From the very conception of my bowhunting madness, my ambitions have remained in a perpetual state of flux. All but one, that is — the desire to someday bag a big-game animal with a bow born of my own hands.
Certainly, my aspirations required skills considerably beyond those that earned me a tanned posterior — at age 7 or 8 — after I whittled a succession of unsuccessful bows and arrows from backyard landscaping and a length of packing cord.
I also recall, maybe two decades later, hauling the “perfect” bow stave from Saskatchewan, Canada, following an ambitious bowhunting road trip (a hive of U.S. Customs agents commiserated half an hour over the 7-foot hank of lumber). Following three years of seasoning and carefully carving a handsome English-style longbow (per Saxton Pope’s instructions in Hunting With The Bow & Arrow), I joyously sent exactly two arrows speeding down range before the bow failed terminally; three weeks of tedious labor reduced to kindling.
The requisite monotony of tenderly shaping a potential weapon, weighed against looming heartbreak, cooled much serious effort thereafter. But the notion, like a latent dream, remained deeply embedded in my imagination.
MEET THE MASTER
I met Alan Currier during a community soiree in a small southwestern New Mexico village. I’d heard whisperings of a wildly eccentric “Chinaman” (actually Japanese-American) who made bows via the unreliable grapevine universal to intimate hamlets where small minds with idle hands occupy themselves with the affairs of others.
I introduced myself, and Alan and I were immediately connected by a mutual fascination with the flight of the arrow. Alan indeed makes bows — primitive designs free of modern materials — though his inspiration is not bowhunting or even target shooting. It’s flight shooting. He owns several primitive-bow world records in this vanishing endeavor. It quickly became evident Alan owns wisdom I’ve long coveted. And for my part, I had a catalog of prospective bow woods in the ready recesses of my mind.
Our friendship budded while investigating the widely strewn groves of exotic Osage and native hackberry. Through Alan’s patient tutelage, I came to understand the synchronous qualities comprising harmonious bow wood are as exceptional as discovering the perfect likeness of Jesus Christ in a tortilla’s surface. There’s the matter of knots (good and bad), grain twist and, most of all, stave length in relation to these qualities. I learned the concept of compression and tension woods and how slanting staves forced to surmount a lifetime of gravity can increase performance potential. I offered one potential bow after another, Alan investing scant scrutiny before summarily dismissing my favorites due to one flaw or another; most occasioned by the comment, “Perfect — if it were six inches longer.”
I’m a quick study. In time, I managed to lead Alan to trees sparking his infectious enthusiasm. Alan’s wedded to wood like no other person I’ve known.
Our friendship solidified. One day, observing me exercising a modern recurve, Alan offered that if I’ll instruct him in the proper approach to shooting, he’ll teach me the art of creating a reliable primitive bow. Later, disappointed by Alan’s dismissal of my latest find of wild Osage after long, hopeful inspection (“if only it were four inches longer”), I made an off-handed comment. “With all these absolutely perfect, if slightly short, pieces of bow wood, why not make take-down bows?”