It might not be the most common form of archery, but for Jim Kent (aka Grizzly Jim) it’s one of the purest. Here, he explains the allure of stumping, and how to go about trying it for yourself
I do wonder sometimes about folks nowadays living out their lives on the over-polished, over-filtered unobtainably perfect world of social media. You know we’ve all done it on occasion; taken out a couple of those bad arrows in order to take a photo for that new Instagram post, or taken a snap of that freakishly good end to share on Facebook – but something I see now more than ever is that people are looking for an escape from those self-imposed high standards. There was a time when popping down to the local range and sending a few arrows target-wards was enough. But more often than not just lately, when I’m at my archery club, I’ve started to see archers – of all disciplines, from longbow to compound – getting stressed. Stressed about not hitting that Bowman score, stressed about not smashing their personal best or stressed that some trivial thing within their form hasn’t clicked on that particular night.
I will always try and ask someone, when I see them looking a little frustrated with their archery, why they picked up the bow in the first place, however long ago it was that they started. Did they start with the goal that they wanted to fill their shelves with cheap plastic trophies and tin medals, if they wanted to see their name on a drywipe board at the end of a tournament, get their name in the back of an archery magazine, or even represent their country on the international stage?
Please don’t get me wrong, all these things are amazing, but I can guarantee it’s not the reason they or you picked up the bow in the first place. Whether it be a traditional one-piece, or an Olympic style take-down, the sole reason you have that bow in your hand is that at one point you thought it looked cool, and the enjoyment of sending arrows haphazardly towards the target was enough. Just getting an arrow on the boss was all you needed to bring a smile to your face, where now you beat yourself up if you’re just outside the 10 ring or just missed snagging that pro kill. Yes you’re smiling now because you can remember back to when you first picked up the bow.; when you shot without pressure or any preconceived ideas of what you needed to achieve, where the process of shooting for the sake of shooting was all the motivation you needed to keep coming back week after week.
Over the past couple of years, I have made a conscious effort to try and recapture this child-like wonder in my archery. If truth be told I never really lost it; whenever I’ve had a bow in my hand it always brings me back to my childhood, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that. But I have increasingly found myself, through no fault of my own, having to take archery a little more seriously of late, what with representing Great Britain as I might have mentioned once or twice previously (not that I’m excited or anything).
But there is one thing guaranteed to bring me back down to earth, to lose any pent-up frustration or stress I may have picked up along the way. That one thing guaranteed to reset my system is stumping.
This involves getting out into the forest and shooting in one of its purest forms. There are no 3D targets with defined kill zones, no nice big yellow spots to shoot at, just tree stumps. Picking out the tiniest little hole or leaf on a rotten old stump at 30 yards. Finding a little gap in the tree and sending an arrow straight through and hitting its mark. These are the things our ancestors used to do, walking round the forest honing their skills getting ready to put food on the table, back when archery wasn’t just a sport or hobby, it was a way of life.
Now modern stump shooting, or roving as it is sometimes called (though not to be confused with the roving marks), is a little different to how it used to be, not to mention more difficult to actually do. The first big obstacle is finding somewhere to do it! In this world, with our obsession with health and safety, it’s not like you can just pop out to your nearest bit of woodland and start flinging arrows at tree stumps willy-nilly. As I’m sure you will know, it’s an absolute minefield shooting archery in any form in public.
I’m lucky enough to have access to some private woodland where, after seeking permission, the landowner is happy for me to wander around spending the day with a couple of buddies stumping – we’ve even camped out on occasion. And there is just something so pleasing about spending a night around the campfire with your bow, talking long into the night about absolutely anything and everything… it kind of makes me feel like Fred Bear.
If you are lucky enough to find somewhere you’d like to be able to shoot, I must stress it’s hugely important to seek the permission of the landowner before you go and do it. If you don’t, and you end up trespassing with a bow in hand, it’s not going to end well and you’ll only end up bringing the thing that we love most into disrepute.
But going back to the point about health and safety, I feel I must mention that when out stumping it’s just as important to be as mindful of your surroundings as when you’re on the field course or at the club. You may be shooting an arrow with a big rubber blunt on the end, but you can still do some damage.
However, permission secured, the only other thing you need is the right sort of arrows. Personally I like something quite tough and heavy; a good, solid carbon arrow, with either a rubber blunt or a judo point attached. What blunts and judo points do is stop the arrow from penetrating too deeply into the old tree stump, or even the ground if you happen to take a miss, making your arrows a lot easier to retrieve and find.
Shooting a field point, for example, makes your arrow incredibly difficult if not hilarious to watch your buddies retrieve, especially if you happen to hit a tree stump that was harder than you first thought. Obviously shooting arrows at tree stumps will sometimes end in arrow casualties but, saying that, if you’re an avid field archer, you’re probably accustomed to losing or breaking a couple of arrows every now and again.
So to get back to what I was talking about earlier, whenever I feel stressed or I’ve got my knickers in a twist about some aspect of the way I’ve been shooting, I always find myself back in the forest, shooting at tree stumps. Yes I know it’s not the easiest or the most accessible way of shooting, and it doesn’t have the regimented health and safety codes, rules or regulations you get down the club. But it is just you, your bow and nature.
It reminds me of who I am; it’s how I started archery as a kid, and I really hope that it’s the way I’ll finish archery, if I’m lucky enough to make it to old age; wandering around the forest shooting tree stumps with my grandkids.
But if you do want to go out stumping, be safe, use your common sense, and you’ll have the time of your life – not to mention how accurate shooting tiny little spots on stumps will make you. There really is something to aiming small and missing small… but that’s a subject for another time.
Take care and shoot straight!