Since I was a child, my Dad has been putting me to work. Whether it was helping him dig up bloodworms for fish bait or cleaning up around job sites. To do something fun, or get something fun, I had to work for it.
"There's no such thing as a free lunch," he'd say.
That saying was running through my mind while trudging through the desert with a bow in hand. It was starting to feel like I'd never "eat lunch" at all. Day after day, stalk after stalk, and year after year I was left walking back to the truck wondering what success felt like. It felt impossible.
That was over 10 years ago, and I'm happy to say, the lunch bell did eventually ring, and I did get to sit down for a meal. The road to that first archery kill is not what I'd call a "Sunday drive." Looking in the rearview mirror, there were a few solid takeaways that have stayed with me to this day.
Bowhunting Isn't Easy
Everywhere you look, we are surrounded by media. And the hunting world is no exception to that. This is great, especially for newer hunters just picking up a bow for the first time. Much of it serves as a source of inspiration. A way to provide a glimpse into bowhunting. While having access to this Everest of content is favorable, I think that it can tend to paint somewhat of an unrealistic picture of what bowhunting is truly like.
In fact, I'll just say it. Bowhunting is hard as hell and if you're new to it, I wouldn't stop buying meat from the grocery store just yet.
Walking into the bow life, it's important to accept the difficulty ahead. If not, I'm sorry to say, but you're likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Being successful with a bow, and more specifically knowing how to be successful, is something that comes little by little over time, and with a lot of dedication.
Bowhunting is an art. You can't expect to pick up a brush for the first time and paint the Mona Lisa. Stick figures are more like it. Back when I first picked up a bow, I didn't know another person that was ever successful bowhunting, despite their efforts. Years, and I mean years, would go by without filling tags. You're going to fail most of the time and that's ok. After a rough start, you just need a lot of persistence and patience, and you'll make things happen.
Embrace Your Shortcomings
Every one of us is far from perfection in some (or many) areas. While each one of us has areas where we excel, the opposite is also true. In a lot of ways, we just fall short. Each one of us knows this, but not everyone is quick to admit their shortcomings. That denial is the very thing that will keep a person from progressing.
It's really easy to only focus on the things that you're good at. I get it. It is easy to stay in your comfort zone. Instead of dismissing your shortcomings though, I say embrace them. Take note of things you'd like to be better at in the field, and pursue your imperfection. For instance, maybe you've got a knack for stalking close to animals, but when it comes time to bend the limbs back, you come unglued and never can seem to make a good shot. It'd be wise to focus on your shooting and shot sequence during the off-season. Elevate your heart rate and then practice slowing it down behind the bow. The opposite could also be true. Maybe, you're a great shot but can't seem to sneak in close. In that case, try to put the moves on some critters outside of hunting season. The more you do it, the sharper you'll get. There's nothing wrong with playing to your strengths in the field, but addressing your weaknesses will make you even stronger in the end.
If positivity was a brick of ice, adversity would be the ice pick that breaks it down. No matter how experienced a hunter you are, bowhunting brings adversity. In the beginning, though, it can be especially hard to stay positive and see the difficult times through. New bowhunters are fairly aimless — as is anyone starting anything for the first time. And because of that I've seen, and fell victim to myself, that aimlessness and adversity ending hunting trips early. I've even seen it cause people to stop bowhunting altogether. A case of the "Negative Nancys" is no place to be as a new bowhunter and will ultimately keep you from your goal.
In these moments of doubt, it is important to remember why you're doing what you're doing and look at the big picture. It's the love of being outside. The thrill of trying to get close to animals. And the opportunity to put yourself in amazing places among amazing things. It's the experience. Revert your thoughts to those things and that brick of ice will last much longer. You will last much longer.
Positivity stokes the fire for us out in the field and that very fire illuminates things that we may have never seen if we stay down in the dark dumps. Things like how lucky so many of us are that we have the physical ability to put hand to bow and take our ambition into the mountains. That in itself is a gift. So buck up, and soon it'll be "buck down" for you. Stay positive.
It's Only a Matter of Time
I was 15 when I went on my first archery hunt. It left an imprint on me that hasn't waned in the 20 years since. Up until the first arrow I ever put through an animal some 10 years ago, I had archery hunted on and off for a decade. During one of those early years, I missed 8 times in a single season. It wasn't until I put my heels up and dug in with an absolute resolve that I was successful. That's what it takes. Dedication and grit.
As much as I scoffed at the work back then with my Dad, nowadays I get it. He was trying to instill in me that reward requires sacrifice. That lesson is not only applicable for everyday life, it is the perfect mindset for bowhunting. There are no favors and everything is earned behind the bow. With persistence and a no-quit attitude, success is inevitable. So, don't walk into bowhunting thinking "if." Walk into bowhunting thinking "when." It's only a matter of time before the lunch bell goes off. I promise you it's worth the wait. Until then, keep working.
Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.