Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why bowhunt?

This is a tough question. From vegetarian a few years ago to aspiring bow hunter, it's been quite a journey. For starters vegetarianism for me did not come from a desire to avoid hurting animals. I think that food is important, and I do not like how mass produced meat is produced. Once grass fed beef and pastured pork became widely available that resolved my reservations about eating meat.
Hunting is an extension of that to a degree. However, its significantly more than that. As I get older (and I am) I think more about where I've come from. There's less of where I'm going, going to happen so it makes sense to look back a bit more. My father, my grandfather, and his grandfather.. each successive generation has had more education, more technological knowledge, better pay, better health, and less skills with less. I hesitate to call them "primitive skills" but hunting, fishing, gathering of food from the land, building things with simple tools. We, the men in my family are far from unskilled. My dad is a skilled carpenter, welder, he is a good fisherman, and gun hunter. He's restored two classic cars by himself. Like I said he has a ton of industrialized skills, but my grandfather was better in the woods, better tracker, better hunter. My dad is no slouch in these regards, but I am. These kinds of skills connect us to our ancestors. From early tool using primates to (in my case) our grandfathers. If the deterioration of these kinds of skills continues; from my grandfather to my father, to me, to my kids. In a generation or two these skills will be completely lost. Some people do not see this as a loss, but as an improvement. I disagree. We are primates. No matter how we dress, or live. We are not different from the early hominids, we just have better tools. Any thought besides this is an affectation. A denial of our evolutionary history. As I get older I have a strong desire to reach back into my ancestry to grab hold of those basic skills and abilities and then to pass them down.
So those of you who are with me this far (Hi) may wonder why use a bow. If we are primates with sufficient technology, and that tech (guns and gun making) is not going away any time soon (even in the worst end of the world scenarios there will still be guns.. not everyone will have them but they will be around for at least a generation, maybe two in present form and building a muzzle loader with basic gear is not to difficult).
The first and most basic is comfort. I am comfortable shooting a bow. I have shot bows for a long time and I just like them better than guns.
Second reason is practice. If I am going to shoot a weapon at an animal I want to be 100% sure that I am well practiced. I won't shoot unless I'm sure, and the only way to be sure is to shoot. The places where one can shoot a gun regularly are very limited in my area. Bows can be shot anywhere with a safe backstop.
Third reason is cost. right now I have $350 in my rig, all I need are broad-heads and I'm good to go. I could go hunt small game right now. A rifle would be far more. I can practice the bow in my backyard, not so with the gun so that means time and range fees. Whats more I can re-shoot arrows, so the bow is cheaper by a mile. The bow also has the advantage of not needing to be swapped for different game. Deer? Elk? Turkey? different arrows, same bow. Poundage may need to be dialed up or down, but its the same gear.
Fourth reason is greater skill level required. You have to be closer. You have a smaller zone of lethality. You have a greater requirement for tracking. For someone interested in skill development (me) this has a higher appeal. Lastly its a challenge. The whole point in taking this on is that I currently do not posses the skills to do it. I have gone gun hunting for Turkey, deer, and small game as a kid. I haven't killed anything of note, but I have the understanding to build those skills already. So there's less of a challenge for me.
Fifth is simply that there are fewer archers in the woods. I will have to hunt public land out here. I don't want to get shot, I don't want to have to stumble over other people's hunt or worry about someone showing up to "claim their spot" in the woods. I just don't. Archery is a smaller population and the tags are easier to get.
Finally is the stigma and worry of "guns in the house." I live in Seattle. I will be very careful with locking up any guns and keeping them unloaded, and keeping the ammo separate and also locked up. However, out here there is the assumption that guns are guns, and homes with guns are unsafe for small children. I understand where this fear comes from. One just never knows who is intelligently managing their guns and kids and who isn't. Some folks out here have a scorched earth policy when it comes to any firearm in the house. It is simply a hassle I don't want or need. There are no guns in my house, but there are two bows and several arrows, one bow draws at 45 lbs the other at 65. Your child is in no danger from them. End of questions. 
None of this is to slag on gun hunters. Hunting with a firearm is not easy. I intend to make the transition to gun hunting eventually, but for right now the bow is what I really want to do.

Lastly a note on this blog. This is something I am putting a lot of time, money and mental energy in, so that's what I'm writing about. I realize this is a subject that is unappealing to some folks. Please know that I am not a trophy hunter, and I will not be posting pictures of dead animals to the blog. Also know that I have some jiu-jitsu projects in the works, so for folks reading for that stuff please stay tuned.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

In which I begin another quixotic persuit.

Hello gentle reader. It has been far too long. A lot of things have changed, and yet a lot of things have stayed the same. More on that later. Lets just jump right in with my latest passion/obsession/fixation.
In November, the Grizzly bear (aka my oldest child), having seen Brave, and Robin hood decides he wants a bow and arrow for christmas. I got my first toy bow around the age of 5. I consult with the wife and she's good with it. So my father (who bought me my first bow, and second bow) buy this for the Grizz. He loves it, and in teaching him to shoot I think fondly back on growing up shooting recurve bows in the back yard. I realize that I can backyard shoot where I live. The neighbours behind us have a good sized shed along the fence line so it is safe to shoot in our yard using the shed as a backstop. So I use some christmas $$ and on a lark buy a PSE Stalker, a few arrows, and a shooting tab.
Over the next month I start shooting not quite every day, but at least 3-4 times a week. It's a blast, and I get pretty good with it (inside of a 12" target anywhere within 20 yards or so). I start thinking about shooting small game, maybe going turkey hunting in the fall. I know that my good friend, and professor (the man who has awarded me each of my jiu jitsu belts) has been bow hunting for years. We start talking and he invites me to go hunt with him in the fall. Well hell.. Stuff just got real. While I'm pretty good with a recurve, I'm not going to shoot an animal with a weapon I'm not 100% sure is as accurate and quickly lethal as possible. So I head up to a local place to look at their archery range and talk to them about formal coaching. I also start trolling around craigslist for a used compound bow. Lets talk bows for a minute.
The bow on top is a recurve. It has the normal curve one would expect from a bow, and then the ends curve again to give a mechanical advantage to the bow. The draw weight depends on how far you pull it back. Pull back a little more and the bow bends a little further, and is harder to pull. Pull back less you get a little less, but there's no adjustment. You can see it's pretty simple. This particular one is designed to break down into three pieces, but beyond that bows like this have been used all around the world for a long damn time. It's made of wood. There are no sights (one can add sights but that doesn't make sense to me), the arrow simply rests on a shelf on the riser. One shoots this kind of bow instinctual. That is the same way one learns to throw a ball or shoot a basketball. You don't aim so much as point and stay consistent with how one draws and releases the bow. I have seen folks get really good with these, but consistently hitting a target at varying ranges takes a ton of practice, and I don't have the patience to get as good as I would have to be to shoot this bow at a living thing.
On the bottom is a compound bow (an old one, but a compound bow none the less). The limbs don't bend. Drawing the string spins a cam against cables that produce a tremendous amount of energy. The cam is designed to have a "let off" which is to say a 50lb draw with an 80% let off takes 50 lbs of force for the first 3/4 of the draw, but once you hit the let off point it only takes less force to pull it the rest of the way and only 10lbs to hold it at full draw. Makes it easy to pull back and hold while aiming, however one has to pull back to a specific length or either you won't hit the let off (if the bow is too long) or the string will actually stop (if the bow is too short). As such a compound bow needs to be fitted and tuned to the shooter. It has a sight in the string (called a peep) and a sight on the riser that one lines up with the target and as such one aims the bow more than simply shooting it (a massive oversimplification I realize but as good as I can do with the time and space allotted.. I may touch on this subject more later). Also a compound bow is generally drawn and released with a release, which is to say a mechanical device that clips to a loop tied to the string and that allows nearly instantaneous release of the arrow without any torque across the bow. It's smaller, heavier, more accurate and powerful than the recurve.
Ok, back to me. I head up to the range and pro shop. The guy I talked to was super helpful. He's also a traditional shooter who made the move to compounds. We talk releases, and keeping it simple (even the most basic gear is going to be such an improvement on what you're used to that you don't need to make it overly complicated). What's more they have a left handed bow on consignment. It's pretty old, but its a reasonably good brand, and It's long (I have crazy monkey arms for a guy my height, and as such draw longer than many bows on the market will adjust to, In other words I'm going to be luck to find a used bow at all. I try the bow, and it's a pretty good fit. Like I said it's old (best guess is 2008) but it's in good shape. I ask the guy to hold it till tomorrow. I talk it over with the wife, and go in the next day to buy it. I have been around compound bows my whole life, but have never shot one (lefty, and long. You cannot draw a compound bow across itself or it will 'blow up.') I have never used a release, I am a total newb that speaks the language, and what's worse the guy I was talking to the day before who knows that I don't know a damn thing wasn't there to slow things down and walk me through the fit of the bow. I got kind of left in the weeds by the guys that did "help me." I'm conflicted here. On one hand they were busy, and I was buying a fairly cheap consignment bow, but on the other hand I did drop $350 by the time I bought a release, arrows, and a couple accessories. So I'm simply choosing not to name or shame them. They weren't rude nor were they particularly helpful. So I will neither shame nor promote them. Fortunately I managed to get the bow basically dialed in (enough that I could do the rest myself) get a release purchased, arrows purchased and cut to length. Then I simply started shooting.
First part of that was figuring out the release. The picture above is similar to the release I'm using. The calipers connect to a loop on the bow string. The strap goes around my wrist, and you use that to draw the bow. The trigger releases the shot. It's very different from shooting fingers. I was having a hell of a time at first. The bow was misfiring. I didn't trust it. I was rushing shots and shooting like terrible. Turns out the release was set to a hair trigger, and was far to hot for the bow I was drawing. A couple turns of an allen wrench and suddenly I'm shooting considerably tighter groups. This is something none of the research I did before buying the bow talked about. Make sure the release you get is set correctly for the bow you're drawing. At best it's nerve-racking to shoot a release set too hot, and at worst dangerous. This may be obvious to people who have been using releases forever, for us greenhorns it was not. Once that was done I figured out my anchor point (a point or points on my face that I anchor my hand at full draw so that I create a consistent platform to aim from).
Once I was shooting tighter groups I started adjusting my sights. First I adjusted them at 10 yards. This was pretty simple as it's easy to shoot tight groups at 10 yards. Then I moved back to 20. For this I used a lot of patience. I'm not great. There are a lot of moving parts and I'm not terribly consistent, so I make sure that I get consistent data before I move anything. It's taken a while, but I feel good about where my sights are (for now). I'm just collecting data, and slowly dialling my sights tighter and tighter.
The last adjustment I made was just this morning. I have been having a really difficult time getting my bow hand in the right position. I've tried a bunch different things. Nothing has worked. I had an epiphany this morning. I loosened my bow sling (a wrist strap that allows the archer to be confident in a loose relaxed grip on the bow). The sling was keeping my hand too tight to the bow. Loosened up and my grip got right (well, better) and again.. better shooting.
This is a journey. I'm far from an expert, in fact, I'm just getting started. I'll keep you posted of progress. I shoot nearly every day in the back yard. 20 yards. Next mile stone is mid-April when I take the Washington state hunter safety course. Then it looks like fall turkeys. I'll walk you through shooting, education, buying gear, licensing and whatever else comes up.

*as an aside. I realize I'm making a massive number of generalizations about bows and other gear. There are a number of companies who have some really interesting designs that don't meet the above descriptions. This is a post and a blog about a beginner describing to people on the outside what things are and how they work. I will not respond to pedantry, however if I'm wrong, or anyone out there has advice, I'm all ears.

**I also realize that I'm very likely doing dumb stuff. That's kind of the point. I'm here to document the mistakes I make. Keep others from making them. I'm well enough educated to know that I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm trying, I'm learning, and I'm willing to admit those mistakes.