My eyes locked on the metallic blue of the bow, which hung from a spindle of the coat tree. I navigated the tables of baby clothes, shoes, dishes, puzzles and other items seemingly standard for yard sales. A leather quiver of arrows dangled from a strap next to the bow.
"Ten dollars," a man hastened to say as I took the bow by the grip. I held the bow out, sighting at imaginary game over my left fist. I'd never shot at anything, using a bow or a gun, but somehow I envisioned an elk, towering over the tricycle and skateboards in one corner of the yard.
"With the arrows and quiver, all for ten dollars," he added, mistaking my silence for hesitation. On my way home I stopped at a farm for straw bales, which I double-stacked against the shed in my back yard.
I measured out twenty yards by marching a high-knee 32 steps - three years as a flag twirler in my high school band, eight steps for every five yards ingrained in muscle memory. It made me feel my plans were futile. I was a 27-year-old woman from suburbia and sidewalks who had never hunted, never known anyone who hunted, who for some reason wanted to be an archery hunter.
And then of course, I couldn't draw the bow back.
Lesson number one: Your most important piece of equipment for archery hunting is obviously the bow. Go to a pro shop and buy one that fits you. It will be hard to draw a bow, since you're using a new set of muscles. The draw weight - how many pounds of pressure it takes to draw the bow - can be adjusted. Start with the highest weight that allows you to draw the bow using proper form, so you can practice correctly. Resist the urge to make big jumps in poundage. With today's technology, a new bow set at 50 pounds has as much speed and power as a ten-year-old bow set at 70 pounds.
I hadn't known that bow draw weight could be adjusted, but a neighbor turned down the poundage on my bow. Soon, I was addicted, finding myself putting water on to boil, say, and slipping outside to shoot a couple arrows. When I could put six arrows in a pie plate at twenty yards, I figured I was ready to hunt.
I worked as a reporter for a newspaper then, and when the regular outdoor writer hurt his back and couldn't go on a hunt, I got to go. Probably my first hunting experience shouldn't have been boars, but I was excited for the chance to bring home the bacon.
The seven men who were also hunting from the lodge were kind enough to withhold comment when I arrived at the practice range and opened the protective blanket I'd wrapped around my bow. I had spray-painted it in various shades of green, using ferns and leaves to make a pattern. I'd been proud of it, until I saw their bows.
Since I didn't have any camouflage clothes, I'd packed the closest thing in my wardrobe, a pair of black snow pants and a brown jacket. The next morning, one of the men volunteered to hunt with me - I think they were all a little worried. I shot a black boar shortly after daybreak. That man has been a friend for more than twenty years, and he's the one who took me to a pro shop.
Lesson number two: You'll meet other archers at a pro shop, and the great majority of them will enjoy helping you. Find a local archery club that holds 3-D shoots, which are typically courses using 3-D lifelike animal targets, set at different distances. Shooting 3-D will help you get better at judging distances, and the clubs will usually have tree stands. You will be more successful as an archery hunter if you hunt from a tree, and you must practice shooting from one. Draw the bow the way you always do, and then bend at the waist to get the sight pin on the target.
Lesson number three: I'm tall, nearly six feet, and made do with men's camouflage clothes in the small size for a long time. Now, there are a couple companies manufacturing camouflage clothes designed and sized for women. Buy quality clothes that fit and you will use them for years.
I shot my first deer, a Pennsylvania doe, from a kid's tree hut. I was lying down, reading Lonesome Dove, when a couple of deer entered the area, feeding on acorns. I had to put down the book, sneak to my feet, grab the bow and shoot. All the deer ran away at the shot. I'd read that you should wait at least a half hour before looking for a deer, and found out just how long a half hour can be. When I found the dead deer, I felt elated until a rational thought entered - what do you do if you get one?
You're ready. You can shoot your bow accurately. You've got the right clothes. How do you find game animals? What other gear do you need? What do you do if you get one?
Author with Ohio doe.
The best camouflage in the world won't fool a game animal if it smells like fabric softener. All clothes you will wear for hunting should be washed in an unscented detergent that has no UV whiteners. If you wear clothes washed in detergent with UV whiteners, deer and other big game animals will see you as a glowing blob, due to the way their eyes translate light.
You need to wash your clothes and body in unscented soap too, and buy unscented sprays to use on things that can't go in a washing machine, like boots, your bow and quiver. Once you've prepared your clothes, you can store them in a scent-proof container, like the snap-top tubs you can buy at discount stores. If you have to drive to your hunting spot you can change into your hunting clothes when you get there.
Hunting clothes that lock in your scent are more expensive, but will last for years and are worth the extra cost. Remember that we are trying to fool animals that have senses of smell hundreds of times better than ours.
Do your best to eliminate all human scent, head to toe, including your breath.
If you will hunt from the ground, you'll be more effective using a pop-up blind, which is like a big tent. It will help conceal your movements, such as drawing a bow. It will also get you out in the woods hunting, as you get used to hunting from an elevated stand.
I had a lot of trouble getting used to hunting from a tree. I couldn't even stand all the way erect the first time I tried it, I was so scared and it seemed so high. You can make gradual adjustments in hunting height, just as you did with bow poundage.
Pennsylvania hunter Amanda Auker. Always wear a safety harness.
Lesson number four: Never leave the ground unless you are strapped to a tree and wearing a full-body harness. Now that you've discovered this awesome past-time, you don't want to get hurt, and a full-body harness is the most effective type of tether to protect you if you fall. Tie a haul-rope to your stand and use it to haul gear up to you - never climb with anything in your hands. Concentrate when climbing into or out of a stand, because it's then that most accidents happen.
There are several types of tree stands, climbing, lock-on and ladder. A climbing stand has two parts, and you use them to climb the tree. A lock-on stand is strapped to a tree and will have a system of steps to get to it. A ladder stand has a ladder of steps leading to a platform and seat.
Make sure your elevated stand gives you a clear shot to a deer trail.
In my early years, I felt most secure in stands which had arm rests. I also did better with a hat and face paint - a full face mask made me lose depth perception. When you practice shooting from a tree stand, wear the clothes you plan to wear hunting, so you can see what works best for you.
A rangefinder is indispensable. If you've practiced at twenty yards, which is common, you'll need to know how far you are from the deer or other game animal you want to shoot. Once you settle at your hunting location, use the rangefinder to pick out distances in each direction. You may not have time to use the rangefinder on an animal feeding or walking through your area; also, you may not get away with the extra movement.
If you're going to hunt public land, you'll need a climbing stand, which you tote in and out of the woods on your back. You can't leave a treestand on most public lands, but you should check your state regulations. Make sure you buy a stand that has the TMA (Treestand Manufacturers Association) safety approval. Stands are expensive, but worth the price. I've used the same API climbing stand for more than fifteen years. If you use a climbing stand you'll also need a small limb-saw or pruners to lop branches out of the way as you climb.
If you're hunting private land, you can put up lock-on and ladder stands and leave them there. You can mark trails to get to them using surveyors ribbon or trail tacks, which glow in a flash light beam. You can also use a piece of ribbon, perhaps a different color, to mark a twenty yard shot in each direction from the stand
You'll need two types of flashlights, one with a small beam to get in and out of the woods. You'll need a more powerful beam for blood trailing, and also something to mark the trail as you go. I like to use biodegradable toilet paper.
Carry all your gear in a small backpack. I like the kind with lots of pockets, and use each pocket for a specific item. That way I know if I've forgotten something. You may want to include a small pair of binoculars, a spare release, and your cell phone.
Animals leave tracks and poop in their travels, they can't help it. They most commonly move from bedding areas to feeding areas and water. One of the easiest ways to scout is to walk a streambed and look for places animals cross.
Animals usually feed most at night. It may be tempting to hunt over an open field but once animals sense the pressure of hunting season, they don't step into open fields during shooting hours. Walk field edges to look for entry and exit trails, and follow them back.
When you scout look for fresh sign such as rubs and scrapes - both seen here.
When you find a well-used trail, think about why the animals are using it, and when you would be most likely to see them there during daylight. For example, if you try to hunt too close to a bedding area in the afternoon, you may startle deer out of the area. But if you sneak close to the bedding area in the morning, you may catch them coming from feeding areas.
You also need to pick your spot so that the wind doesn't carry your scent towards the animal. Find a tree big enough to hide your body outline, which will give you an open shot to a trail. Trim branches that are in the way if you have permission.
Brenda Potts is using a bottle which puffs powder into the air, to check wind direction.
Mix up your hunting locations as much as possible. Every time we enter and leave the woods, we leave some scent, and it doesn't take long for animals to become aware of our presence.
Care of Game Animals
As I walked up to my first deer, I stopped. Was it dead? I actually threw rocks at it, and touched its head with a long, skinny stick. Nothing. Great! Now what? I had a library book, a flashlight and a knife, and I'd never so much as cleaned a fish. Soon after making my first cut I passed out!
I'd been using a black-and-white, step-by-step guide to field-dressing a deer. Nowhere in the instructions did it say, "Contents under pressure." When I came to my senses, I went for help. I know now that there are videos. I think the best way to learn how to field-dress a deer is to watch someone else do it. Ask your friends from the archery shop to give you a call when someone gets one. You'll need good field-dressing knives.
I butcher my own deer now, but in those early years my knowledge of deer anatomy was limited. It's important to cool the meat as quickly as possible. If it's warm, and you don't have a walk-in cooler, you have two options: Take the deer to a butcher, expecting to pay between $50 and $100 to have it processed. Or, skin it and de-bone the meat, storing the pieces in bags in your refrigerator until you have time to cut it up.
You'll need a gambrel, which is a brace which fits into the deer's back legs, then used to hoist the deer off the ground so you can skin it and cut off the meat. You'll need knives and sharpeners. Again, this is another step where it's best to have friends help, until you get a few under your belt.
As a lady hunter, you'll be in the minority. But if you let that stop you, you'll be missing out on a terrific past-time that will continually lead you to the finest people in the world, not to mention the excitement of downing a big game animal. And as soon as you feel you've found your way, look for another woman who wants to give it a try and be her mentor - that will be your most rewarding hunt.
Lisa Price is a freelance writer living in Barnesville, PA, with three spoiled yet talented German Shorthaired Pointers. She enjoys all types of hunting and fishing, but especially archery hunting for whitetails.