I'll never forget the look on my fathers face the first time I pulled my bow from its case. An uninterested blank stare of skepticism and doubt. He responded with a simple “Oh yea.” As if he was obligated to show some level of interest. My assumption was that he would be captivated by this new piece of hunting equipment once he saw it in action. I quickly set up a target and launched a quiver full of arrows down range. But he still seemed unimpressed and declined the opportunity to have a few shots. After a couple of failed attempts to persuade him to at least try it I finally asked him what his apprehension was. He responded with the blunt honesty I've come to expect from my father. “I want nothing to do with chasing an animal around with an arrow stuck into it. We'll end up shooting a moose in Clarenville and finding it in Adeytown (A community some 15km away).” Finally I had the truth of the matter. But I still believed that all I had to do was to get him to fire a couple shots and he'd be hooked. I have always been an avid firearms enthusiast and collector. But I have never been as captivated by any firearm as I have been by a bow. There is something about watching an arrow as it arches down range to find its mark that is far more satisfying then the recoil of a rifle. I felt like the same would be true for him if I could just get him to shoot it. Finally, after weeks of nagging, he gave in. After a quick run down of some basic techniques and safety precautions he launched his first arrow with surprising accuracy. He fired a couple more and handed the bow to me. He admitted that he was surprised by its accuracy but that's where his “enthusiasm” ended. I was dumbfounded that my “fail proof” attempt to lure him into the sport of archery had failed. To this day my father remains the only person I've ever had shoot a compound bow and not enjoy it immediately. He remained firm on his stance that a bow was a primitive weapon that would result in more frustration then success. Those of you who have participated in an archery hunt know there is some merit to this statement. Bow hunting tends to be an emotional rollercoaster filled will close encounters, heart break and disappointment. But determined hunters are rewarded with unforgettable memories when they overcome the challenges. There is unrivalled adrenaline and sense of triumph when you finally seal the deal. But my father still wasn't ready to take his first steps on the journey that laid ahead.
Then in the fall of 2011 I had my own personal moose license as well as a charity tag for the Power of Life Cancer Society. Although dad was skeptical about the idea of shooting a big game animal with an arrow he was more then willing to start moose hunting two weeks early. We had just left the Tim Horton’s drive thru, a bit behind schedule, and were headed to a spot we planned to call. It had just passed sunrise when we spotted a nice cow standing in a bog just off the highway. We were not looking for a trophy and decided it couldn't hurt to try her. To our surprise we were able to approach her with great ease. Perhaps due to the fact that she hadn't experienced any hunting pressure yet. Before we knew it she was standing broadside at 30 yards. I drew back, placed my 30 yard pin behind her shoulder and let my arrow fly. We both watched as my arrow passed clean through her rib cage. A second later dad planted a hand on each of my shoulders and gave me a little shake. With adrenaline in his voice he said “look at the blood!” It was as if you turned on a faucet on each side of her. She ran barely 30 yards before crashing to the ground. I lost count of how many times he said “I can't get over that” as we field dressed her and loaded the meat aboard the truck. It was clear he was now looking at this bow hunting thing in a different light. It didn't happen the way I had envisioned it, calling a bull into the seductive sound of a cow call I'd spent months perfecting. But the deed was done and I still had a charity tag in my pocket. A week later I was fortunate enough to stalk in on another cow late in the evening. After rushing and missing an easy 40 yard shot that only startled the animal, she stopped and presented another opportunity at 64 yards as she tried to figure out what she had just heard. I took much greater care in placing my pin and once again passed an arrow completely through her rib cage. Although the blood trail was not as significant, we found her 80 yards down the transmission line and had our moose for the Power of Life Cancer Society.
Suddenly his stance on bow hunting did a complete 180. He began to realize that modern bows were much more lethal then he initially thought. They were more then capable of putting an animal down quickly and ethically without damaging the meat.
He was beginning to understand my obsession with this sport and the benefits of bow hunting. Getting in the woods two weeks early, animals are not “drove” due to hunting pressure, potential follow up shots if you miss, etc. A couple days after the second animal was down he asked to try a few arrows. Next thing I knew we were both shooting my bow every other day. That Christmas my mother surprised my father with his first bow. I've never seen him become so obsessed with anything in my life. Shooting it almost daily at one point. Then came the day it finally happened, and on my birthday no less. An young black bear strolled into our bait. Dad drew his bow back and let an arrow fly. He quickly learned that shooting at a steep angle from a tree, that feels like it could blow over at any minute, is not the same as shooting at a target all day. Especially when you have adrenaline pumping through your veins. Although he missed, it was clear the bear didn't know what had happened. The boar simply looked around and walked back into the woods. I whispered “he'll come back.” Ten minutes later, sure enough, back he came to finish his breakfast. This time dad calmed his breathing, found his anchor and made a perfect shot. The bear piled up about 50 yards from our barrel. He finally had his first big game bow kill in the books!
His archery moose would prove to be a little more difficult. Despite our best efforts we were unsuccessful at filling a charity license with dad behind the bow for a couple seasons. Although we came close on several occasions, luck just wasn't on our side. Then when my father drew a personal license we were determined for him to harvest an animal with his bow. This hunt would prove to be the most frustrating hunt that either of us could remember. We were able to call or stock in on a dozen animals, including several trophy bulls. But every time they busted us and stayed just outside of bow range. Then came the faithful morning when a young spike bull came trotting across the bog licking his lips to the sound of my cow call. Despite circling us down wind he continued toward the call. Eventually he offered my father a broad side shot at 40 yards. The arrow was placed slightly back due to the animal taking a step forward at the last second. Nevertheless the young bull retreated to a tree line 200 yards away and expired there.
Now my father, a complete skeptic of archery hunting up until a few years ago, has two of our three big game species in the books. All he needed now was a caribou to complete what I’ve heard referred to as “The Newfoundland Slam.” In 2017 he drew an either sex caribou tag for Middle Ridge. We made a number of trips to the area we intended to hunt during the weeks leading up to opening day. After extensive scouting we decided to focused our efforts on a green belt where we had seen many caribou bedding and feeding. Again we were faced with a number of close encounters. We used the terrain to stalk in close to several young stags but were busted again and again. After many hours and kilometers of walking we spotted a nice respectable stag feeding alone on a ridge. We quickly assembled our gear and planned our approach. Unfortunately for us a narrow brook stood between us and the stag. We were able get within 60 yards of him without crossing the brook. My father wasn't comfortable at taking such a long shot in the 40km/hour crosswind. So we started following the brook hoping for a shallow or narrow point that we might get across. Before we knew it we were 200 yards from the animal with no place to cross. I immediately began to regret wearing hikers for footwear. My father however was wearing a high set of rubber boots and had a chance of crossing. Finally he instructed me to hand him my gear, which he carried across along with his own. He then came back and turned his back to me and told me to hop on. I hesitated for a moment as I played over a mental image of us going face first into the water. But as I looked up and saw the animal travelling away my hesitation faded. I'll admit that for 57 years old my father handled his 200 pound cargo with ease. Suddenly the hunt was back on. We kept a small cluster of trees between us and the stag to conceal our approach. Once we reached the tree we were only 44 yards from him. But unfortunately he is now uphill with the wind blowing directly across us and constantly moving as he continued feeding. Before we knew it he ducked over the ridge and was out of sight. Dad noticed he had walked parallel to a strip of trees and decided our best option was to get on the opposite side and hope for an opening. We quickly moved along the tree line and to our relief we came to an opening about 20 feet wide. I said “he’s going to walk through here for sure.” My father readied his bow and thirty seconds later we could see his antlers coming. He couldn't have presented a better opportunity. Stopping broadside at 40 yards as he tried to determine what he was looking at. Although his shot was made quick it was well placed striking the animal in the ribs just behind the shoulder. Just like that my father had his Slam. After a couple big hugs we approached the animal and admired his beautiful 33 point rack. After a couple pictures we dressed the caribou and loaded him aboard the bikes and headed home with his Pope and Young stag! My father had finally realized his dream of completing his “Newfoundland Slam.”
To say that I'm a tad bit envious of his achievement would be an understatement. But my pride and happiness of what he accomplished well exceeded my envy. Especially given the time and effort it took to have him simply shoot a bow in the beginning. But my fathers transition from a skeptic to a believer is true testimony of the addictive power this sport possesses. I encourage anyone looking for a new hunting challenge to give archery hunting a try if at all possible, you won't regret it. I can honestly say there is nothing else that compares to it. The adventures and memories we've created along dads journey are some of my favourites that I'll cherish forever.