The first week of Alabama bow season has come and gone, capped off by a evening hunt that produced this tall, massive seven point buck-deer for Sam. Sam introduced me to bowhunting three seasons ago, and it is only fitting that I missed this buck only two nights before at twelve yards. Sam's thirty yard shot just before the end of legal shooting hours was well placed and resulted in the kind of swift and respectful kill that we all strive for. This was Sam's first buck taken with the bow, and has been aptly named "Stan-Buck."
Our friend Clay also took his first whitetail with the bow over the weekend, arrowing his first on his own farm, then finally filling the freezer on Sunday night with a beautiful twenty five yard shot and a forty yard blood trail. Quite the exciting weekend. Between the five in our party, there were other shots taken and some deer that went sadly unrecovered, but there is little more that can be asked of the early season. Temperatures were constantly in the forties, the moon was dark and the deer were moving.
For me, it takes some time to get back into the rhythm of the hunt, and the more that I contemplate it I find that it is more like getting into the the rhythm of the season. It should be slower, it should be a shift in perspective. Autumn is a time where, conceptually, we move from taking the yields of the soils to participating in the harvest of the game. It is less methodical, more still, colder, quieter...and it is good. It almost seems like a time of cleansing. Cleansing not only of your thoughts, of the mechanical routine of the modern adult routine, but a reaping the surplus of what your fields and labor have sustained.
Back to rhythm. My first hunt of the year I sat a small archery plot that I had planted in late august. It is near an opening in a long fence-line between bedding areas, a consistent funnel for deer. I climbed into the tree late, reached the top, and then realized that my face mask was on the ground. First of all, a damn face mask is worthless, I don't know why I use it. The only camouflage I truly believe in is cover scent and being still, the rest is a marketing scheme that has us all hypnotized. I took it as a sign and stayed in the tree. Soon, though, I heard a thud, bent over the edge of my stand, and saw my bow sight lying on the ground. Hard to shoot a deer without a sight, so I climbed down and then back up. The next morning I forgot my stabilizer at camp.
I ended up missing two deer at very close range this weekend, both because I rushed the shot. The second missed shot flew over the buck pictured above that was killed by Sam only two evenings later. It all comes back to rhythm. Rhythm is such a valuable and beautiful human sense, and the closer our we can match the rhythm of our selves with the rhythm of the nature with whom we participate, the more closely we will know and celebrate it.
One book that I am reading right now is Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Lets start by saying that I am in no way a mystic and I really do not practice Zen in the least. I was
really just hoping for some shooting tips. Turns out this book gives zero shooting tips. I just want to leave a few quotes that I think are relevant to anyone, not just a theologian, philosopher, or mystic.
"Unless we enter into...experiences by direct participation, we remain outside, turn and twist as we may. This law, which all genuine mysticism obeys, allows no exceptions."
Consequently, by the "art" of archery he does not mean the ability of the sportsman, which can be controlled, more or less, by bodily exercises, but an ability whose origin is to be sought in spiritual exercises and who aim consists in hitting a spiritual goal, so that fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself...In this contest of the archer with himself is revealed the secret essence of this art, and instruction in it does not suppress anything essential by waiving the utilitarian ends to which the practice of knightly contests was put.
Certainly a mouthful. If I could change one part of that, I would say that the the art of archery is the ability of the sportsman to realize the rhythm of the nature with whom (s)he participates. Sam and Clay found it this weekend.
And it is a beautiful thing.