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.
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 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.
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.