Lure of the Traditional Bow

By John H. Schulz | September 2, 1995
From Missouri Conservationist: Sep 1995

"Traditional bows are more flexible in hunting situations," said Jim Johnson, assistant state forester with the Conservation Department and aspiring traditional bowyer. "I mean, you can shoot accurately from any position whether you're bending around a tree or sitting on the ground. Traditional bows offer more hunting opportunities to the bowhunter because they are easier and faster to shoot. As a deer walks by, it may stop for only a few seconds. In one motion, the bow is brought up, pulled to full draw and shot."

Traditional bows really are made for hunting. A few years ago a deer walked up from behind me early in t he morning. By the time I noticed the buck near my stand, the sunshine was making little splotches of light on the forest floor. A bright beam of sunlight shown on his chest and made a handy aiming point.

I concentrated on the small spot of light and in one smooth motion I drew my bow and shot. The arrow was right on the mark. With conventional modern equipment I would not have had the time to shoot.

I asked Jerry Brumm of Great Northern Longbow Company in Michigan what traditional bowhunting meant to him. "To me there is no other way," Brumm said.

"Traditional bowhunting is what bowhunting should be and what it was meant to be. It's about the challenge of using your own skills and abilities instead of relying on technology."

Many people prefer to shoot traditional equipment because it is effective. The less equipment you carry, the fewer mechanical problems you'll have in hunting situations. The simple design of the traditional bow has been proved on the battlefield and on the supper tabl e.

Ken Beck, president of Black Widow Bow Company of Missouri, said, "Traditional bowhunting is more fun and challenging. You sense a kinship with people like Howard Hill or Fred Bear as you feel the full power of the bow in your hands and shoulders when it's drawn back."

What a modern bowhunter does mechanically, the traditional bowhunter attempts to do physically and mentally. Aiming requires eye-hand coordination, similar to throwing a baseball. Thousands of arrows must be shot to develop proper form and an appreciation for trajectory.

Bows range from a $40 solid fiberglass longbow to $800 or more for exotic hardwood bows. Traditional bow designs, however, haven't changed much over the centuries. The English longbow immediately brings to mind images of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest.

The flat bow, which resembles the English longbow, but with shorter and wider limbs, was originally used by Native Americans to hunt bison from horseback on the Great Plains. Thought by some to be a modern inno vation, the recurve bow actually dates back to the days of the Turkish and Mongol empires.

Old bows can provide hours of hunting enjoyment, but be careful. Older bows may have twisted limbs, early signs of delamination or worn bow strings. If you plan on using an old bow found at a garage sale or one from a friend, be sure to have an experienced traditionalist look it over before you shoot it.

Traditional bowhunters like to make their own arrows. Some traditionalists prefer aluminum arrows because they are built to exacting tolerances and are widely available. Contrary to popular opinion, the use of aluminum arrows dates back to the late 1800s. The first aluminum arrows were solid aluminum, unlike today's tubular aluminum shafts. A dozen modern aluminum arrow shafts without feathers cost $30-$40, depending upon the finish and quality.

Other traditional bowhunters prefer the warmth and beauty of wood arrows. Port Orford cedar has been the bread and butter of wood arrows for decades. Port Orford ce dar grows only in the Pacific Northwest and along the eastern coast of Japan.

Due to its limited availability and a renewed interest in wood arrows, quality Port Orford cedar is expensive and difficult to find.

Historically, however, Port Orford cedar is a relatively "modern" wood compared to other woods. During the late 1800s, archers found Port Orford cedar to have uniform grain and remain straight after repeated shooting, unlike birch or hickory. Other softwoods, such as Douglas fir, yellow pine, lodgepole pine, and red cedar, are being rediscovered as arrow woods. These alternative wood shafts, however, are produced in relatively small quantities, so expect to pay as much as $2 per shaft.

Some arrowsmiths are also experimenting with hardwood arrows, such as birch. Raman wood, from the South Pacific, also makes usable arrow shafting. A Canadian arrow manufacturer is experimenting with laminated pine arrows. Depending upon the type of wood and the quality of the shafts, expect to pay $40-$150 for 100 raw wood shafts.

Traditional bowhunters who use arrows fletched with plastic vanes must use an elevated arrow rest to get good arrow flight. Some traditional bowhunters prefer to shoot arrows fletched with feathers. Using feather fletching allows the arrow to be shot directly off the arrow shelf on the bow handle. The traditional hobbyist will even make fletchings from Missouri wild turkey wing feathers.

Many traditional bowhunters prefer Flemish bow strings. These special strings are made out of individual strands of fibers twisted together with loops on the ends. Because the strings are twisted together, the string's length can be easily adjusted by twisting or untwisting it.

Unlike Flemish strings, most modern bow strings found in stores have half the number of fiber strands in the loops; this is where most bow strings break. Modern fibers like Kevlar or Dacron are popular, but some hunters prefer traditional cotton or linen fibers. The different fibers come in a variety of colors and can add an individual look to your hunting bow.

Several good books have been written to help new and aspiring traditional bowhunters. Winds of Change, written by JIm Chinn, is targeted to the modern bowhunter wanting to try something more challenging. Instinctive Shooting, by G. Fred Asbell, provides good advice on a lot of mechanical shooting aids. Traditional Bowyers of North America, by Dan Bertalen, provides information on different bowmakers and how they make their bows. A magazine called "Traditional Bowhunter" is also at most bookstore racks

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Composition - Kevin Binkley
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Paul Childress
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer