The Sights and Smells of Motivation — A Trip to the Traditional Bowhunter’s Expo

Archers line up at the practice range at the 2018 Traditional Bowhunter's Expo.

Eager archer’s line up at the test range to try new bows at the Traditional Bowhunter’s Expo in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

I recently celebrated the New Year and motivation is already the theme. It’s been a month since I’ve navigated this particular piece of the Web, but it feels a great deal longer.

I’ve been working on a book. Some know that. Many don’t. I have been for some time now, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so infrequent. It began as a collection of works cobbled together in chronological order. I had a couple handfuls of material saved in a folder on my desktop — both published and unpublished — and sifted through them until I’d pieced together something that made sense. I then opened them all, gave them a quick read, pasted them into one document, and left them there to marinate.

A week passed and I grew very excited. I couldn’t wait to slap on chapter numbers and send them off for editing, but it didn’t work out that way. Some of those stories hadn’t been read in years and had been penned by someone who thought he knew what he was doing, but obviously didn’t. Unraveling the tapestry of mixed tenses and inconsistent styles required far more labor than anticipated, but I discovered something between the threads that would change my perspective on the process — wonder. This younger Nick was a different man and his writing, while not as polished or experienced, was filled with wonder. He was seeing everything for the first time and with a passion, I had not felt in years. The realization upset me.

Was I falling out of love with the thing that had been the epicenter of my life for nearly a decade?

No. But I needed a reboot.

Fortunately, the Traditional Bowhunter’s Expo would be the kerosene to keep the lantern lit. I had looked forward to the Expo with great anticipation since my first trip. It was a fantastic experience that left me in a state of euphoria several weeks afterward. There were few places in the world offering what the Expo offered; seminars, apparel, literature, arrows, and racks filled with custom bows. If you were a stir-crazy archer in January, you were attending the Expo at the end of the month. Period. Many considered it an archery holiday and would drive across the country to scratch whatever itch they had developed since hunting season.

The St. Joe River Bows booth at the Traditional Bowhunter's Expo

The St. Joe River Bows booth at the Expo is always bustling with activity.

Yet, there I was, less than an hour away and not that excited about attending. My intention was to work and nothing more. I’d promised to volunteer at the Michigan Longbow Association’s youth range and take a shift or two at the Expo’s test range, as well. I knew I’d enjoy both — working with the next generation of longbow enthusiasts in particular — but didn’t feel the way I used to as I crept down 131 South towards Kalamazoo.

A younger Nick would’ve risked a speeding ticket to gain another hour’s worth of thumbing through archery tackle with fellow toxophilites for creative ways to spend his paycheck. Present day Nick was planning to get out of there with a full wallet and didn’t plan on stringing a single bow. Times had changed. I was in a deep funk. A deep funk, indeed.

But something peculiar happened, as I pushed through the Expo Center’s glass doors and caught the familiar scents of wood, wax, leather, and glue. Nostalgia washed over me and my heart beat a touch faster as I navigated rows of vendors setting up their booths for the hustle and bustle of a busy Saturday. The rising heart rate continued, as I arrived at the MLA booth and into the warm embrace of my longbow family. The sound of the popping balloons and happy screeching of the young culprits responsible filled me with a pride too difficult to explain in words.

As the day progressed, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed of my reservations pre-arrival. “How could I have not been excited to be here?” I thought. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like this?”

I carried these thoughts with me throughout the day, which ended with my shift at the practice range. The job responsibilities were simple but of the utmost importance: usher people in and out of the range and make sure they were following the rules at all times. I’ll admit that standing on a line and watching other people shoot bows isn’t what most would consider an “enjoyable” experience but it was something I looked forward to year-after-year. I’ve never been able to figure out why but would guess it had something to do with the sounds of the activity. The gentle “swish” of a released string combined with the soft “thump” of an arrow connecting with foam was very pleasing to the ear and therapeutic when repeated. I was in an enlightened state by the time the 15-minute warning echoed over the loudspeaker. I was back on the highway and somewhere between Gun Lake and Grand Rapids by the time I snapped out of it. I was still calm, but there was a fire in my belly I hadn’t felt in weeks.

I knew then that the funk was over and I couldn’t wait to get home and shoot my longbow.

Have you ever lost interest or burned out on this wonderful sport? If so, what brought you back?

The Age of “Content”

 

 

Arrows

Its 2017 and the amount of traditional archery-related content on the Internet is astounding. Especially compared to what it was when I picked up a bow eight years ago.

Traditionalists hadn’t acknowledged the existence of Facebook as anything other than something “those damn kids” did. If you wanted to learn about bows or argue with like-minded people, you created a handle and joined a forum. That is the way we liked it and the traditional community had three of them: Trad Gang, the Leatherwall, and the Trad Rag. If you shot a bow and didn’t belong to one or all three, you either didn’t own a computer, or “were too busy shooting to mess with that nonsense”.

What we have now is shocking in comparison. New forums have emerged and even the crankiest of traditionalists have made the migration. You can’t go a week without getting added to an archery/bowhunting page or receiving a friend request from a stickbow-wielding stranger that stumbled on to your profile via Suggested Friends. And that is only two networking mediums.

When I started Life and Longbows in 2010, there was nary a stickbow blog to be found. Trust me. I knew how to look and looked often before purchasing a WordPress account. I was in my late 20s, had discovered something special, developed an insatiable hunger for it, and was eager to share my experiences. I wasn’t the best archer, and a novice hunter, but I could write a little bit and was willing to share. There was very little content out there. I could share a post with a terrible photo, not tag anything, and end up on the first page of any search engine with generic keywords like “traditional archery” or “longbow”.

Traditional blogs have multiplied since then, but the timing is terrible. Blogging is fading – like that ratty old hunting hat you keep on a hook in your closet for nostalgia. Most people don’t want to read anymore. They may skim, but prefer content they can multi-task around. You can listen to a podcast at your desk while you’re working, or in the car while you’re driving and no amount of words can describe a bear hunt as well as someone filming one first-hand. Reading something requires imagination and a full investment. We are becoming a society of people that is only half-invested. Sorry, that is the truth of the matter.

We are also experiencing a shift in our demographic. Traditional archery was an older man’s game, but they are getting older. Soon it will be a younger man’s game. It will have to be, or there won’t be anyone left. A friend of mine always says “We are one generation from extinction” and these words are more accurate than I would like them to be. But the community isn’t dying. Its just changing. Technology is improving and is more accessible than ever before. There is no choice but to change with it – our little community included.

And I believe that it is. Our ilk tends to give “millennials” (lets be honest, this is basically a stereotype for people between the age of 25-40 these days) a hard time, but that is the new demographic and it isn’t changing anytime soon. Young, passionate, tech-savvy millennials are doing more to drive our beloved past-time forward than most would care to admit. Trad Geeks, Twisted Stave Media, and The Push are doing wonderful things behind a microphone or through the lens of a camera. They are hungry, eager to teach, and work hard to produce good content. They work even harder to network and engage. And yes, social networking is work. Anyone who says different has obviously never done it. It is a grind.

So here is the real question…

Why aren’t I doing the same? I’m still passionate. I’m savvy. I’m a young marketing professional. I love and understand digital storytelling. And I’m an avid social media user. I also have nine years worth of experience (three of them as the President of the Michigan Longbow Association) and connections. Why aren’t I podcasting? Where are my videos? Why am I not feverishly pushing modern content to the stickbow shooting masses like I did when I began?

Why am I writing this post?

This question has singed the synapses of my brain for over a month. I like to understand things that bother me and I don’t understand this feeling. I suppose this post is my attempt to verbalize it.

I once read about the phases of a hunter. I do not recall the publication, but it discussed the progression from someone making their very first kill, to killing often, to only killing trophy animals, and eventually to not killing at all. It was a fantastic description of the cycle of experience that hunters face as they get older and I think it correlates to what I’m currently experiencing.

I started out wide-eyed and wonderfully overwhelmed. I began to immerse myself in the culture, meeting and engaging with as many people as possible and trying to be somebody in this community. I then trimmed that group down to certain people and created my own social circle. Now I find myself pulling away from that circle and creating an even smaller one. The desire to “be somebody” is no longer there and I find myself wanting to keep some of my experiences closer to the chest.

The drive to learn and share is still there, but not to the degree it used to be and I’m not sure why that is. Did I burn myself somewhere in the middle of my journey? Possibly. Am I lacking the time I used to have to devote to this area of my life? Definitely. But I’d like to think there is more to this than lame excuses.

Part of me believes I’ve passed the torch (not that the aforementioned have any clue as to who I am or are even familiar with this blog) to better hosts. Online traditional content is in good hands and I don’t have the desire to be the host of that content beyond what I am already doing. I love to write, but only about certain things. I tried my hand at product reviews, but that felt like a job. I did an interview or two, but enjoyed the process more than the product. I wrote my share of “How To” articles, but realized I’m far too unorthodox, impulsive, and sloppy to tell people how to do things. There are others who do this far better than I ever could.

DadShooting

I write to capture interactions and experiences. That is what Life and Longbows is. It took me seven years to figure that out – to figure me out – and I am satisfied with that realization. Furthermore, I just want to enjoy all of this. I don’t want to tinker with gear or push product or rant about why hybrid longbows are better than D-style longbows on a podcast. I don’t want to feel obligated to bring a camera with me everywhere I go and miss important stuff while I’m trying to operate it. I don’t want to have deadlines.

Looking at an experience as “content” is exhausting and it takes a little bit of the magic out of it. That doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to. The beauty of an arrow in flight and the people that witness it are what matters the most to me now. Appreciating it fully means sharing it when and how I want to.

This is how I like to do it and will continue to as long as there are people who wish to read it.

To those who have been and continue to do so…thank you.

I’m also in the process of doing something I’ve always dreamed of doing – writing a book. It will be titled Life and Longbows in tribute to this site and will contain a mixture of work from stories published here, in other archery publications, and new content I haven’t yet released. It will be available for Kindle as well as print (in limited copies) and I am hoping to release it this winter. Stay tuned!