Editor’s Note: This is a column written by Switzerland County’s David Hewitt. The articles center on all things ‘outdoors’, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
The weeds had nearly taken over the front of the abandoned barn.
Once a nice place, the property had fallen victim to foreclosure and had been left vacant like so many others lately. I could only assume another case of predatory lending, sub-prime mortgages, or a job loss as I stood there chatting with the gentleman charged with getting the place cleaned up and back in shape for resale.
“I think there might be some archery stuff inside the barn if you want to have a look around,” he said. “Looks like junk to me, but you’re welcome to check it out.”
We pushed back the oversized doors and stomped down a few weeds and made our way inside the dark building. Typical scraps of wood, bits and pieces of metal, some jars full of rusted nuts and bolts and other items that you’d expect to find in any old outbuildings on a farm littered the floor.
Just as he thought, most of it appeared to be junk, but the fella pointed out a pile of “firewood” in the corner of the building that piqued my interest.
Under some pieces of plywood and decade’s worth of dust and cobwebs lay a stack of split and quartered logs, but not just any logs. These were Osage staved – hedge apple to most of us.
Hard as a rock, not good for much other than a hedge row or fence posts. But these logs were never intended to be burnt in the wood stove or used to string barbwire. These logs had been carefully split into lengthwise quarters, the ends sealed with thick paint to prevent them from checking and cracking.
The French and some Indian tribes called them Bois D’arc, loosely translated into “Wood of the Bow Tree” – and I’d fallen into a load of them!
I sorted through the pile of Osage hoping to salvage some of the wood. The years hadn’t been kind to the staves and several of the logs had dried beyond use for anything other than kindling or toothpicks.
Beetles, wasps and other wood borers had also taken their toll as evidenced by the piles of sawdust. Regardless, I knew some of the pieces still had a bow somewhere in them just waiting for the right hands to whittle them out.
I toyed with the idea of making myself a longbow out of one of the logs, but after some serious consideration, I talked myself out of the idea.
Selfbow making isn’t a skill that I possess, but I knew just who did. A quick phone call and a brief conversation was all that was needed. My bowyer friend and I had struck a deal, he takes the staves and in return, I receive a bow. I jumped at the prospect of owning one of his bows.
A few weeks passed and I’d receive an occasional text from the bow maker.
“How long is your draw length?”
“Do you shoot off the shelf?”
All sorts of questions that anyone crafting a bow would ask it’s future owner. The questions teased me knowing that he was at work on my weapon. Anticipation at this point was an understatement. I had hoped that the bow would be done by hunting season, but something like handcrafting a bow doesn’t happen over night.
I kept my fingers crossed.
This past weekend, my friend invited me over to his house with a cryptic message that he had something for me. Saturday morning found me at his place along with a few other guys that are absorbed in traditional archery and primitive archery in particular. He disappeared for a moment and then reappeared carrying what I can only describe as a functional piece of art.
The deep, yellow, gold color of the Osage wood was stunning. As I stood there admiring the piece of work, I could help but notice the care that was taken.
Working and scraping the log down, one growth ring at a time. Letting the log tell the bowyer what direction to take, what lines to follow. Working his way around pin knots and holes. The fine tips tapering to a delicate point overlayed with buffalo horn. The warm, leather wrap around the handle that fit like a custom glove in my hand to the custom made string and the beaver fur silencers..
A one-of-a-kind work of art, almost too beautiful to carry into the woods, but a crime not to hunt with such a fine bow.
A silly grin was smeared on my face the rest of the afternoon as I launched arrow after arrow into the target, like a kid with a new toy. Five yards, 10. Back to 20. The bow functioned as well as it looked. The thought that a few months ago, this beauty was hidden away inside a 30-year old hedge apple log that by all accounts should’ve wound up in a holler or a bonfire still brings a smile.
Thanks Clint, you are a true artist and I hope I can do the bow justice this fall.
– David Hewitt