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Home > Books > Hunting with the Bow and Arrow > The principles of hunting
Chapter IX
The principles of hunting
Part 1 of 2

In the early dawn of life man took up weapons against the beasts about him. With club, ax, spear, knife, and sling he protected himself or sought his game. To strike at a distance, he devised the bow. With the implements of the chase he has won his way in the world.

Today there is no need to battle with the beasts of prey and little necessity to kill wild animals for food; but still the hunting instinct persists. The love of the chase still thrills us and all the misty past echoes with the hunter's call.

In the joy of hunting is intimately woven the love of the great outdoors. The beauty of woods, valleys, mountains, and skies feeds the soul of the sportsman where the quest of game only whets his appetite.

After all, it is not the killing that brings satisfaction, it is the contest of skill and cunning. The true hunter counts his achievement in proportion to the effort involved and the fairness of the sport.

With the rapid development of firearms, hunting tends to lose its sporting quality. The killing of game is becoming too easy; there is little triumph and less glory than in the days of yore. Game preservation demands a limitation of armament. We should do well to abandon the more powerful and accurate implements of destruction, and revert to the bow.

Here we have a weapon of beauty and romance. He who shoots with a bow, puts his life's energy into it. The force behind the flying shaft must be placed there by the archer. At the moment of greatest strain he must draw every sinew to the utmost; his hand must be steady; his nerves under absolute control; his eye keen and clear. In the hunt he pits his well-trained skill against the instinctive cunning of his quarry. By the most adroit cleverness, he must approach within striking distance, and when he speeds his low whispering shaft and strikes his game, he has won by the strength of arm and nerve. It is a noble sport.

However, not all temperaments are suited to archery. There must be something within the deeper memories of his inheritance to which the bow appeals. A mere passing fancy will not suffice to make him an archer. It is the unusual person who will overcome the early difficulties and persevere with the bow through love of it.

The real archer when he goes afield enters a land of subtle delight. The dew glistens on the leaves, the thrush sings in the bush, the soft wind blows, and all nature welcomes him as she has the hunter since the world began. With his bow in his hand, his arrows softly rustling in the quiver, a horn at his back, and a hound at his heels, what more can a man want in life?

In America our hearts have heard the low whistle of the flying arrow and the sweet hum of the bowstring singing in the book, The Witchery of Archery by Maurice Thompson. To Will and Maurice Thompson we owe a debt of gratitude hard to pay. The tale of their sylvan exploits in the everglades of Florida has a charm that borders on the fay. We who shoot the bow today are children of their fantasy, offspring of their magic. As the parents of American archery, we offer them homage and honor.

Ernest Thompson Seton is another patron of archery to whom all who have read Two Little Savages must be eternally grateful. Not only has he given us a reviving touch of the outdoors, but he puts the bow and arrow in its true setting, a background of nature.

When Arthur Young, Will Compton, and I began hunting with the bow, we wrote Will Thompson to join us. Because he is such a commanding figure in the history of our craft, I think it proper to quote from one of his letters:

"MY DEAR DR. POPE:

"The Sunset Magazine containing your charming account of Ishi and your hunting adventures, and the bunch of photographs of the transfixed deer, quail, and rabbits came duly, and are mine, now, tomorrow, and for life. You were very fortunate to have won your archery triumphs where you could photograph them. I would give much indeed if I could have photos of the scenes of my brother's and my successes in the somber and game-thronged wilds of the gloomy Okefinokee Swamp. I think I sent you long ago the two numbers of Forest and Stream in which the history of that most wonderful of all my outings appeared. If I did not do so I will loan you the only copy I have. Let me know.

"I am glad, so glad, that you young athletic men are following the wild trails armed with the most romantic weapon man ever fashioned, and I would give almost any precious thing I hold to fare with you once to the game land of your choice, and to watch and wait by a slender trail while you and your young, strong comrades stole through the secret haunts of the wild things, and to listen to the faint footfalls of the coming deer, roused by your entrance into their secret lairs. To see the soft and devious approach of the wary thing; to see the lifted light head turned sharply back toward the evil that roused it from its bed of ferns; to feel the strong bow tightening in my hand as the thin, hard string comes back; to feel the leap of the loosened cord, the jar of the bow, and see the long streak of the going shaft, and hear the almost sickening 'chuck' of the stabbing arrow. No one can know how I have loved the woods, the streams, the trails of the wild, the ways of the things of slender limbs, of fine nose, of great eager ears, of mild wary eyes, and of vague and half-revealed forms and colors. I have been their friend and mortal enemy. I have so loved them that I longed to kill them. But I gave them far more than a fair chance.

"How many I have missed to one I have killed! How often the fierce arrow hissed its threat close by the wide ears! How often the puff of lifted feathers has marked the innocuous passage of my very best arrow! How often the roar of wings has replied to the 'chuck' of my steel-head shaft as it stabbed the tree branch under the grouse's feet! Oh, le bon temps, que de siècle de fer.

"Let me know whether I sent you Deep in Okefinokee Swamp. I enclose you a little poem published long ago in Forest and Stream and picked up by the Literary Digest and other periodicals. You will, I think, feel the love of the bow, and the outdoors, as well as the great cry for the lost brother running through the long sob that pervades it.

"Send me anything you publish, for I know I should be pleased. Love to you and a handgrasp to your comrade archers.

"WILL THOMPSON."

After the Civil War, where both youths fought in the Confederate Army and Maurice was wounded, they returned to their Southern home, broken in health, reduced in circumstances, and deprived of firearms by Government restrictions. They turned to the bow and hunting as naturally as a boy turns to play. Out of their experiences we have a lyric of exquisite purity, The Witchery of Archery.

As a result of the interest stimulated by the recount of their exploits, the National Archery Association was established and held its first tournament at Chicago in the year 1879. It has ever since nurtured the sport and furthered competitive enthusiasm.

Maurice later became a noted author, Will an attorney-at-law, the dean of American archers and a poet of remarkably happy expression. Here I feel at liberty to insert one of Will Thompson's verses, sent me in personal communications:

AN ARROW SONG

A song from green Floridian vales I heard,
Soft as the sea-moan when the waves are slow;
Sweeter than melody of brook or bird,
Keener than any winds that breathe or blow;
A magic music out of memory stirred,
A strain that charms my heart to overflow
With such vast yearning that my eyes are blurred.
Oh, song of dreams, that I no more shall know!
Bewildering carol without spoken word!
Faint as a stream's voice murmuring under snow,
Sad as a love forevermore deferred,
Song of the arrow from the Master's bow,
Sung in Floridian vales long, long ago.

WILL H. THOMPSON.

A memory of my brother Maurice.

The Thompsons devoted much of their bow shooting to birds. Not only did they hunt, but they studied the abundant avian life of the Florida coast.

An archer must always, perforce, study animate nature and learn its ways before he can capture it. In our early training with Ishi, the Indian, he taught us to look before he taught us to shoot. "Little bit walk, too much look," was his motto. The roving eye and the light step are the signs of the forest voyageur.

The ideal way for an archer to travel is to carry on his shoulders a knapsack containing a light sleeping bag and enough food to last him a week. With me this means coffee, tea, sugar, canned milk, dried fruit, rice, cornmeal, flour and baking powder mixture, a little bacon, butter, and seasoning. This will weigh less than ten pounds. With other minor appurtenances in the ditty bag, including an arrow-repairing kit, one's burden is less than twenty pounds, an easy load.

If you have a dog, make him carry his own dry meal in little saddle-bags on his back, as Dan Beard suggests. Then, with two dozen arrows in your quiver, and your bow, the open trail lies ahead. There is always meat to be had for the shooting. The camp fire and your dog are companions at night, and at dawn all the world rolls out before you as you go. It is a happy life!

When Ishi started to shoot with me, one bowman after another appeared on the scene to join us. Among the first came Will Compton, a man of mature years and many experiences. Brought up on the plains, he learned to shoot the bow with the Sioux Indians. As a boy of fourteen he shot his first deer with an arrow. From that time on, deer, elk, antelope, birds of all sorts, and even buffalo fell before this primitive weapon. He later hunted with the gun until the very ease of killing turned him against it. So when he came to us, he was a seasoned archer. Upon a visit to a Japanese archery gallery in the Panama-Pacific Exposition he met for the first time Arthur Young, also an expert hunter with the gun. A friendship sprang up between them, and Compton taught Young to shoot the bow.

Compton had worked in the shop of Barnes, the bowmaker of Forest Grove, Oregon, and later he went into the Cascade Mountains and cut yew staves with an idea of selling them to the English bowyers. The Great War of 1914 prevented this, and so we had an unlimited supply of yew wood for use.

We three gravitated together and shot with Ishi until his last sickness and departure. Then our serious work began. We found it not only a delightful way of hunting, but a trio makes success more certain in the field.

In California there is an abundance of game; small animals exist everywhere and there is no better training than to stalk the wary ground squirrel or the alert cottontail. These every archer should school himself to hit before he ventures after larger beasts.

Infinite patience and practice are needed to make a hunter. He must earn his right to take life by the painful effort of constant shooting.

We shot together, and many are the bags of game we filled. We discovered in the humble ground squirrel a delectable morsel more palatable than chicken; re-discovered it, we may say, because the Indian knew it first. In killing these little pests we take to the open fields, approach a burrow by creeping up a gully or dip in the land, rise up and shoot at such distances as we can. I recall one day when Young and I got twenty-four squirrels with the bow. Upon another occasion Young by himself secured seventeen in one morning; the last five were killed with five successive arrows, the last squirrel being forty-two paces away.

Rabbits are best hunted in company. Here the startled rodent skips briskly off, down his accustomed run, only to meet another archer standing motionless, ready with his arrow.

It seems legitimate with this rudimentary weapon to shoot animals on the stand, or set, a sporting permit not granted to the devotee of the shotgun, who has a hundred chances to our one.

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