The year was 1961 and the modern sport of bowhunting was in its infancy. I was fortunate in that I had already been shooting a bow for several years. That was my first year to have a hunting license. Bowhunting for me started with rabbits. Those relatively small targets proved not to be terribly difficult for me since I had been shooting year-around for some time and I had become quite proficient.
Deer hunting was something very different, though. I had not shot at deer before. The rifle season was still a ways away when Ray Bimber picked me up after school and told me there was a deer bedded just a short distance from his house along the river. He had a plan that he felt confident would get me a shot at that deer, and indeed it would. But that is jumping ahead too quickly.
Compound bows were unheard of then. I would not even know what they were for another decade, and then they were nothing like they are today. Starting in the 1950s I shot longbows. I had two, both hand me downs. One was an old wooden long bow. It was quite long. That was many years ago, though, so I do not recall just how long it was. The other was fiberglass. It was much shorter. I have no idea what the draw weights of either were. I did not even know the term draw weight. Neither had a nock point, neither had an arrow rest.
My arrows were wood. The top end hunting arrow of the day was a Bear, with the Bear Broadhead. But until my first season of bowhunting for deer I used field points. I used them for target practice and to hunt rabbits.
On the day I made my first bowhunt for deer I used the fiberglass longbow and a Bear arrow and broadhead. Ray lived between Route 62 and the river, which also is where the deer, a doe, was. He stationed me behind a tree, then went to his house to start his short drive to push the deer past me.
I do not recall being overly nervous. Anxious certainly, but not nervous. The hunt escalated very quickly, and it broke down just as quickly. I had been at my stand for what seemed to be a very short time when I saw the deer approaching. It stopped about 15 yards from me, and stood broadside presenting what should have been an easy shot.
It should have been easy.
I had a half-dozen arrows. The deer stood still while I sent all six under it or over it. I still do not remember being nervous, but in fact I had my first serious case of buck fever, even though it was a doe.
What went wrong?
I shot at the deer, not at a spot on the deer. If I had shot at a spot on the deer I have no doubt that I would have killed that deer. But I missed and it haunted me for a long time. I do not think anything mattered more to me than hunting, and missing that deer was, and still is, one of my most miserable failures.
Telling Ray that I missed with all six arrows was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. As kind as Ray was, he could not hide his disappointment. He wanted it for me so much he could not completely hide his letdown.
I vowed that would never happen to me again. I replayed the whole miserable affair over and over in my mind. I replayed it thousands of times.
That accomplished something for me, and it taught me a valuable lesson.
Being mentally prepared is critical, not just to hunting but to anything which is very important, very stressful, very difficult, or in any other way challenging.
More specifically, I learned never to look at a deer, or other big game animal, after I have made the decision to shoot. Forget about the rack once you have evaluated it. Just pick a target on the animal. Focus your eyes on the kill zone. Narrow your focus to a small point at the center of the kill zone. Concentrate on that spot, take a moderate breath, leave half of the breath out, then shoot.
Concentrate on what you are doing. You should have practiced enough that taking the shot, be it with a bow and arrow or with a rifle, often enough that it is second nature, that you do it right without having to think about it.
Does it work?
It has worked for me. I shot many deer before I missed another, that when I was in my 50s and my eyes were diminishing and I had lost some steadiness. I will not tell you how many deer, and other big game animals, that was because if I did it would lead some foolish hunters to surpass it, or to lie about surpassing it, and that would miss what I consider to be important about hunting. Please never ask.
I think my method can work for anyone. But everyone is different. Some hunters simply get much more excited than I have so keeping calm and cool is much more difficult. None of that matters as long as you are comfortable that you did your best.