By Pat Lefemine
Dwight, what are you doing now?
I've worked for Bowhunter magazine since January 1, 1996, first as Senior Editor and now as Editor since July 1997. It's my dream job. If you asked me 20 years ago the perfect job for me I'd have said, "I'd like to be the Editor of Bowhunter magazine." Of course I never thought it would happen. But it has, and that's what I'm doing - that's what I enjoy
What got you into bowhunting?
Probably boredom (laughs). I'd been in the Army for three years. Actually, Id shot a bow as a kid but never hunted with it, and my Dad never bowhunted. I had an old wood kid's bow that I shot until I slammed a car door on it and broke off the tip. After that, I really didn't think much about archery until I got out of the Army. Frankly, I was just hanging out. A friend asked me if I wanted to go bowhunting with him, and with nothing better to do, I said, "Well, sure." He wanted to hunt at Hart Mountain in the eastern Oregon desert, which sounded like a good way to kill a few days. I borrowed a 56-pound Bear Cub longbow and bought a dozen cedar arrows. I practiced a lot, but to say I was a competent archer would be stretching the truth. We hunted the desert (this would have been in 1969, I believe) and I never had so much excitement in my life. I saw bucks like Id never seen during my rifle hunts. I loved the quiet atmosphere of the archery season as opposed to the noisy and busy gun season most of all.
And I really liked shooting a bow, pulling that longbow back and watching those arrows fly. Shooting a bow became a very central part of my hunting. I was a bowhunter from that first day in the Eastern Oregon desert. Bowhunting pretty much consumed my life from that point on.
Tell us about your first harvest.
In 1972 I bought a 48-pound Wing Thunderbird recurve, which was my first new brand-new bow. I went back to Hart Mountain with that bow in 72 and missed several deer. I had buck fever something terrible and nice bucks made me nervous. I was a good shot on targets, but on a deer I would just pull back and let the arrow rip. After five days of that I was getting discouraged. I missed some really good deer. My wife, Laura, and I were sitting on a rim looking down into a canyon, and she spotted a spike mule deer lying next to a juniper. At first I did not want to go after it because I had dreams of a big 30-inch buck. But after all of my frustrating attempts, I decided to see if I could simply kill a deer.
So with Laura on the rim of the canyon giving hand signals, I started my stalk, circling around and coming down on the buck. He stood up and started to feed. It was a hot day and my fingers were sweating so much that when I began my draw, they slipped out of the finger stalls on my shooting glove. I lowered the bow, put my fingers back into the glove, and started to think, "Hey, I can do this. I didn't have to hurry. I can make a good shot." So I got a good grip on the string, pulled back, and shot. I didn't see the arrow hit the deer as he took off running uphill. My first thought was that I'd missed him. He then made a loop and started running downhill, and I could see blood shooting out the other side of his chest. This was the first deer I'd hit with a bow I didn't know what to expect. He ran downhill for 50 yards, went up on his hind legs, and tipped over backwards. That was my first bow kill, a pretty exciting moment because, for me at least, it wasn't easy at all, and I didn't have the mental control and perhaps the physical skills to be really confident. Taking that spike buck was a major breakthrough and was really exciting. It was just a 10-inch spike, but I would have to say that was one of my most memorable hunts.
How has bowhunting changed since those years?
Well, I think you have to look at it two ways. How has it changed for me personally, and how has the industry changed? For me, personally, there are a lot of changes, and, yet, there aren't any changes. Certainly I'm more knowledgeable. I've studied bowhunting, the Industry, the tackle, and I've shot all kinds of bows. Back then I shot a recurve for my first 10 years of bowhunting, and since then I've shot a compound bow. There's no question I'm more accurate with new tackle. And my knowledge and grasp of hunting techniques with different animals is a lot greater. I know how to get set up for the shot, when to take the shot, how to track animals better, and all these things add up to greater success. I'm not any more, or less, enthusiastic because of the greater success I've enjoyed. Down deep in my heart, I don't think it's really changed a lot at all in that the animals are still the same, being in the field is still the same. I haven't lost any of my desire to be out there hunting.
A couple of years ago, I was hunting late-season mule deer in Idaho. After 13 days of solo hunting I spotted a nice buck on the last day of the season. As happened to me numerous times on that hunt, the deer spooked. He ran across a hill and stopped to look back at me 100 yards away. Sitting there, looking at that beautiful, insolent buck, took me back to my first days at Hart Mountain. Here was this buck, doing the same thing to me his distant cousins in Oregon did 30 years prior. He had this sort of insolent look like only a mule deer could: "Who are you and what are you doing out here?" My heart was beating the same way and my thoughts were the same: "I'm going to figure this out, I'm going to get you next year." That's exactly how I felt the first year I bowhunted. So, deep in my heart nothing really has changed.
On my second point, about changes in the industry, we could debate all day whether it's changed for better or worse. Yes, there are changes I don't like. There are more bowhunters today and there is a different perception of bowhunting. Back then we were trying to prove we could actually kill something with archery gear. Now it's like we're trying to prove we can't, as if we don't want to be too successful. We can label much of the archery tackle nowadays as "gadgetry" or "gimmicks" and say that it's bad for bowhunting. Frankly, some of it probably is really bad, but at the same time, I don't think you can call growth and progress all bad. If we still had now the same numbers of bowhunters we had in the 60s, the anti-bowhunting forces would wipe us out. We certainly wouldn't have the season lengths we enjoy today, because there is strength in numbers and now we have some clout. The opportunities are much greater today than they were 30 years ago when I started bowhunting. And I don't think it's because the game departments saw the light. Rather, growing numbers of bowhunters lobbied wildlife managers into offering these long seasons.
I think we need numbers; we need advocacy to defend ourselves. Some people want to stop bowhunting, and they don't care if its with a compound, recurve, or longbow. We need people to defend us in the legislature and congress. That's only possible with a strong bowhunting lobby, which takes numbers and dollars. Is that good or bad? Who knows? But it is reality.
You have a great job - is it as enviable as people may think?
Oh, yes, you have no idea how wonderful my job is (laughs). I put on a smoking jacket every morning and my wife brings me breakfast in bed and says "Dear, where do you want to go bowhunting today?"
Seriously, enviable might be the word to describe my job, but there is a reality to my job, too. That reality is that the job involves a lot more writing than it does wandering the mountains with my bow. I'd love to change the ratio, but the fact is we have a magazine to put out, and I have to do something to earn my pay. That means working on a lot of stories, either editing other peoples stories or creating my own. And both are hard work. But I like writing; I'm a word guy. However, its anything but glamorous, because a majority of my life is stuck alone in front of a computer for hours on end. That's the reality of my job.
Now, do I have some major benefits? Sure. In order for me to write about hunting I have to go hunting, and the company I work for understands that. So they encourage and promote it . They want me to go hunting. That's part of my job, and that's why I got into this business in the first place. I've always dreamed of hunting Dall sheep in The Northwest Territories, moose in Alaska, grizzlies in British Columbia, and because of Bowhunter magazine I've been able to do these things. So working as Editor has helped me fulfill lifelong dreams. In that sense, my job is indeed enviable.
If you could go on only one hunt a year, what would that be?
At one time I would have said mule deer or elk, alternating those every other year. But now I've broadened my hunting to include a variety of different animals in different settings. So I would have to say I would hunt something different each year. It's not that I am trying to get a Super Slam or anything like that. Its just that I like seeing new places, learning about new animals, and going on new adventures. Did I go on a Dall sheep hunt over mule deer because it's a better hunt? No, because it's not a better hunt. It's just something I hadn't done before and I craved to hunt something new. Same with grizzlies. Its not that they are a superior species to say, black bears. It's just that I hadn't hunted grizzlies before, hadn't experienced that country. So to answer your question, my choice at this stage in my life would probably be a new, different, hunt each year.
Do you ever get buck fever or target panic?
Not unless I'm within bow range of an animal (laughs). I just wrote a story about a moose hunt in Wyoming. I hunted hard for 20 days, finally getting a 30-yard shot at a bull. And missed. It was strictly because I lost my head (I wanted him so bad after 20 days of hard hunting, I got some serious bull fever). You'd think after 30 years of bowhunting I'd be dead calm under every situation, but thats absolutely not true. Sometimes I'm very calm, but it seems the longer I hunt a particular animal without success, the more pressure I put on myself. The greater my desire, the harder it is for me to concentrate and make a good shot. And, as I said, I missed a bull moose at 30 yards broadside. Now that's target panic -- bad! But there's a flip side to that story. I killed that same moose the next day. The story is in my "Wild Side" column in the June/July issue of Bowhunter.
I do get target panic. Three years ago I had a mule deer tag in Nevada and after hunting 11 days I had a beautiful quartering away shot on a nice buck. I missed him by at least 2 feet. In fact, I changed my shooting style because of that shot. I was shooting with a trigger-finger release aid and changed to a back-tension release, which has really cured target panic problems for me.
In the beginning of this interview I mentioned missing a number of bucks with my recurve. I would simply pull back and let fly without ever realizing I had drawn the bow. There was a 5-second window when everything went black, when I didnt remember drawing the bow or letting go of the string. So, yes, I would say that from the first time I started hunting till today I still have that problem. In a way, I guess, you could call that good because, as is often said, if you dont get excited, why hunt? But those recent experiences -- the mule deer, the moose -- notwithstanding, I have learned through experience to keep my nerves under control in most cases, and buck fever has not been a major problem for me in recent years.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the archery industry?
I'd say the Internet. (Laughter.) Well, I suppose I should say something real deep, philosophic, and analytical. A lot of people think it's the technology and the gadgets and stuff, but I personally think those things are self-regulating and the garbage is just going to self-destruct. I dont particularly agree with argument that we're destroying ourselves by getting too high-tech and too technological. I would have to say that the outside forces, the antihunters and a changing society that doesn't accept hunting, is our biggest challenge. Consider cougar hunting, for example. You know it's right, I know it's right. Most hunters know its an acceptable thing to do. But try to explain that to those who don't understand. They're not going to accept it. In our modern society more and more people simply can't understand hunting because they are not exposed to it. In modern society we're becoming an anachronism to people. We're outdated. We know in our hearts that what we're doing is right, and we can certainly justify it biologically. We can prove without question that we are the major conservationists. But try to explain to somebody who doesn't understand it or doesn't want to understand it. I think that's the most difficult challenge ahead of us.
Tell us about your most memorable or favorite hunt?
I already did. How can you beat that first spike mule deer while hunting with my wife? I still have those feelings. People ask me this question often, and I feel it's the hardest question of all to answer. Every hunt I've ever been on has had good qualities. Even the ones that most people would deem mediocre or bad hunts have been good. The hunts where you sat in your tent listening to the rain pouring down for days on end? Those are not bad hunts. You could be in a pine box someplace or sitting at a computer, designing websites. Now, thats bad!
Hunts that have pushed me to the maximum are my most memorable. Easy hunts don't stand out in my mind, even if they involve big animals. In fact, the biggest bull elk Ive killed was in Arizona, on the first day of the 1990 season. He was a nice bull. But would I say that was my most memorable elk hunt? Not at all. I got a cow this last year and just the circumstances -- the fellow I was hunting with (my friend Roger Iveson from Nevada), the fact I was hunting with a recurve for the first time in several years, the way the hunt came about -- all made it special. I shot the cow on the last morning. Wed hunted hard for six days. Then that last morning I called in this cow and shot her at 12 yards with the recurve. Then, 20 minutes later, Roger shot a 5-point bull. Now, that was memorable. But my biggest bull didn't mean as much to me as that experience with the cow and small bull. Incidentally, that story will appear in the August/September 2000 issue of Bowhunter.
Or lets refer back to that moose I shot on my 21st day of hunting in Wyoming. He wasn't a huge bull, about 40 inches, which is a nice Shiras moose but far from record class. But that kind of hunt, where I must hunt to the max. Those are classic hunts that really stand out in my mind
You have mentioned in the past that some hunters are better off on unguided hunts than guided ones. Can you expand on that?
Yes. This is not a criticism of guides or outfitters, but I think there are advantages to hunting on your own -- with a qualification, which is that you must be a reasonably experienced hunter. Some people think, "Oh, Dwight grew up in the woods out west, so this is easy for him." But it's no easier for me than for anybody else. I didn't grow up with a father who was an outfitter. He didn't hunt a lot. I had to learn the ropes just like anybody else. I'm not being unreasonable by saying that anybody could do an unguided hunt and could do just as well as I. The qualification is that you have some hunting experience, even if its just for deer in your local area, and then possess the mentality for it, the spirit of adventure. Some people have an adventuresome spirit, and some don't. If you don't, that's not a criticism, it's just that you have to be honest with yourself. Do you tend to fold when things get tough, or are you the kind of person who can persevere? Do you have a certain amount of woodsmanship -- not only so you can hunt well but safely, too?
In many cases an experienced hunter has advantages on his own. You have more flexibility, you can call your own shots, and you can hunt ways that fit your own personality, skill levels, and abilities. You can pick your own areas. If you go on an elk hunt, for example, you can pick four or five areas that look good to you. You can start with Plan A then move to Plan B, Plan C. etc. One of my main satisfactions is figuring things out on my own. That's the meaning of hunting to me. Hunting is not killing an animal; it's learning woodsmanship, and the kill is just one measure of your learning. From the planning, to picking the area, to getting your gear ready, even making the arrangements, all of these things are part of the hunt to me. And when you hunt on your own, you have to do all of these things.
Yes, I've taken guided hunts, those grizzly and Dall sheep hunts, for example. But they were hunts where I was legally required to have a guide. Guided hunts are fine. My only point is that I don't want anyone to feel discouraged about hunting on their own, or pressured that they have to hire a guide. Especially people coming out West to hunt. Many assume that they need a guide because that's the only possible way to succeed. I say, no way. Think about it. You can do it on your own if you have those qualities I talked about. Give yourself some credit. Give yourself a chance.
With all your hunting, have you ever been in a situation where you were in danger or your life was threatened?
You know, I really haven't. I'm a fairly safe individual. I hunt by myself a lot and there's an inherent danger in just doing that I guess. I have to admit that when I was hunting in Northwestern Montana, or along the border of Yellowstone Park -- grizzly bear zones -- I had a sense of danger. Probably the greatest danger I've been in was during a sheep hunt on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. I was about 25 miles from the road, and by myself. Nobody knew where I was and I was hunting some real steep areas. Many times I'd stop and assess the situation and say to myself, "Nobody knows I'm in this canyon, and this is dangerous stuff." Usually I'm not fearful of situations, and I wasn't really afraid at that time. But I was very conscious of the risks and, as a result, was very careful about what I did. I didn't get hurt nor was my life threatened, but it easily could have been. I could have easily fallen, broken a leg, and rotted right there. Nobody would have ever found me. So I would say that sheep hunting by myself in the Middle Fork is probably as perilous of a situation as I've ever put myself in.
Do you hunt both modern and traditional archery equipment?
Sure. My first 10 years, I bowhunted with a recurve. I loved hunting with a recurve and was an adamant recurve shooter. Due to some shoulder problems I reluctantly tried a compound bow and found that it solved most of my problems, including severe tendinitis in the rotator cuff in my bow shoulder. The thing I had to get over was the mental aspect of shooting a compound. I was a dyed-in-the-wool recurve shooter and didn't like changing. But when I started hunting with a compound, nothing really changed in my mind or my heart. I enjoyed the hunting as much as ever.
Nor did my mentality about hunting change, either. I didn't say to myself, "Oh! I can start shooting 60 or 80 yards now." I've always been a 20-30 yard shooter and that's what I continued to do with the compound. So even my concept of shooting distance didn't really change. Certainly my love for hunting didn't change at all.
However, I never lost my desire to shoot a recurve or longbow. I have always had that desire. In 1990 I had surgery on my left shoulder to relieve the tendinitis, and eventually it got better. Three or four years ago I started shooting light stick bows again. A couple of years ago, Neil Russell, of Wilderness Bows in Nampa, Idaho, made a 40-pound longbow for me. I practiced with it all summer, shot it at the North American Longbow Safari in McCall, Idaho, and took it to Quebec caribou hunting. I was excited about hunting with it. It was a lot of fun, and I was shooting it pretty well. Unfortunately we saw one caribou in six days, so I didn't get a chance to shoot a caribou with it.
That Habu recurve I shot the elk with had a 45-pound draw weight, and I felt pretty comfortable shooting it and had a lot of fun with it? But will I ever become a hard-core traditionalist? No, probably not. Partly thats because I simply can't shoot enough draw-weight with a stick bow. I would not feel ethical shooting the draw weights that Im able to shoot accurately on big stuff like moose or grizzly bears, simply because, in my opinion, I cant shoot a heavy enough bow to get adequate penetration. So you ask what kind of archer am I? I think your status as a bowhunter has more to do with your heart than your physical ability. Do I have a love and desire to shoot longbows and recurves? Yes, I do. And I will continue to shoot them to the best of my ability. But do I still like shooting compound bows? Youre darned right I do. And I will continue to do that, too.
What hunts do you have planned for 2000?
That's a speculative question right now. I'm hoping to go sheep hunting again and my odds for drawing in Idaho are pretty good. Ive drawn an elk tag in Wyoming, and Larry D. Jones and I plan to video that hunt for inclusion in Bowhunter Video Journal IV. And I have a caribou hunt booked for The Northwest Territories in August. My wife is going with me, so that will be fun. Other than those hunts, Im just looking forward to some deer hunting close to home, some whitetail hunting someplace in the Midwest -- just doing the good old down-home type of hunts I've always done.
In 2001 I've got a couple of hunts planned for things I've wanted to do for years and have never been able to until now. One of those is a muskox hunt in August, stalking them on the tundra. And I have a brown bear hunt planned for late September 2001. You know, brown bear is something I never , even in my wildest dreams, ever expected to do. Yet, the hunt is booked. Exciting. So, those are some things that I'm looking forward to in the future as far as the adventure hunts. What I'm really looking forward to right now is staying home and hunting deer on the local mountains and elk in the nearby woods. Those never get old for me. I always enjoy the do-it-yourself hunts for familiar species, and I don't ever want to neglect those types of hunts.
Where do you see bowhunting in 2025?
Well, I'll probably be pushing up marble in 2025, so nobody can stone me for being a false prophet. But I suspect the hunting scene will change quite a bit, because one of the major trends these days is toward leased land. I think the possibility of just knocking on your neighbors door and saying, "Joe, can I hunt the back 40?" will be rare. To me, thats a very sad thing. I can understand why it's going the way it is, but that trend is going to discourage people from hunting. It's going to make it harder and some people will just drop out.
The freedom of just picking up your bow and going hunting, even on public lands, is going to change to a certain extent. Well still have public lands to hunt, but certainly they're going to be more crowded. This may sound like a negative or doomsday view of hunting, but it isnt meant to be. I think people will adapt. In Texas, for example, one of our biggest hunting states, we non-residents hate their system because it's all private, leased land. But most Texans love it. They don't see anything wrong with the system. So, maybe all of us will adapt to that.
And in our hearts, will hunting change by the year 2025? Will that mule deer across that canyon look the same after 30 years of bowhunting? Personally, if Im not fertilizing marble, I will look at him the same way. I'll still have the same thrill in the hunt as I always have. Yes, the nature of how people hunt, the leasing, the private land situation, the crowding, and whatever, is going change things. But is it going to change the feeling in our hearts and our reasons for hunting? Is our enthusiasm for hunting going to be any less? Is just pulling the bowstring back and letting it go on a deer at 20 yards going to be diminished from what it is today? I don't think so. I think that thrill is always going to be there. The hunter's heart is always going to be unchanged.