A discussion with Ty Pelfrey

Several years ago I had the privilege to meet Ty Pelfrey. We seemed to hit it off from the start. We shared a passion for archery and hunting, we both loved “barebow” shooting, but the thing that really sealed the deal was our mutual love of literature and writing. Since that time our friendship has grown.  We routinely discuss stringwalking conundrums, hunting adventures, books and our own writing.  Ty was gracious enough to discuss his archery journey with me recently.  I think you will truly love getting to know, a little more personally, Ty Pelfrey.

Jimmy – When did you begin shooting and what got you started?

Ty – I’ve been shooting since first grade – 1968.  The first bow that I remember owning was a red fiberglass recurve with a white handle. My dad shot a Bear Super Kodiak – he still has his bow. I received all of his broken cedar arrows. He epoxied .38 Special shell casings on the shafts making my arrows blunts.

I credit my dad for encouraging his son to shoot blunts at every blackbird and gopher intruding on “my” back yard.

Jimmy – Did you shoot a compound first and then transition?  If so what sparked the change?

Ty – When I was ten Christmas was a sad affair.  I wanted a new bow – a bow I could deer hunt with.  I ripped through the presents and found a dozen wood Bear arrows for practice and a dozen bear hunting arrows with broadheads.  I can still smell the cedar as I opened the boxes – but no bow.

I had a long face.  It’s cruel to buy a guy arrows and no bow.  My dad suggested we clean up and take the tree outside.  I found a green Bear Super Kodiak nestled inside the tree along the trunk. The best present I’ve ever received.

For high school graduation I was given a Martin Warthog.  My wheeled adventure lasted a couple years.  I still shoot my green Super Kodiak when nostalgia calls.

Jimmy – How many major competitions have you won and what were they?

Ty – In 1999 I got the itch for a more accurate shooting system.  I was still shooting my Bear Super Kodiak, instinctively – 26 years behind the same bow!

I saw a guy shooting an Olympic recurve at a 3D shoot in the compound barebow division.  No sights. I prowled around on the Internet to learn more about the style.

The National Archery Association’s FITA Barebow category and FITA Field Round caught my attention because it simulates hunting conditions with an unsighted recurve bow – barebow. The National Champion was – Mark Applegate.

Mark’s address was 10 miles from my home.  After a month of capitulating and annoying my wife, I looked Mark’s name up in the phone book and called him.  He was at my house in 15 minutes. 30 minutes later and $3000 poorer I bought two bows and all the gear. We’ve been friends and competitors ever since.

Mark still helps me spend my money with an iconic, “Well, are you in or are you out?” mindset.

I’m all in.  He bought a rifle like mine – I’m giving back.

This is the long answer to the short question regarding major competitions. I had to tell the Mark story. Challenging my mind to shift from a bow I comfortably shot for nearly three decades was my greatest personal achievement. One’s paradigm can hold back their potential. Change risks success but opens doors to possiblity.

Had I not overcome my own comfortable bias – and tried something new, string-walking and a “new-fangled” bow, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the tournament successes and a great archery journey that come August will have taken me to Europe four times to compete.

Officially I won a handful of NAA FITA Field Championships, an NAA Indoor Championships and an indoor IFAA Championship. I may still have the IFAA 18meter world indoor record. I have a drawer full of second and third place finishes – thanks in more way than one, to my friend Mark Applegate.

Jimmy – What is your most memorable shoot and why?

Ty – I love my Bear Kodiak.  A few years back I pulled it off the shelf and dusted it off.  I snatched up a quiver full of arrows and headed to a local 3D.  They had this running deer target at – well I don’t know for sure because distances were never important when I shot instinctively – maybe 20 yards. The head of a finish nail pushed into the target glinted in the sunlight.  Closest arrow to the nail took home half the pot.

I threw down five bucks – 15 arrows and started shooting – flinging.  I felt like I was ten years old.  I pummeled that deer’s heart until I finally pushed the nail out the back of the target!  Tournament officials handed me $37.50 in a white envelope.  That envelope shines brighter than any medal, belt buckle or plaque in my humble collection.  I love that Bear Kodiak.

Jimmy – You worked your way up to a champion.  What do you attribute to your success?  What helped you become a champion?

Ty – The childhood question – “How good am I?” has always pushed my archery quests.  Deep down I think everyone wants to be the best at something.  I have a few national titles – but to attempt being the best Barebow FITA Field archer in the world has become my goal. I’ve been hunting the world title since 2000.  The World Championships are only held on even numbered years.

I read a lot about the sport and study how the brain body connection makes a difference at the elite level – and our personal lives.  I’m not very methodical in my thought processes when it comes to shooting a recurve – too many “flung” arrows.  I daydream and become easily distracted.

Continuing to learn to focus on the shot sequence and living in the moment – not the future or the past, during a tournament is my current goal.  The score is the byproduct.

Sometimes people misinterpret an archer’s quite standoffish demeanor during a tournament round. In reality the archer is trying to find that quiet place where their mind is calm.  Focus is hard for guys like me!

10,000 hours of practice – good practice, at any given endeavor is the break-point to go from being good at something to being great.  That 3D deer and finish nail episode I talked about is an example of time on task. My Kodiak used to feel like a portion of my body because I shot it so much. I can’t calculate how many arrows and hours I have behind that green laminated maple limbed recurve.

I’ve since lost my instinctive eye – not enough practice.  “Good” practice, a manageable bow poundage, matched equipment and thinking positive are the keys to success – and 10,000 hours of time on task if excellence is the goal. Don’t give-up.  Ask questions and learn the sport.

Jimmy – What was the most pressure you’ve felt shooting?

Ty – I qualified for the United States World Field Team in 2000.  Team trips are self-funded. I’d never traveled out of the US before so the international adventure with a bow was exciting.  The World Field Championships in 2000 were held in Cortina, Italy.

Imagine a practice range.  The guy to the left is speaking French, the archer to the right Hungarian. Toss in the rest of the European languages, a few from South America and a twangy Australian dialect and the international feel of a World Championship hits home.  Everyone has the same dream – positive energy pervades the practice field. Keeping score in four languages was wild!

Most every competitive barebow recurve archer is a stingwalker with thousands of hours of practice.  In 2000 I only had two years invested in the game. The angle compensation and varied terrail were all new. Watching the accuracy on the practice range and in the tournament over whelmed what I thought possible with a recurve without sights.

I don’t remember shooting many of my arrows – I was too nervous and excited.  When you slip into a team uniform with “USA” on your back the pride is overwhelming. Every arrow shot in Italy was like shooting at a deer for the first time – too much sensory overload for a competitive score. I had too much fun!

Since then I’ve tried to tackle the target panic beast in international competition. I shot on the US team in Croatia and again in Sweden.  This year I’m headed to France – a childhood dream being realized with “new fangled equipment”.  I’m glad my wife made me call.

Jimmy – What do you like most about competition shooting?

Ty – Learning. A guy doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.  When you’re shooting with top-flight archers you get to watch love of sport in action.  Shot mechanics and execution are on display.  Equipment is discussed – aiming techniques shared.  People on the top of the barebow discipline don’t keep secrets to win.  They share the sport to grow it’s potential.

Scott Antczak and I produced “Modern Traditional” with that sharing ideology in mind.  We wanted to disseminate what we know of the FITA barebow world and shooting a modern recurve.  That way others wanting a new challenge aren’t stymied by a difficult learning curve – or secrets kept close to the breast to limit competition and growth of the sport.

Swedish archers have handed me their bow and explained their tune. Irish archers taught me training.  Australian’s how to have a good time!  Competitions allow like-minded archers to share and grow the sport as they compete for tokens of accomplishment.

Jimmy – If you were king for a day and could change any one thing about competition shooting what would it be and why?

Ty – I’d have a NASCAR Archery World Championship.  Everyone pays an entry fee and is handed an identical bow – poundage their choice:  two divisions – recurve or longbow. Lancaster and 3-Rivers could sponsor the adventure. Arrow suiting one’s draw length and spine would be available for selection – nothing expensive.  Everyone gets eight hours on day one to practice.  Put your fingers on the string where ever you wish.  Shoot with your feet if it makes you feel good.  If you can pull with your teeth go ahead!

Then, the following day the tournament begins.  Targets, format and distances are irrelevant in my kingdom – lets all shoot!  A little 3-D, flight, target, moving targets – flying targets too.

Winner get’s a golden arrow and has to help pick-up the trash like everyone else.

Jimmy Why?

Ty – To find out who’s the best archer on that given day.  Next year we’ll shoot a different bow at different targets!

Jimmy – Do you hunt?

Ty – I’m a hunting archer that has picked-up an Olympic bow to increase his accuracy. I figured if I’m spending so much time shooting targets why not put #50 limbs on my target bow to have the same feel?  So I did. A can of camouflage paint converted my target tool into a hunting bow.  Hunting is my passion – targets my training.  Being a kid at heart my blessing.

Jimmy – What bow / bows do you currently shoot?

Sky Conquest at #39 for target and #48-50 for hunting.

Jimmy – What arrows?

Ty – Carbon Tech for hunting with Muzzy heads and Easton  520 ACE’s for target.

Jimmy – What aiming system do you use?

Ty – I’m strictly a string-walker for both target and hunting.  Instinctive shooting takes too much practice for the muscle memory – I’m getting older. Time is a premium.  The shots I’ve made in the field stringwalking would not have been possible with my Bear Kodiak shot instinctively – oh yea, thank Heaven for a laser rangefinder!

Jimmy – What is a typical training session and how many days per week do you shoot?  How many arrows in a day?

Ty – Recently I went to 90-minutes a day.  Maybe 2 hours on a long day.  I went from flinging 200 arrows a day to attempting 100 perfect arrows per session. An hour of mental training and another 30 minutes of gear tinkering finished off a typical day.  Too much time spent with stick and string to qualify as a hobby and not enough money made to call it a part-time job.  Passion has a price.

Jimmy – What are your archery dreams / goals?

Ty – My goal is to allow the sport to carry me forward with the skills and abilities I possess – making friends along the way. Dream – like always, to be the best barebow archer in the world with stick and string. The French Alps in 2012 – here we go again!

Jimmy – Do you have someone or something that motivates you?   If so what?

Ty – The deep desire to be better is a constant voice. Knowing that Mark Applegate and Scott Antczak are practicing encourages me to stay in the game.  This Blackmon character has me worried he’s putting more arrows in the target than I am. I met Alan Eagleton this summer – that guy can shoot!

It gets lonely on the practice range with a dream in one pocket and arrows in the other – especially when the World Championships is every other year.

But, I’ll give credit where credit is due.  Behind every man is a good woman. She’s not once complained about my shooting schedule and deposits money into my hunting account every month – honest!

My lovely wife Teresa finally got tired of hearing me whine about trying something new in archery, “Would you just call that Applegate guy and get it over with!”

I called and have seen the world because of it. I’ve met great people and even done more contemplation about life because of archery.   Jimmy I think you call that “Porch Thinking.”  Thanks for asking about the journey.

Barebow gents getting their target assignments. US Men’s Bareow Team in Black shirts (L to R) Mark Applegate, Skip Trafford and Ty Pelfrey. Notice everyone is packing a chair!

International barebow contingent in the forest of Croatia.

Team members Trafford and Pelfrey preparing for 3 arrows at 20 meters in Croatia

World Field practice range in Croatia.

Mark Applegate and Ty Pelfrey shooting 25meters at the US Nationals in Spokane

Team procession into the venue at Croatia – Jeff Button USA flag bearer.

5 responses to “A discussion with Ty Pelfrey

  1. You are a lucky man Jimmy, first Scott then Ty , maybe you could get hold of Mark Applegate next and then you,ve got all my stringwalking heroes, plus yourself of course!!

  2. Hello everyone I had the honor of being taught the whole game of Archery from Mr pelfrey that’s a damn good man I wouldn’t know what I know now if its wasn’t for pelfrey gray ave archery class.

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