The Real Bow
Christmas came early for me this year. To be exact, it showed up on September 28, the opening day of the archery deer season in Texas. Besides having a successful hunt, I received a life lesson in values and ethics, and a renewed appreciation for time spent outdoors.
My best friend, Dale McCorkle, was an outstanding archer in high school. He won state in archery his senior year at San Angelo Central, and encouraged me to buy a bow. Money was tight, as usual, but my cousin had a used Bear recurve, and agreed to sell it to me for 30 dollars in 1980.
The Black Bear wasn’t much to look at. Black fiberglass over a white maple riser, it was as simple and basic as a bow gets. At 48 pounds it was technically a legal hunting bow for deer, but as a nineteen-year-old I considered it too light. I wanted a compound bow, and planned to use the Bear only until I could afford something newer, stronger, fancier.
Still, I killed a cottontail rabbit with the recurve, which was the first live animal I had managed to arrow. That rabbit, shot with a cedar arrow from an “inferior” bow, may have had more to do with my enjoyment of bowhunting than anything that has happened before or since. If I could hit such a small target, I reasoned, couldn’t I hit one as large as a deer?
Give a boy a deer and you feed him for a week. Give him a bow and you cause him to spend all his spare time hunting for years. Once I’d shot the rabbit, I was hooked.
Not that I was satisfied with the old Bear, of course. Dale kept telling me I needed a “real bow,” by which he meant a compound. In 1983 I managed to save up enough money to buy a PSE Vector, which was about as technologically advanced a bow as was available at the time. I shot the compound without sights, and after a lot of trial and error ̶ mostly error ̶ I finally managed to kill my first deer with it in 1987. I doubt the doe was any more surprised than I was when the arrow struck her.
A few years later I got a call from Ed McCorkle, Dale’s father, asking me to shoot with him in a traditional archery tournament. I raked the old Bear out from under a bed and began to familiarize myself with it again. Surprisingly, after a few shots, I was grouping fairly well with it. By the time the tournament was over I’d had so much fun I decided to sell the compound and go back to traditional equipment.
Not that I was satisfied with the Bear. I still wanted something faster and prettier, but now I began to eye Black Widow recurves and sleek, reflex/deflex longbows. Every time my shafts missed their mark I blamed the old recurve, instead of the guy behind it. If I could just get a better bow, I figured I’d be the Howard Hill of my generation.
A brand new, 55-pound Bear Kodiak recurve, with a gorgeous camo laminated riser came along a couple of years later, and in 1992 I had Pat O’Brien build me a truly custom longbow. Each in turn was sure to solve all my accuracy problems, make me the envy of my peers, and keep my ice cream from melting. Except it didn’t. The Kodiak arrowed my first deer with traditional equipment, and the O’Brien was the prettiest, smoothest, fastest thing I’d ever seen, but I still missed a lot. They were great bows, but the fellow shooting them wasn’t any better than he’d been before.
A shoulder injury in 2002 caused me to have to quit bowhunting, as I was unable to draw the Kodiak or the O’Brien. Thinking my archery days were over, I never considered hunting with the old Black Bear. Until this past summer, when a ten-point buck started showing up at one of my deer feeders.
With great misgivings I once again dragged the old Grayling Bear out and strung it up. I was skeptical of its promise, but more skeptical of my ability to shoot it accurately. I found my shoulder allowed me a few shots at a time, and I was still on target at close range. I decided I would only take a shot if my prey were less than ten yards away. Any farther and my chances of wounding a deer without killing it were too great.
As I sat in my stand on opening day and watched the ten-point buck make his way alertly toward me, I felt the excitement I’d missed for over a decade. It seemed to take longer than ever to slowly and quietly press, aim, and release, but the cedar arrow flew true, and as I waited to allow the buck time to die, some does came wandering in, and I pushed my luck to the limit.
The opening of the 2013 bow season was a banner day. Just getting to bowhunt again was a fine thing in itself, but I also took the largest buck I’ve ever killed, and a doe 16 minutes later, with the first bow I ever owned, a bow I had long considered inadequate for hunting.
We make our own opportunities in the outdoors, and although there’s nothing wrong with new ideas, sometimes the old work just as well. I had a “real bow” all along, and just didn’t realize it.
I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas. I was blessed with far more than I deserve.
Contact Kendal Hemphill at