Chuck Hawes, Bow Maker
By Jon Lewis
Photo by Eric Leslie
With their cams, pulleys, cables, stabilizers, sights and trigger releases, compound bows are cool, competent and uncannily accurate weapons capable of consistently putting arrows inside a 2-inch circle at 80 yards or more.
Chuck Hawes says thanks, but no thanks. The Redding resident is a traditional archer and has been since he fell in love with the sport in the early 1970s. He favors a bow whose design has remained relatively unchanged since the Bronze Age.
“It’s just what I prefer,” Hawes says. “It’s hard to be competitive but it’s what I enjoy. It’s much more pleasing to me to not have all the high-tech stuff. I’ve just always enjoyed the challenge.”
Hawes accepts that his choice of bow means he’ll miss the bull’s eye more often than archers who use compound bows, but the tradeoff is the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from shooting a bow that has no sights or other accessories.
When an arrow finds its mark, and it was cast from a bow that Hawes built, that sense of accomplishment goes through the roof. “The idea of achieving a goal with something I built is what it’s all about for me,” he says.
Hawes is a bowyer, the term for those who build or sell bows, and it’s a craft he’s been honing since the mid-1980s when, while living in Oregon, he started getting serious about bow hunting for elk. He estimates that he’s built a couple hundred bows over the years. With their laminated layers of exotic hardwoods, each is a work of art and craftsmanship.
It wasn’t always thus, however. Early on, Hawes befriended a local bowyer and initially managed to produce “a couple of eyesores” before his apprenticeship led him to Jim Brackenbury, an accomplished bowyer who is credited with helping launch the traditional archery movement.
As his bow-making skills improved, so did his hunting success and his enthusiasm. Hawes’ encouragement soon had his brother-in-law, Rich Newton, and Newton’s wife, Cathy, out in the woods of eastern Oregon in pursuit of deer and elk with their bows.
Hawes also fell in with a couple of traditional archers who shared his passion for bow hunting. Because they lack the speed and force of arrows shot from a compound bow, traditional archery hunters need to get considerably closer to their prey. That adds to both the challenge and the reward, Hawes says.
“You don’t just grab a range-finder and adjust your sights. I know guys with compound bows who have shot from 80 or 90 yards, and that pretty much negates the whole point of hunting with a bow and an arrow. That’s only slightly removed from rifle hunting. I’ve shot elk from 10 yards. It’s a lot more challenging—and satisfying,” Hawes says.
Hawes emphasizes that, unlike some traditional archers, he bears no grudge against compound bow users. Nor is he about to change his ways. “I’m not ever going to stop just because everybody shoots circles around me,” he says with a laugh.
During his time in Oregon, Hawes and his archery pals practiced and competed at an indoor range in Portland, where they were a minority compared with the number of compound bow users. “We thought we were pretty good shots, so we came down to Redding (in the late ’90s to compete in the big Western Classic Trail Shoot) and we got beat so bad it was embarrassing,” Hawes recalls.
That dark cloud had a silver lining, though. Hawes met a competitor who lived just across the Columbia River from Hawes “and he was the nicest guy. He really taught us how to target shoot.” As a result, “my brother-in-law, with a bow I made, set records in Oregon that lasted for years.”
However, Hawes’ own shooting began to suffer as an inherited eye problem increasingly interfered with his vision. He says it got to the point where he figured his archery days were nearing the end when he returned to Redding in 2000. Fortunately, a pair of successful cornea transplant surgeries brought his vision back to near normal.
Not only did the restored vision lift his spirits, but being able to share his love for traditional archery with his daughter, Shanea Hawes, and his grandson, Mason, has added to his joy. Naturally, they both shoot bows that Hawes built.
The trio, representing three generations of the Hawes family, acquitted themselves in fine fashion in May at the annual Western Classic Trail Shoot—the second largest outdoor archery tournament in the country—on the Straight Arrow Bow Hunters’ 65-acre range on Swasey Drive in west Redding.
Hawes, 60, even won his age division in the traditional archery class and 9-year-old Mason captured a national championship in the Cub division. The three-day tournament ends with archers taking aim at a 14-foot-tall Bigfoot target that stands 101 yards away. Hawes says his 30-year-old daughter, a Vancouver, Wash. resident, was the only woman who managed to lodge an arrow in Bigfoot.
“I’m really thrilled my daughter and grandson are following in my footsteps. Giving back to archery is important, too.”
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