The largest area of growth within the bowhunting community is the female contingent. Lady archers are coming on strong. That’s no surprise to me. As a fan of competitive archery, I’ve seen some impressive scores laid down by women over the years. If you happen to know a woman who has shown interest in archery or bowhunting, seize the opportunity to ignite the flame that drives us all into the woods every autumn in her.
Last year, an acquaintance of mine, Kathy, asked me to teach her how to shoot a recurve. She enjoys a wide variety of avocations, including beekeeping, quilting, and watercolor painting. At first glance, she did not appear to be a likely candidate for bowhunting. Her only previous experience flinging arrows was in the 1970s, when she had a brief dalliance with a red fiberglass bow in junior high gym class. We all remember those clunkers.
Her father introduced her to the outdoors early on, taking her camping and fishing. But in his opinion, the shooting sports were for his sons, not his little girl. So, she was left behind during hunting excursions. It was a different era. When she asked me to show her the ropes, I happily agreed. I’m always eager to welcome people of any age into our sport. She said that for many years she had wanted to try bowhunting, but she had never known anybody who was into it.
Jeff hosts a local annual archery competition, and Kathy, after less than a year of shooting, took first place in 2020.
Initially, she borrowed my daughter’s 20# recurve, and she loved shooting it. “The flight of the arrow is so graceful,” she commented. “It’s beauty in motion.” After a few months, she wanted to graduate to a heavier draw weight. I handed her my son’s 30# longbow, and once she had gained the necessary strength, she was shooting it with confidence and accuracy. This was a good start, but I should mention here that we were struggling against a persistent handicap: although she is left eye dominant, she insisted on shooting a right-handed bow. Despite my suggestions, she stubbornly refused to go lefty. When she finally decided to purchase her own bow, I was adamant that she at least try being a southpaw for a day or two. It took some getting used to, but after adjusting to the initially awkward draw and anchor, she discovered that her shooting improved. Now it was time to get serious about selecting a bow.
I showed her countless options, from high-tech recurves constructed of manmade materials to stunningly designed wood-laminated works of art. She immediately dismissed budget-priced bows. She was determined to go high-end. She had come into a bit of a windfall recently and was not afraid to dip into it. Being a woman with an aesthetic bent, she chose a custom bow that would have looked more at home hanging in a museum than being dragged through the rocks and brush of the Colorado mountains. I warned her that once she became a hunter, her masterpiece would get dinged and scratched. “That’s fine,” she said. “At least it can be a perfect 10 for a little while.”
Let’s face it. As traditional archers, we love a pretty bow. That may sound superficial, yet I don’t think I’d be out of line by stating that most of us at one time or another have succumbed to love at the first sight of a special bow. I have on countless occasions. My first heartthrob was a Howatt Hunter, and it was a real beauty. That was just the beginning, however. Next came a Black Widow. And there were many others. Whenever a looker crosses my path, I’m a pushover.
But a visually stunning bow is no good if it does not perform well. Most bowyers are mindful of function as well as appearance when fabricating their bows. If you’re shopping for a custom recurve or longbow, it is wise to stick with reputable craftsmen or craftswomen. These days, you can easily find customer reviews online. Avail yourself of any and all information pertaining to your bow of interest.
For quite some time now, I have been an advocate for giving back through mentoring. Primarily I have helped young people get involved in archery, bowhunting, and the outdoors in general. Disadvantaged youngsters have been my main focus, but I won’t turn away older folks who express an interest in our lifestyle. Kathy, being in her late fifties, showed just as much enthusiasm as any teenager I’ve come across. The archery bug can hit somebody at any stage of life. If you’re an experienced bowhunter (and many of our readers are), and you happen to encounter someone like Kathy, by all means take her under your wing. You’ll be glad you did.
As traditional archers, we all recognize the magical quality of our pursuit. And to varying degrees, we appreciate its aesthetic aspects. From the beautiful arc of an arrow in flight, to a dozen home-built cedar arrows, to a handcrafted recurve of the most perfect design, our world can inspire. The artistic aspirations of a top bowyer have no limits.
Something very interesting happened one day while Kathy was watching my fifteen-year-old daughter, Adele, shoot her bow. Unlike my son and older daughter, Adele shoots with a high draw. I have always found that intriguing, because she did not learn it from me. But Kathy observed something deeper. “She has a real elegance about her.”
While men and women may respond similarly to the same stimuli, they may use different words to describe their response. I had often referred to Adele’s style as “cool” but had never considered the word “elegant.” Kathy had hit the nail on the head, however, with a far more apt description. I understand that in today’s genderless society, we must tread lightly when tackling the subject of male/female differences. Nevertheless, Kathy’s comment convinced me that at the very least female semantics are distinct from male semantics. Perhaps women have a keener appreciation for beauty in general.
Or maybe Kathy, being an artist, is simply more closely connected to the aesthetic realm. At one point, while examining the riser of her new bow, she stated, “This really is a work of art!”
It occurred to me that she was approaching archery from a unique perspective. Back in the day, I couldn’t have cared less about the way my bows looked. In fact, I used to spray-paint them to eliminate the glossy factory finish and create a hideous camouflage pattern. As I watched Kathy scrutinize the intricate wood grain of the recurve’s handle, it was evident that she had a far more acute appreciation for the beauty of archery.
It’s always entertaining to witness a fledgling archer’s enthusiasm. Kathy, from her very first arrow, was smiling and gushing and asking questions. When she decided to order a custom bow, she called me daily to chatter away about the details of her recurve. Which limb veneers would compliment her riser? Should she go for footed limbs? What about deer antler limb bolts? So many choices to be made! And she was relishing every moment of the process.
For women in particular, a custom bow is a terrific choice. Kathy, for example, has tiny hands and a short wingspan. A skilled bowyer will accommodate a shooter’s special requirements. Factory bows cannot meet such specific demands. A standard grip, for instance, may be too blocky for somebody of Kathy’s dimensions. Or a bow may have a low-wrist grip when the archer prefers a high-wrist grip. When ordering a custom bow, you lay out all of your specs. Then it’s up to the bowyer to meet them.
After several months of shooting, Kathy was ready to put her skills to the test. Each year I host a local barebow competition. While Kathy lacked confidence, she decided to enter the field and compete against far more experienced archers. She took first place. Now she was eager to move on to live targets.
Her first hunt would be for small game. I am a firm believer that introducing someone to the wonderful world of bowhunting must be a gradual process. There are way too many stories of a novice hunter being soured by a faulty hit on a deer or another big game animal. So, after much discussion, we agreed that a rabbit hunt would be ideal.
The result of Kathy’s first bowhunt!
I took her to a buddy’s ranch. Following a brief series of instructions, I let her loose, trailing her by 50 or so yards. She was on her own and could call for help if she needed it. Slipping silently across the Colorado prairie, she was now a bowhunter and not just an archer. Sure, she missed a few, but by the end she was proud to have bagged a couple of cottontails. When I asked her how she felt about her first bowhunt, she grinned from ear to ear, closed her eyes momentarily, and replied “It was beautiful.”
Kathy’s evolution was complete. She had finished the course. In less than a year, she had gone from a total greenhorn to a successful bowhunter. It was a wonderful journey, filled with joy and struggles. At times, she was quite discouraged, but ultimately she prevailed. I was happy to have assisted, but it was her achievement. And nobody will ever take that away from her.
The author is a freelance writer living with his two children, Victor and Adele, in Simla, CO. His books, Stickbow Trails and Traditional Archery Adventures in The Modern World, are available on Amazon.
Equipment Notes: After much contemplation, Kathy finally decided on a Stalker Coyote recurve. She absolutely loves her new bow and cannot wait to take it deer hunting.