As I look over the tops of autumn leaves, the frost on them sparkles with the first rays of sunlight this crisp fall morning. I check the wind direction with my exhale of breath to make sure it hasn’t changed in the hour that I have been sitting here, collecting my thoughts. I am twenty feet above the ground, dressed in camouflage from head to toe, daring the whitetail buck I have been seeing on my trail camera to come within shooting range of my bow.
While collecting my thoughts between the heart pounding rustle of leaves, I start to think back to how I got to this point and how far I have come in a year.
I grew up hunting in the Southeast, mainly smaller game such as doves and ducks. It wasn’t until my mid- thirties that I started shooting a compound bow.
Last fall, my husband and I had an opportunity to hunt a piece of property with some friends that only allowed bow hunting. To prepare for the trip, my husband began target practice in our basement.
After watching him whizz several arrows into the target, curiosity got the best of me and I asked if I could try to shoot his compound bow. It was in this moment my bowhunting education began. Not only could I not shoot it but it took too much effort to even hold it.
Thus, the quest was on to find me a practical, affordable bow.
I had no idea where to start or what to look for so I delved into the infinite sources of the internet, but I wasn’t finding too much information or guidance from women that shoot.
In the research one name kept coming up, Ali Juten, otherwise known as Ali up North. Ali is a native of Northern Minnesota and grew up hunting deer with her father. She took a hiatus from hunting until she started dating the man that is now her husband. Now Ali is an archery instructor (among her other endeavors) who enjoys shooting anything from birds to deer with her compound bow.
Last year, I reached out to Ali on social media, asking her to give me some guidance or point me in the right direction.
Her first piece of advice was shoot a lot of different bows until you find the right fit for you
Ali was shooting a Mission bow at the time, so I started my search here. Our local archery range carried a Mission bow and I just happened to have a coupon for a reduced rate for an hour lesson.
On our next date night, my husband and I were knocking arrows at the archery range. The instructor was patient and helped me learn the anatomy of the bow in front of me and took me through the safety protocol of the range. After an hour of shooting arrows, I knew bowhunting was something I would grow to love.
With my curiosity heightened, I followed Ali’s advice and headed to the nearest archery store to try a wide range of compound bows.
Since I didn’t know where to start, I took into account her second piece of advice and started shooting an adjustable bow
Adjustable bows are great for beginners because they allow adjustments in the draw weight (the amount of force it takes to pull the string away from the bow) and also the draw length (how far the string pulls back).
Typically, beginner archers need to build up strength in the back and shoulder muscles so an adjustable bow allows beginners to start with a lower weight and not sacrifice form for pounds.
Ali mentioned that most women archers begin pulling back around 25 lbs and work their way up from there.
Each state has a requirement on the legal pounds needed to take game, but most states require around 35 lbs.
I tried several adjustable bows in my price range, but none were comfortable in my grip. I was about to settle, when the employee suggested I try a Diamond Edge SB-1. The moment I held the bow in my grip, I knew it was the right fit. The grip was no longer rubbing my hand, the draw weight could be adjusted from 7-70 lbs, and after several minutes the employees had my draw length adjusted just right. Now, it was time to practice.
It took several months and a lot of shoulder workouts to get my draw weight above 40 pounds, but I did it and was ready for the fall hunting trip.
I wish I could say that I was successful that first hunt, but nerves got the best of me and I completely missed a deer at 25 yards.
However, this year (2020) I moved up from "beginner" to "intermediate" when I got an 8 point buck!
Still, I feel as though I am always learning, and my hunter education and woodsmanship lessons will never cease. As Ali said, “bowhunting takes patience… but can be more rewarding than traditional rifle hunting.” She has encouraged countless women to stick with bowhunting as a sport and learn from their mistakes in the field and on the range.
I have heard that hindsight is 20/20 and we learn the most from our mistakes. Looking back on my first year, I made a lot of rookie mistakes. But I stuck with it, increased my draweight, I am now shooting at a faster speed than my husband, and (finally) got my first deer.
Bowhunting has been a rewarding sport that allowed me to be in the field, so close to deer that I could hear them crunching on corn and acorns. It is challenging in a way that I have not yet experienced in my time outdoors, and I intend to keep it up.