One With The Bow

Archery.  A practice I’ve enjoyed well over 25 years; as a competitor, a hunter, and just for the sheer fun of being around people who enjoy aiming at a target and hitting it.  Anyone can shoot the bow.  Anyone, whether you’re 5, or 95 years old.  YOU can shoot a bow.  There is no age limit for the stick and string.  No arduous strength requirements, except for those we unnecessarily place on ourselves.

Simply pick up the bow.  Place the arrow.  Draw the arrow back, aim, and let go.  A series of steps that can become…dare I say….addictive?

It’s time to prepare for this year’s hunting season.  Time to make sure my gear is tuned, and most importantly, that I am in tune with my bow.

Being a confident archer requires knowing as much as you possibly can about your instrument.  I know my bow, and body well.  Years of conditioning, years of shooting 120 arrows a day, 5 days a week and tournaments on the weekends.  Picturing bulls-eyes on the ceiling in bed at night.  Thinking perfect shot placement.  Shooting with my eyes closed at an empty bale at 7 yards.  To shoot well, is to have perfect form.  Become one with the bow.

I can close my eyes, feel the bow in my hand and be aware if it is resting too high, too low, or fitting just right to my small hands grip.  When I go through my mental checklist, I open myself to be conscious of how I’m standing.  Are my feet slightly apart, at the correct angle to the target?  Hips over the feet, weight slightly forward, standing tall, shoulders down.  Holding the bow straight out from my body like a capital T, I feel for the correct posture and stance.  There it is.   Elbow out, slightly bent, loose grip on the handle.  Nock the arrow onto the string, gently placing it onto the arrow rest.  One finger above, two below the arrow on the string, fingers locked into positioned as though they are curled extensions of my hand and arm.  My arm, an extension of my back.  My back, the source of my power.   Deep breath in, exhale and squeeze the shoulders together– drawing the bow back.  I am at full draw.

With my eyes closed, I methodically recall the specifics of where things are when I am at full draw, and go through the checklist of where they should be.  Where the string touches my skin at full draw.  How my peep aligns to my eye.  Are my fingers wrapped around or clinging to, the string?  Is my bow hand relaxed?  I calmly breathe, noticing nothing but where things are at full draw.  Elbow slightly bent, shoulders squeezed together, I should be able to hold this position for a very long time.  It could take a while for the deer to step into perfect shot placement range.  I open my eyes.  I can see a perfect sight picture from the peep, to the sight pin, to the target.   I am an extension of the bow.  There is nothing more but the arrow, and the destination.  Pin is on the target.  Holding steady on target until it’s time to release the string.  Feels comfortable.  Feels balanced.  Feels right.  Wholeness.   Emptiness.  Nothingness.

Release the string.

Into the center of the target!

I was no different than anyone else when I first shot a bow.  I fought with every shot, trying to put arrows in the center of the target.  Archery frustrated me.  Sometimes I hated it, especially if other people saw me shoot poorly.  The harder I tried to make things happen, the less they did.  It wasn’t until I completely changed my approach, closed my eyes, and listened to very wise coaches that things finally changed.

Archery is all about meditation, actually.  Archery can provide a zen-like state of mind if you let it.  If you allow the practice to work its magic, everything around you will disappear as you shoot the bow.  Repetition, doing everything exactly the same, every single time, becomes so much more than a learned habit.  It becomes a natural part of you, found and reinforced in meditation.  All that will remain is your breathing, the arrow and the destination.  There have been many days I couldn’t wait to get to the indoor range so I could relax from a busy workday.  Escaping into archery, practicing perfect form tunes out the people, the chatter, the activity, and brings me to the center of my breath, much like Yoga.

Not bad for the first day of practice!

Not bad for the first day of practice!

And now as I prepare for Septembers season opener, I realize how much I’ve missed this feeling.  It has been some time since I last drew my bow.  Am I able to bend at the hips to take an uphill or downhill shot without altering my form? What if I have many more layers of clothing on—how will that change my shot?   I will set up many shooting scenarios in the next few weeks, to awaken and remind me of everything I have engrained into my form.  Nothing will be left to chance.  It’s all there, waiting to come back.  As I draw the arrow across the rest, I feel that confidence.  I feel that peaceful confidence, I’m melting into the bow, becoming the bow. I am an extension of the bow.  Picturing the perfect shot placement.  The arrow and the destination.  The target.  The bulls-eye.  The fall harvest.  Tenderloin venison steak.

My self-imposed  rule as a bowhunter is to be more than 100% ready physically, technically, and emotionally to step into the field and harvest my quarry.  My rule as a conservationist is to do my due diligence, hunt and dispatch my game legally, quickly and ethically.  My rule as a spiritual person is to always be thankful for what has been presented to me and my family, never taking life for granted, or more than what I need.

SONY DSCArchery as it relates to hunting brings me to an astounding realness in the wild. The combination of my abilities as an archer and my abilities as a hunter, manifests an experience well beyond the expectation of fair chase.  Tuning into the softest step crunching the leaves, tuning out any thoughts of work or friends or expectations at home.   Noticing the circling crows above and the flattened grass trail to the swamp.  Finding that funnel where the bucks run through, flanked by a scrape and rub line.  The feeling of being watched, the surprise of a rogue squirrel.   I cannot imagine not being able to spend time in the woods filling this insatiable drive to be as one with the earth, and, one with the bow.

 

 

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