By Robert Kennedy

I began my journey of woodsmanship by practicing feverishly with my recurve and tested my stalking and archery skills through the woods in pursuit of squirrels.

Time does not bless us with a path without difficulties, but more often than not, we find ourselves basking in victory at the end of our hardships. This same philosophical outlook can be applied to our hunting practices and the tools we use in trying to outsmart elusive wild animals.

In many ways, some of the most challenging hunts with the longest waits can result in a peak experience. The challenges we face leading up to and during the hunt make the successful instant more memorable than the moments that come quickly. One of the simplest ways to achieve these gratifying moments is the undertaking of archery hunting.

Hunting with a bow could be compared to fly fishing. While perceived as drastically different, but both share some poetic similarities. To be successful in either undertaking requires a commitment to time. Time spent practicing, time spent studying the prey and time spent tuning gear. Both share a foundation of mental fortitude in dedication to the process.

The solitude and quietness of archery hunting started for me at an early age. As many have experienced, before regulation changes, youth in Michigan could only start hunting at the age of 12. I began my journey of woodsmanship by practicing feverishly with my recurve and tested my stalking skills through the woods in pursuit of squirrels. In the beginning, squirrels undoubtedly evaded me with no concern; the foundations of becoming an efficient nimrod were established during every outing, though.

Instead of trying to achieve first success with a rifle or shotgun, my father and mentor encouraged the aspect of archery at a young age. Whether or not he intended to teach me philosophically or practically — hunting or life lesson — the effect remains.

The consuming scenario of archery hunting is a perfect segway into the eye-opening journey of hunting for youth and newcomers. With instant gratification always being reached for, the elegant simplification of patience and commitment are building blocks in molding one’s resolve.

The art of archery can deter people if there is a lack of determination. Even when using crossbows, hindrances and learning curves come with the methodology. Game animals need to be much closer comparatively to gun hunting, which means more time spent practicing is needed to become proficient. The knowledge of tuning equipment by oneself can be daunting and complex when first looking in from the outside.

Nevertheless, when we face difficulties head-on and overcome them, the accomplishment of success becomes even sweeter. But, today’s social networks and webs give us access to a web of eager conservationists willing to mentor us.

Kennedy practicers archery with his two young kids.

A groundedness in archery

Quiet mornings watching squirrels scamper through the mature oak trees out of harm’s way were my first tastes of patience and persistence. I so badly wanted to prove to myself that I could take a squirrel with my recurve, and after breaking into the last of my tween years, I was finally able to do just that.

The culmination of my first successful small game hunt and achieving it with a bow spurred on bigger aspirations of conquest. I continued practicing in the backyard night after night, trying to gain proficiency with my recurve bow. An accuracy objective was set forth by my father that I had to accomplish before I was allowed to hunt whitetail — after much honing, I was quickly able to meet that goal.

In pursuing my first deer, I faced the handicap of using my bow again. However, as the terminology implies negative connotations, I never found myself being at a disadvantage in my hunting journey. The ongoing preparation placed me in a mental mindset of youthful confidence. The only negativity that would find its way to me was a lack of patience, which came from taking naps on my father’s shoulder. Even then, my perseverance wasn’t tested throughout an entire season. I was able to shoot my first deer before the end of October. The preparation of honing my skills and the tests of patience helped immortalize the gratifying moment of shooting my buck alongside my father.

Daily, we are faced with roadblocks to success, and likewise, in our hunting journey, we come across many scenarios that keep us from achieving our goals. At a young age, becoming qualified with my archery equipment was my first obstacle along my hunting journey, with many hurdles to follow.

When conquering hurdles we face, we set ourselves up to achieve whatever goals we deem fit. This not only applies to skills needed in archery but also to our everyday life. Life does not grant us anything easy that is worth value, but the things of treasure we set our minds to achieving are sweet when they come to fruition.

In each hunting life span, we all face a different journey and level of accomplishment. In these experiences, the achievements that we make are all subjective. For some, archery will encourage a bond to the equipment and their skills with the tool used. For others, archery will perpetuate a groundedness to our ancestral lineages that used similar bows and arrows. Further, others find archery to be a calming method, often used as a form of meditation during practice and when afield.

Maybe it’s not so much the destination that archery takes us on, but rather it’s the vessel we use to traverse along our hunting story. With many possible paths to achieving our personal hunting goals, many more manageable devices can help us accomplish them. Then again, there is a lack of beauty when this story is easily written.

An archer waits for a turkey to cross in front of him for a shot

Archery rebirth

As we have our own hunting stories to write, archery has written its own throughout the ages. First used to obtain sustenance, it also provided war-time recognition. Gradually, the art form became drowned out as muskets and other inventions found their way into our ancestors’ lives, but it was beautifully reborn in recent times.

Arguably, the great Fred Bear revitalized archery as an efficient way of hunting back in the mid-1900s. Even more, in that same period, the Pittman-Robertson act in 1971 was revised to allow an excise tax on archery equipment in the name of conservation and wildlife restoration projects. The efforts brought forth by the passing of the tax were greatly encouraged by the late Fred Bear. An encourager of conservation and renowned hunter as he was, Fred was able to help catapult archery into the modern era as we see it today.

Without certainty, I believe Fred Bear felt much deeper about archery than just the thrill of a kill, and he proved that time and time again. Success with a piece of equipment may be a goal, but it is not the destination. It is only the tool we choose to use and navigate our hunting journey. Bear said, “A hunt based on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be… time to commune with your inner soul as you share the outdoors with the birds, animals and fish that live there.”

Modern-day archery equipment still encourages us to ground ourselves and become closer to nature. The process of practice and patience helps bolster our character. Quiet sitting while waiting for our prey gives us the opportunity for reflection and appreciation. And the skills we form along the way can be passed along in knowledge to new hunters and the youth in our lives.

The hardships we face in life and in our hunting excursions are similarly intertwined. What is the end goal that we fight through difficulties to reach in life? What is the destination we’re searching for every time we set forth on a hunt?

Instead of trying to chase a specific item or goal, we should allow ourselves to embrace the journey of highs and lows. Those who enjoy the journey go further than those who try to reach a specific destination. The gift of archery allows for our life stories and hunting adventures to be intertwined, strengthening our mentality and enhancing our composure during our existence.

As a reminder, there will be mandatory deer harvest reporting in 2022. Learn more about mandatory deer registration in a 2022 Michigan Out-of-Doors Fall 2022 article. You can also visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources webpage for more information.

About the Author: Robert Kennedy lives a jack-of-all-trades outdoor lifestyle. Kennedy believes that our role as humans is as the fulcrum in the healthy balance of nature and its inhabitants. He is the founder and creative director for Man Over Beast. Kennedy lives in St. Charles with his wife and children.