Tanks, Bombs, and… Bucks?

Alex Vail

I took my first steps into the world of bow hunting at the ripe old age of twelve and, being from the Florida Panhandle, I spent my first few years hunting Eglin Air Force Base. If you’ve never had the opportunity to hunt an active military base, it’s something like this:

While driving to your afternoon stand, an armored tank casually pulls out of the woods and turns onto the road in front of you. Now on a military base, a tank’s primary purpose is to fill in the role of an old farmer on a tractor driving down a country road. They take up most of the road, and only do so on the twistiest, hilliest sections of highway in order to make passing them an impossible feat. A little while later, when you’re almost to your stand, something shiny on the ground catches your eye. Upon closer inspection, you realize you’re standing over some sort of misguided rocket, or Unexploded Ordinance (UXO’s as the military so eloquently puts them) that was fired from a jet but never exploded. When obtaining your license, they force you to watch a 15 minute film on why you shouldn’t touch UXO’s, which tells me at some point in history, someone decided it’d be a great idea to poke a live wire-guided missile. After stepping around the potential bomb like you’re walking on eggshells, you finally make it to the stand. And for the next four hours, C-130’s and helicopters routinely fly over, and the distant *WHUMP* of bombing runs can be heard from miles away. I should also note that this is Florida public land, so seeing a deer is about like seeing a unicorn.

But I still bow hunted as hard as possible, making it out to the woods every chance I got with my dad until I was sixteen and old enough to drive myself. Eventually I got used to the military maneuvers, UXO’s, and even got to where I saw deer on a regular basis. Try as I did, however, success with a bow eluded me for years. But I wasn’t without my close calls.

While hunting an archery only area on the air force base, my dad and I had met up at the road to eat some lunch. Since the section of land was walk in access only, we’d packed our lunches and were a couple miles into the area. As I sat in the middle of the clay road, eating peanut M&M’s, a warm breeze and dark, swift moving clouds overhead signaled that a storm from was coming. My dad had seated himself against a small pine just off the road and was surrounded by a blue cloud of smoke as he tamped down the tobacco in his old pipe. We began discussing the sweepstakes that was advertised on the back of my M&M’s package when we both suddenly looked down the road to see a 6 point coming right at us. He was about 70 yards away, our bows were leaned up against some trees just off the road, and I was sitting Indian style, right in the center of the clay road. Not daring to move, I glanced over at my dad. He mouthed the words “lay down” and slowly signaled for me to get off the road.

It was about this time that the sky fell. I slowly laid down in the prone position, and began to roll off of what was quickly becoming a mud road. Somehow the buck had still yet to see us, and I looked over at my dad to see that he’d at least managed to grab his bow. The deer was nearing the 50 yard range, and I was only feet from rolling off the road and into cover. It seemed like things might actually work out until I hit the edge of the road. The freshly graded road had about a two foot high lip on its edges, and a nice little ditch full of water that I rolled straight into. I was now floundering in a wet ditch, unable to stealthily crawl over the lip of the road, and in imminent danger of being spotted by the deer.

Finally, our little buck friend took notice of us, and without second thought, turned straight into the closed section on the other side of the road, and disappeared forever. So I laid there, face down in a muddy ditch in the pouring rain and asked myself, “Why do I bow hunt?”

The next season I found myself in the same archery area hunting what could have been the world’s most pathetic rub line. By Floridian standards, it was absurdly cold and I was bundled up like I planned to go on one of Shackleton’s expeditions. My shivers had long ago turned into full fledged convulsions and from the looks of it, I’d managed to climb the only tree in the area that was still in the shade that morning. All I wanted was to be in the sun. Maybe just warm up for a second. But I also didn’t want to climb down yet. It was, after all, only 8:30am. I thought that maybe doing some squats in the tree stand would warm me up, but the very idea of bending any joint in my body brought up visions of said joint shattering in the cold like an icicle. I was frozen, and unable to take it any longer, I lowered my bow and climbed down out of the stand.

All I could think about at the bottom of the tree was finding some sunlight and warming up. I planned to lie down like some giant lizard, right in the sun, and hopefully stop what was quickly becoming a painful shiver. I hopped from my climber, turned around, and was staring at a 70lb pig, just 30 yards away.

He seemed about as surprised as I was. We both had a moment where we simply stood in disbelief. I couldn’t mentally grasp the idea that there was, in fact, an animal within bow range, while he couldn’t figure out where this giant, camouflaged popsicle that stood before him came from. But I quickly snapped out of it and lunged for my bow just as he took off running through the brush. With my bow in hand and my near hypothermia paused with a healthy dose of adrenaline, I chased after the pig on foot. I ran full speed around a holly bush, over a fallen log, and caught a glimpse of the pig’s butt disappearing around a nearby thicket. I broke into another sprint and began to get an arrow from the quiver when suddenly…I was flat on my back. My shoulder felt like someone had tried to rip it from the socket and I was left staring up at the blue sky in confusion.

What the…

Looking down at my bow, I quickly realized what happened. In my haste to chase down the pig, I’d forgotten one important detail: To untie the paracord that I used to raise and lower my bow from the stand. I was now looking at a taut line of paracord that led from my bow and was securely tied to my tree. Like the neighborhood dog that stays chained to a stake, I’d essentially run out of chain and clothes-lined myself. Laying there on the ground, watching my breath rise up in the freezing cold, I asked myself, “Why do I bow hunt?”

It wasn’t until a few seasons later that I finally had success with the bow. It takes remarkable patience and skill as a hunter to successfully harvest an animal with a bow. Though at times it’s frustrating beyond all belief, and one of the most difficult forms of hunting, it eventually pays off. When I finally released my arrow at my first buck, the resounding “Thwack!” made everything worthwhile. All the times a deer was out of range, or didn’t present a shot. All bug bites, frozen fingers, UXO’s, tanks, muddy clothes and near dislocated shoulders were all worth it.

Had it not been for that silly stick and string, I never would have experienced many of the things that have shaped me into the hunter that I am today. Hunts would have gone much differently and probably a bit smoother had I always toted a gun around. But after all the work and trial and error involved, there are few things as satisfying as that first bow kill. So as I stared down at my buck, I couldn’t help but smile to myself.

“This is why I bow hunt”.

Legendary Whitetails - The Everyday Apparel Brand for Hunters

About The Author
Alex Vail with a new born fawn

Alex Vail

His major hobbies include hunting and fishing with a strong focus on fly fishing, kayaking, and bow hunting.

The Flying Kayak


Hunt us down