It’s often said archers do it “the hard way,” but hunting with a longbow is, by far, the hardest way.
The grizzly was occupied chasing salmon when I loosed an arrow from my longbow. On impact the bear spun like a tornado, fighting the arrow. As I’ve done dozens of times, I subconsciously grabbed another arrow from my back quiver and nocked it by feel.
The shaft, fletched with turkey feathers, drew smoothly. My eyes locked on the flash of the chest, behind the moving shoulder, and the 56 pounds of draw weight of my ACS longbow jumped from my fingers. At under 10 yards, the arrow struck home, taking out both lungs. And my quest for the 29th species of North American big game animals with a longbow ended in a whirlwind of excitement.
At 14 years of age, I went to my first archery banquet in Sturgis, Michigan, at the Grange Hall. There were maybe 35 people in attendance. My dad, Emerson, sat next to me. I got an award for the most improved shooter. It was nice of them to encourage a young kid shooting a 45-pound Red Wing Hunter recurve. The entertainment was a black-and-white film featuring Fred Bear hunting North American big game. Fred stalked and shot caribou, moose, brown bears, and much more.
I sat wide-eyed, as it was the most exciting movie I’d ever seen. Mountains, bushplanes, huge horns, wall tents and campfires. I decided then and there that I was going to hunt everything Fred Bear did. Pretty big dreams for a middle-class kid from the Midwest.
I was a traditional bowhunter before there was such a thing. I killed my first whitetail buck at 18 years of age with a four-blade Bear Razorhead and a 60-pound Bear Takedown. It wasn’t uncommon for me to wear a felt hat, or a plaid wool shirt.
A local bowhunter named Ken showed me how to build arrows. I liked the process and have handcrafted all my arrows since that time. In the late 1980s, everyone was switching equipment. I did, too. I ordered a longbow from Fred Asbell.
It was 1988, so why would a bowhunter choose to hunt with a weapon that is used by approximately one percent of bowhunters? I’ve always been a little bit of an outsider. I was a small-town boy, raised in a Christian family, doing farm chores, roaming the woods for small game, fishing in quiet lakes, and having a reverence for the beginnings of bowhunting. I was fascinated by the history of Native Americans and their bows. The movies of Robin Hood, with back quivers, wood arrows, and heavy drawing longbows intrigued me. I was a good student and a reader, and I had a subscription to Outdoor Life at nine years of age. In junior high, I read every book in the school library that had anything to do with cowboys, Indians, mountain men, Vikings, or explorers. My vision of archery and hunting was wood bows, turkey feathers on arrows, hand-sharpened broadheads, and long-bladed knives.
A longbow is simplistic, smooth, and forgiving. It has no weight, which is wonderful when walking mountaintops, but it’s challenging when trying to shoot tight groups. But I had no doubt I could master the longbow, and I never looked back.