A good bow shouldn’t have soul, it should be built for taking them. At least that’s my usual dry quip in response to remarks that I get about the lack of wood, beauty, or general “tradness” of the recurve that I use for spring bear hunting. A look at this bow is in a way a look at me, or at least what’s important to me when hunting in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. It’s the perfect balance of rugged dependability, simplicity, and performance while maintaining the unique qualities that attract me to hunting with traditional bows. It has slain grizzly bears, been hauled across craggy ridgelines in the pounding rain, and blasted with salt spray from the Gulf of Alaska. Most recently it finished its usual spring of being pounded in my riverboat, putting arrows through black bears.
The bow itself is a Bear’s Paw Bows Avian ILF recurve, made by Neil Jacobsen, a friend and bow-making protégé of the legendary bowyer and bowhunter Paul Schafer. The heart of the bow is a 19-inch machined aluminum riser, with adjustable tiller bolts, fixed limb pockets, stabilizer/bow fishing reel hole, threaded cushion plunger hole, and two different sets of drilled and tapped quiver mounting holes.
The simplicity, robustness, and ability for customization are its strengths, and I’ve beaten the hell out of this one for years. The custom grip is from RCore, a small Greek company that is making just about anything you could want for a custom, high-quality bow grip–and at a great price. I made the wrist sling myself out of leather and paracord.
Attached to the riser is a custom 6-arrow quiver from Selway Archery. It’s a rawhide quiver, colored to match the painfully obvious green theme as if such things mattered. I love that the 2-piece quiver threads directly into the riser, rather than by using the limb bolts like on a wood take-down bow or a quiver that straps onto the limbs.
The wood-core, carbon-fiber laminated limbs are also made by Jacobsen. They are smooth and hard-shooting for their weight. Mine pull the scales at 53 pounds at my draw length of almost 32 inches. They are the standard “Long” ILF size (ILF stands for International Limb Fitting, a universal system used by many bow manufacturers that lets archers easily pair ILF limbs with ILF risers). The only fitting difference between the standard ILF and these limbs is a longer fork, which is designed to provide increased strength and stability with this riser. The whole package adds up to a recurve with 64-inch AMO length. (AMO length is the standard for measuring traditional bows, designated to be 3 inches longer than the bowstring; that means my bow takes a 61-inch bowstring).
The arrows riding in my quiver this season were Black Eagle Vintage 400 spine, with 50 grains added to the back of the insert, shooting 150-grain 2- and 3-blade Cutthroat broadheads from Rocky Mountain Specialty Gear. These penetrate well, punch big holes, and are easy to sharpen. I say “these,” but this spring I killed all 3 bears with the same arrow.
On the back end, I have Easton G Pin nocks, an arrow wrap, and AAE Trad Vanes. For years I have been shooting vanes off of a simple stick-on Bear Weatherest, and these newer Trad vanes have made it even more forgiving. They’re quieter, faster, more resistant to weather, and cheaper than any decent feather fletching. They can’t be beat for a traditional archer, especially one hunting in the wet conditions of Alaska. All that adds up to a 595 grain arrow, coming out of the bow at around 185 fps.
This setup has everything I love about traditional archery: the smooth weight as I pull into the brace, the hypnotically crisp flight of an arrow, the feeling of the string blowing through my fingers. It might not be pretty enough to rack up lots of Instagram likes, and it lacks some of the romance embodied by many bows that are destined to never leave the backyard. It’s built for the bush, able to be dropped, submerged, scratched, beat up, and still perform. Hell, I could probably use it to beat my dinner to death if it came to that. It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, a no-nonsense tool built for adventure, and there is nothing more Alaskan than that.
By Tyler Freel