For most of his life, T.C. Worley believed hunters were trigger happy idiots with blood lust. That changed when the photographer/filmmaker/journalist went on his first hunt and found a different perspective of being behind a rifle: These hunters were ethical and eminently respectful of their targets. And they were outdoors, something Worley already loved. Soon he began to hunt himself, and he hasn't stopped since. Worley recently co-directed a short film called "The Draw" that shows a beautiful and metaphysical side of bow hunting that's seldom displayed.
If you haven't seen it, do. If possible, fire up the Chromecast and surround sound. Or just watch from your monitor. It's just under five minutes and, for the squeamish, no animals are—spoiler alert—injured. After viewing, if you're still interested in what changed Worley's view of hunting, how the film was made, and, believe it or not, the similarities between riding a single speed mountain bike and hunting, come on back and continue reading.
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For most of his life, Worley believed "it was dumb to kill a gentle deer when you could buy packaged beef at any grocery."
Then he read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma."
After learning about the conditions of factory farms—conditions that are so bad that big agriculture has successfully pushed through laws that make it a felony to film what goes on there—he started to look at meat differently.
"Those grocery animals live miserable lives, in gross conditions. Most aren’t allowed to live even a shred of life the way they were intended and as such are unhealthy," said Worley. "Then we butcher them and eat the unhealthy beasts."
With his new knowledge, Worley decided to try something new and see what he learned about himself in the process.
"I wanted to get closer to my food and also know if I could take a life, clean the carcass, and then eat the animal," explained the father of two. "Taking an animal’s life, then bringing it home for my family was not something I had ever done. I wanted to prove that I deserved to be a carnivore."
But where to start? Worley lived in Minneapolis, had only hunted a handful of times as a kid, and had no real woodman's skills.
In fall of 2008, some people volunteered to take him gun hunting. He enjoyed it, but in the back of his mind he felt that the more difficult bow-hunting was the "real way to hunt." The competitive cyclist who also tests outdoor gear professionally compares hunting with a bow instead of a rifle to competing on a single speed mountain bike instead of a geared bike.
"This may sound silly, but it’s the same attraction I have to single speed bike racing. I like being the underdog," said Worley.
The distinction between multi-speed mountain bikes and single speed bikes is a good one. The latter has less tech and is beautiful in its simplicity. Much like a bow, a single speed is more difficult than a geared rig because you have fewer options.
When it comes to bow hunting versus hunting with a rifle, one of the biggest challenges is getting close enough for the shot. To bag a deer with a bow, you usually need to be within 30 yards or so.
"Deer are very smart and very good at staying alive, and I love the challenge of trying to get close enough to get a bow shot," explains Worley. "That’s the real thrill that keeps me hiking out in the woods."
Going with the bow was good for the local deer population for three self-described "clumsy" years.
Skip to the fall of 2013, a friend who Worley knew from filmmaking circles, Ryan Wheeler, approached Worley about working on a hunting project that became "The Draw." Wheeler ended up co-directing with Worley, who wanted to make a film that would showcase his abilities as a filmmaker and would show why he and his friends hunt, which he says is for "all the right reasons."
When it came to casting, Worley's key hunting partner, Josh Howe, immediately came to mind. "He is a model of an ethical hunter and is dedicated to being very good at it. He puts in a lot of personal time to shoot straight and figure out where deer are. His goals and ideals about bow hunting are very closely aligned with mine."
Howe is also articulate.
“Not everyone I interview is able to be as introspective as he was. He speaks about hunting in a way that you can sense he takes it very serious. It’s not a game—it’s not a source of pride or something to wear for everyone to see. It’s something he discovered, much like I did, that fits who he is. … We wanted to get him to help us paint a picture of what it’s like. Not to evangelize so much as just give people a look into something they may know nothing about."
And if you're wondering about the excellent soundtrack that's more “Explosion in the Sky” than the riff-heavy hard rock that dominates a lot of hunting films, the soundtrack comes from a library of stock music. Mellow and atmospheric, Worley wanted something that represents his hunting experience that he describes as "very quiet, calm, and at times straight-up boring."
Although the term "meditative" is thrown around a lot these days, especially now that "mindfulness" is the word du jour, the soundtrack does a good job of indicating that most hunters sit motionless for hours on end.
The film shoot took place over a single, 18-hour day. Since it was a passion project, everyone volunteered their time. And the film articulates Worley's view on eating meat. "A wild animal lives a full, natural life, eating what it wants, going where it wants, and behaving like it should. Where legal and ethical, I will always prefer taking a wild animal’s life over essentially torturing livestock."
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