Interview: John Dillinger

The USA barebow archer is on fire this year. He talked to Mimi Landström.

After an incredible start to 2020, taking first place at the Lancaster Classic and The Vegas Shoot – achieving two of his biggest dreams – John Dillinger was ready and excited for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, like the rest of the archery world, John has had to put his competition season on hold because of Covid-19. 

While 2020 hasn’t quite been the year that anyone expected, with tournaments cancelled around the World and no international outdoor circuit, but John isn’t letting that get him down. Barebow has officially been further developed by World Archery with world records being fully recognised, and is building a bigger following year on year.  

Despite training and competing at elite levels, barebow archers know that perfect scores will not come with the bowstyle, so there is less pressure for perfection and more enjoyment.

We caught up with John Dillinger, to learn more about his archery career and get an insight into what it’s like being an elite-level barebow archer.

Tell us about your 2020

I was very excited heading into the 2020 archery season. Last summer I signed a factory pro staff contract with Hoyt Archery, which has always been a dream of mine since I was young. 

Signing with a big company like Hoyt created some self-imposed expectations, and that really motivated me to train hard over the past six months.

The Lancaster Classic kicked off the indoor season and is by far the biggest indoor tournament of the year for us. Rob Kaufhold really supports barebow and puts on a heck of a show for the world to see. It’s the biggest stage in the world for our division and is really important to the barebow community.

I was lucky enough to win this year, which is another dream of mine. After my performance there it really validated my status as a good shooter who can shoot well under pressure. 

The Vegas Shoot is the second most important indoor event [after Lancaster], in my opinion. This was the second year that we had a World Archery rules barebow division, and it has grown tremendously. It was very exciting to have 220 barebow recurves show up to support the class.

Vegas can be a grueling three-day grind, because there are no elimination matches and every arrow matters. The pressure there is real and staying consistent and strong against all those competitors can be exhausting.

Pulling a win this year was very emotional for me. My 2020 archery season has been unbelievable so far, and I’m excited for the rest of the season – whatever happens.

Dillinger at the 2019 USA Target Nationals with John Demmer (centre) and Jason Lintner

How is the lockdown treating you?

Where I live, in the mountains of Utah, we are not under a lockdown. We have, however, been practicing social distancing and for the most part everyone has been staying home other than going to work.

I was really looking forward to shooting at the NFAA Indoor Nationals and other local state shoots, but it was a smart move to cancel them until we can get past this outbreak.

Currently I am not shooting, because I normally take April and May off from shooting to give my body and mind a break before heading into FITA field season. I am doing strength training daily and will continue to do that for the next 6-8 weeks.

I’m enjoying the extra time that I can spend with my wife and kids at home and hoping for some warmer weather so we can get out to go fishing.

Tell us about how you got started 

I started shooting archery about 25 years ago in my early 20’s.  I have always shot a compound and would shoot primarily 3D tournaments, but occasionally I would shoot a recurve for fun. I would say that I got serious about the sport about five years ago after switching primarily to barebow. 

I had never shot a field round in my life, so I signed up for USA Archery Field Nationals in Yankton, where I finished fifth, close behind some very big names in the sport. 

This is when I found out that I was decent at barebow and should pursue this more.  I think my breakthrough was when I won the US Open at Outdoor Nationals in 2017.  Since then I have always been fighting towards the top.

Who helped mentor you in life and archery?  

First of all, I need to give my beautiful wife most of the credit on this one.  She has supported me since the beginning of picking up a barebow and competing with it. I couldn’t do it without her. I grew up playing many sports as a kid and was well rounded. 

Soccer, track and field, baseball, basketball and football. You know, normal American kid sports. I think by doing these as a youth it helped me develop good hand and eye coordination, as well as a work ethic to get better. I learned so much from my father with the attitude of “If you are going to do it, then do it right.

The mental side and confidence just come from experience, I think. It’s not something that can be taught. With archery I am self-taught with no official coach.

Although, as anyone who has gotten into barebow will tell you, there are many good shooters who were patient and helpful with any questions I did have. I know people like John Demmer, Ben Rogers, Rick Stonebraker, Alan Eagleton and others have mentored many new shooters over the years.

What’s your philosophy?

Barebow is different than other forms, because there is no such thing as perfection. Nobody will ever shoot a 300 on a Vegas face. I think many people are drawn to it because of that. You can have a miss and still win the tournament or the match. Barebow is more relaxed, people are talking on the shooting line and having fun.

You don’t see that in other forms of archery as much. So my philosophy of barebow is train hard, have fun and relax. There are so many people in archery that I admire and enjoy talking to. There are a couple that really stand out especially due to their work ethic.

Brady Ellison has to be at the top of that list. I remember one time in Darrington, Washington, while I was camping on the first morning of practice for Field Nationals. The sun had just started to come up and I could hear someone shooting on the practice range next to me.

I look outside and I could see Brady out there shooting all by himself while most people were still in bed. I will never forget that. Another person who works very hard for his accomplishments is John Demmer III.

He is a competitor that I pull for even when I’m shooting against him. John is always willing to take the time to help a competitor with equipment issues or give advice. Truthfully, there is a long list of shooters I look up to.

Why is there so much camaraderie in barebow?  

I think a certain type of person is drawn to barebow, so the group dynamic is different. Like I said earlier, nobody will ever shoot a perfect score, so there isn’t as much pressure to be perfect. Most people shoot barebow to have fun and catch up and meet new people and just enjoy life.

The competitive nature is still there in most people and, of course, we all want to shoot well, but never want to give up having fun. I hate to miss the USA Target Nationals and US Open. It is such a fun shoot for several reasons. 

First of all, we get to shoot so many arrows over three days. Second, there are team events that give you a chance to get to know new people and socialise. And let’s face it, 50 meters is so fun to shoot.

Dillinger at the Lancaster Classic, 2020

Tell us about field why it matters?  

WA Field Archery is my favourite form of archery. It is so challenging, because of shooting angles, off-camber shot, cutting distance and unmarked targets. Field archery matters to us so much because World Archery has included barebow in the World Field Championships that happen every two years around the world.

I was lucky enough to represent the United States in Cortina, Italy in 2018. It was my first international tournament and I am hooked. I am very lucky to live in the mountains and belong to a couple of excellent archery clubs that have courses set up all summer, and I know not everyone has that luxury.

The biggest challenge for me is the lack of field shoots in my part of the country, so I don’t get to shoot tournaments before Field Nationals typically. I will do a combination of different setups getting ready for that. I will shoot short marked rounds in my back yard, 5m-25m.

I will take my target to an area on flat ground where I can shoot out to 50m and score a marked round. My favorite training is to shoot a course with 24 bales and just work on cuts and angles. This is normally enough to get me ready for anything on a field course.

Blank bale is always good in any form of archery. If I couldn’t get outside and shoot, then I would most likely be working on 5-10m bunnies (20cm face target).

The World Field Championships will be in Yankton this year – we hope. What are you expecting from it?

I really pray that Covid-19 will pass and the World Field Championships can still be held in Yankton. I have only shot there once. The ground is somewhat flat with a few hills, but I would expect shooting from platforms, so it will still be challenging.

I’m sure the NFAA will be prepared to host such a great tournament.  This US will have a very strong team this year to represent. Many great barebow shooters will come to try and qualify for the top three spots to make the World Team. Demmer, Partlowe, Stonebraker are just a few who could make the top three and there are rumours that two-time Olympic medalist Jake Kaminski will be shooting barebow.

There are so many great international shooters that always do well, like David Jackson, Fredrik Lundmark, Erik Jonsson, David Garcia and Michael Fisher.

I’m always excited leading up to a big shoot. I’m excited most by the chance to make the national team again and catch up with many of the international shooters that I have become friends with over the years.

What is your favourite sport away from archery?  

I would need to say golf. It is very similar to archery in so many ways. It takes such focus and complete control over your mind and body to do it well.

What is my biggest fear?  

Like many other athletes in other sports, injury is my biggest fear. Not being able to shoot or perform my best scares me the most.

Do I believe in luck?  

They say luck is what happens with preparation meets opportunity. I believe that 100%.

Do you have your eye on any barebow world records?

I’m not really a shooter that shoots crazy high tournament scores. I’m more of a consistent shooter. I will be turning 50 in a couple of years, so I am excited to give a good run at some of those Masters records, both indoors and 50 meters for sure.

If I could give any advice to anyone wanting to compete at a high level in any sport, I would recommend putting in the proper training and be passionate about shooting and your goals. Leave it all on the line when it counts and if you get beat then learn from it and be happy for your competitors.

John Dillinger’s 2020 bow:

Riser: Hoyt Xceed

Limbs: Hoyt Velos, long length. Indoors 38lbs, outdoors 41lbs

Weights: Hoyt stock Xceed weight with stainless steel side plates and prototype Hoyt extension. Total bow weight is around 6.8lbs.

Grip: Jager Archery JD3 Grip

String: Self-made 16 strand BCY 8125, .017 Halo end servings and .024 Halo center serving.

Tab: Yost Predator

Arrows: Indoors is 450 Spine Victory VXT, 150grn VXT points, VaneTec V-Max 2.5 vanes, and Victory pin nocks.

For Field/3D I use 600 Spine Victory 3DHV, 100 grn Victory points, VaneTec Swift 1.87 vanes, and Victory pin nocks.

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