by Jeff Johnston - Friday, May 29, 2009
If you hunt strictly for food, I don't suggest heading afield with a traditional bow. If you weren't born into the Sioux tribe 500 years ago, your effective range will likely be limited to about 25 yards. But the rewards-if you deliver an arrow through the vitals of a whitetail at 15 paces-are immense, for you have pulled off one of hunting's toughest feats.
The Black Widow Bow Company is a famed maker of recurve and longbows. Missouri's four Wilson brothers, all champion archers, began the company in 1957. Master bowyer Ken Beck bought the company in 1982 and has continued hand-making traditional, high-performance bows for hunters ever since. In the spring of 2007 I called up Mr. Beck and told him I was interested in killing a big buck with one of his bows. He gave me a lifetime of tips in an hour's worth of time and sent me a Black Widow PTFx recurve. It was a work of wooden art. Unfortunately the instructions did not include how to shoot a bullseye, or where to intercept a monster buck with it-these are left up to the archer.
I promptly ordered a dozen feather-fletched, Legend series arrows from Easton, then marched with Sitting Bull-like resolve to the range where I practiced three to four times a week for six months. Although I made tremendous progress, when October arrived I felt my skill level still did not warrant ethical hunting. So obviously, I am no master of the stick and string. But NRA Hunter Services Program Coordinator Matt Fleming is; he has taken nearly 50 deer with his Black Widow recurve.
Matt swears by his bow's smoothness. He says because of the attention given to making its limbs, Black Widow bows will not "stack up," or exhibit inconsistent draw weights during the draw stroke. He says this allows his release to be consistent and therefore his shots very accurate. "My Black Widow may be a bit louder than some other recurves I've owned, but it's the fastest and certainly my most accurate," said Fleming.
Because he travels extensively on official NRA business, Matt packs his MA Takedown model and, when free time permits, looks for opportunities to assemble it and go hunting. The Takedown models, now called PMA II, III, IV and V (the "P" stands for phenolic, a term for thermoplastic resin, which allows the new generation of Black Widow limbs to be more resilient than wood-only versions of old) break down into three pieces via two simple bolts. The PTFX bow that I received is a one-piece model that is light, fast and arguably prettier, but it's not terribly handy for the traveling hunter. Other models are available, and any can be built to your exacting size and wood preferences. Prices range from $810-$1,130.
For prospective traditionalists, Fleming offers these tips: "Before you decide to make an investment in a traditional bow, make sure the sport is for you by trying one out first." (Conveniently, Black Widow offers its Test Drive program, where it'll send you a bow to shoot first without buying.) "Then, if you desire to hunt with it, you must practice several times a week-preferably every day-to become proficient."
Sucessful hunting with a traditional bow is one of hunting's tallest mountains. If you take a mature buck with an olden bow, I'll call you "The Master" and realize that you are, at this time, a better hunter than I am.
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