I recall years ago, encountering a certain “Herd Bull” on a couple of traditional archery forums, and feeling inspired by the photos and stories that this person shared. A short time later, I discovered through the pages of TBM, that this “person” was actually Mike Mitten and his exploits in the field were truly legendary. A role model that I looked up to and inspired to be like. I’ll never forget the day that a co-worker of mine (Dan Heitstuman, former owner of Stotler Archery) wanted to borrow a new bowhunting DVD that I had just purchased, and offered to let me borrow some of his DVDs in return. He brought a stack of DVDs to loan me that included a few of Howard Hill’s old films, Masters of the Barebow, Eastman’s Bowhunting Journal – featuring South Cox—and a copy of Primal Dreams. I enjoyed them all, but the film produced by “The Brothers of the Bow” and “Herd Bull Productions” had me mesmerized. I’m certain that it was played on a continuous loop in my house for months. Needless to say, ol’ Dan never got his movies back, and in turn…neither did I. But I was ok with that.

At some point in time, Mike and I ended up trading emails and phone numbers and have kept in touch over the years. More recently it’s been through the odd text message from time to time; checking in and sharing photos. This past month on the 29th of August, Mike sent me a text message that only contained a web link to a podcast. I immediately began downloading it to my phone and asked him for an explanation. His next message was comprised of a series of bow photos, and then he explained that South Cox of Stalker Stickbows, Gary Hall of D&M Custom Arrows, the gang at Selway Quivers, and Tim Nebel of The Push had all concocted a tribute package in his honor, with 20% of the proceeds going to the Professional Bowhunters Society. He conveyed how deeply humbled he was of it all, and that he had thought of me and wanted to let me know before the limited number of bows sold out. He told me that there would only be a total of ten packages made, and that he knew that a few had already sold. Knowing that I didn’t have the funds on hand to take advantage, but wanting to get the scoop and do my part in promoting this tribute to Mike, I immediately reached out to South Cox for further info. He regrettably informed me that all ten packages had already sold out! Exactly one day after the podcast was released and the joint social media posts had been made; all ten packages had been sold out! If that doesn’t attest to what Mike Mitten means to the Trad community, I don’t know what does.

In the Getting Into Gear column we usually cover current and available products and related pieces of gear. But even though this tribute package is no longer available, I still felt strongly that this was an event in time that definitely deserved the press. And who knows, with South’s history of building tribute bows…you just never know! Given the short amount of time it took to sell out, it’s very possible that all parties might agree to extend the run. One could only hope. Digging into this deeper, you might wonder the reason for this tribute to Mike NOW. After all, things of this nature are usually to raise money because someone is sick, or has passed away (see the Bart Schleyer tribute bows that South also built). In this case, it all stems from a conversation that Gary Hall, Tim Nebel, Drew Kohlhoffer, and later South Cox had at the Kalamazoo Expo, which was continued further at the “Greenhouse Shoot”. The subject was legends of traditional bowhunting, and honoring them while they are still alive to see how much they mean to the traditional bowhunting community. They discussed Mike and how much he meant to each of them, and the impact he’d had on their combined traditional journeys. The film Primal Dreams that I had mentioned earlier, as well as Mike’s book One With the Wilderness came up as leaving a deep mark on each of them.

How do you honor a living legend? Gary and Tim were the main spearhead behind this idea. With Gary being the fine arrow smith that he is, and Tim having the marketing bandwidth of The Push behind him, the possibilities were already wide open. They quickly roped in South with the idea of building a bow fashioned after Mike’s own “Herd Bull” bows. All that was left of the equation, was a fine quiver to complete the package. I’m not certain, but I believe that Gary and Tim’s sheer enthusiasm is what pulled in Drew and the Kohlhoffer family at this point. After the details were worked out and they finally brought Mike into the conversation, the question was posed: if 20% of the sale price goes to charity, where should it go? Mike has been involved with the Professional Bowhunters Society for at least three decades and is very passionate about their mission statement. So of course, that’s where he wanted the money to go to. And then it was so!

Years ago, Mike had discussed building his own bow, with both Paul Schafer and Bart Schleyer. He ended up building a series of three bows that he called “Herd Bull”. The last in the series (“Herd Bull II”) was a one-piece bow that was patterned from a Wes Wallace take down. The previous Herd Bull bow had been made from Pau Ferro and Bolivian Rosewood, but didn’t withstand his preferred 65# draw weight. So, for this next bow he decided to use Bubinga with a solid fiberglass strip that ran the length of the riser. He finished the bow shortly after his wife Paula died of cancer, in 2009, and went on to kill both Alaskan moose and Illinois whitetails with it. So obviously he felt a very strong connection to this bow. This is the bow that South Cox and the rest of the gang decided to pattern their tribute bow after. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll find that very interesting enough, the pedigree from Wes Wallace, to Brackenberry, to Stalker Stickbows are all connected, and can be seen in both Mike’s own Herd Bull bow, and South’s Wolverine model. It’s very fitting that the long riser version of the Wolverine is used for the base of the Herd Bull Tribute bow, as well as the same Waterfall Bubinga and solid black accent stripe that Mike’s bow utilized.

If you’ve ever watched the film Primal Dreams, you might recall the scene where Mike is toting two bucks over his shoulders and walking away into the distance. No doubt this has inspired and fueled the bowhunting dreams of many. Gary wanted to include this image, and with everyone in agreement, the image was converted to line drawing and is engraved onto each bow riser. Along with this iconic image being engraved onto the riser, each is also numbered from 001-010. The bow was offered with either recurve or longbow limbs, in lengths from 56” to 64”. An included Selway quiver with an image of a moose shed antler and “Herd Bull” is engraved onto the hood. The 2219 aluminum arrows included in this package are truly works of art. Patterned after a set that Gary made for Mike awhile back, your eyes are indulged with four beautiful, bright orange “Swift-cut” fletching, spliced with yellow and orange barred feathers. Orange dipped with black, silver and yellow cresting, complete with the Mike Mitten quote: “self reliance can’t be bought” is sealed onto each shaft. Besides the fact that Mike is so respected and revered in the Trad community; the bargain price of $1,349.00 might have also lent to the ten packages selling out in record time. South commented that he often has bow builds by themselves go for much more.

I have a feeling that this project has set a new benchmark and has paved the way to further honoring these “living legends” of the trad bow community. Who will be the next to receive tribute, and perhaps raise money for their favorite cause? I can think of several worthy candidates that I’d love to share a campfire with, hear their stories and in turn let them know how they’ve impacted my own traditional journey. Who would you choose?

*Parting shots: I’d like to thank everyone involved in this project, and to thank Tim Nebel for kindly loaning me his photographs. Each of these humans are fine ambassadors themselves, impacting the traditional bowhunting community in a positive way. Their efforts are helping to pave the way for the next generation to follow.