Dimensions of a Hunting Bow

©Dean Torges/The Bowyer's Edge™

A hunting self bow is a special kind of bow. I've broken some laminated and backed bows these past years while I've tried different glues, experimented with tempering bamboo, played with limb design, worked with patches and tested the limits of wood faults and stresses. Backed bows can be sexy and curvaceous, especially these reflexed/deflexed bamboo/osage bows with which I like to play. Their allure comes from the fast life they live. But they are temperamental and demanding and you need to keep your wits about you playing with them. The very fact of their complexity requires it.

A simple hunting self bow, on the other hand, straight of limb and balanced from all directions, like a devoted housewife standing over mashed potatoes, will always keep you fed. She is an integer, indivisible, focused upon duty.

As I see it, we too easily underestimate the challenge and the discipline involved in achieving unadorned simplicity. Happens in our lives and in the bows we craft as well. We're tempted to look past the drab and dutiful housewife. We're distracted from our purpose and our own self-interest to chase after some temptress. We think about pursuing her even realizing she will likely scorn us if we ask her to sweat or strain or go beyond the call of stress curve agreements when something unexpected shows up at the dinner hour. However, a bow that smiles broadly and time after time ties up her apron when the rest of the world threatens to come apart means much more to me than any delights I could ever find chasing temperamental fps calculations.

A hunting self bow is a special kind of bow, indeed. Its simplicity should not be confused with a different kind of one-dimensional simplicity evidenced in a bow that puts the chronograph ahead of all else, or uses sexy good looks as the gold standard. A simple bow is difficult to build. A one-dimensional bow is easy.

My highest goal always is to make a bow for the hunting archer, even with the laminated bamboo/osage bows that currently fascinate me. She's honest and true by function, rugged and dependable by design, quiet and forgiving by nature. She hopes for as much from me, while offering enough stability and dependability to cover up a fault or two of mine, should they arise at the worst of times. I make the bargain and try not to lose sight of the goal.

As everyone should know, all bow building is done upon tradeoffs. For every advantage we build into a simple stick, we build in a disadvantage. Maybe we can shoot longbows in excess of 66 inches more accurately, but they become unwieldy in tight hunting situations. Short bows have their own price to pay for accuracy and durability. Wide limbs may stress wood less, but they may accomplish it at the expense of extra limb mass.

Generally speaking, the more reflex you have in a bow, the faster it shoots, the less stable it is, the wider you need to make it, the noisier it gets, the quicker it loads up (with arrow weight), the faster it degrades-the brighter it burns its short life. Vice versa, too, to the extent that you can create a dog that snores the same in the morning as in the evening.

Bow limb design gets to be a tangled web. You don't tickle one part of that web without creating tremors elsewhere. Limb design derives from what you value in a bow. And value derives as a function of usage. Usage in turn depends largely on the kind of arrows that you want to shoot. Light cedar target arrows? Heavy hardwood hunting arrows? Something multipurpose, in between?

We all acknowledge that wooden bows have elastic limits. But we often forget that they also get tired. The reason is that stresses are a concern while making a bow, but strength and durability issues get overlooked because many of us are in a frenzy to make one bow hard upon the heels of another, failing to give them sound and extensive workouts, to shoot thousands of arrows through a favorite one, to hunt it for successive seasons.

All bows degrade, some faster than others. If you tweak one part of a bow beyond another, if you increase the reflex of a limb, or strain one portion of a limb beyond another, you may pick up arrow speed but only at a cost. The cost is likely decreased limb life, unless you are shooting 7 foot bows or brace yours at two inches, etc. A limb section that must travel 6 inches to achieve brace height or fletching clearance is, at the end of a hunting day, more tired than a limb section that must travel 5 inches to reach brace height, even if neither bow gets shot. If you should be called upon to shoot one arrow in the final hour, which of these two will shoot more accurately? In other words, which will shoot an arrow more predictably? Also, a bow that has only a short working section of limb, or that works one section harder than another, will fall off in performance more dramatically during the course of a day at the butts than one that works the whole limb uniformly.

A bow that balances all the tradeoffs that exist, a bow like one described in "Hunting the Osage Bow," a straight-forward flatbow showing either very little reflex or very little string follow after it relaxes, offers the best compromises for durability, sweetness and stability while maintaining an ability to deliver a heavy arrow quietly and accurately. I like it for the kind of hunting that I do - close quarter work on jittery critters.

All in all, it's easy to make a Roman candle of a bow or one with breathtaking curves and eye-popping laminations. But once you start folding desirable qualities into the equation and calculating tradeoffs, the simple self bow requires difficult choices. It takes some maturity to appreciate and make these choices, especially since most of them require that you turn your back on a chronograph and all its boasts and assign speed the residue of the balanced bow.

For the most part, it's the younguns who require fast cars and tachometers, flashy women and tape measures. They are trophies in themselves, They measure up real nice and look real good, until you ask one to plow the back forty or make supper for an unexpected guest.