By Nick Fowler
-- There comes a time when a father gets a rare opportunity to witness his child take his first step toward becoming an outdoorsman. I was one of those lucky fathers in October 2005.
Dale, a good friend and neighbor, asked me if I was interested in doing some traditional archery practice with his club members one afternoon. I figured that the practice and camaraderie would be good for me, so I obliged. I gathered my recurve and necessities, and began loading them into Dale’s truck, when Joshua, my 6-year-old son, came running out of the house.
He asked where I was going. I looked down at "my little shadow" and told him what I was planning to do, and that he needed to stay home. I immediately felt like I’d just betrayed my best friend.
To my left, I could see Dale was about ready to go. Over to my right, Joshua was standing with tears welling in his eyes. All at once, he began pleading with me to allow him to go. "Joshua I can’t," I told him. "Dale invited me to shoot with him and his club, and I feel that it would be best if I take you along next time."
Clinging to his mother, Joshua continued to plead his case. I was trying to decide whether to go or not when Dale came to the rescue. "Nick, bring the boy along. It’s OK. The guys would love having him there . . . it’s all about the kids anyway, right?"
Like a jackrabbit with his tail on fire, Joshua shot through the house gathering up his compound bow and a fistful of mismatched, hand-me-down arrows. Before I knew it, our road trip was underway, with Josh sitting upright and proud. I couldn’t help but notice his expression of confidence and determination.
After the introductions upon our arrival, we began flinging arrows at the tattered-looking 3D targets the club had set out for practice. The deer, bear and turkey targets were at 25 yards or more, which was obviously too far for Joshua’s skill level. He began to feel left out. Luckily, one of the members suggested that he shoot at some broken target pieces piled up to the far left side of the range.
This proved to be a great spot for him. Eager for this opportunity to show his stuff, he immediately began sending arrows toward the vitals of the broken javelina target. Arrow after arrow, he continued to shoot his little compound bow; while the traditionalists continued trying to outshoot each other on their makeshift range.
The practice continued for about a half hour when Ben, the leader of the club, went inside his trailer to retrieve some parts to fix a damaged arrow. Later, when he stepped out of the trailer, he shouted, "Hey, there’s a rabbit over here!" Immediately, everyone focused on the bunny about 45 yards distant.
I elbowed the guy next to me and said, "Come on, I know you can make that shot. Show us how it’s done." He gracefully drew back the beautiful recurve bow and let fly his custom-made cedar shaft. The arrow sailed through the uprights of the rabbit’s ears like an extra point attempt in football.
The group eased 10 yards closer. The archer shot again. This time, the arrow bounced off the ground and bumped the bunny. The rabbit decided to move closer to the undergrowth behind him. At this point, it was every man for himself. Everyone wanted a crack at the rabbit.
Ben carefully worked his way close to the rabbit. Drawing his bow, he focused and picked a spot on the rabbit. But before he could claim his prize, a voice yelled out, "Ben watch out! Don’t shoot!" Ben let down his bow and looked back at us with astonishment. Unknowingly, Joshua had made a perfect stalk on the rabbit just beneath Ben‘s vantage point.
No one saw Joshua make this stalk. In one fluid motion, he carefully drew back and let the arrow fly. Ben couldn’t believe his eyes. He just witnessed the essence of true instinctive hunting first-hand. Dale came running to be the first to meet the young hunter and congratulate him. Grinning from ear to ear, Dale said to Josh, "Do you realize what just happened? Joshua’s reply, "Yeah, I just shot a rabbit." Dale stood flabbergasted and replied, "Well yeah, you just shot your very first game animal, and you did it with a bow!" He went on to say, "Joshua, I don’t think you truly understand what you just accomplished here at such a young age, but I promise you, someday you’ll will!"
From that day forward, Joshua’s story was retold with high regard by each of those who shared the moment with us on that day.
Joshua grew beyond his years after that event. Perhaps we all consider the precious moments that are slipping away from us, and mentor our little shadows. Like Dale said, isn’t it really all about the kids, anyway?
-- Nick Fowler
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