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As hunters, those favorites become part of what we live for, part of our identity, and part of the fabric that makes people who hunt such a diverse, yet tightly knit community.
My first favorite was a 20 gauge Remington 870 shotgun given to me by my parents for Christmas. I was 14 years old at the time I was given the shotgun and in the four years that followed, it would be impossible to count the number of squirrels taken with the well-placed number six’s that jettisoned from the gun’s fully choked barrel.
More importantly, that gun gave me my first opportunity to experience being alone in the woods, my first opportunity to be successful as a hunter, and my first opportunity to learn first-hand about our human connection to the circle of life. Having that 870 on cool autumn mornings in the woods meant freedom and I soaked up the feel of it like a sponge.
Many years have passed since the long cardboard box that held the Remington pump appeared under my Christmas tree, but that little 20 gauge is still in pristine condition inside my gun safe. No matter how many shotguns I have owned, this is the one that remains my favorite.
My next favorite was a rifle; a Winchester model 70 chambered in .270. This was also a gift and the first high powered rifle I ever owned. The gun is dead nuts even with factory ammo and will shoot a dime sized group with 130 grain bullets at 100 yards.
In 25 years of ownership, this rifle and I have forged a relationship based on trust. I take good care of it and at the moment of truth, it does not let me down. We have been fortunate to take many great game animals together over the years and one of those incredible creatures became another of my favorites.
Pronghorn antelope are hard to describe. Not only is there not another animal like them on earth, but with their sand and white coat color, distinctive ebony horns, and incredibly accurate eyesight they are both a stunning trophy and a worthy adversary. From the moment I saw my fist one loping across the vast and glorious grasslands of the Great Plains, I was completely smitten. It is no wonder that the plucky little antelope of the west worked its way to the top of my list as my favorite big game animal.
My pursuit of the pronghorn began at a time that I was considering a rather significant change to my primary method of hunting. For most of my hunting career I had used either a modern firearm or a modern compound bow. However, in an effort to connect differently to hunting’s history and in the interest of elevating my hunting to a new level, I decided to take up the challenge of traditional archery. And that is the subject of my next and, maybe even my most important favorite.
I first became familiar with the idea of custom traditional bows in the 1980s when a co-worker handed me a brochure for the Black Widow Bow Company. I was not a traditional archer at the time, so I gave the material only a casual glance, paying little attention to the photographs of the bows that many years later would become a key part of my bowhunting arsenal.
My first traditional bow was built in West Virginia and was a beautiful example of form and function. The only problem was that as a novice archer, I made the common mistake of ordering the bow in a poundage that was slightly higher than I could comfortably draw. As a result, my accuracy suffered and I eventually sold the bow and began researching other traditional archery options from the vast number of custom Bowyers who offered their unique, custom designs to the market.
I wish I could say that I immediately settled on one bow that became my permanent hunting partner, but that would have been way too easy and not nearly as much fun as trying out multiple custom bows. Among the bows I have owned are such names as Morrison, Robertson, Firefly, Marriah, Bear, Schafer, Horne’s, Hummingbird, Bob Lee, Black Widow, and Brackenbury just to name a few. While all of them have been fantastic, any bowhunter will tell you that the particular fit and feel of a bow in the hand is highly personal and that elevating a bow from the rank of fantastic to favorite is incredibly subjective.
In terms of favorites it has been said that there is only room for one at the top. While this general rule may typically apply to most things, as a traditional archer, I am not sure that the word “favorite” is synonymous with the word “one”. Allow me to explain.
My first Black Widow was a recurve built in a model called “Ironwood”. It was an efficient, sturdy bow with a dark, dense riser and responsive actionboo limbs. I used it to take my first traditional big game animal and one of my first traditional pronghorn antelope. To date, my collection of Black Widow recurves has helped me place first in a number of archery tournaments and place tags on a variety of game animals. Perhaps that should qualify this bow as my favorite, but since there are any number of factors that can contribute to the shootability of a bow in the hands of an individual archer, there are other notable bows which must likewise be considered.
Ric Anderson of Marriah Bows has built me more than one bow over the years. Of his bow models, I like his take down recurve called the Thermal best. With this bow in my hand, I have taken whitetails, wild hogs, and an absolute bruiser Wyoming pronghorn that was the happy end to a particularly tough and taxing hunt. It’s a bow that just “fits” and is built by a man who though quietly understated is a well-respected member of the traditional bowhunting community. I have owned a Marriah longer than any other single brand of custom bow, so clearly it is more than a casual contender in the category of favorite. The combination of this bow’s performance, smooth draw, and unique custom features place it very high on my personal list.
Finally, there is the venerable Schafer Silvertip. All I can say is that this bow is a shooter. I have not owned my ‘Tips as long as I have owned either my Widows or my Thermals, so I do not have the history with this bow that I have with the others. However, the bow shoots incredibly well and very accurately for me, so I fully expect to develop the same kind of successful relationship with the Schafer that I have with the other two mentioned. Shooting a Silvertip is just a joy and that alone ranks it high on the short list of possible favorites.
But in the end, choosing a favorite bow really boils down to answering this question: Which bow would I choose to use if I drew a once in a lifetime tag for a once in a lifetime hunt? For me the answer is all about reliability, ease of tuning, and shootability…the kind determined and demonstrated over years of personal experience with a particular bow and a particular bow builder. Only two of the three above meet that long-term criteria and honestly, they are both extraordinary bows.
While I would like to say that there is only one clear choice relative to which bow would accompany me on that hypothetical once in a lifetime hunt, that would not be true. Instead, I can report with confidence that in reaching for either the Black Widow or the Marriah Thermal, that I would be making a great choice. After a respective 14 and 16 years of ownership and countless critters taken with both of these special recurves, they have earned their position at the top of my list of favorites.
In the end, favorites are about our memories, about our experiences, and about our values. They are signposts signaling not just what things we like but why we like them. They tell a story about our journey as hunters and adventurers; a story that when combined with the story of other hunters creates a rich, shared collective to be handed down from generation to generation.
Everybody has favorites. A favorite gun. A favorite bow. A favorite game animal. A favorite place. What are yours?
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