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Labor of Love

Photo by Joe Blake

Slipping into the woods with a longbow allows a bowhunter to step back to a simpler time.

Story and photo by Joe Blake

The skittish buck swiveled his wide rack as he scanned the oak flat for any hint of danger. Perched a dozen feet up a tree, I was well hidden by foliage, but the deer knew something was amiss. Although he was well within my comfort zone, I held my shot, hoping he would calm down.

Eventually several does and fawns fed into the area and the buck relaxed a bit. With the South Texas rut approaching, his natural urges now became my ally as he pointed his sensitive nose at first one doe and then another.

When he looked down the sendero at a smaller buck, I quickly drew my 62# Prairie Panther longbow to the familiar anchor at the corner of my mouth, concentrated on a tiny patch of hair toward the back of the deer’s ribcage, and sent the heavy carbon arrow angling through the animal’s vitals. The arrow made quick work of the buck, and I found my trophy after following a short blood trail.

Lifting the buck’s head and admiring the wide rack, I couldn’t help but smile as I looked down at the beautiful yet simple and efficient longbow cradled in my hand. Despite modern materials such as glass and epoxy, longbows have changed very little for hundreds of years, and despite man’s penchant for modern conveniences, the longbow remains the perfect hunting weapon for those willing to spend the time getting to know their stickbow.

Although I’ve hunted with traditional bows for better than 30 years and harvested dozens of big game animals of various species, this whitetail was special because it was the first nice buck I had taken with a longbow crafted with my own two hands.

I’ve owned dozens of different bows ranging from high-dollar custom jobs to garage sale and pawnshop specials, but it wasn’t until a friend suggested that I build and promote my own line of longbows that I gave any thought to becoming a bowyer.

Having promoted a handful of different bows for other bowyers through my writing, I had access to a wealth of good information from other bow builders. This, combined with books, magazine articles, videos and information gleaned from traditional archery websites, gave me a good foundation. However, this was only half the battle.

Since I make my living as a bowhunting writer, I didn’t want my fledgling career as a bowyer to take time away from my writing. Since I have to hunt in order to have something to write about, I also didn’t want it to take time away from my busy hunting schedule. I’m gone an average of eight to 12 weeks a year on hunting trips, and  along with a number of long weekends at shows, rendezvous and shoots, the amount of time I could spend in my bow shop was limited.

A friend came up with the idea that finally convinced me to jump into this bow building thing with both feet: Decide how many bows I want to build each year and then offer them as limited edition longbows.

Thus, Prairie Longbows was born. Initially, I offered one model for sale, the Prairie Panther, which is a 60-inch, reflex-deflex longbow – very quick and extremely smooth shooting. The Panther is offered as a limited edition, autographed and numbered signature bow with each year’s production run capped at 25. It is the bow that I use for all of my hunting, hence the signature label. Panthers can be ordered with a wide variety of domestic and exotic wood options as well, and to date I have crafted bows out of just about every wood imaginable.

Now in my third year as a professional bowyer, I am happy to say that my limited edition Panthers are going strong and sell out each year. As I’ve gotten better and more efficient at this game, I’ve also added a new model this year: the Prairie Coyote. The Coyote is basically the same bow as the Panther without the exotic wood choices or the limited edition, autographed and numbered connotation.

Subscribe Today!I regret that I didn’t start building bows decades ago! A handcrafted traditional bow is a work of art, and as I work a piece of wood into shape, I imagine the hunting it will be a part of and the trophies it might take. Traditional bowhunting is a pastime that envelops the participant, and handcrafting a bow takes this passion to the final plateau. So whether you plan to try your hand at building your own weapon or just want a better understanding of the time and effort involved by the bowyer of your choice, never doubt for a moment that this is a labor of love.

If you are interested in giving bow building a try, I recommend you start with Bingham Projects (binghamprojects.com) for all of your bow building tools, informational books and videos, and bow building components; 3 Rivers Archery (3RiversArchery.com) also supplies tools, adhesives, glass, woods, and a wide variety of books and videos for prospective bowyers.

Author’s note:
For more information on my longbows, visit http://www.prairielongbows.com, or e-mail me at joeblake@midwestinfo.net. I build one bow at a time and don’t take orders for subsequent years until the current model run has been completed.

This article was published in the August 2006 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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