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The Beginning....

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    The Beginning....

    Michael Middleton - The Beginning......

    There have been several threads recently reminiscing about’s great history, much of which was lost in the “Great Crash of ‘06”. Prompted by Mary, and others, I think now is a great time to reflect on the origins of, and it’s awesome, unexpected growth into the great community that it has become today. As we transition to a new server, with new growth opportunities, and with the help of our most senior members, we’d like to recreate some of the great stories, posts, hunts and memories that have shaped not only the direction of our internet community, but dare I say the very lives of its members. The goal with this is to introduce new members, and remind long-time members, of the impact that this site has had in shaping who we are, as individuals, and the life long bonds of friendship, mentorship, knowledge and entertainment of those who have contributed in building a one of a kind community.

    I was a relative newcomer to the internet in 1996, when I was visiting my brother-in-law at his home near New Braunfels, and he showed me a weirdly interesting place called “Yahoo”, where you could search various topics on the “world wide web”. I had dabbled with some basic, early “internet” stuff in college when my roommate spent hours participating in a role playing game (similar to Dungeons and Dragons) with other users while networked with other users. However, if I recall, this Yahoo might have been my first exposure to an actual website, complete with pictures and graphics.

    My interest in bowhunting had changed dramatically in 1994 when I got my first “real” bow, a Pearson Spoiler that my step-dad, Glenn (Pop) had given me as an early Christmas present that year. I had hunted with a bow, but it was later that season that I feel like I became a “bowhunter”, as I watched a 160 class buck from a box blind, and the thought never crossed my mind to pick up my rifle as I contemplated a strategy to spend the rest of that weekend in an attempt to shoot that buck with my bow.

    Anyway, after my introduction to Yahoo, I conducted a search for “bowhunting” or some such term, and found a cool link called “Bowsite”. How cool was this? Bowsite had a “chat room” where there were people in other states that were actually talking about real time! (I don’t recall all the names, but I know for certain that Rupe and Pat were there that evening, for you old-timers) There was also a “forum” where people discussed various questions and topics! I spent hours that night, and that weekend, reading and absorbing wondrous knowledge from people from all over the state. Unfortunately, I had to leave after the weekend, and I only dreamed of someday having and internet connection so I could once again find this bowhunting utopia!

    It was several months later (I want to say six, but it could have just as easily have been three or twelve) before I finally could afford to get my very own dial-up internet connection for $10/month ( Once I was connected, I quickly searched, and found, the Bowsite. It had changed, and there were now state-specific forums that allowed regional discussions. Very cool. I lurked for awhile, and then decided I was ready to join in on some discussions. I had to register with a username, or handle, and without giving much thought, glanced at a P&Y scoresheet that was in front of me at the time (I dreamed big!) and chose the first thing that jumped out at me as my username, G2.

    I jumped right in, absorbed every piece of information I could glean, and began offering my own opinion on nearly every thread, even some of the controversial ones.

    At the time, I read any bowhunting magazine I could get my hands on, but there seemed to be a deficiency in Texas-based hunting magazines, or even articles. I read the TTHA magazine, which had the bowhunting section edited by Jeff Copeland, and occasionally would read the LSBA magazine, but both seemed to be lacking, too. I recall getting frustrated by one issue of the LSBA magazine that had bowfishing in Maryland on the cover, instead of something about hunting in Texas!

    Off and on during that same period I was keeping a personal journal. Anything was fair game, and in 1994 I started keeping it so that my soon-to-be-born child would someday be able to read it. However, more and more the daily entries were mostly about shooting at the local archery shop, shooting bows, or something that happened on the Bowsite! I enjoyed writing in the journal, but wanted to share some of my stories with my new friends I was starting to meet on the internet. At the same time, I knew many of them had some awesome writings and stories to share, and most of them were better than what I was reading in the various magazines.

    I decided I wanted to attempt to write something that I could share with other people that could be published. I solicited opinions from Bowsite about possibilities that ranged from submitting magazine articles to publishing a book. Based on responses to my questions, I realized that getting published in a magazine was cut-throat, and I better prepare myself for rejection, while self-publishing a book was cost-prohibitive.

    It dawned on me that I might not be the only person that had a story to tell, with nowhere to tell it. (Actually, at the time I had NEVER even shot a deer with my bow…just a few hogs!) I tossed the idea out on the Texas Conference of the Bowsite, and several people expressed interest in reading an email “newsletter”, and a couple actually volunteered to participate by writing stories for it.

    Around that same time, I made a trip to Ft. Worth. I don’t recall if it was for business, or simply to visit family. A group from Bowsite, which included Rob Williams (CAT), Rudey Garlington (Rudey) and J.P. Davidsson (JPBruni) had put together a “Dallas Happy Hour” for the members of our group, so I made the trip from Ft. Worth to somewhere near Mesquite to meet some of the people I had been talking to on the internet. After further discussion, J.P. agreed to write regular articles for the newsletter.

    My philosophy for the newsletter was that “everybody had a story to tell”, but not everybody had the ability to put it on paper, with proper spelling and grammar. I asked members of the discussion forum to send in their stories and experiences, and I would edit them, without changing the integrity of the story, to make them as readable as possible, and would email them to anybody interested in reading it.

    The first issue of the newsletter, which I called Texas Bowhunters Journal, was published and emailed to about 25 recipients in October 1998. Articles were submitted by J.P, Glenn (Pop) and Dennis Mulder, and I wrote an introduction, as well as the beginnings of a fictional series that I called “Around the Campfire”. It was 10 pages long, and included some low quality photos that I had scanned and attempted to resize to fit with the articles.
    Article contributions, as well as “subscribers” increased over the next 9 issues, published at various intervals through May 2000.

    As the internet began to become more popular, and more people gained access, several people suggested that I create a website where I could publish the Journal, rather than sending it out via email. I was resistant to the idea because I felt that “pushing” the newsletter to readers via email would ensure higher readership than posting it on a website where readers would have to actively go to a website to download it. The other limiting factor was that I had no idea how to even begin creating a website.

    Through various conversations on the Bowsite, I learned that I worked extremely close to a couple of other regulars, Morris92 (Casey Morris) and Outbreaker (Kevin Johnson). Casey worked just down the street from me in a building near the Galleria in Houston, and invited me to meet him for lunch one afternoon later in the week at Rancho Tejas. The day of our scheduled meeting, I received at call at work from Casey…an hour and a half after our appointed meeting time, letting me know that he was still awaiting my arrival! I had completely forgot about our meeting (I know some of you find that hard to believe!), but he agreed to wait for me to get there. I’m thankful he did.

    It was at Rancho Tejas that Casey proposed the creation of a website that would extend beyond simply housing the Journal. He had mocked up an actual webpage, complete with pictures, an index, and even a video of a huge buck he had captured footage of while working at the Johnson Space Center! Others had suggested creating a website, but Casey showed me that it was a real possibility!

    It was still awhile later before an actual website came to fruition. The original intent was to host it on the webspace provided by Casey’s ISP, but we decided that we had to have an easily identifiable “name” that people could type in. I didn’t even know what a “domain name” was at the time, but we spent quite some time researching how to make one. We learned that the first step was to come up with a name. Easy enough, Then, we had to “register” the domain…whatever that meant. We figured that out, and completed the registration in July 1999. Interestingly enough, after registering the domain, I checked every few days waiting for the site to “appear.” After a few days, I realized that I actually had to create and upload something before anything would “appear!” In order to do that, I had to have a place to “host” the site.

    More research was in order! I found a host for another $10/month that provided 100 MB of disc space through, and with the help of my brother, was referred to FrontPage to assist with creating, editing and publishing the pages.

    We went “live” with a crude version of the website in October 1999. It included links to the current and archived Texas Bowhunters’ Journal, and a few pictures, as well as some links to other sites.

    I knew that for the site to be successful in getting people to come to read the newsletter, we needed to focus on two things: 1) attracting new members; and 2) giving existing members a reason to return frequently.

    In addition to the newsletter, we wanted to include “Live Hunts” and pictures of deer to achieve the first objective. We also decided that putting short video clips on the internet would be a unique way to attract new users. To my knowledge, no other hunting sites were incorporating video to that point, and in fact I think most internet video was limited to a few “adult” sites. Casey had already incorporated a video clip on his “mock” page, so we wanted to make it happen on the website. Digital video cameras were new to the market, and I figured out a way scrounge up $600 to purchase a Sony Digital8 camcorder, a TRV103, on Ebay. Casey did most of the research on the “firewire” equipment we would need in order to capture video onto the computer. I actually had to borrow $120 from Casey to purchase our first ieee1494 card, a Pyro Firewire card with Ulead Video Studio, for editing! Now we just had to figure out how to video an actual hunt!

    We felt like the best way to accomplish the second objective, retaining existing members, would be to create a discussion forum.

    We went through various renditions in an attempt to create a forum, first starting with the basic, threaded message board that could be created in FrontPage. After additional research, we found a “freeware” (another new term for us) version of a discussion software program, called Discusware. Again, with our limited computer knowledge, it took quite some time to figure out how to acquire, upload and configure the software before we were able to go “live”.

    It took some time, as you might expect, for the discussion forum to take hold, but it continued to grow gradually as more users joined, almost exclusively through referral from other users.

    As the site continued to grow, the Texas Bowhunters’ Journal ultimately gave way to the development of Live Hunts, video clips and stories posted on the discussion forum. Broadband access was just becoming available to consumers, and most users, including me, were still on dialup access, which necessitated that we keep our content, especially video, to small file sizes.

    The rest, as they say, is history, though we continue to evolve and make history. The Discussion Forums have enabled to be a dynamic, continually evolving community that we could have never envisioned from our humble beginnings.

    The evolution of the site following the origins outlined above are too numerous, and too diverse, to include here. Likewise, the credits for those that contributed to the development of the site, both before and after its creation, are too numerous to list, as well.

    I’ve stated before, but I reiterate because it’s true, that most of the people that I consider my very best friends in the world are people I met immediately preceding, during and after the development of this place we call our internet home.