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Traditional Hunting Bows

By Gibbs Milliken

Simple, graceful and light in the hand, traditional bows are a pleasure to shoot

The appeal of wooden longbows and recurves has not died with the technological advances and popularity of modern compound bows. In fact, they are now considered a completely separate aspect of archery with a growing number of competitive shooters and serious hunters.

Longbows

Most popular are the laminated bows constructed of thin, multi-layered hardwoods, carbon fiber or bamboo with fiberglass on the backs and bellies. This building method allows for more radical shapes, resulting in faster, smoother-shooting reflex/deflex and recurve designs.

Production models are available from well-respected manufacturers like Fred Bear Archery. Their Montana Longbow ($269.99, North American Archery Group, (352) 376-2327, fulldraw.net/bear/) is a slim design built to the same standards and specifications as the one used by Fred himself.

The longer bows in reflex/deflex have less finger-pinch, less stack at full draw, and less hand-shock than conventional D-shaped longbows. The hand-built, 66-inch Vision ($579, Martin Archery, (509) 529-2554, www.martinarchery.com) is one model of this type with good performance, accuracy and increased arrow speed when using a FastFlight string. Most instinctive archers find this style bow is more forgiving to shoot than the shorter, direction-sensitive recurves.

Recurve Bows

Recurve bows are beautifully contoured and generally faster than longbows. The better designs have full-working limbs, thick risers and form-fitting grips for smooth, pleasurable shooting. Some are very short like the classic Fred Bear compact SuperMag 48 ($299.99, North American Archery Group) and ideal for maneuvering in brush country or shooting from tree stands.

Another unique production recurve is the takedown Hawkeye ($399.95, A.I.M. Archery, (888) 246-8044, www.aimarchery.com) with a thick, multi-layered riser and rear-mounted limbs of exotic hardwoods. This bow is a good choice for bowfishing and comes fitted with brass bushings for mounting a bow reel. The unit disassembles into three parts to a 25-inch length for easy packing and travel.

Custom Bows

The best custom bows are superior in most respects to production models. Bowyers, working all across the country, are building quality hand-shaped and laminated designs for a waiting list of clients. Often these are built on classic American flat-bow patterns with exotic woods, improved glues and laminate materials. Some master builders, like Jeff Massie of Shiner, have been building and refining their designs for many years. The Longhorn ($495, Massie Archery, (361) 594-2120, www.stickbow.com/massie) is an outstanding reflex/deflex made with up to eight thin layers of bamboo, carbon, select hardwoods and clear fiberglass. It would be difficult to find a more graceful, lighter or well-constructed longbow than this model.

Two other talented makers, Bob Sarrels and Richard Hanner, live and work in the same Austin neighborhood. Sarrels builds excellent longbows like the Sierra ($375, basic model, Mountain Longbows, (512) 940-3098). This and his two other models are high-performance reflex/deflex designs built to exacting standards with the finest materials. Hanner specializes in high-speed recurves. The Colorado ($395, basic takedown model, Hill Country Archery, (512) 695-3513, home.austin.rr.com/hillcntryarchery) can exceed speeds of 200 fps. Each bow from these craftsmen is individually constructed in a multi-step process with beautifully sculptured risers, comfortable grips and finely tuned working limbs based on proven patterns.

The "selfbows" are the oldest style still being made from a single material, usually select woods like Osage orange, yew or hickory staves, that have been slowly air-cured (10-20 years) and chosen for strength, grain pattern, and springiness. Most all are custom-built and vary greatly in quality and performance, due to the patience, skill and labor-intensive efforts required in tilling a fine non-laminated bow with a drawknife.

The best traditional bows are well-balanced, stable, smooth and accurate shooters. No wonder there is a resurgence of interest in these simple, graceful works of art that are free of any mechanical gizmos.

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