The pursuit of perfection
By Andy Wittry
For six seconds he waits, before finally releasing the trigger release on his bow.
In quick succession, two sounds pierce the thick, constant hum of mosquitos: the zip of the arrow being fired and the dull thump of its razor-sharp point impaling the deer’s midsection.
“Gut shot city,” Tony said.
He sets down his bow against a nearby tree and makes his approach to examine his kill shot.
The deer never stood a chance. A lifeless, foam deer target is no match for an archery aficionado like Tony, who sports fiber optics on his bow with three colored pins that provide him with lethal accuracy.
After reclaiming his arrow from the deer’s torso, Tony, an infosec security engineer for Teradata, moves to the next target with his shooting partners, Dan Deckard Jr. and Daniel Deckard III.
It’s the Bloomington Archery Club’s night shoot — part of the club’s grand finale weekend before deer season kicked off on Oct. 1 — and Dan Deckard the younger is making an unprecedented push to defeat his old man for the first time in archery.
Three stakes are positioned in front of each target, giving archers the appropriate challenge based on their skill level. Tony and Dan shoot from the yellow stakes placed for traditional longbow hunters to shoot from.
Daniel is taking advantage of shooting from the blue stakes, which he said were recently moved closer to the targets and are meant for “cubs” — younger shooters who typically fall in the nine to 11-year-old ?age range.
Dan, a toolmaker at the Naval Sea Systems Command in Crane, Ind., has been trying to get Daniel to hunt for years, but he doesn’t like guns. He’d rather have a bow in his hands.
In Indiana, state law requires hunters to use bows that have a pull of at least 35 pounds. This is Daniel’s first year meeting that ?requirement.
“This’ll be his first year bow huntin,’ actually sittin’ in a tree by himself,” Dan said.
The trio comprises three of the 29 shooters at the club’s night hunt, where each group makes its way around the 20-target course.
The club owns 20 acres of land south of Bloomington, a few miles off of Highway 37. The property is long and narrow, with the course zig-zagging across the land to both maximize space and prevent errant arrows from intruding onto neighbors’ property.
During deer season, Tony hunts on his property just south of Lake Monroe, where a plethora of wild animals make their home.
“(You) name it,” he said. “Bobcat, deer, turkey, ky-ote —a lot of ky-otes —rabbit, squirrel, everything.”
But until then, he fine-tunes his craft by taking aim at a variety of foam targets, including deer and bears.
“Sometimes we’ll put another deer there or maybe it’s fending off a ky-ote ,” Tony said. “We try to make the situations as real as possible.”
Sometimes archers will face a downhill shot as if they’re walking upon a ravine or a view of a target that’s partially obstructed by tree branches.
It’s all to give hunters a more realistic environment to get ready for deer season, when the club shuts down.
Each target is labeled with a kill zone.
An arrow that lands in the inner circle is worth 10 points — although hunters can earn bragging rights and sometimes an extra point, depending on the event’s rules, if they hit the inch-wide ring in the center of the 10-point circle. The next level is an eight-point ring. All hits outside of the large ring earn five points.
Hunters keep score for each target, similarly to golf, but involving more ?precision.
“This is way funner than golf,” Dan said, adding that he doesn’t have to pack 18 golf balls to practice archery at the club.
Some of the club’s top hunters compete in national competitions. In order to qualify, they have to shoot back-to-back flawless rounds, scoring a perfect 400.
Lesser skilled hunters will find ways the pick up extra points by using advantageous equipment.
“Some of these competition shooters shoot a really, really thick arrow and they call them line-cutters,” Tony said.
“Yeah, cause they’re cheatin’,” Dan said.
“Cause they’re not very good at shooting so they just,” Daniel said before getting interrupted by his father.
“That’s why I shoot a 2-inch broad rig,” Dan said, bringing all three hunters to laughter.
When it comes to shooting foam targets, Tony said there are two kinds of hunters—those who focus on racking up the highest number of points possible and those who aim for kill zones that would kill a living deer.
“So some people don’t care about score, they just want to get a good kill,” he said.
Tony falls in the latter of the two categories.
“I like to get the good kill, but this is so unlike my shooting,” he said.
As the group pulls their arrows out of the third target, Dan realizes Tony isn’t carrying a scorecard.
“You’re not keeping score, are you?,” he asks Tony.
“No,” Tony said. “I’m just having fun being out here.”
Tony simply likes being out in the woods, experiencing the sights and sounds of nature. He said he doesn’t necessarily have to kill any game when he goes hunting because he finds peace in the woods.
It’s where he goes to remove stress.
Daniel echoes Tony’s sentiment, saying the woods isn’t just a good place to take off stress, it’s the best place for him to deal with whatever stress presents itself in the life of an eighth grader.
“That or the bed, to take a nap,” he said.
Tony said sitting in the woods and thinking about nothing other than the target is one of the best stress relievers.
“You’re so concentrated on just making the perfect shot that nothing else matters, really,” he said.
His razor-sharp focus on the target ahead of him doesn’t mean that he’s not aware of his surroundings. Tony’s love of the woods comes from watching how the environment changes around him.
Being a lifelong hunter, ever since he learned how to shoot a shotgun at the age of 12 — “so 28 years, man that sucks saying that,” he said laughing — he’s learned the telltale signs that mark the arrival of a storm or the passage of an animal through the brush.
“I mean you can really tell when something’s about to happen in the woods, the whole woods change,” Tony said.
As if their minds were in sync, Dan takes over the story from Tony. He describes sitting in his tree stand, hearing birds chirping and squirrels rustling around him.
A silence falls upon the woods and there’s no movement in any direction.
A deer might walk out from behind a tree 40 yards away, surveying the landscape. Or a few coyotes run through a nearby clearing.
Dan said his coolest observation in the woods occurred last year, when he watched the back-and-forth struggle for an acorn between a squirrel and a chipmunk.
The chipmunk had buried it in his hole and left, but always stayed within eyesight of his treasure. The squirrel came by and the chipmunk chased it off, then he checked to make sure it was there before leaving again.
After a 20-minute battle, the squirrel managed to dig the acorn out and fled with its stolen property.
“And there I am 20 feet in the air watching, it’s funny,” Dan said. “They don’t even know I’m there. Just watching the animals do what they do, it’s just fun.”
A lot of hunters don’t shoot from tree stands, Dan said, but he finds it relaxing and there’s enough kid left in him that he can sit up there all day.
As a sport, archery and bow hunting cater to those who exhibit excellent patience.
“You might hunt your first day and kill a deer, you may hunt five years before you shoot at one,” Dan said. “It all depends on where you’re at and what you’re doing.”
From steadying a shot to the time spent waiting for an animal to move within the bow’s range, it’s irresponsible to be in a rush.
Tony and Dan say a hurried shot is the wrong way to hunt.
Dan said when bows first became legal, people were worried about killing deer ethically and not making them suffer through painful wounds. However, he finds that most bow hunters are more ethical than any other hunters.
“They strive for the perfectionist shot,” he said.
Perfection has paid off a number of times for Dan. He pauses to think about his best kill ever.
“Mine, phew, I’ve had all kinds of neat, fun ones,” he said.
He decides his best ever was when he killed a huge, eight-point buck last year with a shot to its neck. Honorable mention goes to the doe he killed as she plowed in front of him and right underneath his tree stand.
Tony said that if you can hear a deer crash about 40 to 60 yards from where it was shot, that’s the sign of a good kill.
Dan said his buck fell around 50 yards away and was probably dead 10 yards before he fell.
“They’ll run and run and run on hardly any blood at all so you got to make sure they’re down and leave them down for a while,” Tony said.
The bows that hunters use don’t have the force that guns do.
“When you’re shooting with a gun, it’s got the knockdown power, you know,” Dan said. “So when it hits, it knocks them down and most of the time they don’t get back up.”
Hunters with a quiver full of arrows on their back and a bow in their hands rely on perfect shots to kill their game.
Dan’s hunting quiver only holds four arrows, so that’s the only ammunition he brings when he goes into the woods.
“But nine times out of 10 you only need one,” he said. “They don’t usually stick around for a miss.”
Dan has killed deer. He has had perfect shots on the club’s foam targets. But there’s still one goal he has yet to accomplish as a hunter striving for perfection.
“I’ve never had actually one just drop, straight drop,” Dan said. “But I’m waiting, it’ll happen.”
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