By Bennett Snyder, Photos by Owen McDermott
Broken arrows and targets scattered across the range show evidence of an arrow sniper at work.
Elsa, a German Shepherd guards Josh O’Dell’s workspace. While at first glance she appears as a fierce presence, she is a true sweetheart; petting her is a warm welcome to one of the most followed content creators in Ohio.
A dream, a niche, a bow and arrow, and a smartphone have grown into a brand many know as the “Arrow Sniper,” a brand O’Dell is preparing to grow.
In less than four years, Josh O’Dell evolved from making a fishing YouTube channel, to millions of followers flocking to watch his bow and arrow trick shot videos on TikTok. He has a silver YouTube creator plaque, along with features on ESPN and House of Highlights, a social media network with almost 50 million followers on Instagram.
The black mat featured in his videos, which bears the impact of his shots, was not originally intended for archery, but for horses to walk on. While no horses reside on his property, fake animals riddled with arrow marks inhabit his backyard.
O’Dell’s setup isn’t glamorous, but it works for him. Despite his social media fame, he doesn’t plan to move to a big city, join a niche content creation community or build a state-of-the-art shooting range.
“I like the country, the small town, the simple life,” O’Dell says. “I have been in Jackson since I was six years old.”
O’Dell’s uncle, Tony, first introduced him to bows when he was young. Every year for Thanksgiving, the pair would head out and shoot a turkey for supper. When O’Dell turned 12 years old, Uncle Tony gave him his first bow.
In the film “Deliverance,” Burt Reynolds’ character, Lewis Medlock, uses a recurve bow. O’Dell’s passion for hunting, coupled with his idolization of Medlock, ignited an obsession with bows.
Uncle Tony knew there was only one person to pass his Bear Grizzly recurve bow down to: his nephew. O’Dell used his uncle’s bow for the next 10 years, getting every shot imaginable out of it before it broke.
Hunting bows can feature all sorts of aims and scopes, but O’Dell prefers a traditional wooden recurve bow. The black and brown bow comes fully loaded with a custom leather pouch for extra arrows reading “AS,” signifying that this is indeed a bow meant for the Arrow Sniper.
“There are several ways to shoot a traditional bow, but the way I shoot is instinctive,” O’Dell says. “With instinctive, the bow and arrow and your peripheral vision are all a blur. You’re just focused on a spot you want to hit, kind of like hand-eye coordination when you shoot a basketball.”
O’Dell’s method makes his trick shot videos even more impressive.
While his initial social media plan was dedicated to fishing, he decided to film a video shooting an arrow through a wedding ring. ESPN reshared the video and O’Dell knew he had something special.
“When I think of ESPN, I think of watching Michael Jordan as a kid, so that’s when it hit me hard,” O’Dell says.
His first viral video garnered 6.9 million likes and 41.9 million views on his TikTok account. O’Dell had found his niche in trick shot videos.
O’Dell made every shot.
“I always feel pressure,” O’Dell says. “I know people expect something harder the next time. If I do a trick shot that is equal to the last, then I’m not progressing.”
One of the major issues for most content creators is keeping followers entertained by raising the stakes with every video. If they can’t, they face the worst fate of an internet celebrity—lost views.
O’Dell has progressed from flipping a wedding ring off his bow, to flipping the ring like a coin, doing a 360-degree spin, and then shooting an arrow through it. He shot an aspirin mid-air but was unsatisfied, so he shot half an aspirin.
“The one that surprised me was the half an aspirin. An aspirin had been asked, but not half of one,” O’Dell says. “I got that one on the first try. I’ve had a couple on the first try.”
While his trick shots already seem impossible, that he completes some of his videos in one attempt is jaw-dropping. On shots that take multiple attempts, if he cannot complete a video in fifteen minutes, he returns to it day after day until he makes it. His viewers are often left in awe.
“This is the best thing on TikTok right now,” commented Gator (@jmg8tor). Commentor Cory Jean (@coryjean18) wrote, “Dude… how… keep it up man. You are a legend.”
Fans have begun asking for seemingly impossible shots. “At this point I want to see a grain of sand,” commented Chris (@chriskaufman803).
Along with 2.6 million followers and brand name sponsors such as MTN OPS and Gold Tip, O’Dell has expanded his account with a shop selling custom knives, daggers and bows.
The custom items can be purchased on his website, which can be found through links on any of his social media pages. This website is also a great place to read more about O’Dell’s story and what makes him so special.
Just as I turned off the cameras and prepared to leave his residence, our microphone was able to capture O’Dell’s final sentiment:
“I’m just glad you didn’t ask me how I do it, because I really have no idea.”