Respect is Earned

During my tenure as a traditional bowhunter I’ve occasionally heard us labeled a bit snobby by our modern compound-wielding brethren. Before some of you raise more than an eyebrow, and key the first truck with a Mathews sticker, allow me to explain why this may be the case.

We all know the traditional community to be full of generous, compassionate human beings, which is why this is such a difficult pill to swallow. However, I’ll admit we can come off a bit “holier than thou” and it isn’t because the compound community is filled with jerks. While there certainly are several within their circle, we have plenty of our own and the harassment goes both ways.

So what is the culprit then?

I’m convinced it is the way we explain ourselves when asked why we chose traditional gear. Three responses come to mind immediately and I’ve heard them repeated often.

Traditional bowhunting is more challenging!

Not necessarily. Traditional archery is arguably more challenging; it definitely requires a greater degree of upkeep and practice and the learning curve is a whole lot steeper. An archer could shoot their entire life and still not master a stickbow. Regardless, bowhunting and archery are not the same thing.

Consider this scenario: the hunting tactics of two people are identical in every way, but one of them shoots a longbow. Would the traditional shooter really face a greater challenge? I’ve heard hunters from both sides argue that the compound has greater range, and provides more opportunities. Research conducted by Dr. David Samuel in 2009 (head of the P&Y conservation program for 11 years) suggests otherwise:

“…72 percent of all whitetail bucks, big deer, entered into the record book in the past two years were taken at less than 29 yards. Only four percent were taken at 40 yards or more.”

While 29 yards isn’t ideal range for most traditional archers, it is more than doable, especially in the field where range is hard to calculate without a range finder; something traditional guys aren’t known for using. Thirty yards simply doesn’t seem like thirty yards in the field. Especially if you’re in a heavily wooded area.

Dr. Samuel’s report shows similar results for other species of North American big game:

“Most elk (25 %) are shot between 20-29 yards. For moose, 22 percent are shot at 20-29 yards, but 22 percent are also shot at 40-49 yards. Even though the wild sheep and Rocky Mountain goats are found in open country and very hard to stalk, the highest percentage of shots (32 %) are taken at less than 19 yards…”

I won’t deny the compound its capability at distances beyond 30 yards, but any hunter will tell you they’d prefer 20 or below and Dr. Samuel’s report backs that up. Thus, I wouldn’t necessarily give the edge to the compound for range alone, unless you’re hunting a prairie animal like pronghorn or mule deer.

There are other “advantages” of the compound I could argue as well. Are they faster? Yes, but they’re also noisier. Are they more accurate? Without a doubt, especially in competition, but I would argue that a hunter’s anxiety (“buck fever”) levels the playing field a bit. “Simple” wins in high anxiety situations. Does let-off allow the archer to hold at full draw longer? Certainly, but holding at full draw is never an ideal situation. Both mental and physical fatigue set in after a certain period of time, making it less likely for an archer to make their shot. Are they more compact? Yes, but stickbows can be shot in a variety of different positions because of their ability to be canted.

Does the compound bow really make harvesting game that much easier? (Photo contributed by Will Jenkins)

Fred Eichler shares similar sentiments in his recent article “A Better Way” in the December/January 2011 issue of Bowhunter magazine. In it he references a statement made by Mike Palmer regarding the subject:

“…if I wanted to shoot an apple off your head, I would grab a compound, sights, a release, and a range finder because of three factors: I would know the distance, I will have plenty of time to shoot, and I know you would hold very still for me. But if I wanted to kill you, I would grab a traditional bow because of the changes in the same three factors: I won’t know the distance, I won’t have much time, and you will definitely not be standing still.”

Fred himself goes on to say:

“Looking back, I have had some great hunts with my compound and have occasionally made shots I couldn’t have made with my recurve. But, when I look back on all my shots in the field, for me the edge goes to the simple bow.”

Neither Fred, nor myself, are claiming the traditional bow has the edge over the compound. I’m simply illustrating that hunting with a compound is a whole lot harder than it looks. It brings it’s own unique challenges to the hunting equation, and the people that shoot them deserve just as much respect. Understand that claiming the traditional bow is more challenging is also insinuating that the compound bow is not.

Is the traditional bowhunter really at a disadvantage?

Traditional bowhunting requires more work!

Absolutely not.

If anything, the simplicity of traditional archery creates less work, which should be a marketable point. Contrary to popular belief, modern bowhunters are not lazy people, constantly looking for the easiest way to nab a buck. They manage leases, plan, plant, and cultivate food plots, install and check trail cameras, study topo maps and hang stands accordingly, they create mock scrapes, they test scent blocking kits, they hunt for sheds, and they scout while doing ALL of the above. Being a successful traditional bowhunter generally requires more shooting, but few would consider that “work”.

There are exceptions of course. Guys like David Peterson, E. Donnell Thomas, the Wensel brothers, G. Fred Asbell, Ron Leclair, etc. spend hours in the woods observing, patterning, photographing, and writing about game, but they don’t consider this “work” either.

The creed of the traditional bowhunter is experience first, kill second. We enjoy the mystery of the hunt and embrace nature’s secrets. Not knowing exactly what is in the area is part of our enjoyment.

It takes hard work and dedication to capture a buck like this on a trail camera. (Photo contributed by Rob Freyer)

I don’t necessarily feel that trail cameras, food plots, and baiting suck the fun out of hunting, but it does displace it a bit. Checking trail cameras can be an exhilarating experience. Finding out what may be nosing around your hunting area is fun! But, it isn’t for everyone. Personally, its kind of like giving your parents a list of christmas presents beforehand and asking them to pick one. You’ll be surprised on Christmas morning, but not as surprised as you could have been. Then again, you may get exactly what you want! Modern bowhunters (as a whole) seem to favor the latter. There is a lot of work and preparation that accompanies that method of hunting and they should get credit for putting forth the effort. The majority of our ranks simply aren’t that driven by results. I’d rather walk into a property I’ve never hunted, look for sign, and tempt fate. I won’t be as successful but I’ll have a lot more fun. Which is why I walk the path I’ve chosen.

It isn’t any “better”, and it certainly isn’t more work. To suggest this to a modern bowhunter and expect them not to harbor a little bit of resentment is ridiculous.

Traditional bowhunters are more ethical!

Ethics have nothing to do with equipment. I will argue this until they put me in the ground. Hunters on both sides have made unethical decisions on game. Consequently, both sides have created stereotypes and hurl them around like rocks despite the fact that it hurts the hunting community in general.

“Traditional guys wound more deer because they aren’t as accurate.”

“Compounder’s wound more deer because they take shots at unrealistic yardage.”

“Mechanical broadheads are inhumane.”

“Traditional broadheads don’t kill quickly enough.”

By this logic we should all be shooting guns. It’s a bunch of crap and boils down to the individual behind the bow – curved, cammed, or straight. Furthermore, claiming you’re more ethical than someone is begging for an argument; especially if its a hunter. You might as well slap them.

So how do we deliver the message?

When a fellow hunter asks you why you hunt with a traditional bow, why not focus on answers that are both respectful to them, and a demonstration of what makes traditional bowhunting so enjoyable?

Tell them you love the history and culture of traditional bowhunting. Tell them you love the natural connection and fluent energy transfer a stickbow offers. Tell them how refreshing it is to escape technology for a few hours and embrace simplicity for a change. Describe the sensation of facing big game with traditional equipment. Describe the sensation of harvesting game with traditional equipment – especially if you made it yourself! Discuss the small game opportunities a traditional bow provides. Talk about stump shooting. Show them your bow and explain what makes it unique. Let them shoot it. Most importantly, address any misconceptions they may have in a polite manner.

If they were curious enough to ask, they either want to reach out, or are already interested in trying it for themselves.

We win either way.







3 thoughts on “Respect is Earned

  1. Great post, Nick! I am not a part of the trad world, and I always appreciate your insights into it. I think you really hit the nail on the head with these misconceptions.

  2. I loved reading this post, Nick. Very well-written and thought provoking. I don’t know how many times I go to the range and there are traditional guys there who I have struck up conversations with and have a great time. Never do I feel superior , or inferior, I feel like they are my comrades and we should get along.

    Recently, I met a long time archer at the public range who walked over a few lanes to admire my compound. We discussed it, then hunting and we then turned to his traditional bow. He said he loved to hunt, but now he just loves to shoot. The man was 69 years young and was great to talk with. We both said we hoped to see each other around and that was that. We should all take that initiative and chat up our fellow shooters and treat them as equals.

    You have some great comments in your post, too many for me to highlight all of them, but this one is great… ‘By this logic we should all be shooting guns. ‘ Well said, Nick. Well said.

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