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.

No Squirrels Harmed

Archers

In my social circle of “avid” traditionalists, the phrase “small game hunting” should be amended to “small game trying”. Though many would question the accuracy of that statement, as well.

Every year, as the sun sets on deer season, empty promises are belched over the roar of the campfire and into the woods beyond for every squirrel, hare, and partridge to hear, remember, and immediately forget.

“Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do more of…squirrel hunting. I was covered up in them this year!”

“Me too. Portly blacks and noisy reds mostly. I even had a wirey old gray rummaging through my daypack yesterday. Tried to eat my damn Snickers bar!”

“Had several opportunities, myself! Squirrels the size of house cats no further apart than you and I. Too lazy to shoot.”

“You’ve gotta shoot those! Squirrel cacciatore!”

“Catch them? Why would I want to do that?”

I’ve heard statements like this repeated year-after-year with very little follow up. Michigan tends to go dark from late December to early April. Archers are too busy joining indoor leagues, tying flies, ice fishing, tuning turkey calls, or dodging potholes to brave the elements for a bagful of rodents.┬áThe one exception, as far as my band of stick-flinging cronies is concerned, is the annual small game competition at Whitneyville Bible Church in early February.

This particular gathering has been a blessing in disguise for the longbow-toting, winter weary Michigander. While the bulk of its contestants are parishioners with beagles and .22 caliber rifles, a handful of foolhardy outsiders have made it a point to brave the elements with blunted arrows and the hopes that we’ll run over several with the truck on the way there.

That never happens (in case you’re wondering). If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all and the closest thing to a success was convincing an old, stressed out gray to leap to his death from atop a maple by pestering him with our arrows. Even then, he survived the endeavor, and cursed us all to a lifetime of poor shooting afield.

We’ve had few encounters since and would love nothing more than to blame our lack of opportunities on squirrel sorcery. But I am a realist and positive our ineptitude has more to do with bad hunting than luck. The following outline of a typical Whitneyville hunt should illustrate my point.

Disclaimer: This timeline probably isn’t historically accurate but I can assure you that all of the events are 100% factual.

7 a.m. – We meet at a pre-determined place and the hunt officially starts.

7:30 a.m. – We examine each other’s new gear acquisitions.

8 a.m. – We finish our coffee, string our bows, and toss movie quotes at each other while laughing like idiots.

8:30 a.m. – We don our orange and start walking.

9 a.m. – We take a break to talk about things that irritate us — and bourbon.

10 a.m. – We get back to “hunting”.

10:30 a.m. – We take another break to complain about the weather, the rising coyote population, and why we aren’t seeing anything to shoot at.

11:00 a.m. – We get bored and decide to shoot stumps.

Noon – We run out of stumps but empty our quivers into an open field “just to see how far the arrows go”.

1 p.m. – We collect our arrows and argue about Michigan hunting regulations — and beer.

2 p.m. – We get back to the truck and realize the hunt is over, which is fine because we are hungry anyway and know the church provides chili dogs at the weigh-in.

2:30 p.m. – We fill our faces and hope to win the door prize, while everyone everyone else gives thanks for the woodland bounty adorning their truck beds.

Now, I should clarify a thing or two, less you judge us too harshly. If subjected to heavy questioning, every bowmen in the party would confess this is not the way you harvest a snowshoe hare or Michigan squirrel. However, those same folks would testify to it being the perfect formula for a good time.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

I would personally like to thank MLA members Sheri and Matt Stoutjesdyk for inviting us to this event every year and the fantastic folks at Whitneyville Bible Church for having us. We’ll keep coming as long as we are tolerated!