Shooting a wooden bow in it’s origins was often a matter of life and death. Whether it was used for hunting or defending yourself, it was important to just hit.
In my experience with shooting a wooden bow, people have mostly averted to just having fun and not focusing on the result too much. Lately I have been spending some time with Dutch Bowhunting Clan members Michael, Jaap and Stefan. (https://www.instagram.com/1nocknock/) Avid archers and bowyers, they take this game to a higher level than I anticipated before.
Steve Wijler and I gave a seminar some time ago, about getting your personal shot as close to perfection as possible. Although we really only expected recurve archers to sign up, there were some compound archers, and surprisingly, wood shooters.
A little stressed, I asked them what they hoped to learn from us, as we don’t have a lot of experience in their discipline of the sport. They told me they were looking to learn about the mental side, and just the shot in general. Turns out there are lots of crossovers in our technique, and we were able to figure some things out eventually about their shoulder alignment, release and other things that seem logical to us but not necessarily the first priority of someone who shoots a wooden bow. Their bows look amazing. They are self built (with some exceptions) and in different styles. Stefan likes to build laminated bows (https://www.instagram.com/bamboo_bow/) and Jaap likes to build ‘selfbows’. (https://www.instagram.com/thejaapbolt/) I learned that a selfbow is a bow out of a single piece of wood where you have to work with the grain and embrace imperfections. Cool!
After the clinic was over, we got invited to shoot at “their forest” where they have a permanent 3d course you can visit for a small fee and shoot the whole day. On one condition: “We are getting you new arrows!”. I showed the clan my wooden arrows and they quickly broke down everything about it. The point weight was wrong, the feathers were too big, the grain was not straight enough and most importantly, my nocks were made from plastic!? An issue that had to be fixed.
Weeks later we found the time to go to Dutch Bow Store in Wageningen. (https://www.pijlenboogkopen.com/) A relatively small shop, but, like the popularity of 3d archery in the Netherlands, rapidly growing. They are focused mainly on 3d shooting and were able to deliver many wooden shafts to pick from,
so we spent literally hours to find the right spine by shooting bare shafts(!), Checking how straight they were, what they weighed and if the shafts had a straight grain.
Mind you, if the grain of the shaft is straight, that doesn’t mean the shaft is, or the other way round. This is something I was repeatedly told that day.
I was done relatively quickly finding the right arrows, but the guys weren’t as easily pleased. Not only did they have to find the right spine, but they needed to find the right spine after tapering a shaft. That’s right, tapering. In recurve archery I normally shoot Easton x10 arrows. The shafts are tapered/barreled, to ensure proper clearance and better overall flight. I found out that you can do this with wooden arrows as well, be it manually. The guys made a contraption to taper the arrows with, using a sheet of sanding paper and some simple yet effective woodwork.
Their tapered shaft would drastically improve arrow flight because they don’t have a center shot, and the arrow has to bend around their bow much further to get clearance.
It starts to become very clear that these people are looking at this sport in a very serious manner, and don’t just settle for ‘ok’.
I have been bitten by the bug as well by now. I want to learn more about this discipline. I stroll through forests thinking: “this would be a good place to practice!”. After some time I can not take it anymore. I have to get my shot. I ask the guys if I can join them in their workplace and look at how they make their bows. After some doubt, they decide it’s okay and I can come over on Saturday.
They will do some tests with bending and other simple stuff, but I seize the opportunity with both hands. I feed the fire burning inside me with the wood chips coming from their drawknives.
I need more of this. I sense the beginning of a new hobby.
Story and photos by Sjef van den Berg