Dave and Andy have had the pleasure of setting up the Ruxton Museum for the Traditional Shoots at Silver Arrow Bowmen in Mt. Vernon. They have always had a really good time and want to thank the Bowmen (and women) for their generous hospitality.
We at the Ruxton Palavar tend to get a little put out when we hear traditional muzzle loading or stick and string archery referred to as “primitive” shooting. The implication is that traditional, or “primitive” shooting is sort of an ineffective novelty, entertaining but not to be taken too seriously. Writers today are flatly stating that virtually no caliber of muzzle loaded round ball is appropriate for hunting – “primitive” (meaning non-inline) muzzle loaded rifles being inherently too inaccurate and underpowered to humanely kill even small deer. Sadly, people are believing them. The scary thing is that some states are starting to listen to this kind of rhetoric too. It isn’t a farfetched notion that round ball hunting may soon be legislated out of existence.
An equivalent attitude has become prevalent in the world of archery. Recurved bows are quaint anachronisms, longbows are cool at the Renaissance fair but surely, nobody would consider actually hunting with one. Hunting with a stone point? How utterly barbaric and inhumane! It makes you wonder how the West was ever won, or how Native people ever fed themselves on this continent for the past fifteen thousand years.
Try an experiment. Make your own bow. First, you’ll need to learn how to do it. Then you’ll have to teach your hands how to accomplish what your mind has just learned. There’ll be some trial and error. You’ll need to cultivate a bit of patience. Now make that bow a precise copy of, say, a reflexed / deflexed sinew backed artifact hanging in a museum somewhere. A bit more work is involved in that, plus some historical research. Then, invest a couple years into teaching yourself how to shoot it well enough to hunt. OR . . . just go buy a commercial bow off the shelf and call it good. Shoot it a few times and take it out hunting. After all, the bow has sights. The process is pretty straight forward.
One of these scenarios strikes me as, frankly, fairly “primitive”, though maybe not in the conventional sense of the term. The other seems like a pretty sophisticated and potentially rewarding thing to do.
This summer I spoke with a Blackfoot guy in Montana who was chuckling about a couple hunters who told him they were out “primitive hunting” for the day. He asked what they meant by “primitive”. They told him that today they were leaving their rifles at home and only bringing their compound bows. He found that amusing because a few days before he had stalked a deer to virtually point blank range and harvested it with an osage bow he had built with his son. Nothing primitive sounding about that. I find it impressive on many levels.
Another Montanan showed me the composite Turkish bow he made himself and used to kill a running antelope from horseback (!). As far as I’m concerned, that accomplishment was staggeringly cool. Far from being primitive, it tells me that he, like the Blackfoot hunter was at the absolute top of his game. By the way, that man is also capable of shooting eighteen arrows into a paper plate at fifteen yards in twenty seconds.
Carve a rear sight out of a chunk of iron using a hacksaw and a couple files. Dovetail it into a rifle barrel so that the gun shoots center the very first time you fire it. Modern longrifle builders do that routinely. On the other hand, how often do you see somebody pull a scope out of the box, clamp it to a modern rifle and shoot accurately without making any adjustments? There’s nothing “primitive” about the gunsmithing that goes into a traditional muzzle loading rifle. There may be less moving parts, but the mechanical tolerances are just as precise as those in a modern gun. And many of those tolerances are achieved using hand tools rather than modern CNC technology. In the old days, it was all done by hand. Those early gunsmiths were very good, as are the modern generation of longrifle builders. How is that primitive ?
Neither is there anything “primitive” in the 50 yard touching groups I see Andy Ward shoot off hand with his Hawken. No scope, no rest. Andy regularly wins matches against guys using adjustable sights on muzzle loaders and even modern rifles equipped with optics. His success comes from the combination of a very well made rifle, the perfect load and years of experience shooting the same gun. “Primative”???
In all these examples, the technology may be relatively simple but the shooters’ skills are highly refined. So are those of the gunsmiths and the bow makers who created their equipment. Often, the shooters and builders are the same people. How can we call this “primitive”? That’s why we refer to ourselves a “traditional”, rather than a “primitive” shooting palaver.
Traditional shooters rely absolutely upon their technology, but never as a substitute for skill. We believe that traditional shooting cultivates personal qualities like focus, discipline, knowledge, practiced skill, self-reliance and good judgment. Successful traditional shooters are by the nature of the sport, accomplished individuals. Whether you seek to master the bow or the longrifle, or the skills of hunting with traditional weapons, or the arts associated with their production, like carving, blacksmithing, flintknapping, engraving, inlay, or metal casting, you will need to study, practice and work very hard over a period of years. You will have no choice but to cultivate skills and qualities that can enrich your personal life and contribute to the quality of the shooting sports in general.
So we don’t refer to the traditional shooting sports, their weapons and their associated skills, as “primitive”. There’s much more to it than that.
George Ruxton sought out answers….and had a strong desire to learn, share and experience people, places and things.
Ruxton was interested in the “Why is this so”…and “How is this done” type of questions. In his journal of his travels he asks those questions of himself and those who he meets. He also learned from others, even if this meant changing his own preconceived notions.
In his novel he shares what he learned and experienced. Ruxton helped put the Hawken rifle, the Green River knife and the term mountain man into mainstream American culture.
Ruxton was a avid hunter and shooter. From reading his writings one can tell he enjoyed telling of a excellent feat of marksmanship or the odd bit of hunting lore.
One of the goals of this blog and the “museum” is to do just as Ruxton did. To ask why or how. To share and experience with others. Perhaps even open up ourselves or a stranger to a new thought or idea.
I think the best way to learn is through a “hands on” experience. It is not enough to say to someone “This is a old gun, here is how it was shot, this is what it could do”. A better approach is to hand someone a gun from the 1840’s…walk them through how to load and shoot the gun. Then if possible have them shoot the gun.
All while asking questions and experiencing the gun and the lesson.
I think Ruxton would approve.