Remembering Art La Ha, Wisconsin’s bowhunting pioneer

Contributing Editor

Bowhunters all across North America owe a great deal to a man
most of them never heard of. Art La Ha passed away in 1994, but his
legacy is as strong today as ever. Few men have done more to prove
that a bow and arrow are an efficient and humane means of taking
game.

We may take for granted such modern tools as compound bows,
adjustable sights and graphite arrows. Without the concerted
efforts long ago of La Ha and a handful of archers with longbows
and cedar arrows, however, we would not likely be hunting deer by
bow and arrow today.

La Ha grew up in Winchester in Vilas County. As a boy, he roamed
the woods with a bow and helped feed his family with small game he
shot, but he only dreamed of shooting a deer with a bow. While out
hunting one day, he chanced upon Roy Case, the Racine industrialist
who killed a deer with a bow and arrow under special permit during
the 1930 gun season.

That was the first deer taken by bow in modern times. The feat
galvanized La Ha, who worked closely with Case and others to
promote the sport. In 1934, Wisconsin became the first state to do
hold a separate archery season for deer. The season was closed in
1935, while biologists studied the impact of the first hunt. It was
reopened in 1936 and has run every year since. Held at first only
in Sauk and Columbia counties, the archery season was gradually
expanded to the entire state by 1949.

The archers had to convince biologists and wardens alike that a
bow could kill a deer consistently and humanely, and that archers
would not wound and lose a lot of deer. With La Ha’s help, they
succeeded.

La Ha started guiding bowhunters while still in high school.
Later, he and his wife, Ruth, operated The Bear supper club and
hunting lodge. Each fall for nearly a half century, La Ha guided
bowhunters from across North America. His bowhunters took over
5,000 deer, and they rarely lost one, thanks to La Ha’s tracking
skills.

La Ha’s hunting style was unorthodox by today’s standards, but
it was effective. He would pack several dozen hunters into an old
school bus and drop some off as standers, then put the rest on a
drive to push deer. Every drive was named for some feature of the
landscape, and most used natural barriers like a steep hill, river
or lake to funnel deer. La Ha, who bragged that he had probably
“walked on every square yard of Vilas County at least once,” knew
exactly where deer would run when pushed, so his hunters took shots
measured in feet, not yards.

When a deer was hit, La Ha checked the blood trail and arrow, if
it was found, and decided on the tracking plan. He once froze a
whole deer carcass and sawed it in half lengthwise to study it. He
could tell from a tuft of hair where a deer was hit, how far it was
likely to go and how long to wait before following it.

La Ha published his advice in magazine articles and in a little
booklet called “Trailing Tips,” put out by the American Archery
Company, of which he was president.

La Ha introduced his hunters to “raven trailing” as a means of
finding wounded deer, a technique he learned by observing these
northwoods scavengers

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