That's not your grandfather's bow and arrow – it's a compound bow, demonstrated by Chris Ghidinelli.
Photo by Linda Stansberry
Bow season opened Aug. 17, but unless you've been practicing since The Hunger Games came out, you would be better off leaving the bucks to more experienced marksmen.
"Bow hunting requires so much practice and dedication that if you picked up a bow today you might be ready by next year," says Fred Grundman, proprietor of Grundman's Sporting Goods in Rio Dell.
Strategy is crucial. While rifle hunters can aim their weapons from far enough away that their prey won't "wind" (smell) them, archers must stalk some of nature's flightiest creatures at close range.
"You're really working against his [the buck's] best instincts," says Grundman, "It doesn't matter how clean you are, if the wind shifts and he smells you, he's gone."
A clear shot at very close range is essential because merely wounding the animal might mean tracking it for miles through the brush as it "bleeds out" — a slow and miserable death.
Chris Ghidinelli, 32, recalls a similar mishap early in his archery career. He was using what he describes as a "crappy" bow and got in a poor shot, crippling the buck but not killing it. It got away. He mourns the lost antlers and meat, but most of all he regrets letting the animal suffer. To Ghidinelli's credit, it's his only lost buck over many seasons of hunting.
"I don't even aim now unless they're within 40 yards and I know I've got a good shot. I know some guys who claim they can get a good shot at 50 yards with a bow, but I can't."
This means more weekends coming home empty-handed than not, but Ghidinelli doesn't mind. He and many other hunters enjoy bow season more than rifle season. They cite the thrill of stalking the deer, of learning its trails and its habits, of seeing the bucks when they're still "in velvet" (toward fall the bucks lose the sensitive coating on their antlers and tend to "brush up," or spend less time out in the open). They love the adrenaline-enhanced moment when they're in close range to an animal that usually springs away at the first sign of humans.
Or, in the wry words of another hunter: "I love bow season! There's no gutting, no skinning, no clean-up, no hauling the carcass uphill."
In other words, none of the things associated with actually killing a buck.
Bow season closes on Sept. 8, so if you're good enough to go out, you probably already know the basics. But if not, here are some tips to get you ready for next year:
Seasons and Tags: Seasons vary from region to region. Archery season generally starts a few weeks before rifle season. Tags are pieces of paper you attach to the antlers of your buck. If you don't have them you can look forward to being cited for poaching. You'll need to buy tags for the region you'll be hunting in and the type of hunting you want to do. Some regions have a very limited number of tags and/or a lottery system for getting them (but not Humboldt!). Tags are sometimes transferable across regions, seasons and sports. Any reputable sporting goods store can supply you with the tags and a guide to when and where you can use them.
Equipment: Grundman recommends those new to the sport start with a compound bow, which provides more leverage than the traditional long bow. A compound bow may not resonate aesthetically — it is a camouflage plastic and metal hybrid bristling with levers, sighting devices and pure utilitarian purpose — but it requires only a fraction of the upper body strength needed for the long bow.
Consult more experienced hunters about other gear most appropriate for your skill level. Err towards safety rather than comfort. A bright orange may protect you from friendly fire. A camouflage bow may help you blend into the brush. A double-reinforced camping stool that attaches to the seat of your pants and unfolds to support your weight when you need to sit and wait for game is the sales clerk's down payment on his next ATV.
Where to Hunt: Some public land is open to hunters, but some of the best locations are on private property. Befriend your local rancher or shell out for a guided hunt. Never hunt on private land without permission!
Fleas, Ticks and Poison Oak: If you actually manage to bag a buck, get ready to deal with all the biting insects departing its hide for yours. Also, you're going to be dragging said buck out of the back country during the height of poison oak season, so stock up on Technu and calamine lotion.
Finally, we know some of you are thinking about this. Can you shoot that deer that's been eating apples from your orchard with a bow and arrow?
Hmm, technically that's not discharging a firearm within city limits, but don't go into this half-cocked. Regulations on urban archery vary from municipality to municipality, and also on how close you'll be shooting to your neighbor's house. Contact Fish and Wildlife to see what regulations apply to you. (Ghidinelli has given this question a lot of thought, and he hastens to add that a wounded deer can travel quite a ways, and the deer you shoot on your land might end up on your neighbor's lawn. Depending how your neighbors feel about venison, they might not be pleased.)
Linda Stansberry is from Honeydew. Unlike a panda, she shoots, eats and leaves.