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In the Outdoors: Woodland transfiguration, The archery Opener


“When I started bow hunting back in the early 1970s, the whitetail population was but a fraction of what it is today”

By Oak Duke,

    Archery season is upon us.

    Sunday, at sunup it started.

    Whitetail bow season is here again.

    Time to breathe again as in no other time.

    Entering the woods at daybreak on this first morning is akin to a birth.

    For Western New York bow hunters, October 1st occurred this year under the bright Harvest Moon (Oct. 29.)

    And like a spotlight, the moon hung in the sky, showing us the way before dawn.

    As hunters, once again we left our hustle-bustle lives; full of drives, demands, worries, successes, and loud noises, all battling for the front row seat of our consciousness.

    We learn again how to move, becoming one with the woodlands.

    But at first, we are all out or sorts.

    Stones, tossed into the woodland pond with a splash.


    And the ripples, our ripples, are concentric circles, waves of sound, flowing out and alerting all but the most self-absorbed critters that hide behind limbs and peek through leaves… to our human, so very human intrusion.

    This alien, discombobulated feeling at the beginning of bow season is not new.

    Every year, a rite of passage, this transfiguration on the way to becoming a hunter again, with it’s relearning and makeover of the soul is like seeing an old friend once again.

    We embrace it.

    But the learning process out there in the woods starts up with baby steps.

    And when we snap a twig, scrape against a tree, or stumble… trip… that chiding voice let’s us know how out of tune we are.

    It all comes back.

    Like riding a bike after a bit.

    As the heavy dew and lifting morning fog dripped heavily, pitter-pattering on recently fallen leaves, we perceive again that there is some natural-spawned ambient noises in the forest, helping hide and in a way camouflage our klutzy passing.

    But there is hope on the way in to take our stand.

    Leaves begin fluttering down and wildlife is on alert.

    Movement… could be danger.

    Deer are spooky and careful when movement and sound is everywhere.

    And when we get to the stand, it is like being home again.

    We settle in, hang up the bow and gear bag…

    And watch.


    A hawk.

    An owl.

    So slowly we turn our heads.  

    Woodland comes back to life, as chipmunks, say, “chip-chip-chip,” or “chuck-chuck” and finally quiet down, accepting us as part of their world…but with suspicion.

    But when that small in a big mean world, good reason to wear trepidation like fur.

    Blue jays and chick-a-dees, toss out their warning calls as we move in, settle down.

    And nature’s rhythms and scenarios begin to unfurl the show.    

    Comfortable and at peace, once again.

    Can’t help but reflect how things have changed in 50 years of being with a bow and arrow pursuing whitetails.

    When I started bow hunting back in the early 1970s, the whitetail population was but a fraction of what it is today.

    A half century ago there were very few bow hunters.

    Most of us shot Recurve bows, but there were a few of the older styled Long bows too.

    The modern compound bow, so ubiquitous now with mechanically  advantageous wheels and pulley-systems had not been put on the popular market, considered by most at the local archery ranges a gimmick.

    Deer calls, antler-rattling, or the idea of making mock scrapes had not been thought of back in the early 1970s. 

    No ATVs back then.

    We walked in the woods.

    Imagine that.

    A doe, taken with a bow and arrow was a trophy.

    The whitetail population was very low compared to today, here in the second decade of the 21st century.

    Western New York deer season started in 1938.

    According to the New York State Department of Conservation, about 48,000 deer were harvested statewide. So in 50 years, last season, in 2022, New York state deer hunters tagged over ¼ million whitetails (231,961.) 

    Bow season is here, once again, with it’s excitement, frustration, dreaming and longing as those of us who are woodland pilgrims once again undergo our annual metamorphosis, becoming hunters among the changing leaves on the ridges and hollows.

Oak Duke/Wellsville, NY/ September 2023

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