Best birthday present ever

Autumn of 1987. A stressful time of my life. Work issues. We have all been there. I was in desperate need of something to lift my spirits.

Lunch hour, as I was walking to the weight training room on campus for my daily workout, my beautiful blonde wife met me at the entrance to the Field House, a complete surprise, and presented me with my best-ever, and most-needed, birthday present.

A Bear Whitetail Hunter compound bow.

The gift was much more than the bow; it was a message that life would go on, and things would get better. And she was absolutely right: life did go on, and things got much better.

Hunting got better that fall, too. For years I had hunted with a Bear Kodiak 50-pound recurve bow. I had no reason, or desire, to switch to a compound bow, and I felt a little smug and arrogant that I was a “traditional” bow hunter.

In July, while working on our 135-year-old farmhouse, which was in need of much repair, I hoisted a sheet of three-quarter-inch plywood and tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder. I declined a suggested surgery, and I’m glad I did, but the physical rehabilitation was one of the most lengthy and painful I have experienced (and there have been several others).

Determined that I would bow hunt again in the fall, I did not miss a day of rehab workouts. But progress was slow. And it soon became apparent that at age 38 my shoulder would not completely heal. There would be some loss of flexibility, strength, and range of motion.

With effort I could draw the 50-pound recurve, but I could not hold it steady at full draw. My days of traditional bow hunting were clearly at an end, and I began looking at a compound bow in the sporting goods section of the local hardware store.

When my prospects of continued steady employment looked cloudy in September, the thought of purchasing a compound went way down on my priority list. I didn’t even hunt that fall.

The Whitetail Hunter cost (as I remember) $88. Still a lot of money when we were struggling to eke out a household budget with three children, vehicles in need of repair, mortgage payment, groceries, and utilities.

Took me most of the next summer to learn how to shoot that Whitetail Hunter bow. The concept of a “let-off” in bowstring draw weight was completely foreign to me, and I had to change my technique from “draw, point, and immediate release” to draw, hold, steady, aim, and release.” It seems to me the let-off was only about 40 percent – it is 75-80 percent in the compound bows on the market today – and the draw weight was 65 pounds, which I adjusted down to 55 pounds to accommodate my injured shoulder. Still, 33 pounds of string tension when I held the tips of my fingers to the corner of my jaw – my arrow release point – made all the difference.

I was back in the game.

In October of ’88 I took a six-point buck, and in and November of ’89 a small-basket eight-pointer. If I had regrets about leaving my Bear Kodiak recurve bow hanging on the wall, I cannot remember them. A couple years later I (foolishly) sold the Kodiak.

That Bear Whitetail Hunter served me well for several years, but of course I succumbed to the siren song of a “better” compound bow: shorter, more let-off, faster arrow speed, less noisy, lighter. I shoot a few arrows at paper targets with the Whitetail Hunter every fall, and I vow I will take it hunting after I take the first deer of the season, but of course I never do.

I will never, ever sell it, regardless of how much value it acquires as an “antique.” This old bow has a special place in a hidden chamber of my heart, a place that holds an enduring security: when times are dark, life will go on, and things will get better.


More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through at  Jerry Johnson Author Page

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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