Ravenbeak Laminate Bamboo Backed Yew English Longbow by Jamie MacDonald
Tradition has always been interesting to me, often we look around the world and see things that we consider have been around for time immemorial, however that often isn't the case. Food is a big one, many of the staples we see in diets across the globe were completely unheard of only a few hundred years ago, go back a little further and tomatoes and potatoes simply didn't exist in Europe before the discovery of the Americas.
Who could envisage a Christmas without a Christmas tree, yet they have only been popular for the last 150 years or so. You might be wondering what the point of this is and I can promise it's archery related, you see there has been a few ruffled feathers of late in the various English Longbow divisions, 10-15 years ago we all thought we knew what a traditional English longbow was, a combination of two or three traditional woods, chosen for their specific properties of stength and power, combined to make a bow which was on the whole a rather large beast which drew heavily and shot slowly.
Then we started to see a change, people started to push the boundaries of what was possible, using ever increasingly exotic woods to produce bows which conformed perfectly to the various standards applied to the English Longbow in the large archery organisations but bore very little in common with their old more traditional counter parts. They were thinner and so less prone to arrow spine issues, lighter in both physical and draw weight and so easier to shoot for longer periods. They certainly looked similar but were a very different animal, the issue of course is that anybody claiming they were not a traditional English Longbow were both right but equally very wrong. For the most part the naysayers were using bows that were equally untraditional, they were shooting what were effectively whip ended target bows, which had as much in common with a traditional bow as they ones they were against. So traditional is a matter of perspective, while most bows we shoot today conform to a traditional design that tradition is less than 200 years old, when it comes to longbows we need to be talking in far longer terms than that.
So on to the review and the point of that initial opening section is that this bow falls very much in to this new breed of bow, traditional looks but with modern methods and a willingness to nudge the boundaries of what has gone before. But in fact, it may surprise you to know that this bow has more in common with bows of the 14th and 15th century than most being made today- and certainly less in common than the bows I was using 10 or 15 years ago.
Some while ago we reviewed a Ravenbeak Self Yew by Jamie MacDonald, at that time he specialized in self bows - in the intervening time he has not only become widely acknowledged as a superb craftsman of self bows but has now moved into the construction of laminate bows.
It tends to be the case that many bowyers, especially in the English longbow field produce small quantities of bows and so by their very nature they are individual items and one produced by one bowyer can be very different from that produced by another bowyer, however often each bowyers bows display their individuality based purely on the wood choice and simply because of natural differences in the wood itself.
With Jamie's' huge experience in making self bows he is in a perfect position to see into the wood and understand the possibilities in terms of bows that this stave might deliver. Being tied to using just that single stave will often mean that in search of excellence only the very finest staves are used - Jamie is the kind of chap that wants to produce the very best bows that he and the stave are capable of producing. On occasion this means that a very fine piece of wood is left unutilised.
Jamie is something of a rarity when it comes to making bows, any bowyer will tell you that making a self bow is a labour of love and requires expertise that is hard won.
This insight and Jamie's' affinity with wood means that when he sees a great piece of wood with a minor flaw that couldn't make a perfect self bow - he actually sees how it might make part of a superb bow. All that is required is another top class piece to fashion a bow that will be the equal and oftentimes exceed the performance of a single stave self bow.
Meet Atalante - she is 53#@28" at 70" nock groove to nock groove, she is slender, sleek, smooth and has a sheen that brings out the richness of the 4 laminates of Yew and backing of bamboo. The nocks are rounded and short - just how I like 'em. What I also like are the stringing grooves on both nocks - talking of which, with the bow comes a stringer - not some knotted bit of left over string but a stringer made from string material, with proper loops.... oh... and a spare string..ah... and a soft bow bag of fleece. In fact everything you need to "just start shooting".
She is light in the hand and very pointable. I have strung a lot of Longbows, even that stringing of the bow will tell something of the character of the bow and as I pull up just those few inches required to bring her to brace I can sense something of the core of this bow.
Most of the recurve bows I have ever loved and almost all of the longbows that have shown themselves to be performers deliver early weight. Atalante has early weight, a beautiful feeling of muscular tension right from the off, a springiness and elasticity that is working from the first inch. I have often wondered if it is the skill of the bowyer that instills that responsiveness, as if the bow itself is possessed of tendons and sinew. Or, if it is his ability to sense in the wood the potential to coax these from it. Either way, there is something special that great bowyers enjoy that gives them the insight and skill to work with wood and bring out its best...this bow is a demonstration of not just bowmaking but the very art of bowmaking.
That early delivery of weight continues in a smooth progression which eases as the draw lengthens - if ever there were such thing as anti-stack then here is its finest example - this isn't a bow that requires you to fight it and impose your will, this bow can almost sense what is required of it and it works with you - from the very first arrow I knew this was a singularly unprecedented Longbow experience. No more shock than a high end recurve - no noise, no fuss, no messing as the arrow leaves the bow.
As with the other Ravenbeak bow we reviewed - Ravenbeak self yew - the finish is phenomenal. Jamie knows how to put a bow together, this isn't just a wood sandwich but a bow which has had a considerable amount of time put in to it at the development stage, for me the layering of the laminates both in terms of thickness and orientation have been carefully thought out and as I examine each in turn it becomes clear to me that the bowyer understands not just the wood working element of bowyery but also the practical application of the bow from an archery perspective.
It's as if Jamie has reconstructed an astounding bow that might possibly have existed in nature under strange, remarkable and uncommon circumstance...that I guess is the experience you acquire when you work so much with self bows.
Upon closer inspection I notice something I have seen on few bows, the main body of the bow is somewhat flatter than the customary and ubiquitous "D" profile - it puts me in mind of a collection of bows I saw a few years ago, in fact it was that same experience which made me re-think my whole arrow philosophy and opened my eyes to what would have been common knowledge in times past but had been "misplaced" rather than forgotten. As I scrutinize further the limbs and the careful taper I catch myself smiling - the limbs transition from the flattened lozenge shape into a rounded more delicate orbicular taper finishing in the short stubby nocks.. I smile because the last time I saw a profile like this was on the Mary Rose bows down at the trust in Portsmouth.
Longbow archery for me has been based on the fact that those craftsmen of the 12th to 15th century were producing a weapon, they didn't design in features just for the hell of it - the bow didn't evolve by chance or through luck. The makers refined the design through necessity of producing the most effective tool they could so any design arrived at through centuries of development represented the pinnacle of longbow achievement. Before we can drive forward we need to understand the reasons for the shape and design of the bows of the past to see what they teach us...
My first inspection of the Mary Rose bows left me feeling that they didn't look like I expected them to look.. they didn't look like the bows I was using and I wondered how the composition and construction made them different from the bows I did know.
As I look at this bow I start to feel very excited as though I am about to discover what it was like to shoot a bow made in this style..
The early weight I have already mentioned, but the feeling is compounded by the fact that I can feel the bow working right in my hand - the whole bow in involved in this draw.. everything I had seen thus far led me to believe it would be fast but I was still surprised by how fast, I did say it was as smooth as a recurve and even by eye I can tell it is faster than many recurves I have shot. Almost as an afterthought I see that it shoots straight - this is how a longbow should shoot - this is how a real longbow should feel - this is a proper bow. I don't know whether Jamie has seen photos of the Mary Rose bows - I do know he certainly hasn't seen one in real life. Perhaps he didn't need to, perhaps his innate knowledge and understanding of the bow led him to rediscover the architecture and profile of what an English Longbow should be.. and so we come full circle, a traditional English Longbow in the truest sense, we know that because it looks just like the oldest surviving bows of it's kind - it doesn't need permission from organisation "X" or "Y" to call itself a longbow because it has its' own stamp of authenticity - but to remove any doubt - it actually does conform to all major organisations definition of an English Longbow. Before you see just how fast let me put the following into some kind of perspective.... a friend owns a top end recurve - it draws 47# and shoots the same arrow 173fps - in his hands it has won almost every field shoot he has entered with it and he now possesses more tin than Cornwall - this same bow won Olympic Gold at the last Olympics.
This is what Jamies laminate 53# stick can do...
450 grain arrow 28" draw 8.5grns/# 180fps
The bow is a masterpeice - the bow is a cannon - it is the smoothest, fastest most wonderful english Longbow I have shot...................click below if you feel the need to check out Jamies website
Features & Design
This is a "REAL" English Longbow- it doesn't just look like one, it actually performs in a way that modern longbows never have - I am I the only person who smells coffee andfinds it instantly desirable - I imagine how good it will taste but it never delivers - longbows have always felt a little like that. I love the idea of them and the history but they mostly fall short - this one however looks and smells the part and then it delivers- in every imaginable way.
Quite simply the fastest, smoothestLongbow this enthusiast has ever shot.
Value for Money
I purposely haven't mentioned the cost - it's Can $800 or US$666 ( that figure brought another smile to my lips as it was either Ironic or symbolic - I don't know which)
Quite possibly the best longbow since 1415