Sometimes it’s youngsters who teach us old folks a thing or two.
My daughter Maggie turned 12 March 28, and for months she had been burning my ear up about wanting a crossbow. I resisted, because I wanted her to spend more time shooting a compound bow, and was afraid a crossbow would become a crutch. Why worry about improving your abilities with a vertical bow if there’s a new toy around that holds itself at full draw?
“It’s the only thing out there I haven’t tried,” she said. “Plus, you won’t let me bowhunt yet.”
That last part is true because Maggie doesn’t yet possess the strength to pull back a compound bow with enough draw weight to cleanly and ethically take down a larger animal.
“Having a crossbow would mean that I could hunt during archery season this fall,” she added.
When crossbows were legalized for South Carolina’s archery deer season, I was against it. I thought crossbows were too much like shooting a rifle, since they are held in the same manner and the arrows, or bolts as they’re referred to on these horizontal bows, are released by pulling a trigger.
I believed they held a place in the world of hunting by seniors or those with physical handicaps. I ignorantly arrogant.
I gave into Maggie’s birthday wish and, on the night of her birthday, slipped into her bedroom and placed her new Barnett crossbow on her bed. This was after the family festivities had ended, so I knew that she wouldn’t be expecting to receive anything else that night.
When she found it, Maggie couldn’t wait until after school to take the first shots. I explained there were a couple of things that needed to be done first such as assembly, becoming familiar with the workings of it and sighting it in before she could shoot.
That next day, Mags and I ventured into the yard where I placed my archery target at 20 yards. I took a few shots and adjusted the red dot sight that came with the crossbow. Next, I moved the target out to 30 and 40 yards while still tweaking the sight’s adjustments for both windage and elevation until accuracy was all but guaranteed — as long as you were shooting seated with a shooting table and modified benchrest.
Maggie’s first shot came at 20 yards with her bolt striking the target about 6 inches off dead center.
“How’d I do?” she asked.
“Not bad,” I replied. “But, you’re going to have to get quite a bit better than that.”
“Daddy! That’s my first shot! I’ve never shot one of these before!” she exclaimed.
Within just a few more shots Maggie was hitting right around the bull’s-eye with each release and becoming more confident.
“Daddy, can I use my crossbow when turkey season opens next week?” she asked.
“No, ma’am.” I said. “You’re not taking a shot on any kind of critter until you’ve proven to me that you can be proficient with this thing and hitting the vitals on a turkey that’s trotting around in front of you means you have a target that’s way, way smaller than with a deer.”
The next day I explained to her that we were going to “take it up a notch” after a few warm-up shots at 20 yards. Maggie fired off a half dozen or so bolts and I moved the target out to 30 yards.
Before letting her shoot, we discussed how shooting various distances with the crossbow is much the same as what she’s experienced on her bow. The red dot sight has three vertical dots aligned in the same manner as the pins on a compound bow sight and, theoretically, the top dot is her 20 yard pin, the middle the 30 and the bottom one for 40.
She then readied herself to take that first 30 yard shot and released the bolt.
She continued to take shots at both 20 yards and 30 yards for the rest of the afternoon, consistently hitting the targets.
As we closed out that shooting session, Maggie shyly asked me, “Am I good enough to hunt yet?”
“Not quite but you’re getting there,” I said.
Maggie just shook her head.
On the following day, we ventured back out to practice. She continued to shoot “lights out” at 20 and 30 yards and I was impressed. I told her that we were going to move the target to 40 yards to see how she handled it.
Maggie once again readied to release a bolt. I told her to take her time, exhale and, at the bottom of her breath, hold it while squeezing the trigger until it fired. Almost immediately upon the release, we heard the tell-tale “thwack” of the bolt hitting the face of the target.
With little more than the fletchings and nock of the bolt protruding from the center mark of the target, Maggie brazenly cocked her head, looked up to me and asked, “You think I’m ready now?”
She took eight more shots at 40 yards, putting seven of them dead center. The one that did miss was only off by a few inches and would have done the job on anything that she would have been shooting at in a hunting situation.
Our first day of turkey hunting last Tuesday brought little in the way of opportunity. We did have two gobblers show up, only to hang out for several minutes just outside of range at around 50 yards. Maggie was disappointed and this was made worse by knowing that she couldn’t go again for several days.
When Friday came, I woke Maggie around 5:30 a.m. and we headed out.
Dawn was to be around 6:40 a.m. and we were almost late in arriving to our spot where we already knew that several birds were roosting nearby. Without gobbling or giving us any advanced notice, two longbeards snuck into our decoy set just after first light. I saw them as they were closing in from about 30 yards and alerted Maggie.
As the two Toms arrived at our decoys which were sitting out about 20 yards, Maggie was taking aim for a hard, off-hand shot. In what seemed like a flash, I heard the crossbow fire and watched as her broadhead tipped bolt struck true on what was only the second turkey that Maggie has ever taken.
On the drive home, it hit me just how wrong I had been about crossbows. Crossbows are not a crutch. They’re not about taking the easy way.
Crossbows are simply about the opportunity for someone to hunt in an archery deer season when they otherwise couldn’t and the opportunity to test yourself to cleanly harvest an animal in a more challenging way than with a shotgun.
I couldn’t be more proud of her.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter- @BHarveyOutdoors