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The Barefoot Buck

“A  Crossbow Hunter’s Tale”

     I bought my crossbow six years ago, fall of 2014, when New York State first made them legal hunting implements. I had read about them in the Department of Environmental Conservation hunting regulations, they showed some modern day crossbow photos there. I was captivated by the medieval aura they projected, and intrigued with the notion of hunting with one.

     I did some homework. No additional “Hunter’s Safety Course” was required. New York State was making Crossbows legal for turkeys, deer, bear, and  all manners of small game except waterfowl, which seemed to me to make sense.

      The first crossbow season was scheduled to include both early and late NYS muzzleloader seasons, plus the last 3 days of early bow season. Adding a crossbow to my arsenal would essentially extend my deer hunting season by over two weeks.

     My son RJ and hunting partner Chuck were both bow and muzzleloader hunters. I was not.  As a cancer survivor, I have some serious limitations to consider when hunting. I have nutritional, hydration, and swallowing issues. I don’t breathe well. For reasons I choose not to go into, I cannot generally sit still long enough to hunt from a tree stand, at least not effectively enough to get a deer to come within range for a good bow shot. Which is why I never took up bow hunting when my son did.

      I do, however love sitting concealed in ground blinds or huts. Protected from the wind, with my movements masked, I can sit for hours. This seemed a perfect fit for me. With a crossbow I could finally join my friend Chuck and my son RJ for some of their  early season bow hunts.  I found that prospect appealing.      

      I went to Herb Phillipson’s Sporting Goods, in Watertown, near my home in upstate New York. They had just gotten a good selection of crossbows in. With the sales rep’s help, I picked one out, a TENPOINT/WICKEDRIDGE Invader  HP. Camouflage patterned, scope mounted. I looked it over. Then I shouldered the weapon. Like some stealth shockwave, it’s elegantly brutal lethality shot through me. I was sold. I decided to buy it immediately.

     The weapon came complete with a cocking assist pulley. I soon understood why.  I’d  recommend a fair degree of respect be given the hunter who can cock a crossbow without need of mechanical assist.

     The sale’s rep gave me a quick lesson on safety and maintenance. He informed me about the differences between crossbow bolts and compound bow arrows, helped me select bolts(modern ones are essentially short arrows), field points, broadheads, and a good crossbow practice target.  I completed my purchase.

$850.00 to the poorer, I had just added a crossbow to my hunting arsenal. I couldn’t wait to get home and try it out!

     Like me, the crossbow has some distinct limitations. It’s both wide AND high profiled, especially with the scope mount. It’s a stationary weapons system, somewhat bulky and awkward, definitely not made or meant to be carried through thick brush, swamp, or dense conifer cover.

    All weapons are dangerous, and should be handled  as such.  However, the crossbow’s design, once cocked, makes it even more so. Constant awareness of finger and hand placement, clear of the shooting rail and bowstrings, is an absolute must. It’s a daunting weapon system. Not one I would recommend for young novice hunters.

     It’s a single shot weapon, not quickly re-loaded. Once cocked, it cannot be un-cocked. It must be fired loaded with an arrow or specially designed unloading bolt, never dry fired or manually un-cocked.

Author’s note: Since I first penned this story, many newer crossbow models now come with an uncocking mechanism or capacity. A big improvement!

    This aspect took me a bit of strategizing and figuring out. The sales rep had told me I could just fire it into the ground.  The problem with that, I discovered, was that firing into the ground made the arrow unusable, if I could even find it. At  nearly twenty dollars per, that was clearly untenable. So, I made plans to strategically locate my crossbow target as a “discharge station” prior to each hunt.

     I took my new crossbow out back by my pond and set up the target.  I cocked it and loaded a bolt tipped with a field point. Arrowheads are interchangeable. They simply thread into the head of the bolt. for target practice and sighting purposes, as well as  small game, I use field points. They are a lot less expensive and easier to extract from the target than broadheads.

      The scope has three lines, each designed to compensate for bolt drop over ten yard increments, the highest line being set for twenty yards. It has one more dashed line below the fifty yard line to signify sixty, but at sixty yards the bolt drop gets so steep, it’s pretty much poke and hope.

     Scope adjustments are simple mechanical clicks. I spent several afternoons becoming familiar with and sighting in my new crossbow. I was surprised by how loud it actually was when I fired. I was impressed by both its power and accuracy. With very little practice I was able to pretty consistently put three bolts dead center bulls eye in a tight  group at thirty yards. Bolt drop quickly became noticeable beyond that. Having always hunted with a shotgun or rifle, wind considerations suddenly became a prime factor as well.

     Out of curiosity I fired a bolt at my son’s regular bow target at thirty yards.  It went through it like butter. It may still be going. I searched for hours. Twenty dollars gone. I never did find it. Sometimes curiosity kills the cat, other times, it bags wallets.

     Finally, I felt ready. Fall turkey season was open. I went hunting.

     After a few afternoons of sitting, a fall flock passed within range of my blind.  I picked the third bird in line, took aim, clicked off the safety, and fired. Success! I bagged one, a nice hen. My first crossbow kill.

      I hunted several seasons after that, both deer and turkeys, without success. I tried rabbit hunting with field points on open trails a few times, but rabbits proved way too fast. I did bag a crossbow ruffed grouse once though! (I’ve always called them “partridges”).

I was sitting in a ground blind, hunting fall turkeys.  A partridge walked out of the brush at about fifteen yards. I hadn’t bagged one in a while. I had a broadhead loaded, so I quietly switched to a field point (a crossbow advantage), took aim, and fired.

     I know that with a shotgun shooting a sitting partridge may not be sportsmanlike hunting, but I cannot imagine that when the DEC made ruffed grouse legal small game for crossbow, they envisioned hunters attempting to shoot them once flushed. Besides, a clean shot on a partridge with a crossbow from a ground blind at fifteen yards is a damned good sporting shot! I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to try it.

     Regardless, by 2018, I still had not bagged a deer with my crossbow. I did have a couple of close calls. One occurred during a December late season.  I hadn’t seen one during the early bow season here in New York. I was hunting the late crossbow/muzzleloader season.

      I was in a ground blind, hunting out behind my house in frigid temperatures and a good solid foot of fresh snow.  A big doe stepped out of the hedgerow to my left, into an open field.  She began walking slowly towards  me, broadside, at about sixty five yards.  I readied my crossbow and waited. I did not want to pull the trigger until she was  inside of forty. Sixty yards, fifty five… she kept coming. Fifty… at forty five yards I clicked off the safety, exhaled…


      The doe jumped in the air, fell, and then got up and ran. Stunned and confused, I clicked my safety back on, exhaled once more, and for a moment just sat.


       After  collecting myself.  I exited my ground blind, gave a yell, and surveyed the trees behind me. Sure enough, one of my neighbor’s son’s buddies had climbed into one of his tree stands in a big oak along our shared hedgerow and shot that doe from behind me. Fired right over my head, with a rifle, illegally, during late muzzleloader season.  New York State’s Northern  Zone Rifle season had ended a week earlier.

     I was livid. But I quickly found myself surrounded by several young men, including my neighbor’s son. They were all excited and nervous. I could smell alcohol on their breath. None were carrying muzzleloaders or bows. They all sported rifles. I doubt many of them were either properly licensed or carrying the appropriate tags. I was alone, with a crossbow.

     Clearly outnumbered and outgunned, I chose not to confront them right there at that moment.  I should have called the DEC and reported them. But I didn’t. I was too angry, too shaken. I waited and instead later had a “Man to Man” conversation one on one with my neighbor’s son.

     Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. I assessed that to be one of those moments. Otherwise things could easily have gone south quickly and ended up very badly.  That experience has stuck with me. I’m now much more cautious. I always wear orange to my blind. I keep a wary eye on the trees. I deploy trail cams for surveillance. I  post and patrol my land.   

     I started hunting early crossbow season with my son RJ and my college friend Chuck. He owns and hunts several hundred acres of land near Elmira/Horseheads in New York Sate’s Southern Tier.  He is an accomplished bow  hunter and had taken RJ under his wing several year earlier while I was still struggling through post surgery recovery. I greatly  appreciated him doing so.

     Bow hunting is a great deal more challenging than rifle hunting. I don’t know if crossbow hunting is more or less so. Regardless, I quickly realized there are many more things to consider. I missed a twenty yard shot at a nice little four point buck one afternoon. It was the fall of 2017. I was hunting with RJ and Chuck. The buck was still in velvet. He was walking right towards  me. I sat concealed in a ground blind.  I did not understand how I could have possibly missed.

     We found a few white hairs, a drop or two of blood, and at some  point, my bolt. It had a couple of hairs and some fatty tissue lodged in the broadhead, that was it. Chuck explained to me that a quartering shot towards with a bow was not a shot that  I wanted. The broadhead had likely hit a bone or gone low and glanced off. Lesson learned for the next  season.

       Finally, two years later, I  experienced my first crossbow deer hunting success. Chuck had won a really nice tower blind in a QDMA(Qualitative Deer Management Association)  raffle. We spent a summer weekend clearing an area overlooking one of his food plots on the crest of a hill.  He erected it as a place specially suited for someone like me to enjoy the advantages of an elevated hunt. He and RJ both bow hunted from tree stands. Now I could too, just enclosed.

     Equipped with a bipod, tower mounted, I was now set.  We hunted the early fall season one afternoon. Three does stepped out of the woods and began grazing the food plots  I was watching. I quietly opened one window,  range found my markers, set  my bi-pod and crossbow. I picked out the biggest doe, then waited and watched.

     She turned broadside at about forty yards, walking slowly, at a slight angle, to my left. Just a bit too far away for the clean shot I wanted.  I realized she was going to pass into one of my blind spots before she ever came into range.

     I waited. The tower blind has a vertical slot window in each corner, horizontals on three sides, the fourth side is the door. I hunted the verticals and kept two horizontals cracked for viewing and the 3rd completely closed for concealment.  When she passed into the blind spot along one wall of the tower, I quietly shifted my bi-pod and crossbow left, to the next vertical window, carefully opened  it, exhaled, and watched through my scope.

     The doe’s head appeared. I flipped off the safety and  put crosshairs on her using the thirty yard targeting line. As her front shoulder passed, I squeezed the trigger. Crossbow bolts fly too quickly to track visually. The doe jumped awkwardly, I saw blood stain her torso. Then she tucked tail and ran. I sat back, clicked on my safety, and waited. That deer wasn’t going far. I knew I had made a good shot.

   I put down my crossbow and scanned the wood’s edge with my binoculars. I quickly spotted her. I was right. She had not gone twenty yards. I pulled  out my cell phone, typed in a message and hit send:

“I just shot. Doe down. I’ve got her. Everyone stay put. Finish your hunt.”

    Sometimes cell phone technology can be one of  a hunter’s best friends. I sat awhile, reloaded. I still had more tags. After a half hour or so, I climbed out of my blind and walked over to where the doe lay dead. There was no sign of my bolt.  My shot had passed clear through.

     I dragged her back to my tower  blind and tagged her.  Sunset was near. I knew Chuck and RJ would be coming along with Chuck’s four wheel drive Bad Boy Buggie fairly soon. I would wait until they arrived to field dress her, I was sure Chuck wouldn’t  want me to do it right there.

     I retraced my steps to where I had shot. I found my bolt, fletching bloodstained, broadhead stuck in a log. I broke the log off and saved it,  arrow and all, as a souvenir.

Chuck and RJ arrived a few minutes  later. They agreed.  I had made a great shot. She was one good sized doe.

     Flash forward to 2020’s fall season. I was once again in the Southern Tier, hunting early bow/crossbow season with my son RJ and friend Chuck.

     2020’s early bow season in the Southern Zone had opened October 1st. Crossbow season started November 7th. RJ and Chuck  had over a month’s  head start. RJ had tagged a nice eight point a week earlier.

Chuck was holding out for a big trophy buck he’d been scouting all summer. I had still never successfully crossbow bagged a buck. On Saturday morning  I returned to the tower hoping to change my luck.

      Due to COVID,  prior to that weekend,  I hadn’t been out of the house much, save to hunt my own land. I’d arrived the previous evening with my gear after firing a few bolts at home and making adjustments to ensure my crossbow was dialed in tight. It was the first joint hunt of my season. RJ and Chuck had seen several nice bucks. I was pretty excited.

     I set up, as usual, with the vertical windows ready to open and the horizontals view slotted. This time I had a tripod, one of the new tools and hunting gadgets Chuck, as hunting guide, always seemed to come up with.

     Shortly after sunrise, I spotted a nice buck as he crested the hill in the open. He was walking briskly, but not running. I just had enough time to count eight points  in his rack before I realized:

“Holy Crap! I’d  better get ready! That buck’s coming!”

      He was going to be broadside  in my vertical shooting widow any second.

     I quickly got set and started tracking him through my scope. He was coming from the right at about thirty five yards, my max range. I was trying to get locked  in behind his front shoulder, but he was moving too quickly. My heart was racing. I could feel it pounding my chest.  My breathing was uneven, too fast. I knew I was lagging. I clicked off my safety and fingered the trigger. A voice in my head warned me:

“You’re behind him. You aren’t ready. You’re gonna hit him way back. Don’t pull the trigger. You are about to make a bad shot.”

     I tracked  a moment longer. I hesitated. Then I lifted my head and clicked my safety back on as I watched that eight point pass out of range to my left. I exhaled a sigh of relief. My heart rate settled.  I sat back.

“Sometimes a hunter’s best shot is the one he never takes.”

     We finished our morning hunt without further incident.  Chuck and RJ drove up in Chuck’s buggy. I recounted my experience. They both agreed. I had made the right call. I’d  have hit that buck way back in the guts, leg, or hind quarters. We’d  have likely tracked him all day without luck. He’d either have gotten away wounded, or the coyotes and crows would have found him.

     We went back to Chuck’s workshop, which doubled as our hunting headquarters, for some lunch and a nap.

     Shortly before 2 pm, we prepared to return to the hunt. Sunset was 4:35. That gave us over two hours.

     I decided to forego “The Tower” in favor of “The Cabin”. Every one of Chuck’s blinds, trails and most tree stands have names. It makes communication much easier. I suspect most hunters  do that. Chuck was hunting “The Redneck”, another tower type  blind.  RJ  was up on top of the ridge in a tree stand, hunting tall timber above “Main Street”.

     “The Cabin”, was and is, just that, a wooden cabin ground blind that Chuck’s father had hunted. His hunting jacket still hangs in one corner as a memorial. It’s a much revered spot. I feel honored each time I hunt there.

     The Cabin had sat in the field now overlooked by the tower for years. Once the tower  went up, Chuck  decided to move it, to a spot in “The Hidden Food Plot”, situated in a valley between the tower and the redneck blind, tucked in under a big oak.

      Earlier in the summer, RJ and I had helped Chuck get it leveled and oriented. That’s one of my talents, selecting and orienting hunting blind spots. My military experience comes in handy for that.  I seem to see things like “Avenues of Approach” and “Fields of Fire” more clearly than most folks. It’s a well honed skill set that I am proud of.  I get consulted frequently to assist in selecting blind locations, orientation and setup.

     I  studied the game trails and terrain, sat  in the Cabin and observed, then recommended it be rotated at an angle that maximized observation and good shooting lanes to several key spots.  Chuck, RJ and I used some 2×4  ingenuity and a couple of  rock fulcrums to carefully rotate it. We then leveled it up  That was where I now sat.

     The cabin has several  windows, each with a side sliding wooden shutter. I opened two of them, once again using tactical closed window blind spots and the closed door for concealment.

     I loaded my crossbow and set up my tripod. I checked  my sightlines, bow clearance, and ranges. As in the tower,  my firing position was hidden completely inside the structure. Maximum concealment. Maximum stealth.

     The afternoon was warm.  The sun reflected off the cabin’s roof. I began feeling the heat.  I began shedding layers. First my jacket, then my vest, then my overshirt…not enough. About 3 p.m I removed my boots and socks. I was now hunting barefoot.   

     This happens quite a bit when I hunt turkeys from a ground blind in the spring. May mornings are chilly, but by 10am, the sun’s out and those ground blinds become ovens. In the spring I pack shorts and a t-shirt in my day pack. I frequently start hunts fully dressed, but by noon can be found exiting my blind barefoot and barechested, in shorts.

     It wasn’t quite that warm in November. Regardless, there I was, in that cabin, with my crossbow, hunting barefoot, just waiting for a buck.

    I did not have to wait long. Shortly after 3:30pm, a big whitetail stepped out. I saw antlers. I put my range finder on him as he emerged from the brush, He was a nice mature buck, bigger bodied than the one I’d passed on that morning.  I did a point tally. He was walking slowly toward  my left open window in the open at sixty five yards.  He had eight.

     I quietly put down my range finder and put up my crossbow on the tripod. He was still  walking towards me slowly, grazing in the open, now at fifty five yards.

     I had a problem though. He was walking right towards me, quartering just slightly to my right. Even when he got within range, I would not have a good shot from that window.

      I could feel my heartbeat pound in my chest. But it wasn’t racing like earlier. My breathing was even.

     I watched that buck coming and made a decision. He would pass into my blind spot at about thirty five yards. When he did, I would shift my tripod and crossbow right to my second open shooting window. There was  a fresh rub on a sapling there, by a big white  pine and one of our prime game trails. If that was where he was headed, which was what it looked like, he’d  pass that window  broadside from left to right at about twenty yards. I’d  have  to make my move  quietly. That buck was going to pass by me close.

     The buck disappeared  from view. Slowly, I moved, tripod, then crossbow. I put the rub in my crosshairs, clicked off my safety, exhaled, and waited. 

     Forever is a minute for any hunter in a moment like that. I could not see him.  Had I guessed wrong?  Had he sensed me? Had he turned and taken a different course?

     I resisted the urge  to lift my head from the stock. I remained patient,  stayed  focused, stayed ready, stayed prepared to make one good shot.   

     Finally, the buck’s head appeared, antlers down, grazing,  through my scope.  I exhaled once more. Waited…waited… front shoulder…shot.

     I actually saw the arrow’s fletching  disappear through flesh as it hit. The buck turned into the woods and bolted downhill, tail down, on  the white pine game trail.

     I clicked on my safety as the buck disappeared. Then it struck me:

“OH CRAP! I’m barefoot! I’d better get my boots back on!”

     I texted RJ and Chuck:

“I just hit one! BIG 8!  He disappeared  into the hedgerow. Keep your eyes open Chuck. He bolted into the woods, headed your way.  You might see him come out.  I’m sure I made a good shot.”

     I put my socks and boots back on, then reloaded. I sat back to wait for awhile. After about twenty minutes, I quietly exited  my blind and walked over to where I assessed I had hit him, by the rub and game trail.

     Blood.  Lots of it. Everywhere.  He had been hit hard. Encouraged, I took a few more steps into the edge of the woods and glanced down the trail. Sure enough, there he was. He’d collapsed twenty yards in front of me. Ran that far on pure adrenaline.  I texted Chuck and RJ again:

“Got him.”

A  big New York State Southern Tier eight point whitetail. RJ & Chuck arrived a few moments later. Smiles and high fives all around.

Crossbow hunting success.

My “Barefoot Buck.


Dedicated To My Son RJ & Close Friend/HuntingGuide/Big Brother Chuck.

I could not go safely afield without your support.

I wouldn’t want to.

I love you both.

Until Our Trails Cross again:

“Shoot Straight!”


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