Sticks, Strings & Wild Things

Sticks, Strings & Wild Things

By Mike Tomano

May 2, 2022

© 2022 Fossil Entertaiment Group / Michael Tomano

Christmas 1976, I received a gift that would change my life. Under the tree was a yellow fiberglass Bear Archery bow and a half-dozen cedar arrows. I was stunned. Matter of fact, I didn’t bother opening any other gifts. I strung it up, headed to our snowy backyard and shot a cardboard box for hours. I kept it leaning against my bedpost that night, the vinyl hip-quiver dangling from its top limb.

Every day, I was in the backyard, flingin’ arrows through empty milk cartons and cardboard boxes after school. I wandered the nearby prairies and shot stumps, snakes, wolf spiders, mice. Seemed I couldn’t miss!

I became obsessed with archery and bowhunting. I started fishing with my father at a young age. That exposure to nature and the lure of the chase, along with stories and articles in Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, fueled a desire to add hunting to my outdoor adventures.

Though we lived in Chicago, our neighborhood was bordered by several miles of factories, behind which lay endless acres of woods, swamps, and fields. The railroad tracks that ran along the edge of I-55 were rife with stretches of tall grass, woodlots, ponds, and prairies. For us city kids it was a woodsy wonderland. Behind The Chicago. That was the unlikely place the wild cast its spell upon me.

After shooting the fiberglass youth bow for a couple of years, I was ready to upgrade. I’d pour over the seasonal catalogs from Sears and Cabela’s, making equipment wish-lists. My buddy Mark Lapen was already an avid bowhunter and had killed many rabbits with his Indian recurve. He had the latest Bear Archery catalog and I thumbed through it, marveling at the new line-up of gear. I was determined to save my chore money to purchase a new bow.

My father took me to Archery Custom Shop in Forest Park, owned and operated by the slightly cantankerous Don Schram and his kind wife, Jean. They had a wide selection of bows, arrows, and accessories.

As we browsed, Don shared stories of hunting with the great Fred Bear. Don was a founding member of The Pope & Young Club. He opened his store in 1948 after Fred made him a regional salesman and distributor for Bear Archery.

With a pocket full of 8th grade graduation party cash, I jumped into the modern archery world with the purchase of a Bear Kodiak Special compound bow. One hundred dollars well-spent! I would shoot it all summer and hunt rabbits with it that winter. I really dug that bow. Its metallic green riser and wood laminated limbs looked cool, and it shot faster than my stick bow.

Fred Bear was, and still is, one of my great heroes. Throughout my youth, I read and reread his books. I still return to them frequently for inspiration and insight. Fred’s love of the outdoors and archery was matched only by his self-determination and entrepreneurial spirit. His “become a two-season hunter” ad campaign reached thousands of gun hunters who sought the increased opportunities and challenge of bowhunting.

Though I enjoyed my compound, reading of Fred’s prowess with his recurve triggered an interest in returning to “my roots.” Seeing ads in outdoor magazines, I was drawn to the Bear Kodiak Magnum recurve. It was a beauty, with its pine-green limbs and green-stained wood riser decorated with a blue stripe. It’s short 52” length accented its limb curves and sleek design.

I began calling around to different shops to see it they had it in-stock. Archery Custom Shop had it for $95. That was disheartening, as my budget was $50. I resolved to work an extra-shift cleaning dishes at Gramma Josie’s or offer to wax the floor in addition to my weekly window-washing at Midwest Department Store. On a hunch, I called East Side Archery, a sponsor of my favorite local tv show, Outdoor Sportsman with Joe Wyer, which aired Saturday afternoons on WCIU-TV, Channel 26 in Chicago. It was a weekend ritual for my father, my friend Jim Burke and me to order a Danny’s Pizza and watch the show. In addition to footage of Joe and his crew, vintage film segments featuring the likes of outdoor heroes Fred Bear, Ben Pearson, Ben Rodgers Lee, Jim Dougherty and others were often included.

East Side Archery was located on the far southeast side, a part of Chicago this thirteen-year-old boy was not familiar with; but I figured it must be close…‘cause, well, it was in Chicago!

I called and inquired about the Bear Kodiak Magnum. “Yeah, I can see one on the wall,” the man told me.

“How much?” I asked.

“Ahhh..let’s see, what’s that say…looks like forty-five bucks.”

“Okay. My name is Michael. Hold it for me!”

I hopped on my Schwinn Stingray and headed out to find the address I’d written down. Passing Midway Airport, I spotted my Dad in his truck. He asked me where I was going, and I told him.

“Are you crazy? That’s twenty miles away!”

Reluctantly, he agreed to drive me.

When we arrived, I told the shop owner I was there to pick up the Kodiak Magnum.

“That’s ninety-five dollars plus tax” –

“Hold it. You told me on the phone it was forty-five dollars.”

He lowered his glasses to the bridge of his nose, “I did, didn’t I? I didn’t have my glasses on. That nine sure looks like a four, don’t it?”

I was bummed. “Okay, well, can you hold it a few more weeks?”

He smiled at me, “Nah. Can’t do that.”

I was really bummed.

“But I can give it to ya for forty-five.”


He did me a solid and I repaid the good fortune by shootin’ the hell out of that little bow. It came with me on our family vacation to see my mother's kin in Tennessee. I sat in a gnarly old tree in Aunt LaVerne and Uncle Ferris's cow pasture waiting to whack a portly groundhog wandering the bean field. He never came in to range, but man, I remember the heart-pumping excitement of the anticipation 45 years later!

Since those heady days of the 70s and 80s, I’ve owned many bows, traditional and modern (Oh, the bows I've known! The Indian Stalker compound that blew an Easton aluminum through a milk carton, penetrating the garage wall straight into the grill of my father's 1979 Ford Thunderbird. The rabbit-slaying Bear Grizzly bows that I still shoot today. The innovative Oneida bows that accompanied me on woodland and waterway adventures. The beautiful Martin Hatfield take-down recurve, a work of lethal art that took my biggest wild hog yet. The amazing Mathews compounds that define archery industry standards.)

In the mid-80s, I got a job working at Ralph Cianciarulo’s Archer’s Choice pro-shop in Berwyn, Illinois. Ralph’s place was the go-to store for archers in the area. Walter Payton would stop in and shoot his mighty Martin Cougar Magnum with a customized 90 lb. draw weight. I cut arrows for Cubs left-fielder Brian Dayette and shared the range with super-athlete Bo Jackson. I would show up early on Saturdays and conduct Boy Scout lessons with Ralph’s wonderful mother, Arlene. I worked on bows, swept floors, cut arrows, sold gear, and soaked up every ounce of hunting and shooting wisdom from the crew and customers.

After hours, Ralph would work with me on my shooting technique. Rich “Bear” Rudman, a hulking co-worker with a heart as big as his giant hands, would give me equipment tuning tips and expound on “visualizing” the shot. “Ma” taught me customer service skills.

Ralph and I would often meet for breakfast and discuss bowhunting and our shared love of The Great Outdoors. Ralph was on the ground-floor of the hunting video craze during the 80s. His videos of caribou hunting and African safaris were being produced and I could see his sights were set on bigger things. He and his wife Vicki are now the popular hosts of the long-running Archer’s Choice show on The Outdoor Channel. I loved every minute I worked at Archer’s Choice.

Working at an archery pro-shop offered hands-on experience with the “hot” new bows of the day. PSE was becoming well-known, and their Laser and Citation lines were all the rage. Pearson introduced the awesome Grey Ghost, and we all took turns shooting it when it arrived. I bought my girlfriend a petite Point Blank bow so we could bowfish together. Surrounded by new compound bows, and being a huge Chuck Adams fan, I wanted to shoot a Hoyt Pro-Vantage Hunter, with its state-of-the-art carbon limbs. I bought one at a discount from Ralph, with the stipulation that he could experiment with spray-painted camo patterns on it. No problem!

I loved that bow and used it for Illinois & Wisconsin deer, Tennessee hogs and countless exotics, rabbits, squirrels, coons, and carp. It has fallen out of trees and been fished from the bottom of The Kankakee River. I still own it and use it! It has been lent out a dozen times, with the agreement that when the person purchases their own, it returns to be passed on again. That battered old Hoyt dinosaur changes lives.

In the new millennium, I began shooting my traditional equipment more frequently. As I had usually used compounds for big-game hunting, I felt the urge to try using my old Bear Grizzly for deer. The challenge was monumental and my luck hard-earned. The dedication getting my skills on recurves and longbows to match those on a compound took long hours, with plenty of frustration. I kept at it; shooting dozens of arrows daily. My limited shooting distance with stick-bows has cost me opportunities at game, but I have been able to put meat in the freezer. Plus, I won first place in an archery tournament in Clifton, Illinois. That was cool!

To me, shooting both traditional and modern equipment just adds to the fun. As Uncle Ted says, “Tradition is what’s in your heart, not what’s in your hand.” Whether it’s a longbow, compound, crossbow, handgun, rifle, or shotgun…whatever tool one chooses to pursue game in an ethical manner with is okay with me. The Hunting Collective has enough battles to win; in-fighting should never be one of them. Proficiency is the goal whatever your choice.

Bickering over equipment choices and hunting methods is a curse within our community. The more we divide from within, the easier it is for the antis to place wedges in our rights. Whether you spot and stalk, hunt over bait, self-guide, hire an outfitter, DIY on public land, or hunt on high-fence ranches, you are a hunter. To knock someone else’s choice because you don’t agree with it is stupid and detrimental to our cause.

In 1999, I hunted Tennessee, chasin’ wild hogs with hounds. Watching the dogs work was thrilling and the hunt was a success. I took a big hog with my bow. Reflecting on the long ride home, I decided I was glad to have experienced it, but prefer sitting in a blind or stalking hogs. I support hound-hunting hogs for whoever chooses it; and, if the opportunity to hunt bear or mountain lion with hounds presents itself, I will do it. It’s all about experiences and the more, the merrier. Trying different approaches enriches our pursuits.

Some criticize the use of bait. I love using bait. A pile of corn to feed on allows a deer (or whatever) to relax and present a good shot opportunity. What is possibly negative about facilitating a humane shot? If you don’t like it, don’t do it. (Strangely, many bait pile detractors spend their spring and early fall cultivating food plots on their land or strategically place their stands among apples or acorns.)

Many people are programmed to react negatively to the success of others, which is a pathetic mindset. I choose to celebrate the success of my cohorts, whether they shoot a button-buck or Boone & Crockett, land a bluegill or a marlin.

I have a garage and closets full of old gear. Recurves, longbows, and compounds that bring back great memories. The real joy is taking one down and introducing someone new to world of archery and The Great Outdoor Lifestyle.

Get a bow and arrow. Shoot and shoot and shoot. If you are already a gun-hunter, hold on tight. This archery stuff is addictive and will soon become an obsession. Choose a light-weight bow. I will be shooting a 50# Mathews compound this season. Oddly, I had to special order the draw weight, as my pro-shop had only 70# available. No matter how strong you are, sitting in a treestand in a pre-dawn November frost will challenge you to draw a heavy bow. Ted Nugent talks about the “ballet” and gracefulness necessary to achieve archery efficiency. If your draw routine is not fluid, you’re doing it wrong. Drawing your bow should never be a struggle.

Ask questions. Research. Like the old patch from Bear Archery stated, Fred Bear Showed Me How. Watch videos of master shooter John Dudley. Try out different bows, releases and sights. Experiment with a variety of arrows until it all comes together. And then immerse yourself in The Great Outdoors Experience. The magic of the woods coupled with the pursuit of game with bow and arrow spans the spectrum of emotions. There is zero hyperbole in Ted Nugent's reference to "the mystical flight of the arrow" as a metaphor for life. Spending time in The Great Outdoors will indeed, as Fred Bear stated, "cleanse the soul."

Archery is the ultimate family recreation. Get a bow for every member. Find a good pro-shop that is willing to take the time to get you set-up correctly. Shoot a lot of different bows until you find one that feels right.

Shoot year ‘round. Set up targets in your backyard. Construct a short-distance range in your garage. Join a league. Take the kids out to a 3-D shoot. Don’t wait until two weeks before season to start practicing! If you’re not bowfishing, you are missing some of the most fun life has to offer! Make archery a part of your life today. You’ll be glad you did.

Okay, I’ve got bass to lure, bluegills and crappies to filet, catfish to bait, broadheads to sharpen, target foam to replace, bowstrings to wax, clover to plant, guns to clean and oil, birdfeeders to fill, and arrows to fling. I wish you and yours a million happy arrows.

Happy Springtime! (Well, if you’re in Illinois, Happy Extended Winter!)

Fling on!


#Archery #Bowhunting #Hunting #Fishing #Camping

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