Most rural kids, when I grew up, were intrigued by the idea of shooting game the way Native Americans did - with a stick and string. But I never killed a buck that way until I was in my 40's. Even then, I didn't use a traditional bow. I used a modern compound.
Some hunters I know are very proficient with traditional recurves and longbows. Rick Sharp takes a nice buck with his recurve as often as good hunters do with a gun. Reg Darling immerses himself in archery as a mental and spiritual quest. Mike Stimmell crafts his own bow - arrows too - and is a serious student of primitive ways.
All are dedicated and knowledgeable woodsmen, like the traditional archer I met over in Potter County last year at the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous (ETAR). You'll never meet a more hardcore hunter than Mike Mitten from Iowa. He's totally comfortable in true wilderness - even on solo adventures in the most remote places.
When I reconnected with Mike last month at ETAR, he showed me a picture of a buck his brother shot last fall with a primitive bow and an arrow tipped with a hand-knapped stone head. That's one of the most impressive hunting feats I've ever heard of. And it was no ordinary buck - it was an absolute giant even by Midwestern standards.
The Mittens are associated with Gene and Barry Wensel, also known as "Brothers of the Bow" (www.BrothersOfTheBow.com.) The Wensels and the Mittens are among the best hunters anywhere. They're icons of the archery world, known internationally through their books and DVDs and have a knack for making you feel like you're an old friend.
"Old friends." That's the atmosphere at ETAR and anyone with the slightest interest in traditional archery should attend. It's held annually during the last weekend of July on the slopes of Ski Denton near Coudersport.
When the Everyday Hunter isn't hunting, he's thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell him exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com. This column and others can be accessed online at www.EverydayHunter.com.
"Traditional archery people love relaxing in the mountains," says event organizer Joyce Knefley. "Some come in a week early and before it's over 8,000 to 10,000 people show up." That says something about the passion traditional archers have for their pursuit.
ETAR has been running for 22 years, but it's not the only archery event held at Ski Denton. Joyce and her husband Mike host four archery events - the next one is the Potter County Bowhunter Festival (PCBF) which will see almost 5,000 visitors August 18-21. The others are at Sawmill Run ski resort, south of Wellsboro in Tioga County. Details about all events, including cost, are at www.archeryfestivals.com.
PCBF has less of a focus on traditional archery so you'll see a predominance of compound bows there. With lots of vendors under big top tents, and a swap meet too, it's a little like Arlo Guthrie's 1960s song "Alice's Restaurant" - you can get anything you want (as long as you want something connected with shooting a bow.)
Whether you go for just a day, or for the weekend, take advantage of instructional seminars, as well as the opportunity to shoot seven 3-D target courses - almost 180 targets. All of them are set up with realistic hunting scenarios to sharpen you for this fall's hunt. If you want to shoot competitively, enter the Sharp Shooter competition or the King of the Mountain course to win money or prizes.
More than anything else, it's the people who make an archery festival worth attending. They're simple, helpful, joyful and all-around nice folks.
Archers are dedicated to simplicity. Something about a string propelling pointed stick helps you focus on the essentials of life.
Having problems with eye-dominance? Target panic? Release? Bow tuning? Lots of people at the festival have faced what you face and are qualified to offer help.
When a bunch of archers together, their enthusiasm breaks down all kinds of barriers and creates a camaraderie seldom found anywhere.
An archery festival is a place where you can revive that kid in you. Why not take a modern kid along and plant the idea of hunting with a stick and string in his or her mind? Let him shoot the kid's course, plus the popular kid's balloon shoot. Get him involved in archery at a young age and it might lead to a lifelong pastime.