The first time Tenants Harbor resident Mark Bartholomew went bow hunting was in New Jersey in 1954. “My dad was stationed at Fort Dix—he was an army chaplain. I only hunted one season and got off one shot.”
The following year Bartholomew’s father was transferred to Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. It was the family’s 29th move. “Alaska was still a territory at the time. It was fun up there. When we got to Alaska there was—and still is—a one year residency requirement to hunt big game like moose and bear so the first year my brother and I hunted only partridge, ducks, ptarmigan and hares. On the first day we were eligible for big game, we harvested my brother’s first moose. Later in the year, I harvested my first moose on the way home from school. The next year I shot a moose and a Dall Sheep [white mountain sheep]. During college in Fairbanks we hunted weekends and vacations and fed several families on moose and caribou and ducks too.”
For Bartholomew, bow hunting had gone by the wayside in favor of the rifle he bought in 1956. “Bows were pretty primitive at that time. I tried for a caribou at 15 or 20 yards with a bow and the arrow bounced off of it. Needless to say, the next shot was with my rifle.”
It wasn’t until Bartholomew and his wife, Betsy, moved to Maine about 12 years ago to help care for Betsy’s elderly parents in Cushing that Bartholomew’s interest in bow hunting was rekindled. One reason, he says, was opportunity.
“Maine has some of the best bow hunting opportunities in the country, especially for hunters over 70—or with certain physical limitations—in that we are allowed to use a crossbow for most game in most seasons. Conventional bow hunters also have wonderful opportunities in the expanded archery areas.”
‘Expanded archery areas’ are zones in populated areas with an overabundance of deer where the state encourages bow hunting—the nearest zone to St. George extends from Owls Head to Lincolnville. “Because of the limited range of both compound bows and crossbows, they are less of a danger in populated areas where deer can be a major nuisance—they make topiaries of a lot of expensive landscaping—and where they present a danger of lyme disease as well. As is true with firearms, specific permission is required to discharge a bow within 100 yards of a dwelling. In the designated areas hunters with the required permits can take multiple deer and help control the population. Many of these deer are donated to charity, so many benefit.”
Bartholomew switched from using a compound bow to using a crossbow a couple of years ago when problems with his right eye developed. He was able to convert to shooting his rifle left handed, but found it difficult to do that with a long bow. “The technology has advanced a great deal for both types of bows, but the crossbow shoots farther and much harder than compound bows.”
Bartholomew enjoys the skill involved with bow hunting. “The thing is, with a rifle, if a deer is in my sight my probability of killing that deer is about 99 percent because the bullet shoots flat and I’ve been shooting the same rifle since I bought it in 1956—it takes all the sport out of it. But the most critical thing in bow hunting, whether crossbow or compound bow, is knowing exactly how far it is to your target. A crossbow shoots 350 feet per second, but it drops at 33 feet per second squared so that every 10 yards it drops about 6 inches. So if you have a target you think is 20 yards and it’s really 40 yards you shoot under it. I missed one last year because it was a chance encounter so I hadn’t had a chance to range it and I thought it was 30 yards away. I was walking pretty quietly, and there was just enough breeze to cover the sound. I shot several inches over her because I didn’t think I could walk any closer than 30 yards. But it was like 18 yards away.”
Bartholomew says that experiences like this makes the range finder a very critical piece of equipment. “The new ones are especially handy because they can give you the effective range depending on if you are shooting downward, say out of a tree, or upward. So if you are looking down it may be 40 yards to the target but the effective range might be 25 yards because of gravity.”
Although the crossbow is pretty deadly out to 60 yards, Bartholomew says he prefers shooting closer. “That’s because you have maximum power and your errors are smaller. At 20 yards I try for a neck shot because the crossbow is so powerful that it breaks the spine and the animal is done, it goes right down. Farther than that I shoot for a vital area, the heart and lungs. It’s not quite as clean, but it’s still almost as humane as a high-powered rife.”
Hunting that involves firearms (which this year begins October 31 and ends November 26), Bartholomew points out, requires lots of flash orange clothing because at the distance from which many hunters are shooting it would be easy to mistake a person for a deer. But with bow hunting (the season began September 29 and runs through October 28, although in expanded archery areas the season runs from September 10 through December 10), the idea is just to totally disappear so camouflage clothing, gloves and masks are in order.
“The thing about archery hunting is that, because you are shooting at such close range, you have to become one with the environment,” Bartholomew emphasizes. “You have to be so still that if a deer is within sight you hardly can even breathe.”
To illustrate, he tells the story of a time he and a friend had permission to hunt with bows out on Benner Island.
“I was sitting on the north end of the island. There was a pond there and some green grass. It was a good feeding area, fairly open, but I was hunkered down in nice tall grass with a rock at my back so I wasn’t silhouetted. I had shot my ranges and there were birds that were migrating—about four different types of warblers and three different kinds of sparrows and some others. This doe came out, a very nice animal and there were no kids with her or anything. She came out of the woods and was looking right at me so I couldn’t blink. There was a big scrape where a buck had been polishing his horns and pawing the ground and leaving a marker to attract does. She went up and tore at that and then she came to within about 10 yards and was looking right at me. About that time a bird came and lit on my bow and another one lit on my head. On my bow was a yellow-rumped warbler. I don’t know what was on my head. The doe must have thought, ‘That must be a rock.’ So she ignored me and walked off.”
The surprising outcome of this story was that, despite his pains, Bartholomew didn’t get the doe. Although he got the opportunity to raise his bow and get her neck in his sights he also had the sun in his eye. When he touched the arrow off he heard a “whack” which he thought was the sound of a good hit, but instead it was his arrow lodging itself into a small spruce standing in front of the doe that the sun made impossible to see. “It wasn’t her time,” Bartholomew says with a rueful laugh.
Bartholomew admits that, despite the pleasures of bow hunting, it is still a sport that is far more dangerous for the hunter than hunting with a firearm. “There are so many things that can go wrong. Equipment checks are incredibly important. Luckily, before you can bow hunt in Maine you first have to take an archery course, which is basically a safety class. And then there is a special crossbow endorsement that is required. It teaches you nothing about hunting but everything about the crossbow.”
Bartholomew says he loved living in Alaska. After more than 15 years in the Army he finished out his military career in the reserves there and also, among other things, spent about 20 years as the captain of a 95-foot ship that took passengers to see glaciers and wildlife on tours of the Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, an occupation he still misses. But he says he doesn’t regret the move to Maine and, in particular, St. George, even though his wife has deep roots in Cushing.
“We settled on this side of the river and we’re glad we did. It’s much more vibrant and we’ve made good friends here, good associations. The whole atmosphere in St. George is just great. I enjoy volunteering at the Marshall Point Light House Museum and being a member of the Odd Fellows.”
But perhaps most of all, it is the chance he’s found here to learn and excel at a sport that keeps him in touch with the wild. “I’m not the best bow hunter, but I enjoy bow hunting very much and have been lucky to be successful with it.”—JW
PHOTOS: Julie Wortman