We’d like to thank Frans Diepstraten for allowing us to re-publish this excellent piece. If you’re interested in traditional archery, mountain hunting, fitness and backcountry nutrition then head over to www.crooked-arrow.com to find more content from Frans and his blogging partner in crime Kyle Steed.
Every self-respecting podcaster these days seems to have an episode about the “controversy” that exists between tradbow shooters and compound shooters in their episode line-up. It is a big deal right now. The compound shooters call out the traditionalists saying they can’t hit the broadside of a barn from the inside, and the traditionalists blame the compound shooters for taking irresponsible shots at unethical distances. And the more hotly debated the topic, the more generally asinine the mudslinging gets.
Sweeping, generalized and often ignorant statements such as “Compound shooters are substituting hunting skills with technology!” or “For a tradbow, the hunt begins at distances where it would end with a compound!” are commonplace. The latter observation, by the way, is also often used by compound bowhunters to disparage rifle hunters. There’s also my all-time favourite from the tradbow gang (if I hear it one more time, I may smash my iPhone): “I could have shot it with a compound!” (Sorry Aron). In the process of trying to get on the victorious side of the debate, there doesn’t seem to be any criticism that is off limits. Case in point: “If you are going trad, expect to wound a lot more animals than with a compound!” or “How often do you think those compound shooters wound an animal at 80 yards?”
WHAT ON EARTH ARE WE DOING?
We are not having this discussion around the campfire in the woods, with nobody listening but the birds and the trees. Have we become so entrenched in this debate that it is OK to use every argument, even arguments that could easily shine a less-positive light on hunting just to prove our points? Apparently, it is not a problem to confess on public media to having wounded not-insignificant numbers of animals, without providing some context about the circumstances, the follow-up, or the (hopefully) happy ending. It makes me cringe.
Let’s step back a bit and analyze the issue. Killing animals with a bow (among other less discriminate killing methods) has kept our ancestors alive for a long time. However, when rifles appeared on the scene, the bow became a lot less popular—quickly. It is probably safe to say that towards the end of the 18th Century not too many white men ran around the woods trying to get dinner with a bow.
Photo Credit: Talus Creative
Generally speaking, Saxton Pope and his buddy Art Young are credited with reviving the lost art of hunting with a stick and string. Pope’s book Hunting with the Bow and Arrow published in 1923 is an interesting read. There are earlier publications though, by fellows who took hunting with a bow very seriously, such as The Witchery of Archery by J. Maurice Thompson published in 1877. All their equipment and materials used were what we now refer to as traditional or primitive.
In the 1940s, the incomparable Fred Bear initiated his bow company, and towards the end of that decade started incorporating fiberglass in his bows. It wasn’t until 1953 that he patented the recurve bow limb. Fred and his contemporaries used these bows on all matter of game. They shot at distances that would make even the most open-minded modern traditional shooter scratch his or her head. Some old footage of Fred Bear’s hunts even shows an archer using a “traditional” bow with a sight pin!
This little journey back in time goes to show that what some so lovingly refer to as traditional, is only about a century old, as far as use by non-native North Americans is concerned that is, and the recurve bow made with modern materials is even younger. It is, in fact, only about two decades older than the first compound bow, which emerged on the scene in 1969 when a fellow by the name of Holless Wilbur Allen was granted a US patent for a bow with pulleys at the end of the limbs.
Though I have no numbers to back this up, I would argue that most bowhunters that would claim they hunt with traditional equipment, in fact use technology that was patented exactly 16 years earlier than the patent that spawned most modern archery equipment. I own several rifles that are older than that.
So now that we have filled up some trenches, knocked over some pedestals, and are looking each other in the eye, what is the commotion all about? We all hunt with a bow. The technology that we use was developed within two decades of each other. Even most individuals that build their bows from trees often use modern tools to get things done. And what does it all matter, really?
Unfortunately, the trend of pitching one kind of hunting or hunter against the other started early. In Saxton Pope’s book, even he couldn’t help but send some arrows over the bow of other hunters:
“For by shaming the ‘mighty hunter’ and his unfair methods in the use of powerful destructive agents, we feel that we help to develop better sporting ethics”.
The “powerful destructive agents” he’s referencing in this case were the rifle and modern ammunition, and “we” were the emerging breed of bowhunters, in Pope’s mind clearly claiming the moral high-ground.
In the end, we are all hunters. Long-range shooters, regular rifle hunters, muzzleloader enthusiasts, crossbow people, compound shooters, traditional-method hunters, the primitive guys, the gap-shooters and instinctive aimers, and even the poor fellow with the spear, we all head afield to follow our passion. We don’t have to agree on our choice of technology, but it would be nice if we could agree to not criticize each other on every imaginable media outlet at every opportunity. The world is watching and listening. And likely smiling at our seemingly endless appetite for fighting amongst ourselves.
If we could put only half of the time and effort we put into fighting each other over frivolous matters towards conservation initiatives, promoting hunting as an essential wildlife management tool, educating ourselves about what is happening to our public lands, and writing to our elected officials about the issues that affect us, we would be in a much better place.
Yet we take to the keyboard with vitriol in our fingertips every chance we get, and bash the ones that do not exactly do as we do, or think as we think, or use the equipment we feel is superior. I can’t help but think of a famous line from renowned newspaper comic strip artist Walt Kelly: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We are better than this.