"Hunt the Experience"

“The beginning is often a poor place to start the story of a duck hunt. The true devotee of the wind-swept autumn waters hunts many other things besides ducks. He hunts the unfolding secrets of the dawn and the message of the wind. He hunts the curling waves and the tossing tops of suppliant trees. He hunts the poignant loneliness of a tender, departing season and the boisterous advent of one more rigorous. All these he hunts and, old or young, he finds them as they were before—primordial, healing, and soothing to mankind in his whirling world of complexities.”

-Gordon MacQuarrie, “A Pot-Hole Rendezvous”

I hunt experiences. I’ve been very honest when asked. I hunt and fish to write and would’ve starved long ago if my life depended on it. I would do everything quite differently if forced to do so for sustenance.

A foolhardy squirrel hunting adventure recently added weight to these words. It involved a church charity contest pitting at least twenty firearm-wielding, small-game hunters with beagles against four idiots and their longbows. It didn’t end well for the idiots. It never has. We’ve yet to make a single harvest in several years of participation. We get up early, we fling arrows into the trees until we get hungry, then head back to the church for coffee and desserts while everyone else is weighing in. It’s been a riot. We wouldn’t change the laughs for all the squirrel cacciatore in the world.

It was during this hunt that my friend Cary, one of the aforementioned idiots, muttered something that really spun my wheels. We’d just whistled several shafts across the tail of a terrified black squirrel, when he muttered something about a gun. “Sometimes I do it for the feeling. Sometimes I do it for the groceries. When I’m doing it for the groceries, look out, it gets ugly.” I understood what he meant. I’d felt the same chasing turkeys on several occasions. There is nothing wrong with ugly. There is a time and place for ugly and there is a time and place for elegant. Both of them get the job done but the tools, processes, and frame of mind vary greatly.

Whichever you strive for depends on your goal — a successful harvest notwithstanding. That part is obvious. No one is fishing with empty lines or hunting with empty bowstrings. MacQuarrie wasn’t pumping an empty 12-gauge. His gun was loaded and ducks were shot, but that was only part of his experience — a small one at that. This was the running theme of his entire catalog of works and why I hold them close to my chest. In fact, I’ll be very sad if the friend from whom I borrowed them realizes they are missing.

I prefer classic outdoor literature to anything written today. The world was slower and it was a more romantic time. The pursuit was paramount — no matter the weapon or animal — and the results were always secondary. Hemingway took plenty of game in Green Hills of Africa but the results pale in comparison to detailed passages like this:

“To go down and up two hands-and-knee climbing ravines and then out into the moonlight and the long, too-steep shoulder of mountain that you climbed one foot up to the other, one foot after the other, one stride at a time, leaning forward against the grade and the altitude, dead tired and gun weary, single file in the moonlight across the slope, on up and to the top where it was easy, the country spread in the moonlight, then up and down and on, through the small hills, tired but now in sight of the fires…”

-Ernest Hemingway, “Green Hills of Africa”

He didn’t have the storytelling tools we have at our disposal today. He had to invest time and words to set the mood and make the mundane elements interesting. That is where the real art was made. Writers like Hemingway and MacQuarrie excelled at keeping the romance alive when sharing their experiences. They understood that every outdoor adventure had a predictable beginning and end, and focused on the poetry in the middle. Their audience was less distracted, in addition, and had more time to read and appreciate what they were reading. That isn’t the case, today. The world is too noisy.

Storytelling is different now. The audience is different now. People live post-to-post, sharing the bulk of their lives with the masses. Hunters can shoot a deer, post a photo or video, and summarize the story in very few words. Most have nothing to show if there isn’t an animal on the ground or a fish in their hands. The average sportsmen doesn’t want to read a paragraph about returning to camp or watch a fishing video without a monster trout on the line. There is too much content available to appreciate what is being seen. We are over-saturated.

Think about the last time you had a lackluster day afield and thought “well…nothing worth posting about happened this trip”. I have. And I can guarantee many of you have as well.

Chew on that a moment, think about how insane it is, then remember these words:

“It may not have been post-worthy but it was absolutely worthwhile.”

My friend and podcasting partner Steve (Angell) called me to chat awhile back. He told me he wanted to start using the phrase “hunt the experience” for Traditional Outdoors. I loved it. I thought it fit the show and was a fantastic message to send. We started using it the next day and its been our creed ever since. Steve even made a video about it. He’s proud of it and I am proud of him for making it.

Check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it. It says everything it needs to say without saying anything at all.

You can watch the Hunt the Experience video here. If you haven’t, please check out our podcast and consider subscribing. We would love to have you at our campfire. If you are interested in Gordon MacQuarrie, I highly recommend you start here. It is a fantastic read. Follow it up with the Ol’ Duck Hunter trilogy if you enjoy it. It changed my life. Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook if you want to talk outdoor literature and have recommendations. I can’t get enough of it and can give your recommendations, as well.

An Inspiring Weekend

We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there too.

– Fred Bear

This quote hangs to the left of my front door so I see it when I’m ready to meet the day. I wish I could take credit for its finding but it was my wife, Jessica who brought it home from an archery banquet several years ago.

I admit it is a bit of a cliche to post it here. It is one of the first quotes you see when you Google “bowhunting quotes” and is the kind of thing someone posts on social media to show how deep a thinker they are. It is a wonderful quote nonetheless. It makes me think of my archery beginnings and how the activity and community has shaped my life.

Last weekend was a fine example. I attended the Traditional Archery Expo in Kalamazoo and was flooded with memories the moment I crossed the threshold to the vendor floor. The sites and smells of wood, wool, and leather brought me back to my first visit in 2010, when I was a budding traditionalist and craving anything bow and arrow I could get my hands on. From racks of custom bows and brightly crested cedars to bins of odds and ends, the Expo filled every need I had – and even some I didn’t.

It was the Expo, in fact, that influenced me to start Life and Longbows. I was new and starving for content and there wasn’t enough of it out there for someone in my position. “Why not be that person?” I thought. And the rest was history. To quote another budding traditionalist and friend, I was really “chasing it” back then, though the “it” varied with my progression from archer to bowhunter.

There was passion either way. Great passion.

I’ve always loved the Expo for this reason. The entire building buzzes from corner-to-corner with a deafening excitement that is difficult to describe with words. If you’re green, it will consume you. If you’ve been grayed by the indifference of experience, you will find yourself recharged. If you are blackened crispy by the stresses of leadership, you will leave rejuvenated with purpose. I’ve been all of the above but have been living in the gray for several years. I’d accomplished more with the longbow than I could have imagined and wasn’t sure there was anything left to chase.

All that changed the moment I arrived, but it wasn’t the possibility of new gear that put the spring back in my step. It was the people. Handshakes, hugs, and quality conversation were abundant from arrival to departure. My friend Steve (Angell) and I manned a booth for our podcast (Traditional Outdoors) where we had the opportunity to meet many of our listeners and recruit several new ones. The feedback we received for our efforts was very positive. It felt good to know people were enjoying the show and relating to what we were trying to accomplish. Sitting down to record with two of our listeners (Ryan Tucker and Neil Summers) made the experience all the sweeter. Both have done great work with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and discovered their passion for traditional archery in doing so. It was refreshing to hear about their journey and it made me reflect on mine.

Neil was the inspiration for this post, in fact. He’s been a passionate outdoorsman, content creator, and owner of the website Chasin’ It. He reminded me of 27 year-old-me, in this regard, but has already figured out the key ingredient to the traditional stew — the people. I didn’t understand that at his age. I was driven by the activity and grew to appreciate the community. He was driven by the community and was starting to appreciate the activity. This fascinated me. I began to think about my own journey and remembered how special everything seemed. He doubled down shortly after, citing me and my book Life and Longbows as one of his influences.

I was floored. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I think I said “thanks” or something equally dumb but being an influence wasn’t a label I was accustomed to. I’d been absorbing the work of influencers for years and the idea of being one myself felt surreal. It lent perspective and filled me with purpose. It made me hungry.

The hunger built as the weekend progressed. I would have an amazing conversation with a fellow Michigan Longbow Association member about outdoor literature and could not wait to check out his recommendations. He had collected obscure classics and turned me on to several authors I hadn’t discovered yet, including Gene Hill and Charles K. Fox. He loved consuming old books and assured me there would be plenty more where that came from in the near future. We already have plans to chat at upcoming campfires.

The broadhead that passed through my November doe, was recovered from the earth, and was delivered to me at the Expo.

John (Buchin) would further fan the flames by finding and delivering the arrow I’d sent through a doe last November. He was there to share the moment and knew how important it was to me. The doe had shattered a slump several seasons deep and John wasn’t about to let the artifact rust away beneath the leaves. He tracked it down a week later, following a morning sit. It was a wonderful gesture and the perfect gift. I’d collected the arrow from every whitetail up until that point and was grateful to have the full set.

A very special quiver hood created by Great Norther quivers and designed by my dear friend John Buchin.

John would be responsible for the final source of inspiration as well. He had designed a graphic that represented something both of us held sacred — an oath we’d made and wouldn’t abandon until it was fulfilled. We’d vowed to get a public land turkey, spot-and-stalk, with longbows.

I had already dedicated countless hours and dozens of pages to this oath. They appeared in several publications and graced the final chapter of Life and Longbows. My jaw dropped when I saw what John had designed and asked Bob (Brumm) to engrave. I needed to have a matching quiver of my own and picked up the completed product from the Great Northern booth that Friday. Carrying these into the woods that Spring would be a special story and I was eager to tell it.

The ride home was filled with reflection and excitement. I was eager to write for the first time in months and had a journal begging me to turn it’s chicken-scratched pages into stories. I smiled at the thought. It was time to get back to what I loved. It was time to get to work.

Did you attend the 2020 Traditional Archery Expo? What was your experience? Be sure to check out our latest episode of Traditional Outdoors to hear Steve’s recap of the event and stay tuned for our interview with Neil and Ryan. It will drop soon. If you haven’t picked up a signed copy of Life and Longbows, there are a few copies left in my store. Order one while I still have them in stock. I may not be ordering more for some time.