Taking Shape Babcock with a bow form used to press and cure the laminations of a recurve bow. Andrew Hetherington
A slab of spalted maple. Andrew Hetherington
Limb veneers of black-and-white-ebony lumber. Andrew Hetherington
A stack of black-and-white ebony lumber. Andrew Hetherington
A lineup of domestic and exotic woods, including cocobolo, zircote, bubinga, and bocote. Andrew Hetherington
Big Jim shapes a riser for a Mountain Monarch recurve. Andrew Hetherington
One of eight 8×10-foot trailers Big Jim bought from a local military base to store and dry wood. Andrew Hetherington
A hand-tooled Thunderchild leather arm guard, surrounded by the implements used to make it. One of several styles Big Jim offers, this guard pays homage to the Thunderchild First Nation reserve in northern Saskatche­wan, which is among the bowyer’s favorite bowhunting destinations. Andrew Hetherington
A box of springbok horn, imported from Africa and used for limb tips and overlays. Andrew Hetherington
A collection of jigs, used for shaping bow risers, hangs from a pegboard in the bow shop; there’s one for every model in the Big Jim lineup. Andrew Hetherington
A not-so-subtle warning from Big Jim’s right-hand man, Dan Harris, aka Preacher. Andrew Hetherington
The paired top and bottom limbs of takedown longbows hang on a drying rack as their tips and overlays cure. All Big Jim bows have laminated limbs, which are made by glueing together as many as eight ­layers of fiberglass and wood veneers. These are then pressed and cured in a 165-degree oven for four hours. Takedown bows like the ones here make up between 80 and 90 percent of Big Jim’s orders. “Most hunters like to be able to break their bow down, but especially anyone who flies to hunt. If you take a single-piece bow on a plane, it’s an extra $75 baggage fee each way. But you can stash a pair of take-down bows in your luggage and not pay an extra dime.” Andrew Hetherington
The disassembled socket joint in the handle of a Thunderchild longbow reveals the heart of every takedown model. The grip, left, is made by wrapping carbon and fiberglass strips over a form, which also creates a socket within. (The grip will be finished with a beaver-tail wrap.) The male tenon, right, fits snugly inside. “I have built takedowns that draw 100 pounds (though I don’t recommend shooting a bow that heavy). I’ve never had one break at the joint.” Andrew Hetherington
This coin, depicting a bighorn ram, will decorate the riser of a Full Curl recurve. Andrew Hetherington
Epoxy resin covers the jig used to create the grip and socket joint of a takedown bow. Andrew Hetherington
Using a drill press and a Forstner bit, Big Jim creates the recess for a brass coin that will indicate the model of the bow. Andrew Hetherington
Big Jim tests the draw weight on a Thunderchild longbow by pulling the riser down to the correct draw length along a marked vertical rod and then reading the scale above it. “One of the biggest mistakes hunters make when switching to traditional gear is over-bowing themselves,” Big Jim says. “Even if you can pull a 70-pound compound, you should probably shoot a 40- to 45-pound recurve or longbow. I have a 70-year-old customer who shoots 35 pounds. Every year he sends me pictures of deer and bears he’s taken. Draw weight doesn’t kill ­animals; arrow placement does.” Andrew Hetherington
Big Jim uses a file and sandpaper to hand-finish the limb tips and riser shelf of a Buffalo longbow. Andrew Hetherington
Big Jim uses a file and sandpaper to hand-finish the limb tips and riser shelf of a Buffalo longbow. Andrew Hetherington
Finished bows, left to right: A Mountain Monarch recurve with sheephorn overlay, a Buffalo longbow with moose-antler overlay, Buffalo and Thunderchild takedowns with wood overlays.
Big Jim’s primary backyard bow-testing target has caught more than a few arrows. Andrew Hetherington
A Full Curl recurve with specs and signature on the belly. Andrew Hetherington
Babcock takes a break from bow-­making to fling arrows by the pool, which is surrounded by 3D targets. “Deedee, my 100-pound, 7-year-old Chesapeake, likes to play with her pool toy while I shoot,” Big Jim says. He’s an excellent shot and has won a handful of traditional archery tournaments. “I shoot every bow for both accuracy and feel before I send it out,” he says. “I want every one of them sighted in and shooting great by the time it leaves the shop.” Andrew Hetherington