Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Road Less Traveled By

 Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 – Robert Frost

I dreamed of deer hunting.  Period.
“Why don’t you try bow-hunting?” my dad asked.  In the eyes of a father, bow-hunting sounded like a safer avenue of hunting as opposed to toting a high-powered rifle.  I was 12 and hadn’t hunted very much.  I had yet to kill a deer.  Some kids dream of throwing/catching the winning 4th quarter touch-down pass in the Super Bowl, or of hitting a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th inning in the 7th game of the world series…  I dreamed of deer hunting.  Period.

As such, my last thought was of willfully setting down my Browning in order to make things harder on myself to realize that dream.  At the time, I was content to take the road frequently traveled by.  Nevertheless, my dad prodded me further.  Finally, I found out that, in Tennessee, bow season opened nearly a month and a half before gun season. 

Bow-hunting = more hunting.  Sign me up.. 
And at that we went down to our local outdoor store which also happened to have an archery pro-shop in the back room.  I didn’t care about the brand, what camo pattern it wore, or how fast it shot.  At that time, in my mind bow-hunting = more hunting.  It wasn’t and didn’t need to be any more than that.  Sign me up..

Of all the gifts I have ever received from my dad, his time is what I cherish most.  If he was willing to pay for my time with his time, I must have been valued.  At 12 years old my mind didn’t comprehend that level of sacrifice.  At 26, words fail me to fully thank my dad for that sacrifice.  I walked out of Wiley’s Outdoor Sports that day with a PSE Nova, set at a mighty 40# with a draw of 26 inches.  Neither of us I realized what happened that day, but my dad had just given me the gift of bow-hunting.

At the very first shot something broke loose… Not on the bow, but in me.  I have found no better explanation than that of Ted Nugent, referring to it as “the mystical flight of the arrow.”
So I shot, and I shot, and I practiced, and I practiced.  It was the first activity in my life that no-one had to force me to do.  No external motivational input required. 

I had been given something I didn’t deserve.  And I knew it.
Within a few months I had outgrown the limitations of a youth bow.  On a random trip back to Wiley’s, the pro-shop manager Ronnie Kimbrough, handed a cardboard box to my dad with “HOYT” printed on it.  Inside was a Hoyt Razortec.  My dad handed it to me.  “It’s yours.”  It could have been a brand new truck and I wouldn’t have been more excited.  I had been given something I didn’t deserve.  And I knew it.

Amos Taylor, a staffer at the Pro-Shop offered shooting lessons.  For the price of a cheap burger, my mom took me to Wiley’s for weekly 1-hour shooting lessons.  Did he teach me how to shoot – form, technique, follow through, etc..?  Yes.

However, He shared something far more valuable.  He shared his passion for bow-hunting.  His hunting stories occupied more time than his shooting lessons.  I had none to share.  So I sat and I listened.  It was contagious.  He was contagious.  I am forever grateful for his lessons, but all-the-more, for his time.
What followed was a summer of hundreds and hundreds more arrows – thousands. Trips through the house and up the stairs to shoot off of our back deck to simulate shooting out of a tree stand -Amos’ idea- only to trek back through the house and down the stairs to retrieve my arrows – over and over. 

Spring turned to summer, and among the endless flight of arrows my dad and I fumbled through our first attempt at hanging a tree-stand at the back of our property.  To this day we lease it to a local farmer, and that season it was planted in soybeans.  As summer turned to fall I watched and patterned the deer that fed through our property – what, how, where, when, and why.  Every preparation made.  I was as ready as a 13-year-old could be.

Early season yielded close calls but no success - no arrow flights from the tree stand.

On October 18th, a Monday night, I was a little late on heading to my tree.  A lesson learned.  As I approached I noticed several deer, including a nice 7 pt. - a trophy to me at the time - were directly under my stand. 

My frustration and genuine despair only had to last a day.
The following afternoon, I came home from school, took a mandatory Scent-A-Way shower, and made it to my stand far earlier than the day prior.  At 4:30 on the nose, I watched as nearly a dozen deer entered the field, soon surrounding the tree in which I was sitting. 
There were several smaller bucks in this early season group, but I had quickly made my mind that the only deer I was concerned about was the one that gave me a shot. 

As I maneuvered in my stand to prepare for the opportunity I hoped would arrive, several deer spooked… all but one…  I don’t remember checking my yardage, I don’t remember making sure I had a good anchor point as Amos had taught me, I don’t remember settling my pin behind his shoulder, I don’t even remember having the conscious thought to ‘squeeeeze’ the trigger on my release… 
My only awareness then or memory now is of being at full draw, the flight of the arrow, and the emotions of a 13-year-old boy who had just realized his greatest dream…
I watched as the large-bodied 4pt. wheeled and spun off, and headed toward the creek, only to stop and turn back.  I watched as the deer tipped over, and piled up, a mere 20 yards from my stand…

-in those woods…
In the 13 seasons that have followed I have seen countless sunrises and sunsets in those woods.  Many more deer have fallen to the ‘mystical flight of the arrow’ in those woods.  I learned how to hunt and even something about the man I was becoming, became, and desire to be, in those woods.  For me it is sacred ground.

I often think back about how I got started in bow-hunting.  My dad took the time.  My mom took the time.  Ronnie Kimbrough took the time.  Amos Taylor took the time…  Countless others sense have taken the time.

-following Christ, not myself
For me, the yellow wood in Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ was hunting as well as life.  The two roads diverging weren’t merely bow-vs-gun-hunting, but about challenging myself.  Intentionally setting forth difficult goals with the foreknowledge that those goals would entail a prolonged season of planting before the season of harvest.  About following Christ, not myself. 
For me, I chose the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference...

If you have read this far, my name is Jake McNeal.  This is Harvest Season Outdoor Media.  Slowly but surely, this is yet another dream coming to fruition.  As I have been faithful to follow, Christ has been faithful to lead.  In the future, Harvest Season will continue to mature into the reality of His will and not mine. 
Instagram @j.p.mcneal
Twitter @HSoutdoors

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