by Francesco Formisano
Before every bowhunting trip, whether next to my backyard or thousands of miles overseas, I always ask myself the same question: How do I get close to the animal? In my mind, different strategies start to play out like a game of chess.
Various factors need to be considered and double checked before a single step is taken around the space where the pursuit happens.
One particular aspect that I find exceptionally motivating and tends to feed the flames of my interest towards the art of bowhunting, is the essential need to become almost invisible to the prey’s senses.
Bowhunting brings about some of the closest contact with wild game an outdoorsman is ever likely to make. In order to give these encounters the best chance of success, the need for a strict disconnect from emotions, ample training, and the mindset of getting as close as possible to perfection, is the goal of most bowhunters out there.
The more physical distance you can narrow, the smaller the range of potential mistakes and things that can go wrong. Nevertheless, one wrong step, snap of twig, or crunch of leaves could immediately translate into a danger alarm and have the game I’m stalking disappear back into the forest in the blink of an eye. Silence then, is the one deep and constant worry which colours every single stalk and that breathless moment before feeling out the opportunity for a full draw. It is an experience which speaks to many a hunter about his or her way of life. This effort to ensure that their tracks in and out of their quarry’s habitats are unseen, unheard, and hopefully un-sensed. It is an instinctual respect for nature that the need for sustenance, survival, and a replenishing of the food source tends to bring. For man cannot make his own food, and therefore would do well to respect this balance and harmony of the greater world around him.
My last roebuck hunt is an example of this all-consuming desire for silence:
Walking through the woods looking for an interesting spot that might yield a bounty. The heart thumps rapidly, but at the same time the body moves in slow-motion in what feels to be a bubble of stagnant time. In the front of my mind, I know that a roe deer can spot me a lot faster than my limited human senses can even perceive it happening. Like a chameleon, my attempts at blending in are softly punctuated by brief blips of motion I can only hope are not thundering into another world of sight and sound that I am blind and deaf to - freeze, walk, freeze.
From the corner of my eye, I notice a buck grassing in an open bit of land surrounded by the woods. It is a long shot to where he is. Relieved he can’t see me, I use the few, precious seconds I have before he looks up to quickly grasp his habits and roaming range patterns. It is too late for a proper stalk, but I keep this location in my mind so I can build up a future strategy around it.
It is another day, and I am again in the same place shifting along the tree line and glassing the land around me. I decide to stop for a while and wait. My patience is rewarded with the same buck entering after a short while. I am aware of the sound of my breath that I try to subdue, as it leaves the orchestra that is my heart pounding into my chest cavity. He is bedded, so I sneak in agonized silence to a closer spot, waiting for what feels like an infinity without doing anything, observing the buck as if he is the only thing which exists on this planet.
Then, the moment of truth - the buck starts moving towards me until he is only 20 meters away and fully in range. The chameleon in me remains unblinking as a cold, reptilian movement seems to animate my arm into a contraction which my mind begs my bones, muscles, and tendons to execute without the snap, crackle, and pop of unsettled joints.
I adopt the full draw posture. It is like a transcendental state of mind. I exist in two planes of being. One as the shooter who releases the arrow, and the other as the observer that hears the sound of dead leaves under the roe deer crashing some meters away. This noise wakes me up.
Then silence dominates all around.
I recover my buck while darkness spreads her cloak across the land and the moon illuminates the tremendous scenery gifted by the gods of creation that surrounds me. I am walking to the car carrying the buck on my back, answering the initial question asked: How will I get close to the animal I am hunting?
I can’t help being proud of myself, just a little bit. While weighing in all those moments of failure in the past, I answer: By being a shadow.