I shot a turkey yesterday morning, only the second time with a bow in eight years (that’s 16 seasons).

first bird with a bow in five years—5/27/09

first bird with a bow in five years—5/27/09

Before I describe the whole hunt in another post (which may not interest you), I want to tell you how tennis prowess and peak performance was used in my turkey hunting. And I think it can be applied to other sports as well. This had all been explained the day before by my friend and tennis coach, Frank, when I asked him what allowed the very top players to dominate the game.

One squash coach told me (see April 21st post) that it’s easy to swing the racquet perfectly, but adding a ball that you’re supposed to hit on the swing changes the dynamic enormously. Similarly, aiming at and hitting a stationary, life size, 3-D turkey target is one challenge. But shooting a moving, walking turkey that might see you raise your bow and fly or turn away from you at any second is totally different.

Turkey stories aside, and in accordance with Frank Adam’s advice, I was able somehow to enter a kind of numbness or zone. I was on automatic, totally instinctual. I never calculated distance to the bird, the angle down, what the horizontal length was (see the May 2nd post about Bow and Arrow Lessons). It all just sorta, kinda happened. I wish I could explain it.

My heart was pounding like crazy. From behind a tree, I kept looking through tiny binoculars to make sure I knew which of the two young birds approaching was the male, and at a certain un-recollectable distance and point in time, I raised the bow, aimed and released one pink-fletched arrow.

I cannot remember how I decided how high or far to aim. Or where I aimed through the sight on the bow. That instant is a complete blank. I do recall thinking the birds were about 20 yards away—but the distance later measured 38 yards. Yet this was a perfect shot. It doesn’t make sense. Did I think it was closer? Then how did I hit the turkey? Why didn’t my arrow fly over it and miss?

It was totally intuitive, based on practice and the awareness to shoot for a lower yardage on a downhill shot. But my practicing was never perfect, and I didn’t shoot thousands or even hundreds of arrows. Yet after so many years of misses, this was effortless.

I know that the swordsman and rifleman first have to become completely comfortable and at ease with their weapons. They must practice until using these extensions of their arms becomes second nature. Then they must forget about thinking and just move as if the sword is part of their arm. Like good typists and pianists and bicycle riders who don’t think about how to do what they are doing…or non-doing.

Maybe it was my tiredness—up at 3:30 am, 5½ hours sleep, moving stealthily in the almost dark, in misty, rained-on hills after but five hours sleep the night before. I was so chilled from the wet that earlier in the morning my left hand was quivering like a leaf in the wind. I took deep breaths to calm myself down.

But when the magic moment arrived, after I’d called in one of the two birds from over 200 yards, it was just surreal. The other day in the woods, before I heard Frank’s thoughts about the highest athletic performance, I was tracking a turkey and was totally conscious, savoring where I was, what I was doing, estimating distances, gauging my height relative to the tom. Not yesterday. I was in a dream. It was perfection. After I released the arrow and realized that I had hit the bird, I knew it was over. I felt no need to run immediately to the game, as one is instructed to do. I had achieved my goal. Met the challenge. I was victorious in pulling together all the pieces required.

Hunters have been doing this for 40 to 60 thousand years. So you might say, “What’s the big deal?” But I couldn’t do it. Until, that is, I received some advice from a tennis pro who talked about being “natural” and in the “flow.” Frank calls it floating on the tennis court. The experience was definitely like floating on or in a cloud.