“It takes a community to raise a bow.” – Somebody, sometime, probably
?A pall of dust rises over the land, lending a blood-red hue to the setting sun. To the north, where blue clad men have taken up defensive positions, the faint sound of a fife and drum corps playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” wafts on the breeze, almost obscured by the clipped nasal Yankee accents of nervous men preparing for battle. In the scrubby woods to the south, a similar scene is unfolding. On this side of the field, however, the breeze that gently ruffles the Stars and Bars overhead carries the faint strain of “Dixie” and soft southern drawls, along with a hint of woodsmoke. As the peaceful scene is shattered by a thousand shrill rebel yells and men clad in butternut gray swarm from the woods with upraised weapons, a German and a Hawaiian wander onto the field of engagement wondering exactly what they’re doing here in the middle of this melee. Is this a historic scene from the American War of Northern Aggression? Nope. It’s the beginning of the latest Primitive Archer Online community bow project.
The events leading up to this scene started not with a cannonball fired at Fort Sumter, but through a source from which much other nefarious mischief seems to often emanate: a message posted on the Primitive Archer online discussion boards by Pat Brennan (Pat B) of Brevard, North Carolina. He was testing the waters about starting a new community bow project, and he soon had a whole platoon of interested bowyers reporting for duty. (For those who are unfamiliar with the Primitive Archer online community bow projects of past years, here’s the Reader’s Digest® condensed version: One person starts a bow and sends it to someone else who completes another step in the bow's construction and then sends it on. Each person adds a bit of his own style and workmanship to the bow as it makes the rounds. Eventually, a bow with a little bit of each participant infused into it emerges, usually to be auctioned off to benefit a worthy cause.) In fact, there were so many people interested in participating that it was soon decided that we had enough bowyers on board to build two bows. Noticing that the participants were fairly equally divided between fine upstanding Southerners and those who were unfortunate enough to be born up North, it was decided to split the teams roughly along the Mason-Dixon line. It wasn’t long before the Rebs and Yanks were getting into the spirit of friendly competition, and soon everyone was having fun playing up the whole North-South thing.
Shannon King (a.k.a Bull Creek Boy) of Rogersville, Missouri, fired the first shot for the Southern boys with a generous offer to donate a roughed-out stave of guava—a tough, elastic tropical wood that is relatively unknown in the world of primitive bowyery (at least the modern one). The stave had already gone through one step in the process as it had been cut, split, and roughed out by Manny Padroni of Pupukea, Hawaii. Manny had been experimenting with this species of wood with excellent results; so excellent in fact, that Manny holds the distinction of being the only person to have ever tied with himself in winning the Primitive Archer Magazine Bow of the Month contest. He accomplished this feat in June of 2006 with an impressive pair of guava bows. Of course, the idea of having a chance to work with a nice piece of proven, but uncommon, wood appealed to the project’s bowyers. Soon, the stave that had begun its life in sunny Hawaii was on its way from Missouri to Tennessee, where it would meet the next participant in the chain.
Tillering the bow was the task of Mark “Pappy” Baggett of Clarksville, the man whose collection of Bow of the Month hats rivals Imelda Marcos’s stash of shoes. With some assistance from Greg Bagwell (Greg B), he soon had it strung and bending evenly. The stave was now no longer a stave, but a bow. As anyone who has seen Pappy and Greg’s bows would expect, they did an excellent job on the tiller—even though neither of them had ever worked with this species of wood. After shooting it a bit, they said that you had better be right careful where you pointed it, because you were going to hit what you pointed at.
With the bow now fully functional, it was time to “make it purty.” You might not think that a bunch of rednecks that will barely trim their own toenails would have it in them, but before long the pampered piece of wood was getting the royal spa treatment. Of course, considering that this particular chunk of guava was born and raised on the sunny shores of Hawaii, it probably expected it. Greg sanded the newborn bow smooth and burnished the back. After it was all exfoliated, shiny, and slick as a possum’s tail, the bow headed back to Missouri where it had an appointment to get its nocks done by Lonnie Stapp (a.k.a. Skeaterbait) of Liberty. He narrowed the tips of the limbs and dressed them up with nock overlays of whitetail deer antler.
At this point, the bow, quickly getting spoiled from all the pampering and such, demanded that it wanted something nice to wear. It showed back up on Shannon’s doorstep looking considerably different than the last time he had seen it and with a newly acquired taste for finery. It talked him out of a nice set of sturgeon skins that he had been saving, and they complemented its tanned Hawaiian complexion quite well. He also added ambidextrous leather arrow rests and a handle wrap from rattan donated by Pat. After lettering and a couple coats of hand-rubbed tung oil, it was ready for finishing; off it went to Ron Johnson (Jignfrog) of Bruner, Missouri, who applied the final finish of several coats of Tru-oil.
After all the work dressing the bow up in fancy Sunday-go-to-meetin’ duds, every good Southern boy who saw it reckoned that our little homespun bow was now purtier than a speckled bluetick puppy sittin’ in a red wagon. The guava wood is quite attractive in itself, with a nice grain and color that is really brought out by the deep oil finish. The sturgeon skins, black thread wraps, and antler overlays set it off and make it one of the best-looking bows that I’ve seen in a long time (not to mention the most excellent red-and-black Flemish twist, “artificial cat-gut” string of immaculate quality that Pat custom made for it—truly an outstanding masterpiece of the string-makers art.) But this bow is much more than a pretty face, there is a serious weapon behind the makeup holding both the fieriness it absorbed from the gritty volcanic soils of the land of Pele plus a bunch of good ol’ whoop-butt Southern attitude. The bow draws 53 pounds at 28", and is perfectly tillered with a slightly crowned belly. It holds nearly an inch of reflex and shoots smoothly, quietly, and accurately with good arrow speed. All in all, it is a bow that anyone should be proud to shoot or own, showing the skill and craftsmanship of all the talented people who contributed to its construction.
A bow, no matter how nice, isn’t much good without the accessories that go with it. So while the bow was making the rounds, another regiment of confederates was also hard at work. A bow naturally needs arrows, and this one got a set worthy of it. Pat donated a half-dozen shoot shafts of sourwood, privet, dogwood, and buffalo nut. He tipped half of them with field points, and half he hafted with stone points knapped by Paul “Cowboy” Wolfe of Springtown, Texas. Paul is an amazingly talented knapper, evidenced by the skillful work that shows in the thin, sharp points made from tough Texas flint. The arrows next went to Justin Snyder of Utah (a state that is decidedly more Southern than other states that geographically occur further north), who added bison-horn-splined self-nocks and fletched the stone-tipped arrows with barred turkey feathers. He fletched the three target arrows with Canada goose feathers donated by Kenneth Gorman (Little John) of Colorado (which, before you say anything, is located to the south of Wyoming and Montana—plus Kenneth and Justin are good fellers and we wanted them on our side).
Special arrows call for something better than ordinary to carry them in, and Marius “Dustybaer” Fara volunteered to make a quiver set for them. Marius is a typical good ol’ Southern boy in all regards except for the fact that he hails from Gustavsburg, Germany. Several of us got to meet Marius in person when he flew to the Tennessee Classic shoot last spring, and he was quickly adopted into the brotherhood of poke sallet, corn likker, and sweet ‘tater pie. He came up with a mighty good-looking quiver decorated with the Primitive Archer logo. Attached to the strap is a leather sheath that holds a fine knife donated for the set by Pappy. To round out the pile of goodies, the bow is encased in an amazing hand woven bow sock made by Dane
Donato of (ahem) Greenfield, Massa-chusetts; he helped us out even though the fightin’ britches that he was wearing were blue instead of gray. During one of his midnight espionage missions into the forum’s Southern Bow thread while gathering intelligence for the Federal carpetbaggers, he discovered that we had no bow sock and were going to have to tote our purty new bow around in an old tater sack. He showed that, contrary to common knowledge, Yankees can sometimes exhibit hospitable human tendencies. He took pity on us and while weaving a bow sock for the Yanks, he made us up a fine one, too.
The bow and accessories will soon find an owner when the set is auctioned off to benefit the worthy work of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Hopefully the new owner of our bow and set will enjoy it and appreciate the work, selflessness, and craftsmanship that went into its making. And just between you and me, I kind of hope he or she is the kind of person who also appreciates sweet iced tea, pecan pie, and skillet-browned cornbread, along with the warm smoky taste of good Kentucky bourbon. Additionally, I hope they enjoy the lonesome bawl of a blue tick hound echoing through the woods on a still October night when the air carries the bite of frost and the faint heady musk of tobacco curing in the barn. In other words, a Southerner, of course.
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