Traditional Archery: Is It For You?
Archery hunting has had a long journey. The earliest human civilizations hunted with primitive bows and stone points. We have since evolved tremendously to compound bows with mechanical broadheads, all the way to crossbows that can accurately shoot up to 100 yards. Yet, there is still a group of individuals who pursue hunting with traditional bows. The term “traditional bow” is debatable, but largely agreed upon that traditional can be defined as any recurve or longbow. Simply put, it is a stick and string, with no cams, pulleys or any fancy gadgets to make it easier.
But with all the advancements of modern weapons allowed during archery season, it questions why anyone would even consider traditional archery as a hunting option. This was the question I kept asking myself. In this article I briefly explain my short experience with traditional archery, and I talk to three of the best traditional bowhunters in the state about how they got started. I hope this article will not only be enjoyable but may pique your interest in what is often referred to as the “struggle stick.”
For myself, this journey began with a challenge. I began to feel like compound bows were not as difficult as they once were. Many hunters would begin to pursue mature bucks only for more of a challenge at this point. But, I don’t have the luxury of access to a lot of land with trophy bucks, or the time to travel and pursue mature bucks on large parcels of public land. Still, I longed for a greater sense of accomplishment. I wanted a feeling similar to catching a trophy bass, killing a giant buck or how I felt the first time I killed a deer with a compound bow. This sense of missing something led me to traditional archery in 2021.
I was given a 1969 Ben Pearson Cougar Recurve with a 42-lb. draw weight in the summer of 2021. I began to practice with it daily. It took me several months to get proficient enough at 15 yards that I thought I could humanely kill a deer with it. Finally, after killing three deer with my compound bow last year, I dedicated myself to only hunting with my recurve bow until I was successful. I finally sealed the deal after three missed shots in December 2021. I killed an old doe that I had missed not only once, but twice before. This began my foray into traditional archery.
As I began to talk to more people about traditional archery, I learned they all had the same reasons for their love for traditional bowhunting. Whether they began as a traditional archer and returned to it later, or started with more modern weapons and regressed to traditional archery, all of them ended up as primarily a “traditional archer.” Almost every hunter I interviewed mentioned a heightened reward over more modern hunting methods.
Crispin Henry, of Dunwoody, began shooting recurves as a kid and moved on to compound bowhunting as an adult. He has now been exclusively hunting with a traditional bow for 11 years, and like all of the hunters’ interviewed for this article, is one of the most successful traditional hunters in the state.
“The most rewarding part of traditional archery is knowing that you can shoot a bow and arrow without all the gadgets and gizmos attached. I enjoy making and tuning my own gear, from bows, to arrows and strings,” said Crispin.
Crispin mentioned the importance of continued practice and the mentorship of a seasoned traditional archer as the biggest piece of advice he could give for new traditional archers.
“The most difficult part of traditional archery can be starting without proper instruction and guidance. However, the basics can be done within a reasonable amount of time, and then all you need to do is practice, practice, practice—and then practice some more,” he said.
Crispin credited two experienced traditional archers for helping him on his journey.
“The first was Lowell McMullan from Dublin. Lowell worked at Mountain Archery in DeKalb County back in 1984 and spent countless hours teaching me how to shoot instinctively. The other was Al Chapman, of Marietta. Al taught me how to apply my skills to hunting with a trad bow. He’s also responsible for taking me down the rabbit hole of hunting turkey with a trad bow,” said Crispin.
Al Chapman, 74, said on the day of our interview for this article he was on his way back from a pig hunt in July on one of the hottest and most humid days of the year. You’ll never guess what his weapon of choice was on the day of that hunt. That’s right, a traditional bow.
Al’s experience with traditional archery began as a kid making stick bows with his friends.
“I grew up in Texas, and I couldn’t afford any real bow. We made limb bows out of osage orange wood. We would use any type of string we could get our hands on. At the age of 14, I received a solid fiberglass 50-lb. Ben Pearson bow and began to hunt small game with it.”
Al emphasized the effort and reward of traditional archery when asked about why he’d gone away from compound archery.
“I guess the most reward comes from the effort. If it were easy, anybody could do it. I make my own bow and my own river cane arrows with my own stone points. The culmination of all of that makes whatever I killed with it a true trophy. I can shoot a doe and just be tickled to death. The rewards come from the efforts,” said Al.
Al said his favorite type of bow to hunt with is his homemade osage orange bows that he pairs with his own self-made arrows and stone points to go with it. But he doesn’t exclude himself from more modern traditional bowhunting methods either. When hunting pigs at night, he uses a Hoyt Buffalo with a green light mounted to the front which allows him to stalk pigs in the dark.
Dendy Cromer, of Cobb, got into archery later in life. He deer hunted with a 30/30 rifle when he was younger, but by the time he was in 9th grade he began to develop an interest in archery. His first bow was a compound PSE Pulsar Express that he worked and saved for. He hunted with this bow until he graduated high school and left for the Army. He didn’t hunt much at all during his enlisted time.
After Dendy’s time in the Army was over, he returned to civilian life and his archery passion was reborn. He began to shoot ASA 3D archery tournaments with his compound and was bowhunting a lot more. Even though Dendy was doing very well hunting with a compound, he was ready for something more.
“Something was missing, it was just too easy. Everybody can shoot a compound. It was almost a gimme. If it was inside 30 yards, you knew you were going to hit it, the hunt was over. But with a recurve, when you see something, the hunt really just started,” said Dendy.
Dendy’s passion for traditional archery happened by chance on his lunch break.
“We stopped in a convenience store and I picked up a Boar Hunter Magazine. In the back was an article about shooting wild pigs with recurves. It was a short article, but one of the photos showed a Black Widow recurve and it was at that moment I said, ‘That is what I need to be doing!’ That’s what I wanted to do. I called the number at the end of the article. His name was Robert Carter, and we had a long conversation and he helped me learn traditional archery,” said Dendy.
Dendy’s explanation for his reason for hunting with a traditional bow was almost identical to Al and Henry.
“The most rewarding part is doing it the hard way and knowing you are. There have been several times when I saw a big deer past 20 yards and had to just watch him. I know that if I had my compound or a rifle, I could kill him. When the hunt becomes more important than the actual kill, I think you’re there and you understand,” said Dendy.
Every archer interviewed for this article offered tips for new traditional archers, and all three had two tips in common: daily practice and finding a mentor. The practice will help with repetition and being able to repeat good form. With a traditional bow, there are no backstops to know where full draw is and no sights to know where to aim. Not drawing your bow to the exact same place every time can make consistently good shooting almost impossible. A mentor will be there to tell you where that draw point should be and if you’re doing it correctly.
A mentor will also help you with all the technical parts of arrow flight which will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes a new archer to become a great archer. Arrow length, weight and spine stiffness all have a great impact on how the arrow will fly. Since traditional arrows fly at much slower speeds than compounds, hunting with an arrow that flies completely straight is very important. There’s so much less energy in an arrow shot from a traditional bow than a compound. You want all of that energy to be at the tip of your broadhead to help with penetration. If an arrow is flying slightly nock up, or nock down, that can really reduce penetration, even if you can consistently hit your target during practice.
All of the archers interviewed for this article are members of Traditional Bowhunters of Georgia. This organization is committed to hunting with traditional bow methods, and there are members all across the state. If you reach out to them through their contact page on their website, they can put you in touch with someone close to you to talk more about traditional archery. Their website is www.tradbowga.com.
Whether you’re looking for an additional challenge for hunting, or just a fun experience and a chance to make new friends, traditional archery is a guaranteed way to add variety and excitement to your hunting life. If you find a traditional archer near you, they will no doubt spend hours explaining to you everything they can about it. The traditional archery community is small, but the passion you’ll find in this group would be hard to match anywhere else.
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