Meet your Bowhunting Professor, Jim Shockey.
More than a century ago, our Father of Conservation and American President, Theodore Roosevelt, had it right when he rather eloquently quipped, ”I do not believe that any man can adequately appreciate the world of today unless he has some knowledge of—a little more than a slight knowledge, some feeling for and of—the history of the world of the past.”
A man of simple means and often simpler, always truthful and impactful words, Fred Bear once said, “The history of the bow and arrow is the history of mankind.” Of course, Bear wouldn’t have known just how brutally honest those words were… nobody would have known, at least until a decade ago.
Stone points with glue residue and blood and bone remnants, believed to be arrowheads, were unearthed in South Africa’s northeastern Sibudu Caves in 2010 and were determined the earliest evidence of archery tools ever discovered. At over 64,000 years old, the arrow tips pre-date the earliest archery tools previously discovered by over 50,000 years; in fact, based on science’s timeline, the arrowheads date further back than mankind as Bear and all of us understand our species to be—pre homo sapiens.
Even before the discovery in Sibudu Caves, we’ve known archery has been a staple hunting and warring tool at least since the upper Paleolithic era, 10,000-plus years ago. Cave art, like those painted on the walls of the Cova dels Cavalls cave in the Valencia region of Spain are estimated to be 7,000 years old and other illustrations were reportedly created upwards of 13,000 years ago. No matter how you slice bowhunting—our stick-and-string heritage truly is as old as mankind and understanding and embracing that truth, both timeless and invaluable to the preservation of our heritage.
What truly sets bowhunters apart is that primitive connection. We are reverent in our appreciation for those who have gone before us, our personal roles as providers and stewards of our heritage, and for the wild spaces in which the wildlife we also revere, reside. It is this connection that drives us, motivates us to “take up our quivers and bows and chase game.” The iconic Aldo Leopold illustrated this call best. “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.”
With history, pre-history rather, and our provider connections as the mosaic backdrop of our heritage today, countless diehard hunters take to the woods, bows in hand, to honor the past and author bowhunting’s future. Fortunately, the call to such stewardship is not lost on us. A great majority of today’s bowhunters are keenly aware of the importance of their roles as stewards of our ancient connection. And, if they begin to forget, good men like Jim Shockey are there to remind them—hell, he reminds me, too, and likely reminds himself on occasions.
Case in point, consider Shockey’s recent message to his Uncharted TV show viewers:
“We know, inside us innately, that it’s the preservation of our family, number one, our community number two, and our band or tribe—we know that. So, there’s a deep spiritual connection. People try to belittle the relationship between hunters and animals, but they don’t understand. They’re not in tune with who hunters are and actually who brought them to the dance. Every single person that denigrates hunters is the product of a great hunter. Every single person out there on this planet today is here because someone in their ancestry was a great, great, great hunter—all of them were great hunters. Hunters, those are the ones who survived and some of them just have that spiritual connection with the animals.”
Jim Shockey: Class is in Session
More than the “cool” factor, I hope the connection to our past and to our innate roles as providers is what continues to fill our ranks with newcomers. Of course, this creates an opportunity for seasoned veterans to answer a higher calling—mentorship. We have a responsibility to share our experiences and knowledge, successes and failures with new hunters. But, since each have different experiences, we may also have similarities and differences when it comes to bowhunting’s need-to-knows.
With that in mind, I tapped one of America’s most respected hunters, Jim Shockey, for a quick Q&A to share what he feels are the most critical elements of bowhunting. While Jim started carrying a longbow at 14 years old and has amassed decades of experience, I also have built up a couple decades of experience. After the Q&A, stick around for a few tips of my own.
KEVIN REESE: What made you decide to try bowhunting, who introduced you to it, how old were you, and what was your first harvest?
JIM SHOCKEY: As a kid, I was always fascinated with Robin Hood, but nobody in my family bowhunted. I started at 14 with a long bow and began shooting compounds in my late 20s. My first harvest was a whitetail deer.
KR: Across your range of bowhunting strategies, what are your top three best bowhunting practices?
JS: I believe you should shoot year-round, focus on fundamentals and following through the shot. Don’t look to see where your arrow is going.
KR: What are your top three ways to prepare for the season?
JS: Back to my previous answers, focus on fundamentals and practice year-round. I also observe habitual wildlife behavior, not so much scouting but spending time understanding them.
KR: What is your favorite method of bowhunting and why?
JS: My favorite is spot-and-stalk, but I do like hunting from blinds, too, and spending time watching wildlife when they don’t know I’m there.
KR: What is your favorite game animal, and location, to bowhunt and why?
JS: I would have to say Yukon Moose… in the Yukon. They are the largest antlered animals on Earth and inhabit places people don’t go. Even when a moose realizes you’re not one of them, they may still come.
KR: After all these years, why do you still bowhunt? What is it that drives you to “pick up your arrow and quiver and hunt game” season after season?
JS: Bowhunting is the ultimate hunting experience. There is no greater accomplishment. That challenge is always there and is what makes me go.
KR: What advice do you have for new bowhunters?
JS: Don’t get frustrated. Bowhunting isn’t about the harvest, it’s about the journey that hopefully, ultimately results in a harvest. Focus on what is important and those successes will come. Approach bowhunting first with an appreciation for its tradition.
KR: What is your favorite bowhunting memory?
JS: Eva’s (my daughter) first bear. Actually, my favorite bowhunting memories are all of Eva’s firsts.
KR: How important was it to pass your bowhunting heritage on to Eva? How important is it to pass it on to the next generation?
JS: I think it’s vital. It is what we’ve always done. We have to pass on the knowledge of hunting. I’m not talking about teaching skill as much as actually teaching that hunting is fundamentally important and ensuring they understand its gravity. You shouldn’t take a life without really understanding what you just did.
KR: What message about bowhunting do you want people to know and internalize the most?
JS: I would say bowhunting is thousands of years old. Know that when you’re stepping outdoors with a bow, you’re stepping back in time. You’re paying homage to those who went before us. They were the best hunters, and you’re carrying on the tradition. It’s a feeling of reverence. It’s an honor to be a part of that.
KR: What is the most epic bowhunting failure you’ve had and why did it happen?
JS: It was a bear hunt on Vancouver Island. We traveled a long way—it was a difficult exercise in desire to get there. We were 40 yards from a black bear. Something happened to my peep sight—it wasn’t set right so when I shot, my arrow hit the dirt half-way to the bear.
KR: What is the funniest bowhunting memory people can probably relate to?
JS: I was guiding a bear hunter. He was an expert target archer and wanted to shoot a bear standing up. The opportunity presented itself. He was so flustered he missed the bear by two feet at just 17 yards. Fortunately, he got another chance, but his glasses were so fogged up he thought the bear was going left. He managed to still make a quick kill.
KR: What is the single biggest mistake you see new bowhunters make?
JS: The biggest mistakes I see are rushed shots and taking shots that are too long. Both issues are tied to patience.
KR: With respect to the outdoor-life legacy you’re building, what do you hope resonates with current and future hunters the most?
JS: I want to make a positive difference in the presentation of our age-old hunting pastime to non-hunters who have lost touch with where we’ve come from.
Two Cents of My Own
I offer a slightly different take on preparation than Jim’s, not because he’s wrong but because I am not nearly as familiar as he with respect to wildlife activity. Throughout this Q&A session, the only component falling short of Jim’s top preparation activities was scouting. This wasn’t by accident and stems purely from his decades-long observation of the wild creatures he pursues and his familiarity with the wild places they call home. For many of us, however, scouting is vital, so here are a few tips to improve your scouting skillset.
Even during the off-season, whenever possible, treat your hunting ground as if it is hunting season. The less you disturb your area, the less you disturb the wildlife inhabiting it. Use trail cameras to monitor activity day and night, and keep logs you can look through year after year. This is a great way to begin learning how patterns and activities change throughout the hunting season—early fall, the rut, post rut, late season, etc. As a personal preference, I have turned to trail cameras with cellular capabilities in hunting areas where a signal is present. The ability to check cameras and monitor activities without disturbing the area has been beneficial. Draw out a map of your property and include food and water sources, game trails, and other sign. This helps better determine stand and blind placements.
As for shooting, like Jim said, practice often and year-round. Make sure your equipment is checked and your bow properly tuned by an archery technician you trust. Ensure every shot is well within your practiced level of confidence. From the first time you pick up a bow to the last time you walk out of the woods, bowhunting is, in every sense, an ethics check. The animals we pursue deserve reverence and as such, our best efforts. Anything less is a lack of ethics (insert gut-check here).
To close, Jim offers great advice and insight, not just about bowhunting but also about who we are as hunters. Even as a seasoned veteran of nearly 20 years, I still learn… a lot. Tapping in to his passion also stirs my own. Indeed, bowhunters are a rare breed. I was once asked, “How can you log more than 100 hours perched in a treestand just to take one shot?” Circling back to Aldo Leopold’s simple truth about wild things—some can live with them and some cannot. Some can live their lives absent of their roles as providers and disconnected from the fabric of mankind’s history… some cannot. Myself? I could never reconcile a life absent of such a connection… or the higher callings our heritage beckons us to answer, especially without a stick, string, and handful of arrows.