June 03, 2021
“It was a warm day for November 3. This would normally be primetime for our local rutting convention here in the Sandhills of eastern North Dakota, but my expectations had been dimmed by the abnormally balmy 71-degree temperatures. Most years, there would have already been good snow on the ground and temps in the 20s, but this warm spell, although very comfortable, had me doubting good deer movement.”
“I walked in to my setup slow and easy, and noted that it was rare to be sweating in November. I was headed to an old wooden box blind I’d built 10 years ago and had tucked into some deadfall. I’d only sat in it once, as I much prefer the 360-degree full vision of a treestand. The blind sits at the edge of a small field and catches deer where they stage before coming into the opening of crops. I placed my buck decoy to the left of my blind and out about eight to 10 yards, hoping any buck that came from the right would come past my blind in an attempt to take on my decoy head-on, antler to antler. A gentle southwest breeze was perfect for my setup, blowing from the field to my hut and back into the woods. Everything felt good, but my expectations were low due to the heatwave.”
“About an hour before closing time, a young 3x3 came out, followed by a button buck. A bit later, a decent 4x4 crossed from right to left 125 yards away, but he wouldn’t leave the does he was dogging. Sunset was still 45 minutes away, and I’d already seen more activity than I’d expected. Then it shut down until about 10 minutes after sunset. I was starting to make plans for the morning, when I looked to the right and saw a good buck 45 yards out. When he looked up, he saw my decoy and immediately dropped his ears, puffed up with hair standing on end, and started stiff-walking sideways toward the buck decoy. If everything kept rolling according to my script, he would pass through my shooting window at 10 to 12 yards broadside. My heart was accelerating, and my breathing intensified as adrenaline coursed through my veins.”
“I picked up my bow with my right hand, and bit down on the pull tab with my teeth…”
The call came midmorning from one of my best friends, Paul Speral, a retired bricklayer and now part-time taxidermist. “Hey RJ, you’re not going to believe what I just did,” Paul said.
Well, normally I’d respond by saying he shot a monster buck, because Paul shoots lots of huge bucks. But his voice sounded troubled, so I simply said, “What?”
“I was unloading my wife’s trunk and slipped on some ice in the driveway,” he said. “I fell onto my wrist. I’m pretty sure I broke it. It’s my left side — my bow arm. I’m pretty sure my season just ended. Let me know if you want to come and hunt that 5x5 I’ve been after up north.”
The sound of loss and disappointment was palpable in my friend’s voice.
Paul and I are dyed-in-the-wool traditional archers. We’ve been shooting longbows and recurves for 30-plus years. It is our lifestyle and fanatical passion. Paul, though, is one of the finest shots I’ve ever seen. He is accurate and consistent like no one else I’ve encountered. He has hunted all over the U.S., including Alaska, taking many caribou and Sitka blacktails with his longbow. Canada provided a beautiful muskox and several black bears. Many elk, antelope, whitetails, turkeys, and hogs have met their demise from his well-placed arrows. In Africa, he successfully arrowed a kudu, impala, blue wildebeest, and a zebra.
A couple days later, I got a text from Paul saying that he’d gone to Scheels Sporting Goods to purchase a used left-handed compound bow. He had an idea of how to adapt the bow and was hoping that if this process worked, he could get back in the game and finish out his season. Additionally, with a much-needed shoulder surgery scheduled for mid-December, time was running short.
Paul’s hunch was that he could take a small piece of nylon dog collar, punch a small hole in it, and have it threaded onto his bowstring at the pro shop at Scheels. He could then clench the nylon strap with the molars on the left side of his jaw, push the bow forward with his right hand, and aim with his left eye. Awkward for sure, but worth a try.
A few days later, Paul called to say he’d come from his doctor visit. “I’m in a hard cast now, but my practice is going well,” he said. “The guy at Scheels used a bow press to thread the nylon dog collar onto my bowstring just a few inches down from my peep sight. I had him take the draw weight down to about 42 pounds. I’m now closing my right eye, which is hard to get used to as I’m right-eye dominant. But the good thing is I’m getting more fluid, and I’m shooting a pretty tight group at 15 yards. I’ve set that as my self-imposed limit.”
I wished Paul good luck and told him I was proud of his creative problem-solving. His story continues…
“With the tab clenched in my teeth, I pushed my right hand forward and leaned back with my torso and neck. I closed my right eye, and in the fading light it was difficult to get my sight pin, peep hole, and the deer’s chest all aligned properly, especially when I’m used to keeping both eyes open and shooting instinctively. When the magical moment of proper alignment felt right, I relaxed my jaw muscles and the arrow launched into flight.”
“It all happened so fast. The shot was a good pass-through about a hand-width behind the crease. What was odd and had me do a double-take, was that the buck didn’t even flinch — he just continued his march toward my decoy! I could see the shot looked good, but since he hardly seemed fazed by the impact, I grabbed my binos. Sure enough, I saw blood pouring from the entry wound. The buck slowly walked 25 yards to the edge of the cornfield and went down. It all seemed a bit surreal.”
“After waiting 40 minutes, I quietly exited my ground blind and picked up my arrow 10 yards beyond where the buck had been standing. It was covered in good blood. I slowly stalked to where I’d seen the deer go down and began my internal celebration and thank-you prayers!”
Just nine days after Paul’s injury, he was kneeling over a beautiful 10-point buck that he had arrowed from a ground blind by shooting off-hand and using a homemade mouth release. At 63 years of age, he had not quit or given up due to his injury. He didn’t wallow in self-pity. He did not allow adverse circumstances to prevail or win. He chose to get creative and persevere in spite of difficult circumstances.
In addition to the gorgeous buck, what really sticks out in the photo is his bright-pink cast covering his left arm. He chose that color for his granddaughter, Lucy. Most of us would be incredibly proud to have taken a buck of this caliber, but to do so under these circumstances made Paul’s success all the sweeter. Proof positive that a confident mental attitude, optimism, willingness to fail, ingenuity, and perseverance can trump most adverse conditions. This is a beautiful truth for bowhunting, and for life. Sometimes, when life throws you a curveball, you simply need to adapt and overcome.
The author is a lay pastor and bowhunter who lives in Moorehead, Minnesota.
Author's Note: Paul’s setup included a Mission bow set at 42 pounds, 550-grain Gold Tip arrows, and a two-blade, cut-on-contact Journeyman broadhead.