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Mountain Home Magazine

Full Draw

Jul 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Ron Rohrbaugh

I thought my heart would explode when Rex stepped to the shooting line and brought his longbow to full draw. This was it. The moment we’d been talking about all summer. It’s not every day you get to see your seven-year-old compete in an activity he loves. I saw an expression of intense focus form on his small face and watched as the middle finger of his right hand found its anchor point at the corner of his mouth. I knew what was next. In a fraction of a second, the fingers of Rex’s string hand would relax and the arrow would be off.

The eruptions in my chest were an equal mix of nervousness and pride. Glancing around at the hundreds of others watching the Eagle Eye competition at the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous, I realized that I was not the only one gritting my teeth. The tight-knit nature of the traditional archery community was on full display as this boy fought through his nerves to make a shot he’d been dreaming of for months. Yes, he was my son, but in many ways he was their child, too—the child of a small community of people who pride themselves on supporting each other through mentoring and friendship.

The ETAR, held at Ski Sawmill Family Resort in Morris for the first time last year, and scheduled again this year for the same venue, July 27 through 30, is the largest gathering of traditional archers in the world. Traditional archery is distinct from other forms of archery in that the wooden bows have no mechanical improvements. Unlike a compound bow, which uses cables and wheels to store energy, traditional bows have just a single string attached to a simple piece of wood—think longbows of the type used by Native Americans or recurves perfected by archery icon Fred Bear in the 1950s.

In the two decades following World War II, recreational archery was one of America’s most popular pastimes, with shooting clubs in nearly every city. Invention of the compound bow in the early 1970s nearly drove traditional archery to extinction, but in recent decades, thanks to events like ETAR, traditional archery has been making a comeback.

Like any niche activity with far-flung participants, opportunities to gather for comradery and storytelling are treasured. So, each summer, thousands of traditional archers from around the world come to ETAR to shoot, shop for traditional gear in the vendor tents, attend workshops, and exchange ideas about shooting techniques.

While you might see men in buckskins or Robin Hood hats toting wooden bows and steel-tipped arrows, the heart of ETAR is about family. On every course, you’ll find dads helping kids to take their best shot, and moms at full draw with a toddler in a backpack carrier. And, most importantly, you’ll hear the laughter of kids learning about life, nature, self-reliance—and maybe even a little archery.

The fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down. On-site camping gives ETAR the genuine flavor of an old-time rendezvous. Tents and tow-behind campers are packed into every available space. Campfires light the night sky and food from barbecue pits and cast iron Dutch ovens is shared. It’s not uncommon to sample elk burgers at one campfire, wild hog sausage at another, and perhaps moose stew at yet another.

Hunting with traditional archery gear is challenging. Archers must get very close to their quarry for effective, clean-kill shots. Success requires deep knowledge of the natural world and animal behavior. At ETAR, you’ll find knowledgeable, respectful hunters who welcome newcomers and non-hunters alike.

Generosity is the rule rather than the exception at ETAR. When I first began attending events in the mid-1990s, I was a young man without a lot of money. One year, I repeatedly visited one particular booth, persistently ogling over one of his fine bows. The bowyer always smiled and encouraged me to “take it for a spin on the tryout range.” I politely declined, knowing I lacked the funds to pay for such a bow. When I showed up on Sunday afternoon for one last look before the event ended, I was disappointed to see the bow was gone, probably sold to someone with more money than I had.

As I was walking away, a voice said, “There you are. I thought you might come back. I put that bow aside for you.” The bowyer then handed me the bow of my dreams. Embarrassed, I said, “I’m sorry.

There must be a mistake. I don’t have money for this bow.” He smiled and said, “Just take it and pay me when you can. Here’s my address.” I tried protesting, but he insisted, sending me home with not only a bow but a lesson about kindness.

That’s ETAR. It’s a place where technology hasn’t robbed us of genuine human interaction. It’s a place where lifelong friendships are born. And it’s a place where kids can explore and build confidence to take on the world that is outside of ETAR’s gate.

The Eagle Eye crowd remained hushed until the fingers of Rex’s string hand opened, sending the wooden arrow downrange. I had done all I could, and so had he. There is something magical about a colorful arrow as it arcs through the air toward its target, and something downright grand when it finds its mark, as Rex’s did on that summer day. While the crowd roared with applause, Rex turned to catch my eye, and we shared an ETAR moment.

For the most up-to-date information on this year’s competition, vendors, and presenters, visit or call (814) 203-0467. For information about event camping or directions, visit Ski Sawmill at or call (570) 353-7521.

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