Swearing off the usual litany of New Year resolutions (except to maybe be kinder to people), the New Year is still a time to do something new or seek to improve yourself. I’ve decided that this year is the year I become proficient at archery.
Hunting is an excellent way to enjoy the outdoors, and while a gun is still the preferred method, a gun usually only gives you 10 days or so each year to hunt per state.
Bow hunting season, however, is much longer. For example, New York State’s deer and bear bow hunting season can be about three months long, depending on area. And on Long Island and parts of New York State closest to the city, where the population is very dense, only bow hunting is allowed for regular hunters. Bow hunting is also a bigger challenge. You have to be much closer to the animal to take it with an arrow and you will usually have to track that animal for a much longer distance once you’ve hit it.
And even if you don’t hunt, archery is an excellent and fun skill to develop. It’s something that city dwellers have the ability to do with several centers within the five boroughs. Archery is also a way to connect to the past and to characters in literature from Robin Hood to Katniss Everdeen.
I decided to visit Queens Archery, which is located not too far away from where I live. I showed up without a reservation but was getting a good archery lesson only a few minutes after arriving. The cost was only $25. That included an excellent lesson using a really sweet compound bow and some arrows on a target.
The young instructor taught me the basics of a proper stance and range safety, as well as other basic essentials that I had no idea about. For example, you NEVER “dry fire” a bow without an arrow in it. It can seriously damage it and cause it to come part. The compound bow uses a hand-held trigger device that one uses to release the bow and shoot the arrow. It was simple and the arrows flew into the target with a satisfying thwack!
A bow has to be set for each individual user and since mine wasn’t set for my specific use, it was not as accurate as it would have been if it had been customized. But with a little bit of adjustment, I managed to do pretty well. The instructor quickly moved me from the five yard line to the 10 yard line.
More newcomers arrived and they were soon shooting alongside me, some with compound bows and some with more traditional recurve bows. They varied in ability but they all seemed to have a nice time and they quickly improved their aim with some additional pointers from the instructors.
The instructor was happy with my abilities and said I might be able to move over to the more advanced part of the archery range on my next visit.
It was very satisfying to see the dozen or so hunting trophies on the wall that the center’s hunting club members had taken using their skills. It felt good to be in the city and be at a place where people appreciated were dedicated to developing skills for the outdoors.
New York City has no legal places to hunt and it’s a good thing that we can’t start shooting geese in Central Park or pigeons in Prospect Park. Although one could probably bag a nice wild turkey in Inwood Hill Park if you’re patient enough, it would be a bad idea to take your shotgun on the A train.
But there are plenty of opportunities for city folk to get into hunting. I’m originally from the Big Apple, have been back in the five boroughs 15 years and I’m hooked on hunting for good now. There is fine hunting land upstate, on Long Island and in New Jersey and Connecticut.
Hunting is good for the environment and will get you fresh, free-range meat. I only became interested in hunting over the last few years. I would be hypocrite if I was willing to eat meat and wasn’t willing to go get it. If you’re willing to eat it, you should be willing to kill it.
But the first step to start hunting is to take a free hunter safety class, which you can do throughout New York City. I took both my gun hunting and bow hunting safety courses at different places in Queens.
There are gun ranges in every borough of New York City, so if you can get a gun permit (which takes some doing—New York City’s gun laws are unconstitutionally strict and permit costs can run higher than buying a firearm), you can practice close to home if you live in the Big Apple. But you can also borrow a gun or a bow from a friend who lives outside the city. I go to a friend’s place in Connecticut, which is near a state forest.
Hunting means you have to be alone in the woods with your cell phone off. You have to be very quiet and observe everything carefully. You will see notice things you haven’t noticed before and wouldn’t notice if you were hiking, camping or fishing. It requires mega amounts of patience, of sitting or standing very still for hours at a time in hopes of seeing a deer.
I went two years of hunting without getting anything and coming heartbreakingly close to taking deer. That was hours every day for several days in a row, getting lost and coming out of the woods empty handed but still loving it.
My first year, I was in a perfect position on an elevated ridge when two large deer walked by. When you first see deer that you have a chance to get, your adrenaline soars and your heart pounds furiously and you can hardly get the animal in your sites. I had a great shot on one of the deer and I was following them along. At the last second I stepped on a twig and the two deer bolted, their fluffy white asses taunting me as they ran away.
The next year, I again had a great spot when three deer walked almost directly in front of me. When I moved ever so slightly to get a good shot on one, they spotted me. One of them screamed (deer can scream and sound like the Muppet Beaker) and my chance was lost again. I didn’t see another deer the rest of that season, and got lost in the woods, three times. It was still fun.
And this year I made plans well in advance and was in the woods on the first day of the season. I was in a good position and I saw a deer only about a half hour into legal hunting. I shot at it twice, convinced I got a kill shot, but had only lightly grazed the beast. Hours later, after a fruitless search for a dead deer that wasn’t, I was confident that my day was over and was content to laze and doze on my old ridge from my first year.
Later on, early in the afternoon, at time when deer are not usually active, two more came to me. I managed to get off a solid shot on a small button buck. It went down quickly and I gave it extra time to die. I saw where he fell and waited 15 minutes. I found it, feeling proud and sad at the same time.
My good friend Steve, who got me into hunting, helped me greatly and without his help I would have come home empty handed again. He was hunting nearby and came to help and take my photo with the deer. He showed me some of the finer points of field dressing and soon I was ready to go.
The deer looked small, but didn’t feel very small while I was dragging it out of the woods. In a few days I’ll return to Connecticut and collect a hefty box of delicious venison from a butcher. Our freezer will be full for at least the first part of the winter. And I can’t wait to go back next year.