By Kenneth C Olson (posthumously)
-The following memoir was written by my late father, who we lost to cancer in March of 2021. He wrote it in the winter of 1997 for a small newsletter I was editor of at the time, and I recently came across old issues of said newsletter. My father and I were alike in many ways, not the least of which was our love of writing. In an attempt to preserve dad’s typed stories and articles, I will share them now and then here on “The 8wt Fiasco”. I hope you enjoy one man’s story of how it all began for him. Miss you dad, and thanks for passing on the tradition. Uncle Ron would be proud.
Quite a few years ago, I was introduced into the world of traditional archery. Actually, it was plain ole archery back in the 1950’s. I don’t remember my exact age at the time, but I believe I was around the age of seven or eight years old when I received a phone call from my uncle Ron. My birthday was coming up and he’d called a week or two in advance and asked to speak to me. When I got on the phone, Uncle Ron asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told him I wanted a bow and arrow. I’d received the toy ones with rubber suction cup tips, but I felt I was ready for something that would last more than a couple days of shooting at cats.
When my birthday arrived not long after that phone call, I received my first real bow and set of arrows from Uncle Ron and my Grandpa Davis. Both were the outdoorsmen, fishermen and hunters in our family. The bow was a youth fiberglass longbow, about fifty inches in length. I don’t recall the brand name, but I do remember the limb ends seemed to curve forward just a little bit. I was so happy and proud. As I received some instruction from Uncle Ron, I listened impatiently and quickly said “thank you” to him and Grandpa. Then I ran out of sight on make believe hunts in the backyard and the fields surrounding our home.
I managed to lose some of the target arrows that I had received with the bow, and I spent hours looking under tall clumps of grass with desperation and worry. I lost some and found some, but my arrow supply began to dwindle over time. I kept the bow for quite a while and it was not until I had carried the bow for several years that I passed it on, finally giving it away to an old girlfriend’s younger brother. I did it in hopes of making a kind gesture and to secure my acceptance into their family. I would still have that bow to this day, had I been any wiser. Thankfully, Uncle Ron offered to let me use his Martin Mamba recurve, which was fifty-eight inches long and had a fifty-pound draw weight. It was a “real bow” in my eyes and Uncle Ron’s prized hunting bow. For some reason he allowed me to use it along with a leather back quiver and his homemade cedar arrows. Some of the arrows had field points, but a dozen of them had Hilbre brand broadheads. They were matching sets; crown dipped in red with white, black, and gold cresting lines and fletched with two white shield shaped hen feathers and a red cock feather. Uncle Ron also let me use his cresting machine, feather burner, taper tools, a bow and arrow rack, a shooting glove, and an arm guard. Why he allowed me to use it all, I never knew. I was told it’d go back to him when his two sons, Randy, and Raymond, became of age to use it and learn from him.
Uncle Ron demonstrated his archery abilities one day, to show me how accurate I could become with practice. He put one of his homemade arrows to the string of the Mamba, and I watched as he drilled an apple from what seemed to me to be one hundred yards away. It was probably closer to twenty-five or thirty yards but seemed a lot further to me in my youth. Either way, he hit the apple dead center. This impressed me and I began to teach myself how to shoot instinctively. Uncle Ron was my “Robin Hood hero”, and always would be.
My first real “kill” with a bow was while hunting the Sugar River bottoms, about four or five miles from our home in southcentral Wisconsin. I had been watching a red fox squirrel that was on the ground and I managed to stalk within ten or fifteen yards, maybe closer. I then let a broadhead arrow fly. It hit him perfectly and the cedar shaft was protruding from both sides of the critter. The arrow had knocked the squirrel off his perch atop a downed log and he quickly bit into the shaft just behind the broadhead. However, his attempt to rid himself of the arrow was futile as he abruptly expired. I removed the arrow from the dead rodent, wiped the blood on my pants and returned home with my prize. I was proud and excited as I quickly walked home with a cheese eating grin on my face. I cleaned the squirrel and showed my dad when he returned home from work. Mom then turned the squirrel into a delicious dinner.
Over the coming years I shot at deer while hunting the wood lots that surrounded our humble home. I never killed anything except squirrels, rabbits, and gophers back then, but I kept shooting my uncle’s bow and arrows as I got older. I never was shown how to use the arrow making equipment and wish now that someone had shown me how, or I had taken the initiative to learn.
Several years later the bow was returned with everything else to my Uncle Ron. I had volunteered for the military draft and began a career in the United States Army. While other obligations would be part of life from then on, I still managed to purchase several recurves and trade them to would be bowhunters over the years in hopes they would find the gratification that I did while shooting traditional bows. Many years later, I now own several recurves and longbows, as well as some self-bows that were made by a dear friend and accomplished bowyer. I’ve enjoyed hunting deer, squirrel, rabbits, geese and wild turkeys with a stick and string. I have also enjoyed flinging arrows at make believe bears and mountain lions while stump shooting.
One December in the late 1990’s, while in Wisconsin visiting my cancer-stricken mom, I was able to visit with my Uncle Ron. It had been many years since I had seen my longtime “Robin Hood hero” and bowhunting mentor. Uncle Ron knew I was coming to see Mom and after some catching up, he told me that he had brought me something he wanted me to have. We visited mom for a while, then walked out to the hospital parking lot where Uncle Ron’s van was parked. More catching up ensued and then he handed me several wooden arrows which looked very familiar. He had given me eight of the broadhead arrows that he had made years ago (1953 to be precise), along with some wooden target arrows that I didn’t remember using. The hunting arrows were the same ones I had used those many years before. For a few minutes I was young again, remember all the hours of enjoyment those arrows had provided me while growing up. The shafts were aged and darkened to an orange color, and they were dusty from years of sitting idle, waiting for someone to rescue them from their storage space. The white hen feathers were darkened from dust but still attached securely from the fletching glue even after all this time. The red cock feathers were slightly faded, looking almost an Osage orange color from the sun. The original white mercury speed nocks were still in place and functional. I was elated and very thankful, as well as speechless. After managing to express my thanks and shake Uncle Ron’s hand, I bid a sad farewell to my “Robin Hood hero”.
When I returned home to Missouri, I quickly went to my den with the arrows, which were all taped together at both ends. I removed the electrical tape, which secured them in their sacred bundle, and slowly removed each one carefully. All but one had the feathers intact. I carefully, and almost religiously, removed the dust from the shafts and broadheads. Then I began looking at each shaft, individually wondering if the one I had made my first “kill” with was in the group of eight. I soon found the small teeth marks on one of the shafts, right behind the broadhead. After further investigation, I could see one small red and black colored hair, still clinging to the shaft behind the point. Again, I daydreamed my way back in time to the day I had shot the fox squirrel. I was thankful to Uncle Ron for his kindness and for giving me something I hope I have given to my sons, the joy of traditional archery. I know they will hand down this tradition to their children one day. It’s something that can’t be accomplished with a compound bow, a rifle, or a shotgun. Maybe for some, but not for me.I left the squirrel hair in its place upon the arrow shaft and separated the arrow from the other seven. I placed four of the arrows on my wall along with my two cedar Ben Pearson arrows. They are amongst old friends and in a place where they are respected and appreciated. The arrows all sit silently, as if knowing they’re home and in good hands. Someday those arrows will belong to my sons, divided up equally, where they’ll hold dreams and promises of future hunts and yesterday’s adventures.My uncle Ron gave to me what I hope every traditional archer gives to others; an introduction to traditional bowhunting where simple time and simple (but effective) equipment is appreciated.Thanks Uncle Ron, my “Robin Hood hero”, for giving me something I love, enjoy and am proud of being…a traditional bowhunter.