At 4:30 a.m. in November 2015, I was hiking two miles to my treestand near the top of an Idaho mountain. Stopping for a breather, I stood quietly in the dark, staring into the black void of a huge canyon.
Across the canyon, I could see a light, a headlamp, weaving through the brush and trees, seemingly floating in a black sea. The quick movements of the light suggested an enthusiasm, an eagerness to reach the top. Despite the distance and the darkness, I felt connection with that light. It was my buddy Larry D. Jones.
Many years ago, the late traditional bowyer Jim Brackenbury labeled Larry D. Jones and me The Rabbit and The Spider, because Larry bounded up and down the hills like a rabbit, while I ambled along like a spider — a daddy longlegs. Jim’s moniker was no doubt accurate. Indeed, as Larry bounded up the hills, I could never keep pace, and he frequently had to wait for me to catch up as I ambled along behind. Now, nearly 50 years later, nothing had changed. The Spider was still stopping for a breather, and The Rabbit was still bounding ahead of him.
I first met Larry as I was writing a story for a Journalism class at the University of Oregon. Even in those early days, Larry had a reputation as a successful elk hunter, and I wanted to interview him for my class. Thinking I just wanted to pump him for information, he was skeptical and said no.
But with some prodding, he gave in, and we arranged an interview at his house. That evening, after getting past his skepticism, we hit it off well, and before the night was over, we were planning an elk hunt together for the coming fall.
Over the nearly 50 years since then, we have scaled mountains together, trekked the tundra, sat in treestands, and packed at least a semi-truckload of meat together from Alaska to Mexico to Africa. During that period we have evolved as bowhunters and friends, and our journey together serves as a backdrop for reflecting on the changes in the bowhunting industry in general over the past 50 years.
Perhaps the most obvious evolution since the 1970s has been in equipment. Back then, Larry and I both shot recurve bows — Larry still does — along with wood arrows and big, traditional broadheads. The thing that most stands out in my mind was the difficulty in getting arrows to fly straight and true.
Striving for the impossible, we devoted hundreds — maybe thousands — of hours to shooting arrows through paper, while tweaking nock height, adjusting arrow rests, and changing Berger button tension. To take it a step further, Larry built a shooting machine, and working with legendary archer and manufacturer Bill Sweetland, we launched hundreds of arrows off that machine, analyzing variables that most affected arrow flight and accuracy. Even after all that, our arrows dipped, weaved, flirted, and wobbled in flight. Aarghhh!
How times have changed! Easton and other arrow makers have perfected shafts — first aluminum, now carbon — until bowhunters today have fail-proof options for matching arrows to bows. Improved broadheads — both fixed-blade and mechanical — have contributed just as much or more to perfect arrow flight. Most broadheads today fly just as accurately as fieldpoints.
The evolution of raised rests, flexible launchers, and now drop-away rests has further banished arrow-flight gremlins. And, of course, the use of release aids with today’s short bows has contributed to the improved accuracy. In 1990, archery experts estimated 10 percent of bowhunters used release aids. Now, among compound shooters, that figure has to be nearly 100 percent. With the evolution of tackle, it’s almost HARD to get poor arrow flight.
Out of necessity in the 1970s, we often had to improvise our own gear. The only dedicated hunting clothes were made of heavy cotton in Tiger Stripe or WWII camo. In desperation for something better, I had my wife sew me a pair of pants and a shirt of green plaid wool, which worked great on many backcountry elk hunts — except for the weight of the wool when it got wet.
Calls were a big issue during our early years. When Larry D. Jones and I first started elk hunting, the only real option was a piece of PVC pipe notched to create a whistle. It worked — sort of.
Then one day in the early 1980s, Larry called me. “Dwight, listen to this!” he whispered breathlessly, and then blew his new device — a Herter’s deer call with 18 inches of corrugated auto radiator hose taped over the end. The multi-noted squeal Larry produced over the phone sounded very much like a bull elk. The Larry D. Jones elk bugle was born. It was magical.
That launched Larry’s company, Wilderness Sound Productions, and from there he gradually added mouth diaphragms to his arsenal. I don’t recall exactly how this all evolved, but I do know the conversion of diaphragm turkey calls into elk calls raised the bar for elk calling, and that Larry, along with Wayne Carlton, were at the leading edge of this great new idea. With the diaphragm calls also exploded the idea of “cow calling,” which many hunters have found more deadly than bugling.
About the same time, these and other guys started developing deer calls, and most notably grunt calls. A lot of people obviously knew that deer “grunted,” but prior to the 1980s, few knew the significance of that sound. Sometime in the ’80s, I recall talking to Mike Dickess, an avid whitetail hunter and owner of Mike’s Archery in Ironton, Ohio, about new gadgets for deer hunting. Mike said, “There is no magic, but I think the closest thing is the new grunt call. That thing works!” True enough.
While I had nothing to do with the development of calls — other than to try every new offering in the field — I did put a lot of thought into hunting packs. In the 1970s, the only options were flimsy rucksacks and big, heavy frame packs. To me, a good hunting pack needed a frame to support the load, but it had to be lightweight and, above all, compact for slipping quietly through the woods.
I tried countless options, but I was never satisfied until I explained my dilemma to Jim Reed, national sales manager for Coleman Company at the time. “Let me send you one of our youth frames,” Jim offered.
When the frame arrived, I instantly knew this was the answer. The molded plastic frame was light, strong, and compact. To complete the concept, I sent the frame to Kathy Kelly, who made fleece hunting clothes and packs. Kathy fashioned a fanny pack at the bottom to hold permanent items like survival gear, and a removable top bag large enough for a jacket, lunch, and other bulky items. Perfection! The Dwight Schuh Hunting Pack was born.
That was in 1988. While many companies now make fabulous hunting packs, Larry and I still rely on the DS Pack for hauling hunting gear, video cameras, and meat.
In the 1970s, Glenn Helgeland, then Editor of Bowhunting World magazine, described the furor over treestands in his home state of Wisconsin and many Eastern states. Many diehard bowhunters were incensed at the thought of this new-fangled contraption. It just wasn’t right.
I still have my original Baker climbing stand, circa 1975. Clearly, I would not hunt from that stand now, but I still remember the magic of scaling a tree and watching deer walk by at 20 feet — oblivious. You talk about a revelation! Today, of course, we all take that for granted, but it only demonstrates the amazing evolution in hunting gear.Ditto ground blinds. My home state of Oregon held its first archery antelope season in 1973. I did not know The Rabbit at the time, but I knew he was on that hunt, as other hunters told me they had seen him around. We dug pits in the rocky desert, pounded-in steel fenceposts, and hung burlap for camouflage. Just building a good pit blind often took a couple of days — and often did not work.
No more. In 2007, I drew antelope tags in Nevada and Colorado, and Larry filmed the hunts for Bowhunter TV. In Nevada, we hiked to a remote spring in the dark, popped up a Primos Double Bull blind before daylight, and killed a buck at 11 a.m. The next week, we virtually duplicated that feat in Colorado.
And, of course, pop-up blinds have revolutionized archery hunting for turkeys, as well as deer, elk, bears, and other big game. Yes, life has evolved for bowhunters over the past 45 years. Simple.
The evolution in outdoors media, in my opinion, ranks as the biggest change in the bowhunting industry. Back when I started bowhunting, information was scarce. I about wore out copies of “Bowhunting for Deer” by Dutch Wambold (1964), and “The Archer’s Bible” by Fred Bear (1968). But these were about the only books available that were purely about bowhunting.
When Bowhunter hit the market in 1971, I was thrilled. A magazine by bowhunters and for bowhunters! I was hooked, and still have my original copy — along with every one since.
While the increasing written word about bowhunting had a huge impact, it was nothing compared to the rise of hunting film and video.. In the 1920s, Art Young amazingly made a movie of his adventures in Alaska, and Fred Bear and Howard Hill followed with various bowhunting films. Then, in the 1950s, Jim Bond and Wally Tabor raised the bar further as they filmed their hunting and fishing adventures across North America, and then traveled across the U.S. all winter, showing their movies in small-town theaters. My dad took me to several of those showings, and I was hooked. Oh, man, did I want some of that!
The fact that those guys, dragging around full film crews and 16mm movie cameras, got any movies at all was pretty amazing. Early video cameras were almost as cumbersome as those film cameras. In 1987, Larry set out to shoot “Elk Fever” for Wilderness Sound Productions, and I naively agreed to participate. One of us had to carry a 20-pound Beta Cam, and the other lugged a 20-pound tape deck. These were linked together with a long umbilical cord.
To complete “Elk Fever,” we hunted 40 straight days in Oregon and Idaho, killing four bulls and making a pretty decent video. As cameras improved and we learned the process, we followed up with “Elk Fever II,” “Buck Fever,” and other titles for Wilderness Sound.
How times have changed! Today, anyone can buy a palm-sized camera at a reasonable price and become a video or TV producer, establish a personal website or blog, and post videos on YouTube or other Internet outlets. Instant celebrity! I think the evolution in media, and particularly video, has had a bigger impact on the outdoors industry than any other single event.
In 1996, my life changed drastically. For 25 years I had made my living as a freelance writer, lecturer, and book author. Bowhunter had always been one of my primary freelance markets, but in 1996 it became my sole focus as Founder M.R. James hired me as Editor. The fact that he considered me worthy was a huge honor for me that launched my dream job for the next 15 years, until my retirement in June 2011.
While my coming on board as Editor greatly expanded my writing and editing duties, it also increased my involvement with video and TV. Under M.R.’s direction, Bowhunter launched a series of “Bowhunter Video Journals,” followed by Bowhunter TV in 2005.
For the next 10 years, Larry and I traveled far and wide together to film episodes for the TV program. We shot two programs in Africa; two caribou hunts in The Northwest Territories; a woodland caribou hunt in Newfoundland; caribou and moose hunts in British Columbia; bear hunts in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba; Sitka deer hunts in Alaska, blacktail hunts in Oregon, and Coues deer adventures in Arizona; plus dozens of whitetail and mule deer hunts across the West, Midwest, Deep South, and Canada; pronghorn hunts in Nevada and Colorado; and three trips spanning 44 days of total hunting to the Alaska Peninsula for brown bears.
Perhaps most notably, Larry filmed me on a moose hunt in the Yukon, on which I shot a bull at a distance of five yards. Rather than running away the moose charged, just about running over me — and Larry — who was standing by my left shoulder. Amazingly, Larry kept the camera rolling and captured not only the charge, but also the aftermath as our guide and I babbled about the event. It was some remarkable camera work by a cool-headed cameraman.
Through all of these and other adventures too numerous to recount here, we have seen great change, both in the bowhunting industry and in ourselves. And as I sat in that dark canyon in Idaho last November, I could not help but reflect on these changes — and smile as I watched Larry’s headlamp across the black canyon.Look at that old codger,
I thought. He’s almost 75 years old, he’s had triple bypass surgery, back surgery, shoulder surgery — who knows what all? But his enthusiasm has not changed. Amazing!
The whole scenario seemed amazing. The Spider was still ambling up the mountains, stopping for a breather, as The Rabbit bounded past him on a distant, dark ridge. Jim Brackenbury pretty well nailed it.
Yes, a lot has changed in bowhunting over the past 45 years, some for the better, some not so much. But one thing has not changed one iota and never will — the bowhunter’s spirit. How do I know? The headlamp…