Along The Trail 5-2-2013


The hunt is on.

Yes, it is turkey season and, for some, it’s the perfect time of year for hunting mushrooms. But neither of those are the “hunt” I’m referring too.

This time, I’m chasing leads, tracking down my intended target. Rare and elusive, hard to find – but they’re out there if you know where to look. My prey comes in different shapes and weights. Some beautiful, some tattered and worn, but all worthy trophies in my book.

They hide in corners of closets, some upper shelf in a garage, under a bed in the spare room or tucked away and forgotten in the basement.

So, what is it I’m hunting down?

Old bows.

It’s no secret that I enjoy bowhunting, but you might not now that I’m a die-hard traditional bowhunter. I’ve been shooting, hunting with and enjoying longbows, recurve bows and selfbows for over 20 years. Sure, they aren’t as efficient as a modern compound bow in most instances. Slow doesn’t even begin to describe my recurve when I launch an arrow next to my buddy’s newest compound. His bow screams a a carbon arrow down range at over 300 feet per second, barely detectable with my naked eye.

My wooden arrow on the other hand, leaves my bow with a graceful arc as I watch the feathered shaft spin its way towards the target.

His effective range is over 50 yards while my hunting distance is a meager 20 yards, but that’s the way I like it.

I became fascinated with traditional archery and absorbed as much information about it that I could. The history of “traditional” archery is rich with stories of mankind’s own past. Traditional bows of one sort or another have been around for thousands of years and used all over the world by almost every culture.

America’s woodland Indians and Western tribes all used “traditional” bows. In more modern times, names like Ishi, Saxton Pope and Art Young, Howard Hill, Fred Bear and Ben Pearson became synonymous with archery in the pre-compound bow era.

In the early 70s, compound bows made the archery and hunting scene and opened up the sport to a whole new group, but in doing so, sounded a near death toll for traditional bows.

Compounds were easier to use and easier to master. They required much less time to become proficient, much less practice time and turned gun season hunters into “two” season hunters. The compounds have continued to evolve, improve and become more user friendly. Superior accuracy and very efficient. High tech materials and lots of research and development.

Today’s compound bows really are quite the engineering feat. I know friends that only shoot their compound a few days before the hunting season starts and within a matter of minutes, they’re dialed in, ready to hunt. After the season is over, the bow goes back on the rack or in its case until next year roles around.

But to me, they’re missing the point.

I’ve been lucky over the years and harvested a lot of game with my old style bows. But, I’ve put in my time. I shoot a lot, at least weekly. I know my bows: some are finicky about which arrows fly best; some will shoot anything just short of a dowel rod. (And yes, I have made arrows from dowel rods and tomato stakes!)

Some need to be tweaked from time to time. But what I enjoy most is the feel of the old bows. The history attached to them.

The romance…

Maybe as I’m getting older, my appreciation for older things is growing. The old recurve and longbows that are hidden away and forgotten aren’t junk to me. They are vintage. Usable antiques. A connection to our past as hunters. A connection to the people that laid the groundwork and did the heavy lifting that opened up bow hunting and bow seasons all over the country.

These old bows have a story to tell.

One recent “hunt” found me surfing the Internet for leads. I found an ad posted for a 1975 Bear Grizzly recurve and all the original accessories that went with it. After a few text messages and phone calls with the owner, we struck a deal and I made a trip to Dayton, Ohio to pick up my prize.

Like some clandestine meeting, we met at a pre-arranged location for the deal.

The bow’s owner turned out to be a nice fellow in his mid-60s. Much to my surprise, when he retrieved the bow out of the rear seat of his car, it was still in its original plastic wrapping. All of the other gear, the quiver, arrows, broadheads, all un-used and in their original containers!

As we talked, I learned the gentleman and his brother purchased identical bows, brand new in 1975 with the intention of learning to shoot and hunt together. A few days later, the man’s brother unexpectedly passed away and the bow and arrows remained hidden away in the closet for the next 38 years, never used, the bow never shot.

He recently sold his home and during the move, he discovered his old Bear once again. We spoke for several more minutes and traded hunting stories and talked about our siblings, work and our kids. You could see a twinkle in his eye and hear a crack in his voice as he talked about his brother.

We shook hands and as I drove back home, I couldn’t wait to add to this old bow’s story…

- David Hewitt