When we meet someone that we want to pursue a relationship with, it is typically not too long before we meet their family. First impressions are usually important for most families. For me, I had been talking to a girl for most of my junior year of high school before I finally met her family. I showed up at her house to meet her mom, stepdad, and two sisters. Little did I know, my life was about to change in a major way. Now, 11 years later, I’d like to share my experience.

I did not hunt while growing up. My parents did not hunt, and my grandfather, who loved hunting, was unable to do so by the time I came of age. From what I heard from my grandfather, he loved going to Idaho to spend time on his buddy’s ranch. He told many stories from his time with friends, and how they cut and sold firewood in order to pay for hunting expenses without touching the family budget. My grandpa had many mule deer skull caps, an antelope, an elk skull cap and a dandy whitetail shoulder mount. He would always make jerky for the following hunting season snacks. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to get outdoors together. Besides my grandfather, I have heard stories of my dad and uncles doing crazy things as young boys who loved to get outside, but not much more. We fished here and there, but it was more of a fun way to get outside and spend time together, not a way of life.

I lived in the city and loved to participate in sports, primarily football and basketball, as a youngster. Hunting was never a thought in my mind. I didn’t have anyone to show me how, and I wasn’t exposed to it enough to really feel like I was missing out or needed to experience it. I did enjoy shooting BB guns, however, so I guess I can say I had something inside of me pointing me in that direction, but the nudge was not quite there yet.

Meeting the Family – First Impressions

When I went to visit my wife’s family for the first time, it was evident that they were a family of hunters, huntresses, outdoorsmen, outdoorswomen, whatever you want to call it, they were all involved in hunting. Old rifles on the wall, deer and bear mounts, elk sheds and a big, jet-black bear rug hung spread across the wall of the vaulted ceiling. Of course, her mom had flowers and other decorations in early to mid-spring, but to me, the other stuff stuck out to me primarily. I did not think of it as strange, but as pieces of history that each told their own story. I wondered of the memories and stories each item held. If they could talk, hear, see, smell—what each would describe from the outdoor world. Now, the nudge is starting to move into me farther.

The bows and arrows as you enter the shop.

Next was her dad’s house, also filled with blacktail deer, mule deer, whitetails, moose antlers, an elk, and along his storage containers hung hide after hide of different animals: elk, buffalo, deer, cougar, coyote and bobcat. He had guns and traditional archery equipment he had made himself, all around his house and shop. There were longbows, recurve bows, wooden arrows and quivers that lined a particular wall as you entered his shop.

Needless to say, I was surrounded by animals, hunting and gear—a world that I had not encountered too much in-depth before. But as you can imagine, a new lifestyle was born; a journey of learning and getting outdoors in a new way, with a new purpose, began.

The Journey Began

I was quickly engrossed in the hunting atmosphere. I began my online hunting course when I was 19 and finished in time for the opening day of deer season. After a few short years of rifle hunting, I made the transition to my now-wife’s family tradition, archery. I bought my first bow, a Fred Bear Alaskan 52 pound recurve bow, from my father-in-law. A short time later, we spent time with her grandfather as he taught me the ins and outs of building high-quality arrows. He helped me order the parts and construct a lethal arrow with my own personalized crest from a cresting machine that his  dad had built.

At that time, I did not have a place to store these arrows. For either Christmas or my birthday, my mother-in-law, also someone into traditional ways and attended many rendezvous in her time, hand crafted a quiver from tanned leather, pins, bear hide, beads and other small decorations. Now, I was ready to pursue my quarry.

My first year of bow hunting was all that I hoped it would not be: misses, injured deer, and arrows either broken or lost. I became more and more frustrated with my practice, my skills and the situations that occurred. But I persevered and was able to arrow my first deer with a bow, a blacktail doe.

The flood of emotions after arrowing my first deer was like nothing I have experienced before. It was the feeling and accumulation of everything finally coming together to meet a deep desired goal that I had.

A.J.’s father-in-law, Ken Schneider, teaching his son about bows and hunting. He is holding a bow A.J.’s wife used when she was young, and he is practicing shooting the arrows Ken had made. Ken’s father built the yew wood bow.

As a young adult just beginning to learn about and start hunting, I had quite the crew of mentors. I also had, I felt, a lot to live up to. Back then, I wanted to do anything I could to impress my wife’s family. Taking on this new challenge of archery with a bow and handcrafted arrows was taking everything to a whole new level. I was a little worried, because my father-in-law and his father have built bows since they were kids. They also shoot rifles, but when they do, it is old school single shot muzzleloaders. Otherwise, it is trad bows, longbows they have made. On top of that, they shoot arrows that they have handcrafted. They often refer to compound bows as bows with training wheels. Not out of being rude, as machinists they can appreciate the technology and meticulous aspects of a compound bow, but traditional archery is what their hearts desire. My wife, her sisters, and her cousins all grew up shooting bows and arrows that the dads, uncles and grandpas have built. As each child grew up, they progressed to the next bow, the longer arrows, farther away from the target. They grew up shooting bows, all of them.

Continuing the Tradition – Living it Out

Now, as a father myself in this family, I feel that same passion and desire to teach my kids, their grandson and granddaughter, how to shoot a traditional bow. It is now their turns to move through the ranks of different sized yew wood bows and arrows. It is their turn to move farther away from the target, and it starts with me and my wife. Part of creating and fostering the next generation of hunters and traditional archers is to start early, when they are young. It should be an engaging and fun activity to do together. It starts with getting a bow in their little hands with an arrow knocked and another yellow jacket target in their sights.

Archery, especially longbows, can teach kids so much. It can teach determination, consistency, dedication, perseverance, and passion, only to name a few. It is an activity that is so much a solo task but also a family activity. It is something we can do together, and I encourage anyone else who loves archery as much as we do, to get your kids out there. Show them how to stand correctly, how to draw back, find an anchor point, release that arrow without jerking and how to hit that mark they so wish to hit. But remember their age. Don’t push too hard. You know your kids more than anyone else does. Take your time, they don’t have to master everything after day one. And take the time to reflect your course of action when going out to practice. How do you encounter a miss? A wildly flung arrow? A mistake? Your kids are watching. What you do, they will emulate. Therefore, showing your kids you love something by your actions and how you go about your routines will hopefully breed passion, a drive to learn and a love for whatever you’re doing, especially archery.

Now, it’s all about living it out. In our living room there is a 6-point elk rack that holds my family’s four traditional bows. My recurve, two longbows made by my wife’s grandpa out of yew wood belonging to my wife and 4-year-old son, and another target longbow. The elk rack also is a placeholder for my son’s handcrafted quiver and small arrows as well. We are not perfect and do not get out as much as we would like. But with those colorful arrows and bows hanging above our couch, it is a constant reminder of something we all love to do. When we wonder what we could do, it helps remind us that with the ease of grabbing one of them and a handful of arrows, we can walk into the yard and fling some arrows down range. We try to practice when we can, and to get our kids outdoors as much as possible. Since you’re reading this, I imagine you too have a passion for both of those things and would love to do the same with your family.

My wife and I want to continue the tradition of a family of bowhunters, shooters, builders, and creators. It is a new level of commitment, dedication, skills to learn and is downright fun for the whole family to experience God’s amazing creation, the outdoors.