Bowfishing And The Village Idiot

A dose of courage and a goofy hat are all it  takes to keep a family afloat in the same pool of water.

By Shawnee Johnson Reese

Skeptical faces abound when I walked in the outdoor sporting goods store owned and operated by my mother-in-law and brother-in-law. This place is in a little town called Sallisaw, Oklahoma.  The store is called The Village.

I walked in carrying my two month old baby – the infant who wears a foot/leg brace nonetheless:  Garrison Alexander Reese:  G.A.R.

(I think it was an omen.)

After the usual meetings and greetings with my in-laws and their friends gathered there to go on the tournament, finally someone got up the nerve to ask me, “Are you going?”

I grinned a big yes in my big goofy hat.

It needs said right off the bat that coming here to talk outdoor sporting with an audience that, according to Richard Walton, reaches hundreds of thousands of readers world wide scares me half to death.  For years my husband has been trying to make a fisher/hunter/shooter/trapper out of me.  It’s my total lack of interest or utter failure in all of those that makes it so amazing that suddenly I find myself fascinated with this thing called Bow Fishing.  Fascinated enough that not only did I give it a try, I mustered my courage to come here to bare myself in all my novice glory with hopes to inspire others, and perhaps infect manufacturers with subliminal messages that I could write a helluva impartial consumer review if they wanted to let me test their new products.

I’ll let you know how that works out for me, by the way.

So who am I, this new kid on the block talking shop with seasoned archers and anglers?   My name is Shawnee. Ya, that’s my real name, just like the Indian Tribe.  I say it was the sixties and Mom must have been high the day I was born, but in any event, that’s who I am,  a stay at home mother of three, a jack of all trades,  kissing the boo-boos and slopping the hash.

There is nothing spectacular about me that makes bow fishing in any way special.  There’s no reason I can do it but some other mother can’t.  I used to think though, perhaps you are thinking it too, that these hunting-fishing type things were for “them”.  You know, “THEM”….either a)   Men, because men do this sort of thing,   or b)  Hot Young Babes, because HYB’s can get away with anything.

Well happily, I’m not a man.  Sadly, I am not a hot young babe either, unless I get a few margaritas in my system but we won’t talk about that!   I’m just saying that hey, if I can do it – bow fishing I mean –  anyone can!

But I didn’t know that yet.

My husband’s buddies would stop by and they’d pop some arrows out back and I’d watch, or he’d go to informal little shooting contests at The Village and they’d all step out back to shoot some rounds.

I’d watch.  That’s what girls do, right?

They’d be hollering and hooting it up with great fun.

I’d watch. Eventually my oldest boy would get up his nerve and bring out his little bow to shoot with the Big Dogs.

And I would watch.

2 year old Everett, young future bowhunter.

The years ticked by while my son’s ability grew and my husband continued to shoot, and I continued to do what women where I come from do… watch.

I watched my husband leave on hunting trips time after time, and I watched as my sons walked further and further away from me following in his steps.  Their interests were taking them places I didn’t go. I was watching my family leave me behind. I knew I couldn’t beat them so the only option was to join them, but for that, I needed a bow of my own.  And since I didn’t “hunt”, shelling out bucks to buy me a bow just wasn’t on anyone’s (read: husband’s) priority list.

I could have bought my own bow I suppose but I wouldn’t know what to get.  I’ know my limitations but I’m also always walking that thin line between brave and stupid like birthing my baby in a truck seat along the highway to avoid the frivolousness of a hospital, or delivering at home next time since hubby didn’t want to play road side midwife again despite the good story it made for posterity.

In any event, sights and ‘training wheels’ on the compound didn’t interest me at this moment in time. Those were for sissies in my mind. Sissies and that hulking 6 foot 7 inch 380 pound feller that loafs in our shop. He shoots a compound, but being a red headed runt with a name like Shawnee, a non-hunter/fisher living among the committed – well, I didn’t need anything else to be made fun of about. And after all the ragging I’ve given that other feller over the years about his sissy-bow … Yikes!  But to my way of thinking, if my husband could shoot a recurve, then so could I.   Couldn’t I?  Heck, I didn’t know.

Brian, 8 years old takes aim.

For kicks a while back, Chriss set our 8-year-old up with this “toy” recurve and an old fishing reel.   I popped a few shots in the back yard before the kids took it away from me for their own pleasures.  That lasted about a day until the reel exploded because Brian didn’t press the release button before he shot.  Yes, God love him, my Boy-Genius can be quite the flake.  Then word came my brother-in-law Kenny who owns the bait shop was organizing a bow fishing tournament.

Husband Chriss knows bowfishing. Wife and author Shawnee knows babies.

After two weeks of hearing the hype, I finally got up my courage. “Could I go?”

“You think you can shoot a fish?” my husband asked. “I mean it won’t gross you out to kill something?” He really didn’t expect we’d find out since he doubted I’d hit one anyway.

“Well?” He was asking a legitimate question. I close my eyes just watching hunting videos. It shouldn’t be too much different than killing fish by catching them with a hook, should it? After all, these are fish, cold, slimy fish – not warm fuzzy bunnies.

Honestly I didn’t know how I’d react.   OK, that’s a lie, Honestly, I figured I’d fall flat on my face.

My only experience with a bow were those few pops in the back yard excepting the college course I took twenty years ago for a PE credit where myself and a dozen other girls went to shoot bows as an excuse to stand by the ball field and woo the boys.  Our lusty intents flew through the air as misaimed as our arrows. Cupids we were not, but hey, it was an easy A.  But my husband said yes, he’d take me along and didn’t even seem to say it reluctantly, so there I was: obligated to go strut my horrible lack of stuff at the risk of humiliating not only myself, but my husband as well, in front of his entire lifetime network of family and friends.

No pressure!  Throw in the fact I was taking my infant son along and I could have been the poster child for Prozac that day.

Swallowing my fear and hiding my apprehension I loaded up in the truck the next morning wearing a floppy camo hat because if I was going to feel like an idiot I may as well look like one.

So as I was saying at the beginning of all this – I walked into the crowd at The Village.  My mother-in-law was running the till.  My three brothers-in-law, a few of their teenage sons, and other guys both old and young stood around waiting for the Official Start.

I stood there in my big goofy hat watching the domino effect of reactions as the crowd realized that I was going to bow fish, too.

Nervous faces, stifled giggles, eyebrows rising and looks shot between others. ‘Chriss must be out of his ever lovin mind to take his freakazoid wife and baby out on the tournament’.
Yup, yup, yup!  I could see it in their faces:  they thought this day would become the supply line for years upon years of future jokes. They were sure I would initiate myself as the new Village idiot!

Therefore they welcomed me with open arms.

My mother-in-law finally got the nerve to ask the obvious, “What about the
baby?”

Garrison Vested up and ready to go.

“He’s going with me.” I said.
Her reaction was a mix of relief she wasn’t obligated to baby sit and shock I’d even consider taking him.  I just continued rubbing him down with sunscreen.

“Are you gonna be able to fish with him there?”  She was doubtful.
“I don’t know!”  I smiled. “Guess we’ll find out!”  She just sort of nodded her head and walked away.  Poor June.

We won 3rd place that day – taking care of a two month old infant to boot – trolling around Kerr Lake in an old fourteen foot flat bottom boat.  I say trolling because we don’t have a motor for it, except the troller  (Subliminal Hint To Mercury Subliminal Hint To Mercury Subliminal Hint To Mercury Subliminal Hint To).

We placed 3rd with me shooting a little old solid fiberglass 15 to 20 pound bow – I mean this old beat up thing someone gave my five year old boy to bang around with a few years ago, using a Zebco 33 Chriss took off one of his fishing poles connected to the bow with bailing wire and electrician’s tape, shooting an arrow with this rusty old Cajun tip he scrounged up from the bottom of some box. Not exactly an up-to-date, modern or impressive looking rig but it worked.

And by-jingoes, I was hooked!

I tell you what we fish from (the old boat with out a motor) and what I was shooting with (my kid’s toy and my husband’s old fishing reel) to drive home the point that bow fishing doesn’t require a lot of high tech, high dollar stuff to be fun.   Like any sport or hobby, your spending limit is dictated purely by your wallet and I’m one of those people who will squeeze ever nickel till the buffalo screams.  But the beauty of bow-fishing is that it doesn’t need all that to start.  You can rig up yourself,  your wife (your husband), your kids for next to nothing with just a few simple items you might already have on hand.

Heck, using less gives you bigger bragging rights anyway!

I will say this though:  If you plan to take a rookie out to fish, or hunt, or anything, and your design is to have them like doing it – don’t give them the old gun with the crooked site or the arrow with the broken tip.  If you want them to enjoy the sport with you, give them a fighting chance to succeed so they’ll actually want to go again.

My first shot was at a small gar.   I hit it!   OK so I was shooting the kiddy bow Chriss had reassembled for me to take along and I didn’t have a quality tip so it bounced off the Gar’s hard skin – but I hit it!  I really hit it!

After a while we came I to some drums snoozing along the shore lines of Kerr Lake.  I shot one and got it to the edge of the boat before it slipped off my arrow.  Later I shot another large drum that was close to twenty pounds, and again, because I was using an old substandard tip, it too escaped my arrow before I got it in the boat.  Of course Chriss was shooting a AMS Sting-a-Ree point so every fish he shot, he boated. Having good equipment does have it pluses.

I didn’t hit every fish I aimed at but you know what they say:   ‘The worst day fishing beats the best day working!’   For an old momma who didn’t know nothing about nothing, I’d say I did pretty dang good despite the frustration of having them fall off my arrow.

My boys’ soccer balls have not been safe since.   I go out in the back yard using them for target practice.  We’re a gun shooting family too, but you can’t take a gun in to your city-lot back yard and pop off shots when you have ten minutes to kill.  Not to mention the price of bullets. So there’s two more beauties of the bow – it’s city friendly and has reusable ammunition.

When the baby takes a nap I step out back with the two older boys to target practice.  My two year old is already picking up the sport. Some nights when all three kids are asleep Chriss and I enjoy some one on one practice under the mercury light.  It’s nice quality time together.

We’ve invented a new game:  Bow Fish Golf – seeing who can move the ball in to the target zone with the least amount of shots.  Chriss sacrificed one of his fish manikins, hanging it from a string for me to shoot at also, which makes for an awesome life size moving target.  Being a taxidermist, he has these on hand but it’s nothing you couldn’t get for yourself through a local taxidermy shop.   Shooting at the swinging fish really makes a person concentrate on their timing.  Moving a ball in to a target improves our aim and angles, kind of like playing pool.

Now this is a moveable target.

So…what did the Village Idiot learn from her first trip bow fishing?   I learned that if I’m brave enough to go out on a limb, I won’t watch my husband and sons move away with separate interests.  I won’t have to hear the story second-hand –  I’ll be there to live the story with them!  Thanks to that old toy bow and a beat up Zebco reel, we’ve become an Archery Family.

Maybe I’m not such an idiot after all.  In fact, it sounds to me like I’m a pretty smart cookie. Now, about that FishHawk from AMS.  hmmmm,