Soon after the Pope & Young Club elected Jim Willems as its president March 2, he said it was time the Club moved forward and shifted focus away from issues that no longer matter to most bowhunters.
Willems, a resident of Farmington, New Mexico, replaced Roger Atwood of Idaho. In his first statement as the P&Y Club’s president, Willems – a recurve shooter – put it this way: “Bowhunters today hunt with everything from self bows and flint to the latest compound with expandables. Ever since they started gluing fiberglass to wood bows, we have had to revise our idea of what ‘bowhunting’ is. I think we can find a way to embrace the future while honoring the past.”
The Pope and Young Club formed in 1961 as a nonprofit conservation and bowhunting organization that’s “dedicated to the promotion and protection of our bowhunting heritage, hunting ethics and wildlife conservation.”
In early June 2014, the Club’s voting members showed they embraced Willems’ view of that mission statement by ending their opposition to lighted nocks and bow-mounted cameras. The vote was 75-25 to accept entries into the Club’s prestigious record book from bowhunters using such devices. Since the 1980s, the Club has closed its record book to bowhunters who use “electronics attached to the bow and arrow.”
In announcing the change, Willems said he was pleased such a large percentage of P&Y voters favored it. “Bowhunters generally accept that such equipment does not aid in the harvesting of an animal, and can enhance the overall hunting experience,” he said. “It’s good to get the issue behind us and move on to other important matters.”
In late June – at the invitation of Jay McAninch, CEO/president of the Archery Trade Association – Willems attended the annual summer meeting of the ATA Board of Directors in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Willems addressed the Board and answered questions during a luncheon. He also took time for a 15-minute interview with the ATA’s Patrick Durkin during a field trip to Jenks High School to see a demonstration of the ATA’s “Explore Bowhunting” program.
Here’s an edited transcript of those Q&A sessions with Willems:
ATA: Why did you run for president of the Pope and Young Club?
Willems: I’m a proud member of Pope and Young, but as I watched the past 10 years, I saw it was dying. Some members didn’t like to hear that, but we were all getting older and we weren’t getting new, younger members. It’s like traditional churches. If you’re a member, you look around and everyone is 60 to 70 years old. To grow a church, you must be contemporary. We have to change this or we’re all just going to die and take the Club with us. Some guys were content to attend the convention every year and pretend everything is fine, and just have fun.
I don’t agree with that. I love the Club and I want it to be here when I’m gone. Some people say I got elected because of the lighted-nock issue. The old guard even said ‘the industry’ got what it wanted. Well, I shoot a recurve and Todd Brickel (a P&Y director from Colorado) shoots a longbow. We view the industry more favorably than some, but we’re most interested in the club’s future and bowhunting. The old guard didn’t learn that everyone won’t conform to what they decide, whether it’s lighted nocks or 65 percent let-off on compounds. Everyone just moved forward without us.
If the Club is to survive, we can’t let all the 70- to 80-year-old guys decide what we do. We’ll poll our membership to see what they want, publish the results, listen and learn what they want, and then encourage people to change their minds. It’s a club and we need to get 51 percent of the voting membership’s support to change anything.
ATA: Do you foresee more issues regarding equipment changes?
Willems: There’s nothing going on right now, equipment-wise. We still don’t allow lighted sights, and we don’t hear much about it. The problem we’ve had too often was trying to ban things that might happen, and worrying about space-age stuff that might end up in the woods. I’d rather deal with what we actually see out there.
Equipment decisions sometimes take care of themselves. Everyone made a big stink for years about the 65 percent let-off restriction because they were worried bows might one day reach 90 to 95 percent let-off. Well, now our restriction is 85 percent, and the maximum let-off of most bows has settled in at 70 to 75 percent because everyone learned that high let-offs were too hard to shoot. It became a dead issue after all that fuss, but at what cost?
We don’t want higher-tech bowhunters to ignore the Pope and Young Club. We’re mainly a record-keeping organization, and if we make it difficult for bowhunters to qualify for the book because they use X, Y or Z equipment, we’re losing sight of what we were designed to do; the reason we were created. I hope to get this going in the right direction.
ATA: Because of differences over the crossbow, the Pope and Young Club hasn’t attended the ATA Trade Show in recent years. Will the Club exhibit at the 2015 Show in Indianapolis?
Willems: We’ll most likely vote to be there. There is no reason for the Club not to partner with the ATA. I realize there’s been animosity between the industry and the Pope and Young Club, but I think it was unwarranted and got too personal. I told our guys that the Club mostly ignored the industry for a long time, and now the industry ignores us. We have to get back in partnership with the industry one way or another, and work together.
I’ve been a voting member in the Club a long time. When someone ran for our board, I was amazed how many people would say we can’t have him on the board because he’s too close to the industry. That was being said by guys I respected for advice. That attitude has been killing us and it has to stop.
ATA: For years, many bowhunters really wanted to shoot something that would qualify for “The Book,” but now they don’t. It’s kind of become a dead subject at many pro shops because the Club’s rules forbid lots of equipment sold by pro shops. Do you hear that too?
Willems: Yes, I do hear that and we’re working to change it. M.R. James said many bowhunters simply view us as equipment police and compound-bow haters, even though most of our members shoot the most modern compounds out there. We want to break up the good-old-boy committee that took us in that direction for so long. We’ve hired Rick Mowery as our communications and marketing manager to help change that impression. It’s a newly created position to help increase our presence and spread our message.
ATA: Some people look at you as an agent of change, but as you know, change-agents often lose support once they start doing what they promised. Do you have the support that will sustain the changes you’re bringing?
Willems: This isn’t all about me. A lot of members thought it was time for a change, and I just happened to be the guy who ran and got elected. Tom Nelson is now our vice president, Todd Brickel is now a director, and Kathy Strecker is our membership director. They’re not part of the old guard. People want to see the club grow. It got to the point where the Club’s membership got tired of the same ol’ guys making the same ol’ decisions. Many of our board members had been there since the 1970s, and some of them are gone now. A lot of us want to change the bylaws so it’s not so easy for the president to consolidate power. I favor term limits too. We want to revamp things, but it will probably take a few years.
ATA: Is today’s technology compatible with bowhunting’s heritage and tradition, as defined by the Pope and Young Club?
Willems: I believe in the Pope and Young Club, and I realize the archery technology we enjoy today is far different from when the Club started in 1961. But we need to communicate the fact that bowhunting is still mostly about woodcraft and getting close to our quarry. You must still be a good bowhunter to succeed. Today’s equipment might allow people to make farther shots, but bowhunting is not about 120-yard shots, just as rifle hunting isn’t about 1,000-yard shots. It’s about hunting, not just shooting. It might not be illegal to take those long shots, but it’s questionable if the person doing it is capable of such shots.
We also have to concede that long shots aren’t new. Even our namesakes, Pope and Young, sometimes shot 100 yards with their longbows. So, it’s not new and it will continue to happen, but we need to keep preaching that bowhunting is about being a better hunter so we can get closer. It’s not about making the longest shot our equipment is capable of trying.
ATA: Do you foresee the Pope and Young Club dropping its opposition to crossbows?
Willems: No. Crossbows are still a huge issue, and the Club has been fighting to keep them out of the archery seasons. That’s ingrained in us and I don’t see it changing. But I also understand the industry has crossbow manufacturers, and that states have Game-and-Fish agencies that want to create more hunting opportunities. So, the heck with crossbows. They’re going to happen whether we like it or not.
We just have to live with it, and agree to disagree. That’s all. As a New Mexico bowhunter, I don’t want crossbows included in our archery season because it’s already difficult to draw a tag. If we get a bunch of new crossbow hunters competing for those tags, the odds of drawing would get even worse.
ATA: In the Club’s defense, one argument its members often made was that it is a private club, not a public body. In other words, if you don’t like its rules, don’t join. Is that still a viable argument for defending some of its positions or equipment restrictions?
Willems: That will always be a delicate line to walk. We want to represent bowhunting, and we want bowhunters to practice a hunting style that’s ethical and above-board. We encourage bowhunting’s original spirit. By limiting yourself to a bow and arrow, you have to get close, make an effective shot, and keep growing as a hunter.
The bottom line for me is the integrity of our records programs. We have to protect that. We’ve been viewed too long as the equipment police. We have to be more than that, but we also want our records to reflect the sport’s integrity.
For instance, I doubt we’ll ever budge on our high-fence restrictions. That goes back a long time, and we still see high-fence hunting as a real problem. We think it’s unethical and a danger to bowhunting.
ATA: Much like the Boone and Crockett Club, when the Pope and Young Club formed, it stressed the need for conservation through science-based wildlife management. So when you talk about the Pope and Young Club having bigger issues to address, does that include conservation efforts?
Willems: Yes, sometimes people forget that we give out nearly $100,000 annually in conservation grants. We also help fund things like the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance and the National Archery in the Schools Program. We also support elk and deer research by state wildlife agencies. We’re also one of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) (which includes Ducks Unlimited, Boone and Crockett Club, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Bear Trust International). We’ll always be committed to sound conservation principles.