Primitive approach to hunting
Vail, CO Colorado
CAMP HALE ” When I ask Tom Hardenow what he thinks of rifle hunting, he gets a little crazy in the eyes.
“Rifles? Rifles? Those noisy things? Where do you think you are?”
It’s quite obvious where I am, and where I am is definitely not a NRA convention. Many people here proudly refrain from shooting rifles. Instead of gunshots, I hear the quiet creek, whoosh then thump of arrows leaving bows and hitting targets.
I’m at the Colorado Bowhunters Association Jamboree at Camp Hale, a beloved long running three day gathering for lovers of the ancient and traditional way of hunting.
Hardenow is a tall and burly man drinking a bottle of Budweiser. He’s about to eat a large sausage on a bun. He has a long, curly black beard, short cropped hair and wears a lot of camouflage. A good 70 percent of the people here are wearing camouflage. His buddies, all gathered around a four-wheeler, look about the same.
Three of them have wads of tobacco stuffed behind their bottom lips and the trademark round cans showing through the back pockets of their dirty blue jeans.
They all laugh at their friend.
“Don’t get him started,” they say.
Hardenow has apparently given a variant of this speech before ” and especially in the presence of a newspaper reporter, one who had just moments before admitted to have never been on a bowhunting trip ” he seems to have a little fun looming over me with a tilted head and wide eyes, entertaining his friends and putting on a show in this exaggerated character of his, the opinionated, straight-talking, backcountry hunter who wants to set the city boy straight.
Hardenow sums up the wide appeal of bowhunting with the word “primitive,” a word I hear repeatedly from just about everyone I talk with.
“To kill an animal, you have to be right up with it,” he says. “You can’t just knock him down from a few hundred yards away.”
Bowhunting requires a certain intimacy with the animals. To have any chance of killing an elk with a bow, you have to be up close and personal with it. You have to hear it breathe and snort.
Hardenow says there’s a naturalness to shooting a bow and arrow that these hunters are drawn to ” it’s the knowledge that this was the way man killed his food before gunpowder, shotgun shells and telescopic sights.
Hardenow here is basically paraphrasing Obi Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars movie. While showing young Luke Skywalker his father’s light saber for the first time, Kenobi calls blasters “clumsy and random” and calls this light saber “An elegant weapon, from a more… civilized age.”
You could argue whether bow hunting comes from a more “civilized” age, but it definitely comes from a more simple time, one based on survival and need.
At the end of our conversation, Hardenow, now shedding his character, smiles and says he has nothing against rifle hunters. He hunts with a rifle himself sometimes.
After all, “we all just love being in the outdoors,” he says.
It’s hard to find a bowhunter here who didn’t learn the skill from his father. Before bowhunting ever assumes that Zen like state in an adult, that way of becoming one with nature and the animals, it’s really just a way to bond with your family.
It’s a way to shoot things. It’s a game to get better at and beat.
The older folks remember first picking up a bow at ages two and three, shooting targets propped up against the side of a ranch house with their mother and father, and they remember starting their own kids at age two and three the very same way.
Bowhunting at every step of the way is a family affair. You can watch future hunters in their bow-wielding infancy at the children’s range. Rows of model dinosaurs mixed with a bear and a wolf and an alligator are the targets.
Fathers and mothers stand behind their little ones, coaching them through the difficult process of arming a bow, pulling back the string and letting it go with a steady hand, enough to slay a very dangerous looking Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“I got him, Dad! I got him,” screams five-year-old Tyler Payne from Boulder.
“Yeah you did. You got him right in the neck!” says his father, John Payne.
“No, I got him in the brain. He would be dead!”
“Yeah, he would dead,” John Payne says, turning around to look at me. “God he loves this.”
Add a good 15, 20 years to little Tyler, and you have Thomas Diesing, who had a bow placed in his hand at about age two and had his first kill at 13 or 14.
“It’s an important day in the life of an archer,” he said.
He was there at the jamboree with his father, Tom Diesing of Loveland, an expert elk caller who gives a demonstration before a calling contest held on Saturday. He taught his son how to call too, and they’ve both won several contests over the years.
Like everyone else, they too talk about the primitiveness and difficulty of killing an animal with a bow and arrow. Tom Diesing says that even with the sophisticated looking bows they make today, it’s still more difficult than taking a shot with a rifle.
“I’m not dogging the rifle hunters, but it’s still a lot more of a challenge this way,” Diesing says.
My father taught me how to fish ” not kill elk with a bow and arrow. So, the Diesings suggest I find someone to give me a quick lesson.
That man would be Reggie Proctor, a jolly fellow from Colorado Springs. He lets me use his bow, which is streamlined and much simpler looking than several of the hard-core hunters I see moving around.
“You’re roughing it with me,” he says.
His instructions are simple” keep your left arm steady and firm, and when you pull back, don’t be a weakling. There’s a lot of force needed to pull back these professional hunting bows. As for aiming, well, that’s where the true skill comes in ” a sense of eye coordination that takes time to develop.
I miss my first shot and my third shot. My second shot hits what appears to be a wooden bear in the rear end, but it doesn’t stick. It just sort of bounces off. I’m satisfied.
“I’ve seen worse,” Proctor says.
Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or email@example.com.
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