Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oh, now I've gone and done it - I got a bow!

I've been putting off getting a bow for a couple years now.

Holly! I'd yell at myself. You've spent literally thousands of dollars on guns. Howzabout you get good at shooting them before you buy another weapon?

I had myself totally convinced, which was a great way to avoid further hunting-induced hemorrhaging in my wallet.

But then I got on this weird kick: My new workout is a rigorous-but-fun hike through the woods. Then I realized on one of those jaunts that my trajectory into the world of hunting had followed a totally unnatural course: Decide to start hunting, buy gun, take hunter safety class, take shooting lesson, then hunt.

That's like the nature equivalent of getting a mail-order bride! The right way to do it, I now feel, would've been allowing myself to get to know the land, falling in love with it, slowly honing the skills I need to live with - and off of - it, and then hunting.

I got deep into Step Two as a child before my life took a turn for the urban. But these weekend jaunts have gotten me feeling like I'm picking up where I left off as a kid. And that was my inspiration.

Ah ha! All I need to do is pick up where I left off. When I was a kid, my parents got me a cool little recurve bow that I had tons of fun with, just shooting targets. Why not do that again with an adult-sized recurve bow? I mean, why not have fun with it?

I don't have to push myself into getting a bow that requires more strength than I have, just so it'll be good enough to hunt with. I don't need to worry about spending $600-$700-$800 on a compound bow to increase my odds of success in the field. And I don't have to pressure myself to master the bow in time for the next archery season this summer.

Yep, I can just have fun. What a concept.

So after I got my tax refund and tithed most of it to MasterCard, I held back a little to get myself a bow and a little archery gear.

I didn't know squat about archery, so I found a local archery shop - Wilderness Archery in Rocklin - went there after work Friday and told them what I wanted to do.

They took a few key measurements - draw length (27"), pull (25 pounds) and budget ($200-300) - and steered me to the PSE Razorback. It's a takedown bow, which will allow me to replace these short limbs with longer ones to gradually ratchet up my pull strength.

I also picked up six arrows cut to my size, a bag target and some basic accessories, and that was it - I was on my way.

Of course, by the time I got home with my new toy, it was dark. But Saturday morning I was ready to go.

I set up the bag maybe 15-20 yards from my back porch and let 'er rip.

Definitely not a prodigy.

But I actually hit the bag with three of my first six arrows - not bad given that I don't know what I'm doing and my bow doesn't have sights on it.

In my second round, I lost one of my arrows. Despite the fact that they have pink fletching. Yeah. The problem is that my "backstop" is the bottom 10 yards of our property, which we let grow wild to provide habitat for little things.

That means there's about five years worth of a soft mat of dead grass with this year's new grass punching through it - VERY easy to lose arrows. Oh yeah, did I mention a lemon-orange tree with lots of rotting fruit underneath it?

Yeah, my arrows that miss the target often slice through decaying oranges, which makes them just a bit sticky. Oopsie!

I've looked and looked and looked for that missing arrow, but I'm pretty sure that if I find it at all, it'll be with the weedwhacker. Sigh.

Fortunately, I'm having way too much fun to get upset about a silly little arrow.

Part of me is excited to connect with an ancient and vital skill that doesn't require advanced technology. I don't necessarily believe that our civilization is on the verge of collapse, but if such a thing were to happen, I'd like to have some decent survival skills - something to fall back on after all the ammo runs out.

Part of me is happy to have a weapon I can shoot in my back yard. I sure can't shoot my guns here in the 'burbs, but I can get out there with my bow every day - no driving. (Yeah, we wonder why an increasingly urban society has a decreasing number of hunters? Let's talk about all the crap I have to drive to and pay for just to maintain basic skills. Dammit, I want to live in the country.)

And part of me is just happy as hell to be doing this the right way. I'll hunt with a bow when I'm damn good and ready. I won't be rushing this one. I'm going to enjoy the journey.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Erik Jensen said...

Cool ! As someone who's become pretty intense about bowhunting but non-purist about it (I still hunt a lot with firearms), I'd say your last comments are one of the most attractive aspects of archery for urban residents. In Minneapolis, the city parks have at least two archery ranges, and you can maintain basic skills in your basement in the winter months. Contrast that to the inexpensive gun club I'm a member of, I have to drive 40-45 minutes to get to it.

Shewee woman said...

Wow, it's like you took the words out of my mouth. I am so jealous. I have looked at bows so many times but I just can't justify it at the moment. But..... the fact that you can shoot in your backyard is great.
I may have to take the plunge soon too. If for nothing else, the exercise in the back yard would be fun.

Congrat's Holly, can't wait to hear about your hunting adventures when you are ready.

Anonymous said...

You have figured out what it is all about Holly! It is so terrific to read yet another story from you and to hear you coming to clarity. It all fits doesn't it? Each piece brings all things closer to being together. You are going to become so much MORE connected when you are out there with that bow!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Brava! Like just about every other hunter (I suspect), I've thought about bow hunting. To be able to practice without leaving home, and without spending money on ammunition, is very appealing.

One of the things that has given me pause is a concern that I'm not strong enough to be an effective bow hunter. I'm not a sissy, but I see the difference between my upper-body strength and my husband's, and I worry that I couldn't pack the wallop required to take an animal down properly. Yet women do bow hunt -- how much of an issue is it?

Phillip said...

Congrats, and 'bout time!

Wait 'til you can carry your bow on a jaunt (where legal), and you can stop and shoot at pinecones, sticks, funny clumps of grass... well, it's called "stump shooting", but you'll find yourself shooting at all sorts of odd things and at all sorts of ranges. It's not only great practice, but it's a lot of fun.

Two words, though... judo points! You won't lose nearly as many arrows.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Nice choice - that bow is going to be so much fun

Barbara Baird said...

I was wondering when you were going to take the plunge, after seeing how well you did at Team Huntress in SD, and how crazy you were about the old-fashioned bows! Like the photos, and happy that you are not wearing some low-rise jeans. ;)

Bobby Nations said...


You have gone and done it now! Don't be surprised if you find yourself shooting firearms less and less and gravitating toward the arrow flinger more and more. There's something very, very satisfying about watching your arrow fly to the target that is pretty difficult to replicate with a gun. Plus, it's a lot more quiet, and the neighbors don't complain as much.

My yoga teacher wife asked me last year why I spent so much time out in the backyard practicing with my new bow, and the closest that I could come to explaining it was that it had become like a form of meditation for me. Of course, being a guy, the first answer was "It's fun!". She wasn't complaining, mind you, because 30 minutes with the stick and string before supper magically erased that day's work related stress, which meant less frustration "shared" with her and the kids :-)

I've since gotten my son and daughter shooting as well (their first 3D tournament was last weekend -- huge success, big smiles all around). And, I have been eye-balling a bow for my wife, who doesn't want to be left out of all of the fun.

BTW, a metal detector can help you find aluminum arrows in the tall grass. Backstops can be as simple as a couple of square bales left over from someone's halloween decorations, but I wouldn't fret too much about lost arrows. I just found one that had been missing for over 6 months, and it's still just as shootable as it was the day that it went missing (*cough* wind took it *cough).

P.S. That's pretty darned good form for someone who just took up the hobby this week. Keep up the good work!

jryoung said...

Awesome. A bow is on my short list, but things just keep coming up (like that Leica Rangefinder that I totally needed). I just bought a house on a little over an acre with bow opportunities galore I just need the goods.

Hopefully soon, I can't wait.

The Hunter's Wife said...

Did you say oopsie?

Congratulations on getting a new bow. With all the hunting Mark does, he'd rather bow hunt. He was looking to get a new muzzleloader this past fall, but decided to upgrade the old bow. And please don't ask what he got, I wasn't paying any attention. ;)


NorCal Cazadora said...

Erik: It is SO LIBERATING practicing at home!

Shewee woman: Basic recurves aren't too expensive, and it's just really fun.

Outfitterlife: You nailed it. This has totally been a journey toward clarity.

Tamar: That's always been my concern too. With a 25-pound pull, I could not kill an animal with my bow, and I would be grossly irresponsible if I tried. I hear the minimum pull for hunting is 40-45, and that was the stopper for me - how many bows can I afford to buy working my way up to something huntable?

But that's the beauty of this bow - I can replace the limbs with longer ones, which will translate into bigger pull.

But when I got it, I asked the guy how long it would take to work my way up to a tougher bow, he said, "If you practice a lot? Three weeks."

LOL, so in three weeks, I could be going back for new limbs. But I think my strategy is going to work on developing accuracy with this bow before moving on to something tougher. First things first!

Phillip: Judo points? Looked em up - hilarious! I love it! But I still think I'm just going to weedwhack my backstop. The rodents will have to make do with a bit less.

And on that "where legal," I checked and confirmed that I can't carry my bow where I do my jaunts (and even if I could, the rich people who live atop the hills would doubtless think I was a poacher). But yeah, I can't wait to find a place where I can really walk around.

SBW: Thanks!

Babbs: Yeah, Team Huntress was when I first decided I wanted to do archery, but I talked myself out of it. And amen on the jeans - but if I was wearing low-rise jeans, I wouldn't have run that picture.

Bobby: "It's fun" is NOT the wrong answer, as Phillip has taught me. We hunt and shoot because it's fun, first and foremost. Defining why it's fun is the challenge.

I think my arrows are graphite, so only the tips are metal. I'm flabbergasted that I can't find the thing. I even looked in the branches of the tree!

JR: Embrace the fun! A whole acre gives you a lot of room to practice - we've just got a quarter acre.

Jody: LOL, I probably did not say "oopsie" at the time.

David J Blackburn said...

Wilderness Archery! My favorite! I keep forgetting your NorCal Cazadora. Kinda freaks me out when you talk about things so close to home.

Recommend having "practice/small game" arrows and "big game" arrows. Get points that weigh the same.

hodgeman said...

Bravo! Combine some stump shooting with your training hikes and have a ball!

Albert Quackenbush said...

Congrats on joining the clan of the stick and string! That's awesome that you are starting out slow and methodical. Super stoked to hear all about your trials and tribulations with you new found friend. PSE makes a great bow (I shoot a couple myself) and I am sure you'll grow to be quite adept at hitting that target!

Mark said...

Congratulations, Holly! I had a similar progression into archery as yours, and let me tell you, it has been a slippery slope. Being able to shoot in your yard is a huge plus!

@shotgunner said...

Hi Hollie

Very nice stuff about your bow. Terrific, you have not enforced and artificial deadline for hunting with it this summer. You are so right you can relax, enjoy and get good. Then hunt. Maybe this year, or next.

May I offer some tiny bit of advice? Try getting a pair of small kettlebells. Unless you are already very strong, 22 pounds or so. Kettlebell training and bow training are twins. Total mastery of the shoulder muscles. If you decide to go this route, I'll be happy to recommend three exercises that will totally strengthen your shoulders for your new quest.

Josh said...

A little tear just shed from my eye upon realizing you bought a recurve... a tear of joy.

You won't want to buy a sight, I think, especially if you are hitting your target 50% of the time right off the bat. It sounds like you are a natural with instinctive shooting.

I can't wait to get out there and practice with you!

NorCal Cazadora said...

David: I'm gonna wait a while on big-girl arrows. I mean big game arrows ;-)

Hodgeman: Can't wait! Wish my bow was allowed where I hike, but it's a state park.

Albert: I hope so!

Mark: I will not become obsessed I will not become obsessed I will not become obsessed...

Shotgunner: Kettlebells! Never heard of 'em. But I have resumed a modest home weight regimen. I'm especially interested in trying to keep both sides of my body as balanced as possible in terms of muscle size and strength.

Josh: I still might end up hunting with a compound some day. But it's part of my post-apocalyptic obsession to gravitate toward things I could possibly replicate in the absence of modern machinery.

Interesting about the sight. I found a couple years ago - at the Team Huntress event Barbara mentioned - that I'm a decent instinctive shooter. I was hitting moving targets by the end of the day, and I definitely did better on instincts than trying to aim.

But I'd like to do better than 50 percent, especially given that my ultimate goal will be to hunt with a bow someday. What's the disadvantage of getting sights?

And yes, can't wait to practice with you too!

bill said...

I didn't mean that 50% meant you should go hunt bison... just that it sounds like a good start.

The disadvantage of a sight is getting the animal to stand still while you put the little red dot on it and pace off 15 yards from it... really, though, you can only use a sight if you are shooting with your bow perpendicular to the ground, so it limits the benefits you get from shooting with a recurve (the ability to shoot while crouching, kneeling, leaning, etc.) It also tends to make you rely on a very consistent draw (which can be a good thing, but not always).

Angela Kingshill said...

Holly you've got to check out the archery range in Pacifica. Owned by S.F. archers. They have a couple of hiking trails to shoot your bow. It's really neat. There's an 80yrd shot over part of a lake. But maybe with more practice. Also, check out the range in Davis. They have neat trails in the trees and cool events all the time. (Yolo something)
I have a long bow and I love it! I don't use any sights on mine and surprisingly i shoot pretty well. I love the simplicity of my long bow. Congrats to you! It's neat to see your own arrows with gnarly broad heads on them.

Josh said...

Woops, I'm Josh, not Bill (wrong sign-in)!

Josh said...

Also, yes, the South Bay ranges are very awesome. I think it's the Yolo Bowmen who have the nice range in Davis, though I've never been. There are also folks up in the foothills, I believe. Wilderness Archery folks will know.

Anonymous said...

First, thanks for your blog. I'm a childhood hunter who only recently returned to it- more or less 25 years later, and I've really enjoyed hearing about your experiences. I guess I'm a mix of the ideal you have of learning as a child (I started following my father and grandfather on our land when I was about 4), and teaching yourself as an adult, so your posts really resonate with me.

I notice you shoot left handed, but seem to remember that you're right handed, with a left dominant eye. Same as me! While my rifle shooting is probably too established to change, I'm curious how has learning to draw with your "weak" hand been. I wonder because I've always wanted to shoot a bow, but have been concerned about which side to shoot on, strong arm or good eye.

Neil H.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I'm curious about your technique too. One eye like a rifle or both eyes (instinctive) like a shotgun?


NorCal Cazadora said...

Bill-Josh: No bison yet? Phooey! But thanks for giving me a reason not to buy sights. Hadn't thought about the ranging thing (buy sights AND a rangefinder).

Angela: That sounds cool! And I'd love to spend some time in Pacifica this summer when it's 110 here in Sacramento.

Neil: I'm fairly ambidextrous (e.g., I use a right-handed mouse at work and a left-handed mouse at home). I think for archery specifically, it's a huge benefit for me to use my left hand because I have arthritis (had it since I was 30!) and ground zero is my right index finger, which looks gnarly as an old oak.

All the advice I've gotten is to shoot (shotgun, rifle, bow) with the dominant eye if it's possible. Given that I've done very little archery before now, I'm not retraining my brain to go lefty on this - it's just the way I'm doing it.

SBW: One eye. As with shotgun, I should know my range before I draw, so I can afford to lose depth perception at the moment I shoot. My problem is that my weak eye is actually pretty strong, and it wrecks my sight picture, so I have to close it. (I do that for shotgunning too.)

Al Cambronne said...

I'm inspired. I'd been thinking of someday getting a compound bow and trying bowhunting. Big cost of entry--bow, accessories, treestand and/or ground blind... Easily $1000 or $1500.

But a basic recurve, a dozen arrows, and a summer of fun... Priceless.

Phillip said...

Couple notes... just following along.

First, judo points are for stump shooting, not for practice in your backyard. You'll generally find more accuracy with fieldpoints (and later with broadheads), but judos are great for not getting lost when you're strolling in the woods. They play hell on small game too, when the time comes.

I strongly, strongly advise getting a rangefinder when you're ready to start hunting. I know, it flies in the face of "traditional", but you'll be amazed at how often you misjudge a shot... and even without sights, a couple of yards can be critical. You'll also be amazed at how different 20 yards can look in different situations, especially with the adrenaline in high gear.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And what's your position on sights?

GSP Russ said...

Arrows snake into the grass and are often found firmly against the ground and under the basest (sic) part of the grasses. It's amazing how really close to the dirt they are and how firmly they are held there by the vegetation. I've scalped grass off with the mower and still couldn't find them.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Y'all are welcome to start a pool on when I find my arrow...

I've also lost the cheapo flap of leather that passes for shooting-hand "glove." Hit three stores tonight to see if I could replace it without heading up to Rocklin and all they had was cheapo flaps of leather made useless by some plastic thingie that made them right-handed.

Oy! I'll get this stuff down eventually.

Longbow Lass said...

Get some hay bales for a back stop help with arrow losses. Try moving closer too, move back when you are consist in putting arrows in area of a paper plate.
shoot those 25 lb limbs for a long time to learn form, before movin up, I shoot a 32lb recurve competitively, its the weight of the arrow that you can change and still be comfortable drawing back weight.
sights are to archery what a rifle is to shotgunning. Learn to call your own yardage, its instinctive shooting, hand eye coordination, most of all have fun!

Galen Geer said...

I really enjoyed bow hunting in Colorado but I haven't been able to do it up here and because my wrists were losing so much strength I had to give it up. I'm really jealous of you but have a blast. You'll find it is really intense hunting. Well, unless you sit in a cave and wait for the game then it is boring.
Have fun!

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


I urge you to try instinctive (both eyes) I was amazed at the difference it made, also the woman who taught me target archery insisted on the bow being perfectly upright, the guy who showed me instinctive said 'wherever it ends up when you pick it up, start from there' it was amazing totally changed my outlook and shrunk my group size by 75% on the first day.

Happy shootin'

NorCal Cazadora said...

Longbow Lass: Good idea! My suburban is just semi-rural enough that I might be able to find some hay bales around here (lots of horsey people w/5-acre lots).

Galen: I'm pretty sure that arthritis will take me out of the mix some day, but I'm going to keep plugging away until it does.

SBW: I tried both ways this weekend and consistently did better with my right eye shut. (And it's interesting, but the online archery guide I found didn't mention eyes - that's why I tried both ways.)

I'll try both eyes open every once in a while just to check, but I suspect I've already found what works for me.

Josh said...

Holly, see what you've done? If you thought people were opinionated with guns, now you've tapped the Tribe of the Bow, with its in-laws and outlaws.

Here's my one piece of advice: Draw the bow with your back (that's a safety issue).

For everything else (from nock placement to draw to rangefinders, etc.), do what works for you. If you can accurately hit your target, you are doing it right. It pains me so to say it, but do what works for you.

Half the fun of archery (not just bowhunting) is learning just what works for you.

NorCal Cazadora said...


I've been aware of those divisions,and I'd really, really like to avoid the internecine battles of archery. I didn't buy a recurve to prove I'm "more traditional than thou" - I bought it because I could afford it and I believe it will help me learn important skills and because I appreciate simplicity.

SimplyOutdoors said... you've crossed to the dark side, Holly. And I mean that in the greatest way possible.

I love guns, but there is just something different about shooting a bow; it gets inside you, and you can't ever let it go!

I shoot a compound now, but I learned to shoot on a recurve. It's a blast, and I would love to shoot traditional again one day.

And...dammit....I want to live in the country, too.

Phillip said...

Holly, I love the sights on my compound. They drastically improve consistency at the target which translates to a big increase in confidence. If you'll remember, the two biggest reasons I switched to compound for hunting were that lack of consistency and a devastated confidence.

For the recurve or long bow, a sight and even a release actually can provide drastic improvements in your consistent accuracy... but adding those things to a trad bow really seems to go against the whole idea. There's no question that a hunter can get good and consistent with trad shooting, and that discipline and constant practice are part of the "Art of the Bow" that is the real allure of traditional shooting.

Like me, you're coming to bowhunting ass-backwards. Most of the bowhunters I know started with compounds and all the gizmos, and then trimmed down and upped the challenge by going trad. Starting out with the trad bow is the ultimate handicap, but it's a ton of fun and very rewarding. It will, in my experienced opinion, make you a much better bowhunter whether you stick with traditional tackle or switch to compounds later.

Oh... and if you're looking for hay bales, ask around at local horse barns for hay that's been wet. They won't (shouldn't) feed it to the horses because it can develop a toxic mold. You should be able to get these cheaper than premium hay. The other option is to check the local home and garden shop for bales of landscaping straw. I have some other suggestions for backstops, but this is turning into a magnum opus.

NorCal Cazadora said...

"It will, in my experienced opinion, make you a much better bowhunter whether you stick with traditional tackle or switch to compounds later. "

That's exactly what I'm hoping. I'm definitely keeping the door open, but I vividly remember your post about dropping the recurve for a while to see if you couldn't get some success with the compound.

I'm still on the fence about sights. I might just get as good as I can without them, then add them and see what that brings to the table. If I'm better at instinctive, great! If not, then good to know. When the time comes to sling an arrow at an animal, accuracy is more important than doing it the hard way for the sake of pride.

Nate said...

Great news! I took up trad bow shooting last year, and love it. I found a Martin Hatfield Takedown recurve, and have really enjoyed shooting it. Have not connected with a deer yet, but hopefully this fall. One huge recommendation/suggestion - find a group of local trad bow shooters and shoot with them often. Let them teach you, and take notes. One thing that was recommended to me after shooting with some local trad bow guys was to get my shooting hand back further - the fletching should just about be touching the tip of your nose. Bring your hand back to the same spot on your face each time, but the fletching should be right on your nose. You will not get the full power from the bow otherwise.

Have fun with it!


Josh said...

Since Phillip weighed in, I guess I will, too. I find that sights greatly improve confidence at the range, but lead to less confidence in the field (how far is that thing?). They also require you shoot from one position (typically with the bow perpendicular to the ground). I don't know about releases with a recurve, because I've never tried it, but I do like the ability to vary my nock point (sacrilegious, I know).

You might find a good middle ground - sights for big game, but some form of non-sight shooting (gap shooting, like me, or instinctive) for smaller game/birds, where a quicker shot is needed, and it comes with less of a chance for wounding.

Mbeck said...

This is a great road that you have decided to travel down. Read everything that you can. Shoot as much as you can. You will then easily decide what type of archer you are.
Bare Long Bow? High tech tricked out compound?
There is no right way!
Diamond Edge is a cool adjustable bow
25# TO 50# that will get you in the woods for under $300.00