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.

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My Release

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Fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself. – Eugene Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery

They call it a “release” because it is.

Archery, when boiled down to its simplest principles, is about tension and release. You put tension on the string – you release it. You store tension in your back – you release it. This is done over-and-over again until you lose yourself in the action, which the most enlightened of us would argue is the point of the exercise.

Energy, after all, isn’t the only thing released when you loose an arrow. You release yourself as well.

For whatever psychological reason, people store tension. Some are able to deal with their tension without anxiety or aid. They are blessed. I am not among them. I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I store tension until I snap, which hurts everyone around me. I’m not violent, but you don’t have to be to hurt people you care about. Words can most certainly be weapons.

Maybe thats why I shoot the way I do – fluid and quick – like a snap of the fingers. The arrow is gone the moment my mouth tastes leather. A wise man or woman with degrees in applicable fields might say I’m attempting to “release the tension” – and in a hurry. That might be it. Maybe I can’t get rid of the stuff fast enough. Relief was the justification for all of this anyway. I picked up a bow in the name of stress. “Stress relief” was the reason I gave my beautiful and understanding wife.

“Yeah honey, it’ll be great. You know how work has me all amped up. This would be good for me. Plus, it helps you focus. You know how I need focus, right? I’d only do it once in awhile.”

I’m not proud of any of this. I’ve never thought it was “okay”. I hate myself post-explosion and have spent the last decade clinging to coping mechanisms like archery to prevent them. Jessica has been patient with all of them, because she knows I am trying. Some call them “hobbies”, but that isn’t what they are to me. They’re a life vest. I’m not able to let things go without help, which is probably the reason I jump into things so quickly when I find something I enjoy.

The aforementioned therapist might say this is unhealthy behavior and that I’m “self medicating”. Maybe so. I am most certainly addicted. There is no denying that. Archery has become a major part of my life. Its been a priority when it shouldn’t have and I have continually sacrificed for it and others like me. Still, if I’m going to be addicted to something, there are worse things than a wooden longbow and a handful of arrows. These simple tools continue to be a bright spot when things get dark. They have taught me more about life than any book or any teacher: honor and integrity; ethics and morality; pride and humility…

Tension and release.

I can think of no better analogy for life. It’s as if the lesson was thrown beneath our feet but only a small, eccentric portion of the population will ever see it.

I am thankful I’m among them.

Has archery ever helped you get through tough times? Feel free to share below. And remember, while archery is a wonderful thing, there is no substitute for talking.

TargetJuly4

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