October 31, 2002 11:00 pm
Eagle Cap Traditional Archer Mark Penninger of La Grande enjoys the quiet nature of his sport.  (Submitted photos).
Eagle Cap Traditional Archer Mark Penninger of La Grande enjoys the quiet nature of his sport. (Submitted photos).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

ometimes technology provides too many answers.

The compound bow is an example. Its popularity has boomed since the 1970s because it allows archers to be more accurate from greater distances.

A godsend for bowmen?

Not in all cases. For proof look no further than the members of one of newest local outdoor organizations — the Eagle Cap Traditional Archers. Club members are reaching back into the past, foregoing the compound bow for traditional long bow and recurve models.

The club, founded about a year ago, has grown faster than its founders anticipated and boasts about 50 members.

The club focuses on providing opportunities for people of all ages. The club holds practice shoots every Saturday and later will do things such as organize an archery clinic for young people and put on tournaments. Presently there are few tournaments exclusively for traditional archers in the region. What has attracted people to the club?

"The simplicity of the equipment draws us in. The more technical you are the farther you are from nature,'' said Ben Burroughs of La Grande, a member of the Eagle Cap Traditional Archers.

Mark Penninger, one the founders of the club, likes the individuality that traditional archery offers. He noted that most traditional bows are custom made to meet individual specifications. The majority of compound bows by comparison are mass produced.

Penninger also said that everyone has a distinctive style for shooting a long or recurve bow. For example, the number of fingers archers place under their arrows varies.

"There are an infinite number of ways that people shoot,'' Penninger said. By comparison, the technique for firing compound bows is more standardized. "There are fewer options with a compound bow,'' Penninger said.


The Eagle Cap Traditional Archers are serious about their art but not themselves. "We don't take ourselves seriously. If anyone does they are in trouble,'' said Bob Levesque of La Grande, with a smile.

The camaraderie offered by the club cannot be beat.

"It is mostly a social group, we all share,'' Levesque said.

The club members have a lot to share.

"The common link is archers reaching back into history, a desire to get away from the technological advancements of life,'' said Tom McReynolds of Union, the club's vice president.

At gatherings club members learn a lot of things from each other, ranging from the art of making arrows and quivers to telling hunting stories.

"Everyone has something to devote,'' said Steve Campbell of La Grande.

Archers also discover why they so enjoy their art.

"We learn about how much we like what we do,'' said Leonard Capes of La Grande.

Many members of the club hone their skills at practice shoots in preparation for bow hunting season. However, about a third of the members are not hunters.


Hunting with a traditional bow is both easier and harder than using a compound bow. Many archers find compound bows easier since there is less tension when the bow string is pulled back. This means that when an archer spots a game animal, he or she can draw back the bow for several minutes while waiting for the target animal to come into range.

An archer with a traditional bow does not have this luxury because the string has much greater tension. An archer can't pull a traditional bow until the game animal is range.

The animal could see the hunter pull back and start running. Traditional archers must wait until the animal is not looking or its vision is blocked before pulling back, said Penninger, who serves as club president.

Traditional bows are simpler and low tech, making them advantageous in some instances while hunting. For example, if a traditional bow string breaks during a hunt it is much easier to repair than one of a compound bow.

Another advantage is that long and recurve bow models are lighter than compound bows. Even a small weight difference can be significant for a hunter.

Penninger and many other members of the club have become intrigued with the sport's past. He is a student of the history of traditional archery and is a fan of such American legends as Saxton Pope, Art Young, Fred Baer and Howard Hill. Penninger rates the exploits of Hill as among the most remarkable.

"He could hit an aspirin (with a bow) out of the air. He could turn it to dust,'' Penninger said.

Penninger, like a number of club members, previously hunted with a compound bow. He said that traditional and compound bow hunters have a lot in common despite the different equipment they use.

"We share a love of hunting and enjoy the challenge of getting close to an animal,'' Penninger said.

Compound and traditional archers also like the quiet and secretive nature of their sport, he said.

Anyone who would like to join the Eagle Cap Traditional Archers should call Penninger, 963-4238, or Jeff Cusumano, 663-1599.