Pheasant Hunting With a Bow – Part 1: How I Met Ron

I was at the Bowhunters Unlimited (BHU) field course one day in mid-November 2012. It’s always good to get an early start practicing for next deer season and it was only eleven and a half months away.

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Dale on the BHU field course.

The field course has 32 targets and each presents a different scenario, at different distances and different elevations. The only common denominator is the shooter and his shot process so I was cycling through this mantra at each station, “Stance, grip, draw, anchor, calm, aim, settle, release.” Then repeat.

I’m not the most social guy so I like to get away from the crowds at the practice range and shoot by myself out there on the trail. It winds through the oaks (and poison oak) in the canyon bottoms and then through the grass and scrub on the hillsides above. There are often deer wandering about to add interest to the walk.

The path between targets 28 and 29 goes past the practice range. As I climbed up the hill I saw that a group of the re-curve and stick-bow guys were shooting together and laughing up a storm. They were bunched up, way too close, shoulder to-shoulder on the firing line. They were all flinging arrows in unison. At first it wasn’t clear why, but as I approached, I could see that they were tossing something into the air and then shooting at the flying targets! Five or six arrows were loosed at each one and, remarkably, to me at least, every few tosses one got hit. It was a rare enough occurrence that it brought out a cheer from the group but common enough to keep up their interest.

This clearly wasn’t a game for compound bows with sights. It didn’t fit the slow, controlled mantra. It was just, toss, draw and let fly.  Groan or cheer. Then repeat. There was no pause, no aim, and no calm as far as I could tell.

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The BHU practice range.

The guy at the middle of the group was the center of attention, no, of activity, like a queen bee with all the workers buzzing around him. He was tossing the milk jug targets, organizing shooters at the line, shouting encouragement, fetching back the jugs, loaning out flu-flus, and generally managing what might otherwise have been chaos.

Russ, one of the few in the group that I knew well enough to say, “Hey!” to, told me that Ron, the guy who was making this all happen, had planned a pheasant hunt for the following day and had organized this practice session to get the boys ready. He’d prepared the targets, (carpet, rags, foam and various other refuse stuffed into gallon milk jugs) and brought them on a stringer. He’d fletched up a couple dozen flu-flus and he brought his endless enthusiasm.

Ron hollered above the buzz, “Someone tell me when to toss it,” and a voice from the hive called, “Pull!”

He tossed a jug and half a dozen arrows flew. Most of the shafts passed within a few feet of the aerial target but none hit the jug.

Ron hollered out, “Who hit that? That was a touch! Someone got feathers on that one! Ready for another? Someone say pull.”

Toss, draw, release, repeat.

Ron was endless enthusiasm, optimism and encouragement. Every shooter got singled out.

“Dave, you got that one!” Even if he hadn’t.

“See Russ, it’s easier than it looks.” Even though it wasn’t.

“Allan, you’re a natural!” Even when he wasn’t.

“That one would have knocked a pheasant down!” Even when the fletching had just grazed the jug.

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The BHU crew shooting aerial targets.

He wasn’t beyond showing them how it was done either. With someone else tossing Ron hit more than his share of the flying trash.

“I’m gonna smoke this one,” he predicted. Then he did.

It didn’t take long before I was in his sights, “Do you want to try it?”

“No, thanks.”

“Common, it’s easier than it looks. Try it!”

“Compound,” I said, holding out my Matthews.

“Doesn’t matter. Friend of mine, in my movie, used a compound.”

I was thinking, “Movie?” but I said, “Wouldn’t really be safe with these darts.”

“Here’s some flu-flus, give it a try.”

How was I supposed to say no to this guy? He was just so enthusiastic it eventually rubbed off, even on me. So I gave it a try. But the muscle memory, built up through thousands of repetitions, instead of helping me, was the worst possible hindrance for this intuitive game. I was at full draw. I was calling “pull.” But I still couldn’t acquire the target until it was long lying still and cold on the ground. The first few tosses, I didn’t even release an arrow. There was no time for a solid anchor, settling in or aiming. The peep sight and the Spott-Hogg were just in the way. This was a new game altogether.

One of the other archers was a left-handed shooter like me and he let me use his re-curve. I finally let one fly and missed by feet, not inches. I wasn’t even close but at least I was shooting.

Ron said, “Did you hear that touch?” There had been a lot of daylight between my arrow and the jug.

Next toss he enthused, “If that had been a pheasant, you’d have killed it!” I had missed by a foot.

“See? It is easier than it looks.” It actually isn’t.

“Hey, you got that one!” I didn’t.

I couldn’t hit anything that day but I was intrigued. Ron had managed to plant the seed of an idea, a thought. I began to wonder if it really would be possible for me to shoot a flushing pheasant with a bow?  Then I admitted that I’d love to give it a try!

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