Mar 10, 2017

Change the Rules, Tools and Goal of the Game

This past archery season was awesome -- just like every other one I've experienced since 1972, when I first started chasing those wily critters with my 45 pound Ben Pearson recurve, cedar arrows and Fred Bear broad heads that were easy to sharpen.

The rules and tools were different then and so was the goal. Back then, ANY deer with a bow was a trophy and so every hunt was filled with excitement and the idea that you just might be the lucky one to arrow a deer -- any deer.

A lot can change in 40 years. Today, I primarily hunt with a compound bow that zings carbon arrows with razor sharp expandable broad heads that hurtle toward the target at more than 300 feet per second. Throw in a lighted sight, stabilizer, peep and a release, and today you pretty much have a complete weapons system. I believe this is one of the main reasons many hunters today only count a bow kill a trophy if it scores 125 or better and is entered into the Pope and Young record book. That's too bad, in my humble opinion. 

Back in the day, I would start practicing around June 1 and would fling roughly a zillion arrows downrange to make certain I was ready for the season opener. With today's equipment, I pull my bow out around the first of September and shoot about 10 arrows to get ready. Some of you may think that's irresponsible, but with today's equipment, I'm confident any of us can place an arrow in the vitals at 20 yards or closer with a minimal amount of practice. 

This past year I didn't have an opportunity to draw on a "Pope and Younger," but I was able to take a fat young adult doe one November evening while hunting with my dad. 

A few weeks later, after the nine day gun season, my brother, Joe, asked what my plans were for the upcoming weekend. I told him I planned to hunt our property in the hope that some does were entering their estrus cycles late and I'd have a chance at a late season rutting buck. I was dismayed when he said, "You know it’s doe only this weekend -- don't you?" 

I didn't know that and I wasn't too thrilled about it, either. I told him I wasn't interested in shooting another doe. He asked why, and I said, "I just didn't get that excited when I harvested the doe in November." So I told him I probably wouldn't hunt that weekend. But shortly after hanging up I thought, "What if I could hunt with the recurve? Would I then be willing to shoot another doe?" The answer was most definitely yes. 

That's when I decided to change the rules and tools of the game and subsequently the goal. Instead of hunting with my Matthews, I would see if I could become proficient with my old traditional equipment that I hadn't used in 10 years. I had only a few days before the weekend, so I decided to get busy right away. 

So I grabbed the Ben Pearson, the cedar arrows and the old leather quiver and headed out to my garage to begin my first round of much needed practice. I was all over the target those first 25 arrows, but by the end of that day I was routinely shooting nice “pie-plate” sized groups. By the end of the third day, I felt reasonably confident I could arrow any deer within 20 yards.

With a new-found sense of excitement I headed out to our land in Neshkoro for an evening hunt. Thirty minutes after climbing into my stand, I heard a twig snap, and a few minutes later, a fat doe stepped out upwind of me and feeding my way. And then I felt an adrenalin rush like I haven't felt in years -- all because I changed the rules, tools and goal of the game from shooting a large buck to shooting a deer, any deer, with the recurve. 

I wish I could tell you this particular hunt ended well -- but it didn't. I missed. Was I disappointed? Perhaps a little. But I can honestly say I was jacked up about the prospect of going back to my roots of traditional archery next year with cedar arrows and a recurve with no sights, stabilizers or anything else hanging off my bow, and back to a time when the sight of any deer got my heart racing and my adrenals pumping.

And then I realized I really don't have to wait until next year to spice things up a little as I could adopt this attitude for other outdoor activities as well.

Take turkey hunting, for example. This year I drew a permit for the first time period, April 19-25. I know from past experience that I have roughly a 100 percent chance of harvesting a gobbler with my Remington 870 -- if I sit long enough in one particular blind on one of our food plots. Seriously, I believe my chances are 100 percent, and to me that's the difference between killing and hunting. I just can't do that anymore. So this year I'm going to change the rules and tools of the game and also change the goal. If I do sit in the blind, I will take a bow, since I've never harvested a turkey with anything other than a shotgun or my truck. The goal will change, too, as I will be more than happy to harvest a gobbler, or even a jake, with my bow. If I do choose to hunt with the gun, I plan to "run and gun" and actually hunt a gobbler as opposed to sitting on my keister waiting to kill one.  

I think this attitude could be especially fun while fishing. I've had buddies go on and on about some awesome place in Canada they go to every year where they catch 100 or more walleye in a day. Seriously, one buddy told me that they anchor over a certain rock pile and straight-line jig 15 feet down, and EVERY time he lowers his jig he catches a walleye. No offense, but BORING.

This spring and summer I plan to come up with different rules, tools and goals each time I go fishing. Sure, the first time I go, my goal will be to catch a limit of walleye, probably trolling crankbaits or “slip bobbering” on Lake Winnebago. There are days when this is easier to accomplish than others because some days the walleye get lockjaw and they are tough for anyone to catch -- except for guys like my buddy, Lance Sweeting, who could catch a limit of walleye out of my toilet. 

On those days, I’ll use dynamite or nets or other methods to get my limit. Just kidding. I put that in there to jerk the chain of any DNR folks who might be reading Badger Sportsman. Seriously, one day I might go for a mixed bag and try to catch one largemouth bass, one smallmouth bass, one white bass, one yellow bass, one rock bass and perhaps a few bottle bass! Another day, I may take the cane pole and fish the channels for bluegills and crappies. Heck, another day, I may even set a goal of five sheepshead on a hand line.

Please don’t think that I think that all of you reading this have lost any passion for your favorite outdoor activities. I do not. I chose this topic primarily because I explained my feelings to several family members and friends after I shot that doe in November. I also explained my subsequent new-found excitement of changing the rules and the tools, and the goal, by stepping back to the traditional ways of bowhunting. What I found was that most everyone I talked to had felt similar emotions, at some point, about some activity they loved to do. 

So this spring, while turkey hunting, fishing or participating in any of the other countless outdoor activities our great state has to offer, try changing the rules, tools and goal of the game.

It just might fire up your adrenals and elevate your excitement to a level you haven’t experienced in some time.

Happy hunting and fishing!