Thanks Jason. I'd be interested to know what elements you consider most essential to your advancement. The crux of your achievements. The things form/practice/mental that you credit with aiding you the most.
I suppose this story actually starts long before I was born. My paternal grandparents took up archery and bowhunting around 1950. I’m not sure what sparked their interest, but it evolved into a family pastime. I like to say my little five-foot-nothing granny has probably killed more deer off the ground with a recurve than most bowhunters I know.
My grandfather ran a small archery shop out of his basement in his spare time and became a bit of go-to person in this area. Years after he died, one of my favorite things about going to archery clubs and registering for a shoot was when someone recognized my last name and asked if I knew Joe Wesbrock. Then I’d usually hear a story about how my grandfather taught him to shoot a bow or hunt deer. I never knew how many people’s lives he touched until after he was gone. Unfortunately, most of his generation has either passed on or is no longer shooting. It’s probably been a dozen years or more since someone referred to me as “Joe’s grandson.” I miss that.
When I was 12 years old I decided I wanted to bowhunt with my grandfather. Everyone in my family shot split fingered and aimed instinctively. So that’s what I did, even though I had to hang up my recurve and shoot a compound. I weighed maybe 90 pounds soaking wet and couldn’t handle a hunting weight stickbow. I had minimal success with that shooting style for a number of years—won a few plaques and missed a lot of game. My grandfather died during my sophomore year in high school, and between the old hunting party disbanding and normal teenage stuff I didn’t shoot or hunt very often until after graduation.
When I was 20 I was at a local IBO world qualifier, shooting my slow-as-heck bow with heavy arrows and getting stomped by a more experienced shooter in our group. Without getting into excessive detail, he was not a very gracious winner. At the end of the round I decided that would be the absolute last time he ever outshot me, and it was. I bought some better equipment and got in the hip pocket of a few local barebow shooters. From them I learned about gap shooting, pick-a-point and string walking. As a result, I went on to win a bunch of state and NFAA sectional championships, and came in second at the ’94 IBO Indoor Nationals in Neenah, WI. Of course I got whipped quite a bit too, but that’s all part of the game.
For the next several years I continued to compete and hunt with barebow compounds until one afternoon when an acquaintance of mine showed me a selfbow he’d made. I’d never heard of a selfbow, and it had been a long time since I’d shot anything other than a compound, but there was something about the feel of that bow I enjoyed. I decided I wanted to try bowhunting with a recurve that fall.
A few days later I was on the phone with my dad when he mentioned that he still had my grandfather’s hunting bow, a mid-60s Root Gamemaster. After a few months of practice I took to the woods opening weekend with my grandfather’s bow, and on the second morning of season I shot a broadside doe through both lungs. That day it finally hit me how much I missed my grandfather, so ever since I’ve capped and crested my hunting arrows with the same pattern he used. It’s my way of always having him with me afield.
I killed four more deer with my grandfather’s bow before I retired it in favor of numerous custom recurves, including several I designed and built myself. I even killed a doe one October with a longbow I made from a hickory board backed with whitetail deer rawhide. Once I got somewhat decent with a recurve I started hitting the local shoots, attended some of the large traditional events, and made a bunch of new recurve and longbow shooting friends.
When the IBO held their first Traditional World Championship in 2009 some friends of mine encouraged me to go. I declined, and for the next few years I found one excuse or another to stay home. At one point I told a buddy of mine, Craig, that if he ever saw me shooting something completely different than my normal hunting bows he’d know I decided to jump back into bigger competition.
It was probably a combination of nudging from friends and Scott Antczak’s stories about IBO shoots (as well as his collection of belt buckles) that got me to make the jump back into competitive shooting past the club level at the end of 2012. I bought a new setup and altered my shooting style based on a lot of suggestions and encouragement from Scott. Progress was slow at first, but eventually I got to the point where I felt I wouldn’t completely embarrass myself.
Last year Scott and I went to Cleveland for the IBO indoor world. It was the first big shoot I’d been to in 18 years. When we left I was in first place with only Jared Neal left to shoot. We weren’t halfway through Indiana when we got word he’d knocked me into second place by four points. It stung for a minute or two, but I really couldn’t complain. I shot strong; he shot stronger. My only regret was not being there to shake his hand when he finished his round.
Some of the top tier shooters I’ve knows over the years were a bit apprehensive about helping others, not wanting to run the risk of knocking themselves off the podium. In contrast, Scott is an open book. The support I’ve gotten in my shooting from family and friends has been incredible, but Scott is the one who pushes me the hardest and knows how to talk me through those little hiccups we all get from time to time. When I won the IBO Traditional World Championship last year, I think the only one more excited than him was me. To me, that’s the mark of a true champion, and not only has his friendship made me a better archer, but a better person in general.
At the end of the day, both my tournament and hunting accomplishments pale in comparison to others on this site. I’m just a guy who was born into a bowhunting family and decided to carry on that tradition. Whatever success I’ve had over the years both on the shooting line and in the hunting woods is the result a lot of help and encouragement from people far too numerous to mention…and a fair bit of luck. Sure, I bust my tail to be the best competitive archer and bowhunter I can be, but I suppose that’s because I was raised that way. If there’s one thing I can end this story with it’s that we are all responsible for the future of this pastime. As a group we can either raise each other up or tear one another down. The choice is ours.
Hi Jason, glad I stopped by tonight. That was a great read. Glad you took the time. Sure do miss shooting with you and everyone at Blackhawk and Compton. Havent been there in a few years. Billies' one and only knee has given out, so we don't get around like we used to. Sounds like you've improved your shooting skills. Now that is scary, you were pretty darn good years ago. Still brag on some of your 50 yard 3d shots at Compton one year. Hope to see you again one of these days, Craig and Billie