Listen to the podcast here:
Traditions From Big Stick Archery with Bob Smith
We’re going to head to North Central Iowa and connect with a good friend of mine, Bob Smith. Bob’s the owner of Big Stick Archery. Bob, welcome back to the show.
Thanks for having me back.
Bob became a full-time bowyer. The last time we talked, he was doing that as well as his job. Bob, what happened to make you able to go full-time making sticks and strings?
With my job, either you come back full-time or you don’t come back. I like the part-time deal where I worked a couple two, three days a week and do the bows after that. Apparently, that was not working out for the employer. She said, “You either need to come back full-time or not come back at all.” That was October 28th or something, which is the worst time to ask me to come back to work full-time. The rut is next week. I’m not missing that. I quit my job and went hunting for a week. I have been building bows since. I have no idea how it’s working out, paying the bills one way or another here, but I took the plunge, fingers crossed.
How is it going?
Somehow, I’ve managed to make it. We’ve had some ups and some downs. Anytime, we’re down and having a rough go for a couple of weeks, some good stuff will happen and I’m right back high on the hog. It’s going as good as a self-employed guy could probably ask.
How long have you been crafting bows?
Probably several years. I’ve been doing it as a business, a legitimate LLC for a few years.
Why did you get in it?
I love it. I started building a few bows. I was interested in purchasing a different bow company from Wisconsin, RER Bows, which another fellow ended up buying. That got me thinking about it. I decided to do my own thing as opposed to purchase another existing business. By that point, I was pretty much committed to the fact that I was going to sell bows. I started trying to sell them probably earlier than I should have. Looking back, if I would have waited another couple of years and build a few more bows, it probably would have been a good idea, but I was anxious, chomping on the bit.
In simple terms, how do you build a bow from scratch? How do you do that?
You need a couple of boards. I use some bamboo planks for my limb core laminations. Otherwise, it’s a couple of pretty boards that you’ll cut into inch and a half wide strips or cut into a block for your riser. You’ll grind those to the thickness you want, to hit the desired weight that you’re looking for. You put it all into a form that will give those materials the shape of the bow. You epoxy all those together, cook them in an oven, cook them out on a little bit higher temperature and bring them out of that form. That will then have the profile of the bow. Then it’s a matter of grinding out your limbs and your handle out of that riser block that’s glued in there and polishing it all up from there.
What kind of wood can you use for the risers or the limbs?
Veneers. You can do anything from domestic woods like some nice maples or walnuts, up to the exotic stuff. It’s an endless list. Guys have made stuff out of an old fence post that was at their dad’s farm or whatever. Guys will stabilize it with resin. At this point, you can take a half rotten piece of wood that has some cool features or has meaning to someone. They’ll fill it with glue and epoxy to make it hard enough. You can make a riser out of about anything.
What’s your favorite wood to work with?
Bocote is nice to work with. Ziricote is nice to work with. A lot of stuff either gets hard. It’s a dense wood so it’s hard to sand or hard to move material, or it’s got a lot of deep pores. When you’re spraying a finish on it, those big pores are hard to get filled in so that it’s smooth and it doesn’t have all those little pockets in the wood grain. Something like the Bocotes and Ziricotes is a nice medium, where they’re not too hard to work with. They’re still not porous enough that they’re hard to get a nice smooth finish on too.
The limbs, how do you make it a 50-pound or 45-pound pull?
As soon as you build one, you have a good idea what the second’s one going to come out at, as long as you paid attention to what you put into the first one. If you’re building a 60-inch bow and you’ve built another one, you get an idea of what thickness of the limb, not the width but the thickness in between the glass. That’s what’s going to give you your specific draw weight. You’ll vary that. It might be 350,000 for a 50-pound bow. If you want to go with a 45-pound bow, you would drop 10,000 of thickness between the two layers of glass. That would drop roughly five pounds.
How about the draw length?
It’s different on the traditional bows. You usually see a 50 at 28 inches. Some people think that you can only draw 28 inches, but you can draw it as far as you need to draw it. The bow will continue to add weight past 28 inches. That’s the AMO way of marking them. It’s a standard baseline for anyone looking at the bows. What’s going to determine the draw length is the length of the bow or the amount of working limb in the bow. If you have a shorter bow, you’re not going to be able to draw it as far as maybe a bow that’s longer. There’s a whole bunch of different design things that will go in there. You could tweak it one way or the other. In general, a shorter bow, you’re not going to be able to draw it as much because the limbs are shorter. A longer bow, you will be able to draw farther because there’s more working limb to move.
What about my draw length? Do I have to have my point? At 28 inches, no matter what my draw length is, so it’s at my nose?
They’ll use that 28 as a standardized baseline measuring mark. Let’s say your draw length is 29.5. You’ll draw that bow and extra inch and a half. If you’re buying a manufactured bow, I would still say 50 at 28. You would know that that bow is going to gain about three pounds an inch past 28. If it’s 29.5 inches, you would be drawing 57 pounds at 29.5 inches.
I have to get to my consistent anchor point, wherever that is on my face.
It goes back to finding your own draw length and where you’re comfortable anchoring at. With a custom bow, a guy knows his draw length. We’ll make that bow the way he wants at his draw length.
You have a couple of bows. Walk us through it.
I have a 60-inch bow. It’s got some nice retro camo limbs on there. This would be some of the Bocote I talked about. I got him a nice-looking wood that’s fairly easy to work with. I have another bow, 52 at 28 inches. That’s because it’s a stock bow. I marked it at 28 inches for the general baseline. Let’s say a guy had a 29-inch draw length. He would still be able to shoot this bow. This bow can draw that far, but it would be an extra three pounds. It would be 55 at 29 or vice versa for 27. It would be 49 pounds at 27 inches. Another one is 48 at 29. It’s a little bit longer bow. It can shoot a longer draw length because this one is 62 inches versus 60 inches.A lot of times, it's more difficult to communicate through email or message if someone has quite a few questions. Click To Tweet
When you put them in the press, that gets the curvature of the wood when you cook them, correct?
Yeah. My press adds this shape in it, so that when I put all those laminations in there and epoxy it all together, it will come out in this shape. It will be a square. The riser will be a block. The limbs won’t be tapered, but it will be this shape. It’s a matter of cutting out your window and your grip and your limb shape and a whole lot of sanding. A lot of time, it’s looking at the sander.
Are you using either a belt sander or circular sander?
It’s a belt edge sander combo. It’s got a little belt on it that I do the majority of the work with. I don’t have any tools. I have a 14-inch band saw. I have the edge sander and a palm sander. It’s about all that I use.
Press to press.
Then the forms and the oven that I cure the wood on. As far as tools, I do not have a lot of fancy stuff, just a couple that get all the work done for me.
Do you make your own bowstrings?
I do the bows. I make some nice bow socks, Madison Fleece to Sheeple Men. I twist up the bowstrings and make the string silencers. I do my own shipping and billing, Bruce. I do it all. It’s a one-man show. If it happens, I probably did it.
I call up and say I want a 50-pound bow and my draw length’s 28 inches. It’s pretty standard. How long does it take from start to finish? I want Rosewood.
We could do Rosewood. I’ve got a guy that could get me about any would I need. Assuming we’re talking what the lead time, it’s been running about six months. Since I’ve been full-time, I’m wheeling my lists down fast. I’m hoping to get it closer to a three-month turnaround. As far as bill time, I could build one in a week for sure. Two in a week is comfortable because you stagger up the different gluing times and things like that, where you can’t do anything with it. I’m looking at about a week from starting to cut wood to the bow is sprayed, finished and ready to shoot. I can get a couple of done in a week.
What about your arrows? Do you buy some of these arrows?
I’ve shot a few with Cedar arrows I’ve made. I buy carbon shafts now and make up some carbon arrows. I’m cheating, but I do make my own arrows. I buy carbon shafting.
What broadheads do you like?
I shoot a lot of Wensel Woodsmans. It’s Gene and Barry Wensel. I add some three-blade broadhead. I’ve had quite a bit of luck with that.
I’m going to shoot Iron Will. I was shooting G5s. DirtNap, I shot them. I started off with Rocky Mountain Supreme. It’s out of Minnesota. I went to G5s and then went to DirtNap. I got some 125 Iron Wills. I’m going to try them.
I can’t believe you’d be disappointed with the Iron Wills.
We made a bet. I said, “I’m going to kill my elk and five whitetails with the same broadhead without touching it up.”
I bet it would do it.
He seems to take it well. We’re going to put proof to the pudding.
I’ve heard nothing but crazy good things about the Iron Wills.
Check Iron Will Outfitters out. I know of people that went to Africa and took Cape buffalo with Iron Will broadheads.
I’ve got a buddy that I got a bow too that’s going to Australia to hunt some buffalo. Hopefully, fingers crossed, I’ll have some hot photos of a big stick bow with a buffalo in Australia.
The bow can do it. There’s no question about it. Can the hunter do it? That’s the whole thing. We’re talking about traditional archery. Why do you think traditional archery is picking up in the marketplace?
First of all, it probably has something to do with some trendy people getting interested in it like, “I don’t think that hurts.” There’s Aron Snyder in your neck of the woods that has a huge following. He’s big in traditional. I wouldn’t even be able to guess how many people he’s got interested in giving it a try. Between the first year and the second year that he’s done it, it’s thousands. That helps. There are probably more other younger guys that are getting more content out there that is interesting to people. The Push Podcast, it puts a ton of information out and has helped people become more proficient at it or make it less of a struggle, trying to learn how to hit something. That’s an issue with a lot of guys that do have some interest in it. They might try it and realize that it’s a lot harder than they thought and don’t know what they’re doing. That helps. That would be it. I still worry about the turnover rate. I would still feel that as many people that start, they quit every year for the same reason that they have a struggle. It’s hard. It’s not easy. It was a lot easier to have the old compound or the crossbow. Those are some big contributing factors. It looks cool.
It’s an art form. I had Fred Eichler on the show. We talked about when he was in Fort Collins and living here. He heard about traditional bow hunting, went out and killed 28 or 27 big game species in North America with a recurve. He was one of the first guys to do it. It’s been around but everything comes and goes. I love the wood and the craftsmanship. That’s as traditional as you can get, except going out and getting a piece of willow and taking some rawhide and some obsidian.
That’s further than I’m willing to go.Don't give away more than you should. Click To Tweet
Ever since they came across the land bridge, the Inuits and all the other tribes, that’s how they did it. In Colorado, you can find places that they made knives and broadheads. It still exists now.
It’s a romantic idea. People like the idea of it.
There is part of that and it is a piece of art. It’s craftsmanship and they’re all unique. They’re all originals. When you’re sanding it and stuff, you’ve got your pattern and everything, but everyone’s a little bit different. The grainier wood is a little bit different.
I don’t have any CNC machines or a lot of jigs. They’re awfully close, but each one is definitely a little different.
People like that. If I were going to buy a bow, I wouldn’t buy a bow out of a big-box store or even a big archery store. I’d find a guy like you and say, “Build me a bow. Make sure it fits me and I can draw it,” and go from there.
People like watching arrows fly, Bruce. Who doesn’t?
At that speed, you can watch them fly.
You can’t watch a compound arrow or a crossbow arrow.
You can see the end at about 40 some yards. You can pick up the end of it. At 50 yards, you can pick up the end. At 60 yards, you can start picking up the arrow. In 70 yards and 80 yards, you’d definitely pick up the arrow. Twenty, 30 yards at 300 feet per second, the limbs go and the arrow’s there. It’s instantaneous. Bob, if somebody wants to reach out and start talking and opening up the process of buying a bow from you, how would they reach out to you?
I have a website, BigStickArchery.com. My email address is Bob@BigStickArchery.com. My Facebook or Instagram is @BigStickArchery. It’s streamlined. If you can remember Big Stick Archery, you can probably find me, if you want to shoot me a message on any of that or an email. My phone number is (641) 530-1226. Guys are probably intimidated to do that but giving me a call is the best way because a lot of times, it’s more difficult to communicate through email or message if a guy has quite a few questions. Giving me a call is the best way, but feel free to shoot me a message or an email on any of those other options either.
What’s the starting price of a bow?
A baseline bow would be colored glass, classy, no extra fancy woods or anything. That would be $530 shipped. They go up from there to $1,200 maybe.
Is it $1,200 for a piece of wood?
It’s probably not going to have wood in it at that point. It’s going to be some phenolic riser that takes me to work on it. I’ve gotten to the point where there’s a lot more special ordering of woods. That costs more than what I would put in a regular baseline bow. That’s how that deal goes. The average price, if you’re looking for a clean, pretty bow, in the middle range would be $750-ish. $800 would be average.
It’s less than Mathews or Bowtech Bow.
You would be getting a tricked out model if you’re getting that $1,200, which it’s the exact same bow as the $500 one. It depends on how much that guy wants to pay for the supreme, one of a kind, super fancy-looking wood.
You’re the same guy building it.
It’s the same guy, the same form and same limb cores. They’re the same bows. It depends on how important it is, that it looks pretty.
Let’s talk about fall hunting. You get bounced from work and you went hunting, October 28th. What happened? Talk to me about it.
Before that, I’ve not been at work that much before. I went to Nebraska for a week, got my butt handed to me again in the Sandhills. I’m done with that for a while. I did get poison ivy again in the Sandhills. Every year, it happens, every time I go on winter, summer. It was bad this time. I got a skin infection. It was all pussed off. That was two days before I left to go to Idaho, elk hunting. I was worried that I wasn’t going to get to go on this elk hunt. The nurse said, “There’s no reason you can’t go elk hunting with that leg. Put this cream on it.” I hobbled around in Idaho for ten days with this rotten leg. I killed my first bull on the last half hour of the last day.
How close was it?
It’s twenty yards.
It’s a typical traditional. With my crossbow, my kill range is out to 52 yards. When I’m shooting a compound, I shot at a bull 40-some yards and killed them. I killed a lot of whitetails twenty to 30 yards out of the tree stand. They’re right there.
Twenty yards is good. That was in North Central Idaho, so you can hardly see twenty yards anyway. You wouldn’t even be able to see him. I went 50 yards. I probably went about 30 and rolled 30. That was pretty awesome. I went to Nebraska again because I’m too stubborn to give up and that didn’t go good.
What part? Did you go up by Valentine?
Yeah, it’s right around Valentine there. The year before that, I had seen quite a few deer in the same area. The past few years, I could hardly get on a deer to save my butt. I couldn’t even see one. I’m not sure what happened. My buddy that I went with the first week hit a nice buck. He never did find the buck.Prioritize looking for some adventure. Click To Tweet
Is it a mule deer or whitetails?
They’re pretty much all mule deer there where I was. That was the goal. That was a big flop, but I killed an elk. That’s all that matters. I came back and quit my job. My dad had drawn his Iowa tag. This is his third tag. He lives in Wisconsin still where I grew up. We had big high hopes. He’s always showed up and shot a deer on the first day that he comes in November. In 2019, it did not go so well. He’d killed both of his bucks out of the same tree, but you have to cross the river to get there. We had all that rain. The river was way up. There was no crossing the river. I crossed it at one point and then thought I was going to die getting back across the river. It was terrifying. We head to branch out and look for some new spots. We couldn’t get to our usual suspects. We struggled. We did a bunch of looking around, trying to find some new spots.
I ended up seeing three nice bucks that I would have been happy shooting. I hit one in the shoulder and lost it. He saw one nice buck. He hit it. We never did find it. We have no idea how we didn’t find it. We found a few beds and then nothing. We waited overnight. I had no idea what happened there. It did not go well with the bucks. After I lost the buck, I hit him in the shoulder, I shot a doe. That was probably the biggest deer I’ve ever shot in my life. It was a humongous doe. Somehow that didn’t go well either. I got a lung and liver. I waited for four hours. It’s super cold. I could see her bedded down. I couldn’t tell if her head was down. I figured it must be good. I wanted to move stand locations. I got down and she was no longer there. There’s no blood. I tracked her in a little skiff of snow and found her dead a few hundred yards away. That was the only deer I killed. She was huge though.
Is that the picture you sent me? That is a big deer.
Yes. I gutted it out and I put it in my backpack. I carried her out. It’s not a good idea but I did it.
That was over 100 pounds.
I haven’t weighed a lot of deer. She have been pushing 180. I gutted it out. She was humongous. I’m a pretty big guy myself. I shot an elk and a humongous doe. That was my highlights for that year.
You got some meat.
Apparently, we eat a lot of meat. There’s not a lot left.
How many kids do you have?
I got none. It’s just my wife and me.
You’re talking a couple of 100 pounds of meat already.
We still got some. I also used a bunch of burgers and helped me to make some dehydrated meals for this coming up hunting season. I’ve got a bunch reinvested in the coming year. We still got some, but we have a lot less than I would have guessed at this point. I thought it would never go away. It was right around 200 pounds boned out. You probably give away more than you should. Everybody wants free elk meat.
Tell me about your bow that used to hunt with.
I shot those two critters with the same bow at 62 inches, about 51 pounds at my draw length. It’s not heavy. I shoot a 340-spine Gold Tip with a 250-grain Single Bevel head on for both of those. I’d mix it up this year. We’re going back to the Wensel Woodmans. I had enough. I tried it out.
What’s the weight on the broadhead?
250 grains, so there’s a lot of weight forward. It’s quite a bit of FOC. It’s 21%, 22% if I remember right. It zipped right through that bull like he wasn’t even there. It worked well. It’s about 580 grains total arrow weight.
The Rocky Mountain Supreme, they were 480-ish when I first started. I was only shooting 60, 65 pounds out of my compound. I never had a problem. If I hit them in the right place, they were going to die. It happens. You hit one in the shoulder. Why do you think you hit him in the shoulder?
I have no idea what happened. I was laxed two days ago there in the last season. I didn’t know what I was there for. Usually, you see a deer and you’re like, “I’m going to kill this doe,” or “If this buck gives me a shot, I’m going to kill this buck.” The switch comes on. I didn’t know if I was going to fill a doe tag. I didn’t know if I was looking for a big buck or a nice buck. They were walking around and I was like, “I better shoot. They’re leaving.” For whatever reason, I started shooting four inches left all the time. I have no idea why. I didn’t change my bow. I didn’t change my setup. I don’t know. It’s a little frustrating.
Are you shooting one arrow a day?
I’m shooting a lot more than one arrow a day. I’m working on it.
That’s interesting because you’ve been shooting a long time.
We’re in a little hot streak. I don’t know if something got in my head there because I shot left on that buck, so I’ve got some head thing going on. We’re working through it. I got a little struggle, but we’re going to get through.
Go out to ten yards. Shut your eyes, muscle memory and release.
I’ve been working on it.
When things start going crazy, I’d go ten yards, get set up, get squared, shut my eyes and then open my eyes when I release the arrow.
I’ve done quite a bit of that. The worst part is the shots feel good and they go left. Sometimes I feel good and they still go left. Other times, the shot feels awful. It’s like Rory McIlroy. The swing feels like an unfolding lawn chair. It’s barely that my head is getting in the way somehow or another. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some head problem. That’s going to be all right. I’m just going to fill some stuff at eight yards. It will be fine.
Have them at the tip of your bow. I had two bucks at ten feet. I was on the ground. It was one of my best memories that I’ve ever had. Four bucks came over the ridge and they were wheeling around me. The ten-pointer hooked out this eight-pointer and they came right at me. I thought they were going to run into me. I’m on the ground. I didn’t yell at him, but I should have. They wouldn’t have run into the tree.
They probably would have gone around the tree.
I was tucked in. It was a dead tree hollowed out. You’ve seen him in the woods. I was in the tree. I’m there for the excitement and for the journey. I want to get close. If it’s a pretty deer, if it’s a nice deer, I’m going to flat shoot it. If it’s not, I don’t care if I shoot a buck or not. Flip the switch. If the switch goes on, then it’s game on, game over.
That’s how it works when it works right. The only times I’ve had problems is when you’re doing the whole humming.
I still get so juiced up. I have met a lot of bucks around me and I wasn’t going to kill them, “Let’s see what he does.” Just being there, that’s exciting if you think about it, just being up close and personal with deer feeding around. Somehow, they know that you’re not going to kill him. They must. They’ll look at you. I’ve had does dead within ten yards of the stand. I’ve got a live lay decoy during the rut.
You’re always worried about moving right off the bat. After an hour or so, you’re like, “The heck with this.” You’ll start moving around. Apparently, they get comfortable with their surroundings and don’t pay attention as much. You can do whatever you want. Once they’re lying there, they quit looking.
For the audience, I hope you’ve experienced that. You think, “I hope I’d see a deer.” Once you get into the woods and know where you’re hunting, these things are going to happen to you. Spending enough time in the woods, they’re going to happen to you. It will make you a better hunter because you won’t get buck fever and you go, “I’ve been around enough there. I’m going to shoot him.” You go through your pre-shot routine and lots of release go or pull the trigger, open your fingers. It’s pretty much it. If it was so easy, everybody would do it. We talked about the bow business. Let the people know how to get ahold of you again.
BigStickArchery.com is the website. Bob@BigStickArchery.com is the email. @BigStickArchery on Facebook and Instagram. If they want to call and ask some questions, the phone number is (641) 530-1226. I’m glad to take any emails, messages, calls and answer any questions that anybody has got.
Share your top three things when you do go bow hunting.
Priority number one is looking for some adventure. I’m also looking to see a lot of new animals because I’m getting into some different species. Spending time around deer and getting to do all that fun stuff and learning the animals, that’s another priority for me now that I’m doing all the different out of state stuff. Learning different species is always super cool and trying to get close to them. Then getting close to animals. Whatever animal they are, it’s always super fun if you can get close to some stuff.
Thank you so much. He’s Bob Smith from Big Stick Archery. He hails from Iowa, and he is a fun guy. He’s a craftsman. When you think about custom stick bows, reach out to Bob and have a chat with him. You can’t go wrong. Thanks for joining us on this chat with Big Stick Archery.
- Big Stick Archery
- Wensel Woodsmans
- Iron Will Outfitters
- RER Bows
- Iron Will
- Aron Snyder
- The Push Podcast
- Fred Eichler – previous episode
- Facebook – Big Stick Archery
- Instagram – @BigStickArchery