Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen, baby...

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..


  1. I envy you for having the option. My wife, sly when she needs to be, has gotten wise to the concept that bow season would add another month or so to the fall shenanigans. This rules out any chance I would have to pick up a stick or techno-bow. I am relegated to the smoke pole for close encounters or calling in elk. I dare not push it any farther.

    I'm already struggling to figure out how to tell her there is another pointing puppy on the way. In the end, I suppose I'll just stick with SURPRISE!!!

  2. I did the same about 15 years ago when I realized that my mechanical whiz-bang cable-pulley bow weighed at least as much as my .270 - plus I never really used the pins since I had shot instinctive for so long. Sold it for hideously cheap at a garage sale, picked up the old recurve and longbow and haven't regretted it at all. Good on ya! Tobin Kelley

  3. Chad, welcome home! It's pure frustration, and absolutely amazing. And deep, just like you wrote.

    My recommendation? Go to your local big box home and hardware store, buy two four-foot pieces of 1/4" thick oak, and build your kid a bow, too. No belly tillering required.

    Gary, just write about it, and let her read it. She'll fall in love with the poetry and connections, too.

  4. Man, I bet you were dreading that conversation. Some of them just won't take no for an answer.

  5. I feel much the same. When I came back to archery after many years away, it was to traditional gear. But I'm not yet good enough with my longbow to be confident of a clean kill, so I shoot a compound as well.

    Guess I'm a two-timer when it comes to bows.

  6. Chad, I would like to conduct a brief email interview with you for an article that I am writing about the outdoor industry and bloggers, but I don't have your email.

    Could you please drop me a line at chas dot clifton at mac dot com?


  7. Chad, it's a hard choice. I went the opposite direction a couple years ago specifically because I wanted the consistency of wheels and sight pins. Too many wounded/lost animals paid the price for the demands of the stickbow before I switched.

    I've said all this before, though, in other places. Bottom line is, if you have the time and dedication, shooting trad is awesome and rewarding. If you don't, it's an exercise in pure frustration.

  8. Phillip said: "Too many wounded/lost animals paid the price for the demands of the stickbow before I switched."

    In my case, one animal nearly did. It scared the hell out of me.

  9. Right on Chad. As the proud owner of a new Bear Super Kodiak, I don't think of it as a step back, but a step in the right direction. Compound bows, and the style of hunting which has evolved as a result (namely sitting in tree stands for hours), holds little interest for me. Give me a simply light trad bow and a decent pair of boots and some country to wander.

    Wounded animals are the result of sloppy shots that you probably shouldn't have taken, no matter what you're shooting with. Many animals are wounded with compounds because people think they can take killing shots at absurd distances. Just my .02...

  10. Gotta agree with you about wounding, Smithhammer. I keep hearing about wounding shots from bow hunters of every technological persuasion, and from rifle and shotgun hunters, too. It's not so much the gear as the skill and judgment of the shooter.

    Given my skill with a longbow, my judgment says I shouldn't shoot it at anything with the capacity to suffer.

  11. Smithhammer, you may be right in general. But let's not start painting with the broad brush. Most wounded and lost animals are the result of a combination of factors which may, or may not, include sloppy or irresponsible shooting on the part of a hunter.

    For what it's worth, and not that I owe anyone an explanation, but for me, "too many" wounded animals was three, two hogs and a deer. Not a single shot was taken outside of 20 yards, a distance at which I was consistently shooting into three or four inch groups. All were textbook setups, which I waited for patiently. But when it happened, I just flubbed the shots. Twice I thought the shot was good, but the bloodtrail proved me wrong. Once, with a gutshot, the arrow just went wide by a few inches.

    Sloppy? I guess you could define it that way because obviously the error has to rest with the archer, not the bow. But irresponsible shooting or taking shots I shouldn't have? Not at all.

    The demands of the traditional bow are pretty inflexible, and all it takes is a tiny error to result in a poorly placed shot. This is why the trad-hunter needs to practice constantly to develop real muscle memory, so that draw, sighting, and release seem practically automatic. But even then, it only needs a muscle tremor, a watering eye, or a distraction at the critical moment to throw it all to hell.

    This is why I switched to a sighted compound. There's still a large opportunity for error, but the consistency, speed, and power of the weapon reduces that margin significantly. Now, instead of four-inch groups, my arrows scrape and rip fletchings. When I torque the grip or blink, instead of missing the entire target, I tend to miss by inches.

    Sure, compared to the trad bow, the compound reduces the challenge or even the level of skill to make a good shot... but is that really the goal when we're out to shoot living creatures? For me, it certainly is not. I'm not out there to prove anything to anyone else. I'm out there to kill, and kill as cleanly as possible.

    Chad, I'm not telling your or anyone else not to switch. Just offering up my own experience. Trad hunting is certainly fun, exciting, and rewarding when you get success. But consider your objectives and motivations, and set your expectations appropriately. Your odds of missed and wounded game go up appreciably with each step you take away from technology.

  12. Phillip -

    I don't think that my comment above contradicts anything you're saying, except for your last sentence. It's true that some methods of hunting require more practice than others. But having an intimate understanding of your own skill, and the capabilities of your instrument, is essential to reducing the probability of wounded animals, and that's just as true whether you're talking about a blowgun or a recurve a .270. I don't believe than any amount of technological innovation, no matter how much you load your bow or your rifle up with the latest widgets, truly reduces that. The primary factor (other than uncontrollable factors) in wounded animals is the human factor, and it always will be.

    Ultimately, YOU choose to take the shot. Or not. And that decision should be based on knowing your own capabilities and the capabilities of your instrument. If you are unsure whether to take a shot or not, don't. And work on getting closer.

    As I was trying to point out above, there is also the phenomena that can happen as a result of increased technology - the encouragement to overestimate what a person and their weapon are capable of. There is a culture, for example, among a lot of trad bow hunters that acknowledges that getting within 5-10 yards of a large animal is a real accomplishment, regardless of whether a shot is ultimately taken or not. Amongst people who employ more technologically advanced methods, you will often hear people bragging about how far away they took their shot from. This only encourages some to increase the distance factor, often with poor results.

    Certainly, I'm all about making a clean, effective kill as well. But to take that to its logical extreme above all else, we may as well all be hunting with sniper rifles from 1000 yards away. I don't take the killing lightly, by any means, but hunting for me is a process that is about far more than that, and to simply opt for the most mechanical, sterile way of going about it loses much for me. The stalking, the ground hunting and tracking skills, the intimate knowledge of prey behavior, the skill required to get really close to an animal - these are the things which make the hunting experience a full one for me. The killing is simply the culmination of that process, and while I don't take it lightly, it is also not the only reason I hunt.

    I have also started to believe that the compound has developed to the point where it can't really even be called a "bow" anymore. Instead, it has developed into a machine for delivering arrows, more akin to a vertical crossbow than an actual bow. I'm not saying this as a value judgment, but simply that it seems to me that compound hunting has largely taken off on a divergent path from traditional bow hunting. Witness the number of compound hunters who can't shoot instinctively (or have never even learned), and who can't imagine hunting without lugging all sorts of gadgetry, including tree stands, ladders, etc. along with them.

    That's all well and good, and I agree with you that, to a certain degree, technology replaces the need for practice. But I don't believe that this is a good or desirable development, and it represents a lamentable loss of a whole variety of skills. Those who question the killing effectiveness of a trad bow ignore virtually all of human history up until the last few decades. There are many ways to hunt, and choosing to hunt with a trad bow is a commitment - a commitment to improving your skills and practicing a lot. But if you do those things diligently, I believe that you are as effective of a hunter, if not more so, than many.

  13. Although there can be a lot of things to like about a compound bow (accuracy, ease of the draw), there's plenty to not like. I'm coming back to Archery after being gone for thirty some years.

    I bought an old PSE compound bow that was top of the line some 18 years ago. All of the marks identifying the model were rubbed off. It took PSE about two weeks to figure out what model it was.

    And then the Vector 5 cam that this model was supposed to come with had been swapped out for the optional Vector 6, which meant that PSE had to dig around in their old files and figure out what the string and cable length would be.

    And that's a big part of the problem with compounds---mechanical obsolesence and complexity. Try getting parts for that snazzy new compound in ten years. Did you get the cams tuned together? Is there any cam lean? How narrow is the cam track---gotta be careful of derails with some of these hot new speed bows!

    Yep, Auf Widersehen to this nonsense. I'm looking for a plain ol' stick and string that I can just grab and go. In ten years, I'll still know what size string to use; no cams to tune; no derails to worry about. And light! Light as a feather! Maybe it's because I'm getting old(er) but lugging a heavy compound around just isn't appealing anymore.

    Yep, Auf Widersehen....

  14. Thanks for the comments, guys. Sorry for the delay. Been pheasant hunting all week. Just wanted to say I'm not at all making any kind of judgement, aesthetic or otherwise, about compounds (well, OK, I am, but it's strictly a personal judgement) and I can certainly see and agree with the arguments of everyone on both "sides" (such as they are) of the debate.

    Honestly, I think bowhunting's pretty damn cool regardless of what you use.

    Now if we could just get rid of those worthless rifle hunters... (i kid, i kid...)

  15. Hickory or Osage selfbow, that is the question.
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sling your arrows with wheelbows costing outrageous fortune...

  16. This blog keeps getting better and better...

    Now, I gotta quit reading and get back to scraping the next bow.