Friday, October 11, 2013

The Philistine's Weapon...

Like many archery enthusiasts, I have long been a disciple of both the traditional and the modern archery sects. I grew up shooting a compound, got interested in traditional archery in college, and have been shooting and hunting with both ever since. The way I categorized it was thus: when I wanted to engage myself fully with the romance and history, the "witchery of archery", and maybe, if I got lucky, kill a deer in the process, I used my recurve. When I wanted to just go kill a deer, I used my compound. Nothing wrong with that at all.  But a couple years ago ago, toward the end of bow season, I got disenchanted with my compound and, through no fault of her own, broke up with her

"...I'm sending you on down the road. It's not you, it's me. Well, OK, that's a lie. It is you. You're a killer, and a damn good one, and I'm sure you'll make some leftie out there very happy. But when I hold you in my arms, you just feel cold and artificial, without any feeling, warmth or soul. I dunno, maybe it's that aluminum riser...

I know, I know, it's a shock, but it's for the best, really. Don't cry, damn it. And stop yelling. What do you mean "Is there another bow?" Hey babe, you knew this was an open relationship from the beginning. I told you straight up I wasn't the kind of man to pull back just one string.

I didn't want it to come to this, wanted to spare your feelings, but the truth is yes, I'm leaving you for the stickbow and I'm leaving you for good this time. No more releases, no more sights, no more stabilizers, no more carbon arrows, no more cams or idler wheels or marketing babble about the wonders of parallel limbs, carbon matrix fibers and offsetting harmonic convergences.

I just felt all that extraneous stuff was coming between us, baby. Every time I brought you to draw it was like going through a pre-flight checklist or something. Don't get me wrong: there's a helluva lot about you I'll miss. The speed. Damn, the speed. And that eighty percent let-off? Yeah, I'll miss that, too.

But no matter how many times I shot you, no matter how many arrows you sent whizzing into those tight little groups, I never felt like you were a part of me, never felt like I was part of you. Let's face it: Once I got you dialed in and your pins set, I was pretty much just along for the ride. I could put you down, leave you for a month, two months, hell, a year even, then pick you up and start hitting the ten-ring.

Performance-wise, you ask for nothing and give everything where the stickbow demands everything and returns precious little compared to you. Sounds crazy and ass-backwards, I know, but then again who can predict love, emotion, the mysterious wanderings of  a soul's desires? I sure can't, so by way of example I'll just leave you with this story...

I was recently shooting you and the stickbow (Hey! She's not a bitch!) together on a sunny day, and as I held you at full draw I happened to look down at my shadow on the grass. What I saw was a machine. I then picked up the stickbow, drew it and what I saw projected on the grass was a cave painting from another time, something drawn on rock by the flickering light of a fire, a vestigal remnant of some primitive inner aesthetic reaching back into the dim lizard-brain recesses of my hunter-gatherer past. It was groovy, man.

What do you mean "what have you been smoking?" I'll tell you what I've been smoking: clarity. And let me tell you; pure, uncut clarity is a helluva nice high. The fact is I'm just not that into you. Never really was.

Auf wiedersehen, baby.

Banished, I put the cold bitch on a shelf in the garage, and then promptly forgot about her for the next two years. But recently, as I was rummaging around in the garage trying to get a few things organized, I stumbled upon my jilted lover, way up on the top shelf, forgotten, lonely, covered in dust and cobwebs. I wondered if I could still shoot her accurately after two years of disuse, so I pulled her down, dusted her off, and took her to the back yard.

It had been so long since I'd shot a bow with a release that I actually had trouble remembering how to put the damn thing on, but once I figured it out, I paced off distance, put the 25-yard pin on the bullseye, and let fly three arrows, literally the first three arrows I'd shot from this bow in two years.

An inch or so to the right, (from pulling my release, I think) but not too damn bad. She was as faithfully deadly and efficient as ever. Had I so chosen, I'm confident that I could have thrown on some camo, grabbed the bow, walked to the back of the lot, made a ground blind, and killed any deer that walked within thirty-five yards of me. That's how good and utterly repeatable dialed-in modern bows are, and how easy it is to shoot them. If I had tried three shots with my recurve after a two-year layoff, the arrows would be somewhere in the brush behind the target, or maybe stuck in the neighbor's roof.

Say what you will about the compound's lack of soul, they are undeniably and unbelievably good. But despite her stellar performance and her eagerness to please, in my eyes she was an automaton, and an automaton she would always remain. So she went back up on the top shelf, forsaken, her pleas silenced by an old gunny sack. And that is where she shall remain.

Until, of course, I really, really need to kill a deer. Because my recurve's a fickle beast under the best of circumstances, and romance only takes you so far, in life and bowhunting.


  1. No doubt about it- a compound is a killing machine. It's what I turn to when I can see the bottom of the freezer.

    A stick-and-string requires faithfulness, patience, and the ability to both recognize your limits and the humility to accept them.

  2. I'm not an archer; hell, I'm not even a deer hunter. But those machine bows always seemed to me to be just a rifle with a string on it. And a nice rifle is so much prettier.

  3. The fickle ones always hold the most allure. Must be some primal, genetically programmed desire to master the unconquerable. The predictable, reliable ones have their own gravity.

  4. I remember that post, but I dissent. Yes, your shadow with a longbow is like an image engraved in stone thousands of years ago, but, does anybody really believe that a hunter gatherer would not use a compound because it's less romantic? Any subsistence hunter would put their longbow in the fire and replace it with a compound any time. The only possible reason why this would not be is a matter of maintenance. Any self respecting subsistence hunter was most likely be able to build and maintain bow and arrows. A tool that requires going to a specialised repair shop would not go the distance in the wild of our rude forefathers.

    Basically, to me the shadow is just a damn shadow of what we used to be, if all we do it play at being 'the hunters of old', rather than trying to be what they would have wanted to be (which is pretty damn difficult to guess anyhow -- they are not around to give lights). My take on tools is: if I can build it, and maintain it I feel I am one man after the other in the same line that takes to people hunting for survival. Some people can and do build their compounds in their garage. To me, anybody building their compound, and hunting with it, is the finest and purest expression of whatever romance the business of hunting can have.

    1. Good points all, Federico. All nostalgia is based on an unreasonable and unrealistic view of the past, as well as the motivations of those who lived it. But damn it, don't spoil my fun with logic.

    2. Chad, while some can (and do) build a compound in their garage, I suspect that embarking is such project is mostly fun and romance and very little logic!

  5. Chad, could I have my brain cell back, please?

    1. Sorry, all brain cells wasted on this blog are non-refundable...

    2. Not that one/those. The one that you're borrowing, because it's like you're writing my thoughts (but, better than I can). I'm having the same bow-infidelity problem.

  6. Chad, you're damaged goods, amigo. Entertaining, and damaged in all the right ways, but damn...

    After the last wounded pig, my recurve went on the shelf and the compound came out for good. I'm all about romance, but the hell with adding risk to the mix. This isn't ultra-light fishing where, if you lose, the fish swims off...

    A dedicated archer with a traditional bow is a work of art. But a working man with a dozen other things to worry about... spending the time to stay consistently deadly with trad gear isn't in the cards for most people, no matter how much we'd like to think it is.

    Ars gratia artis... it's good for the movies.

  7. Ha! You are, as usual, absolutely right, Phillip. Most of us don't have the time to stay sharp enough with the trad gear to ethically hunt deer with it. Which is why (for practical and performance reasons rather than aesthetic) most of us choose modern archery gear. Which is also why I should have mentioned that I limit my bowhunting these days to punching targets. I love bowhunting, and always will, but hell, this year, between the dogs, kids, life, etc, I simply don't have the time to hunt deer with any bow, much less practice enough to be comfortable hunting with my recurve, so I decided not to bowhunt at all this year.

    It was more an exercise in curiosity than anything else, to see if I could still shoot a modern bow reasonably well after shooting nothing but a barebow recurve for the past two years, much more a fake tongue-in-cheek indictment of compounds than a real one. As always, my typically overheated rhetoric must be taken with a healthy dose of skeptical reason...