Discover the fun and freedom of old-school bowhunting

by Jeff Kavanagh | October 13, 2021
Male hunter wearing overalls and a plaid shirt carries traditional bow over shoulder as he walks through tall grass and wilderness.

I had to watch every step I took through the thick grass, reeds, and bulrushes. I was making my way alongside the meandering stream in the lush flats below the beaver dam. Previous experience taught me how mallards would hang out in the cover of these creeks midday for the safety they provide. I had to be ready, because around any corner a bird could frantically erupt from the water. Jump-shooting ducks this way has been a tradition in our family for years, handed down to me by my grandfather. It’s a great way to hunt on those bluebird days when the birds just aren’t flying. On this particular hunt, I wasn’t carrying my trusty pump shotgun but instead my Bear Grizzly recurve bow. You see, no one ever told me it was too hard to shoot a duck out of the air with a bow and arrow, so I didn’t know any better.

Just short of the beaver dam with an arrow nocked and ready, I peeked around a stand of bulrushes when a drake exploded off the water to my left. Instinctively, I lifted my bow with the same confidence as my shotgun and let my arrow fly hitting the bird in the head and dropping it like a stone at about 15 yards. It was one of those shots you remember for a lifetime. My friend hadn’t even gotten his gun up, and commented later around the campfire that the shot was likely 30% skill, 30% luck, 30% karma, and 10% zen. I reckon he wasn’t far off the truth.

To most, hunting with traditional archery equipment seems out of the question. When I talk to people who come into the bow shop unfamiliar with it, they always have the predetermined notion they “could never do that.” They think it’s “too difficult, and it takes too long to learn.” As with everything else, the more you learn and understand, the easier it becomes.

Freedom from technology

Traditional archery gives me a freedom I can’t seem to find shooting a compound or crossbow. Archery at this level is at its purest form, just a stick and a string without any of the technical, mechanical devices compound and crossbows have. It’s for this very reason I love it so much. When I pick up my bow, I’m in the moment and entirely focused on my target, not worrying about yardage or making equipment adjustments to make the shot. I can loose an arrow at a target as fast as I can think about it. I’m not using sights, rangefinders, release aids, only my skills developed over time with practice. Traditional archery does take more dedication and time to learn; however, that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach and that anyone can’t learn how to do it.

The mindset

The mindset of a traditional bowhunter tends to be different than most. Generally speaking, they usually have a passion for shooting. To a traditional archer, there’s just something extraordinary about watching the flight of an arrow. Honestly, I’m not sure if I hunt because I shoot or if I shoot because I hunt. It’s like the chicken and the egg all over again. Which came first? A traditional archer will typically shoot thousands of arrows a year, but that’s the fun of it, and that’s what traditional archery is all about, fun.

A common question between traditional bowhunters is, “How close were you when you shot?” not, “How far was the shot?” Any die-hard traditional bowhunter will tell you the hunt is all about trying to get close to your quarry. That’s not to say that shooting with traditional archery equipment means that you can’t shoot longer distances, you can. But there’s just something very primal in the feeling when you enter the woods with a traditional bow, and the complete sense of satisfaction you enjoy when you’re successful. That special feeling never subsides when using traditional equipment. It continues every time. Perhaps that’s why it’s so compelling?

Shooting and bowhunting

Traditional archery opens up many new opportunities for recreation, which are unfamiliar to other shooting disciplines. A traditional archer can still participate regularly in field tournaments, 3D-archery shoots, and indoor 300 rounds, etc., which are common to other forms of archery. But being almost synonymous with traditional archery, there is also roaming and stump shooting, shooting moving and aerial targets, and even trick shooting. All of these enjoyable activities provide excellent practice for bowhunters.

Bowhunting with traditional equipment doesn’t mean you’re confined to game such as deer, bear, and moose. Small game seasons for rabbits, squirrels, groundhogs, and varmints are also available, and there is bowfishing. Then, as above, there’s my favourite, wing shooting for birds, like pheasants, grouse, ducks, and geese. These activities are part of the freedom I was referring to by not being weighed down with technology and using my wits and skill to make the shot when it counts. That’s what traditional archery is all about and why it would be worthwhile to add traditional archery to your game. It will add to your hunting skills and help make you a well-rounded archer.

Jeff is best known for his incredible skill with a recurve bow and for his encyclopedic knowledge of traditional archery. He is also passionate about gun dogs, upland game, turkey, deer, and waterfowl hunting. Reach him at, Instagram:@jeff.kavanagh.9

Originally published in the Fall 2020 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS Magazine

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  1. R compton wrote: Wow ! What a great great article. Plain. Simple and oh so true. Thank you for this. Puts things in perspective.R.