More than a “Go To” Bow

It has been well over a year now since I picked up my first longbow. Since I purchased that initial longbow my stable of bows has increased substantially. As is the case with many folks, I have one in particular that just seems to “fit”. This was never the case during the years I carried a compound or even when I put away the wheels and started shooting traditional gear in the form of Recurves. Since I was 18 years old I have always kept a spare bow around for those moments when Murphy decides to make things interesting. This was more because of necessity rather than desire and it really did not matter which bow I was shooting. I had no real “attachment” to a specific bow. Function over form so-to-speak. This all changed with the longbow.

My decision to try a longbow formed out of this lackluster passion I had with archery. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed archery since an early age but I did not feel I had any passion for the sport. Many times I found myself shooting because I knew I had to in order to stay proficient not because I was really enjoying it. This was about to change.

My first longbow was a heavily used John Schulz 68” longbow. Nothing overly fancy and would even be considered dull by some. Yet, I found a good deal on the bow and figured if I didn’t like it then I wasn’t out a lot of money. When I first strung the bow and headed out to my backyard range I remember thinking, “this thing feels like a toy”. It was so light in my hand I wondered if it might snap. Well it didn’t and I quickly became very comfortable with that bow. Arrow after arrow was sent down range and I found that suddenly without really thinking about it I was consistently hitting my mark. By the end of that first session, as I was walking back to my house I suddenly realized that my arms were a bit sore and tired. I remember looking at the clock when I walked in. I had been shooting for nearly 3 hours!!!!! I was back out the next day, and the next, and since then shooting is practically a daily event for me. I had found what was missing all the years before. I found myself looking forward to shooting every day and in some cases I would be sad and depressed if I knew I would not get home before dark or had to be out of town for a few days.
I still have that John Schulz Trophy Hunter and even took a couple of animals with it during the 2011 deer season. Today, I still shoot it now and then and while enjoy doing so it no longer ranks as my “Go to”.

Along the course of that first year shooting longbows I managed to pick up a couple other longbows on the classifieds of various forums. I could shoot all of them well and enjoyed each of them for various reasons. While I did not realize it at the time I believe now I was subconsciously looking for something. That something special that would transform the bow from being something I was shooting to being a part of me. Then during the late summer, I booked a hog hunt with one Mr. Ray Hammond of “Hog Heaven”, a traditional only Hog hunting operation in South Carolina. While I did not need another bow I decided I wanted to order a custom bow for this trip. I wanted something that was personalized to me. After many posts on forums, phone conversations, research and hours contemplating my choices I had narrowed my list down to three bowyers. The following day I sat down at my desk and placed the first of what I expected would be three calls. I never made those other two calls.
I spent over an hour on the phone with the first bowyer and by then end of the call I had ordered a 70” longbow. The design was to be a classic hill style with a slight back set in the limbs. The limb laminations were going to be tempered bamboo covered with Cherry Veneers on the back and belly and the handle would be crafted from Bolivian Rosewood. The limb overlays would also be fashioned from the same rosewood. The bowyer went to great pains to discuss my shooting style, shooting habits, what I liked, disliked, wood choices, benefits of styles and the list goes on and on. I remember feeling guilty that I was taking up so much of his time but whenever I would mention this he would say something to the effect of “no, we need to get this right”. I hung up that phone feeling like I had not only known this man for years but that something special was to be heading my way in 6 months. The wait would prove to be a lesson in torture as I thought about the bow almost daily and since I was stepping up considerably in draw weight on this bow, I even went and bought another used bow a little heavier than I expected my custom bow to be so I would be ready for its grand arrival. Time slowly marched on!

When the month of January rolled around I had gotten to know Steve Turay, of Northern Mist Longbows, very well. We chatted on the phone at least a half a dozen times since I had placed my order. This was not any effort by me to keep tabs on my bow or to try and speed up the process. I simply enjoyed chatting with Steve. He had made it very clear to me the date I could expect my bow and honestly the question never even came up. Then one morning my phone rang and it was Steve calling to let me know that he had just came back from shooting my bow a few times and it would be in the mail and on its way to Georgia before he headed to Kalamazoo for the Archery Expo. Let the anticipation begin!!!! Plus my upcoming Hog Hunt was only a few weeks away. The timing was absolutely perfect.

After a couple of days I began watching for the mail truck like a kid waiting for Santa to come down the chimney. But with each day I was disappointed when the truck would stop at the mailbox, leave a few items (mostly bills!) and then drive away. By the time I decided that something was wrong, Steve was at Kalamazoo and unreachable. I left a couple of messages and finally in a desperate attempt, went on a traditional forum and just posted that my bow was missing and if anyone saw Steve at the Expo to please let him know that I was trying to reach him. Later than night Chuck Deshler (Two Tracks Bow and Wool) sent me a PM saying he had let Steve know and he would be in contact soon. As luck would have it, I now consider Chuck a good friend as well but that is another story.

Within 24 hours I got a call from Steve, he apologized for the delay and said he could not figure out what had happened. Between the two of us we tracked down the bow to a distribution center in Atlanta but from there it was like the bow had been consumed by a black hole. Despite numerous phone calls we just could not locate exactly where the bow was and why it was not moving closer to my door. Within 72 hours Steve is telling me he is going to build me a new bow immediately and have it on my way expedited in a few days. With my Hog Hunt now only two weeks away I requested that Steve just wait and see if the bow turned up. I could tell he was very upset that the bow had not made it to me but at this point I did not feel it was in any way his fault and I did have other bows. I was sure it would turn up. Well it never did.

I went on my hunting trip to SC and had a great time and a wonderful hunt. My Osage longbow and the Schultz went along for the ride. I had a few opportunities at hogs, met some great new friends (Thom Jorgensen from MI, Ray Bourbon from WA, and one Jay St. Charles to name a few) and found that Ray Hammond runs a top notch hunt for an affordable price and is a wonderful cook to boot. As I was driving home my cell phone rang and it was Steve. He asked if the bow had shown up and as much as I hated to tell him I knew it had not as my wife had been watching for it to arrive. The promise Steve then made was that he was going to start on a new one right away and he would hand deliver it to me at the Pre-Spring Arrow Fling in Alabama the next weekend. I remember I still protested his building a new bow when the original was still missing but I admit it was a half-hearted protest.
The following weekend found my family and I traveling to McCalla, AL. I was excited about the prospect of spending time with my family, shooting my longbows, meeting new friends and especially about finally getting my hands on my new Northern Mist Classic!

As I walked down “Vendor Row” at the Pre-Spring Arrow fling I admit I had tunnel vision. I was looking very specifically for the Northern Mist logo. As I walked up to Steve I extended my hand for a handshake and as soon as I spoke to introduce myself Steve was reaching to pull my bow off the rack. He strung it, handed it to me and the long wait was over. What a beautiful bow! Amazing craftsmanship, gorgeous wood and the first thing I noticed was the grip was absolutely perfect for my hand. I must admit in my excitement I think I had little to say to Steve other than “thank you…….I’ll be back!”

A quick trip to my truck to tie on a nock and I was off to find the first object constructed of high density foam for the sole purpose of stopping an arrow!!! As arrow after arrow was sent down range I began to realize that I was shooting with a consistency that I had not previously experienced. For whatever reason that I am still unable to explain today this bow was acting as an extension of my mind and body. Smooth drawing, very forgiving of my routine mistakes and very mild on the release. I went on to shoot the best scores I had yet experienced on a 3D course.

Was it the bow? Was it my anticipation? Or was it something else? Honestly I don’t know myself but what I can tell you is that now, almost a year later, nothing has changed. I can shoot other bows well, I have other bows on order (including another Mist) but when I head to the range or to the woods, I am instinctively drawn to this particular bow. A most positive side note, as a result of the situations surrounding the delivery of this bow I found a good friend in Steve Turay. We speak on the phone at least a couple of times a month and I hope to share a campfire or two with him in the coming year.

Now for the best part, a few months passed after the Pre-Spring Arrow Fling and the Howard Hill Classic was coming up in June. My 12 year old daughter was really excited about heading back to Tannehill and I was looking forward to the trip myself. I had picked up a Hill style longbow for my daughter and I was seeing the magic happen all over again by watching my daughter shoot. She was shooting her Hill-style bow very well and while watching her I saw she was just naturally more proficient with this style of bow. The Hill Classic would be her first 3D shoot with a “Hill” bow. I was anxious to see how she would fare. When we arrived at the Classic on Saturday we were walking down vendor row again and I was headed to Steve Turay’s booth again to say hello and shake his hand again. I was also looking for Pat Carter, of Back Porch Traditional Archery. I had ordered a new set of Douglas Fir arrows for my Classic and was to pick them up while at the shoot. As it turned out Pat was set up right across from the Northern Mist booth. I arrived to find Steve surrounded by customers so my daughter and I headed over to the Back Porch Traditional Archery mobile arrow shop. While I was looking over the beautiful arrows Pat had crafted for me I realized that my daughter had left my side. This was very unusual for her as she generally sticks close to me when around people she does not know very well. As I look around I see that she is talking to Steve Turay and they are looking at my bow. Within a few seconds I realize that I am still holding my bow. Puzzled I excused myself from my discussion with Pat and headed over to figure out what was going on. Suffice to say I was stunned to learn that the bow my daughter was holding was an exacting replica of my Northern Mist bow. Steve had built this bow for my daughter and was gifting it to her. He stated flatly “He couldn’t have her shooting just any bow!”

I was absolutely speechless, as was my daughter. We both thanked Steve repeatedly and I remarked to Steve that this was just too nice of a gift, and to please let me pay him. To which he flatly refused. He made some kind of arrangement with my daughter that she continue shooting, focus on school and after she gets out of college, when she is making a lot of money, then she could pay him then. As we left Steve’s booth and hit the course I witnessed my daughter having the exact experience I had when I first shot my bow. She shot the best I have ever seen her shoot. In fact she shot better than anyone in our group….myself included! Oh, did I mention that she refused to shoot from the child stake? I was both proud of her and happy for her as well. She was really enjoying herself, many times at my expense, and that was ok too.

At some point along the course I caught my daughter studying her new bow in silent admiration. I gave her a few moments to take it all in and then I asked her what she was thinking. She looked up at me with a tear forming in her eye and stated that this was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her and she wasn’t sure how she could say “thank you”. I gave her a hug and told her we would have to figure that out together. Since that day we have spent a lot of time together shooting our bows and it shouldn’t surprise you to know that if she is shooting with me, I am only “allowed” to shoot one bow, the one that matches hers.

Yes my Northern Mist is more than my “Go To” bow. Steve not only built the perfect bow for me, he then gifts my daughter a beautiful bow “just like her dad’s”. My daughter and I have always had a strong bond and when she began getting involved in archery I felt that bond getting even stronger. Our matching longbows have made our archery expeditions even more special. (Thank you Steve!) Now, if you think I am proud of my longbow, you need to meet my daughter and ask her about hers. Just be prepared to hear the whole story. She never gets tired of telling it.

This article originally appeared in Stick and String Magazine – Winter Edition 2012. The complete magazine is available to read on line for free in a digital edition or for the low price of $19 a year you can get it delivered to your door.

Stick and String Magazine – Winter 2012

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