I have chased critters all over this country. I have been to the Dakotas in pursuit of the mighty American bison, rode horseback over 20 miles each day for 10 days in the high desert mountains of Arizona chasing mountain lion, and endured the swamps of Southern Georgia stalking the American alligator. Even with these experiences, I never thought I would be targeting hyenas, wolves, ibex, and cheetahs, all on the same trip, in Northern Florida.
On the first day I was guided to a funneled game trail that lead into a small clearing. It did not take long and I encountered the first animal in my pursuit. There, about 30 yards away and behind a few trees was a warthog of all things. I could tell it did not realize I was near and even though there were several trees blocking the bulk of the out-of-place creature, the vitals were clearly unobstructed. I quietly drew back my Ben Pearson Stealth II bow armed with a 385 grain Gold Tip arrow. The wind was blowing left to right at about 10 mph even in the woods, but I was confident I could make the shot.
The release was clean and the arrow was on target. There was no blood trail to follow, but I didn’t need one. The African mudder stayed right where I shot him.
Such is the way of a 3-d target competition shooter.
Nearly 1000 archers and bowhunters from around the United States gathered in a small town near Gainesville, Florida over the weekend in the Easton ASA Pro/Am. They came from all walks of life; different disciplines of archery ranging from the traditional recurve to super fast and high tech compound bows, as well as different skill levels. And here I was making the trip having never competed even on the local level.
Between my two rounds of 20 targets resembling beasts both familiar and unfamiliar I was able to walk the different ranges and observe other competitors. I watched as Levi Morgan, a multiple time national and world champion from Brevard, North Carolina make a climb from 15th to first on the Open Pro class.
I spoke with Ray Hickman, who was competing his first time as a pro in the Senior Pro class. Nothing but smiles and excitement for being in the woods and shooting a bow, yet Ray was collected enough to finish 13th overall.
I shot with people from Georgia and Florida in my group, but shot against competitors from Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Illinois. No one ever had a bad thing to say as we were all part of the same family. A family of people from different backgrounds and lineages, but joined by the outdoors spirit that ran in our blood.
I met Daniel Hines who also made the track from North Carolina down to Florida for the weekend. He carried his son Nick. Both were competing in their various classes. Daniel was thrilled more for Nick’s sake than his own. Nick did not disappoint either, as he entered a shoot-out for third place. One eighth of an inch separated Nick from his chance to stand on the podium that weekend, but 700 miles bonded father and son to even greater heights.
I could easily see myself wanting to get involved in this type of competition. However, even though my wife and youngest son accompanied me on this trip, my oldest son and daughter were back home in North Carolina. Saturday night I read a tweet my daughter had mentioned me in, “missing my daddy #fatherdaughterdance”. It was the first time in 8 or 9 years that we had not gone together in what had become a tradition.
I drove back home Sunday afternoon and had plenty of time to think about the weekend and how I had shot in my first competition. I also thought about Daniel and Nick and their enjoyment together. I thought about the 10 year old boy I met on the practice range. We shot together all three days on the range. Just before we left we stopped at a BBQ joint not far from the range facility and there he was with his family as they were about to leave.
I thought about my 8 hour drive and having to get up early Monday morning and head to work. And I reminded myself about one shooter from Oklahoma who carried his young son. They had over 11 hours to drive back home. I joked with them one evening about whether the son was going to drive part of the way.
Then I began to think about the plans for this spring with my daughter and son; things that we will experience together. Isn’t that what this whole competition called ‘life’ is about anyway? The experience.
Bill Howard shot a 176 on Saturday and a 190 on Sunday in his first competition finishing 56th in his class.