Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Obligation: Be the Best Hunter I Can Be

Have you ever entered a contest or drawing and wondered what happened to whoever was lucky enough to win? Below is such a true tale. We'll tag along with new RMEF Life Member Tim Lovern--from the day he received the lucky email in his in-box to his planned elk hunt this fall.

Tim Lovern on the practice range
The gear started arriving, and for a while, every day was like Christmas! I was floating on clouds. Life was beautiful! I was looking forward to each day and the package that would arrive. The delivery man was my personal Santa Claus. Then something interesting happened. Reality set in. I had been given something very special, something that carried a responsibility I had not foreseen.

Start of a Journey

It started with a small thing. It was an email, one of dozens I had gotten that day. Reading the subject line: “You won the Trembling Giant Sweepstakes." Great – more junk mail. Then I decided to open the message and see what the deal was. Evidently I had won some contest. It looked legitimate but the spammers are getting pretty clever. It did have a phone number and a link to the contest web page. But still I wasn’t sure.

Eventually, I gave in and called the number and sure enough, I had won something I hadn’t thought possible. I really was the grand prize winner of the Trembling Giant Sweepstakes. I never believed that real people actually won these contests. It was always someone in another state, some anonymous name. But this time it wasn’t a stranger. It was me! 

I was about to receive a ton of fantastic gear: a pair of East Ridge boots from Danner, Cascade binoculars, an RX-FullDraw archery specific rangefinder from Leupold, a Tundra 65 cooler from Yeti, a set of hunting clothing from Sitka Gear, a caper and skinner set of knives from Lone Wolf Knives, a Motive 6 Compound Bow from Bear Archery, a life membership from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a fully guided elk hunt from Winterhawk Outfitters.

The gear started arriving, and for a while, every day was like Christmas! I was floating on clouds. Life was beautiful! I was looking forward to each day and the package that would arrive. The delivery man was my personal Santa Claus.

Then something interesting happened. Reality set in. I had been given something very special, something that carried a responsibility I had not foreseen. I was going on a guided hunt. An item on my bucket list had been given to me. This was serious stuff: I have an obligation to be the best I possibly can be on this hunt. I owed it to all the hunters who dreamed of wining but didn’t. I owed it to the countless people that put this contest together. I owed it to the outfitters to show up ready to hunt. I especially owed it to the elk I hope to tag. This is a big deal. I need to be at my best.

This is easy to lose sight of. Hunting is about many things and carries many responsibilities. Respect is one of them. Respect for nature. Respect for the quarry. Respect for others. Respect for self. These would be easy to forget in light of being given such a fantastic prize package. The seriousness of my situation actually weighed heavily on me.

Archery hunting was something I did with my son. Boys grow to become men and my son was no exception to this rule. High school gave way to college, and college gave way to a career on the East Coast many hundreds of miles from here, leaving me without my archery hunting partner. For five years, my bow sat unused.

Now I found myself behind the curve. I had to get my bow shooting skills back up to snuff, and also get my 54-year-old self into some kind of shape for an elk hunt high in the Colorado wilderness. This is daunting stuff indeed.

First Steps

Faced with all this new-found responsibility, I devised a plan. First, I needed to get my archery skills to an acceptable level and, at the same time, learn how to shoot my brand new Motive 6 Bow. Fortunately for me, the city had opened a public archery range less than two miles from my house.

My plan was really pretty simple: go to the range at least twice a week, shoot lots of arrows at varying distances and declare victory. I got my bow sighted in at 20 yards and then at 30. The React Bow Sight is designed to automatically adjust all the pins out to 60 yards based on those two distances. Pretty slick bit of technology.

So, following my plan, I shot a lot. I shot often. But for some reason I couldn’t make it work. Tight groups failed to materialize. In fact, I found that my shooting appeared to be worsening. My frustration grew. My muscles ached. This hunt is going to be a disaster! What was I doing wrong? How can I fix this?

I researched online everything I could find on sighting in a bow and proper technique. Nothing seemed even remotely helpful. In one article, which I wish I had kept so I could properly credit the author, I stumbled across a single paragraph that suggested not shooting too many arrows at a time, to rest between strings of shots. This sounded exactly like what I needed! I would change my plan accordingly.

With my new plan in mind, I deliberately took a week off from shooting my bow to allow me to start fresh. By the second trip to the range, I saw dramatic improvement. By limiting the number of arrows I shot in a group, I rested more often while waiting for the line to clear so I could go retrieve my arrows. I settled on strings of four arrows. Concentrating on the shorter ranges has allowed me to focus on technique: consistent anchor point, consistent sight alignment, and follow-through on release. I still drop my bow more than I should, but I’m aware of when I do it and am working on it.

I started at the 20 yard line, working basics. It took me a while, but I quickly saw dramatic improvement. Groups were tightening and more than one arrow was lost from being hit by a following shot. I’m not ready for any tournaments but I now have a base to build upon. More importantly, I think, the confidence from this led to reinforcement of positive results.

The 30 yard line brought a larger group, as now the flaws and inconsistencies are magnified by the distance. It didn’t take me too long to get the 30 yard shots under control, again by taking my time and not forcing things.

Then the 40 yard line followed. After patiently working on my breathing, release and follow-through, I’m getting nice groups and am hitting my own arrows. I had one really nice Robin Hood where the second shot is nicely buried inside the shaft of the first one.

Currently, I’m focused on getting my 50 yard shots to consistently group in a 4-inch circle. That’s my goal. I’m improving but not there yet. From what I’ve read, the majority of shots on elk are at a range less than this but I want to be at least reasonable out to 50 yards. If I can make a shot at 50 yards, I can certainly make a shot at the shorter ranges.

For now, I still have a ways to go at the 50 yard line. I will get this dialed in to my personal limits. Then it will be on to the 60 yard line. The 60 yard line will do two things for me – give me the confidence at all the lower ranges and allow me to be ready for a once in a lifetime shot should everything come together perfectly. 

I cannot stress the overall importance of not overdoing the shooting until you have built up to it. I find practice to be peaceful and relaxing. It was a small thing, something almost too simple to work, that turned it all around for me. I shoot small strings of arrows, wait between strings, and take my time. I work on different things at different times. Sometimes I work on holding the bow at full draw for longer periods. Sometimes it is drawing, sighting and releasing quickly. Whatever I’m working on, I keep it low key enough that I can analyze my performance, identify flaws and follow up without wearing myself out.

Once I have the archery squared away, I will focus on conditioning and getting ready for the high altitude conditions of the hunt. Then it will be back to archery from unusual positions, such as kneeling. And finally, the focus will be on combining the conditioning with shooting from a variety of positions. To this end, I have started walking to the range. It’s about a 4-mile hike from my house each way. People do give me funny looks with my bow attached to my Sitka Flash 20 Backpack, but what better way to get used to carrying my gear than to actually do it?

This will certainly be critical to any hopes for success. All the archery skills in the world won’t do me any good if I can’t hunt. This is just another challenge to hit head on.

I’d sure like to be able to post pictures from a very successful September hunt!

About the Author: Tim Lovern has lived in Arizona since 1982, moving there from the Chicago suburbs. He has hunted in Arizona extensively, from waterfowl to elk and everything in between. He is currently employed in the I.T. field as an enterprise architect for a large company based in California.

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