In Minnesota, a traditional bow – and family – tradition

Andover, Minn. — Put a traditional bow in E.J. Gudowicz’s hands, and you put a smile on his face.

So it was difficult to tell if it was this traditional bow shoot or the recounting of recent traditional bowhunting success that had him smiling especially wide recently.

Probably both. Because, as he noted on a trek through a course at the Rapids Archery Club in Andover on Sunday morning, the two most certainly go hand-in-hand.

“I like technical stuff like this because it’s more like what you see in the treestand,” said Gudowicz, 33, of Duluth. “That’s the way I treat all of the 3D (targets) season: I’m a hunter first and foremost. But I shoot as many events as I can.”

And he has no doubt that events like the 28th annual Rapids Archery Traditional Shoot, held Saturday and Sunday, have a lot to do with the success he enjoyed with a traditional bow this past archery deer season.

“Last year was a good year for me. I filled my buck tag in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Gudowicz said. “The one in Minnesota was from 13 to 14 yards, through balsam deadfall. The deer just happened to step between a couple of branches.”

Those are the sorts of shots Gudowicz and about 250 other traditional bow users encountered – and embraced – during the weekend at the heavily wooded club on the fringe of the Twin Cities metro. Participants had their choices of three different courses, or loops, with 20 targets per loop. Most shots were from 15 to 25 yards, and most of the foam targets – of pretty much every hunted animal imaginable, from bighorn sheep to antelope to bear and deer – demanded a shot through cover, at least to hit the “vital ring” on each animal.

There was a makeshift scoreboard in the clubhouse. But keeping score was not required, and for those who did, no prizes were offered. No, this is more of a social event, a gathering place for those who embrace traditional bows – longbows or recurves that don’t include sights, stabilizers, or other accessories, or simply “sticks,” as many call them.

“It used to be 10 percent traditional. But that’s growing,” longtime club member Rob Bullis, of nearby Elk River, said of the general bow-shooting population. “People are looking for more of a challenge. When you’re shooting a stick, you have to shoot all the time. … And a lot of the traditional shooters didn’t like to go to compound shoots. They didn’t like the (longer) distances there.”

“When I started shooting sticks in 1984, there were only a few other people who did it,” said Kevin Kemp, of Andover, a member of the club for about 35 years. “There were no books, no videos. A lot of people are going back for simplicity. Compound shooters are more serious. We screw around,” he added with a laugh.

Yes, there is definitely something to be said for the laid-back atmosphere at this shoot, participants said.

“I’ve done this shoot 26 times. No one has shot it as many times as me. The people here are friendly … they’re family,” said Kyle Olson, 60, of Two Harbors, adding that, “I gave up compound bows 20 years ago. I’m strictly stick bows now.”

“As a whole, everyone is a lot more laid-back (at traditional shoots),” Gudowicz said. “Everyone is relaxed. “

That was evident Sunday morning, as participants came and went from loop to loop as they pleased, covering the various courses at their own pace. The group of Gudowicz and his 9-year-old son, Keegan, and Olson let a few faster groups “play through” as they enjoyed the course and each other’s company. Gudowicz said Olson got him into traditional bows about eight years ago.

“It’s both,” Gudowicz said when asked if it was more of a social event or competition. “Every time we (he and Olson) shoot, it’s a competition with each other. But it’s also like a family reunion here.”

And families were on full display this Father’s Day weekend, with young boys like Keegan, as well as young girls joining their dads, along with some moms, for this year’s shoot.

“What we’re hoping for is getting the next generation of kids,” Kemp said. “It’s why we like to see families and kids here. It’s the future of this thing.”

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