‘Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too does he love the bow that remains constant in his hands’
WHAT. A. WEEKEND. I have been riding on an archery high ever since I got back from my first ETAR (Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezous) experience. The scenery was spectacular, the people were incredible, and the shooting courses were absolutely fantastic. I had no idea what to expect last week, but ETAR completely blew me away.
First off, if you remember from the last post before I left, I shared the video that got me interested in and started on the path of traditional archery. Among the people interviewed were a young brother and sister from north Jersey, Demetri and Effie. Well, I got to meet them! It was a completely random happenstance but basically as I was browsing the vendors tent admiring all of the high quality bows and arrows and leather quivers and braces I saw two very familiar faces. Very much uncharacteristically of me, I approached these strangers and asked if they were in fact, the same two people from that video. They were! I was ecstatic, and shared with them that it was that video and their words that got me interested in traditional archery and inspired me to make it to this festival. They were super nice and very happy to hear and offered words of encouragement. We exchanged numbers and, since the brother still shoots in north Jersey, he let me know where he usually goes (a park only fifteen minutes from my place) and hopefully sometime when we’re both free I can get out there and shoot with him!
They had just started browsing the tent and I was on my way out to finally hit the courses for the first time so we chatted for a bit before I headed off to the practice area just outside. I’ve really only had indoor range experience so the practice range was a necessary stop for me to get used to the new environment and setting and circumstances. That’s where I first got a real sense of just how big this festival really is. All across the back of the field you could see endless rows of campers and tents. It was like a small army had set up camp in the scenic beautiful woods of the Pennsylvania mountains. Over the weekend I’d come to meet people from NJ, NY, California, all states in between, and even people from as far away as Switzerland. There were plenty of archers just at the practice ranges, and even more tucked into the many gorgeous hikes carved along the park where the shooting courses were set up. I spent about a half hour getting used to the foam animal targets, figuring out where the target circles were on the bodies, and shooting from different angles not just straight down a lane, before I headed off to tackle the ten different courses.
So if you’ve never been to a 3D archery shoot, it’s very different from indoor target archery or even outdoor target archery. For one, the shoot is designed to mimic settings for a hunt, and the ultimate goal is to help archers practice for live hunting. So instead of round targets with painted circles, the targets are foam animals of varying size, shape, and design. Large black bears, bears on their hind legs, cubs, turkeys, bobcats, boar, deer, and even the random jackelope. Another big difference is that there are almost no regular straight shots. Since this is meant to be an outdoor natural shoot, often times you’ll either be shooting uphill or downhill, or at least from different angles. There might be small trees, brush, or bushes in the way. Fallen trees might obstruct or obscure certain parts of the animal. You only get one shot, and every target along a particular course is like a new problem to be solved. How you approach your shot, how you make your target, is between you and the woods.
Speaking of the woods, my god what an incredible setting for a shoot. Denton Hill State Park is nestled on the northern slope of Denton Hill in the Pennsylvania wilds. Almost the entire park is canopied by trees. It was cool, shaded, and the air was crisp and clean. The paths were marked but far from worn. Some steep climbs, drops, rocks, fallen trees, every step took you further from civilization and closer to peace and calm. Sometimes I almost missed sighting a target because I was already just so content to amble through the woods admiring the scenery. Being more than just a 3D shoot, being a traditional 3D shoot, also meant there was a real natural connection to everything. It was stick and string the entire time. In the dead quiet of the forest you would hear the distinctive whoosh of wood arrows being shot from wood bows. It’s a different sound than glass or compound bows. And the satisfying thud of hitting foam let you know when an arrow found its mark. There was something deeply peaceful and almost meditative walking through the nature trails and taking a shot at each stop.
What really made this festival memorable though was the people. I spent the weekend surrounded by some of the nicest, most welcoming, generous people I’ve ever met. Demetri and Effie were great and super nice, and on my way to my first shoot I met two other guys who ended up being my shooting buddies for the entire weekend, Kevin and Bobby. They were from upstate NY and had been hunting for years, and were so generous with the advice and knowledge. In one day’s worth of shooting and chatting with them I learned more than I could have learned in an entire summer on my own. They shared great stories of past festivals, shoots from all across the country, and hunting conquests and failures. But more than just Demetri, Effie, Kevin, or Bobby, the people of ETAR are incredible. No one really has any ego, there’s no judgement. Beginner, expert, we all go into the woods together and we all shoot together. And whether you miss or hit the target dead on, we all walk into the woods to pick up our arrows together before moving on. There’s no time, no opportunity, for ego to get in the way. There are some shots that will naturally come, some we’ll struggle with, beginners will hit when experts miss.
I’ve made some great new friends at this festival, and I’ve learned a great deal more in terms of my archery and practice. But now both, these relationships and my skill, are going to need me to put in the constant time and effort to continue to grow and develop. I don’t want to lose these connections I’ve made with genuinely nice people, and I don’t want to forget the lessons I’ve learned that will help me hit all my targets in the future. Now, as the archer and the person, I must remain constant.
Jerel says, ‘remain constant’.