STICKS AND STRINGS: For the Backwoods Bowhunters, hunting with traditional bows and arrows is the ultimate challenge
Johnny Pappan prefers things old school, including his way of hunting.
“If I have to go out and put meat in the freezer, I have been known to take a rifle,” said Pappan, who turned 65 just last week. “But most of the time, I take a bow.”
And not just any bow. Pappan shoots a longbow. Just a stick and string. It's something he's done for almost 60 years.
“I've been shooting since I was a kid,” Pappan said. “I'm Kaw Indian and my grandfather built me one (longbow) when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. I have had one ever since.”
Pappan is not alone in his love of traditional archery. The large majority of members of the local Backwoods Bowhunters club are traditional enthusiasts as well.
“We have everybody in our club, but the majority in our club are traditional hunters,” said Backwoods Bowhunters' member Chuck Witte of Yukon. “We are probably 90 percent traditional."
On Saturday and Sunday, the club will be hosting the annual Southern Plains Traditional Archery Championship at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
It's an event that draws anywhere from 500 to 600 archers each year, including shooters from neighboring states Arkansas, Texas and Kansas.
The Southern Plains Traditional Archery Championships began in 1988, when it was first organized by the Oklahoma Longbowmen. Backwoods Bowhunters, which has its own archery range in Canadian County, took over the event in 2001 when it appeared it might end.
“We all value traditional archery and wanted to make sure the biggest shoot in the state remained alive,” Witte said. “We just wanted to make sure it kept going.”
Hundreds of traditional archers will convene on the grounds of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant next weekend to compete on a 25-target course that simulates hunting scenarios.
“We put them out there in the woods, in the brush, normal habitat for them to be in when hunting,” Witte said.
The contestants will attempt to hit animal-shaped targets (elk, buffalo, javelina, turkeys, mountain goats, etc.) from various distances and positions.
Sometimes they will have to kneel, stretch, lean or even stoop to thread an arrow through trees to hit a saucer-sized “kill zone” on the target. Points are awarded based on the location of the arrow strike.
Being a championship shoot, the Army post course will be more difficult than most 3D shoots, Witte said.
“We will challenge them on some of the shots,” he said. “You will be surprised how many trees get whacked.”
Saturday's competition will feature longbow and recurve shooters. Sunday will be fun rounds and selfbow competition.
The Southern Plains Traditional Archery Championships began when the deer hunts at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant became traditional archery hunts only.
The whitetail hunts on the grounds of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant are one of the most sought after hunts in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's controlled hunts program.
Hunters must apply and win a lottery for a chance to take one of the impressive bucks that reside on the Army post grounds.
In the early 1980s, conservation managers at the Army post decided that success rates among bow hunters were climbing too high with advances made in compound bows, so they switched to traditional archery equipment only to make the hunting more difficult.
The restriction was unpopular at first, and to help build interest and support for the hunts, a traditional archery tournament was started. It's grown to become the biggest traditional archery tournament in the state.
In fact, traditional archery is now so popular that every year in March the Oklahoma Selfbow Society hosts the largest primitive bow building event in the country, the Oklahoma Selfbow Jamboree (OJAM) on a farm near Perkins.
Pappan has made a few longbows of his own and custom-makes his “Kawstick” arrows that he sells.
Both he and Witte prefer a stick and string over a gun or modern bow when hunting.
“Traditional archers are hunting deer 25 yards and in,” Witte said. “You really start becoming a hunter to get them in that close.”
Proficiency with a longbow or a recurve requires year-round shooting, said Pappan, who started the Backwoods Bowhunters club in 1987.
Pappan once had an archery shop in Canadian County. He started using compound bows during that time because he thought he should learn more about the equipment he was selling.
But once he quit the archery business, he returned to the way of hunting that his grandfather first taught him.
“I have had my time with guns and everything else,” said the Vietnam War veteran. “With traditional archery, there is a challenge. You've got to get closer.”
The Southern Plains Traditional Archery Championship
Where: McAlester Army Ammunition Plant
When: Aug. 5-6: Books open at 6:30 a.m. both days
Entry fee: $15
Contact: Johnny Pappan, (405) 863-5736
Definitions: Longbows, recurves and selfbows are all traditional archery equipment.
Longbows are the earliest bows ever made and have the traditional half-moon shape. Recurves have curved ends and are more powerful and faster than longbows, which are quieter.
Selfbows are bows made from a single piece of wood.