Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
The winter time blues has sank its claws in deep….
The seemingly never ending gray skies, short days and long nights have my cabin fever running high. Time for a road trip and a visit with old friends. I point the truck north and head towards Kalamazoo, Michigan and the annual Traditional Bowhunters Expo. I’ve written several times about the event over the past few years, but for me, it bears repeating that the expo is the shot in the arm that cures my wintertime blahs.
Most folks in their right mind wouldn’t think about going to Michigan in the dead of winter. Kalamazoo isn’t exactly a what most would call a vacation destination, even in the summer months. But, for some hardy souls, the last weekend of each January, “K’zoo” becomes the Mecca of all things related to traditional bowhunting. Michigan has a long and storied history when it comes to bowhunting and is the home place and stomping grounds of Fred Bear, arguably the most prominent of the founding fathers of modern-day bowhunting. Several other notables in the sport hail from Michigan and many of the makers and vendors of traditional goods make Michigan their home.
I pull into the Expo Center under a light snow Friday afternoon. The kind of snow that leaves a powdery dusting, whipping across the roads and parking lots with a slick patch or two. The kind of snow that would bring us to a stand still back home and empty the store shelves of milk, bread and eggs. But for the northern crowd, it’s business as usual, not even a blip on their radar screen. Inside the event hall, my pal and fellow volunteer get our booth in order and wait for the crowds. The doors open to the public and in short order, the aisles between the 60 or so vendor booths is bustling with activity.
People from all over the area come to visit, shop and shoot the breeze.
All of us suffering from cabin fever and an addiction to traditional bowhunting along with the vintage and retro gear we choose to hunt with. Old friends stop by my organization’s booth and sit for a spell. We catch up over the last year’s happenings and exchange hunting stories and tales about well placed arrows and missed opportunities. I’m always struck by the crowd that visits here and other traditional archery gatherings for that matter. The majority of the attendees are all hunters, but it’s just a different feel, a different vibe than other outdoor or “industry” shows. You won’t hear blaring music thumping in time behind the booths.
You won’t see any “celebrity” hunters in the crowd, although there are some world renown bowhunters in the building, you won’t find them tooting their own horn or “pro-staffing”. Sure, some of the folks are sponsored by the makers of hunting products and many of the vendors here make a living selling gear to the hunting crowd, but it’s low key, personal-like – not the over the top, concert type feel you’ll see at other similar events geared towards a larger demographic in the hunting world.
No, here at the K’zoo Expo, you’re far more likely to see a more subdued set, strolling the shopping aisles in a wool vest or old plaid Mackinaw jacket than the latest camo pattern. You’ll see folks like G. Fred Asbell, Ron LaClair, and several other “old timers” that many of today’s bowhunters won’t have a clue who they are, but all of us as bowhunter, modern and traditional stand on their shoulders. Guys in their 60’s and 70’s that are the last links to the originators of our modern bow seasons, the guys that laid the groundwork so all of us can hunt with archery equipment.
The weekend has come to an all too quick end, like they always seem to do. But, I think my cabin fever has been put at bay for the time being and I’ll spend the next few weeks thinking about my friends from the event and looking forward to the next time we meet.
– David Hewitt