This question has come up a lot and I thought this might be a good opportunity to write it down so others can read it.
Archery has always been a part of my life. As a small boy I can clearly remember watching my father shoot the very first arrow from his 55lb recurve. I had been playing with his bow for some time and was trying hopelessly to pull the thing, in fact I thought it was impossible. One day we hopped in the truck and drove out to a farm to pick up a few straw bales, once home he set them up in the yard and told me to stand back. As the first arrow hissed across the yard I was mesmerized by the speed and that image has been forever burned into my mind.
To be honest I fell in love with the yew tree before I was ever into bow making. From the moment I was first able to identify Taxus Brevifola (Pacific Yew) there was a deep and unignorable connection between myself and the tree, some thing I had never felt with any other plant. I became borderline obsessed with trying to spot them in the forest and along the edges of roads while driving. I also felt compelled to care take them where I could. There was one forest in particular, where I spent quite a bit of time and looking back I spent countless hours pulling and cutting back the Ivy that was over taking the forest floor and choking out the yew trees.
At the age of twenty five I had decided that I was ready to start hunting. I was becoming interested in traditional hide tanning and I wanted to source local wild meat. I also knew that I did not want to just go get a gun and shoot something. I was looking for the full circle connection and to me this meant building my own equipment and most certainly my bow would be made of yew. Once I had made up my mind about hunting and building my bow the tree quickly presented itself to me. I could not bring myself to cut a living tree - it just did not sit well with me. As it would turn out there would be no need to.
I really didn't know what I was getting into, but I had always been a carver so I figured to start I could easily carve out something that looked like a bow and worry about the bending later. I was also recommended a book by a good friend called the Traditional Bowyers Bible, which I immediately ordered through a local book store. Once my book arrived I eagerly read it cover to cover and soaked up as much information as I could. I quickly learned it was best to split the log lengthwise to follow the longitudinal flow of the grain. I was also amazed to learn that knots and defects in the wood could be worked with and functional bows still produced. In fact wooden bowyers seemed to embrace this and referred to irregularities as "character". I thought that was just too cool.
I was hooked and by the time I was shooting my first self made bow I was already planning the next one. What I could do different and how I could make it better. I also learned that every piece of wood was different and therefore every bow was unique. It only made sense that my new bow deserved a name to reflect its uniqueness so I asked a young friend what he thought would be a good name. "Sam" he replied immediately and so it stuck. I never did hunt with Sam. Once open season came around I was recovering from a shoulder surgery and was not at full strength. I used a lighter recurve bow which I had shot for a long time and I did manage to shoot a deer near the end of my first season.
In hindsight the handle section was way too long, the tips were too large and there was a mild hinge in the upper limb. But it shot an arrow fast and I made it myself with natural materials, the way it has always been done. I was hooked and I have never looked at a tree the same way again.