You have to rely on instinct to be any good at shooting a long bow, and that’s just one of the things bowyer Randy Ackerson appreciates about the traditional tool and weapon.
Ackerson, 51, has been building bows since before he moved to Ashland about 15 years ago, although his obsession with archery began as a young man growing up in South Point. He began hunting small game along with his older brother, Darrell, when he was about 10 years old, Ackerson said.
“Back then, in the late ’60s and early ’70s there wasn’t a whole lot else to do,” he said with a chuckle. “We got bows and arrows, and we could retrieve the ammo!”
The longbow, which is among the most traditional styles and similar to the bows used by American indians, appeals to Ackerson in part due to the fact that it relies upon the skills and experience of the archer to be effective. The person shooting the arrow must pull the string and arrow back themselves with no mechanical advantage as with a compound-style bow, and must hold it in place with no assistance until ready to release the shot. With no form of sighting system built in, putting an arrow on target is a matter of consistency and experience, Ackerson explained.
“It takes years of practice, years of shooting the bow. With a longbow, you hold all of the poundage and there is not let off and there are no sights. You have to shoot strictly instinctive. That’s kind of the magic of it. But, anyone can get pretty good with practice,” he said, explaining his efficiency with a bow and arrow was initially hampered by eye problems which have since been corrected.
Ackerson said he got the bug to build a bow in 1985 and researched the concept before crafting his first longbow.
“I just wanted to do it. I always liked to work with my hands and make stuff,” he said, noting he contacted bowyers Byron Ferguson and Craig Eakin for any tips they might offer. The first bow was good enough to keep him coming back to the workbench, and Ackerson estimates he has since built 40 to 50, filling 13 orders for custom longbows in the last year alone as the Safari Longbow Company.
“The first one, I got pretty lucky with it really. I’ve had a couple of them blow up, but I’ve been lucky with most of them. There was a lot of trial and error in learning how to do it. There were no how-to videos back then,” he said with a grin.
The local bowyer said he was able to ramp up production after getting a workshop space in downtown Ashland a year or so back, although he began building bows in any available space.
“I have glued them up in my kitchen. I had a seven-foot bow oven in my kitchen floor! It just started as a hobby,” he explained, later adding his bows have since been shipped to people in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Missouri among other destinations.
“It’s just kind of word of mouth now. I have about six to build right now. Time is the big factor for me,” he said, explaining he doesn’t make any real efforts to market his longbows.
Japanese bamboo is the material Ackerson relies upon to give his bows the strength needed to make arrows fly fast, although he enjoys using layers of different exotic hardwoods for handles and other accents.
“Japanese bamboo is the springiest — it has memory. It is a reed or a grass and not actually a wood. It has continuous strands and that’s what makes it strong,” he said, noting his longbows rely upon the strength and characteristics of the bamboo in conjunction with “backing and bellies” made of fiberglass. Each bow must be made in accordance to the draw of the intended user, he said, allowing maximum “loading” of the bow while under stress and ready to let an arrow loose.
The bow builder said he can complete a longbow in about four days, although he rarely has a chance to dedicate several days in sequence to the craft. Ackerson said potential longbow enthusiasts would likely be those who appreciate time outdoors, but don’t expect to “get something” every time they hunt, adding he only tries to hunt if he can get his bow and arrow within 12 to 15 yards of his targets, which have included wild boar and alligator.
Ackerson lives in Ashland with his wife, Janie, and daughter, Emily. He is also professional pedal-steel guitar player and works as store manager for Music Box Express on Winchester Avenue, and works part-time as a hunting guide for Rodney Opell at BigHorn Exotics in southern Ohio. For more information about his Safari Longbow Company, call (606) 393-5081.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at email@example.com.