Shoulder Season, Surgery for a Bowhunter

Shoulder Season, Surgery for a Bowhunter

For travelers and tourists, the shoulder season is a time of year that is off-peak for certain destinations and therefore a cheaper and less crowded time to visit. For a bowhunter with a painful shoulder, shoulder season has a whole different meaning. - Hunt to Eat Editor

“Timeline: October First”

by Cindy Stites


Last fall my left shoulder was irritated, but I couldn’t really put a finger on what was bothering it. After about eight months of chiropractic care and deep tissue work, I decided to go see my orthopedic doctor to get this thing looked at. The news I received after some x-rays and an MRI wasn’t anything close to what I wanted to hear. I had impingement of the left shoulder joint. Basically, he told me that my rotator cuff tendon had thickened so much due to chronic inflammation, that there was no room in my joint to things to move freely or work properly. When I raised my arm above shoulder level, the acromion bone was digging a trench into my tendon. There were significant bone spurs or “calluses” that would need to be removed from the underside of my acromion, and there was a good chance they would be doing a Distal Clavicle Resection, or cutting off the end of the collar bone, as well. 

While this may sound a little frightening to some, I had been down this road before. I had to have the exact same surgery on my right shoulder, nine years ago. It has never felt right since. I still endure clavicle pain and it even ended up affecting my SC joint, you know, that knobby bone at the base of your throat where your collar bone attaches to your sternum. While this was a new surgeon, I still had reservations that the outcome could be different. I also had conditions…

We were sitting in the last week of May, I had a trip to Wyoming coming up at the beginning of October, given I were to draw my Mule Deer tag. So, I made it clear that I needed to be able to shoot my rifle by October 1st. But even if I didn’t draw that tag, October 1st had a whole different meaning right here in Indiana. That day marks the opener for archery deer season, and I wanted to be ready. My surgeon, Dr. Sallay, said he had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to shoot my rifle by the date I gave him, but he couldn’t guarantee anything with my bow. I moved forward with surgery and on June 13th, he did the acromioplasty and clavicle resection, and sent me home to start my recovery. 

Within two days the nerve block was out of my system, I had the feeling back in my arm, and the sling was off. On day six I had my post-op appointment and then went right into physical therapy. They don’t let any grass grow under your feet, that’s for sure.  

When my PT guy asked me what kind of goals I had, I told him only one, I wanted to be able to shoot my rifle by October 1st. He gave me a look like he hadn’t heard that one before, but he jotted down some notes and we got started. The first day was mainly some mobility and flexibility work to loosen the shoulder up. It was painful, but nothing I couldn’t deal with. What I was struggling with however, was the disappointment of not being able to follow my original plan of re-dedicating myself to my bow this year. I had accepted the fact that it would be spring before I’d be shooting again.  

For the next two weeks, my therapist was shocked at how much of my range of motion was back and the strength that I had regained. So, on a whim, I asked him if he thought shooting my bow was out of the question this fall. When he said it was a possibility, my focused shifted almost immediately. Starting on that day, and for the next five weeks, he gave me exercises specifically targeting the muscles I needed to strengthen for drawing my bow. I have had many surgeries over the years, and I would be lying if I said I was a good patient when it comes to doing my PT like I was supposed to. This time was different. This time, in my mind anyway, there was something more at stake, and that was my hunting season. 

I have worked hard, completed all my PT as directed, and was given the green light by my therapist to give my bow a try. So, on a Friday afternoon in August, nine weeks and one day after my surgery, I drove down to the archery shop, where my bow was getting restrung and tuned, and headed for the house to see just how my shoulder would react. The guys at the archery shop dropped the poundage of my bow from 53 lbs. down to 40 lbs. to give me a chance to ease into things. I’m not going to lie, I felt good, but I was nervous. I put my release on my wrist, stretched both shoulders a little bit and nocked my first arrow. 

When I drew for the first time, I laughed, I couldn’t help myself. I was shocked that I was able to do this so soon. My first few shots were all over the place, which was expected, due to my set-up being different. After we did some sight adjustments, I was shooting a darn fine group at 20 yds. I shot about twenty reps that evening, trying to stay conservative and prevent major soreness from over-doing it. The next day I still felt great, virtually no soreness. We’ll raise the draw weight back up as hunting season approaches. I think this is a great example that even when the odds are against you, if you put in the hard work, often you will surprise yourself at what you can overcome. I have successfully shot my rifle and my shotgun with no pain way before the October 1st goal, which is a huge relief. And while I didn’t get the quality archery time I had planned this year, I’ll still get to go to the woods in October, and I’ll walk in with my bow in my hand and a smile on my face. 

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