I am a Traditional Archer. It is not a past time, a sport or a hobby, it is a passion, a lifestyle, part of my existence. I need to feed this hunger with daily participation. I often spend hours a day building arrows, bows and reading articles about archery. And I need constant practice. One needs to loose many, many arrows to become proficient in the skill set, to train your hand/eye co-ordination to allow precision accuracy for my end goal of harvesting game to feed my family. Whether I am out with my primitive hand crafted yew longbow or my modern fiberglass recurve, my favorite way to participate is in the woods, shooting stumps.
It may seem silly to some. Why would a grown man really spend hours in the woods launching perfectly good (and beautiful) arrows at the long dead remains of the first growth timber? We humans are the top of the food chain, we are predators. Deep in our DNA, we are hunter/gatherers. We need connection with nature, fresh air, sun shine, bug bites, to walk on logs and climb rocks, to gather food with our own hands and to practice with primitive weapons. Sure there are modern forms of archery, as well as firearms, to take game or for sport, however these inventions have only been around for a few centuries or less. A longbow has been with us for millennia. Walking barefoot in the soft moss, slowly and with intent, senses on overdrive, just to witness the scampering of a squirrel, the call of Raven, the whisper of the cedar scented breeze, the pop of a tart huckleberry on your tongue. These are human behaviors that have been driven from our consciousness by modern living, however they don’t take long to bubble up, and attach themselves to our spirit.
Shooting stumps gives me the opportunity to practice on targets that constantly vary on size, distance and shape. A common terms in traditional archery is “pick a spot” and “aim small, miss small” referring to the concentration need to get the arrow to strike where you want. A non-descript rotten log gives your brain the chance to focus on that one small area that stands out, like that one dark hair on a deer’s chest, a hole from a once feeding woodpecker on a stump can represent that same precise focus spot. Breathe, focus, pause….loose. A rewarding sound of the steel point smacking wood, a direct hit and a smile, or a miss and questions. What happened, what did I do wrong, was I not looking? Constant learning and training. It make the game all that more fun!
Stumping is a family pursuit. My wife loves to loose arrows with me as we leisurely meander in the woods, gandering mushrooms and wild flowers. Five minutes from our door, we are in an 80-100 year old canopied, polyculture forest. We discover new game trails, sit on felled hemlock from a recent wind, and hug the largest red cedar trees. We forage a snack in season, and inspect the moss for potential future fungal harvests, all while practicing our technique. In permaculture we talk about the principle of “Stacking functions”. This is that in near perfection. Many hobbies and interests in one relaxing forest bath. Our daughter, 6 years old, often accompanies me on solo outings. Packing her Yew self bow, she sees imaginary(?) dinosaurs, lets Dad pack her doll in his back quiver and clambers off the trails to help retrieve the arrows. She is fleet footed and confident to climb, run, toss rocks and jump off roots, and I chalk this all up to the unstructured play during our stump shooting forays.
Safety and public perception are the upmost importance. With my situational awareness in overdrive, I constantly scan with my eyes, ears and nose for approaching humans (perfumes, laundry products and cigarette smoke will give bi-pedal ones away every time), or dogs. If I sense I am not alone, the arrow is un-nocked from the string and I wait until they appear. Not wanting to cause an uncomfortable feelings for anyone, I am casual about it all, almost pretending the bow is just another walking stick that anyone could be packing. Many times, more often than not, people stop and chat with me about my pursuit and my tackle. My bows have touched many hands over the years, especially children, who get really excited about archery. For grown-ups it takes us back to our youth and the simpler times in life before jobs, mortgages and car maintenance. I never shoot straight down a trail, as that is not a wise choice. One never knows when an arrow may miss, or glance off the target. An arrow can travel a heck of a long way before it stops and safety is the number one priority in all shooting sports, archery is not an exception from this. Be 110% sure of the backstop. Choose your stumps wisely and if in doubt, inspect them closely. A freshly cut tree stump may not have the rotten wood that one needs to stop a fast moving, heavy arrow. Hard wood causes bounce backs or ricochets, which takes any prediction of the arrows path away from the archer. Well-rotted stumps are easy on the arrows, make removal simpler and is ethically your best bet. Shooting live trees is bad news. Tough on arrows, tough on the trees. Avoid live trees, that’s the bottom line.
Shooting stumps is much more environmentally responsible than shooting backyard targets made of plastic, foam and rubber. My targets never go in the garbage. I am just speeding up a natural process of decomposition, putting organic matter on the forest floor, to feed the soil food web and the second growth trees. The holes created by my practice allow for more water penetration into the stump, as well as mycelial, insect and animal pathways, which all help in that end. My arrows are made from salvaged Sitka Spruce wood from Haida Gwaii, milled by a great friend and neighbor, who’s environmental ethics are in line with my own. With permaculture education in my past, those ethics ring true. Care of earth, care of people and return of surplus. I like to think that my recreational pursuit has given me a chance to participate in something that has a low ecological footprint and is super good for us as modern humans.
If you are interested in traditional archery, take a walk in the woods with your tackle. See what targets reveal themselves to you and give a new challenge in this wonderful, ancient pursuit.
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