The traditional longbow and the art of the hunt

It’s fall again and the hunters are out in pursuit of some of the finest repast that Colorado has to offer. Abundant deer, elk, antelope, turkeys and other wild game make tasty and healthful eating. Often, what the hunter takes in the fall will feed his or her family through the winter. But with the efficiency of the hunting rifle, why would a hunter choose a tool as archaic as the traditional longbow, even over the compound bow?

Jim Hately, Range Director of the Fort Collins Archery Association, and Jim Wixon, a hunter have the answer.

Jim Wixon
Jim Wixon

Hately was raised as a rifle hunter. He and his younger brother shared one rifle so that his father only had to keep his eye on one kid at a time. After returning from Vietnam, Jim was no longer interested in rifle hunting. Instead, he tried the old-fashioned muzzleloader, a gun that was popularized in the early ’80s by the Robert Redford movie, “Jeremiah Johnson.” He had fun, but one of the limitations of the muzzleloader is that the hunter is unable to draw a tag every year. He purchased his first compound bow in the early ’80s from a shop located on Prospect and College called Arrow Dynamics. It was later that he was introduced to the traditional longbow.

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Wixon also began as a rifle hunter at age 18 in the mid-’70. He also hunted with a muzzleloader, having been inspired by “Jeremiah Johnson.” He was introduced to the bow while visiting his grandfather in California. He used a compound bow for years and then joined the Colorado Archery Association where he was intrigued by the traditional longbow. He bought his first traditional bow from a friend and gave away all his compound bows.

The traditional longbow doesn’t have nearly the range of the rifle or compound bow, requiring the hunter to approach his prey at a much closer proximity, and therefore needing a much higher level of stalking skill. It’s the difference between being 100 yards from the quarry and being 15 yards away and is one of the appeals of the traditional bow for the hunter.

Another attraction of the traditional bow is its versatility. Unlike the compound bow, which can only be shot from a single angle with the hunter standing straight up, the traditional bow can be fired from many different angles and levels.

Form and good habits are essential to the successful traditional bowhunter. A wooden bow must have wooden arrows and the arrows must be the right size for the bow. A lighter bow requires more flexible arrows while a heavier bow needs stiffer arrows. The two types of traditional bows are the longbow and the recurve bow. The recurve bow is shorter than the longbow and is less cumbersome. A self bow is a bow made by the hunter’s own hands and is made from a single stave of wood, hand-carved and using no glue. Many hunters make their own arrows, some even use stone points, although stone points are illegal in Colorado.

According to Wixon, the compound bow is serious business while the traditional bowhunters have more fun. The Colorado Bowhunter’s Association Jamboree is one of Jim’s favorite events and where he learned many of his skills due to the enthusiasm and generosity of the other bowhunters. At one point, early on in his bowhunting years, he was given a bundle of arrows worth a couple hundred dollars; so eager were the other hunters to help the newcomer. The Jamboree is a family event with activities for children, shooting competitions, a chili cook-off, a dance and a church service. Jim enjoys the true grassroots character of the community immensely. It’s another big attraction of the sport for him.

As the range director of the Fort Collins Archery Association, Hately spoke at length about the ethics of hunting and respect for the animal. He quotes his father as saying, “Anything you shoot, you will eat,” and he has maintained that cardinal rule his whole life. He will never take a shot unless he knows he has it and would rather pass on a shot than take the risk of the animal going to waste. He despises the crossbow (illegal in Colorado unless the hunter is disabled) because of the risk of wounding instead of felling the animal with a single shot.

Other services provided by Colorado archers are the Feed the Hungry program, sponsored by the Colorado Bowhunter’s Association and the Colorado Youth Outdoor Event, designed to introduce kids who may not have access to outdoor activities to archery, shotguns, fishing and tracking.

So these are just a few of the reasons that a hunter would choose such a weapon in his or her quest to put food on the table; a modern version of an ancient tradition.