“Building bows is a series of pitfalls.”
Bill Dunn’s job for the last 10 years has been making bows and arrows from scratch by hand, avoiding a multitude of hurdles in the creation of these crafts on a day-by-day basis. Dunn, who’s wearing a plaid shirt, jeans, and a short but unkempt beard, currently builds Zipper bows and Grizzly broadheads, and he owns both labels.
The bows sell on his company’s website for anywhere from $600 to $1,500, and he ships them as far east as China, as far west as Hawaii, and seemingly everywhere in between.
But while a bow and arrow may seem as easy to put together as an Apple Pie on a warm August day, the process to build the perfect product takes not only time, but the utmost precision.
“You’re just constantly trying to avoid those pitfalls,” Dunn, 39, said outside his barn in Sterling Township in Brown County, which operates as his workshop. “There’s so many places you can go wrong but if you can keep avoiding all those spots and correct the issues that come up with every one, you’ve got a good bow.
“Sometimes I’ve taken some pretty good stuff and cut it in half, because it’s just not going to be right.”
Humans have been using bows and arrows to hunt for thousands of years. In fact, according to research conducted by professors with the University of Tübingen in Germany and the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, there’s evidence to show humans used bows and arrows 64,000 years ago.
But in the years since, the bow and arrow went from the most popular hunting instrument to one that’s been relegated to the sidelines in favor of rifles and other firearms. A 2011 study by the U.S. Census bureau found that 13.7 million Americans use firearms to hunt, compared to 4.5 million using bows and arrows.
However, the bow and arrow seems to be making a bit of a comeback these days.
Using new technology to add carbon in the risers and limbs of the bows, the equipment has become even more lighter and accurate when firing at a target.
“The stability is so great with it,” Dunn said. “If I’m shooting and I twist my fingers out or I make a poor release, that carbon has the extra stability to stabilize that limb faster and get the string going straight, which equals better performance.
“Plus, there’s better shootability, which is also another aspect of performance, because it’s going to be more accurate the faster it lines up, gets straight, and sends the arrow down range faster. With the carbon, it’s so stable that I don’t believe you can intentionally twist a limb. What that lets me do is build a much more radical limb and it’s still more stable than a wood limb.”
Dunn has been into bow and arrow hunting since he was a teenager. While in high school, he cut down Osage trees nearby and made his own self bow out of it, as he couldn’t afford the manufactured bows used by more experienced hunters.
He then met Zipper founder Bob Thompson after graduating high school at shooting events, and Dunn said he always displayed a love for the Zipper bow brand.
“My wife (Tracy) got tired of hearing me talk about how great these Zipper bows were so she said ‘order the dang thing’, so I ended up getting my first one,” Dunn said.
Two years later, Dunn purchased another Zipper bow from Thompson and eventually developed enough of a relationship to work with Thompson as Thompson was preparing to retire. Dunn spent four or five days in Brown County shoeing horses, before driving to West Virginia to work with Thompson in his shop.
“Finally after about six months of that, I took it over and brought everything here,” said Dunn.
According to Dunn, it’s a two week process from start to finish to build a bow. He starts with about four risers and sets of limbs at a time, but he said inevitably, one of them is dropped to the next two-week cycle.
The risers need to be cut into shape, potentially with other elements added to them, sanded, and then applied with as many as ten layers of finish. For the limbs, it’s even more complicated, as they need to be sanded, then shaped to the riser and be of equal length and weight on both sides of the riser so that the string holds tight.
The broadheads meanwhile need to be sanded, finished, and grinded so that it’s sharp on both sides.
“The Grizzly is a single-bevel head,” Dunn said. “In the single bevel, what it does is, when it meets resistance, that thing is going to twist and turn.
“When it meets resistance, there’s pressure pushing against this bevel and that bevel,” explains Dunn, while demonstrating how the arrow spins,” so it will twist when it meets some material. If you have a heavy enough arrow, instead of trying to force through that bone, it will split through that bone.”
Despite the new technology, Dunn considers himself a traditionalist. He hunts with a wood bow and arrow, which means that he has to usually be within ten yards of a target on a hunt in order to make an accurate shot.
Or in his words, “I want them close enough that I can smell them.”
He sees the use of traditional wood bow and arrows as a progression, from beginning hunting with firearms, to challenging yourself more with a carbon composite bow, to using a wooden bow, which raises the hunting challenge even more.
Even with the lure of computers and video games keeping children inside and away from learning hunting techniques, Dunn isn’t worried about hunters going extinct.
“Hunting’s not going to go away. We are hunters when we’re born. The biggest thing that we say a million times is just getting kids into it, but we are hunters. That’s why kids play hide and seek, that’s why they’re out there catching grasshoppers. We just have to make sure that the kids realize the reason they’re playing the games they’re playing.”
Dunn also said that more respect should be paid to all animals, and that new hunters shouldn’t be focused on tagging the biggest buck of the year.
“An old, smart, doe, is just as intelligent or more during the rut than any buck out there,” Dunn said. “And also, consider the effort you put into the hunt in correlation to the trophy that you take away. If you hunt hard and you find that smart, old doe, or whatever it is, it’s more rewarding.”