Traditional archers hit the mark


Last updated 6/7/2022 at Noon


Six-year-old Easton Hatfield of Estacada nails a moving target during a traditional archery shoot in the woods near Camp Sherman.

Roughly 300 archery enthusiasts showed up for the 13th annual three-day rendezvous event known as Stick & Sage. Held under a special use permit issued by the Deschutes National Forest, the group gathered just west of Camp Sherman, deep in the woods.

Lenny Ferris leads TACO —Traditional Archers of Central Oregon.

“We have 140 registered archers this year, the first after a COVID hiatus. That’s down from our usual 150-200, probably due to the cost of gas,” he said.

With family, friends, vendors, and the curiosity seekers, it grew the crowd to some 300 who came to see the 8,000-year-old practice kept alive — in Deschutes County at least. Archers from four states were registered for the non-competition event. Three courses were arranged so that the traditional and primitive archers could test their skills.

Life-size soft foam animal targets are scattered around the woods. Known as 3D targets, there were full-scale elk, deer, bear, turkeys, and a wild boar hidden in the trees. The camping event was clearly all about fun.

“Stick & Sage is all about camaraderie,” said Ferris.

He cited in contrast the more than half-dozen statewide competition events, where archers compete for money and the rivalries are intense.

The event is intergenerational, providing opportunities for young archers to match skills with older, more experienced marksmen. Fun is a major design component for the affair, including the targets themselves, one a dinosaur and another a COVID-19 ball, a sphere that resembles the virus’ cell.

Easton Hatfield of Estacada is six. Not only did his arrow strike the evil COVID, but he did so as it was swinging through the air. Later, 32 lucky archers, some who stood in line for hours for the limited spots, took their aim in the Milk Jug Competition, in which 96 gallon jugs were shredded by dispatched arrows.

What is a traditional bow?

A traditional bow is one with no mechanical additions: no sights, range finders, cambers; no gadgets, just a sleek design. The kind you’ve probably seen in movies like “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” series. Hollywood loves traditional equipment because of its easily recognizable and undeniable aesthetic quality.

Traditional bows are naturally beautiful, and shooting them is a harmonious experience, because there are no gadgets to interrupt the flow of your shooting. While accuracy is more attainable with a high-tech compound bow, traditional bows often give more gratification in exchange for immediate accuracy, users say.

Traditional archers employ two primary bow designs — recurves and longbows. The bow chosen is largely personal preference. A recurve bow has swept tips that curve away from the archer. Recurves typically shoot arrows at faster speeds than what straight-limbed longbows can deliver. Longbows lack the recurve’s curved tips, but when strung they have a graceful bend and classic design that dates back centuries.

They are not always wood. Traditional bows can be composites, made from wood, animal horns, and sinew. The bow is laminated together. The sinew and horn bow can store more energy than a purely wood bow of the same length. The origins of the composite bow date to Asiatic farmers who used them for daily activities.

Today, wood and fiberglass or wood and carbon fiber combinations are common, and bows can be remarkable works of art, with inlays and other embellishments that can fetch close to $1,000, although $500 to $600 is the typical cost of entry to the sport. At Stick & Sage, vendors displayed about $25,000 in merchandise.

Traditional archery is organic, with many target shooters and hunters making their own bows and/or arrows. Yew is the favored wood. Likewise, they repair their own equipment when needed.

“It’s not so much as a hobby, but a way of life,” said Vanessa O’Dell from Sherwood, Oregon, as she took aim and hit a 3D bull elk from 45 yards.

If you’re “old school,” advocates say it doesn’t get much better than traditional archery. The bow and arrow have been around for thousands of years. The tool has provided food, protection, and recreation since its creation. From Genghis Khan to Robin Hood, this form of archery has enlivened imaginations and yearnings for simpler times.

The new technology in bows makes pinpoint accuracy attainable, but not everyone agrees they are better. Whether at a 3D target range or stalking the woods for game, many apparently prefer archery in its more traditional form. And the appeal of bowhunting “the hard way,” as their ancestors did, is simply too much to resist — for this group anyway.


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