Long-time rifle hunter hooked on bowhunting
By David Rainer / Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Neal Foster of Mobile has avowed his allegiance to bowhunting after bagging this trophy buck during his first season of hunting with bow and arrows after more than 30 years of deer hunting with only a rifle. The big buck, nicknamed Fuzzy, was captured on a game camera in one of the few photos where the buck was only walking instead of running.
Alabama's bowhunting community recently added another convert to its fold. Neal Foster of Mobile, a lifelong deer hunter who heretofore had bagged his game solely with a rifle, received an adrenalin-flushed awakening about hunting with bow and arrows.
However, it was his prowess with the rifle that eventually led to his introduction to the archery world. Foster, an avid king mackerel fisherman who has had a great deal of success on the Southern Kingfish Association tournament circuit was entered in a big buck contest with a bunch of his SKA buddies.
"They were giving me a hard time about killing my deer with a rifle," Foster said.
It was the deer he took last year with his rifle that led to his triumph in that big buck contest, and first prize was a brand new Hoyt compound bow, carbon arrows and accessories.
"I've been deer hunting with a rifle since I was about 14," Foster said. "I had never picked up a bow. The prize for the big buck contest wasn't a rifle or money; it was the bow-hunting setup. My buddy had been trying to get me to sell it to him, but I told him I was going to hang onto it."
The archery equipment had been gathering dust in his closet until two weeks before bow season opened Oct.15. He decided to dust off the bow and give it a try in his backyard.
"I had seen all my buddies doing it, but I'd never really been interested in it," Foster said. "But my girlfriend had been hounding me that I ought to start bowhunting. She thought it would increase the opportunity to get in the woods because I get a lot of invitations to hunt, but some of them are bowhunting only."
When he first shot the bow, he knew something wasn't right and took it to a sporting goods store to get it tweaked.
"It wasn't adjusted for me, so I had to get it set up for me," he said. "Once I got the sight and peep sight adjusted right, I started shooting. I didn't start shooting at 10 yards like most people probably do. I started shooting at 30 and 40 yards, because I figured that's where I'd be shooting. I didn't know any better."
Soon his shooting started to improve, and he became comfortable with his bow-shooting skills.
"Once I got the sights right, it took me about three or four evenings for it to start falling in place," Foster said. "I thought I should be able to make a good shot with it."
On the opening afternoon of bow season, Foster was in his tree stand and got his first opportunity to test his newfound skills.
"I shot a doe that opening evening," he said. "I saw that I could do this and I liked it. It was pretty awesome."
Then Foster's focus changed. He had photos of a big buck on his game camera but had never seen the deer when he had his rifle. The buck had pretty much gone nocturnal by the time gun season rolled around.
"I started hunting him morning and afternoon every day," he said of the buck he nicknamed Fuzzy because, on most of the trail camera photos, the buck was moving so fast the images were blurred. "It didn't matter if it was hot or what, mosquitoes or not. I realized I was going to have to go morning and evening if I expected to get a shot."
On the fateful afternoon, Foster was sweating profusely by the time he had climbed into his stand and gotten settled in for the hunt on a patch where he had planted a mixture of greens and grain crops.
"A small buck came in first," he recalled. "Then a couple of does showed up. I hadn't shot a buck with the bow, so I thought about shooting the buck. It was an eight-point, but he was young. I had shot the doe, but I'd never drawn the bow on horns.
"Then when I stood up, all the deer walked out of the field. I knew they hadn't smelled me because they didn't blow. I sat back down and a few minutes later a couple of does came back in the field. Then it started getting dark. All of a sudden, he walked into the field."
Foster stood up again and soon felt the dreaded buck fever starting to affect him.
"It was nerve-wracking. I was shaking," he said. "I asked the Good Lord to help me make a good shot. I took a deep breath and put that fiber optic pin on him. When I shot, I heard that noise of the arrow hitting him. When I heard that, it was a good feeling. I had the Illuminocks (lighted nocks) on my arrows, and I saw the Illuminock go off down through the woods. I watched the Illuminock go out of sight.
"I didn't know if that was a good sign or not. I called a buddy of mine, and he told me to get somewhere and sit down for about an hour before I went looking for him. I found the blood trail and then sat down. I sat there about 40-45 minutes. I didn't go back to the truck or anything. That was the longest 45 minutes of my life."
When he could stand it no longer, Foster took his light and began to follow the blood trail.
"I was following the blood and looked and saw the Illuminock," he said. "I thought it was either the buck or the arrow had fallen out. I didn't know which. But when I got there, it was the buck. He'd probably gone 100-110 yards.
"I about had a heart attack when I saw him. It was definitely a rush."
Foster's big buck, which rough-scored in the 150s, came from the coastal plain of Mobile County, proof that any habitat in Alabama with ample food sources can produce big deer. Foster is convinced age is what makes the difference.
"I've got trail cam pictures of this deer for the last four years," he said. "It gives you a good idea of how they mature. It's just like when I'm king mackerel fishing. If I have to think about whether I need to grab the gaff, then the fish isn't big enough. It's the same with deer. If you've got to think about it, the deer is not big enough. They're always smaller when they hit the ground.
"This buck just proves that you've got to let them walk. If you shoot the does and let the smaller-rack bucks walk, they'll see what happens when they get mature. But most people want to shoot that deer when he's two-and-a-half. This deer was 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 years old. That's what the taxidermist told me."
Even now that the adrenalin has worn off, there's still no doubt Foster is a full-blown convert to the thrill of bowhunting.
"It takes more effort," he said. "You have to worry about scent and preparation. But if somebody like me can pick up a bow and do it, then anybody can do it. I got out and shot 40 or 50 arrows every afternoon until I got comfortable with it. The thing is, you see a lot more deer bowhunting because of the earlier season, and you get more time in the woods.
"I'm hooked. I may not ever pick up my rifle again."
-- David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources