Hit a Bullseye With a Hand-Crafted Wooden Bow From High Falls
This High Falls bowyer carries on a centuries-old tradition.
Jason Beever is a bowyer, or bowmaker, in High Falls. Here, he flexes a handmade bow to limber it up inside his shop before shooting it. His bows are strengthened with animal horn and sinew. The sinew is attached with glue that Beever makes himself.
Photos by Jane Anderson
When Jason Beever was 10, he — like many boys — tied string onto a stick and practiced shooting arrows with his makeshift bow. “It never went very far,” Beever admits. Yet, it instilled in him an early fascination with primitive history and Native American skills.
Beever moved to the High Falls area from San Diego five years ago, and found that the forest fanned those flames: “Being out of the city, and in the woods, brought the little kid back out in me.”
Around that time, he visited the Iroquois Indian Museum at Howes Cave, where an Iroquois elder was displaying stone tools, arrows, and bows he’d made by hand. “I picked his brain,” Beever says, “and began flint knapping [the art of creating stone arrowheads and other stone tools].” From there, Beever made complete arrows, and then bows.
The longbow, or self bow, made with a single piece of wood, was a good starting point. Beever then created more complex, steam-formed wooden bows. He studied YouTube videos on bow-making, and soon learned of composite bows that are made with wood, animal horn, and sinew, and store more energy than wood alone. He was hooked.
Now, Beever teaches composite bowmaking as JWB Bows on YouTube, and holds classes in his workshop, where students are surrounded by stacks of branches and horns and tubs of dried sinew. A friend in Thailand provides horns from Asian water buffaloes, Siberian ibex, and rams. Beever grinds them into plates that he glues onto the wood, along with thready strips of animal sinew that he sources from local butcher shops.
The bow-making process takes more than a year, and Beever averages about a dozen bows each year for his customers, most of whom are from Europe and Asia. The bows are magnificent works of art, and some of his customers do hang them on their walls, but they are also true archery bows. During a recent visit, Beever takes a curvy, birch-bark-wrapped bow off the wall, steps on it, and flexes it. It looks like rough treatment, and indeed, he’s broken many a bow — “If you’re not breaking bows, you’re not making bows,” he says — but the bow needs to limber up if it doesn’t get regular use. “It’s kind of like owning a pet,” Beever says with a smile. “You can’t neglect it.” Outside, he raises the bow, nocks the arrow, and smoothly shoots.
Beever’s talent is well known in the industry; he’s been quoted in national publications, and is working on a series of books. “There’s no literature on making these bows,” he explains. “I feel obligated to share that knowledge, otherwise it will just fade away. These ancient kinds of bows have changed the course of history.”