The Day of the Three Toms

Archery is one of the most archaic art forms and means of survival known to man, it is as difficult as it is addicting. I spent more time searching for lost arrows buried beneath the dirt and grass like some ancient artifact left behind by a nomadic people than learning the techniques of archery as a young boy. Calming the mind. Muscle memory. Mantras of the forests. My lack of accuracy had to do with the fact that I had endured a damaging eye accident at the age of four that not only tore my iris apart, but left me with 20/200 vision and a scar across my cornea. This accident didn’t prevent me from shooting but it did prevent me from shooting well. Though I  had successfully killed a deer instinctively, archery, specifically hunting, was even more difficult and I was missing out on a huge portion of the craft.

 

It was Dad, who planted the seed and cultivated my love for hunting, fishing and the outdoors. He prompted the idea of  tracking down a left handed bow so that I would be able to utilize the 20/10 vision of my undamaged left eye. I began my research on the newest models and technology of the archery universe; Specs that read feet per second, draw length, dual cam this and carbon fiber that. Sticking to the family tradition I chose the organic, serpentine body of the Hoyt Carbon Element. And it just so happened that there was a left handed, camo colored, 2012 model on sale in a little bait and tackle shop in Northwest Arkansas.  After a few phone calls, Dad and I were on our way south to make the specimen mine. We spent a good two hours picking out a color coordinated Hoyt labeled rest, release, silencer and everything needed to complete a compound set up. It was a beautiful piece of technology, as if some alien machinery had fallen from a foreign spacecraft onto earth.

The moment we returned home I began to practice and sight in the bow, but never having performed any shooting movements with my left arm and having to draw back 70 pounds, I could only send off a few shots.

I felt a sensation of accuracy, of understanding and strategizing where my arrow could go. Before, my perception was always relative, I’m going to hit the target around this area, but now my focus was precise. Precise as I was good at holding steady, breathing and releasing. With my newfound accuracy, the pressure still mounted knowing I had only a short time before spring would arrive.

 

          Spring, for many hunters in North America, means “Turkey Season”. Dad had always been an avid turkey hunter, though he viewed it as a placeholder for the real season: Deer Season. All hunting begets alternative strategies of preparation & pursuit. The animal, the terrain, and the season change, but the pursuit, the challenge and the memory of ways past, do not. Turkeys are no different, they demand a certain preparation and pursuit if you hope to be successful at killing one. Evolution endowed them with strengths that hunters must overcome. Within the biological world, advantages have their price and balance is kept by trade offs. As is the case for many species of birds, turkeys’ possess exceptional eyesight, essentially seeing almost three times as good as a sapien. The angle of the vision is another noteworthy attribute resting at a field of view of 270 degrees, compared to humans who possess around 210 degrees. To understand these advantages one must think about what an organism does in order to survive. Turkeys search continually for food, bugs being one of the many sources of a highly nutritious snack.  Bugs too have evolved some impressive features of camouflage for increased survival. Turkeys have developed such an advanced form of perception that they are not only able to spot the slightest movements  of an insect, but also zone in on the presence of a predator.

 

          The chosen area for the hunt was Cherryvale Kansas. Dad owns quite a bit of farm and pastureland in Cherryvale which makes for some pristine hunting destinations.  What we call “The Cove” rests in a far, tucked away corner of a large crop field, a favorite route for turkeys and deer alike on their way to and from bedding. Equipped with a shotgun and my new Hoyt, we scouted the area and built a natural blind using a downed evergreen sapling and several broken branches set against a massive oak. Being my first hunt with the bow, I drew back a few times at different angles and stances trying to prepare for whatever circumstance may present itself. Rarely is one prepared for what nature has to offer. The randomness of her whisper and her howl are both unpredictable and ineffable. She is the mistress of chaos, the ever formless spirit that moves through all things.

We were set. The forest settled around us as the calm returned, our bodies shapeshifting into the fabric of our surroundings. We waited. In our day and age, the sensations one experiences while being totally still, completely silent and surrounded by life is an experience that is quite rare.

We, as a species, have built our hive out of industrial earth metals. Our temples tower above us penetrating the very sky that the old gods walked on. They house our most valuable treasures, the lifeless blood in which all of our deals are made. Shells and stones reduced to 1s and 0s. These credits rest within the confines of our online existence, guarded behind the elusive encryption and towering firewalls. Their physical manifestation rarely makes itself known anymore. Our identities are tied to the photos that we are tagged in, locked into the video angels we choose to share. The 44th selfie is the best one, so far. Likes determine love. Shares show that our friends truly care, a digital gossip hall of never ending scrolling. We become starstruck when the entity we interacted with online stands before us in flesh and blood. Suddenly we are frozen with fear, the animal instincts within us arises. The two worlds, digital and physical, begin to meld into one another yet continually remain separate. We ask ourselves over and over again which is the real reality. Gender only remains within a physical, social construct. You can be anything you want to be within the realms of the digital.  Pleasure, or the act of avoiding pain, is one of the highest mental states to obtain within the digital existence. The rules of one world do not transcend easily into the other and we find ourselves a confused species, caught between an ape and a machine, an animal and a god.

The reality we have constructed is ergonomically designed, hacking into our very genetics that code for our identities, behaviors and form. This pseudo reality shadows the existence humans have known for a millennium, stretching back to LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, the mother of all things living this day. Molded by time and altered by space, life has manifested into a far reaching, ever branching, forever evolving span of organisms, all of which operate off the simplest of complexities: the molecule. An atomic structure constructed of magic, forged into the present day body of all things living. A soul within a body, a mind within a brain, to one day be freed by the prison of matter into everlasting life. The price for ever lasting life is death.  

The systems that slither their way into our perception are designed to keep us hypnotized. Forever teased with the carnal release but never obtaining satisfaction. We are further snared into a digital prison one of which we can no longer operate outside of, or if we do, we find ourselves alone, abandoned, and forgotten. They proclaimed that these great strides forward would bring us freedom only to tighten the chains as we cheered them on.

“Turkeys.”

“What?”

“Turkeys.” Dad whispered.

          Emerging from the tree line 100 yards away, a tom revealed himself. And then another. And another. Three toms, not a jake or hen in sight. As if planned and practiced, they formed a horizontal line, a mirror image of one another. Fully flared, they began to walk the edge of the field, directly toward us. I mentally ran through the possibilities that could arise within the next moments, resituating myself for the angles that seemed best for a successful kill. My chosen arrow nocked, Dad continued to call, hastening the speed at which they approached. Within range, I drew back. The left handed bow felt foreign in my hands, my mind cross eyed and tense with the motion and pressure.  I became aware of my breathing, or lack of, while the three toms lined up as if posing for a shot. The first arrow I released struck the ground under the middle bird. It jumped wildly, high above the other two but settled back into its position and the three of them continued their approach. I sat frozen, disappointed at my poor shot, perplexed that they hadn’t all scattered. Nocking another arrow, the second of three, I took aim. This time I focused on the one to my right, he seemed like the biggest and held himself in a more controlled and calm way. The arrow flew through the air and ended with a bizarre sounding impact. The slashing of feathers and crushing of bones? No. It had been the smashing of phloem, the tearing of cambium and the deep penetration of the tree next to the big tom. Second shot, second miss.

One arrow remained and so did the three toms. Before my previous two shots, I believed that a successful hunt was within reach. Each tom had presented itself in an unrealistic fashion completely unaware of our presence and still they evaded two of my shots simply by doing, nothing. I had been the undoing of my own success. Nocking my third and final arrow, I cleared my mind, trying to release the previous two attempts, not allowing my confidence to be strained. The toms still remained in the distance, still aligned, still strutting. I drew back and eyed the pins, the weight of the draw straining my undeveloped muscles. The pin hung over the toms body like a laser causing the world around me to slow and synchronize, all matter condensed into this moment. The arrow glided through the air, untouched by space or time, its fate sealed from the moment I released it. I watched as it struck its intended target, burying itself into the feathers of the chosen tom, only to pass through missing the birds body and continued into the field beyond. My third arrow had missed its mark. I leaned against the oak that had supported me, and slowly accepted the fact I had no more arrows.

“Want me to shoot one?” Dad whispered from his vantage point.  He handled the shotgun and seemed eager to use it.

 

“No. They’ve earned the right to live this day.”

We watched them as they continued to circle the field, how they moved, how they gobbled. I felt defeated. The hunt, unsuccessful after all the time and energy invested. The opportunity given not once, but three times, and I couldn’t capitalize on it. As the sun began to sink further in the west, my head sank further toward the earth.

“What's the matter?” Dad whispered.

“I didn’t get one.”

“You didn’t kill one?”

“Ya. I failed.” I exclaimed.

Dad looked off into the forest as if there was some far off place that existed beyond the trees and stated, “It’s not about the kill, it’s about the experience. It’s about being out here in nature, It’s about tracking and calling and waiting and thinking and aiming and skinning. All of it makes the hunt. Don’t focus on just the kill. That’s only a small part of the whole experience. If you confuse killing with hunting, then you miss out on the experience.” His words danced like a shamanic song, weaving around the trees and moving with the wind. Their power ran over me like rain.

I reflected upon the experience, the whole experience. And that is where I found truth in the hunt, bestowed upon me by my mentor, my father, one whom had walked in the woods long before I ever did.

My vision of the hunting experience profoundly expanded that day. The wisdom I acquired bled over into other pursuits in my life. I realized that focusing too greatly in one area can cloud the understanding and realization of the whole. It’s not about the end result or the final culmination where you receive the trophy or the reward or the promotion, it is the day by day, the minute by minute, the moments that lead up to that point, that truly matter and that hold the most value. As I ponder these thoughts, a quote by Adam Ayers comes to mind, “Most of the moments where you thought you would find fulfillment, you don't. You find fulfillment in the most obscure, and unanticipated moments.” I treasure the realization that I had discovered one of those moments.