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A Letter to Howard Hill - by Joe Sanders


Rob DiStefano:
As one of the forefathers and pioneers of modern archery, Howard Hill has had many enjoyable trips to the field.  His prowess with the longbow is legendary, and his uncanny ability to hit what he aimed at with the longbow will probably never again be duplicated. He has attended many archery tournaments and to my knowledge has never finished in less than 1st place.  Even though Mr. Hill is no longer with us, I felt compelled to write him a letter describing my enjoyment at one such tournament.


Dear Mr. Hill,
   Have you ever wanted to go some place or do something where ever minute or so, there was a new experience?  Where all the people are friendly, and where the setting could just as easily as not been out of the pages of a Louis L’Amour novel? Well, the 2nd Annual North American Longbow Safari outside of Creston, Washington was just such a place.  I left home at 8:00 P.M. with a slow moving overloaded camper, and it was dark by the time I rolled down the canyon road to a meadow filled with campers, teepees, tents, practice butts and people.  All with the same intentions in mind; 2 days of comradeship, story swapping and fun.  I felt as though any minute I might see a string of horses staked out in the trees, a pack of dogs trying to uproot a family of ground squirrels, or a half dozen braves trying to out do each other in contests of skills.

   After groping around in the dark for about 30 minutes, I finally settled on a camping spot that was both good and bad.  While it was high on a hill overlooking a less populated area of meadow, and affording the kind of privacy I have come to treasure, it was also a considerable distance to the main hub of activity.  I suppose I’ll have to learn to take the good with the bad. BAD?  What am I talking about?  It was perfect.

   I imagine it was about 10:00 or 10:30 by the time I had camp set up and a flu-flu in the jig waiting for the glue to dry.  So I decided to check out the lay of the land on foot.  So I stuck a Coke in my hand and started the trek down the hill. On the way, I met Randy Jones, who was tactfully, if not accurately directing other late comers to the best camping spots available.  (It was Randy who directed me to mine.)  Thanks Randy.  Farther down the road I walked past a group of three teepees. One of the teepees had a young woman’s voice coming from it, with the accompaniment of a guitar. Not a professional voice, but very pleasant just the same.  By the time I managed to trip, stumble and fall the rest of the way in the dark to the meeting area, I encountered Jean Anyan. She told me “No, Keith isn’t asleep. He’s out visiting somewhere.” Keith Anyan is the bowyer that made my longbow. I suppose a fellow who loves the sport of archery with a longbow so much that he devotes all his working time and past time to it, couldn’t possibly sleep in a place like that.

   I hadn’t been sitting down for more than 5 minutes when Doug Halverson joined me and explained the Fun Shoots would take place Saturday and the Trail Shoot would be on Sunday.  We talked awhile about activities, longbows, dull broadheads, (everybody had them) and snakes.  I never saw even a garter snake while I was there.  It was getting late so I started back up the road, ½ mile or so to my camp to sleep. To sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream of an elk hunt in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

   I swear it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes after I set the alarm when it went off.  I threw something at it and that didn’t work, so I had to struggle through the chilly morning, aching bones and drowsy head, to get up and shut it off.  The elk hunt in the Bob Marshall Wilderness never happened.  I figured that if I didn’t brush my teeth and get some coffee in my mouth soon, I might as well terminate the rest of the weekend.  So after taking care of the morning necessities that accompany any camping trip, I headed once again down the hill toward what everyone promised would be a good time.  I hadn’t gone far when I spotted another late-comer parked about 100 rock throws from everything.  That big ugly green pickup and camper looked familiar so I went over to see if I could recognize anyone.  Sure enough, as I walked around the back of the camper, there was Bob McCluskey explaining the functions of a longbow to someone pretending to believe him.  We chatted for a few minutes, shot a few flu-flus and I took off for the central meeting area.  I was seeing more and more fellow members of my archery club and it made me kind of proud to be wearing our club’s emblem.  

   As I rounded the last bend, I saw something I should have expected but didn’t.  I had never seen so many longbows in one place in all my life.  There were white ones, green ones, red ones, long ones, short ones, black ones, brown ones and grey ones. I thought out loud; “Man, competition is going to be tough. We’re all in the same class.”  A feeling of warmth came over me.  Warmth, in that I was a part of this large and friendly group of people.  Win loose or draw, everyone there was determined to have a good time.

   Something else I hadn’t expected was the setting. As big and pretty as the meadow I talked about earlier was, this meadow that the meeting area was in, was even bigger and prettier.  It was 10 times larger, and any area that didn’t have archers in it, had lush tall green grass.  Once again I thought of a Louis L’Amour type setting.  It would have been a perfect place for an Indian camp, or a herd of buffalo or a wagon train passing through.  The meadow was ringed by trees and they in turn were ringed by high green canyon walls.  You couldn’t have created a better place for a longbow shoot.  

   After I managed to wolf down a couple of blueberry muffins and a giant cup of coffee, I decided it was time to do a little practicing.  On my way to the practice range, I overheard someone say, “There sure are a lot of people sporting Anyan Longbows.”  I felt good to be carrying one.  Mine is 69” long and a 62 pounder with a 28” draw.  It’s made of 3 laminations of hard rock maple with dark gray fiberglass laminations on the back and face.  It has a slightly contoured handle for comfort and is the sweetest shooting bow I’ve ever shot.  I don’t get much of a chance to shoot my bow with broadheads and much to my surprise, I discovered a much better arrow flight with broadheads that with field tips.  

   After about 30 minutes of practice, a voice came over the P.A. system, “Everybody gather around. It’s time to get started.”  They grouped all of us into about 30 groups of 5 or 6 people each, and separated each group by 2 or 3 target assignments.  This would allow a maximum number of people to shoot the field course without too much bottlenecking.  As all of us were shooting longbows, after each group pulled arrows out of trees, logs, and limbs, we would all move equally slow and fewer groups would bunch up while shooting the field course.  

   The first order of the day was an event they called the Bow Birds.  A fellow would hunker down behind a wooden barrier and toss 9” discs into the air.  The distance you had to shoot was only about 10 or 12 yards.  Sounds easy huh?  Out of all the people there, only one shooter hit all five targets.  I managed to miss the first 4 and then accidentally dead centered the last one.  From a distance, the Bow Birds looked like quite a difficult thing to do.  From the shooting line it looked simple.  After shooting five rounds, I found out I was right the first time.  With each group shooting from one station, and three stations to shoot from the Bow Birds event went quite smoothly, and we were all done in time for lunch.  We had an hour or so before we had to be back for the running deer.

   After a brief respite in Larry Toombs camp, a little Bravo Sierra and a California Cooler, it was time to head across the creek to the other side of the Alder thicket for the Running Deer.  This event had us shooting from 5 different shooting stakes, and off the top of a rise, through the trees at a range of 25-35 yards.  The deer target coasted downhill on a cable and maintained quite a respectable speed.  It was a lot of fun and after my turn to shoot was over, I wanted to do it again, but time wouldn’t permit.  I finished up with 3 near misses and two solid wounds.  Two points. The winner of the event finished with 8 points; a kill shot and 3 wounds.  

   “So much for the fun shoots” I thought until I heard that later that evening there was going to be a 185 yard shot at an elk.  I wanted to shoot in that event but my body from the waist down was really tired, and from the waist up I think was already asleep.  So I crept off to bed.  I needed the sleep desperately, but had I known what was going to happen later I would have forced myself to stay up.  I don’t know whether I dreamed it or it really happened, but I think the fellow that won the Elk Shoot, got a heart shot on his very first arrow.  I hope it’s true. Wouldn’t that be a phenomenal shot?  I came to find out also, that after the shoot, there was a couple of presentations.  One by Glen St. Charles and the other a slide show of “Bow Hunting The Wild Rivers of Alaska” by Jay Massey.  I could have kicked myself.  

   Sunday morning, after going through my morning ritual, I was too eager to get started so I skipped making my own breakfast.  So I donned my garb and pointed it back down the hill.  After chopping down an excellent breakfast prepared by the Boy & Girl Scouts of the area, it was time to get started.  I was teamed up with Jim Jones, Randy’s brother.  He’s a field tester for Eddie Bauer and hunting guide in the Brookes Range and the Chandelar of Alaska.  Also in our group was Don Martin of Martin Archery in Walla Walla, Washington, a fellow named Al, who finished in 3rd place over all.  And another fellow named Jack.  I was in good company!  We started on target #65 so it wasn’t far to walk.  But the course was another story.  It involved 70 targets and was a long way around.  I won’t bore you with the details; just suffice it to say it was an excellent course.  Long shots, close shots, mid range shots, singles and herds.  Absolutely nothing boring about the way the course was set.  There was one particular shot that I think was the best looking shot I’ve ever seen.  It was a shot down hill across a small canyon at a Mountain Goat sitting in the rocks.  If you missed the shot, your arrow was a goner, and I don’t think there was a single shooter who opted not to shoot.  That’s where I wasted my first arrow.  About 7 ½ hours later, we came strolling back into camp.  Bodies depleted of essential energies, quivers depleted of arrows, and smiles.  What a fabulous shoot.  

   Looking back on it, I wish there was another longbow shoot coming up. We could call it the 2 ½ North American Longbow Safari.  Pondering the total exhaustion and the total good time, I think I’d have to flip a coin. Heads; I’d shoot it again. Tails; I’d sit this one out.  Does anyone have a 2 headed coin?  I feel more than just a mention of the Copenhavers, and the Iff’n Archers of Creston, Washington is warranted.  They put on, with their tireless efforts and generosity, ONE GREAT SHOOT.  They should all be justly commended.  Thank you. I came away enchanted and I will be back.  Thanks also to Rich Garcia for the last ride up the hill.  Jerry Gillespie wound up winning 1st place and he didn’t have to part with his wolf hide.  Jack Weber, friend and fellow archery club member wound up in 4th place.

~ Joe Sanders, 1984


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