Like lots of people of my generation, I loved reading “Cowboy and Indian” stories and watching Hollywood adventure movies throughout my childhood and youth. I was smitten with accounts of travelers’ and explorers’ experiences. I was fascinated by Errol Flynn acting as Robin Hood. Lex Barker or Gordon Scott playing Tarzan were OK, too. They were all brave and intelligent, they knew how to experience real adventures, and they all shot a bow and arrow. A free, adventurous life in Sherwood Forest or in the African wilderness would have suited my taste. With elegant and effortless grace, these fellas handled their longbows, generally leading a rather tranquil life between their exciting adventures. I could have imagined being a pirate in the Caribbean, a trapper, or a white hunter, like Clark Gable or John Wayne on safari in Africa. I still have and still cherish remnants of these beautiful, albeit unrealistic, dreams, very often to the chagrin of friends and family.
In the beginning of the 1990s, I started shooting the bow and arrow earnestly. Weapons stores that carried bows and arrows back then mainly had Bear products in their programs—the catalogues often depicted a lean, weatherbeaten man with a recurve bow, quiver, plaid shirt, and Borsalino Hat. Despite the fact that the compound bow was widely used for hunting, and Fred Bear himself sold many of them, he shot a simple recurve bow. That gave me food for thought and I traded my Jennings compound for a Bear Kodiak recurve, realizing that there was a different form of archery, more native, less logical, and more fulfilling—a form worth preserving.
After reading a translation of Saxton Pope’s Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, I knew that that was what I had been looking for. Reading Pope’s book, I learned a lot about the origins of our sport. By the time I finished the book, I knew I needed a longbow. I got a Ben Pearson “Ol’ Ben,” and I have only been shooting longbows and wooden arrows from then on, making quivers and arrows according to Pope’s descriptions. My friend Karl Hofmeister recommended Traditional Bowhunter magazine and I learned a lot about American archers and bow and arrow literature classics. Books by Howard Hill, Fred Bear, Robert Hardy, James Duff, Paul Comstock, Bob Swinehart, Bill Negley, Jay Massey, Dan Bertalan, and many other bow and arrow authors were gradually occupying my bookcase.
My poor English, which I learned at school many years prior, improved quickly as I read books and magazines only available in English. At first I bought a few classics like the Legends of the Longbow series by Glenn St. Charles, which was available as a reprint. But soon I wanted to have original editions, so I gave the reprints to friends who were less weird than I was and replaced them with the more expensive, and rare, albeit marvelous, original editions. Searching secondhand bookshops the world over became mush easier with the help of the Internet.
I am often surprised how little we know and how mistaken we are about the pioneers of archery. Not everyone wants to buy and read a great number of books. I have always wanted to have one book, in German, that presents the legends in archery and provides illustrations, stories, facts and figures—a book that is affordable for everyone interested. After years of unknowingly doing research, and a phone call to Austrian publisher Didi Vorderegger, I started writing articles on veteran bowmen for the Austrian archery magazine Bogensport Journal. This finally resulted in the idea of writing a book. I knew that the book would never be exhaustive or complete—there are too many details, too many avid archers of past and present that remain unknown to me. But this, perhaps, has made it possible for me to write a more enjoyable book, a book that offers a better overview than a meticulous reference work would have. For this book there is one aspect that is definitely unfair; I decided to write only about archers of the West. Their stories are well documented and most of the information on them was obtainable without too much effort. I have, therefore, avoided subject matters I am not that familiar with, such as the Japanese Kyudo, North and South American Native Archery, Asian, African, and ancient bowmen. I was not interested in describing the bow as a weapon used against men. I am also well aware that it was unfair not to write about the numerous, excellent tournament and International Archery Federation (FITA) archers. It would have been possible to do research on them by consulting scoring records, but I believe this kind of research would be too boring to present in an enjoyable and enthusiastic way. Anyway, there are top-notch FITA year books documenting the skills and achievements of these archers. Wherever possible, I indicated my sources. I have also included some original text from primary resources to convey the atmosphere of the good (remove) old times and provide an authentic portrayal of the archers.
Lots of, but not all, pioneer archers were hunters, too. In recent years, hunting has become a controversial topic for many people, and therefore I avoided writing about hunting scenes and hunting trophies, apart from a few exceptions. Judged according to today’s standards and values, many things done in the old times would not be acceptable today—of course, that is not exclusive to hunting. Curiously, nobody objects to historical reports on the bow and arrow being used as weapon of war. The widespread interest in war and murder is astounding, but when it comes to hunting, people get upset. I think a modern hunter intends to lead a more native life style, dominated by nature, making the most of everything it has to offer. Maybe he/she also regards hunting as an opportunity to reject our consumer society, believing that he/she (remove) could live without depending on supermarkets and the meat industry (bowhunters excluded!). For the hunter, it is not about right or wrong. He has mounted a few trophies on the wall; looking at them, he thinks, “Well, that was when I met my friends at that place, we were having a good time. What an adventure, we were soaked to the skin, trousers bloodied. The dogs did a good job and afterwards we had a few drinks and ate the liver, which I prepared fresh. And we were joshing about our shooting skills — just like a 100,000 years ago…” Those who want to hunt, just do it. Those who don’t want to hunt, don’t do it. The development of today’s traditional archery has always been closely knit with hunting. Bowhunting is certainly one of the fairest hunting forms. Everyone who has tried it will agree. I am impressed by the archery old-timers’ spirit, bravery, and love of adventure. I think one should regard their adventures as some kind of modern heroic saga. This book is about archery enthusiasts, their tackle, their works, and their lives.
For the benefit of the archers I will describe the tackle used on this hunt. All of us had yew bows. Our broadheads were made from saw steel and were 5’’ long, everything entirely home-made. I was shooting the lightest bow with a pull of 84 pounds. Ken had his old faithful of 103 pounds and Howard was shooting his 108-pound buffalo bow. –Walt Wilhelm,„Wild Boars and Bows,“ August 1936, Ye Sylvan Archer Magazine.
Peter O. Stecher’s Website: http://www.peterostecher.com