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Traditionally Yours

In a story I wrote earlier, I told of a bow I received for my 5th birthday, a wood self bow that I loved dearly. It met an early demise when an errant arrow struck the neighbor’s delivery van. Unfortunately, the neighbor was standing in his backyard when it happened and he told my dad, who confiscated the bow and I got…a whuppin’. So I made one out of the long bamboo sticks in the shed, bundling four of them together with the black nylon string from my dad’s fishing poles. It worked great until my dad caught me with it, confiscated it and I got…a whuppin’. He told me to stay out of the shed and not touch the stakes again. Yeah, like that’s gonna stop me when you’re not around, Pa. So I waited a couple of days, made another one and hid it in the shed until one day I heard my mother vacuuming. Knowing she was not looking out the kitchen window, I snuck it out and ran down to the creek about a quarter mile from the house, secreting it under a brush pile.

I went down there every chance I got, shooting at frogs and anything else that looked fun to shoot at. A “friend” found me with it one day and I told him not to tell anyone about it and he said okay. Well, this “friend” told another friend, who told his dad, who told my dad, who confronted me about it, confiscated the bow, and I got…wait for it…a whuppin’. Loose. Lips. Sink. Ships.

The bows I made were truly traditional in every sense of the word. Bamboo bow, bamboo arrows, chicken feathers for fletching, twine bowstring-oops, wait. I was using nylon fishing line to tie the bow together. So…not truly traditional?

In the dictionary the word traditional has several synonyms. Conventional, customary, long established, accepted, orthodox, standard, conservative. Conservative, hmmm…now I might be getting somewhere. Conservative: “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious of change or innovation.” Yeah, I guess that would be me to a large extent. I could go on to describe my conservative and a couple of liberal views, but this magazine has only so many pages,so don’t get me started.

To me, to be truly traditional would mean to use a selfbow, that is, a bow made of some type of wood, wood arrows and a stone point. That type of equipment has been around for thousands of years, but there are few of us who use them today. The next innovation was the use of metal points, and they have been around for thousands of years. Then came composite bows used by some Asiatic tribes and consisted of horn glued to wood staves. I believe this was also about the time short recurve bows came into being. The North American Indians also used bows backed with sinew. Those were the very first composite bows, meaning any bow using more than one material in its construction. But all those types of bows you could call “traditional”.

Fast forward a few thousand years. I think it was about the early ‘50s that fiberglass overlays on maple cores came into being (it could be earlier, not sure) and those bows shot an arrow faster, and harder at the same weight than the wood self bows so common at that time. But no one called shooting the wood self bows “shooting traditional”, the fiberglass overlays were simply an innovation, and nobody complained. Today, most stickbows are composite bows using all sorts of elastics to promote better cast, less “stack” and overall better shootability than any bows before. And the traditionalists are not complaining.

In the ‘60s a guy by the name of Allen invented a gizmo he called the compound bow, and it was far from traditional but nobody really said anything about it because we all figured it was a passing fad, not to be taken seriously. As it developed, it became more common on the shooting ranges and in the hunting field. Some people (me included) kinda looked down on people shooting them, and the words “shooting traditional” came into being. It simply meant shooting a stickbow, be it longbow or recurve.

But as I watched these people shooting the early compound bow, I became intrigued, but still wasn’t convinced since you practically had to have a tool kit with you at all times. If you broke a string, or wanted to replace it, you had to go down to the local archery shop to have it done. Liking simplicity and being simple minded in more ways than one, I didn’t like that.

I remember the trip to Africa, when I got there my equipment consisted of my takedown Black Widow, quiver and arrows all fitting nicely into my duffel bag along with my clothes. The guy already there had two compound bows in separate bulky cases, in case one of them failed. He had to pay extra baggage on that I’m sure. But I also noticed more women and kids shooting them, and that was a good thing, getting families out shooting a bow and more people interested in archery, so I withheld being too critical.

Enter the Precision Pacer, one of the first compounds that used a pretty simple setup that allowed the user to work on it himself. After shooting one, I was hooked and went to the dark side, abandoning the “traditional” moniker.

That bow was a revelation to me. Being blind in my left eye (BB gun when I was 12) made it difficult to judge distance at anything over 10 or 15 yards, especially in the woods. The bow I had was 70# with a 50% let off and it shot unbelievably flat with the aluminum arrows I was using at that time. I still shot it barebow, since using sights requires depth perception, but this bow allowed me to shoot at distances I had not dreamed of before. Any deer within 35 yards or so was in serious trouble and I took a lot of them with it. I actually took a doe at a stepped off 81 paces standing in an open field. She heard the bow, swapped ends and the arrow took her through the neck. Had she stood still, I would have missed. Pretty irresponsible, I never did it again, the possibility of wounding is just too great.

After I hunted with that bow and a couple of other compounds for 12 or 13 years, I grew dissatisfied. There was no “pizzaz” if you know what I mean. Little satisfaction and no feeling of accomplishment when standing over an animal taken with it. I felt like it wasn’t really me that did the deed, more like I was using something other than a bow. I had seen pictures of Fred Bear and others standing over game taken with a longbow or recurve and the fact that I had taken game with them before, the feeling of accomplishment was something I missed shooting a wheel bow. It was then I hung up the compound, got a recurve and never looked back.

Hunting in the Canadian provinces, a trio of western states, Africa, but mostly in Iowa after whitetails with a recurve, I can say that hunting with it is an absolute joy. Carrying a stickbow I truly feel I am a bowhunter. I need to get much closer to the game I hunt, so woodsmanship comes into the equation. But then again, am I truly being traditional?

I use a bow that is superior to bows made only 20-30 years ago, I use carbon arrows because they are tough, and either straight or they’re broke, and I also feel I get better penetration on big game animals with them. I don’t want to be hypocritical, but I think there are certain modern things we can embrace and still call it “shooting traditional”.

So what is traditional, really? Maybe it’s not using something that helps you in the shooting process, forcing you to rely on your own God-given talents. Maybe the simplicity of stickbows, their aesthetic beauty, graceful lines and the gorgeous woods used in their construction attracts us. Maybe stickbows being slower, the joy of seeing arrows pinwheeling into a target, and not having to use optics to see where your arrow went at fifteen yards, or saying “Where did that go?” Maybe all of those things and more.

Not everybody is cut out to shoot a stickbow, but anybody can learn to shoot them, you have to make up your mind to do it. It will be more difficult to be sure, there is a definite learning curve, but will be far more rewarding in the long run than the wheel bows. Fletching your own arrows and perhaps making your own Flemish splice bowstrings add to the enjoyment. Trust me, if I can do it, anybody can do it. My IQ is not that high, at least that’s what my wife tells me in conjunction with “What the heck is wrong with you?”

I have no problem with people who shoot a compound, as a matter of fact, if it gets more people into shooting a bow, I’m all for it, “traditional” or not. The compound is not ever going away, so we traditionalists might as well embrace the reality. Compound and stick shooters are archers all, even though some of us need a bit of extra help. I draw the line at rangefinding bowsights, however.

Which leads me to digressing a bit. There are a couple of threats on the horizon. First and foremost is CWD. I’m pretty sure everybody knows what that is. Check with your local DNR as to what you can do to help, attend the meetings they set up on information. It is a threat that is building and is not going away anytime soon. The other is crossbows, or as I call them, bowguns. You talk about innovation, there are manufacturers touting 3” groups at 100 yards. How long before 3” groups at 200? 300? And they want them in the general archery seasons because the crossbow manufacturers only care about how much money they can make, and the general archery seasons are where the money is. There are far too many people in the “I want results and I want them now” group. Instant gratification is getting to be the norm. Arrrrgh…see what happens when I get started?

Traditionalists and modern bowhunters alike have a vested interest in keeping the bowhunting seasons as is. If something is not done, you can consider today “The Golden Age of Bowhunting” and it will never again be the same. So we need to stick together, and fight for a common cause. But I will always remain the “traditionalist”, shooting the stick and string at all manner of things until I can’t do it anymore ‘cause that is where my heart lies. Anyway, my dad is not around to pound my butt when I step out of line. Besides, nowadays he would be 103, so I could outrun him. I think.

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