For a skilled bow and arrow craftsman, the pursuit of stump shooting provides a path toward engaged living and a deeper awareness of our place in the world.
A barefoot walk in the soft moss, slowly and with intent, senses heightened, just to witness the scampering of a squirrel, the call of raven, the whisper of cedar scented breeze, or the pop of a tart huckleberry on your tongue. Though these behaviors get driven from our consciousness by modern living, they don’t take long to bubble up and attach to our spirits.
I am a traditional archer, and it’s a passionate part of my existence. I often spend hours daily building arrows and bows, and reading about archery. It is a skill that needs constant practice. One must loose many arrows to become proficient to train hand/eye co-ordination for precision and accuracy. My end goal is harvesting game to help feed my family. Whether I’m out with my primitive handcrafted yew longbow or my modern fiberglass recurve, my favourite way to participate is in the woods, shooting stumps.
Why would a grown man spend hours in the woods, launching perfectly good (and beautiful) arrows at the long dead remains of the first growth timber that graced the Beaufort Mountains? We humans are apex predators; deep in our DNA, we are hunter/gatherers. We need connection with nature, fresh air, and sun. I believe we benefit from walking on logs and climbing rocks, and gathering food with our own hands.
Shooting stumps provides the opportunity to practice on targets that constantly vary in size, distance, and shape. Common terms in traditional archery are to “pick a spot” and “aim small, miss small,” referring to the concentration needed to make the arrow strike with precision. A nondescript rotten log gives your brain the chance to focus on a single area that stands out, like the one dark hair on a deer’s chest. The hole left in a stump from a feeding woodpecker can represent that same precise focus point. Breathe, focus, pause… loose. A rewarding sound of the steel point smacking wood. A direct hit and a smile, or a miss that leads to questioning. What went wrong? Here is the exciting opportunity to progress.
Stumping is a family pursuit. My wife looses arrows as we leisurely meander the Cumberland Forest. Minutes from our door we are in a century-old polyculture forest. We count yew trees, sit on felled hemlock, and hug red cedars. We forage an in-season snack, and inspect the moss for potential mushroom growth, all while honing our technique. In permaculture we talk about the principle of “stacking functions.” Our pursuit is as such; many hobbies and interests in one relaxing forest bath.
Our daughters relish this time. Our eldest films video or takes macro photos of insects or slow motion shots of Dad’s arrow in flight. Our toddler often accompanies me on solo outings. She sees imaginary dinosaurs, lets Dad pack her doll in his quiver, and clambers off the trails to help retrieve the arrows. She is fleet-footed and confident, tossing rocks and jumping off roots, and I chalk this up to the unstructured play of outdoor forays.
Safety and public perception are of the utmost importance. I constantly scan for approaching humans or dogs (perfumes, laundry products, and cigarette smoke will give bi-pedals away every time). If I sense I’m not alone, the arrow is un-nocked and I wait until someone appears. Careful not to cause discomfort, I stay casual. The bow may as well be a walking stick. People often stop and chat with me about this pursuit. My bows have touched many hands over the years, including those of interested children. For grown-ups, it takes us back to the simplicity of youth.
I never shoot straight down a trail. You never know when an arrow may miss, or glance off the target. It can travel a great distance before it stops, and safety is the number one priority in all shooting sports. Be certain of the backstop. Choose your stumps wisely and if in doubt, inspect them closely. A new stump may not have the rotten wood necessary to stop a fast moving, heavy arrow.
Hard wood causes bounce backs or ricochets. Well-rotted stumps are easy on the arrows, make removal simpler, and are ethically preferential. Stumps are also more environmental than shooting synthetic and disposable targets.
Stump shooting speeds the process of decomposition. The holes created allow for more water penetration into the stump, as well as mycelium, insect, and animal pathways. My arrows are made from salvaged Sitka Spruce wood from Haida Gwaii, milled by a friend whose environmental ethics align with my own. With an educational background in permaculture, these ethics ring true. Care of earth, care of people, and a return of surplus.
If you are interested in traditional archery, take a walk in the woods with your tackle. See what targets reveal themselves and open yourself to this wonderful and ancient pursuit.