I am a Traditional Archer. It is not a past time, a sport or a hobby, it is a passion, a lifestyle, part of my existence. I need to feed this hunger with daily participation. I often spend hours a day building arrows, bows and reading articles about archery. And I need constant practice. One needs to loose many, many arrows to become proficient in the skill set, to train your hand/eye co-ordination to allow precision accuracy for my end goal of harvesting game to feed my family. Whether I am out with my primitive hand crafted yew longbow or my modern fiberglass recurve, my favorite way to participate is in the woods, shooting stumps.
It may seem silly to some. Why would a grown man really spend hours in the woods launching perfectly good (and beautiful) arrows at the long dead remains of the first growth timber? We humans are the top of the food chain, we are predators. Deep in our DNA, we are hunter/gatherers. We need connection with nature, fresh air, sun shine, bug bites, to walk on logs and climb rocks, to gather food with our own hands and to practice with primitive weapons. Sure there are modern forms of archery, as well as firearms, to take game or for sport, however these inventions have only been around for a few centuries or less. A longbow has been with us for millennia. Walking barefoot in the soft moss, slowly and with intent, senses on overdrive, just to witness the scampering of a squirrel, the call of Raven, the whisper of the cedar scented breeze, the pop of a tart huckleberry on your tongue. These are human behaviors that have been driven from our consciousness by modern living, however they don’t take long to bubble up, and attach themselves to our spirit.
Shooting stumps gives me the opportunity to practice on targets that constantly vary on size, distance and shape. A common terms in traditional archery is “pick a spot” and “aim small, miss small” referring to the concentration need to get the arrow to strike where you want. A non-descript rotten log gives your brain the chance to focus on that one small area that stands out, like that one dark hair on a deer’s chest, a hole from a once feeding woodpecker on a stump can represent that same precise focus spot. Breathe, focus, pause….loose. A rewarding sound of the steel point smacking wood, a direct hit and a smile, or a miss and questions. What happened, what did I do wrong, was I not looking? Constant learning and training. It make the game all that more fun!
Stumping is a family pursuit. My wife loves to loose arrows with me as we leisurely meander in the woods, gandering mushrooms and wild flowers. Five minutes from our door, we are in an 80-100 year old canopied, polyculture forest. We discover new game trails, sit on felled hemlock from a recent wind, and hug the largest red cedar trees. We forage a snack in season, and inspect the moss for potential future fungal harvests, all while practicing our technique. In permaculture we talk about the principle of “Stacking functions”. This is that in near perfection. Many hobbies and interests in one relaxing forest bath. Our daughter, 6 years old, often accompanies me on solo outings. Packing her Yew self bow, she sees imaginary(?) dinosaurs, lets Dad pack her doll in his back quiver and clambers off the trails to help retrieve the arrows. She is fleet footed and confident to climb, run, toss rocks and jump off roots, and I chalk this all up to the unstructured play during our stump shooting forays.
Safety and public perception are the upmost importance. With my situational awareness in overdrive, I constantly scan with my eyes, ears and nose for approaching humans (perfumes, laundry products and cigarette smoke will give bi-pedal ones away every time), or dogs. If I sense I am not alone, the arrow is un-nocked from the string and I wait until they appear. Not wanting to cause an uncomfortable feelings for anyone, I am casual about it all, almost pretending the bow is just another walking stick that anyone could be packing. Many times, more often than not, people stop and chat with me about my pursuit and my tackle. My bows have touched many hands over the years, especially children, who get really excited about archery. For grown-ups it takes us back to our youth and the simpler times in life before jobs, mortgages and car maintenance. I never shoot straight down a trail, as that is not a wise choice. One never knows when an arrow may miss, or glance off the target. An arrow can travel a heck of a long way before it stops and safety is the number one priority in all shooting sports, archery is not an exception from this. Be 110% sure of the backstop. Choose your stumps wisely and if in doubt, inspect them closely. A freshly cut tree stump may not have the rotten wood that one needs to stop a fast moving, heavy arrow. Hard wood causes bounce backs or ricochets, which takes any prediction of the arrows path away from the archer. Well-rotted stumps are easy on the arrows, make removal simpler and is ethically your best bet. Shooting live trees is bad news. Tough on arrows, tough on the trees. Avoid live trees, that’s the bottom line.
Shooting stumps is much more environmentally responsible than shooting backyard targets made of plastic, foam and rubber. My targets never go in the garbage. I am just speeding up a natural process of decomposition, putting organic matter on the forest floor, to feed the soil food web and the second growth trees. The holes created by my practice allow for more water penetration into the stump, as well as mycelial, insect and animal pathways, which all help in that end. My arrows are made from salvaged Sitka Spruce wood from Haida Gwaii, milled by a great friend and neighbor, who’s environmental ethics are in line with my own. With permaculture education in my past, those ethics ring true. Care of earth, care of people and return of surplus. I like to think that my recreational pursuit has given me a chance to participate in something that has a low ecological footprint and is super good for us as modern humans.
If you are interested in traditional archery, take a walk in the woods with your tackle. See what targets reveal themselves to you and give a new challenge in this wonderful, ancient pursuit.
Build a bow
I have had tons of requests from my various social media interactions with people asking me how to build a bow. I love answering questions from folks on the subject. Teaching a skill makes the instructor better at his craft, like a journeyman having an apprentice. Once I was able to bring on an apprentice my skills as a tradesman increased incredibly!
Building a bow is a simple process. Teaching a piece of wood to bend and take the strain of drawing and loosing an arrow. That's it, and that is tillering in a nutshell. Now teaching that piece of wood to bend isn't all that straightforward. We must gently remove wood from the belly(side facing you) and the sides until it is reduced enough to bend through the full limb and not have any hinges(too much bend) or stiff spots(not enough bend). I am getting a little ahead of myself here, so lets get back to the start of the whole ordeal.
To build a bow you need to do a couple things first. One is read the "Traditional Bowyers Bible volume 1" and two, spend sometime on the Primitive Archer forum. Those are the two best resources that I can recommend for someone wanting to dive into this pastime. The TTB was written in the early 90's, by several wood bow aficionados who were worried the knowledge of the pursuit would be lost as fewer and fewer folks were interested in wood bows. That is not the case now, as there are hundreds or thousands of new bowyers out there constantly raising the bar on what was once thought impossible. Many of those bowyers frequent the PA forum. Along with some amazing eye candy of bows and arrows, the folks on there are always willing to lend a hand with information and answering questions. Just lurk around and read some posts. Once you have learned some basic terminology you are getting that much closer!
YouTube is your friend. Along with the other two resources, YouTube is chock full of information on anything related to bow building. I really was drawn to Clay Hayes and Boarrior Bow on YouTube. Mick Grewcock and Del Cat are excellent channels from the UK. Also worth checking out is the site called "Poor Folk Bows" Many, many great builders and instructors on the Tube, just do a search and get lost in there!
Lets gather some tools. We don't need to sink a ton into this right off the bat. There are a few tools that are invaluable, but do what you can without blowing the bank. I think a draw knife and a ferriers rasp are two really important tools, however you can get away with a block plan or a shure-form plane and a four way rasp/file. A hatchet or a machete are wonderful for roughing out staves if you are using logs. Cabinet scrapers and sandpaper are perfect for doing your fine work, and don't cost that much. A few other minor tools, like a chainsaw file, can be useful for cutting in your string nocks, and a handsaw of some king for trimming your stave to length. Of course various measuring devices, pencils and sharpies are good too.
Now lets get some wood to work on!. There are lots of options when it comes to what woods to use. Your geographical location can play a roll for sure. I live on an island off the west coast of Canada. I would love to build more board bows, but our hardwood lumber supplies(at least in my community) are limited, however we live where a bow grows in every other tree! Pacific Yew abounds, as does Hazel, Douglas maple, Serviceberry and Oceanspray, plus a few other pretty decent woods. Where you live it might be easier to find a board of a good hardwood rather than a tree stave . Some of the best bow woods include. Osage Orange, Hickory, Eastern red cedar, Elm, Ash, Sugar maple, Dogwood, and plum. There are loads more, so do your research. If finding a log stave is an option, then that is great, Free resource. I wouldn't pay for your first split stave, as you will probably waste a bunch of coin into it, and quite possibly mess it up! Boards are often inexpensive and readily available. Again do your research as to which boards are up to snuff. There is loads of good info online so I won't re-hash it here. Volume 2 of the TBB has a great chapter on board bows.
Take your time! My number one piece of advise for anyone starting out in this hobby. I know you want to be done it already, but if you rush, good chance you will destroy the stave. Spend lots of time getting to know the wood, and learning the tools. One could dig in way to deep really quickly with a draw knife and destroy a board in seconds! Draw on layout lines and follow them precisely. As you work the tiller then you can get inside those lines and bring it down, again, very carefully.
I encourage anyone who is interested in learning the craft of wood bow building to get after it! A highly enjoyable, sometimes frustrating hobby, with rewards that make it an all encapsulating practice. I still remember the time I shot my very first bow, built from a maple board, As I drew back, I was trying to hide my head because I was convinced that thing was going to explode! Of course it didn't, and after a few hundred shots it was still going strong. It has since been passed on to a friend and it will live on for many years. Get after it!
This is a curious time in history. We have the most advanced system for learning, sharing and teaching skills in the history of mankind, however it seems that we as a society are doing less and less for ourselves. We are allowing others to do so many of the things that were commonplace for folks to tackle on their own. Pride in workmanship has been replaced by "cheap" and "easy". Becoming a traditional archer may help you on the quest for hands-on skills that will spill into many other places in your life
My journey into traditional archery began several years ago. I am not a long time participant of the sport by any means, was unsure of where to start and felt that my local shops didn't have the things that would appease me in my quest to shoot a longbow. As a tradesman who worked with metal on a daily basis, I longed to use simple tools and work with wood. To me it feels so much more organic than the heavy machinery and noise needed to force metal to comply with what we needed it to do. By slowly striping thin layers from a piece of wood, we are asking it to work with us. If one works too fast or with no care the wood will fail, the bow will break. As I set a goal to hunt with a longbow, I decided to jump down the rabbit hole and build my own. With a fierce consumption of blogs and books I was able to build a bow over several weeks during the winter, slowly thinning the belly of the maple board that I purchased at the lumberyard, catching the curls on a sheet in my living room. My skills and knowledge grew immensely in that short period of time. Learning the tools of the trade and the jargon of the bowyers was 90 percent of it. I didn't even know the difference between a belly and a back!
Moving forward from the first bow, I knew that this hobby was for me. I took the workshop with Ravenbeak Nature Works, which refined the skills I had previously gleaned and made more of the jargon and techniques clear. It was more in-depth than what I had previously tackled because of using a split stave of yew. I made a bow that was hunting weight and durable. Also during this workshop I learned to make arrows, my first exposure to the art. I also became enthralled with finding wood. I am now a little obsessed with not just Yew, but the other local bow quality woods and natural arrow shafts. I have self taught, or been directed by friends on many species that before just blended in with the green of the forest. My knowledge of the natural world has expanded because of my fascination with Primitive archery, knowledge that I can teach to others, including my wife and children.
Since the infancy of my learning about the skills in the trade of making archery tackle, I realize just how much of the tackle we can make for ourselves, if we were just willing to let go of the fear of screwing up and make it happen! I had never worked with leather before, and I made an armguard that I really like. I have made dozens of arrows, and several bows. Some have been successful, some have not. The fear of failure disappeared from my mind and was replaced with one of curiosity and challenge. To see if I could do something. Sure I could just go to the store or online and order something, but to me that is not so much fun. I was also not flush with spare cash, I have more time than money, so spending quality time learning a skill and having a new hobby that doesn't have to upset the families bottom line is important. Not sure one could say that about a new spacebow shooter!
I recommend that all trad archers learn a few skills in making their own equipment. Build a Flemish twist string, buy some wood shafts and finish them yourselves, create a back quiver out of leather or willow branches, make a tab from some thrift store leather, even just putting a new serving on a string you already have. Easy things to do. Some require more tools than others, and if you are not prepared to lay out the capital to purchase, maybe ask around and see if you could borrow someone's. Barter goes a long way in this community. Eventually you may be drawn to building a bow of your own. This is a more involved project for sure. Be it a self bow or a fiberglass one, they all have their own nuances that are both frustrating and so rewarding at the same time. Regardless of what you can accomplish with your skill level, time or interest, following the ancient pathways of our ancestors who used primitive skills to get us to where we are now. We have advantages with the internet, steel tools and books to inform us and to share ideas.
The First One
So after ten years of wishing, wanting and hoping, I finally harvested a deer with archery tackle! And to boot, it was with my Yew selfbow and self arrows from this summers past workshop with RavenBeak Natureworks! This dream was a decade in the making, but this was the first deer I ever shot an arrow at, and I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude that this animal presented itself, and allowed me to use him to feed my family
I was out at the farm where I have hunted for years. Deer populations are huge around there. Being Columbia Blacktail, they are supremely weary, and it is hard to find bucks. Does are a dime a dozen, but trying to get past all those eyes, ears and noses is tough man! I have taken several deer from this place in the past with a shotgun, however I have grown tired of packing around a heavy cold "machine", for the warmth and natural feel of a stickbow. Two years ago I built myself a maple board bow, from info gleaned from various sites, and YouTube. The bow worked! I never backed it and was so happy that I was able to have something to practice with. This past spring I almost went to a wheelie bow, due to marketing of mainstream hunting media. When face to face with one, I just couldn't do it. Too heavy, cold, with no life to it. Upon this revelation I decided that I would use that coin and join RavenBeak Natureworks bow building workshop. I had a wonderful time during that four day immersion, making a bow for hunting, along with a dozen bamboo arrows. 66" American Flatbow, drawing 52# at 28", smooth to draw, crisp release and hard hitting arrows. No hand shock, lightweight and beautiful.
Hunting season was upon us. I was packing a fiberglass recurve for the first few weeks, as it was the bow I practiced most with all summer. I had some close opportunities but no shots. "Naka" was beginning to call my name. I took her out for a stumpshoot with my brother-in-law over the weekend, and I was much impressed with my ability with the weapon. I decided that "Naka" would join me on my next hunt.
I reached my stand location, hunting on the ground, in a small grove of trees. A setup less than ten yards where deer frequently enter on to the field to eat. Several hours passed with many deer on the field 60 yards and further away, no chance to stalk them. As darkness neared, I was beginning to think tonight wasn't the night. Suddenly, something made me turn around, a feeling. Low and behold, a small deer was curious of me, and began walking towards me from the rear. The wind was perfect for my set, and he kept working towards me. At first I thought it a fawn, until I saw the spikes on its head. Turning around in my stool, I readied for the shot. My heart raced. I came to half draw and he went broadside at less than 5 yards, and quickly went behind a tree, only to emerge out the other side. I saw a rib, came to anchor and released. I never saw the arrow flight, only the deer take off like a rocket, and I was left thinking "WTF just happened"?
I came out of my hole to check for blood. Nothing. Arrow? Nope. Crap, did I miss? How could I miss such a close shot. I am not the best archer, but I can hold my own inside ten yards, and I was certain I came to full anchor. I looked and looked for sign. I called my pal who was hunting on a different field to come help me. It was getting very dark now. We searched and searched, no sign at all. Disapointed and resigned to the fact I missed, the night was called off, with the plan to return in the morning to look in the light. So many emotions ran through my mind on the drive home and that evening. I dreamt about the shot, vividly seeing the deers rib, but never recalling the arrows flight. A tough sleep to be sure, and an uneasy feeling about heading back to the farm.
As I ready to leave the next morning, I said to my wife "You know he is going to be laying on the field, with the arrow still in him", and I half believed myself. Could it be? Driving back out, trying to keep my level of expectations low and realistic, my stomach was in knots. Pulling into the same field where the shot happened, I slowly drove in, checking the field for any sign at all. It had rained that evening, so chance of finding blood were pretty slim. I had gotten to about where my friend had parked the night before, and what is that in the field? My deer!!! Holy smokes! I was thrilled! I did do it. All my self doubt was instantly released, replaced with confidence and pride. I called my wife, took some pictures and sent messages to my hunting buddies, before getting to work. The arrow was in fact still in the deer. It had entered the in the front shoulder, just missing all the bone, slipping between two ribs and exited out just behind the last rib on the opposite side, just clipping the gut. He had gone about 40 yards before expiring. It was no wonder there was no blood. When I released the deer was broadside, but must have turned slightly to quarter to me. Broadside the Zwicky would have punched straight through, leaving me lots of blood to follow. The body cavity was full of coagulated blood. The deer certainly died quickly, and if I had looked the direction he ran once out of the trees, would have seen his death kicks. Field dressing a rigored deer was a challenge, got him loaded and headed for home.
The drive home was a reflection on the lessons learned from the hunt and recovery. Always ignore the self doubt is a huge one. Approach the shot follow-up like the deer is dead, not instantly thinking the shot was a miss. Not finding blood or an arrow means nothing. Also, while not wanting to pursue a wounded animal quickly, try to see where it might have gone. If this deer had left the field and went into the woods, he would have been bird food, I may never have found it. And finally, making and hunting with your own homemade equipment is so fun and rewarding. Most of my equipment was self made, including my bow, arrows, quiver and leather armguard. Out of respect for the deer I will not post any grip and grin pictures. I feel blessed to join the ancient fraternity of bowyers and hunters who do it the hard way to gather food for their families. Thank for reading!
Review: Terrier Blades Necky Knife
Last summer my wife and I were puttering around Comox, B.C. during the early hours of the towns Nautical Days celebration. One event of the annual festivities is an artist show in the Marina Park. It was the usual mix of high end paintings, jewelers, nick-nacks, food vendors, and photographers. Not much was catching my eye this day, and I was feeling anxious to head out for our annual salmon fishing trip on the North Island. Reports of great fishing had filled my ears, and I was excited to put some pink salmon in the larder for the winter. We happened upon one booth that was different. Knives! Now were talking. I love a good blade. I own so many, a fascination over the years of finding a knife that could shave my arm and hold an edge. Unfortunately, my search has been for not. So many nice tools that just don’t fit my criteria. It is a disappointment to drop a good chunk of change on something, to be dis-satisfied by the performance of the blade.
Immediately I could see that there was something different about this knife maker. Terrier Blades had neck knives! I had only recently heard about these fine handy devices. I had seen them before. One of my mentors, Jack Spirko, at the Survival Podcast wears on all the time. I had never seen one in person before, so this was a good day. I picked one up for a closer inspection. The knife was created with artwork laser cut into into the handle, native art inspired. There was a salmon, a ram, and a bear. I was certainly drawn to the bear, as it is my favorite animal in Cascadia. He also had a sailboat, and a duck in more traditional symbols. To round out the neck knife line were a selection of women specific models. They had beautiful inlays in the handle of abalone shell. Jewelery meets every day carry. Very clever.
Peter Demmer, the owner and knife maker could see my enthusiasm for his product. He showed me how to remove the neck knife from its unique nylon sheath. Most neck knives us Kydex, a type of plastic that is molded and cured in an oven, to secure the knife. It poses some challenges, while nylon is flexible and will pinch the blade to keep it in place. The nylon sheath is secured to your neck with a leather cord. My wife could see my “kid in a candy store” eyes and bought me one for an early birthday present. I had a brief look at some of the other offerings, and a quick exchange with Peter, but we had to go as a crowd was gathering.
Receiving the knife just in time for camping was perfect. It was with me the entire trip, and was ready to go. Unlike a belt style fix blade, which I find can be cumbersome while sitting in a vehicle or going to the bathroom, it is tucked in tight to the body. No need to pull it off when changing pants or donning chest waders, as happens often while on fishing trips. Rights at hand for nipping bits of tippet from my fly line, sharpening a marshmallow stick for the kids, and gutting a fish. Being made from 440B stainless steel there is lower risk of immediate rust from salt water(Peter assured me that ALL steels should be rinsed in fresh water after exposure to the sea). While I didn’t get a chance to go hiking with this tool, I would much rather wear this while carrying a multi-day pack, then a sheathed knife on my hip that would get in the way of my pack waist belt. Even for paddling adventures I could see uses. When wearing board shorts on a paddle board, or in a kayak. Really there are no situations, in my mind, where a knife isn’t an important tool to have on hand. I wear the Necky while riding my bike to and from work. One never knows when that blade will come in handy. For the ladies(and the gents) who like to get dressed up and don’t want the bulkiness of a tool in their pocket, or don’t have any pockets at all, here is your solution. Your LuLu pants don’t have room for security or tools, this will easily conceal under running clothes or yoga wear.
This isn’t a tool for everything. I would not want to gut and butcher a moose with it. Your hands would be way to sore, not enough leverage in this compact package. This isn’t the appropriate usage for this tool. I still pack my belt knife when hunting for doing larger tasks, but two is one, one is none, so having a back up knife is essential to ensuring the ability to give proper care to downed game. A belt knife could potentially fall out of it’s sheath at some point, lost for good. This five inch back up, EDC knife will be there, concealed or not, comfortable, not cumbersome, and looks pretty damn cool too! Check out Terrier Blades website, use the coupon code “blayne” at check-out for a great discount.
Late this past winter I was having grandiose ideas of my hunting future. Spurred by the postings on social media of folks like Cameron Hanes, Donnie Vincent, Eva Shockey, and Joe Rogan, I was going compound. As I wrote in this blog before, my mind was set that a new compound was to be bought and that was going to be that. Some how the memory of my previous wheely bow, the dis-satisfaction of shooting it, the gadgetry, the hype and marketing of the newest add-on parts to convince consumerist hunters to part with their dollars, had left my mind. I was caught up in the hype. My wife and I stopped at the new Cabelas in Naniamo one evening and I was jacked. Bee lining to the archery section at the back of the store, reaching up and grabbing the first one that was on the rack, waiting for a "Surge" of excitement to "Pulse" through my veins. Nothing happened. I felt cold aluminum. I felt un-natural rubber. I saw odd attachments and parts that would break and cause problems. I saw marketing and that was that. Puttering around for a while to see if my mood would change. I tried again. Different brand. More expensive. Nope same result. I knew at that instant that I was a traditional shooter, there was no denying the fact. Several days after coming home I happened to be on the Ravenbeak Natureworks website. Workshop coming up in my area in June. With little thought, I signed up. Several locals I know had participated in this workshop, including my cousin, and had come home with beautiful Pacific Yew selfbows.
The day arrived. Much anticipation for this workshop along with some guilt, as my wife was staying home with our 1 month old daughter for the four days I was to be away. The workshop was held at the childhood home of Bowyer, and workshop instructor Jamie McDonald. Tents were erected to shield us from the late June sun. A pleasant greeting and conversation, along with meeting Jamie's family, his wife Jenna and two children. A friendly bunch, very welcoming and enthusiastic. I could feel that this was going to be a fantastic weekend. While a normal workshop is seven participants, due to two last minute cancellations by a couple from California, we were 5. A young couple from Victoria and and two middle aged women from Ontario. This workshop is all inclusive. I wouldn't suggest it for very young children, but a twelve year old would have no problem keeping up with this process.
A brief introduction of the participants and our instructor, led into tool discussions, housekeeping and safe working procedures. We then walked through two dozen Yew wood staves that Jamie had brought for us to select from. We discussed our type of bow, either a Native American Flat Bow or an English Longbow. Major difference between the two being the handle. A true long bow bends through the handle, where the flat bow riser is stiff, allowing for a more custom grip. We all chose to make the flat bow. I selected one with a large knot that I knew would leave me with some character in the finished product. Before we knew it the draw knives and spoke shaves were out and the bark was coming off, revealing the creamy white sapwood of this bizarre and wonderful tree. Jamie helped each of us figure out our draw length too, since that number is part of the decision factor in the nock to nock measurement of the bow. The sticky bark and undulating first growth ring made de-barking much slower that the maple staves I have stripped before, but before long we were all laying out our profiles on the backs of the bows. Day one ended with us all on the hatchets and draw knives working down the staves, bulk wood removal, getting them roughed out as quickly as we could. Many groans from sore forearms were heard, and Jamie promised us that day one was the hardest.
The next morning the staves were out for us and after a quick check in with everyone's progress, we were back at it. Some hatcheting work and mostly draw knife and rasping. Trying to remove less wood, in a cleaner fashion so we didn't remove too much wood. I was aiming for a 50lb draw weight at my 28" draw weight, so I was moving slowly, un-sure about removing too much of my belly and causing me to miss my desired number. The others were progressing faster than me, which was slightly frustration for my as a competitive guy. However, I pushed that aside to focus on making a beautiful piece that I hope to pass down to my children. We were giving the opportunity to glue nock overlays of water buffalo horn to protect the limb tips from the string, which everyone did. Also the string jig came out and Jamie gave us a demo on making a flemish twish bow string. It was fun watching everyone figure out how to do it, and by the end of the day all had successfully made a string for their bows.By the end of day two, one of the ladies was shooting her bow, and was super excited about it!
Day three was a long morning for me. Still desiring to hit my weight, I slowly worked the belly and the sides of my limbs down. Using mostly a cabinet scraper, shaving microns of wood at a time. I must have tillered that bow 30 times. I even broke the scale! It just wore out from use, but the bow dry fired and I was was concerned. Jamie wasn't, since Yew is such a tough wood. Not recommended to ever do on purpose, but stuff happens. The others were sanding theirs and getting ready to finish. Finally after lunch I put it on the tiller and exercised the limbs, pulling down to the 28 inch mark. 52 pounds! Perfect! I was thrilled. Now I could sand this sucker and get on with it. An hour of finishing with various grit sand papers to smooth the wood was worth the time. Well sanded wood gets so smooth. Just beautiful. As I was getting close to finishing, Jamie mentioned that if I was planning on hunting with the bow, I might want to stain it. This hadn't crossed my mind, but since I had stained my previous bow it made sense. A bright white stick in a tree is very noticeable to game, even if they don't see colors. Having browsed the Ravenbeak website numerous times and seeing Jamie's work, I knew what stain I wanted. A beautiful red tone, called English Tan. I rubbed dark brown on the tips down about a quarter of the way, along with the handle, then used English Tan on the rest. I love it! Finishing also included creating an arrow shelf with leather and forming the grip, rasping it to a comfortable shape for our hands. The day ended with my bow nearly finished, with just a few coats of Tung oil left to do.
The fourth day was an arrow building workshop. This is an add on to the bow workshop and we had a couple new participants to the group. One fellow was an old acquaintance of mine from high school, who now lives in Victoria. Selecting bamboo shafts in the correct spine for our bow, we cut to length, chopped feathers, made self nocks, set the fletching, tapered shafts to accept the points and re-inforced nocks, fletch and points with silk thread. Making a dozen arrows is a bit of a tedious process, especially for a first timer. Set-up at home with out having to share tools and it could be accomplished much faster, plus the learning curve of the fletching jig and the silk thread wrapping taking time. Making arrows from bare shafts is something that has always appealed to me, and I am happy to have finally learned from a person not a book. My one wish is that I did cut my shafts to length and glued on my points so I could properly tune them to my bow. Since I made four arrows with broadheads for potentially hunting with the new set-up, a tuned arrow flys truer and gives greater penetration. It is something that I will have to work on figuring out how to adjust. Before I was to shoot, one more thing needed to be done. I really wanted a leather grip on the bow. One reason is to hide the leather arrow rest, and also because they look really cool, and also wanted to learn how to work the leather. Opting not to glue the leather on, so it could be removed at a later date, we set to work on it. Even thought Jamie said that leather grips were his nemesis, he graciously built and laced a grip on the bow for me. The dark brown, suede leather looks and feels awesome in the hand!
Finally the wait was over. Four days of hard work my bow was done. A final check on the tiller and the weight held at 52lbs at 28 inches of draw. A small target butt was in the yard and I took advantage. Nocking one of my first ever home built arrow, I drew back, found anchor at the corner of my mouth, picked a spot and let loose with all 52lbs. The arrow hit the target with authority. Jamie looked up and smiled. It was a hard hitter, fast and smooth. I decided to call my first Yew bow "Naka", after my childhood home and favorite camping destination. The bow has taken a little set, which is pretty normal for an un-backed wooden bow. The character in the Yew is beautiful, knots, bumps and snakey parts. Gorgeous wood to work with, and within days of the workshop I was already out looking around for some wood that I could use to carry on this new passion!
I highly recommend this bow workshop. The price for the workshop, including the arrow building one, is so reasonable. It costs less than any compound you can buy, or custom traditional bow, plus you get the camaraderie, skill building and the ability to tell folks at the range or hunting camp that you made it! They include a fantastic lunch everyday of soup, salad, bread and sausage, perfectly separated for every type of eater, plus an afternoon snack of some sugary baked goods. While this workshop didn't teach me anything I didn't know in theory from reading the Bowyers Bible, seeing a master work and speak of his craft taught me volumes of things that the books and Youtube can't. I look forward to working with Ravenbeak in the future to hopefully help create some interesting new workshop ideas, and if nothing else I have some new friends in the bow making world to turn to if I need anything.
Sea Run Cutthroat Trout Time!
Spring is a magical time for so many reasons. The trees are blooming, song birds are speaking their language of love, V shaped migrations of geese heading to their northern nesting grounds and anxious gardeners putting seeds of future nourishment into the ground. Spring is also the season of baby salmon descending their natal streams. Millions of these tiny fish, pink and chum salmon fry, are flushed out with the current into tidal estuaries where they feed on the rich bio-diversity of the brackish waters. These one inch long fry are a smorgasbord for others to come and have a feast. Herons, kingfishers, and predatory fish to name a few. It is the time that a fly fisher can target a legendary and unique species, the sea run cutthroat!
When I was a child we used to frequent a small creek that flowed into the ocean near my hometown. Washer Creek had been devastated for a century by industry, erosion and up-land logging. A once bountiful creek that had salmon and steelhead one could "Walk across", a stream so productive that my dad once commented that a friend of his had fed his family from the steelhead he used to catch from it's waters. In my time, I never saw any of these numbers of salmon. Logging in it's headwaters and a dam on a lake that was perfect nursery habitat for the salmon fry led to the decline of fish in this creek. When I was small we would spend time at the estuary, and often see small fish jumping. My grandfather would describe these fish as "Sea runs", and that is all I knew of these fish. It didn't seem like a big deal to me until learning more as and adult. Sea run cutthroat are actually a remarkable species!
The other anadromous salmonids in the Pacific Oceans streams are well known, the big 5. Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum. These fish are the staple of our commercial, traditional, and sport harvest in Cascadia. Tens of thousands rely on these fish for their livelihoods, and survival. Many folks aren't aware of our other anadromous fish, two trout and one char. The steelhead is well know, a sea-running rainbow trout. Steelhead will range far out into the ocean, similar to the salmon, and grow to great sizes. Unlike salmon, the steelhead will spawn in the spring. I am not sure how many times a steelhead can spawn, but I believe it can do this cycle several times. The char is the Dolly Varden. This fish is quite rare close to civilization. They are very sensitive to habitat destruction and water quality. I often catch them on the North Island while fishing pink salmon. Little ones will hammer a half ounce zzinger in ankle deep water, nearly launching themselves on to the beach!
Our sea run cutts are special. They are anadromous, and follow the cycles of the salmon and take advantage the bounty of either body of water. When there is little for food in the streams, like spring and summer, the cutthroat will spend most of it's time in the estuary feeding on salmon fry, sculpins, shrimp, and other small minnows. Estuaries are the most bio-diverse of all waters, the edge of fresh and salt water creates abundance, and grows huge amounts of life. As the cooler days of fall come, as do the salmon returning to spawn and the cutthroat will move back into the river to feed on eggs and dead salmon flesh. Fattening themselves up for their own spring spawning ritual. As opposed to cutthroat that live in the nutrient deficient lakes on Vancouver Island, which are often lanky and thin(in general, not the rule), sea run cutts are thick, deep and strong. Their bodies are strong because of the vast variety of foods and the nutrition available to them. Fish who eat other fish grow up to be beautiful specimens of the species.
Because sea-run cutts are fish eaters, it makes them a wonderful quarry for the fly fisherman. They are solitary fish, not often running in schools, so one must watch the water and be prepared to place your offering near a swirl. A well placed salmon fry pattern at this time of the year will all but guarantee a strike! A hard strike. Be prepared. I used a 5 weight rod in the past and I wonder if it is a little under sized for the task. I have heard of cutts breaking the 4 pound mark, and I am sure they can get even bigger than this. Wade in the shallows of the estuary and look for swirls, or v-wake patterns in the water. This will tip you off. Cutts in the ocean will sometimes jump too, so be on the look out for that as well.
Spring is an amazing time of the year. Get out of bed early and discover this beautiful pastime. Early morning fog, silence aside from the waking birds, the fresh sunrise on your face, the energy transfer of the estuary and the company of a legendary fish, who we shall respect and admire. I encourage you to give it a try!
Bio-Regional Appropriate Attire
Don't Believe the Hype!
I have a good friend is spending sometime out of town, in a large city, for work. He is involved in a home construction company and there is a home show in this city that he needs to attend. With time away from the family, my friend the budding archer, took some time for himself and visited an archery range in the area. His comments made me laugh. His comments about the fellows at the range, who were shooting their compound bows, indoors, in full camo. Super geeked out about their compund bows, all the gadgets they had on these bows, their latest high tech sights, rests, releases. Poly(plastic) apparel with the latest innovations, camoflage patterns, scent elimination, and super star hunting spokesmen and women behind the awesome products. I could only imagine his dis-taste in this situation.
As someone who has witnessed the evolution of the hunting wear, I can speak to some of the insanity behind this industry. When I was young it was common to hunt with plaids, greens, tans, earth tones that could help blend a hunter in, not to make them disappear. Why would you want to disappear, you might get shot! Duck hunters would wear woodland patterns, blotchy greens, blacks and browns. You could imagine Elmer Fudd wearing such attire. Effective for sure. Lots of hunters would also don ex-military garb. Thick wool that would keep you warm, quiet and somewhat concealed. Blue jeans, work boots, and your favorite ball cap or wool toque completed the assemble. Off to the woods. Did they harvest animals? Abso-friggen-lutely! On Vancouver Island the heydays for deer hunting were in the 70's, before all this high tech business came out.
I first become aware of modern camo in the late 80's. My uncle, an avid hunter, was wearing some new innovative gear. Polar fleece was just catching on. And so was something called RealTree. It was so cool! Soon images of this new apparel was showing up in Cabela's catalogues, something also new to my eyes. I believe that Real Tree, Mossy Oak and TreBark all appeared on the scene around the same time, and lit the hunting world on fire. Along with advances in synthetic materials, hunting apparel changed very rapidly.
Years and years after these products hitting the market, there is a problem. Companies are always seeking growth. It is how our system of economics is set up. Something always must grow, or it is in decline and might go away. Because of this fact the apparel industry must up their game, and bring new products to the market. Now these fabrics and patterns are licensed for everything and anything. Vehicle accessories, bedding, dog jackets, gun stocks, cell phone cases, if you can imagine it, it probably exists in camouflage! I used to be a big fan of camouflage clothing. I liked the image of it. I could show off my passion, in the woods and the grocery store. My evolution is now coming full circle. I no longer want to be associated as a "Bubba" hunter. I feel like a jackass walking around in any camo, unless I am in the field. I visited our local Cabelas a while back and was appalled. It was my first time in a Cabelas store, the company who's catalog I used to pawn over for days and days. It was like walking into a department store, but instead of fancy clothes, it was chocked full of camouflage. Every thing you could imaging is camo, and it is mostly cotton or plastic. Not impressed at all. The marketers in the industry are flogging this very expensive "gear" with promises of bigger bucks, more ducks and easier hunts. Gear, gadgets and gizmos have replaced common sense, woodsman-ship and knowing your prey. Like most things in society, we feel like we can buy our way to success, instead of hard work, dedication and study. Sorry this just isn't the case.
I am not trying to say that camoflage apparel doesn't have a place. I do believe that it can help, especially for turkey or waterfowl hunting. Those suckers can see color and can pick out the whites of your eyes. In areas where there is crazy hunter pressure, blending in can make a difference between tag soup and back strap. As a hug fan of merino wool for all outdoor pursuits, I have to stick my neck out and say that First Lite is by far my favorite brand. They have two patterns, to my eyes, don't look too "Bubba". The ASAT and the Fusion. Fusion is a First Lite proprietary pattern, created in house. It doesn't look like a tree, but I believe it would be wonderful at removing the hunters silhouette. ASAT is a licensed pattern that reminds me of a blackberry bramble. And it looks cool! I think one could wear it around town, and it would remind people of snowboard wear instead of hunting wear. G Fred Asbell of Hunter Image Productions sells wool garments designed by his wife. They are all in plaid or solid colors and are huge in the traditional bow hunting community. One of these jackets is certainly on my list of wants. There are many other fantastic wool products out there as well, made by some of the larger companies like LL Bean, Icebreaker, Fillson, Pendelton, and Silent Predator. I am not in love with any synthetic apparel, aside from rain shells, but that is for another post.
While camouflage is here to stay and is often a nice to have, it is certainly not a necessity. I would offer that instead of spending potentially hundreds of dollars buying hunting apparel, save that money, take a day off of work with the savings and spend a it in the woods. Adding to your knowledge of your prey, practicing walking quietly, and shooting your bow will give you a leg up over the camo "Bubba" in his truck with the camo seat covers and full camo suit who never leaves his bench seat and heated cab.
Hunting by bicycle
I have been riding a bike since I was 5. My parents gift that year was a little bmx style bike, and I learned to ride with my dad coasting me down a grassy slope in our yard. No run bikes back then. I fell down a couple times, but soon I was off on mini- adventures in our seaside neighborhood. Cycling has been a huge part of my life since that point. I also became interested in hunting about the same time period, as mentioned in an earlier blog. It is a natural fit that the two past times meld together into one giant ball of awesome!
Over the years of cycling on back roads in the area, I have seen my share of game. Bears, deer, upland game birds, fur bearers, and waterfowl all live in the areas where I frequent. So do many gates. Private forestry lands surround the general vicinity of my biosphere. Years ago we could travel freely on these roads, now only atv's and motorcycles can get around the blockades. Since I do not own on of these machines, nor do I wish to. The bicycle becomes my number one option to access these areas.
Quiet, faster then walking and the ability to carry equipment and game with a trailer makes a mountain bike an excellent choice for hunting. I am one who enjoys the hard work of riding up hills, and within a few hours, I can be from my front door into sub-alpine heights. Accessing public land close to home is easy by bike too. Follow a known multi-use trail for some distance, searching for sign. The bike can be locked to a tree, away from obvious eyes, as you still hunt or sit. A tree stand could be easily transported on a bike trailer, with climbing sticks. Or a ground blind. Wearing drab clothing, not camo, and folks walking the same area would not suspect you are looking for dinner. Almost without saying, one must ensure the area being scouted is open to hunting. Others sharing the woods may look unkindly upon hunting in a nature reserve or park.
I would highly recommend that tire repair items be included in your kit. Countless times has a spare tube and a pump saved the day while out on the trail. Other times a forgotten Allen wrench or tire levers can make for a long, disappointed walk home. At the least one should have a spare tube, quality tire pump, allen key set(metric is most often on bicycles), some chain lube and a patch kit as small items that can be stashed in your trailer, backpack or seat post bag. A bike can travel great distances as long as the tire will roll. If a pedal breaks or a chain snaps, you can propel yourself by dropping the seat post and use your feet. Tune-ups before the season at your local bike shop are worth every penny. They know how to tune the machine and give you the most efficient equipment for the job.
I am going to use a well loved child trailer. This is a department store trailer, has been used with four kids in three different families. It still works well, however it is showing its age and is time to be re-purposed. I feel like I could fit a good sized deer or a boned out black bear on the trailer, plus my mountaineering camp gear. Packing light is important, saving space for the most important piece to get home, if one is lucky enough to harvest an animal. Dried food, small tent, merino wool clothing, down sleeping bag and insulation layers, backpacking stove and pot. Pack as you would for an over or multiple night hiking trip, only the bag can be in the trailer, not on your back.
A weekend spent camping and exploring in the hills, away from all the noise and smells of civilization is perfection. The sound of tires on the gravel and the ravens company is all that disturbs the still air of an early fall morning as I climb ever higher in search of a blueberry fattened black bear. My quarry in the best shape of the year, thick fat hiding under shining guard hair. A startled blue grouse takes flight at my approach, offering no shot. My un-braced long bow still in the home engineered rack on the rear of the bike. A beautiful tent site over looking a mirror calm tarn, cutthroat trout rising to late hatching mayflies. One may find its way onto my supper plate, if I can convince one to bit a dry fly from my four piece five weight. Binoculars ever present and glassing, looking for black shadows upon the hillside. Lush blueberry shrubs cover this section, sure to lure in Mr. Bruin.
I fantasize about such things often. I have not actually hunted with a bicycle yet, aside from the trips of my youth with a slingshot wrapped around the handle bars. No luck harvesting game, but the weapon always joined my adventures. Hopefully as hunting season comes around I can have some adventures with bike and bow to share with the readers of Beaufort Traditional.