born. Modern man had rediscovered the bow and
Becoming one with the woods
When you venture out into the woods with a bow and arrow in your hands, you know right from the get-go that
your options are limited. With a rifle, a shotgun, or a pistol, you have the capacity to reach out and ‘touch’ the
game at much greater distances than when you hunt with a bow. With a bow, even with the modern
compounds now available, the distance factor is always on your mind. It has to be. Bow hunters know that they
must get closer to their quarry to make the killing shot. Bow hunters know that distance is their enemy, that
intimacy with their target is their friend. Out of necessity, archers must learn to stalk their prey, and they must
master the woods lore skills that will allow them to remain undetected by game. They must also learn the
character traits of the animals that they pursue. Out of necessity, they must become one with their quarry.
At this time in life, because of an injury, I now hunt with a crossbow instead of a regular bow. Never the less, I
still feel the same exileration that I always felt with my bow. When I leave the bonds of civilization and decide
to enter my blessed woods with my weapon in hand during the deer season, I immediately feel a
transformation as soon as I meld with the foliage. My senses instantly become more acute. My eyes watch for
and catch the slightest movement of the branches and the leaves. My ears respond to the minutest whispers
of sound. The skin of my face senses the kiss of the softest breeze, allowing me to make note of its direction.
Wafting aromas of leaf mold, wood sap, sweet fern, acorns, fresh earth and animal dung mingle in my nostrils.
Their presence registers their remembered signature with my senses. My whole psyche changes, as my being
seems to morph with its surroundings. I feel as if I have become one with the natural environment. My very
nature changes to make me more attuned with where I am. I have become one the woods. I have accepted the
nature of the hunt and I have also become a natural predator of that woods.
The Reward of the Hunt
When I am hunting, the intrinsic reward for me is not the actual killing of a deer with my weapon. More times
than not, I get my greatest satisfaction out of merely being able to approach a deer or a group of deer with out
being detected by those watchful eyes and those radar like noses. Last bow season I had one of my best
experiences of memory. I was stalking through the woods on an east-west ridge, into the wind with crossbow
in hand, high atop a glacial esker near Mio in the Lower Peninsula. The leaf duff was noisily protesting my foot
falls. However, by carefully planning my foot placements, I was able to move through the majestic white oaks,
pines and maples that populated that ridge without any evident detection. Suddenly, in the distance, my eyes
detected a most subtle movement. I instantly froze, taking care not to move a single muscle. Once again, my
eyes detected a movement, which I immediately identified as the turning of a deer’s ear. Soon I was able to
make out the form of a large white-tailed doe, feeding quietly on the ridge about thirty yards before me. First
one deer, then two, then three deer appeared before me, as if they were ghosts dissolving through a fog. As
one or two fed with their heads down, another constantly scanned the area for movement with her eyes. Her
ears swung back and forth scanning the woods for the slightest sound of intrusion, not unlike the modern
radar screens of our military. Her nose, definitely her keenest organ, constantly sampled the air for a foreign
or alarming odor. Luckily, the wind coursed ever so slightly against my face while I watched the deer feed.
They had no idea of my presence. For all practical purposes, at least to those deer, I was invisible. I did not
exist. The deer took turns watching and eating. Heads raised and lowered as they fed across the woods,
meandering towards me as they fed. Time seemed to stand still as the deer moved towards me, closing the
distance as seconds ticked by. Before I knew it, one of the smaller does lowered her head to feed just fifteen
or so feet before me. As she foraged grass from the ground, I stealthily raised my crossbow and planted my
sights right behind her foreleg. One squeeze of the trigger by my finger is all that kept that deer on this earth.
However, I eased my weapon to rest at my side, quietly deciding not to kill this particular animal, for the deer
numbers in that area are presently low. I watched a few more minutes as they munched their way past me,
moving downwind of me, blowing and scattering as they caught my scent. To me, that was my best day in the
woods of the whole year. To me, that is what ‘it’ is all about.
A Privilege, Not a Right
People sometimes refer to hunting as a right. That is not true. Owning a gun or bow is a right. However,
hunting is a privilege that we must earn and then strive to honor. As hunters, we not only need to know the
mechanics of using a gun or bow to kill the animals that we hunt, but, we must also know how to make
educated decisions on when and where to use those weapons. Part of the legacy of hunting that we have
accepted from the billions of hunters that have passed before us is our respect for the animals that we decide
to shoot and kill. We must know the ‘nature’ of the animals we hunt and keep in mind they are also sentient
beings living here on this planet with us. We must accept that, just as we sometimes bring them to the end of
their ‘circle of life’, that we also will come to the end of ours. We must be cognizant of the fact that even
though killing an animal during the hunt is usually part of the nature of the hunt; that not killing an animal is
sometimes also part of the nature of the hunt. When we are deciding the mortal fate of another living being
there is no room for ego. With the ability to kill comes the acknowledgment of responsibility. And with the
acknowledgment of responsibility comes the privilege to hunt.
The Nature of the Hunt
I believe that the urge to hunt is ingrained in all of us from birth, handed down to us though the ages as part
of our genetic inheritance. Moreover, as for the animals of the woods that we kill during the hunt, I believe
that their dying by our hand is part of their life, part of their life cycle.
The Algonquin quote that I used in the beginning of this article pretty well sums up how I feel that the cycle of
life works. It is the nature of the deer to fall prey to our weapons. When I venture into the woods to take deer, I
feel closer to the deer and to the nature of hunting when I use a bow and stalk close to my prey on their terms.
To me, that is the nature of bow hunting. It is the nature of the hunt.
By: Jerry Kunnath
The author with a bow killed buck