The Thin, Blurry Line

Steve Angell lines up for a shot with his longbow at hunting camp.

My friend Steve (Angell) in full draw with his Yew longbow made by Jay St. Charles.

I knew, in the very beginning, that my bowhunting journey was unique. At the age of 27 I had never shot a bow or hunted with a weapon of any kind. Still, when the bug bit me, it left a mark. As that mark scarred and I became more experienced, I grew very passionate in how I hunted and what kind of traditional tackle I hunted with. I established limitations designed to make bowhunting the challenge I thought it should be.

The moment these limitations were in place, a funny thing happened. I began to judge anyone who didn’t approach traditional the same way I did and became quite opinionated despite only being a rookie. I wasn’t always vocal with my thoughts but felt them just the same.

The truly humorous part of this transition is the speed of which it all occurred. I started out with carbon arrows and a takedown recurve. I then moved to aluminum because carbon was “too modern”. I switched to a longbow after that. Then wood arrows. Then a selfbow. This isn’t an uncommon path for the budding traditionalist exploring their new passion, but every time I made the jump, I envisioned myself at the head of the pack looking back at the un-enlightened masses in my wake.

I spent a great deal of time and effort thinking about the way things should be done and what they should be done with, going so far as to blog about the hybrid longbow and how it was an abomination that would ultimately lead to the death of the traditional stick and string as we all knew it. I began reading about primitive bow design shortly after and discovered this “modern” style of longbow had been around a whole lot longer than 2010. In fact, the roots of most of the archery “advancements” I witnessed reached back hundreds of years before I was born. I felt foolish.

That embarrassment would permanently change my perspective on all things bow, arrow, and hunting. The revelation of the primitive world was humbling. It didn’t matter how traditional I thought I was; there would always be a primitive archer taking it further than I was was willing to go. That bothered me and I began building selfbows soon after. I enjoyed it and was convinced I’d stay that course for the remainder of my bowhunting career. I learned to appreciate bows and arrows of all designs, but couldn’t help turning my nose at anything not backed by sinew, snakeskin, or air.

All of that changed the moment my daughter was born. Time became a valuable commodity with two young children at home. I didn’t have it to shoot, write, or hunt and I damn sure didn’t have time to build bows and arrows. I was in desperate need of balance. One of the above had to go, or it all had to go.

I decided I’d rather spend my time shooting and hunting and less time building and tweaking. My archery tackle shifted to reflect the decision. I needed something I could grab off the rack and shoot at a moment’s notice with little maintenance or thought. After a brief search, I was shocked to find what I was looking for, in a hybrid longbow and carbon arrows. The combination felt great in the hand and I was delighted to find my enjoyment hadn’t suffered in the least.

I had come full circle, in both gear and attitude.

When you have little time to dedicate to an activity you enjoy, you must learn to focus on what you love about it, rather than getting lost in the distractions that make it less enjoyable. I feel bowhunting should be challenging and will have limitations in place to assure it remains so, but accept that other archers do not have the same limitations. Spending time worrying about how other archers are spending theirs is a futile endeavor that will leave you pounding a keypad when you should be pulling arrows out of a target. One of these things is productive, the other is not. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

Ultimately, the “traditional” line is too blurry to stand on with both feet. All we can do, as traditionalists, is to continually limit ourselves in ways that challenge our own personal comfort level without sacrificing the integrity and ethics we value so highly, as a whole. Choosing challenge instead of a fight is always going to be the more productive option, especially when the Block button is the popular response.

Walk a path of your own, share the experience, and hope others follow. You will be surprised by the results.

Authors note: do I always subscribe to the above? No, but I’m trying really hard. 🙂

The Sights and Smells of Motivation — A Trip to the Traditional Bowhunter’s Expo

Archers line up at the practice range at the 2018 Traditional Bowhunter's Expo.

Eager archer’s line up at the test range to try new bows at the Traditional Bowhunter’s Expo in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

I recently celebrated the New Year and motivation is already the theme. It’s been a month since I’ve navigated this particular piece of the Web, but it feels a great deal longer.

I’ve been working on a book. Some know that. Many don’t. I have been for some time now, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so infrequent. It began as a collection of works cobbled together in chronological order. I had a couple handfuls of material saved in a folder on my desktop — both published and unpublished — and sifted through them until I’d pieced together something that made sense. I then opened them all, gave them a quick read, pasted them into one document, and left them there to marinate.

A week passed and I grew very excited. I couldn’t wait to slap on chapter numbers and send them off for editing, but it didn’t work out that way. Some of those stories hadn’t been read in years and had been penned by someone who thought he knew what he was doing, but obviously didn’t. Unraveling the tapestry of mixed tenses and inconsistent styles required far more labor than anticipated, but I discovered something between the threads that would change my perspective on the process — wonder. This younger Nick was a different man and his writing, while not as polished or experienced, was filled with wonder. He was seeing everything for the first time and with a passion, I had not felt in years. The realization upset me.

Was I falling out of love with the thing that had been the epicenter of my life for nearly a decade?

No. But I needed a reboot.

Fortunately, the Traditional Bowhunter’s Expo would be the kerosene to keep the lantern lit. I had looked forward to the Expo with great anticipation since my first trip. It was a fantastic experience that left me in a state of euphoria several weeks afterward. There were few places in the world offering what the Expo offered; seminars, apparel, literature, arrows, and racks filled with custom bows. If you were a stir-crazy archer in January, you were attending the Expo at the end of the month. Period. Many considered it an archery holiday and would drive across the country to scratch whatever itch they had developed since hunting season.

The St. Joe River Bows booth at the Traditional Bowhunter's Expo

The St. Joe River Bows booth at the Expo is always bustling with activity.

Yet, there I was, less than an hour away and not that excited about attending. My intention was to work and nothing more. I’d promised to volunteer at the Michigan Longbow Association’s youth range and take a shift or two at the Expo’s test range, as well. I knew I’d enjoy both — working with the next generation of longbow enthusiasts in particular — but didn’t feel the way I used to as I crept down 131 South towards Kalamazoo.

A younger Nick would’ve risked a speeding ticket to gain another hour’s worth of thumbing through archery tackle with fellow toxophilites for creative ways to spend his paycheck. Present day Nick was planning to get out of there with a full wallet and didn’t plan on stringing a single bow. Times had changed. I was in a deep funk. A deep funk, indeed.

But something peculiar happened, as I pushed through the Expo Center’s glass doors and caught the familiar scents of wood, wax, leather, and glue. Nostalgia washed over me and my heart beat a touch faster as I navigated rows of vendors setting up their booths for the hustle and bustle of a busy Saturday. The rising heart rate continued, as I arrived at the MLA booth and into the warm embrace of my longbow family. The sound of the popping balloons and happy screeching of the young culprits responsible filled me with a pride too difficult to explain in words.

As the day progressed, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed of my reservations pre-arrival. “How could I have not been excited to be here?” I thought. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like this?”

I carried these thoughts with me throughout the day, which ended with my shift at the practice range. The job responsibilities were simple but of the utmost importance: usher people in and out of the range and make sure they were following the rules at all times. I’ll admit that standing on a line and watching other people shoot bows isn’t what most would consider an “enjoyable” experience but it was something I looked forward to year-after-year. I’ve never been able to figure out why but would guess it had something to do with the sounds of the activity. The gentle “swish” of a released string combined with the soft “thump” of an arrow connecting with foam was very pleasing to the ear and therapeutic when repeated. I was in an enlightened state by the time the 15-minute warning echoed over the loudspeaker. I was back on the highway and somewhere between Gun Lake and Grand Rapids by the time I snapped out of it. I was still calm, but there was a fire in my belly I hadn’t felt in weeks.

I knew then that the funk was over and I couldn’t wait to get home and shoot my longbow.

Have you ever lost interest or burned out on this wonderful sport? If so, what brought you back?