Editor’s Note: The little, barefoot, overall-clad boy Howard Hill made small clouds of dust as he raced from the cotton field down the road to the house holding the first rabbit he ever had killed with his bow and arrow. That first rabbit taken in Wilsonville, Alabama, marked a new page in the history of bowhunting and began Hill’s quest to fulfill his impossible dream that would span a lifetime, an ocean and two continents. Before Howard Hill – a world-renowned bowman who won more than 196 competitions and set a world record for the farthest recorded flight shot of 391 yards – died in 1975 at the age of 74, I was privileged to interview him. This giant of a man – still strong and powerful – grasped my hand in a hand twice the size of mine – and told me he still shot 100 arrows a day. He also said his heroes were the Native Americans, “Who were some of the best hunters who ever lived. They weren’t necessarily the best shots, but their abilities to stalk, get in close to their game and make clean kills set them apart.” He told me of his personal windmill, how he charged it, and how it fell.
Back when our family was farmers, I’d go hunting in a cotton field that wasn’t far from the house. Once, the dogs jumped a rabbit and started running it. I was standing in the area between the rows called the middle. I was in one middle, and in a few minutes here came that rabbit in the next middle. He had to pass within 6 feet of me. So, when he came by, I gave my arrow a jerk and hit that rabbit right in the back of the foreshoulder.
Of course, the rabbit ran, jumped into the next row and got the arrow hung between two cotton stalks. While he was trying to get away, I ran up and grabbed it by the ears. I was so excited I ran all the way home as fast as I could. My daddy was out in the wagon shed doing some work on our wagon. I ran in and said, “Daddy, look what I killed with my bow and arrow!” He answered, “Well, that’s wonderful, but where’s your bow?”
Well, bless my soul, I had left that bow down there where I had killed the rabbit. When I shot the rabbit, I threw the bow down. I was so excited I had forgotten to pick it up when I ran to the house. I went back and hunted for that bow for half a day. Finally, I went up and down each row of the cotton field until I found my bow, and that’s how I started bow and arrow hunting.
Later I told my daddy, “Poppa, I want to go to Africa and kill an elephant with my bow and arrow when I grow up.” With all the wisdom that came from living close to the land, he looked back at me and asked, “Have you talked to the Lord about it?” When I said, “No, sir,” he told me, “Well, that’s a pretty big order. But if you talk to the Lord about killing an elephant with your bow and arrow, maybe He will bring it to pass.”
I was a tool maker, a plumber and did all kinds of work on my way, but I never lost sight of Africa and the thought of killing an elephant with a bow. I knew I had to do it when I read that famed archers Dr. Pope and Mr. Young said taking an elephant with a bow was impossible.
I appreciate my longtime, super-talented friend Mike Handley of Montgomery, Ala., allowing me to use his painting of an elephant today. Go to www.facebook.com/mikehandleyart to see terrific artwork.
To learn more about hunting, check out John E. Phillip’s book, “Bowhunting Deer: Mossy Oak Pros Know Bucks and Bows” in Kindle and print versions at http://amzn.to/1QGvdQx
Tomorrow: How a Zoo Elephant Helped Howard Hill Live His Bowhunting Dream