Experience or Advertisement?


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.


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.

“Watch his back trail…”



Every season, when the cold of December descends and only the brave (or insane) venture into the woods, I usually have an interesting public land encounter of the two-legged variety. Here is such an encounter.

After spending a week in South Carolina and coming home empty-handed, I returned home to my favorite sliver of public land for solace. I hadn’t been there since the Spring turkey season and had no idea what to expect.

I arrived to find a camo-clad, twenty-something kid climbing out of a rusty pickup. He stood the prototypical Michigan blackpowder hunter; a muzzleloader of the percussion cap variety slung over his shoulder and a blaze orange knitted cap on his head. Never a fan of awkward silences, I decided to exchange subtleties.

“How you doing man?” I asked. “Cold enough for ya? I thought I’d be the only one crazy enough to be out here.”

“I just wanted to get out of the house and back into the woods.” He laughed. “Works had me pretty tied up.”

“Gotcha. Same for me, only I have three reasons. They’re all female and of varying ages. I needed a little peace.”

He turned his attention back to his gear. It was time to ditch the subtleties and figure out where this cowboy was fixing to go. I didn’t want to be anywhere near him when he touched off that smokepole.

“So…where are you thinking of going? I asked, slinging on my side-quiver. “I think it best to stay out of each other’s way so we both have a good hunt tonight.”

“Not sure.” He said. “Never been here. Figured I’d just go for a walk.”

He was a walker. Walkers were the worst. I had to reign this in and right quick – establish myself as the alpha male and what not. “Well…” I trailed off. “Since you’re new here and hunting with black powder, I would take that trail to the right. Hug that for about 400 yards and you’ll come to a big bowl. Use the wind and set yourself up on one of those ridges. You’ll definitely see deer there, but I would sit tight until dark.

“Really?” he asked, a bit skeptical.

“Yep.” I said, leaning on my longbow for emphasis. “I’d hunt there myself, but I can’t get in close enough to shoot what you’re going to see.” He looked off to the right, contemplating this favor from his neighbor. “That way, huh? Sounds good. You hunting in a treestand with that thing?”

“Nah. I’m going to be sitting on that ridge over there, which is another reason I’m sending you back that way. I don’t want to get shot.”

He laughed at that. We shook hands and exchanged names. His was Nathanael and I hoped he would honor our gentleman’s agreement – for both our sakes. I wished him luck and we set off in opposite directions.

My plan was to hunt a well-traveled draw near a bedding area I was quite fond of. I had killed a deer there before and stayed out of it until the late season to keep it undisturbed. There was a foot of snow on the ground with a flurry of lake effect arriving from the North West. I knew this wouldn’t be ideal and decided to hunt the slope on the opposite side.

I climbed on to a ledge and tucked into a grove of dogwood saplings for cover. I made a few adjustments and was happy with the spot. It overlooked a beautiful ridge with rows of tall, red pine to the East, and butted up to a nice hardwood flat to the North. A well-used draw marked the boundary. I was certain I’d see something well before it saw me and settled in to enjoy the evening.


I had forgotten how much I missed hunting in December. The fresh snow and thick pine smell reminded me of Christmases in Northern Michigan when I was a boy. We would be headed that way soon and I couldn’t wait to share that feeling with my little girls. The thought kept me warm as the sun fell.

At quarter to dark, the sound of boots on fresh snow snapped me to attention. I knew who it was the moment I saw the orange hat. My new friend had either forgotten our agreement or lost his way. I could relate to the latter, but his attempting to find it put him dangerously close to the bedding area. And by “close” I mean “directly on top and through”.

I planned on giving him a whistle or a wave, as he worked his way down the draw in front of me. And I would have, had he seen me. Instead, he took off the hat, scratched his head, looked around, and then down at his feet. He noticed my footprints then and I assumed he would glance up the slope and spot me sitting in the snow like “Bear Claw” from Jeremiah Johnson, which I would’ve preferred because I really wanted to ask him if he “skinned Griz”. He decided to follow my trail back to his truck instead.

I figured the hunt was over but remembered something a buddy always told me when I’d complain about other hunters moving before dark. “Watch his back trail. He might’ve kicked something up.”

“Oh…what the hell?” I thought. “If they’re coming I might as well get ready for them.”

I knocked an arrow and waited. With a few minutes of daylight remaining, I glanced over my shoulder and happened to see three gray masses appear from the brush. “I’ll be damned.” I thought. “Deer. Right off his back trail.”

They still had snow on their backs and had definitely been disturbed, but it didn’t seem to bother them. They worked the ridge, cut my trail in, and headed toward me using my own boot prints. They were downwind, which was the really bizarre part. Were they dumb? Were they hungry? Unpressured? Had the thermals pushed my scent away from them and into the saddle below?

It didn’t matter. I was about to get a shot.

I turned around, found a lane, and waited. Two of the does stopped ten yards shy of my comfortable range. The lead doe kept coming and I was happy to have her. At 15 yards she stepped behind an oak and would be broadside when she crossed it. I couldn’t have planned it any better. I raised my bow arm, put tension on the string, and began to draw the moment I saw her front leg cross the trunk of the tree.

Then, the unthinkable happened. She dropped, whirled, and exploded up the ridge; leaving me dumbfounded with an arrow dangling from the riser. I had never seen a deer move that quickly or quietly. She floated over the drifts like an apparition – legs hardly touching the ground.

The others looked as shocked as I did. One followed her because it seemed like the thing to do. The other stayed put, scratching acorns out of the frozen leaves. There wouldn’t be another shot. By the time I’d made sense of the whole ordeal, it was too dark. I decided watching her eat would have to suffice. Whitetails had always fascinated me. I stayed until I couldn’t feel my face or hands, then slipped back toward the car. She was still there when I left. I could hear her scratching.

“There are worse ways to end a hunt.” I thought, forcing a frozen smile.

The gray truck had gone by the time I reached the lot. I unstrung my bow with numb fingers, loving every minute of it. I couldn’t help but feel indebted to my orange-capped friend and a little bit sorry he missed all the fun.

“Thanks Pilgrim.” I said, as I started the car.

Do you hunt public land? If so, please consider joining Backcountry Hunter’s and Anglers. They are doing an excellent job keeping public lands in public hands. Visit backcountryhunters.org for details. If you have a story of your own, please comment below.