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.
Barely a week goes by that I don’t get into a discussion about the outdoors or hunting.
Usually those conversations revolve around bowhunting or the type of gear that I prefer to use. For me, there’s nothing better than grabbing my recurve or longbow, a quiver full of arrows and taking to the woods.
Bowhunters today have all sorts of choices in equipment, from the most simple form of a stick and string selfbow to high tech machined compounds to crossbows. There is some debate whether or not a crossbow is an actual “bow”, but that’s a discussion for another day. Like most traditional bowhunters, I came from the ranks of compound bow shooters, but something drew me to the simplicity of traditional archery nearly 25 years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since.
I suppose I should try to explain exactly what traditional archery is, at least as I see it:
Typically, recurve bows, longbows, and selfbows (bows made from one piece of wood) are classified as “traditional”. They can be made of all sorts of woods, composite materials, fiberglass and even carbon fiber, but the thing that they have in common is that there is no mechanical aid in pulling the bowstring back, no mechanical advantage.
For instance, if you hunt with a longbow that has a draw or pulling weight of 50 pounds, you as the shooter have to pull that entire weight back with your own muscle and strength. A compound bow on the other hand has a series of cams and pulleys that reduce the actual draw weight that the shooter has to pull back, reducing the actual pull by sometimes as much 65-percent to 80-percent. The compound shooter can thereby hold his or her bow back much longer than a traditional hunter. In essence making it easier to hunt with or shoot.
Another big difference between the two disciplines is in shooting style.
Typically, compound bowhunters use a release aid and a sighting system on their bows. The release acts as a trigger and in theory gives the shooter a much “cleaner” release of the bow string. The sights normally used on a compound bow give the shooter an advantage in the fact that they have their bows set and the sights tuned to pre-determined distances. I know several fellas that hunt with compound bows that can accurately shoot out to 75 yards and beyond, but I wouldn’t advocate doing that on a live target. Another advantage to some is that once a compound bow is sighted in and tuned, it doesn’t require lots and lots of practice to be effective.
Traditional shooters on the other hand usually shoot some form of “instinctive” style.
Most folks that use traditional gear focus on a spot on their target, lift their bow, draw it back and release the arrow. No sights, no mechanical release, just the bow, the arrow, the shooter’s eyesight and muscle memory. The best example or comparison I can give is playing baseball. A hard grounder is fielded by the third baseman. He scoops up the ball and fires a rocket towards first base making a perfect throw and getting the runner out.
Think about it: he didn’t field the ball then stop and aim or take a reading with his range finder to calculate the distance to first base before he launched his throw. The player has done the same thing 1,000’s of times and his brain and muscles have already been trained to do it. It’s second nature for him, instinct. There is no conscious thought involved.
Shooting a bow instinctively is much the same way, but it requires hours of practice and lots of discipline.
So, is one type of bow better than the other? It depends on whom you ask.
Although the ranks of bowhunters switching or trying traditional gear is growing, we’re still a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers of hunters using compounds and crossbows. All I can say is that for my style of hunting, there is nothing better than the feel of a worn leather grip of a longbow or the shine of a recurve’s wooden riser on a early October morning waiting for a deer.
If you’re a bowhunter and looking for an added challenge, I’d invite you to pick up a traditional bow and give it a try. It will force you to get close to your game, to work harder for your successes and to learn from your failures. But when you do bring home the venison, you’ll know it was earned with practice, patience and skill.
Things that seem to be lost in today’s world of instant gratification.
- David Hewitt