Olympic archer John Dudley smiles while wearing camo in a field and holding up the rack of a downed animal.

Mastering the Bow: Lessons in Precision and Determination From John Dudley

Discover the journey of Olympian John Dudley: how his upbringing influenced his love for hunting and his role as an ambassador for Montana Knife Company.

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John Dudley is an accomplished bow hunter, Olympic archer, podcaster, and close friend of Montana Knife Company. In this post, we dive into the experiences that made John Dudley who he is today.

Early John Dudley: An Introduction to Archery

John grew up deep in Southern Mississippi. Hunting was a tradition in his family, and it was especially important to John’s grandfather. Everyone in the family — even the grandkids — learned how to hunt as a rite of passage.

John admits that his first few kills displeased his grandfather. Wanting to impress him, John brought back multiple deer from a single trip. The plan backfired. That day, John’s grandfather taught him the importance of not taking more than you can consume.

His grandfather also placed him in a “penalty box” of sorts, telling John that if he wanted to hunt with them again, he’d need to do it “the way the Indians did it,” with a bow and arrow. His grandfather saw this as a way to curb John’s overhunting. He didn’t realize at the time that this penalty would foster a passion for archery in John.

John says from that point on — and especially after his first successful bow hunt — he never wanted to hunt without a bow and arrow again.

Moving to Illinois

When John was a teenager, his family moved to a northwestern suburb of Chicago, where his interest in sports took off. He says it was much harder to “ride to a pond or creek and get in whatever kind of mischief I wanted to in the outdoors.”

Even when his priorities changed, bow hunting was “always like a reward,” he says. John and his family would return to Mississippi during Thanksgiving week each year to celebrate, see family, and hunt.

During winter, John worked at a ski hill called Wilmont Mountain for some extra cash and a free ski pass. It was on his way home from Wilmont one day that John drove by an archery course on a backcountry road. “[It] had spray paint on it and it just said ‘archery tournament’ and pointed down a driveway,” he says.

This archery course was a turning point in John Dudley’s archery development. Archery had come a long way since John’s early days of shooting paper plates and hay bales. By the time he made it halfway through the course, which was packed with high-tech 3D targets, he was out of arrows.

John drove to the nearest Gander Mountain and bought enough arrows to finish the course. When he got back, though, the awards ceremony was already in progress.

John noticed that all the men on the podium were wearing the same shirt: a bright yellow tee promoting their favorite shop. The next day, John visited that shop and asked tons of questions.

Around prime time for the shop, the archery manager, Mike Donovan, came out and asked what John was doing. After finding out that John was loitering around, he asked him to come help in the back.

Mike put John to work fletching arrows. He showed John how to put them into jigs, how to clamp the feather in place, and how to glue everything together.

Initially, John made nothing fletching arrows, even though he was at it for several weeks. He eventually worked out a deal with Mike for $4.10 an hour. John credits the months he spent working at the archery shop — and Mike Donovan — with completely changing his life.

Focusing on Archery

John remembers telling his dad that he wanted to give up his college sports scholarship to pursue archery. “He just said, ‘I think I need to go on record and say that’s a terrible decision,’” says John. “But [my parents] didn’t dig in too deep… They let me do that.”

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John focused on competing while working at the shop on weekends. He spent his time shooting with the same three guys from the 3D archery course, and he attended every tournament he could in northern Illinois. “I was probably doing three to four tournaments a weekend,” he says.

By the end of his first year, John had already qualified for the IBO World Championships’ amateur class. By the next year, he reached the semi-pro class. “Within two years, I went from being on the last page of the results as an amateur to debuting as a rookie on tour,” said Dudley.

John recalls one particularly life-changing interaction back at the shop around that time. John’s boss had approached him, wondering why John didn’t charge a customer for range time.

John explained his reasoning: The customer had already ordered a high-end setup and seemed very interested in archery. It was likely that he’d be a repeat customer, so John gave him a few minutes of range time for free.

While his boss acknowledged that John’s strategy was good, he told John he shouldn’t do his own thing if it wasn’t his own shop. So, John made a change. With a $5,000 loan from his mother, John started his own archery shop out of the tack room in his family’s horse barn.

Going Pro

Soon after, John Dudley made a serendipitous jump to pro status. Shortly after opening his shop, he met some Mathews representatives at an ATA show. They recognized him from a previous competition, in which John had used a borrowed Mathews bow.

John took a gamble, asking Mathews if they’d offer him a contract. They made a deal with John: If he bought his first two Mathews bows and won Rookie of the Year, they’d do it. And he did.

After about 10 years of working for Mathews, John and the company parted ways. John wanted to do independent work and “represent archery on his own terms.” For a while, John sold archery DVDs out of the back of his car.

Hoyt took notice of John shortly after. They contacted John, asking if he’d help grow their sales in Canada. However, there was a catch: They told him he needed to get on TV.

Fortunately for John, Canada Wild TV was searching for idols, and John seemed like the ticket. Together, they re-edited John’s DVDs for television, and Nock On TV was born. The Nock On brand came soon after.

After many years of pro work, Olympic medals, World Cups, high-profile events, and at least one failed attempt at retirement, John has finally started to slow down. He says, “I punch out from August 24 to October 1 [to] focus on elk and mule deer… I focus on my family every single day between those tags.”

Infographic: Mastering the Bow: Lessons in Precision and Determination From John Dudley

John Dudley Today

John Dudley still lives and breathes bow hunting, but he says his priorities have shifted from where they were years ago. After four decades of dedication to archery, John prefers to trade the competitions for more time with his family. He also spends more time designing new products, writing new content, and building his community.


by Josh Smith, Master Bladesmith and Founder of Montana Knife Company