John Strunk dreams of carving the perfect bow from the perfect piece of wood. It's adream that he admits, he will work a lifetime to achieve.
He gently draws a knife blade across the bark of a vine maple stick. The paper thin curly-q strips of shaved maple rise, fall and float to the floor.
As Strunk carefully crafts his next recreation “tool” from the 6-foot long, lanky stick of wood, it’s clear that the Tillamook County resident has a master bow maker’s touch.
“When I start cutting out a bow, my hunt, my thoughts, my dreams are all generating at the same time,’ said Strunk. He added: “If you really try you can build a bow just like the Native Americans.”
For nearly forty years, Strunk has tried and succeeded in creating everything he needs just like native people might have: the bows, the arrows, quivers and broad heads.
The natural materials he prefers for bow making include: bamboo, maple, osage and the long popular and gorgeous yew-wood:“Yew is probably one of the most used woods in archery in the northern hemisphere,” he said with a smile.
The native Oregonian said his passion for the bow was born as a kid – watching movies like “Robin Hood” that starred the then popular Hollywood actor Errol Flynn.
“I love to shoot a bow just to see an arrow fly and it gives me more pleasure to do it with a bow that I have made,” declared Strunk.
He’s a longtime hunter who is among the best in the country at building bows in a form called “Traditional” or “Primitive Archery.”
The retired Tillamook school teacher not only excels at building the bows and arrows, but at shooting with them too.
He admitted that an evening doesn’t go by when he leaves the shop behind and steps into the backyard to shoot arrows.
“You need to train the muscles that are needed for shooting and that is done only by shooting lots of arrows. To me, that’s the essential love affair that I have with this sport. If I’m not using what I create then I lose interest in it.”
By all accounts, thousands of folks have renewed interest in this ancient sport that puts each individual in control of their actions.
At Tigard’s Archers Afield – one of Oregon’s largest indoor shooting ranges - 28 lanes are jammed with youngsters learning how it’s done.
Manager Kris Demeter said that young imaginations are fueled by new movies like “Brave” and “Hunger Games” whose main characters discover independence and self-reliance with a bow and arrows.
“We have many teenage girls coming in that want to resemble or be like the main characters they see in those two movies. They want to wear the back quivers or shoot the longbows – it’s remarkable,” noted the longtime manager.
Demeter is an accomplished archer and she has been the archery instructor at Archers Afield for the past 27 years.
Newcomer Gabe Bolden said that he learned something new his first visit: “I learned that instead of standing flat square facing the target, it’s best to turn for a better aim – it’s true.”
Back at John Strunk’s Tillamook workshop, he agreed that the learning never stops, and that’s a good thing. It keeps the sport fresh, engaging and exciting. He remains motivated to build more bows and shoot more arrows.
“It becomes a passion and that’s what it’s all about for it helps to build lifelong friendships too – I’ve many brothers in archery. Who couldn’t have fun doing this?”
You can reach out to John Strunk’s “Spirit Longbows” to learn more about building bows and arrows. He teaches classes in the craft throughout the year.
Traditional Archery is more popular than ever and you can find clubs and shooting ranges across Oregon to give it a try. If you are interested in learning how to shoot modern bows, try the Oregon Bowhunters Assocation.