“The Oath”

JohnTurkeys17

Wikipedia defines an oath as “a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future actions or behavior.” 

While not divine, I was recently a witness to such a promise.

I have a “turkey hunting” friend. He probably isn’t too difficult to imagine if you know someone similar. You are probably thinking of him (or her) right now, in fact. I would wager they are cut from the same cloth – yours and mine – and would get along swimmingly should they ever meet in the real world. (Unless they are the competitive sort. We should pray for the opposite, in that case.)

My turkey hunting friend’s name is John and nothing winds his clock more than a 6 am fly down or a gobble on the roost. John lives for these scenarios. You can see it in his eyes when he’s on a bird, and in his voice when he talks about the one (or two) that got away. There is nothing he’d rather be hunting than the bird, even when he’s hunting something else. I’ve heard too many blasphemous statements in the deer woods to believe otherwise. “Man, I’m seeing turkey scratch all over. If I hear a gobble, its game on, deer be damned!”

“Damned” indeed for making such a statement on a Michigan morning in October. “Beards before bucks? Surely, you must be joking.” But he isn’t. Turkeys are the most sacred of creatures to John and hunting them is the closest to God he could ever be on this Earth. When he isn’t hunting them, he’s reading about hunting them. When he isn’t reading about hunting them, he’s building his own calls. When he isn’t building his own calls, he’s navigating forgotten gravel drives in a rusted out Ford with a watchful eye on every field and hollow.

He loves to eat turkeys too, but that goes without saying.

It was his passion for the pursuit of this bird that made John the perfect candidate for longbow recruitment. He liked to do things the way I liked to do things, only he was using a shotgun. I would send him photos of bows and arrows. He would send me photos of calls he was working on. It was only a matter of time before our addictions crossed. John started shooting a longbow and I started hunting turkeys.

We mentored each other that first year. John made his first bow and I acquired my first calls and shotgun. We were both equally awful at the other’s endeavor. I was making horrible noises in the turkey woods and John was shooting groups the size of a hay bale into his hay bale. Still, the seeds had been planted. Improvement was inevitable. I gave up the shotgun a season later. It felt wrong to be in the woods without my bow. John wasn’t quite there, but a gun was feeling less-and-less “right”. He started the season with his bow, reserving his 12-gauge for a sudden death scenario. He ended up shooting a nice bird that season, but those closest to him could see it didn’t make him feel the way it used to.

What John was feeling, is actually quite common. Once you’ve spent time afield with a stick-and-string, it is very difficult to be in the woods with anything else. It eventually becomes a part of you and everything you do, see, and feel. I was privy to all of this. And I was there when the aforementioned oath was made.

“I’m going after turkeys again this year. And I’m doing it longbow only. I don’t even care if I get a bird.”

“Really…” I said, raising my eyebrows in astonishment. He shot me a look as serious as death, then he nodded. “Oh yes. Longbow. Wood arrows. Public land. Boots on the ground. Going after ’em!” It was a gem of a promise. Something you might hear amidst the inebriated blustering of one of the turkey elite following their 100th kill. But he meant every word and I found that infectious. “I suppose I’d better go with you then.” I sighed. “Can’t let you have all the fun, can I?”

“Sure thing.” He said. “I’ve got just the place. I hope you like to get up early and I hope you like to walk.”

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A Disclaimer

SteveStringAutumnWeb

When I try to explain traditional archery to people and exactly what it is that archers “do”, I get the sense they don’t truly grasp it. When I try to explain it further, I get the, “man this guy is really into this and I need to find the nearest exit” look. Neither surprise me. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that both are to be expected. Shooting a longbow is simple enough to wrap your head around, but the passion associated with the activity – not so much.

I’ve developed a saying for this and I offer it as a disclaimer.

“You’ve got to live it to get it.”

I cannot overemphasize how literal the word live is, in regards to this topic. “Traditional archery isn’t something you dabble with.” I tell them. “It is both a life warming and warping pursuit.”

Since I rarely get the chance to elaborate on these statements, I will do so here. Please humor me by pretending you know very little about this whole deal. Or just pass this along to someone who doesn’t and is brave enough to find out.

Life is a journey and traditional archery is the the road less traveled. And by “road” I mean a squiggly path winding off through the trees. The beginning is unmarked and often stumbled upon. The end is the promise of self discovery, eternal happiness, enlightenment, the perfect bow, the buck of a lifetime, optimal arrow flight, and all that good, philosophical stuff the oldest among us blather about if the weather is good and their stomachs are full.

The middle is where it all gets interesting. It is where you’ll spend most of your time and is a mess of stumps, creeks, mud, burs, briars, deadfalls, poison ivy, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and other obstacles to trip over. Not to mention miles of that metallic orange tape that leads straight to the town of Hopelessly Lost if you follow it.

You’ll get tripped up. You’ll get stuck in the mud. You’ll fall off a log. You’ll lose your way. You’ll end up in a pond. An “expert” will give you bad advice. You’ll lose arrows. You’ll break bows. You’ll miss targets. You’ll miss animals. You’ll have passionate disagreements with other archers over the proper “anchor point” and acronyms like “EFOC”. Then you’ll shake hands and shoot a round with them afterwards. Unless its online, of course. I would suggest a “time out” if thats the case.

And therein lies the beauty of it all – the people you share the path with. Generous, intelligent, passionate people who will walk this path with you and make it impossible not to love every minute of it. You’ll shoot with these people. You’ll share a fire with these people. You’ll break bread with these people. You’ll learn with these people. And you’ll learn to love these people.

“So you shoot bows at foam targets and you camp, right?”

– The Average Non-Arrow Slingin’ Joe or Jane

Well…yeah. We do all of that. We eat really well too, but there’s a whole lot more to it.

Just get yourself a bow. Get yourself some arrows. Get yourself to a gathering. Please do all of these things, but understand that when you find your calendar full from March to December and have a room in your house dedicated to wood and feathers, I will be responsible for none of it.

Want to know more about traditional archery or find out more about traditional gatherings? Visit www.michiganlongbow.org.

 

 

 

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