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.

Unpunched Tags

UnpunchedTags

Every tag has a story. Even those that go unpunched.

Hobbies have always been a large part of my life. The Magic the Gathering card game is one of those hobbies. It is a game I’ve enjoyed with my younger brother for many years. No matter where I am or how stressed out I get, Magic makes it better. One of the benefits of playing Magic is the community. I have a local playgroup and enjoy traveling to regional gatherings. I met a fellow Michigander named Jay at such a gathering. We struck up a conversation and I ended up telling him about my life outdoors – bowhunting in particular.

That must have struck a chord with Jay, who messaged me a few months later, regarding the value of some hunting gear belonging to his late father, Joel. Photos followed and included an old Bear Whitetail compound, green bolt-on Bear quiver, some early carbon arrows, and other odds and ends.

It was an interesting assortment. What it lacked in monetary value, it oozed in character and nostalgia. I was drawn to the odds and ends in particular, which included shooting stalls, a hand drawn map to one of Joel’s hunting spots, and an unpunched Michigan bow tag from 1978.

JayBow2

These were both remnants of a bygone era and the life of a bowhunter rolled into one package. My imagination ran wild with visions of a Michigan autumn and Joel’s pursuit of the elusive whitetail buck. “Where did he hunt?” I wondered. “Was it on public or private land?” “What did his license cost?” “Did he prefer the thrill of a treestand or watching them breathe at eye level?”

I was able to fill some of those gaps by pestering Jay. I already knew the when, he helped me paint the scene with the where, which happened to be his grandfather’s cabin in Kalkaska County. I had recently visited that area on a fly fishing pilgrimage to Grayling and enjoyed the scenery immensely. Meanwhile, the DNR’s 1978 Preliminary Report (courtesy of my friend Jamey Burkhead) added a bit of spice to the mix and my imagination did the rest.

Screen Shot 2019-07-31 at 11.27.42 AM

According to the report, Joel paid $7.50 for one of the 63,536 resident licenses in 1978. I would like to think he did so at a local sporting goods store on his way to the cottage. Maybe a mom-and-pop like Jack’s Sport Shop on Cedar Street, where he could get a Coke, the license, and a few sticks of beef jerky to tide him over for the evening hunt.

He probably went to the cottage from there, the crisp Fall air blowing through his cracked driver side window, as he navigated side streets and gravel roads. Odds are he passed a cornfield or two and slowed to check the edges for feeding does – not for the prospect of hunting the property, but for the excitement.

The drive to the cottage would have been a short one, giving him enough time to unpack and send a few arrows into the old burlap target out back. I could imagine him unzipping the leather case and pulling the bow from the red plush interior, making sure the components are tight and in working order. I could envision the determination in his eyes, as he draws it and the smile on his face, as his arrows find their mark. He is ready. Even in 2019, I could see that he is ready. It is time.

He pulls a pack from the truck, zips his tag and jerky into the front pocket, and lays the map out on the hood. He runs his finger along the pen-scribbled lines until he finds the letter “D”. He taps it twice with his finger and looks towards the woods. D marks the spot on the ridge he hunted the year before. D is where he saw his deer. And D is where he is headed. He folds the map, slides it into his back pocket, grabs his bow, and strides off to meet his destiny.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. We know that Joel started with a plan and ended with an unpunched tag, but the middle is uncertain. Did his spot produce? Did he get a shot? Did he miss? There is a part of me that would like to know every detail of his 1978 season, but there is another part of me – a larger part – that would prefer it remain a mystery. I would like to think he had an adventure. One that filled his head with memories and his heart with satisfaction.

Success, after all, depends on the narrative. A tag, punched or unpunched, is just a memento kept to help us remember our story while we are here, and inspire others to make their own when we are gone.

Note: Jay was nice enough to gift me his father’s tag shortly before writing this. I’ll think of Joel whenever I see it and look to it for motivation when I need it the most.

Do you enjoy my writing? Have you bought my book? You should. It is called “Life and Longbows” and I think you’ll like it. Signed copies are available in my store while quantities last. You can get unsigned paperbacks or the Kindle version on Amazon. Whether you buy one or not, I appreciate the support and wish you the best!