Making the Switch to Traditional Archery

Since I was a teenager, I never once desired to shoot anything other than a compound bow when September arrived.  I loved the look and feel of a compound and enjoyed the accuracy I could attain with minimal effort.  Of course I could have been better, but for a long time I was happy with my ability to shoot a nice group out to 40 yards.  Over the years, I began to lose interest in shooting to the point where I no longer got anything out of it.  I could pick up my bow after months of it sitting in its bag and within a couple dozen arrows I was back to my same old groupings.  Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew I needed a change.


First day of my first hunt with a Traditional Bow. Photo by Dustin Evans.

I began looking at new bows thinking maybe that's what I needed to recharge my interest in archery, but realized that if I continued to shoot a compound, I might find myself chasing technology year after year.  This sounded like a money pit to me but my only other real option was to go crazy and shoot a recurve or longbow.  I'll be honest, I've yet to harvest an animal with any bow (correction…I've shot some small game) and switching to a traditional setup might put me in the bucket of "skunked" for the rest of my life.  Moving to a recurve meant I'd have to get closer, focus more on shooting, and be extremely sure of my shots if they came my way.  These consequences I would face by making the switch began to sound more like challenges and the whole idea started to grow on me.  I'd be forced into being a better hunter and though it might take me longer to harvest an animal, that eventual moment would be incredible.  The only thing left to know was if I even enjoyed shooting a recurve or longbow.


At some point you just have to take the leap and see for yourself.  I knew nothing about traditional bows and figured I'd have to start somewhere so I bought a Bear Super Grizzly Recurve, a few arrows, and ran home to try my hand at this new art form I just got myself into.  I'll never forget that first day.  Arrows flew out of that bow like laser beams and I pounded every inch of that target from about 10 yards away, never hitting the same spot twice.  Groupings were not in my vocabulary that day and my back lasted all of about 15 minutes before hitting a large square target became increasingly difficult.  I was in over my head but I was hooked.  Each arrow I sent flying was all me.  For better or worse, I was the only one to blame for each shot.  No pins, no range finder, no fall away rest, or trigger could help me now. 


I've mentioned before in other posts that my hunting knowledge was not passed down from past generations.  The same goes for shooting.  All I know of shooting came from the Marine Corps and a few things my Dad taught me when I was younger.  Other than that, I've been self-taught.  No one I know shoots a traditional bow and most questioned my sanity when I told them about my new hunting tool.  This road I was now on with a recurve was going to be another solo venture and if I ever planned on being successful, I needed to put arrow after arrow down range and learn as much as I could from the internet.  Believe it or not, after just a week or so, I started putting nice groups together at about 15 yards and couldn't have been happier.


By far one of my favorite things about my recurve is how little it weighs. After a long hike or climb, it feels just as light as it did at the beginning. Photo by Dustin Evans

The 2015 elk season was going to be my first outing with the recurve.  I knew my limits and told myself if I was presented with an opportunity, I would make sure that the shot was clean and at an ethical distance based on my abilities (15-20 yards).  I knew this would be hard to do, but again, at some point you just have fish or cut bait.  I sold my range finder, boxed up my compound bow, and hit the hills for my first recurve elk hunt.  I wanted no reason at all to retreat to the comfort of a compound.


My first real opportunity came on the second day when I crossed paths with a cow headed into a small group of trees.  I spotted her at about 60 yards away and knew that this was as good an opportunity as ever to give it a go.  It would be close quarters, which was actually to my advantage since I knew where she was and she didn't know I even existed.  The plan was to stalk into the trees and wait for her to graze into one of the many openings available to me.  Game, set, match.


I made it about 20 yards into the trees and realized it was thicker than what it looked to be from the outside.  Maybe she knew I was there after all...  After about 15 minutes, I found myself surrounded by trees so thick that if I moved at all, she'd know I was there and the gig would be up.  I have no idea how they do it, but this one lonely cow somehow disappeared on me.  I never saw her again and was bewildered at how I could lose her in such a small area.  This is the game we play though, right?  Elk survive by avoiding predators and are much better at hiding than we are at hunting.  Needless to say I left that stand of trees without ever seeing her again, but I did come away with a new realization. 


My concerns of whether or not I could make it happen with a recurve disappeared when the hunt got real.  In fact, I felt more confident in that moment that I ever had in the past with a compound.  It made no sense to me though.  My overall effective range was reduced yet I remember nocking that arrow and putting on a stalk like it was second nature.  There wasn't a single doubt in my mind that it could work.  Sure, I didn't come out of the woods that day with an elk on my back, but it didn't matter.  What mattered was that I found confidence in my equipment and myself. 


Classic wind check. Photo by Dustin Evans

My traditional bow forced me to shoot more often, think more carefully, tread lighter, and make that added effort to get closer to my target.  I had to think small with everything now.  My entire mindset had to shift to account for what I was holding in my hands.  I came out of the mountains that day feeling like I accomplished something that most might never even be willing to try.  I was officially making the switch to traditional and it felt incredible.  The simple act of carrying a recurve into the mountains made me feel like I was connecting to something bigger than myself.  It sounds odd, but it's true.  For the first time, I actually felt like I was bow hunting.


I've found that shooting a traditional bow has allowed me to fall in love with archery all over again.  Each shot is my own and cannot be linked back to the assistance of a site, fancy rest, or triggered release.  Furthermore, I've found that my trad-bow has become a tool I use to relieve stress.  If I'm feeling anxious, upset, down, or just flat out grumpy, I head down into my basement and throw a few arrows at a target.  It's as if with each arrow released from that string carries with it whatever I'm dealing with at the time.


This shot was taken about 15 minutes before the encounter with that lonely cow. Also taken moments before I fell on my ass while descending these rocks (see the Instagram account for footage). Photo by Dustin Evans

Making the switch to shooting a traditional bow has been more enjoyable and more enlightening than I ever thought it would be.  It's forced me to better prepare and not get caught up in estimating whether a target is 20, 30, 40, or 50 yards away.  There is no doubt that my chances of a successful harvest have decreased significantly with a recurve in my hand, but I'm perfectly okay with that.  I know it'll happen eventually, and when it does it will be an unforgettable moment. 


Stay safe out there.


By Land,

Emory Ronald