Growing up for me in Upstate, New York there was no guarantee that I would naturally have a love for the outdoors; however, growing up in my family solidified it for sure. My Grandfather was a hunting guide and my Father helped him with his business. In addition, my Father also owned a hunting and fishing retail store, operated by our family. It was inevitable that I would become hooked in the outdoors at a very young age.
Fast forward to age fourteen. I took my bow hunters safety course then my Dad took me to purchase my first hunting license. Dad had bought me my first bow the previous Christmas, a Golden Eagle Sparrowhawk. It was a youth model, and for the times not a bad bow. I have vivid memories of standing on the deck at my parents’ home shooting into bales of tightly packed straw with my Dad and Uncles.
Like most hunters, we practice, practice and practice a little more, hoping for that opportune shot on either nice buck or in my case, my first deer. But I can tell you from firsthand experience, practice is only one small part of the entire equation.
Fast forward to October 15, 1994. It was opening day of bow season and Dad and I were perched in two separate tree stands not more than a few feet apart. It was a cool brisk morning and there was a crunch on the leaves that amplified any noise that every little squirrel in the county made. As a new bow hunter, I was imagining when I turned my head to investigate a new noise that there was going to be a big buck standing there. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Having sat in the tree stand until about 9:00 AM with very little activity, we carefully descended from the tree tops and headed to meet my Uncles for breakfast and to listen to stories of years past.
I hunted every chance I could that year with a bow and I didn’t have a single opportunity during bow season. It was a long cold winter and lucky for me my love for fly fishing kept me busy during the spring and summer. But the fall of ‘95 was approaching quickly, and I was practicing for opening day.
Opening day of ‘95 was much like ‘94. Very little activity but my hopes were high. I had practiced a lot and felt ready for any scenario. A few weeks later Dad and I drove to my Grandparents with a plan of hunting a choke point up behind the house. We got up early and headed up through the back field. As we approached the woods we took a left heading south along the wood line and entered at the corner of the property. We were hunting a travel corridor where the woods bottlenecked between a steep gully to the west and the edge of the woods to the east. The wind was favorable and now all we needed was a deer to get within 20 yards and I would release an arrow from the Sparrowhawk. As the woods came alive every sound seemed like it was a deer. I finally settled down behind a deadfall sitting on the ground right next to my dad. As the noises in the woods calmed I noticed two squirrels chasing each other up and down a big oak tree.
It was like magic, something had caught my eye about 30 yards away. As I slowly glanced to my right I saw a small six-point buck standing there. I thought to myself, how did I not hear that big bodied deer walking through the cold crunchy leaves. It was at that point I realized, deer make almost no noise when slipping through the woods. So as the deer approached I got ready. I got pointed in the right direction but the deer sensed something wasn’t right. The deer started to blow so he could get a better smell of what had alarmed him, but the wind is still in our favor. So the deer slowly approached but on high alert, and when he got to within about ten yards and looked the other way I slowly raise my bow up and drew back. BUSTED! The deer had me pegged. The buck stands there for what felt like five minutes but in reality it was less than 30 seconds. As the deer tried to play cat and mouse I think I’m good to let the arrow fly and the deer ducks my arrow at ten yards and runs off 30 yards and stands there. Over the next five minutes I watch this amazing deer stand there and try to figure out what just happened. I didn’t harvest a deer that year with my bow but I did the following. But what I have realized almost 25 years later is it isn’t about the deer you shoot, it’s not about the big bucks hanging on the wall, It’s about my first up close encounter that has me hooked into the outdoors. It’s about making a memory that is still so vivid in my mind. That’s bow hunting.
Eric Sincebaugh – Raleigh, NC