Along The Trail 2-5-12

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Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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I’ve never been accused of being smart – stubborn maybe, but not smart.

Driving due North on I-65 to Kalamazoo, Michigan in late January definitely isn’t a bright thing to do, but the stubborn side of me wasn’t going to let the threat of a weekend snow storm keep me from visiting with some long time friends and attending the annual Traditional Bowhunters Expo.

Saturday morning found me and a few hundred other die-hard bowhunters sitting in the parking lot of the Kalamazoo Expo Center waiting on the doors to open. I know, I know, just last week I was yammering on about how I don’t really care for sport and outdoor shows anymore, but the “Trad Expo” is different.

Rather than being all about selling, buying and commercialism, this event is more like a gathering of friends – new and old – all drawn by their common interest in old school bowhunting and keeping the traditional alive.

You won’t see vendors and manufacturers selling scent eliminating camouflage clothing or bows that streak an arrow at over 350 per second, or tactical gear that looks like it belongs more in the battle field than in the woods. What you will see are handmade custom recurves and longbows, made from hardwoods like cocobola, maple, walnut, osage and red elm. Custom cedar, fir and larch arrows, stained, dipped and crested, fletched in brightly colored feathers.

You can find hand stitched wool jackets, vests and coats, one of a kind forged knives, leather goods. You name it, if it pertains to vintage archery, it’s here to be had.

Much the same way, at a contemporary outdoor and hunting show, you’ll typically see visitors dressed in camo, designer blue jeans, cowboy boots and ball caps, much the same type crowd that you’d see and any country music concert!

But at the Michigan event, camouflage is the exception rather than the rule.

As I volunteered at one of the information booths, I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the attendees to each sort of show. The visitors here ranged in age from youth to a couple fellas in their late 80’s. Most of the crowd dressed in wool, flannel and cargo trousers. Plenty of headgear as well: fedoras, driving caps, “stormy krommers” and handmade knit toboggans reflected the fact that we were after all in Michigan in the dead of winter.

One older gentleman in particular caught my eye. He wore the quintessential red and black buffalo plaid, wool hunting coat with a matching hat. I spoke to him about his gear and he told me that he has owned it and hunted in it since 1954! The mature fella looked like he had stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalog!

I spent the rest of the afternoon people watching, visiting the vendor booths and catching up with my friends from all across the Midwest. I enjoyed looking at all the bows and beautiful arrows and the custom accessories that went along with them, finely crafted true pieces of art. Nothing stamped out a machine or a press or made in mass quantities.

Things made the way they used to be.

I took in all the sights and the smells; from the leather, the cedar arrows and the aroma of the wool that filled the exposition center and traded stories with my pals, but common sense finally got the better of me and a check of the weather forecast and near blizzard like conditions told me it was time to head South once again. But you can bet that stubborness will win out again and I’ll be back next winter for my dose of archery nostalgia and fellowship.

– David Hewitt