ULYSSES‑‑ Thousands of archers came to Potter County last week for the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous. The week-long festival attracts anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people. Held at Denton State Park, the festival gives archery enthusiasts an opportunity to meet, practice and enjoy time with other archers.
Giant tents were erected near the ski lodge to house all the vendors. From Alaska to Germany, ETAR draws vendors from all over the world. Big name companies, such as Black Widow, set up shop next to small outfitters. Mike Knefley, founder of the ETAR, said, “We have around 140-150 vendor spaces, so there are about 100 vendors.”
As the attendees made their way through the vendor stations early in the morning Knefly discussed just how far people traveled to attend the festival. “We will get people from Canada, from Maine. There is a whole Amish group from Illinois. We have people from Virginia, West Virginia and Texas. There is a guy that drove here with his camper from Colorado,” he said.
Guests will arrive throughout the week. But those that have attended before know that getting to Denton early is important as camping spaces fill up fast. A temporary tent city is formed as the guests set up campsites throughout the week. At night, plumes of smoke rising from the state park can be seen from Route 6. In the morning, the inviting smell of breakfast cooking over open fires is a welcome start to a busy day for the archers.
The thousands of guests who now attend the annual festival, illustrate the global passion that exists for traditional bow hunting. “What has happened in archery is, archery has become very high tech. You are not satisfied until you split your arrow, driving tacks. These folks, are folks that want a little simpler approach. If they lose their release, they can still hunt. If their sight gets bumped and changes it’s alright, because they shoot instinctively,” Knefley said.
“There are a whole lot of people here who love the simplicity of what we have. People that just love the flight of the arrow, they don’t care if they drive a tack they just care if they can kill an animal,” Knefley added.
The festival provides guests with abundant opportunities to practice their skills. There are courses with 3-D targets open daily where archers can train. There is also the Eagle Eye Shoot-out which donates half of the money raised to LEEK: an organization providing hunts for wounded veterans.
Although it takes practice to become a skilled archer, Knefley explained that shooting bow mainly comes down to hand-eye coordination. He compared archery with throwing a baseball, at first you can’t hit the target but as you practice you learn how to make the ball go where you want. Continuous practice builds harmony between the archer and bow and before long the archer can shoot almost by instinct.
That connection between hunter and bow is part of what attracts people to the traditional archery festival.
“I started the first archery shoot in 1984, a different one than this. After a few years, Tom Cole came to me and said, ‘Why don’t you do one for just traditional archers?’” Knefley said.
Since the first ETAR festival in 1989, the event has grown to what it is today.