Make your own free website on

Bruce Snyder

Dusk gradually descended upon my perch in an oak tree among the East Texas timber. Despite the evening chill that was settling in, the leather-wrapped handle of the bamboo-backed bois d'arc flatbow felt warm and light in my hand. A homemade cedar shaft was nocked and waiting, its business end tipped with a file-sharpened Zwickey Eskimo.

My treestand was nestled in a treeline overlooking a pipeline right-of-way. The tracks and several well-used game trails indicated that deer were both feeding here and using the area as a crossing to and from the adjoining property.

A subtle shift of brown and gray in my peripheral vision caught my attention, and I turned my gaze to the north. Sure enough, three whitetail does had emerged from the hardwood forest and were browsing along the right-of-way. And they were heading my way. I was after meat, not antlers, so a nice fat doe suited me just fine.

Although I'm 46, I've only been involved in archery for about five years, and in traditional archery for perhaps half that. However, I believe my evolution as a bowhunter spans at least one lifetime, if not more. And it's an ongoing process.

I didn't grow up in a hunting or outdoor-oriented family. Nonetheless, for as long as I can remember, wild places have always fascinated me - the oceans, lakes, rivers, forests, and deserts - as well as the flora and fauna that inhabit them.

I fondly recall my childhood trips to the barber shop with my father (the requisite crewcut notwithstanding), for there, I could vicariously experience the adventures recounted in the well-worn copies of Sports Afield, Field & Stream, and Outdoor Life. To me, the magazine rack in that barber shop was a veritable treasure chest. In those days, a haircut cost a buck, only women used hairspray, and phrases like animal rights and gun control hadn't been coined yet.

My first bows were fashioned from remnants of kites, after the March winds abated or I tired of being told to go fly a kite, whichever came first. The horizontal stick from the kite's frame, when strung with kite string, made a serviceable bow (for a six-year-old), while the longer vertical piece of the frame yielded a couple of arrows when it was cut in half. With these weapons, I roamed the orange grove near my Southern California home, slaying all sorts of imaginary enemies, forest dwellers, and jungle beasts. Depending on my whim, I became an American Indian, Robin Hood, or Tarzan.

When the Air Force transferred my father to the Pacific Northwest, I found that the vast forests of Douglas fir were more than enough entertainment for a nine-year-old. We happily fished nearby Spanaway Lake for yellow perch and rainbow trout, and once, Dad's and his KC-135 crew chartered an offshore excursion for salmon.

By then, my armament was more modern; a Daisy pump-action BB gun usually accompanied me on my forays in the woods. I did buy an inexpensive hickory recurve from a local hardware store, but it wasn't long before I'd lost most of my arrows and the upper limb of the cheaply made bow began to split.

Many years passed and the archery bug in me lay dormant until about five years ago. By then, I'd been pursuing whitetail deer and Rio Grande turkeys in West Texas for several years with scoped, bolt-action rifles, as well as using a scatter-gun against the plentiful waterfowl and mourning doves on the prairies near my Southeast Texas home. I was very pleased with the precision hunting handloads I'd developed for my rifles, and my long-range shooting skill was second only to a few.

But something was missing. I was sufficiently confident in my shooting ability that if a deer presented a suitable shot within 300 yards or so, the animal was mine. I still thoroughly enjoyed my time afield, but the excitement had waned. Hunting with an open-sighted revolver leveled the playing field a bit, but it still wasn't what I was looking for. Nor did black powder front-stuffers intrigue me.

Reenter the witchery of archery.

However, I had another problem. Twelve years ago, the elbow of my left arm (my bow arm) was crushed and completely dislocated in an auto accident. I spent the next three months in the hospital under the care of a talented orthopedic surgeon. The massive trauma to the bone and soft tissue, and the nerve damage I'd sustained severely impaired the functionality and mobility of my arm. No amount of reconstructive surgery and physical therapy could remedy that. Sure, I could get a statement from my doctor and legally hunt Texas' archery-only season with a crossbow, but to me, that was no different than using a short-range firearm.

So I paid a visit to a nearby pro shop, and was soon outfitted with an entry-level compound bow that I shot with fingers. Despite my injury, which, because of the permanent flex in my elbow, resulted in a very short draw length, I developed into a better-than-average archer. A couple of feral cats, a cottontail, and a tasty javelina sow fell prey to my bow. And while I didn't have a chance to take a deer, I learned more about whitetail behavior during one season of bowhunting than I had in over a decade of chasing these marvelous creatures with a rifle in hand. An additional plus was that there was only a handful of bowhunters on the Southwest Texas ranch where I hunted at the time, so I usually had over 3000 acres all to myself.

About three years and four compound bows later, I'd pretty much run the gamut of gee-whiz techno-gizmos that runs rampant in modern archery - overdraws, releases, peeps, fiberoptic sight pins, stabilizers, super lightweight shafts, and the absurd emphasis on speed, speed, and more speed. The hunk of magnesium and fiberglass in my hand had no spirit. Even my hunting rifles of blue steel and polished walnut possessed that. Besides, I was sick and tired of having to constantly fiddle with my bows to keep them shooting properly.

First, I bought a used one-piece recurve, a Browning Nomad Stalker, from a friend of mine. (I've since passed the Browning on to my 13-year-old stepson this past Christmas.) Next came a Grand Slam takedown recurve from G. Fred Asbell's Bighorn Bowhunting Company. And my latest acquisition is the beautifully hand-crafted flatbow, mentioned at the beginning of this story, that I purchased from Joe Don Jones of Genesis Self Bows in Ada, Oklahoma.

Admittedly, I don't shoot either bow as accurately (at targets) as I did those modern contraptions of metal, cams and cables. But I do have a heck of a lot more fun shooting them, and I'm pleasantly surprised at my stump-shooting accuracy. The wood of the bow and arrow, with its intrinsic beauty, seemingly has a spirit of its own that comes to life in my hands. Sexy and sensuous is one way of describing it. Maybe traditional archery brings out the romantic in me, or perhaps it somehow resurrects the spirits of my hunter-gatherer ancestors.

My training wheels are now history. Two of my compounds have been sold, a third was given to my oldest stepson last year, and the fourth sits on the consignment rack at a local archery shop, awaiting a new owner. All of my aluminum shafts have been given to my stepsons or placed into service as tomato stakes, because I've taken up the task of crafting my own wood arrows.

I'm proud to say that I've successfully introduced my three teenage stepsons, Randy, Casey, and Andy (ages 13, 15, and 16, respectively), to the magic of archery. And I was equally proud when the eldest scored on a nice nine-point this past season. Unfortunately, only the youngest has taken a shine to traditional archery. But as long as all three use their weapons of choice ethically, I've no quarrel with them.

I'd like to tell you that one of the does mentioned at the beginning of this story presented me with a textbook-perfect, quartering-away shot, but I can't. The trio reentered the woods about 20 yards outside of my effective shooting range, and they didn't reappear that evening.

As the twilight faded into black, a chorus of coyotes sang their greeting to the night. I returned my arrow to its quiver and lowered my bow and arrows to the ground. Removing my safety belt, I carefully descended my tree and began the long walk back to camp in the darkness.