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The Draw: Embracing Every Part of Bowhunting

The pull toward traditional hunting leads to a big buck and something much more.

The Draw: Embracing Every Part of Bowhunting

Author David Miller took this 13-point buck last December with his longbow, making good on an 18-yard shot on the 7.5-year-old deer.

Tension, pause…release.

As a bowhunter, I always assumed the responsibility of “drawing” the bow was on my shoulders. Constant pressure on the string, created by an external force, resulted in a fully drawn bow. But the further I continued along this journey, the more I realized the bow is not the only thing being drawn.

That First Draw

Do you remember your first encounter with a bow? Pause, and take a second to recall that.

For me, it was the fall of 1988, my 10th birthday. I cannot remember exactly what I was hoping to get, but I’m sure toy monster trucks and G.I. Joe figures were on the short list.

After opening my presents, I remember someone saying, “You still have one more in the corner.” And, as I peeled away the paper, I saw a red recurve bow with three arrows.

“Yes!” I screamed as I ran out the door to go see how far I could make those arrows fly. I’m not kidding. When I first started shooting this bow, I would aim for the sky and let it fly.

Over the next few months, I practiced aiming at tree stumps, leaves and buckeyes; whatever I came across was potentially in danger of being shot. After going through about 5,000 arrows, my uncle finally picked up a straw bale for me to use as a target. Arrow after arrow my pattern would improve, but there was another pattern I started to see.

Having the bow in hand seemed natural. The flight of each arrow felt like an invitation. For the first time in my life, I felt drawn toward something.

The Hunter Within

I vividly remember when I started hunting with a bow. As a boy, I was introduced to hunting by chasing squirrels with a 20-gauge single-shot. I enjoyed hunting those fuzzy tails almost as much as my grandma enjoyed the food they provided. Even at that age, while pursing small game, I could not escape the thought of hunting deer with a bow. It was drawing me to a different place, with an inkling that I was hunting for something more. I carried my little recurve into the woods knowing it did not have enough force to be able to harvest a deer, but my hopes were still pretty high.

miller-the-draw-landscape

I would sometimes go on hunts with more experienced woodsmen, studying their practices and techniques, observing their skills and abilities to decipher trails, rubs and scrape lines. The more time I would spend with them, the more I understood what would be required of me to be a successful deer hunter. During this time, I saw how time spent in the woods had developed their ability as hunters, but, more importantly, how it played a huge role in development of their character.

Of all the people I shared the woods with, there was one person I always looked up to the most. It was not because of his success in the woods, more so a result of the way he lived his life. He would take me out every chance he could, being very patient with me as he shared the basics. He explained details of reading game sign, shooting techniques and showed me how to dial in the sights of my first compound bow.

I remember one day he took away my leather shooting glove and placed in my hand a trigger release, which changed the game in terms of accuracy. For these things, I will always be grateful to him — especially for his time, since I was about to learn a hard lesson of how precious the gift of time is to us all.

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When I was 15 years old, I received a call telling me that at the age of 36, my friend and mentor had passed away due to a heart complication. I was crushed! For a while I considered hanging up the bow. It really caused me to question things. Why do I hunt? Why do I enjoy it so much? Is it just because other people I know do it? It it because it is all I have known for years?

The conclusion I came to became a foundational element in my life. I accepted this truth, plain and simple — I hunt because I am a hunter. I had always enjoyed hunting before his loss, but afterward there awakened a drive that was not present before. There was a motivation to not only be the best hunter I could be but the best person I could be. I realized hunting could be a tool used to mold my character, just as it had my mentors.

Challenging Seasons

Year after year, I was becoming more seasoned, gaining a greater understanding of the ways of the mountain bucks in my home state of West Virginia. Knowledge passed down, time spent afield and the application of what I’d learned produced wisdom, resulting in some great bucks being harvested.

Things were progressing smoothly until I sensed a shift. I had started hunting solo more and more, convincing myself that I harvested more and larger bucks when hunting alone. After a couple of years, this led to two things. The first was a sense of loneliness, with no one to share victories with or to talk through the struggles. This progressed into the second and more fatal wound. I am just going to be transparent — hunting had become an idol. It was all I thought about and I placed it in front of everything. I was miserable, and something had to change.

The reason I share this is because I see a lot of people on this path, and I want to encourage them that there is better way. My progression out of this pit started with reflection, really looking at my life and being brutally honest with where I was and the trajectory I was headed. Much of this was done in the outdoors, where I could clear everything out and see things for what they were. I realized that time in the wilderness had the ability to help develop my character, but this would only happen if I was approaching things with the correct perspective. I needed to not be consumed by the pursuits, but instead be open to seeing the lessons being offered along the way. This shift in perspective allowed me to receive truth that was being offered the whole time, but I simply had been missing it.

One of the first and most important lessons I learned from this was the importance of people and community in my life. I needed to be there for others and I needed them to be there for me. I wanted people to celebrate the victories with and to bleed with in the battles. This is not only true in the realm of hunting, but all realms of life. It taught me the hard lesson that the pursuit of no animal is worth jeopardizing or destroying the relationship with a person.

Reflection in the wilderness has become a staple in my life because it helps me keep things in check. It enables me to live out Chris Renzema’s great song lyric, “I want to hold on to the right things, and let go of the rest.” It is amazing to see how the journey of bowhunting has taught me so many profound life truths.

Trad Truth

Over the decades, I have been blessed to harvest many deer with my compound bow where I live in southern West Virginia. Last year, I entered the woods with a traditional longbow for the first time since that little red recurve from my youth.

There was a mature buck on our property that I had my eye on, and I told my wife for a couple years that I would love to harvest him with the stick and string she gave me as a gift years ago.

miller-the-draw-camera
After taking several Boone and Crockett-caliber bucks in his home state of West Virginia with a compound bow, in 2023 Miller shifted his focus to hunting a buck (above) he’d been watching with a longbow given to him by his wife.

This past summer, with an assist from some friends in the trad community who helped me tune my bow and arrows (A big thank you to T.J. Escue and Nathan Killen), I gained the confidence to make an ethical shot out to 20 yards. I had watched this buck for three years, and he was a traveler. He never patterned long in one area.

The deer had been showing up some in the early season, then moved away in the latter part of October, returning a few times during the peak rut in mid-November. Then he was gone again. However, as November was about to end and the primary rut was fading, he came back and was staying close to a group of four does.

In early December, the deer daylighted on the last evening of the state’s rifle season, something that’s rather rare for a mature buck. Simply put, most are shell-shocked by that time, only traveling at night because of the pressure from the cannons firing for two weeks. I told my wife, “I think I can get him tomorrow.”

I slid into my stand around 2:30 p.m. the next day and the doe group came across the flat around 4 p.m. Amazingly, the buck was not far behind and an 18-yard shot resulted in the old monarch piling up in the frosty leaves 75 yards away. The deer, which had an 18-inch spread and 13 points, had been running these woods for 7.5 years before falling to my Dwyer Dauntless Longbow. It was my first buck with traditional gear, and one for which I was deeply grateful and humbled. I gave thanks to God for the harvest, and asked Him to reveal truths from this journey to me. Something immediately came to me!

While preparing in the preseason, I had to establish several disciplines to be able to consistently hit my target. I had to tap into and trust my natural instinct to aim. I was also forced to aim more precisely at my target, which greatly increased my focus to not just aim at the bull’s-eye, but to aim at the center of the bull’s-eye.

You may have heard this line from the movie, The Patriot: “Aim small, miss small.” It’s a concept I have found to be essential in other areas of life as well.

miller-the-draw-family
As he has journeyed through life and bowhunting, Miller says his goals have changed. At the top of the list is introducing his daughter, Brooke (left), to the archery-hunting heritage.

The precise targets I need to focus on outside of hunting are becoming clearer the older I get. One of those targets is my little girl, Brooke, who is now 10 years old. I am passing down the heritage of archery hunting to her. We set up a target down the hallway in our home and, sure, the drywall and door have taken a few shots, but I am completely fine with that.

Watching her pick up her bow each day and fire a few shots for the fun of it is success in my eyes. Every time she calls for me with excitement to look at her shot is a moment that I have an opportunity to encourage her. I can see her being drawn to it, just as I was at her age.

What Draws Us?

I used to think that as a hunters we were drawn into the wilderness to hunt, but through a shift in perspective I now see things differently. Hunting is actually a tool God can use to draw us into the wilderness to reveal life-changing and life-directing truths to us. For this is where the stillness of the forest brings great clarity, and His voice can be heard on the wind as it sways the trees. It’s where the deepest, darkest things in our lives can come out and be left in the backcountry, and life-giving lessons revealed that we place in our packs and bring home. In these moments, our lives have the opportunity to come into alignment with God’s intended purpose for us.

My hope for us all as bowhunters is that we see this pursuit of bowhunting as an invitation — one that draws us into the wild places of the Earth, to an environment where we can work through the hard things and find truth that answers our most complex life questions.

Let us be grateful for this venue where we find healing for the soul. Let us be grateful for this internal longing to encounter creation, and for the moments of tension, pause and release while we are there. Let us be grateful for The Draw.




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