October 16, 2016
As I work through the year assigning and buying articles for each issue of Bowhunter, I don’t necessarily look for a “theme,” unless I’m working on one of our special issues (DIY, Big Game, Whitetail).
Mostly, I’m looking for a variety of articles that cover adventure bowhunting, how-to, exceptional animals, and the exploits of both highly accomplished and everyday bowhunters who have a story to tell. Occasionally, an underlying theme, woven into the collection of stories, will materialize.
The theme that emerged in parts of the September issue (read Adams, Bowhay, Gaul, and Brush) had to do with restraint. That is, restraint when it comes to deciding whether an approaching animal is worthy of wearing your tag. We all practice some degree of restraint based on sex, maturity, the size of the antlers, horns, or skulls, or restrictions dictated by regulations. Mostly, we practice restraint until an animal meets our personal, self-assigned parameters. These parameters are highly variable from bowhunter to bowhunter, hunt to hunt. The beauty of it is we can set our own goals and make no excuses (or shouldn’t).
If your goal is to tag a mature animal with exceptional headgear, one truth remains — you can’t shoot the big ones if you’re always shooting the little ones. Fifty years ago, when I started bass fishing, the thought of releasing a fish was heresy for a young angler. Then I started slipping them back into the water. It felt great. I won, and the fish lived on. I haven’t put a knife to a bass since. I had to learn to let them walk (swim).
Though not a perfect analogy, a bowhunter must also learn to let immature animals walk. It doesn’t come naturally, especially to the novice. It helps if you consider the animals that you let walk to be “released.” You worked your plan to get within your effective range of that animal, and the only thing left undone was to make the shot. The animal was yours. You won.
Your path to gaining the discipline required to achieve your goal is paved with the willingness to go home without an animal. You must acquire a taste for tag soup. The reality is restraint doesn’t always pay off. You could pass on dozens of animals, and your target animal may never show up. You won’t always reach your goal. But fear not. Your goals are not etched in stone. You can modify them as your hunt progresses. Lowering your standards is perfectly acceptable, as long as you’re good with failing to reach your goal. You answer to no one.
Otherwise, it’s all about commitment. You must grit your teeth, relax the tension on your bowstring, and let the lesser animals walk. You may end up going home and confidently telling your friends you still have your tag because you didn’t get an opportunity at a mature animal. And when they call you crazy for passing on animals they would have gladly hung their tag on, just tell them, “You can’t shoot the big ones if you’re always shooting the little ones.”