I have been thinking about my dad a great deal lately. I miss his laugh and enthusiasm for life. He loved the outdoors and taught his boys to love it as well. There were four boys in our family and dad loved each one of us in the way that we each needed to be loved. I have many good memories of my father but, one time stands out among the rest. It started with making a bow.
We lived in a housing track on the south side of Blythe California. Our house butted up against a well and pump house that distributed water for our area. We had built a basket weave, redwood fence around our property and Dad set up a couple of hay bales against the fence in front of the pump house. My dad loved archery, and taught us boys to shoot while we were young. This was in the early 60’s. At that time I had never heard of a compound bow; I am sure they were around, but we shot re-curve bows, and shot instinctively, without sights.
When I was old enough to shoot, dad bought a little green nylon bow that had about a 15 lb pull. Dad made arrows for it out of cedar. From where we stood to shoot, the hay bales were about 30 yards away. With those cedar arrows and that little 15lb bow you had to aim about a foot and a half above the target. I increased in accuracy, and could lob arrows into the bales of hay more often than I did into the pump house. After awhile he saw that it was time to do something, so we looked around for a better bow that I could handle.
I do not remember exactly why, but we chose to buy a bow blank from Herter’s catalogue. It probably had to do with price. In 1966 a Bear Kodiak Magnum sold for $65. I think we got the bow blank for around $20 from Herter’s. To put those prices into perspective, the average income in 1966 was about $4 an hour or $6500 a year. That makes $20 dollars sound like a large amount of money. Anyone who hunted or shot a bow in the 60’s, knows about Herter’s mail order. You could buy anything to do with archery from them. We ended up buying a re-curve bow blank, which required cutting the sight window and grip, and finishing with stain and lacquer. As I recall it took about 3 weekends to complete.
When we finished, I had a bow with a 45 pound pull at 28 inches. It was a beauty. I got to where I could put a group of twelve arrows from 30 yards in a paper plate pretty consistently. I also found out that when you missed the hay bales and hit the pump house it made a very nice hole. After a few months of shooting daily I felt I was ready to go hunting and asked dad if I could hunt with him the following season. He agreed and we began to plan the trip. I think archery season was in August in those days, but I am not sure, now days for that area the season is in October. I remember the day we took off to hunt it was hot. That was no big deal we lived in Blythe California; the average temperature during August is in the 110 degree range. It was supposed to be hot.
We hunted up and down the Colorado River for three of four days. We rose early every morning, set up around alfalfa fields with binoculars plastered to our faces, and looked. I enjoyed the mornings; it was cool and provided a chance to rest your legs. We saw plenty of deer, but nothing that was shoot-able.
A legal buck was forked horn or better, all we saw were doe and fawn. The first time I spotted a doe grazing in a field of alfalfa was very exciting. After a day or two it became discouraging to see deer and not be able to shoot. We stayed on our stands until mid morning. Then would drive along alfalfa fields and brush patches looking for sign. In the evening we would find another stand and sit until after dark. There were a few times where dad found sign along a thick patch of brush and we would slowly stalk from either side towards each other. That tactic was never successful, but it broke up the monotony of sitting.
I woke up on our last day of the hunt tired, hot, and discouraged. I think dad was little discouraged too. We had breakfast and talked about what we would do that day. It turned out to be the same routine. We saw nothing that day, not even doe. By around four in the afternoon we were both ready to call it quits and go home. We packed up and headed back towards Blythe. We were down around sixth avenue close to the river. As we drove out of the area dad spotted an irrigator walking towards his car. We stopped and dad talked to him in Spanish about deer. We climbed back in the car and he looked at me and asked if I would like to try one more spot. The irrigator told him that he had seen a big buck that morning in an area behind where we now were. I beamed and nodded my head yes; the excitement level was once again high.
Turning the car around for one more try, we cruised around for about 10 minutes not seeing anything. As we drove over a small carry ditch, we saw him. In my little mind’s eye he looked ten foot tall with tree branches for antlers. Dad did not stop; he drove by and parked by an old cottonwood tree. We sat in the car and stared out the windshield for a few minutes while dad gathered his thoughts. He started by saying “Son, what do you think?” I am sure I blabbered something; I can’t remember what for sure. While I blabbered Dad was getting a plan together in his mind.
After quieting me down he laid out the plan. Because the buck was down in side of the dry ditch, I could crawl on the outside staying below the bank and not be seen. I gathered my gear together, got a few last minute instructions, and started the crawl. The ground was hard and dry with alfalfa stubble jabbing me as I crawled. I tried to crawl in different positions, while being as quiet as possible. I looked back once or twice to get encouragement from my hunting partner, he would nod and smile and that kept me going. We had guessed that the place to stand up was the third or fourth irrigation check. As I reached the fourth check, I began to smell a very bitter smell. It smelled a little like a skunk but not as strong.
I slowly turned my head and looked back at dad. He was squatting down and made a motion for me to stand up. I took a deep breath and stood. There are no words to describe what I felt the instant I stood and saw the buck at bows length away, staring back at me. His mouth was full of grass. It was as if time stood still. The buck stopped chewing and his mouth hung open as if to say, “what the…?” We stared at each other for what seemed like an hour. I kept waiting for him to put his head down and turn just a little more sideways so that I could get a better shot at him. Actually I would have preferred if he would have backed away ten or fifteen feet, he was way too close. I had never shot at anything that close to me before. I had a feeling that if I stretched out my bow to draw the arrow back it would have touched him; he was that close.
Coming back to reality I heard in the distance “Shoot, shoot, shoot the buck son”. The buck heard it also; he came out of his stupor, shook his head, spit out the mouthful of hay and jumped up on the other side of the bank. He looked back one more time with disbelief and I think he said “How the…?” and then disappeared from sight. The reality of the whole situation hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I missed a great opportunity. Little did I know it would be one of the best chances of my life; nor did I realize at that time that people go through their whole lives and never have a shot like that. I drug myself back to dad. He was supportive, but he was disappointed also. I will always regret not shooting, and cannot explain why I did not shoot other than I was twelve and got buck fever. I am grateful for the opportunity to see how much my dad loved me. He let his son go after a once in a life time buck even though he had never shot a deer himself. As always my dad put his family first.
I have thought about that story many times since then and always regretted that dad never killed a deer. So I have decided to do something about it. I just got a hold of my dad’s old bow this year. My brother brought it back around Christmas time. He was going through the house looking for odds and ends, because a bunch of junior genius’s broke in to the house and stole all of dad guns. We were all broken hearted about that, but what can you do. Anyway, I have dad’s old bow it is a Ben Pearson Silver sovereign 50# pull at 28”. I got the idea of taking it hunting this year. I have started the process to determine whether it is in good enough condition to take it hunting, and I am writing an article called “The Old Bow Project” where I will chronicle from start to finish the things I go through in getting the bow and myself, ready to hunt. I will include as many memories about dad as I can remember. Whether I can shoot his bow or not I am going to take it with me, so I will have a piece of him along on the hunt.
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