A few years ago I met a fellow named Dennis Dunn, whom I would describe as ‘a tall man.’ Dennis and I share a love for hunting, and for bowhunting in particular. Not only that, but we are both fond of hunting with bows that don’t have any sighting mechanisims attached. This is what is known, among people like Dennis, as ‘ shooting barebow.’ Among people like me, it’s usually known as ‘missing.’
There are probably several reasons why some people prefer to hunt with bows that don’t have sights. Some, like Dennis, would probably tell you they hunt that way because of the freedom, or simplicity, or the fact that, when they’re successful, the feeling of accomplishment is greater. And they’re probably right. Or they’re just tightwads, and don’t want to spend money on sights.
Others, including most traditional archers, might say it seems wrong to put a sight on a longbow or recurve, and they’re right, too. Sights have been used on bows for centuries, but bows without sights have definitely been around longer. (Incidentally, so has ‘missing’) And if an archer depends on a sight, and it gets damaged during a hunt, a whole new set of problems arises.
When I bought my first (and last) compound bow in 1983 I tried to use sights, but I had a hard time getting accustomed to them, and consequently I missed a lot. I decided I could miss just as much without sights, and I would also have a built-in excuse when I came home empty-handed, so I gave them up.
Without sights, a bow must be shot purely instinctively. Lest I get a spate of letters written in anger from people who know better, I will point out here that there are methods of shooting without sights that are not purely instinctive, such as ‘string-walking,’ but people who use them rarely succeed to any great extent. Besides, string-walking, and other methods of ‘sighting’ without sights, are illegal at most traditional archery tournaments.
Shooting a bow without sights is pretty much the same as throwing a ball, and trying to make it go through a tire. Depending on the distance to the tire, the ball thrower adjusts the force and trajectory of the toss. If the tire is, say, more than a mile away, he must throw very hard indeed. And grunt quite loudly.
Shooting a bow is based on the same principle, and obviously requires a great deal of practice to become even marginally proficient. I hate to brag, but after shooting a compound for four years, and then recurves and longbows for another 27 years, all without sights, I have honed my skill to the point where I can be fairly confident of shooting an arrow without hitting myself in the foot. Most of the time.
Dennis has evidently done a little more honing than me. Not only does he avoid hitting his feet, but he’s managed to take a wide variety of game animals shooting bows without sights. As a matter of fact, on 17 September 2004, Dennis accomplished the landmark feat of taking all 29 North American Big Game Animals, in Fair Chase, with sightless bows. Well, he didn’t shoot all 29 of them on that day, of course. But he got the last one that day.
Chuck Adams, of course, did that in 1990, but he used sights, and there were actually only 27 official species of big game in North America at the time that were legal to hunt. Not many people have done that with guns, so Dennis making a Super Slam (a term Chuck Adams copyrighted) shooting barebow is quite impressive. The only way it would have been more impressive to me would be if I’d done it. Without hitting myself in the foot.
Dennis decided to put a coffee table book together to commemorate his Super Slam, and he chose to make sure the book weighs approximately the same as the grizzly bear he shot in Alaska, or someplace. This is a hefty book. It’s a coffee table book that could be used as a coffee table. The title of the book is ‘Barebow!’ With an exclamation mark.
Barebow! is a chronicle of Dennis’s quest to complete the Super Slam with sightless bows, which makes it a unique tome to begin with, but it is also the only book about hunting I’ve ever seen that contains NO pictures of dead animals. The book is liberally illustrated with beautiful artwork of North American big game animals by Hayden and Dallen Lambson, a father/son team of overachieving artists. I think Dennis figured a unique book deserved unique illustrations that would compliment his stories far better than photographs could.
I recommend few books, but I have to say Dennis Dunn’s Barebow! is a fantastic testament to a remarkable accomplishment. No one has yet matched Dennis’s hunting success, and even if they do, it’s doubtful their deed could be commemorated half so outstandingly. You need this book.
Not to get anyone’s hopes up, but I happen to working on a Super Slam, myself. I’m getting pretty close. Only 28 more specie to go . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who once tried to shoot a bear with his bow, but was caught by zoo officials. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org