“Fifty bucks and it’s all yours”, he stated. My friend was referring to the dust covered, early 1960’s vintage Ben Pearson Colt recurve bow, half dozen cedar target arrows and the leather quiver lying on his kitchen table. The bow looked to be in great condition, still wearing its original string, and was marked at 50XX (52 Lbs) @ 28″.
“Are you sure you really want to sell this, after all, it was your Grandfather’s?” I was taken back that he would even consider selling his deceased relatives archery tackle, as he was a hunter and an archer himself. But truth be known, I didn’t know him all that well, as I had only recently befriended this man, as we both worked at a Prison in Southern Maine at that point in our lives and had started hunting and fishing together on our days off.
As I picked up the recurve to examine it, the warm, rich color of the wood caught my eye, almost as if it were trying to communicate, begging for another opportunity to be in the autumn woods. “You just saw what I can do with my compound bow. Why would I have any need for that old thing?” he replied. He was referring to his shooting exhibition a few minutes earlier in his yard, when he tickled the tail feathers on a songbird at well over 80 yards away with a “vertical crossbow”. He had a new high tech cam bow, complete with 85% let off, overdraw, peep sights, lighted pins, stabilizer and a trigger activated ball bearing release. As a former competitive shooter, his skill level was quite impressive, and I seriously doubt that I could have matched his shot at that same range with my scoped .22 rifle. He was that good.
He had tried to sell me his older model compound after showing me how accurate his new one was. I respectfully declined, saying that I had just sold my Browning compound, as I wanted to return to the simple, graceful lines of a recurve and the challenge and sportsmanship that traditional archery offered. I stated that I wished that I had kept the old red fiberglass 35# Bear that I had owned as a kid, but that I had foolishly sold it. I just wanted a basic stick and string, and to shoot instinctively, without all the gadgets, gizmos, etc.
His eyes lit up as he listened and he beckoned me to follow him inside his home, saying that he had inherited an old bow from his grandfather that he had no use for. After digging around in the back of his kitchen closet, he located the bow and arrows. He explained that his grandfather had been a bowhunter back in the 1960s and ’70s, and knowing that his grandson was into archery, had left it to him in his will. He was quite insistent that he wanted to sell it, despite the fact that it had been his grandfather’s hunting bow and had accounted for numerous deer and small game. I looked at the old man’s prized hunting bow and quiver full of arrows lying on the table. He must have cherished it if he left it to his grandson, I thought to myself. I just couldn’t bear to see it get stuck back into that kitchen closet. It deserved better treatment than that. As I looked at the bow, I thought of the miles and miles of forests and fields it had been carried over, the game it had hunted, and the pleasure it had brought to the grandfather, who had now gone on to the happy hunting grounds in the sky. If only that old bow could talk…
My friend’s wife interrupted my contemplative thought process by offering me a cup of coffee, which I declined. I pulled out my checkbook and paid him, quickly leaving with the archery tackle before he could change his mind.
I bought that recurve back in 1993. Today that Ben Pearson Colt is one of my most prized possessions. It has simple, graceful lines, beautiful wood and powerful limbs, still taut when strung, despite the half century of age. Ben Pearson Incorporated, the leader in the archery industry during that era, offered this basic hunting model for about $30.00 in 1964, an excellent value for such a high quality laminated fiberglass and wood bow. Thirty bucks was a lot of money back then. Remember, this was in 1964 and the median family income in the United States was $6,600.00. For a reference point; the manufactures suggested retail price on the Ruger standard model semi-automatic .22 pistol was $37.50. A gallon of gasoline was .30 cents.
I have spent many enjoyable days in the outdoors hunting game and stump shooting with the Colt. At 52 Lbs of pull @ 28″, with my draw length I’m pulling about 56 Lbs and the cast is hard and straight. No, it doesn’t shoot as fast as a modern high tech bow with training wheels, but it is deadly accurate at 20 yards with a broadhead. It is difficult to describe the feeling one gets when an arrow fired from a vintage bow hits its mark, be it a stump or a critter. “Euphoria” might come close, and perhaps “intoxicating” is even more accurate as a description.
I’ve often thought that the original owner of this hunting bow would have mixed feelings over his descendant selling it. I’m sure that on one hand he would be disappointed, as he would want it to remain in the family to be passed on to future generations, but on the other hand, he might be more content in knowing that the bow that he had treasured and carried in the field is well cared for, wearing a new string and is still used on occasion for its intended purpose.
Knowing that my days are numbered, I can only hope that in the future my descendants appreciate this old bow, if only as a wall hanger in a den or living room. If not, then I have to hope that another traditional archery aficionado, if not in the blood, at least in spirit, will end up with this classic American hunting weapon.