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Bow hunting brings lineman to the woods

These are two very different worlds, and Charles McRae enjoys both.

McRae earns a living playing right offensive tackle and left guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He spends most of his time studying the trade, pounding the weights, feeling the pressure of being a first-round draft pick.

But on that rare off week during the archery season, McRae loses himself among the trees and the bogs of the nearest woodland. He embraces a tranquility of the woods to become the most covert of forest-dwellers. He becomes the bow hunter.

"Bow hunting takes you into a whole different world," McRae said. "It's more than just hunting.

"You know, anybody can pick up a rifle and hit an animal from 300 yards away, but where's the thrill in that? Bow hunting takes great skill and patience, great knowledge of the terrain, techniques and equipment. That's what makes it so special, so different."

Difference? Consider this polarity.

In one world, McRae is a pass protector. In the other, he's a part-time predator.

In one, he is visible, physical and loud. In the other, he's a silent, still stalker wishing to be neither seen nor heard.

"If you have to get within 20 to 30 yards of the animal, then you have to be much more proficient at the hunt," said McRae, who began bow hunting while playing at the University of Tennessee.

"A lot more time is spent getting close to the deer, scouting the tracks and water holes and sitting patiently."

Growing up in rural Clinton, Tenn., McRae was exposed to hunting early in his life. But his bow hunting had its genesis in a friendship with former Volunteers linemate Antoine Davis.

"It really started for me with Antoine (now an offensive lineman with the Philadelphia Eagles). We would go hunting whenever we got a chance, and I've been doing it since then," McRae said. "Now, whenever we get the chance, my wife (Joanna) and I try to get out there."

With Florida's bow hunting season almost over (Sept. 10 to Nov. 13), McRae knows there is little chance of hunting this season. But with time and money already invested in an armory of four bows and scores of arrows, McRae stays sharp shooting practice targets in his back yard and fine-tuning his homemade arrows.

It's a wise choice. Bow hunting equipment is sophisticated, and it's not cheap.

"It's not like you just get up in the morning and go out and buy a bow," said Dale Garcia, who has been bow hunting for seven years and is the outdoors manager for a Sports Authority store.

"Bows are built to fit people, to fit their size, their strength, their ability to hold the draw. When buying a bow, people have to be concerned about proper draw length (how far back the arrow can be pulled comfortably) and draw weight (the force of the pulling action). These things have to be considered, whether you're my size or McRae's size."

McRae and Garcia agree that, for successful days on the hunt, there are a few other considerations:

Preparation: The saying is: "The preparation makes the hunt." Hunters may scout the area days in advance in order to learn the common trails and habits of the area game.

Time: Be willing to spend as much as 12 hours in the woods, waiting for the perfect strike. Usually, a successful kill occurs within the 30-yard range.

"Hunting is extreme patience; you can wait forever out there," Garcia said."It's more important to bow hunters, because they don't have the luxury of being able to move around."

The bow: Keep the bow ready; it is a precise instrument made for one-shot opportunities. The modern bows, made of graphite-like compounds and equipped with cams and wheels at the ends, allow for a reversal of pressure _ the farther back the bow is drawn, the easier it is to hold the arrow in place.

The arrow: Treat it like gold. The arrow speed, which averages 315 feet per second, is achieved through careful maintenance of the tips and hollow shafts. Modern arrows, also made of graphite, must be perfectly straight. The slightest nick could cause wind resistance and inaccuracy.

The camouflage and tree stand: With such a priority on getting close, camouflage clothes are compulsory. Tree stands are almost mandatory, because hunters need to be above the sight and smell range of game. Tree stands should be padded with foam or to minimize noise.

"Deer and hog, in particular, have no natural predator from above, so they have no need to look up," Garcia said.

Money: Get ready to spend it. A starter's kit ranges between $400 and $500 and must include bows (at an average of $150), arrows ($50) and quivers ($50), camouflage wear ($50), and a tree stand ($125).

One thing is clear: Bow hunting is a costly practice.

"The more money you put into bow hunting, the more drastically you increase your chance of killing an animal," McRae said.

"It's a sport that is self-perpetuating; those who are into it keep putting more into it. But I don't think it's going to grow much in numbers."

Garcia says that the numbers of bow hunters have increased, however, because "many (gun) hunters see archery as a refinement of the sport, a refinement that brings more challenges."

For McRae, who has the time and money, it's a challenge he can't wait to undertake.