A Disclaimer


When I try to explain traditional archery to people and exactly what it is that archers “do”, I get the sense they don’t truly grasp it. When I try to explain it further, I get the, “man this guy is really into this and I need to find the nearest exit” look. Neither surprise me. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that both are to be expected. Shooting a longbow is simple enough to wrap your head around, but the passion associated with the activity – not so much.

I’ve developed a saying for this and I offer it as a disclaimer.

“You’ve got to live it to get it.”

I cannot overemphasize how literal the word live is, in regards to this topic. “Traditional archery isn’t something you dabble with.” I tell them. “It is both a life warming and warping pursuit.”

Since I rarely get the chance to elaborate on these statements, I will do so here. Please humor me by pretending you know very little about this whole deal. Or just pass this along to someone who doesn’t and is brave enough to find out.

Life is a journey and traditional archery is the the road less traveled. And by “road” I mean a squiggly path winding off through the trees. The beginning is unmarked and often stumbled upon. The end is the promise of self discovery, eternal happiness, enlightenment, the perfect bow, the buck of a lifetime, optimal arrow flight, and all that good, philosophical stuff the oldest among us blather about if the weather is good and their stomachs are full.

The middle is where it all gets interesting. It is where you’ll spend most of your time and is a mess of stumps, creeks, mud, burs, briars, deadfalls, poison ivy, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and other obstacles to trip over. Not to mention miles of that metallic orange tape that leads straight to the town of Hopelessly Lost if you follow it.

You’ll get tripped up. You’ll get stuck in the mud. You’ll fall off a log. You’ll lose your way. You’ll end up in a pond. An “expert” will give you bad advice. You’ll lose arrows. You’ll break bows. You’ll miss targets. You’ll miss animals. You’ll have passionate disagreements with other archers over the proper “anchor point” and acronyms like “EFOC”. Then you’ll shake hands and shoot a round with them afterwards. Unless its online, of course. I would suggest a “time out” if thats the case.

And therein lies the beauty of it all – the people you share the path with. Generous, intelligent, passionate people who will walk this path with you and make it impossible not to love every minute of it. You’ll shoot with these people. You’ll share a fire with these people. You’ll break bread with these people. You’ll learn with these people. And you’ll learn to love these people.

“So you shoot bows at foam targets and you camp, right?”

– The Average Non-Arrow Slingin’ Joe or Jane

Well…yeah. We do all of that. We eat really well too, but there’s a whole lot more to it.

Just get yourself a bow. Get yourself some arrows. Get yourself to a gathering. Please do all of these things, but understand that when you find your calendar full from March to December and have a room in your house dedicated to wood and feathers, I will be responsible for none of it.

Want to know more about traditional archery or find out more about traditional gatherings? Visit www.michiganlongbow.org.




Three Arrows


I put three arrows through three deer and hung the results on the wall to honor the memory.

The first was aluminum – the culmination of beginner’s luck and a newly discovered talent. It reminds me of a young hunter nearing the end of his first season, overcoming shaking hands and pounding heart to cast it. Killing was new to me then and I haven’t forgotten the weight of the moment: the arch of the arrow; the crunch of red-speckled snow under foot; my breath rising in the chilly December air; Dad’s voice congratulating me on the phone.

Remorse. Joy. Pride. I never thought an object capable of retaining such things, but I relive the moment with every glance to the wall. That simple implement, that ridiculous tin can, is so much more than an arrow somehow. It represents an awakening – my baptism to the world of bowhunting.

The second – a cedar crafted by my own hand – weathered the challenges of public land, a two-year drought, and a shoulder blade to take a doe. It was nothing short of miraculous for an amateur like me. I believe it was my finest hour to this day. I scouted and stalked that deer, I intercepted her, and I made the shot. It wasn’t perfect, but the arrow was heavy and the broadhead sharp. What began as a simple cedar dowel – stained, lacquered, and tapered – turned vision to reality. I was continually evolving as a hunter in both skill and perspective and the proof now runs within its grain.

The third arrow is carbon fiber – a material of little meaning or attachment. It was circumstance, not fate nor opinion, that yanked me from my beloved cedars. Some would consider this a regression, but I’d found fatherhood twice between arrows one and three, and a lack of ambition from a surplus of diapers. Every second alone in my shop was now a cherished commodity and I reserved that time for writing or shooting. Carbons were easy and they always delivered.

When my very first buck fell to one, I had every intention of saving it. I cleaned it up the best I could and draped it across the little skull-cap mount I made. It stayed there, as the seasons changed and hunting season rolled around again. I looked at it daily, cherishing the details of that morning in November and all of the wonderful interactions and emotions that accompanied. That arrow had given me a lot; more than most people ever would or even could.

Last week, I took one final glance at the “soulless” bundle of fibers on the wall, and decided its fate was no longer fitting. Dormancy, after all, was a death sentence for any warrior.

I pulled it off the rack, running my fingers through the matted feathers. The blood flaked to the touch and collected in a dusty red pile on my workbench. The broadhead, dulled from the buck’s hide and rusted from the Michigan humidity, would require more. With a bit of light filing, it was ready for service once again. I was amazed at how quickly the transformation from “sacred momento” to “lethal projectile” occurred, but this was its purpose, after all. Swords are not made to stay in their sheaths.

I began to dab peroxide on the bits of blood I couldn’t remove by fingernail, but found it futile. It would never be clean again. I decided that was okay. The blood would pay tribute. The blood would bring luck. The blood would make memory. I would carry the warrior with me as long as it did so.

Do you retire your arrows after they’ve harvested game? Do you have an arrow story? Feel free to share it below or on my Facebook page.