Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Keeping his eye on the target


November 7, 2019

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Seeley Lake's Mike Dellwo draws an arrow back with his 60-pound compound bow. After a shoulder injury, doctors told him he would probably never shoot again

SEELEY LAKE – Mike Dellwo pulled back his bow and lined up on the target. After nearly 40 years of regularly finishing in the top five at archery tournaments around the country, a shoulder injury in 2017 had doctors telling him he would probably never shoot again. However, this last season he won two of the three archery tournaments he participated in and was runner up in the third.

"Bill [Lemke, physical therapist at Rejuvenate] would always tell me, 'You'll never be what you were. But you'll get out of it what you put into it,'" said Dellwo. "I pounded it and worked really hard. Now I'm still competitive wherever I go."

* * * * *

Born and raised in Seeley Lake, Dellwo has always been a big hunter. He started hunting when he turned 12-years-old and began archery hunting in high school.

"I just like being in the woods that time of year – the elk are bugling, there are a lot less people and you see a lot more animals compared to rifle season," said Dellwo. "It is a lot more rewarding because you are up close and personal."

In his mid-20s, Dellwo and a friend went to their first archery tournament. It was a 3-D tournament with life-sized animals for targets at unmarked yardage.

"I thought it would be great practice for hunting," said Dellwo. "I actually did really well."

Dellwo beat a lot of shooters that were a better shot because he had a knack for estimating yardage.

"As I progressed and got to be a better shooter, then I got hard to deal with because I was good at judging and I was a good shot," said Dellwo.

Dellwo set up targets in his backyard and shot for up to ten hours a day. He would also go out in the woods with his range finder and practice guessing distances.

"Everything I've ever done I've wanted to be the best, that is just how I was wired. I go over the top when I get into something," said Dellwo.

Dellwo's first goal at the tournaments was to score high enough to make it into the top five or six shooters on Saturday. Then he would be in the "flight" with the top shooters and shoot against them on Sunday.

"Once I started making the flights, then my goal was to beat everyone in the flight," said Dellwo and laughed. "You get to be really good friends with everyone and that is really cool. They are all just good people."

Dellwo shot competitively for nearly 30 years. He shot in up to 20 tournaments every year traveling all over the West. He shot either a 60- or 80-pound compound bow with fixed-pins and a trigger.

In his competitive archery career, Dellwo set a state record for the adult male Bow hunter free-style National Field target in 2002 at 588 points. He set a field record in 2004 with 522 points.

He also won seven state overall championships in Montana - two in the field, two target, two state indoor and one 3-D championship as well as the Idaho State Championship in 2006. He took the International Bow Organization Western Triple Crown once and was the runner up twice.

One of Dellwo's favorite tournaments is the annual Bear Shoot at Clearwater Junction on Father's Day weekend. He has only missed two Bear Shoots in 40 years. He has won the fixed pin and trigger class more than 20 times and has shot high game for the tournament two or three times.

"I am really competitive and it is fun to win," said Dellwo. "I won a lot but you can't win them all. There are some really good shooters."

* * * * *

In December 2017, Dellwo slipped on the ice at work. He reached out to catch himself and came down on his right arm.

He had surgery February 2018. While the doctors thought they could repair his shoulder with arthroscopic surgery, they quickly found he tore his sub-scapula muscle, the powerhouse muscle that hooks the shoulder to the pectoralis muscle. He now has a seven-inch scar from the procedure.

Rejuvenate Physical Therapist Bill Lemke told Dellwo the only thing worse was a total shoulder replacement. Dellwo's shoulder was completely immobilized for seven months.

"I've never been hurt, never been to the doctor, never been to the hospital, nothing," said Dellwo. "I felt sorry for myself."

When the 2018 archery season rolled around, Dellwo refused to stay home. Despite the 10-pound weight restriction for his shoulder, he shot his 60-pound bow.

"I got it back and it didn't hurt. But when I pulled the trigger and all the tension came off, that hurt. But I only had to shoot one shot," said Dellwo who got his elk.

Because Dellwo had not been physically active for seven months and he hiked hard, his Achilles tendons swelled up and were really bugging him. A couple days after returning from his hunt when he was out cutting firewood, his left Achilles tendon tore.

"It popped three times. I could hear it popping over the chain saw," said Dellwo. "It was painful."

While he opted not to have surgery, Dellwo had to wear a boot 24 hours a day for seven months

"I was still on light duty for my shoulder and then I was in a boot for seven months," said Dellwo. "That was even worse because the crutches hurt me because of my shoulder - I couldn't put any weight on it. Then I was really depressed."

Dellwo's wife Joan got him a stationary bike to try and get back into shape.

"I didn't have any energy and I couldn't do it," said Dellwo who loved to lift weights and stay in shape. "I couldn't get any air."

Joan convinced him to go back to the doctor where he found out he had a really bad infection and a collapsed lung. The doctors thought it was a combination of the really bad smoke from the 2017 fire season and being laid up for so long. He was put on steroids and given an inhaler.

The inhaler gave him oral thrush in the back of his throat. Even though he could take medicine to control the thrush, once he stopped it came right back. He quit the inhaler and has not been back to the doctor. He has been hiking up to six hours a day since Sept. 7 and he got his elk again this year with his bow.

"I really got kicked down," said Dellwo. "I found out I was old all at once."

* * * * *

Despite his recent health challenges, at 62 years old and with 20-15 vision at a distance, Dellwo started competitively shooting again and continues to dominate his age class. He went to three tournaments this year where he won two and tied for second in the other. This year's Bear Shoot had 500 competitors. Dellow won the bow hunter free style class, fixed pin with the trigger on a compound bow, and placed in the top 10 over all.

"I had to be happy for being down and out for that long," said Dellwo. "The doctor told me [shooting my bow] was probably the worst thing I could do for my shoulder. I said, 'Well, that is what I do.'"

Dellow credits Rejuvenate Physical Therapists Lemke and Kim Grove for getting his shoulder back in shape so quickly. Lemke would try to make him say uncle when he was stretching his shoulder but Dellwo never would.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Mike Dellwo uses a five, fixed pin bow with a rover pin that allows him to shoot up to 95 yards. Every day he shoots 20-30 arrows, two or three times to stay tuned up. "It's controlling your heart rate and your breathing and being able to hold steady and focus." Dellwo is wearing one of his many belt buckles that he has won and is holding one of the trophies from the annual Bear Shoot at Clearwater Junction on Father's Day.

"I would tolerate the pain and they were able to stretch things and get them back to where they needed to be," said Dellwo.

The last few years Dellwo will only shoot 20-30 arrows two or three times a day. While he stays in the best shape he can, the repetition of shooting is what keeps him competitive.

"I've got all the background and muscle memory from all those years that I did pound it," said Dellwo. "I know how to shoot. I just shoot enough to keep things loosened up and stay tuned."

Dellwo said his sponsors have been instrumental in his success. Dan Evans, owner of Trophy Taker until two years ago when he purchased Option Archery, sponsored him from the beginning. Martin Archery also sponsored him for 14 years. Currently he also has a co-op with PSE with the help of Paul Roush, manager at Sportsman's Warehouse.

Dellwo said that while he doesn't think he will ever compete at the level he was because of his age, he feels like he can be competitive no matter where he goes.

"I feel good about that after all I've been through," said Dellwo. "I just kept doing it and it kept getting better and better."


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