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.
My annual June trip North to Michigan started out soggy as the rain pelted down from Indy to the state line. I clipped along in the off and on downpours making good time, excited about catching up with old friends and anxious for the rendezvous to begin.
Crossing into Michigan, the sky cleared and the dark clouds gave way to blue skies. A few miles further and I turned onto the side road that would lead me to the Berrien Springs Sportsman’s Club. For several years now, I’ve made the 5 hour drive up U.S. 31 to this traditional archery festival. So many times now, it’s as if I’m on auto pilot. It has turned into a family reunion of sorts with good friends from all over the country.
The lane winds down a small hill and the familiar site of the St. Joe River tumbling along its rocky shore comes into view. I roll the truck windows down and instantly I’m greeted by the smell of dozens of campfires as the clear, blue smoke puffs skyward… An unforced sigh leaves my chest and it feels good to be back here. I can almost feel the stress and responsibilities of work that I left behind leave my thoughts and mind. I find a parking spot, hop out of the truck and instantly, I’m met by an older gentleman from Maryland with a hearty handshake. “Where’s that tall boy of your’s?”, my elderly friend asks. I explain that my son has graduated high school and now has a summer job before leaving for college this fall and couldn’t make the event this year. A conversation I’d have many times over the next several days as my boy has become a fixture at the rendezvous over the years.
I unload my gear and catch up with some more pals that I hadn’t seen for months, some since last year’s shoot. This trip isn’t just one for fun as I’m a volunteer and a board member of the organization that hosts the event. Once some stories are swapped and we’re all caught up on each other’s happenings, it’s time to get to work. Tables are set, large tents placed, vendor booths marked out, questions asked and hopefully answered. Before I know it, evening is already upon us and none of my friends or I have event bent our bows, but work has to be done if we want the event to be successful.
We finally have all the work finished that we can get done for the day. A quick snack around a campfire and a few more stories, some of which I’m sure stretch the truth a bit, but I’m itching to get on the range and fling a few arrows from my longbow. A group of us gather bows and quivers and hike one of the courses each taking our turn and letting an arrow fly. This shoot is for fun, no scores are kept, but there is plenty of good natured competition and a whole lot of jabs going on. I step up to the pin, try to focus, draw, anchor and just as I’m about to release, some sort of inappropriate comment is made and I burst out laughing and the arrow misses its mark. I’m embarrassed to say this happens more than a few times, but it was all in good fun with a great group of guys.
As we march to the last target on the trail, I hold up to take a photo of the group of fellas and I stop to think about how a passion for hunting and shooting bows have drawn together a group of strangers and turned us into lifelong friends. Guys in their 40’s on up to a couple men in their 70’s all with a shared interest. I think about the states represented… Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, Missouri, Nebraska and Illinois in my group of shooters and I’m amazed at how we all act and connect through archery. Men that live hundreds of miles from me that are closer to me than folks I grew up with. I snap a couple more photos and catch up to the rear of the group and am already looking forward to my trip North next year and what memories will be made…
– David Hewitt