Never Say “Never”

I have a nasty habit of speaking in absolutes. I struggle with this the most whilst grappling with my ideals. When I discover something new, I surround myself with it. I don’t know whether this is obsession or my longing for an affiliation or niche within the archery community, but I can tell you I do it often. My writing is full of it.

In fact, I am “full of it”.

My situation is similar to a young buck in rut. I have no idea what I am doing, but am cocky and governed by urges and impulse. I love hard and I leap harder. I’ve had my foot in my mouth more times than I can count. I was thumbing through old blog posts the other day and couldn’t help but laugh at some of the things I’d recorded and I won’t even get into the daily archery journal I kept my first year shooting (may it remain unpublished for eternity).

I was a recurve man back then. I had a cheap takedown with carbon arrows and that was my thing. I developed an affinity for vintage recurves shortly after, but abandoned ship after breaking one. I then moved to laminate longbows and aluminum arrows. Wood arrows would follow – wood bows as well. I saw every transition as a sign from the Almighty and was convinced each would be the last, passionately defending them all without questioning my motives.

It all seems very silly now. I get red-cheeked thinking about it and can’t help but feel like an enormous jackass, but the revelation really hasn’t stopped the behavior. I’m still making bold resolutions and am carelessly chasing ideologies. For instance, I recently made the statement I would never buy or hunt with another laminate bow. Self bows and bows with natural backing were it for me. I would build them, shoot them, and hunt with them for the rest of my archery career or until the world exploded.

Now the bulk of that is a result of my reigning long term archery goal; to harvest game with homemade equipment. It is a goal I’ve set for myself, as I believe the self reliance of the act and the satisfaction achieved from it will be tremendous. Why I felt the need to alienate the glass-backed bow and bowyer, I do not know. Fiberglass bows are beautiful, simple, dependable, and effective. There is no reason a good one, if properly taken care of, won’t last forever, or at least your forever.

Plus, there is the bowyer to consider. I’ve always said that when you buy the bow, you buy the bowyer. A relationship is formed and it is a very unique one. You are supporting them and they are supporting you. You are helping them achieve their goal and they are helping you achieve yours. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is everything right with it. I have always had a fantastic relationship with bowyers. The first custom longbow I ordered was a Bama from Nathanael Steele. I shot my first deer with that bow within two weeks of buying it. A friendship was forged from that point on and I’ve purchased several others from him since – all of them unique, fantastic, and with their own stories to tell. Every animal I’ve shot has been with one of Nate’s bows. When I hunt with one of my Bamas, I feel I am hunting with Nate and I know he feels the same when I tell him about it. Severing something like that for an ideology seems foolish to me, especially when it will not hinder my primitive goals in any way. I can make and shoot self bows and I can shoot and hunt with Nate’s bows. Psychology is really the only thing keeping me from enjoying both worlds.

My favorite selfbow, a black locust pyramid flatbow I built from a board in my Grandfather’s addict.

While self bow building and shooting requires time and commitment to be successful, a sacrifice isn’t necessarily required unless you have little of both. There are days I feel like shooting self bows and there are days I feel like shooting glass bows. Shooting both effectively only requires a mental reset and a few minor form adjustments, and I find laminate bows actually help me as a bowyer. A bow that is well tillered, feels superb in the hand, and draws smoothly sets the bar for building bows of your own. A good shooting bow is a good shooting bow, I don’t care what it is backed with.

Hunting wise, there is a factor of confidence in the field to consider. Every bowhunter feels doubt every-so-often. Sometimes something unexpected happens in the field that shakes an archer to their core. I’ve had it happen to me every season and I’ve even lost friends to the compound because of it. I plan to hunt with a self bow for the bulk of this season, but I know there will be days where I will be shaky and need support to get over the hump. There is nothing wrong with that. To say I will only hunt with one bow is not realistic. I know myself too well. If I want to take an old, reliable friend for a walk in the woods, then I will.

I’m also in the business of making new friends; especially when doing so supports my local economy. Michigan has faced some hard economic times the passed few years and I’ve been on the hunt for a Michigan made bow for some time. I grew up a proud Michigander and felt I needed a homegrown bow to add to the stable. I’ve met several Michigan bowyers over the years and have had a really hard time deciding who would build my next companion. After attending several traditional shoots and expos, I felt St. Joe River Bows (made in Bronson, Michigan) really stood out. I’d met Tracey and Dave Balowski several times and had been meaning to give their bows a second look. I’d always preferred straight-limbed, Hill-style longbows and St. Joes were a drastic departure: a unique forward-handled design with swoopy, reflexed limbs, curvy risers, and exotic finishes. That wasn’t my thing at first, but they intrigued me.

St. Joe’s bows are extremely vibrant and always pop at trade shows. (photo courtesy of St. Joe River Bows)

Their bows really popped; their customer service more so. They were the first bowyer I’d encountered that focused on the family as a whole, rather than just the person buying the bow and had the product to back it up, offering bows for women and children of all ages. I was initially attracted to their youth bow program and commissioned them to build a bow for my 3-year-old daughter Aubrey – her first. After speaking with Tracey at length on the phone, I knew I needed to have one as well. Like father, like daughter. It took a month or two to let the itch grow to rash status and I eventually took the plunge on a nice 62” cherry/osage model they had in stock. They let me test it for a week, but it only took a day in the woods to hook me.

It began with the purchasing of our turkey licenses. Jessica and I recently put in for our late season tags, which was a milestone for us. I had never hunted turkeys and she had never hunted period. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but wanted to do something together, so we decided it would be fun if she learned to call, tagged along, and helped me land my first bird with a longbow. Since we put in for the tag, we’d done absolutely nothing to prepare for the season and I knew I would have to commit myself to finding a spot or be out of luck come May. I decided Sunday would be that day and figured I’d bring the St. Joe along to get a sense of how it would hunt.

Aubrey decided she wanted to come along, which complicated things a bit as she’s still a toddler and therefore loud and a bit pokey. Her attendance changed my plans substantially. The land I had intended to explore was too large and too vertical for her little legs. The idea of carrying her through the woods didn’t seem all that appealing, so I headed to a spot that was a bit more kid friendly. The same land I killed a doe on the previous season.

We arrived at around 11 a.m. and it was absolutely beautiful outside. Bright enough for sunglasses and warm enough to lose the wool, hunting jacket I’d brought with me. It was damp but the snow was only an inch or two deep and manageable for Aubrey. She spent the majority of her time drawing in the snow with a stick while I shot stumps and looked for turkey sign. It was a half-hearted attempt really. I had yet to see a single feather or track in the two years I hunted that land, and wasn’t expecting to. Then, something weird happened.

We’d been in the woods a little over an hour and Aubrey decided she had her fill of leaves and bark. I was all shot out at that point and was happy to oblige, but wanted to check my old hunting blind first. I’d shot a doe from it the year before and wanted to see if it had seen any action since. We were nearly there when I happened across a well-used game trail carving through the pines. The tracks were fresh and predominately deer, but there were a series of odd streaks in between. We followed the trail along the edge of a ridge parallel to the one I hunt and discovered the streaks weren’t actually streaks at all, but turkey tracks. Several sets in fact.

I followed the tracks, attempting to locate where the birds may be roosting and found several possibilities. Unfortunately, Aubrey had been exposed to enough and wanted to go back to the car. I promised her we would as soon I snapped a few pictures of the St. Joe. As I was taking some close-ups of the riser, I noticed several small symbols tattooed around the St. Joe medallion. I laughed aloud when I realized what they were. Turkey tracks. The bow I brought with me while scouting for turkeys and considered buying for turkey hunting not only led me to turkeys, but had turkey feet drawn on the riser.

Coincidence? Not for a romantic like me. This bow had a story in it waiting to be told. Mojo like that is something you can’t usually buy, but in this case I did despite the fact it would mean I would be eating my foot once again.

Sometimes you just have to put your pride on the shelf, your ideologies aside, and let things happen. I think I will make out pretty good on this deal in the end. Only time will tell, as May isn’t far away.

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