Experience or Advertisement?

Arrowhead14

A few posts ago, I wrote about the next generation of traditional bowhunting content and the people who were keeping it alive and moving it forward. My opinion hasn’t changed since. I believe this group warrants the accolades and support they receive and commend them for their work. For the most part, I can relate to this budding group of traditionalist. I admire their passion, drive, competitive nature, and their creative blending of the past and the present, but there are elements of the modern traditionalist (as a whole) that give me pause. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where society is, where it is going, and how we’ll be effected.

The origin of these feelings are unclear to me. Whether clairvoyance or pessimism, I do not know, but feel I left several thoughts on the shelf that should be dusted and shared, on behalf of the past-time I love. Preservation, after all, is only worthwhile if the principles you wish to preserve are present. If they are not, it all feels a bit like life support.

When the archery bug bit me, I had two choices: a) go the compound route and buy the fastest contraption on the block, or b) do the exact opposite. I went with option (b) and instantly knew I had made the right decision the first time I picked a bowhunting magazine off the shelf and discovered the “stories” I was reading weren’t stories at all. They were advertisements – pure and simple. Were these successful bowhunters? Sure. Were their experiences worth sharing? Absolutely. Did I enjoy them? No. They seemed insincere to me. Why? Because of the branding. Forcing a brand into a story didn’t seem right to me.

“The buck turned from his smorgasbord of alfalfa and I could see he was a good one – a solid non-typical with one abnormally large brow tine. I reached for my Hoyt and centered the 40 yard pin on his chest. Then, holding my breath, I touched off the shot and watched my Lumenok-equipped arrow streak towards him. My RAGE Chisel Tip SC did the rest. Thank God for my Thermacell. The ticks were bad.”

I was very green at the time and hadn’t heard of magazines like Traditional Bowhunter. I assumed this was how bowhunters spoke; that gear was part of the equation; and that I was casting unnecessary judgement. I continued buying these bowhunting magazines, as a result, but never really warmed up to them. I kept my mouth shut to avoid becoming a pariah at the range.

I met others like me and, as I drew further into the traditional community, learned I wasn’t the only one with a distaste for the industry-saturated world of modern bowhunting. “Why do they do this?” I would cry to the heavens. “Why would they take an intimate experience – a personal feat – and credit a brand for it?” It made me sick to my stomach.

The writings of traditional giants such as E. Donnall Thomas Jr. cemented my beliefs. Thomas, who was/is notorious for not writing about his tackle, once dedicated an entire chapter to his beloved longbow “Sensei” (see Longbows in the Far Northand barely mentioned it was a Robertson. I loved that. It was stubborn, beautiful, and genuine – all at the same time. It was genius. He managed to immortalize his bow by not making it the center of attention and creating an aura of mystique around it. “What a concept.” I thought. “Why wasn’t everyone else emulating this?”

The answers were simple: money and product. Mystique doesn’t sell bows, expensive camouflage, or state-of-the-art broadheads. Branding does. I knew this. I worked in marketing and had a degree in advertising. I knew all about things like copywriting, product placement, and cultivating a brand by creating brand champions. This was a time-tested formula. An industry standard. I understood it. I lived it. But that didn’t make me feel any better about it.

Bowhunting was supposed to be a pure experience. We hunted in wild places to find something wild within ourselves. We withdrew from society to escape its hold on us – even if for a short time. Forcing a word, slapping on a sticker, or applying a hashtag on such a primal experience seems ludicrous. But that is exactly what is happening. We’re slowly turning into what the majority of us were trying to escape. We looked to the bow and arrow, as a means to strip away the industry and technology and re-discover the wild connections our ancestors coveted and we have forgotten.

Social media has changed everything. Being able to connect with the like-minded masses beyond geographical barriers is a powerful thing. It has expanded our tiny, traditional circles into much larger ones and has empowered us to share our experiences and spread our passions further than trailblazers like St. Charles, Bear, and Hill could have ever imagined. It is a wonderful idea, but a dangerous one unless restraint is practiced.

Wildfire

I am an avid social media user and witness what it can do on a daily basis. We are living in a world where everyone with a bow, a camera, and a cell phone can be somebody. Whether it be pro staff, field staff, brand champion, or uber consumer looking for a freebie – we all have the opportunity to turn passion into business and “make it” in the industry. In short, we are a danger to ourselves. We are literally sacrificing the purest part of lives to the bowels of the hunting industry and we don’t give a damn as long as our sites and podcasts are getting traffic and we are getting free shit in return.

I am a marketer by trade and specialize in digital storytelling. I understand hits and reach and frequency and click rates and all of the rest of the jargon my working life has taught me. I’m also well aware I sound like an old crankshaft hollering “Stay out of my flowerbeds and off my damned lawn!” to Trick-or-Treaters. But I’m going to do it anyway.

Knock that shit off. Please. Think about what you are doing. And this message is intended for ALL of the social media-using, traditional bowhunting community.

Quit abusing product hashtags when sharing your experiences on social media platforms. Stop going out of your way to insert brands into works of outdoor literature. And for the love of Ishi, please stop vomiting product into the camera whenever you step in front of it. You can plug the brands you love and the connections you’ve made without repeatedly beating your audience over the head with them. You can pass the torch without setting us all on fire.

Hold sacred your bowhunting experiences. Don’t make them a damn commercial.

Just Shoot The Damn Target

Discussing form and shooting technique has little appeal to me.

This statement may seem a bit arrogant, but I don’t want to think about the details of my shooting. I just want the arrow to end up where I’m looking and find that constantly analyzing the process does anything but. If I’m drawing with my back and my bow arm is steady, I’m good to go.

I know many archers who are the opposite and are quite particular when it comes to their form. They are always making adjustments; always looking for the next tip to make their groups a little bit tighter. They watch videos, attend seminars, create “check my form” posts on social media, and even pay significant sums of money to attend clinics and learn the methods of other archers.

I have no issues with this. The passion we have chosen to pursue is full of nuances and half the fun is finding that particular thing that appeals to you the most. Whether its the pursuit of gear, hunting methods, or form, discovering what keeps you passionate is half the fun.

I applaud those who want to squeeze every last ounce of potential from themselves and respect those who are willing to help them do it. I am also very grateful for those who have developed methods to cure target panic. That is serious business and usually requires more than the story I’m about to tell you. Still, I’m going to tell it anyway. Why? Because whatever it is you are pursuing, I don’t want you to forget the bottom line.

I approach shooting like hitting a softball or a baseball. I’ve heard many use the baseball analogy as it applies to throwing a baseball, but think hitting one is the better of the two. It takes hours of daily practice to develop a good swing and years of playing to perfect it. In the beginning, you acquire muscle memory through repetition. You develop a powerful stance, a good eye, hip rotation, hand speed, and the habit of swinging through the ball. Once those elements are in place, it becomes a mental game. This is where it gets challenging. This is where players get tripped up and slumps happen.

Slumps require no explanation for those who have played the game. You probably shuddered at the mention of the word, in fact. Those who haven’t are blessed, but I will summarize the experience so we’re on the same page. Imagine you are good at something. Maybe even great. You do it every day and it is a crucial part of your life. You do it so well and so often, some even associate you with it. Now imagine not being able to do it anymore. It might not be noticeable to anyone else at first, but something isn’t quite right. You chalk it up to a bad day and move on. No big deal. Then the day becomes a week. Maybe two. You realize it isn’t just bad luck and grow frustrated. People start to notice. You notice that they notice and make excuses. Another week passes and it gets worse. You are out of excuses and are frantically searching for the problem. People question you. You question yourself. Your confidence begins to unravel.

This is how a slump feels. It is terrifying. Eerily similar to target panic, but I’m not going to jump down that rabbit hole right now. I’m focusing on slumps for the sake of this story.

I’ve always been a fair ballplayer and a good hitter. I’ve prided myself on the latter and have experienced more than my share of the dreaded “s” word. I powered through a terrible one my Senior year of high school. The season wasn’t very long, but I couldn’t hit anything for two weeks. I think I was two for twelve, which isn’t where you want to be when you bat in the heart of the order. I can think of few instances in my life when I was as frustrated as I was those two weeks. I couldn’t make solid contact and would just hit dribblers down the first base line. It escalated and I started asking Coach to watch me hit and tell me what I was doing wrong. I’d ask him every at bat, but he couldn’t help me. He was as befuddled as I was. My swing looked fine. I wasn’t chasing bad pitches. I wasn’t dropping my hands. The best he could come up with was speculation.

“I think you’re pulling your foot.”

“You might be opening your hips too soon.”

“Maybe you should try a lighter bat.”

“Maybe you should try a heavier bat.”

“Try moving up in the box.”

“Try moving back in the box.”

I was tied in knots. Nothing worked. My average was plummeting and I was hurting the team. I didn’t think I was ever going to get my swing back. Hitting was my favorite thing in the world and I was dreading every at bat. Let that sink in a minute.

Our next game was in Cadillac (Michigan). They were a rival and I remember it well. We played double-headers to make scheduling easier and there would be ample opportunity to hit (or not hit, which is where my head was at). I was still batting clean-up and can only assume it was because Coach didn’t want me to have a total meltdown. He needed me to snap out of it.

My first at bat went as expected. I asked him to watch me hit and promptly grounded out to first base. I didn’t feel right in the box. I was uncomfortable – focused on the worse case scenario. The following at bat was headed that direction, only this time Coach wasn’t having it. We took the field together. I was leading off the inning and he was trotting to third. I began to ask the question he’d grown accustomed to and, without breaking stride, he interrupted me with five words I’ll never forget:

“Just hit the ball Nick.”

Thats it. No more. No less. He continued on to third and I peeled off to the on-deck circle, while the pitcher warmed up. I watched every pitch, hand-to-mitt, for the next several minutes, taking cuts and repeating the words in my head like a mantra. The rock-and-fire motion of the pitcher combined with the “thwack” of the ball hitting the mitt put me in a trance of sorts. I was calm by the time the umpire called me to the plate. I crossed the chalky white lines of the box with a confidence I hadn’t had in weeks. When I dug in, every muscle in my body coiled with purpose. And when I looked at the pitcher, all I could see was the ball. I felt different. I felt powerful.

The first pitch was a lefty’s dream – over the plate and just a bit inside. I gave it hell. I could tell it was a good one by the way the aluminum flexed on contact. The ball left the bat and shot into right field, taking all of my doubt and anxiety with it. The ball didn’t stop until it hit the top of the fence. I think I ended up with a double, but it felt like so much more. I might have been standing on second, but I was on top of the world. I followed that up with a handful of others and my confidence grew with every swing. I didn’t make another out that evening. The slump was over.

I realize this is an archery blog and I’ve spent significant time babbling on about baseball, but if you swap the bat for the longbow and the ball for the arrow, you’ll find a lesson as clear as spring water. While the details are important, sometimes you need to get out of your head and just shoot the damn target.

PhoenixStumping

TIP: If you are having an unsalvageable session, try putting the bow down and walking away. I’ve found this to be a better solution than breaking down the elements of your shooting and powering through. Doing so might just stretch a bad day into two or could form a bad habit that takes years to break.