The Strugglestick Addiction: Part I

By Aron Snyder, Host of Kifarucast

If you would have asked me a few years ago what I thought about traditional archery, you probably wouldn’t have gotten much of a response from me. It wasn’t that I disliked it, but I definitely didn’t have any ambition to pursue it either. So in early 2016 when I decided to shoot and hunt with nothing but a recurve, it was as much of a surprise to me as it was my friends. The decision actually started because of the responses I received from a podcast that I did with the Gritty Bowmen on ethical shot distance.  I discussed the accuracy of a compound compared to a recurve and also talked a little about some of the distances I’ve killed animals with a compound bow. This podcast got a great response from the compound world, but I received some serious blowback from the traditional community! The standard response from the traditional community was simple:

“Pick up a recurve and see how good of a hunter you are!”

“You’re using a compound as a crutch and you wouldn’t kill anything with a stick bow.”

After reading through several of these comments I figured, What the hell, I’ll shoot a recurve, how hard could it be?

Sometime in mid-January 2016 is when I actually made the decision, I put a text message together and sent it out to some of my closest friends. The text was simple;

“I’ve made the decision, going full trad this season!”

Ryan Avery was the first to reply and he was in full support; Paul Gustofsen came back about the same time and he was just as excited! Some of my other friends were supportive but questioned what the hell I was thinking at the same time.  At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter what anyone said, as I had made up my mind and was going to follow this hair-brained idea all the way through!

As it turns out, it was WAY more difficult than I anticipated, but brought a new-found love of archery that had been missing in me for a long time! So the adventure began, but there was a big problem…I didn’t know what the hell I was doing! Lucky for me I had one of the best traditional archery shops in the world, Rocky Mountain Specialty Gear, about 10 minutes from my house.  The owner, Tom Clum, is one of the greatest coaches in the world. I could write a book on the knowledge that was handed to me from Tom Clum and his two sons, Danny and Tommy, but I’ll go over all that in a different article. What I can say without question is that I would not have been nearly as successful without them.

Fast forward about three months, a few thousand arrows, and a lot of time with my buddies Paul Gustofsen and Dave Zeidman on the 3-D course and mountainside stump shooting. I did my best to practice every day and basically read, listen, and watch everything I could about traditional archery to get me ready for what was to come!

Kansas Turkey

My first hunt was with my good friend Matt in Eastern Kansas for spring turkey and it ended up ranking as the most fun I’ve ever had on a gobbler hunt.  Matt and his brother, Jason, (both great friends) played college basketball and at 6’7” and 275lbs, Matt’s not exactly a set of car keys! I’m not exactly Frodo Baggins myself, so when we stepped inside the blind I was curious if I was going to be able to even draw back this giant bow I was now packing around?

Matt had the blind positioned perfectly and it wasn’t long before we had several birds within 20 yards of the blind. When they first approached, I actually grabbed my camera since I wanted to try and document this journey, but that turned out to be a mistake and after about 15 photos and 45 seconds, the birds bugged out of there. Matt has always known me as a shooter, so when the birds walked off, I’m pretty sure he was wondering what the hell I was thinking.  I went ahead and cut that question off at the pass,

“That was stupid of me.”

“You think?” was his reply.

We got a bit of a laugh out of it, but he assured me that they would be back at some point. He was right and with a little calling they came back in an hour later and this time the camera stayed in my backpack! The birds that came in were four big toms that Matt called “the Governors,” as they all had beards dragging the ground. When the Governors got to 20 yards, I was doing my best to keep my shit together and keep the typewriter leg to a minimum! The adrenaline rush I was getting from this (yes, even a turkey, I know) was like nothing I had felt in a long time with my compound bow and all the things Tom had taught me were rushing through my mind all at one time!

Matt whispered, “Alright, he’s at 18 yards, take the shot!”

The Tom was slightly cornering to me with his head down, so I slowly drew my bow, hit anchor and did my best to execute as much back tension as possible. The arrow released…it felt like time was moving in slow motion but still traveling faster than I could deal with.  As I watched the arrow in flight, all I could think about was the spot I’d picked on the turkey and hoped the hunting Gods were looking down on this day. Just before my arrow reached the turkey he picked his head up and thwack! I hit him right at the base of the head. This was definitely not the spot I had picked, but I won’t complain as my first animal with a recurve was laying on the ground in front of us!  I kept thanking Matt over and over for letting me hunt on his land and hanging out with me in the blind. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime type of feeling and I’m happy I got to share it with Matt and his family!  The feeling of letting that arrow go will never leave my memory.

British Columbia Black Bear

This was my first time hunting bears in British Columbia and the man that invited us is a one of a kind! Jeff Lander owns Primitive Outfitting and has been guiding hunters in BC for many years. Jeff is also a traditional archer and I’ve received a lot of guidance from him (both on archery and life) since this hunt took place.

On the second day of the hunt, I had Jeff’s lead guide, Garry and my good friend Brian Call by my side. It was late afternoon and we were driving up to the high country heading to a burn area were Garry has had great success spotting bears. Somewhere between talking about life and talking shit, we had a good-sized black bear run in front of the truck. It headed a few hundred yards uphill into the burn and luckily enough, stopped to feed on the bunch grass.

We pulled the truck ahead into some cover and started to get a stalk figured out.  It didn’t take much planning, as the grass and brush was head high in many places, so I did what I normally do and charged up the hill in hopes to get within range. It wasn’t long before I closed the gap from 400 yards to 40, but 40 was a par two for me at this time and I didn’t feel comfortable taking a shot. I had Tom Clum and Jeff Lander’s voices going off in my head,

“With a traditional bow, the hunt will begin where it ended with your compound.”

Let me tell you…THEY WERE RIGHT! This was a whole new thing for me and as the bear fed at 40 yards, all I could think about was how dead he would have already been with my compound. That didn’t really matter now, as I had a stick in my hand and not a compound, so I tried to ease my way in to within 20 yards. I slowly closed the distance but after about five minutes, I lost total sight of the bear and figured I had blown him out.

I headed back down to the road to let Garry and Brian know what happened. Brain met up with me on the road and to my surprise, the bear hadn’t gone anywhere and I had just lost him in the underbrush of British Columbia. This was great news as I had eyes on the ground this time and knew what I was heading into for the next stalk. I headed up a creek bottom to the bear’s right. This allowed for great cover the entire way. I would occasionally peak my head up to confirm his position, but for the most part, I was able to walk right up the hill without issue. When I got to where I was adjacent to him, I slowly crept out of the creek bottom and tried to get a decent range on him. I was slightly depressed to find out I was still 40 yards away, but I had good wind and the bear had no idea I was there.

After a few hair-brained ideas flew through my mind, I thought,

Hey dummy, use your mouth and mouse squeak at him.

It worked like a charm and after about 10 seconds of my best impression of a small rodent, he was on a straight line heading my way. At 20 yards the bear hopped up on a rotten log, looking for the noise he’d been hearing. I had no problem taking a frontal shot, so I went to full draw and released. The arrow hit nothing but the air between the bear’s paws and my heart literately fell out of my chest.

Good Lord Snyder, what the freak are you doing? All of this hard work and you screwed it up with a bad shot!

Luckily, the bear had no idea I even shot and I loaded a second arrow. You can damn sure bet this one was going to hit its mark! The second arrow blew straight through him and he ran about 15 yards and stopped. I loaded a third arrow, but he took off into some alders and I lost sight of him. I waved to Brian and Garry to come up and then went to look for my arrows.

Brian and Garry got up the hill quickly and after a few minutes of me telling the story over and over, we started the tacking job. The bear only traveled about 75 yards before he expired. This was a huge relief to me as I thought I had shot him a little far back initially.  This hunt was a roller coaster of adrenaline and emotions, but I was jacked through the roof with excitement and becoming more and more addicted to the strugglestick!

Idaho Black Bear

I should have known after my string of success that my first ass-whooping had to be on its way. As much as I’d like to leave this out of my story, with all the BS that goes on in the industry, I feel it needs to be talked about. No matter how hard to try, animals get wounded and all you can do is prepare yourself for the hunt as best you can and hope for the best.

Ryan Avery is as close to a brother as I’ve ever had.  So when he invited me up to North Idaho to hunt black bear I couldn’t get there fast enough! I had killed a giant black bear with him the previous year with my compound, so I was hoping my luck would continue with the strugglestick! Ryan is the one who actually came up with the term “STRUGGLESTICK” and has taught me a lot about traditional archery in the last couple of years.

Selway Archery Custom Quiver

So there I was, hiking back into the area I had shot a black bear in the year before. I knew the area somewhat, so I figured I’d just hang out in the same spot and hope for the best. It took me about an hour to make the hike in and I didn’t really have much of a plan. It’s really thick in this area, so other than sitting and hoping for something to come feed on the lush grass, I didn’t really have any other options. I got some food out and started to chow down behind some cover.  Soon, I was about half asleep after my snack when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a black ball coming my way! I thought to myself,

You’ve got to be shitting me….I can’t believe this is actually happening again!

I quickly started to assess the situation and figure out how the hell I was going to kill this bear. He was about 60 yards away and I really thought he would just walk right into my lap, but in hunting nothing usually works out that easy. This wasn’t any different and the bear took a hard left into the thick timber. Me being the aggressive hunter I am, slowly worked my way up to the path he had taken, glassing into the wood-line as methodically as possible. When I reached it and hadn’t spotted him, I knew he had to be close by as I hadn’t heard him blow through the timber from seeing me. I had a lot of things going on I’m my mind,

Slow down, asshole! You’ve got a stick in your hand…

But I didn’t listen to the voices and kept on pushing forward. One of the things that I couldn’t get out of my mind was how dead this bear would have been when he turned at 60 yards to go into the timber…if I had my compound! I’ve been told this is normal when you first go with trad, but I wasn’t liking it so far.

I was scanning the forest like a mongoose on crack, looking for any movement I could. I was just about to step into the first set of old growth when I saw a big black furry-ass black bear about eight feet in front of me!

Oh fudge, this silly little guy was napping behind a tree to get out of the sun, I thought.

I’m guessing he saw me about the time I saw him because he stood up on his hind legs and tried to figure out what the hell I was. I was busy trying to get my bow drawn, but the movement blew him out and he dropped down and started running uphill. The only thing I thought to do was huff at him, so I did my best impression of a bear and it actually worked! He stopped at 22 yards, and I released the arrow! My bright fletchings looked clear as a bell as they sailed through the air and entered the bear’s thick black coat. It looked like a decent enough shot, but I wasn’t totally convinced he didn’t turn away a little after the shot possibly turning the shot into a one-lung hit.

The bear sprinted straight uphill and I kept a good eye on the path he took. I didn’t want to push him, so I just went up far enough to find my arrow. It was covered in blood, but at the pace he went uphill, I was definitely worried. I’ve seen plenty of mortally wounded animals run uphill after the shot, but most of them tip over pretty quickly. I figured I better put a dip in and chill for a while, so I headed back down to my gear.

Later, when I got back on the blood trail, I figured one of two things would happen; I’d find him dead in the first hundred yards or I’d find a bed with coagulated blood in it with no bear to be found. I ended up with option two and after a lot of tracking never found the bear. It was definitely a one-lung hit but what could I have done differently to make sure this didn’t happen again?

I practiced enough and the shot was good, so that wasn’t the issue. I had the discipline to hike in to a good spot and be still enough for the bear to come in, so that wasn’t the issue either. I quickly figured out that I needed to come to the understanding that the tactics I’d used with the compound just were not going to cut it. I needed to slow down, be more patient, and look at each situation like I had a strugglestick in my hand, not a compound.

This hunted ended and was the last hunt of my spring seasons. Back at home, I now had all summer to prepare myself for the fall hunts.  I worked harder on my shooting form and practiced as much as I could, but above all, I knew that I needed to re-invent my hunting style; the days of my shooting skills compensating for my lack of patience were now over!

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Strugglestick Addiction Part II