Bowhunting has come a long way. The earliest human civilizations hunted with primitive bows and stone points. Since then, we have greatly evolved from compound bows with mechanical points, to crossbows that can shoot accurately up to 100 yards. However, there is still a group of people who practice hunting with traditional bows. The term “traditional bow” is debatable, but it is generally accepted that traditional can be defined as any long or recurve bow. Simply put, it’s a stick and a rope, with no cams, pulleys, or fancy gizmos to make it easy.
But with all the advances in modern weapons allowed during archery season, it’s questionable why anyone would consider traditional archery as a hunting option. This was the question I kept asking myself. In this article, I briefly explain my brief experience with traditional archery and talk to three of the best traditional archery hunters in the state about how they got started. I hope this article was not only enjoyable, but piqued your interest in what is often referred to as the “fight stick.”
For me, this journey began with a challenge. I began to feel that compound bows were not as difficult as before. Many hunters would start chasing mature males just for more of a challenge at this point. But I don’t have the luxury of access to a large amount of land with trophy males, or the time to travel and chase mature males on large patches of public land. Still, he longed for a greater sense of accomplishment. I wanted a feeling similar to catching a low trophy, killing a giant deer, or how I felt the first time I killed a deer with a compound bow. This feeling of losing something led me to traditional archery in 2021.
I was given a 1969 Ben Pearson Cougar Recurve weighing in at 42 lbs. draw weight in the summer of 2021. I started practicing with it daily. It took me several months to become proficient enough at 15 yards to think I could humanely kill a deer with it. Finally, after killing three deer with my compound bow last year, I took to hunting alone with my recurve bow until I was successful. I finally closed the deal after three misses in December 2021. I killed an old doe that had missed not just once, but twice before. Thus began my foray into traditional archery.
As I started talking to more people about traditional archery, I learned that they all had the same reasons for their love of traditional archery. Whether they started out as traditional archers and came back to it later, or started with more modern weapons and went back to traditional archery, they all ended up primarily as “traditional archers”. Nearly every hunter I interviewed mentioned a higher reward than more modern hunting methods.
Crispin Henry, of Dunwoody, began shooting recurves as a child and moved on to compound bow hunting as an adult. He has been hunting exclusively with a traditional bow for 11 years and, like all the hunters interviewed for this article, he 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 fine-tuning my own equipment, from bows to arrows to string,” said Crispin.
Crispin cited the importance of continued practice and mentorship from an experienced traditional archer as the greatest advice he could give new traditional archers.
“The hardest part of traditional archery can be getting started without proper instruction and guidance. However, the basics can be done in 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 with helping him on his journey.
“The first was Lowell McMullan from Dublin. Lowell worked at Mountain Archery in DeKalb County in 1984 and spent countless hours teaching me how to shoot instinctively. The other was Al Chapman, from Marietta. Al taught me how to apply my skills to hunting with a traditional bow. He is also responsible for taking me down the rabbit hole of hunting turkey with a traditional bow,” said Crispin.
Al Chapman, 74, said on the day of our interview for this article that he was returning from a hog 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 when he was a young boy making stick bows with his friends.
“I grew up in Texas and couldn’t afford any real bows. We made limb bows out of osage orange wood. We would use any kind of rope we could get our hands on. At the age of 14, I received a 50 pound solid fiberglass. Ben Pearson leaned over and started hunting small game with it.”
Al emphasized the effort and reward of traditional archery when asked why he had moved away from compound archery.
“I think the greatest reward comes from effort. If it was easy, anyone could do it. I make my own bow and arrows from river cane with my own stone points. The culmination of all of that makes whatever I killed with him a real trophy. I can shoot a doe and just tickle myself to death. Rewards come from efforts,” said Al.
Al said his favorite type of bow for hunting is his homemade Osage orange bows which he pairs with his own self-made arrows and stone points to go with it. But he is also not excluded from the more modern traditional methods of bowhunting. When he hunts pigs at night, he uses a Hoyt Buffalo with a front-mounted green light that allows him to stalk pigs in the dark.
Cobb’s Dendy Cromer took up archery later in life. He hunted deer with a 30/30 rifle when he was younger, but when he was in ninth grade he began to develop an interest in archery. His first bow was a PSE Pulsar Express compound that he worked for and saved up. He hunted with this bow until he graduated from high school and went into the army. He didn’t hunt much during his enlistment time.
After Dendy’s time in the military ended, he returned to civilian life and his passion for archery was reborn. He started shooting ASA 3D archery tournaments with his compound and was doing a lot more bow hunting. Although Dendy was doing very well hunting with a compound, he was ready for something more.
“Something was missing, it was too easy. Anyone can shoot a compound. She was almost a dame. If she was within 30 yards, you knew you were going to hit her, the hunt was over. But with a recurve, when you see something, the search has really just begun,” said Dendy.
Dendy’s passion for traditional archery happened by chance during his lunch break.
“We stopped at a convenience store and I picked up a Boar Hunter magazine. In the back was an article on shooting boars with recurves. It was a short article, but one of the photos showed a Black Widow recurve and that’s when I said, ‘That’s what I need to do!’ That’s what I wanted to do. I called the number at the end of the article. His name was Robert Carter, we had a long talk and he helped me learn traditional archery,” said Dendy.
Dendy’s explanation of his reason for hunting with a traditional bow was almost identical to Al and Henry’s.
“The most rewarding part is doing it the hard way and knowing you’re doing it. There were several occasions where I saw a large deer beyond 20 yards and had to watch it. I know 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 that,” Dendy said.
All of the archers interviewed for this article offered advice for new traditional archers, and all three had two pieces of advice in common: daily practice and finding a mentor. Practice will help with repetition and being able to repeat good form. With a traditional bow, there are no stops to know where the full shot is and no sights to know where to aim. Not drawing your bow in exactly the same place every time can make it almost impossible to shoot consistently well. A mentor will be there to tell him where that point of attraction should be and if he is 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 for a new archer to become a great archer. The length of the arrow, the weight, and the stiffness of the spine all have a huge impact on how the arrow will fly. Since traditional arrows fly at much slower speeds than compound arrows, it is very important to hunt with an arrow that flies completely straight. There is much less energy in an arrow shot from a traditional bow than from a compound. You want all of that energy to be at the tip of your broadhead to help with penetration. If an arrow flies slightly up or 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 the Traditional Bowhunters of Georgia. This organization is committed to traditional bowhunting and has members statewide. If you contact 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. His website is www.tradbowga.com.
Whether you’re looking for an extra hunting challenge, 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 undoubtedly spend hours explaining 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.