Pheasant Hunting With a Bow – Part 3: Dale’s Turn

I first met Ron at the Bowhunters Unlimited range in November of 2012. He had been organizing a pheasant hunt for a group of re-curve and stick-bow shooters and was tossing aerial targets for them to practice.

By the end of that year we’d hunted together a handful of times at Hastings Island Hunting Preserve and I’d witnessed him knock down a handful of birds too. I’d caught the bug and wanted to give it a try myself.

I’ve always found joy in the hunt regardless of whether or not I’m successful but this challenge had really grown on me. The seed that had been planted back in November was now in full bloom.

The next time we went out, I had a bow of my own. Evan had sold me one of his older bows, a Samick Deer Master take-down. It offered a light 40# draw weight that would be perfect for pheasant and just right for a beginner like me. Ron had some extra flu-flu’s that he was willing to donate to my cause. I made a quick stop at Archery Only for a shooting glove and some judo points and I was ready for my first pheasant bow hunting adventure.

Samick Deer Master 60″ 40# take-down re-curve

Ron started the day with his usual enthusiastic optimism, “You’re going to be knocking them out of the sky now!”

“I don’t even know how to string this thing.”

“I’ll show you the trick.”

“But I’ve hardly ever even touched a re-curve.”

“Don’t worry about it, you’re a natural.”

“We’ve got no shotgun backup today.”

“We don’t need no stinking backup!”

By then Ron knew that I’m only, at best, an average shooter with a shotgun, but he was still pumping me up as a natural with a tool that has to be ten times more difficult. It was hardly likely that there would be any happy ending that day. But Ron is Ron and his optimism and encouragement were flowing freely.

As it turned out, we had a great day, maybe the best of the year. Ripley was on fire and the birds were holding. He’d point and we had time to walk up and be ready when they would finally get nervous enough to bust up out of their cover. We had birds flushing around us all day long. I managed to fling quite a few arrows but most often they would just fall off of the rest in the excitement. When I did get a shot off it was usually far too late. We’d joke about how slow the big, lumbering, pen-raised roosters were but regardless, they were all long gone by the time I had the bow drawn and the string released. The arrows that did fly followed the abbreviated arc that the flu-flu fletching dictated and fell far behind the escaping birds.

The first few times that Ripley pointed, Ron let me do the shooting but after a while he joined in on the fun. It seemed that Ripley couldn’t quarter back and forth more than once without slamming hard into a fresh scent cone. We kicked up bird after bird and one or often even two arrows would fly. The pink fletching (Ron’s) would invariably pass by a lot closer to the escaping rooster than the red.

Ripley on the hunt.

We each were carrying five arrows. Ripley would go on point we would close in behind him. When the pheasant flushed one or both of us would loose an arrow. After a miss we’d go pick up our arrows while Ripley hunted on for another bird hunkered down in the grass. Sometimes, he’d go on point before we’d picked up our arrows and we’d launch a marker and turn back to the dog, hoping to get back later. We had so much action that on several occasions we actually ran out of arrows!   Then we had to run back to pick them up before following up the next point.

We’d counted over thirty points and flushes but had no birds in our vests when we turned back towards the truck for the last time that day. Still, we had the biggest smiles on our faces. We’d flung more arrows than either of us could have dreamed possible just that morning. We’d walked longer and further because Ripley was always pointing another bird just ahead. He had been great but now was exhausted, only hunting half-heartedly and dragging his butt back towards the truck. No doubt he was wondering why he hadn’t tasted any feathers after finding so many targets for us.

Ron and I were shuffling along pretty slowly too. We weren’t pining about how tired we were or about missed opportunities. We were marveling at how many birds we’d seen and how much fun we’d had. I had my head down watching where I was setting my feet between the ankle twisting grass clumps when I heard Ron sigh.

“*@!!, Ripley’s on point again.”

That really cracked me up. Complaining that the dog was on point, AGAIN, was pointing out a pretty high-class problem. We slogged over and got behind the dog for one last flush. The rooster didn’t disappoint us and two more arrows flew. We laughed again at our misses and continued our march to the truck.

Dale looking flustered while Ron gets drawn.  (Photo courtesy Tod Hays)

Over the next few excursions Ron redeemed himself for that 30-miss day and hitting birds became almost normal. He might bounce an arrow off of a big rooster’s back or just graze his tail feathers but, with ever increasing consistency, he was knocking them out of the sky. I was amazed every time that he did it then and I’m still impressed when I witness him doing it today.

I kept trying for the rest of that season but I never did knock one down with my bow. I ruffled some feathers a few times, definitely made some contact but never a good enough clean and solid hit to bring a bird down.

After that year, I was lucky enough to meet Patty, and since I wanted him to enjoy the entire hunting experience (including harvesting some birds!) I went back to using a shotgun. Patty and I still get skunked every once in a while, but that’s okay too.

I suppose that I’m like most hunters in that I occasionally get a little lost in the pursuit of the singular goal, the success, the kill. That was certainly true for a while as I tried to get my first pheasant with a bow. But more and more I find that the joy isn’t in the kill. It’s in the pursuit of the goal, in other words, in the hunt. It comes with time spent in the field with a good dog. It comes with time shared with family and old friends. And in this case, pheasant hunting with a bow, it was time spent making an optimistic and encouraging new friend.

I brought out the Samick just the other day and strung it up. It is a sweet little bow and one of these days I’ll give it a try in the pheasant fields again. Just holding it and drawing it back reminded me again of that magic day when Ripley and Ron and I kicked up thirty birds and never hit one. I felt a big silly grin growing on my face as I recalled Ron’s tired comment on the drive home.

“Well, Ripley had a great day, wouldn’t you say?”

A survivor.

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