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Archery the Old Way

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Published on: Feb. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Dean Wilson sees nothing but the bullseye as he pulls back one of his handmade bows. But somewhere in the back of his mind, quite a historical gallery has shown up to watch the shot. The Centaur of ancient Greece - an archer that's half-man, half-horse - stamps the ground nearby. Crowded all around are the 5,000 English longbowmen whose skill defeated a much larger French army at the ancient battle of Agincourt. Robin Hood speaks with Howard Hill, who did the trick shooting for Errol Flynn's movie role as the Prince of Thieves.

Today at Wilson's backyard range, he is shooting an Osage orange bow with a leather grip that would have been the envy of many an Indian of the American plains. Using about 45 pounds of pressure, Wilson pulls back the string to 28 inches. Letting go will launch the arrow at about 150 feet per second. That's enough force to kill a deer at close range - 25 yards or so.

This one-piece bow's graceful lines are deceivingly simple. It took the 57 year-old decades of experience and dozens of attempts to produce such a lovely and accurate hunting tool.

Wilson's workshop is a few steps from his home of 33 years just north of Licking, where he lives on 40 wooded acres with his wife, Carolyn. The shop housed Wilson's taxidermy business and is still home to several fine buck trophies, as well as a mounted coyote and white-furred fox. He has laid out on a table bows in various stages of production from split log to finished weapons. Some include sinew backing and a copperhead snake skin covering.

"First thing, let's look at the wood," he says, picking up the 61-inch quarter-log of Osage orange. Bow makers, or bowyers, call this a stave. "This is the best bow wood there is," Wilson says.

Because it's tough, long-lived and widely available in nature, the French dubbed the Osage orange tree bois d'arc, or wood of the bow. A good Osage orange stave costs about $50. Another excellent bow wood costing about twice as much is yew, which comes mostly from Oregon and Washington. "Yew makes a sweet shooting bow. The English longbows were from it."

Other bow woods include black locust (tough, logs grow straight), and hickory (tough and springy but won't shoot as far as others). As a youngster, Wilson's first store-bought bow was of leamonwood. This strong wood of the

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