In recent years traditional bowhunting has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance. It seems that in this day and age in order to take our passion forward many of us decide to step back, way back.
After a few seasons of relative success with my compound I began to miss the early days spent honing the art and skill of archery. 3D shoots were starting to bore me, and shooting 50 yards and under with my compound had become too easy. While others around me were taking their skills and equipment to a level that allowed them to be proficient at yardages out to 100, I’d decided long before that “long range” archery was not for me. My passion for bowhunting was deeply rooted in the intimacy and simplicity of close range pursuit. It wasn’t long before I decided that a struggle stick would bring a whole new perspective to my short game.
When I started down the trad path, I thought of myself as an accomplished archer. I could not have been further from the mark. Diving into trad really let me get in tune with my equipment, and my own brain and body as a shooter. Having a mentor was essential, and in my opinion traditional archery represents one of the few remaining bastions of hunting where hard earned lessons and skills are passed down the old ways, in-person and through hours and hours of trial and error. From proper form, to tuning your arrows, and how everything from brace height to string silencers can affect your shot, the trad world is filled with things to occupy your mind and melt away the worries of the day. Perhaps this is why so many people get hooked on it?
After 3 months of practice, and a lot of tips from my new mentor Allan, I successfully arrowed my first trad bear. A modest sized black bear. But what the bear lacked for in size, the hunt truly made up for it. New friends, the adrenaline of calling a bear in to 4 yards, the fact that I shot over him at 10 yards, and the luck that I got another crack at him. I came away from that hunt knowing that a true challenge lay ahead of me. This is a common theme in the stick and string world, the size of the animal becomes secondary to the thrill of the hunt itself.
Expect to go home empty handed I was told by the experts. And they weren’t lying. Traditional archery is in many ways a double-edged sword. Although you may not tag out right away, you usually get to spend a lot more time with boots on the ground. So if it’s the actual act of hunting that you enjoy this may just be for you.
In my opinion, the best way to have a successful traditional hunt is to fully commit and forget the “safety net”. Leave your rifle or compound at home. Being a professional hunting guide in northern British Columbia I pride myself on my ability to get close to animals on their turf. Although I stalk game for a living I found myself challenged like never before. When it came to getting closer than 50 yards on a Stone sheep hunt last August my skills were stretched to their absolute limit. I was within compound range of legal rams multiple times, but could never get closer. I went home empty handed, but the hunt was still a complete success in my books. You can read that story in full here.
Although it will seem like the universe is working against you in the beginning, you will soon start to enjoy all the punishment and the challenges. Shooting in the backyard becomes electrifying again just like when you first started shooting a bow. You will find a sense of accomplishment when you’re stacking arrows at only 20 yards. Since stepping back, in time and in expectations, I’ve missed rams, record book grizzlies, goats, and even a bear or two. And yet, I have no plans to give up anytime soon.
If you make the switch, expect frustration, disappointment, failure and more lessons learned in a season than in all your previous years combined. But one day, maybe after a month, or maybe after years spent with the struggle stick, you will harvest something with your trad bow. And when it happens I can assure you, it will be the most exciting and fulfilling hunt you have ever experienced.