The Black Ghost

The Black Ghost

No matter how old it is, doesn't a first bow deserve a first kill?

He appeared like a black ghost in a small clearing 70 yards away, as black as a cloudy midnight sky. My pulse quickened and my breath became shallow. My goal was a Pope and Young-class bear. On this one, I could hardly tell where his head ended and his neck began. Without question, his skull would exceed the 18-inch P&Y minimum.

With a pigeon-toed swagger he continued along the trail that meandered through the timber to the bait barrel. I slowly reached for my bow, a bow that until a few weeks ago I had not held in my hand for over 25 years.

It was an old Bear recurve, the first hunting bow I had ever purchased. In 1975, I had bought the used bow for $35 from a small sporting goods store and had hunted with it for four years before buying my first compound, a Jennings Model T. Without really thinking about whether I would ever use it again, I hung up the old recurve.

And it remained hung up, as I moved from one compound to another, upgrading every five years or so. However, feeling sentimental about the old recurve, I never did get rid of it.

On a snowy Saturday last April, I walked into an outbuilding where a half-dozen of my old bows are stored, and as I glanced down the wall at all the bows, I remembered the trophies I had taken with every one of them. As my eyes came to rest on my old recurve, I realized I had never taken a single big game animal with it, even though I'd hunted with it exclusively for four years.

With spring bear season just around the corner, I knew what I must do and took the recurve off the wall. It was old, and due to a poorly applied, drab green, camo paint job, it was ugly. Under a thin layer of paint near the handle I could read 62", 55#. Holding it at arm's length, I sighted along its limbs. They appeared to be in line and straight.

Rummaging through a box of old tackle, I found a bow stringer and shooting glove.

Carefully I strung the old bow and gave it a thorough inspection. The limbs were in perfect alignment with no detectable twists. The string looked nearly new. I gripped the string with three fingers and drew it back. It was a foreign feeling as the tension continued to increase to my anchor point.

Next, I dug through several boxes of old arrows and finally produced two with feather fletching. The arrows were a bit short, but they would work for this experiment.

I set a target in my snow-covered driveway, backed up 10 yards, and tried to reacquaint myself with my long-abandoned instinctive shooting form. When everything felt right, I let the first arrow fly, and then the second. Much to my delight, both arrows hit the target!

They did not hit the center, but at least they hit the target. At that moment, I decided I was taking the old recurve bear hunting.

That gave me four weeks to get ready before the bears would start hitting the baits in mid-May. I dug through more arrow boxes and found a dozen XX75 2216s that had never been shot. Checking an Easton spine chart, I was pleased to find they would work just fine. I refletched them with feathers and began to practice in earnest. A few days later I found a dozen old, unused Zwickey Eskimo broadheads and adapters. Gluing them together, I replaced fieldpoints with the broadheads. They shot perfectly.

I was amazed at how fast the instinctive shooting came back to me. Within a few sessions I had a reasonable group at 15 yards, the distance I set all my baits from the treestands.

As I continued to practice, the shooting instincts continued to improve. Much to my satisfaction the target panic, snapshooting, and all the other bad habits that once plagued me had disappeared. By the time the bears started hitting the baits, I had enough practice to feel confident with my shooting.

During the early part of the season, I saw and passed on several bears, and it was on my 15th time in the stand over a three week period when The Black Ghost appeared. He was confident and showed no hesitation as he lumbered along the trail to the bait barrel. My heart pounded, but I forced my mind to focus.

For 15 minutes the boar fed without offering a shot. Finally he plucked a mouthful of meat scraps from the barrel, backed up two steps, and dropped them on the ground.

Turning broadside, he began chomping down his snack. In my mind I heard the voice command, "Pick a spot, full draw, anchor point," and the arrow flew.

As the arrow buried perfectly behind the shoulder, nearly to the fletching, the bear let out a loud "woof!" and charged into the trees. Moments later I spotted him walking slowly, 75 yards away. He stepped into the open, paused, staggered, and collapsed.

My goal was accomplished. I'd taken a P&Y-class boar with my old Bear recurve.

I gathered my gear and lowered it to the ground with the haul line. I felt pleased with my accomplishment and grateful to God for the opportunity to bowhunt. I descended the tree and respectfully walked up to the black boar. I knelt beside him, lifted his head, and admired him, feeling a spirit of reverence for a life taken.

After a lengthy self-timed photo session I began skinning the bear. As a late-spring storm began to spit snow, I worked alone in silence, feeling content.

A few days later I hung the old recurve back on its pegs and backed away slowly, staring momentarily, knowing I would probably never hunt with the old bow again. But the next time I pass its resting place and pause for a moment, a special day will come into my mind. I'll remember being alone on a remote mountain in western Wyoming, not far from the Idaho border, with a special bow and an awesome bear -- a magical moment captured in the privacy of my own mind where it will last forever.

The author is an accomplished bowhunter from Bedford, Wyoming.

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