Archery hunting: more than a sport, a way of life

By Zandra Johnson


September 1 marked a special day here in Montana for some hunters, it was the opening day of archery season. Yes, hunting with a rifle has long been practiced and cherished, but archery is a whole other realm.

In rural America the pace of life tends to be a bit more calm. All of the chaos that encompasses modern city life just doesn’t reflect our day to day. Our roots seem to run a bit deeper, and we’re more in tune with an outdoor lifestyle. Maybe, we’re a bit more connected to mother earth herself as we live in such close quarters to all that she has to offer.

Anyone who owns a bow can tell you, it takes their connection to mother earth to a new level when they walk through a stunning forest on a chilly morning holding a bow and looking for food. The connection of surviving the way the human race has for thousands of years is one thing bow hunters hold dear to their hearts. Bow hunters also appreciate how they must get close to the game they’re chasing in order to get the shot, especially with traditional bows.  A bow’s range is much closer than a rifle’s, making the hunt exceedingly more challenging and exciting.

Archery is one of the most ancient practices still relevant today. Exact dates of the first bow and arrows in existence may always be a mystery, but it is estimated that they were invented about 64,000 years ago. Evidence of the use of bows and arrows in ancient times is found on every continent on earth except for Australia and Antarctica. Hunting wild game with a quiver and bow is even mentioned in the book of Genesis in the Bible. South Africans were some the earliest people known to have used a bow and arrow. Many others, all over the world, have also used them, both for hunting and as weapons in battle.

Closer to our time, the National Archery Association was founded in Indiana in 1879. In the year 1900, the first archery competitions took place in the Olympics, and 1934 marked the first official bow hunting season in the United States.

The compound bow was invented in 1966 by Holless Wilbur Allen who was born in Kansas. With the assistance of bow maker, Tom Jennings, Allen became the first manufacturer of compound bows.

Today there are four types of bows that can legally be used for hunting in Montana according to They include the recurve, longbow, flatbow, and compound bow; hunters may also use any combination of these four designs.

(Picture) Professional archery hunter, Josh Boyd with an elk harvested in the fall of 2017. Photo courtesy of Josh Boyd.

This year’s archery season for deer and elk will continue through October 14.

A modern bow hunter typically puts in many hours each year preparing and practicing for the hunt. One local hunter, Mark Kelso, has been using a compound bow for 19 years. He told The Montanian that he was influenced to start bowhunting by his uncle.

When asked about hunting in Troy, Kelso said, “Many people that bow hunt in our area do it for the opportunity to hunt elk in the rut. The rut is mating season for elk, and makes it an ideal time to call them in within bow range.”

When asked why he hunts with a bow, he said, “For the challenge, the thrill, the sound of the elk bugling, getting lost in the moment and becoming one with nature. When I let the survival instincts take over, the rest of the world disappears and all that matters is me and that elk.”

A bow hunter education course is required before a resident can bow hunt in Montana. The course teaches safety and techniques for the right, ethical, and legal way to hunt with a bow. The course is one of the first steps to understanding the many aspects of bow hunting, but it takes practice and time in the field to gain real insight for the sport.

A bow hunter education instructor for ten years, Ben Valentine sat down with The Montanian to discuss hunting. The 37 year old bought his very first bow, which was compound, from his good friend, Sean McAfee, at age 11. Valentine recalls many days bugling elk for his father in the woods surrounding their home in the Yaak. At age 14, Valentine recalls his great uncle Bill coming to visit from Washington state in the winter. With him, he had his Bear recurve bow, built in 1953, and he told a story of harvesting a blacktail deer with it. He then handed it down to Valentine, possibly not realizing the impact the gift would have on his great nephew’s life. Ben has been hunting with traditional style bows ever since, even teaching himself arrow making at a young age by studying books.

“Recurve is all instinctual shooting and building muscle memory from doing it so many times, thousands and thousands of shots,” Valentine said. “It’s focusing on your form and being very consistent. In my mind, it’s much more of an art form, it’s very athletic” he said.

When asked why he loves bow hunting, he said, “When I’ve had some good long days in the woods, it’s a reset for me. I reach an almost spiritual state of mind and I’m at peace. It’s therapeutic and you’re in touch with it while separating yourself from everything else.”

Valentine is in his eleventh year as a hunting guide for Linehan Outfitting Company located in the Yaak. He is also looking for a co-instructor for bow hunter education; someone that can teach the compound bow part of the class. He can be reached by email at if anyone interested in the opportunity.

Another local, Josh Boyd, is a professional bow hunter who is also a writer, and a U.S. Forest Service employee. According to, Boyd has been elk hunting, hiking, and climbing the wild backcountry of Montana from an early age. He started bow hunting for elk at the age of 12, and he quickly became obsessed with the sport and lifestyle. Currently Boyd spends more then 200 days per year in the field hunting, skiing, hiking, and restoring watersheds.  Preferring to hunt rugged and wild elk country with minimal equipment and support, he has numerous public land-harvested archery bulls to his credit.

Montana currently holds the Pope and Young Club’s world record for a typical bull elk taken with a bow. The hunter’s name is Steve Felix, he set the record during the 2016 hunting season, and the elk’s antlers measured 430 inches.

In northwest Montana, it’s not hard to find people who feel lucky to live in this place, where not far from our doors, are beautiful and remote places to enjoy the things we love.