When most years pass, I don’t take much time to reflect on the one being left behind. This year I find that task much more difficult for a variety of reasons. Many things happened this year that qualify it as one of the best years in my life, and I will never forget some of these things.
Far-off dreams became realities. What seemed like an unreachable goal a few years ago suddenly came back into focus. I did things I didn’t think I would ever be able to do, and I shared some incredible moments with friends and family alike. There aren’t many parts of 2015 that I can look back on and dismiss.
Social media gives people a way of telling the world that they can’t wait to leave the previous year behind and begin new adventures with new hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, most people do the same thing every year. They never try to reach their dreams. They stay in the same place and bitch and moan about all of the bad luck that lands in their laps. They wish they were others and talk about some people who they believe have everything.
I’ve always focused on myself. I don’t care what this person or that person does every day. I glance at the posts on social media and never give many of them much thought beyond keeping myself informed about my friends. They may be friends who I see every day or they may be friends who I once shared classes with in high school and haven’t seen since that time. It’s always nice to follow the dreams and accomplishments of others…………even if some of them are not even real.
As 2014 was winding down I set some goals and decided I would put a lot of effort into achieving them. If you set goals and don’t do anything to achieve them, what’s the sense of setting them?
When my friends George and Chuck asked me to go with them to the Lancaster Archery Classic, I didn’t give them an answer for a week or two while I thought about it. I hadn’t attended a national indoor archery tournament since going to the Atlantic City Classic more than 10 years ago. After having reconstructive shoulder surgery, I didn’t know if I could still compete at the national level at an indoor tournament.
After shooting a couple of practice rounds, I decided I would give it a try. Even if I didn’t perform well, I would still be able to see a number of my friends who I hadn’t seen in many years. Some of them have performed at incredible levels in the professional ranks, some have gradually improved, and others still go to shoots to socialize.
When the whistle sounded to approach the line and the voice came over the load speaker, “This is the first scoring end.” I was flooded with a lot of memories. The memories ranged from glorious victories to crushing defeats when I had to sit in a car for a 15-hour ride home. One thing was the same though — my breath became shallow and my nerves aroused all of my senses. I was back on the line at an indoor national event — a place I thought I would never return to.
The first 30 arrows weren’t too bad. I didn’t punch the center of the target out, but I also didn’t put myself in a position where I would have a hard time reaching my goal of making it to the elimination round.
At the halfway point when targets were switched from the top to the bottom, I knew I would have to shoot better in the second half to get to the dance. I settled in and went on a streak. Before it ended I had shot six 33s in a row.
When the scores were posted that night, I was ecstatic to see that I had made it to the elimination round. I made the cut. I still had game. Although, I didn’t perform as well as I would have liked to in my elimination match, I was still satisfied to make it that far. In 2016, hopefully I’ll be able to improve my score and my seeding in the Lancaster Archery Classic.
The rest of the indoor archery season didn’t treat me as well as that first tournament. A lot of shoulder pain from my reconstructive surgery on it combined with a sub-par mental game kept me from shooting at a high level. Instead of caving in and finding the negatives, I focused on the areas I needed to improve and set out to take care of the problem.
I plodded along through the summer months with one goal in mind — to make the cut at the IBO World Championship. If I could do that, I figured my season would be complete.
In early June I went to the Great Lakes Shootout in Erie, Pa. I wanted to attend it because it would be the last time the second leg of the IBO National Triple Crown would be held there. With so many great memories from that event, I wanted to be a part of the last one held there.
The Great Lakes Shootout was the first national event that I ever attended. Unfortunately, I just missed winning the tournament that year. On the second to last target the spring that held the gate closed in my release broke. The arrow went sailing through the woods and I shot a zero. With a zero I still finished in fifth place with over 850 shooters in the class. If I had hit the target, I would have won the tournament. Over the years I would encounter a handful of situations with extremely similar circumstances that held me back from winning a national event. Every time the only thing that held me back from winning was an equipment failure. I plodded along and took it on the chin………every single time. What could I do? You can’t do anything when a bit of bad luck bites you. If you keep trying and put yourself in the position enough times maybe your luck will turn around one day.
The decades passed and my finishes in Erie were vastly different every time I shot there. Another memorable moment came when I was shooting Semi-pro. When I got to the last stake, a wolverine target stood between me and a good paycheck. At first glance the target appeared to be just shy of 50 yards. After further examination I dialed the sight into 47 yards and executed the shot. It landed dead-center in the 10 ring and I went home with another fifth place finish.
I attended the 2015 tournament to send it off in style. When I arrived it was raining. I knew I had to finish the shoot in one day, so I packed the umbrella in my gear and headed onto the range. It was a long and grueling day, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I probably should have broken it up into two days, but my traveling companions had to be home that night.
When I came off the range that night, I knew I shot well but a few equipment problems cost me about 10 points. I didn’t finish in fifth place at this tournament, but the seventh place finish was still in the top 10. In all the years I shot there, I was able to finish in the top 10 a number of times and did so in three different classes.
By the time I got to the IBO World Championship in early August, I felt prepared both mentally and physically. I had shot about the same scores the entire summer no matter what tournament I participated in.
After the first day, I was on top of the leader board. I figured if I shot my game the next day, I would have a good chance at making the cut. When the scores were posted the second day I was glad to see that I was going to be shooting on the final day. Instead of putting any pressure on myself, I decided to just shoot my arrows and see where they landed.
That morning I never shot an arrow on the practice butt beyond 2o yards. I concentrated on making good shots. Most of my practice shots were taken at the 10-yard butt.
As I made my way from one target to the next, I didn’t pay attention to what anyone else was doing. I didn’t know if I was winning, losing, getting crushed, or blowing everyone away. I really had no idea. I just focused on making good shots and remaining calm.
I only experienced one hiccup on the last day. When the last arrow was launched from my bow, I felt relieved. The summer of hard work was over. The guys with the cards would add them up and I would be told where I finished in the shoot out.
I felt a weird sense of accomplishment when I found out I had won. It had been a long time coming. I deserved it. There were many years when I shot much better and came out on the short end of the stick. As I’ve gotten older, my skills have deteriorated. The recovery from shoulder surgery was nothing short of amazing after thinking I would never shoot a bow again. That fact more than anything is what made me appreciate this win more than anything I’ve won in the past and I’ve won a lot of prestigious events along the trail.
Shortly after the IBO World Championship I packed my bags and headed to the backcountry of Newfoundland for my first moose hunt. After hunting elk for 20-plus years, I’ve never really dreamed of hunting moose.
After we threw our equipment in the luggage area behind the seat, we quickly got into the float plane and the plane was zipping across the water. My heart missed a few beats when the pontoons lifted off the water and the engine launched us into the sky. Within a few minutes any signs of civilization were behind us. I could see miles and miles of lakes, ponds, streams, and bogs. A half hour later we were being greeted at the dock by the cook and four guides.
I went to Newfoundland with no expectations. By the middle of the week the guides were getting a little nervous when none of the hunters had filled their tags. I didn’t care because I was enjoying every minute of the adventure. The killing of a moose wasn’t on the top of my list of things to do. I’d say I’m probably different than 95% of the hunters who go there. I didn’t really care as long as I could a true feeling for what moose hunting was like.
We shared camp with Dale and Cindy from Pennsylvania and Brad from Connecticut. Since we all had different backgrounds, it was a pleasant surprise to find that we enjoyed each other’s company the entire week. We actually had a fantastic time by sharing stories and talking about life in the process.
Dale finally broke the ice on Wednesday when he put a nice moose on the ground shortly after daybreak with one shot. Before taking care of the animal, he and his guide returned to the lodge to ask his wife to take some pictures. She gladly accepted and they spent the rest of the morning taking care of things.
The next morning was absolutely gorgeous. Although it wasn’t cold, the temperature dropped enough to make it feel a little chilly. I knew the moose would move…………and they did.
Shortly after getting to the top of the hill behind camp, we spotted a few bulls in the distance. As we stayed there to glass, we spotted a good one on the edge of the timber below us. Since the bull was cruising across a bog, we didn’t waste any time crashing through the timber to get in front of it. When we broke out of the timber, we couldn’t figure out where the bull had gone. It was nowhere in sight, so we snuck onto the next knob and peered into the forest on the edge of the lake. We still didn’t spot anything so Duane told me to take a knee and wait as he raked his axe up and down on a spruce tree to sound like a bull rubbing its antlers.
Instantly, I could hear the moose thrashing its antlers on the trees in front of me. A few seconds later all I could see were the antlers coming toward me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the body of the animal.
When the bull couldn’t locate another moose on the knob, it started to get a little nervous. A quick grunt and a race to the timber make me realize my opportunity was quickly fading. Running to the top of the knob on my right, I prepared for a shot in case the bull ran across the bog on the other side of the timber.
That’s when I saw it galloping like a thoroughbred racehorse. I led it a little and squeezed the trigger. As I ejected the casing, the distinct smell of burnt gunpowder stuck to the inside of my nose and Duane’s voice could be heard over the ringing in my ears.
“What a shot buddy! I’ve never seen anything like that. He went straight down. Let’s go have a look my boy.”
When I stood over the animal, I was in awe. Moose are amazing animals. The size of it was almost intimidating. I looked at the sky, said a quick prayer, and closed my eyes to take it all in.
My father killed his first moose about an hour later on another part of the lake. Getting them out of the woods was an awesome experience. I figured it would be harder than packing elk out, but in reality it couldn’t even compare. I had no problem with the moose and that was a direct result of the elevation. I’ve always been able to carry a lot of weight on my back, but out West it’s a lot harder when you don’t have as much air going into your lungs to breathe.
About a month after returning from Newfoundland, I packed my bags again and headed to the Midwest for a three-week stay. I’ve always lived for deer hunting and going to places where big bucks roam is something I long for the entire year. Although I love shooting in archery tournaments, there is nothing that can compare to being in a tree stand on a nice, frosty morning when the animals come to life and begin their daily routines. You never know what you might see. I’ve seen some amazing things along the way.
The first week was brutally hot. The mornings weren’t too bad, but the afternoons made us not want to do a thing due to the heat and humidity associated with the 80 degree thermometer readings.
Since we had never been on this public ground, we resisted the urge to lay around camp and waste time. We crawled through briars, trudged up steep bluffs, waded through creeks and streams, walked through swamps, weaved in and out of corn fields, and wandered all through thick CRP fields in search of any sign that might lead us to a big buck.
When the weather finally broke, we felt good about our chances. One of the places I found with my friend Brian looked as if we could get lucky if we returned to it. So, that’s what we did early in the second week.
Two hours into the sit I spotted a big buck cruising through some brush. It hopped a fence and started toward me before getting a little nervous and veering off in another direction. After a quick grunt to stop it, my arrow was on its way. It found its mark and as they say…………….the rest is history. From there I headed further West where I was able to capitalize on another opportunity.
The visible results don’t always portray the true story. People have a tendency to look at pictures and think the hunting was phenomenal, which it wasn’t. It was probably some of the hardest hunting I’ve experienced in the Midwest, but I learned a lot from the experience. Hopefully I can use the lessons to help me in the future.
When my eyes closed on the last night of 2015, I was happy. My life is good. I’m mentally at piece and feel good about where I’m at. I’m not sure if 2015 could qualify as my best year because every day I’m alive is probably the best day, but I can say that some of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced happened in that 365-day period.
I was able to compete at the national level again in both indoor and outdoor events. Instead of participating, I was actually near the top again. It was more rewarding than most people could ever imagine. I went to Newfoundland and got to experience moose hunting with my father. Heading toward 50-years old, it’s hard to know how many more adventures we will share together. He might outlive me or I might outlive him. Either way you can never take away all of the memories I have from all of the things I’ve participated in.
I can’t imagine 2016 being as satisfying, but then again I never imagined doing all of the things I did in 2015. It goes to show you that you can never predict the future. You can set goals and strive to achieve them. If you don’t reach them, you need to know that you gave it everything you had and you just came up short. Sometimes we don’t get to the top of the mountain. It’s those times that test your mental fortitude. Mine has been tested time and time again over the years. I will rest easier now that I’ve accomplished a few things I’ve always dreamed about. In the meantime, I will set new goals and look forward to the peaks and valleys of the upcoming year.