Chances are you’ve seen TV ads featuring a rugged, bearded gentleman dubbed the “most interesting man in the world.” The ads are entertaining, but the man is played by an actor, and his life’s tales are fallacies.
If you want to meet an authentic man who’s truly interesting, visit North Augusta, South Carolina, which is home to a man who is a pastor, scientist, war veteran, entrepreneur, motorcycle enthusiast, and bowyer/bowhunter. Jerry Garvin earned all those descriptions and more.
God, motorcycles and bow-making. Seriously?
Yeah, no joke. Garvin’s passion for handcrafting traditional bows is genuine and infectious, and he recently sat down for this Q&A session:
Q. How did you come to be a pastor, bowyer, motorcyclist and owner of Stone Point Archery?
A. I was raised near Edgefield, South Carolina, where I got involved in archery at a young age. I attended Southern Georgia junior college two years before joining the Army as a member of the 101st Airborne and serving in the Vietnam War. Upon returning from Vietnam I worked with the training battalion for the 101st Airborne. I finished college, and during that time I began bowhunting and became interested in motorcycles, which I’m still involved with. In fact, I recently finished restoring a Harley-Davidson.
With my degree completed, I took a job at the University of Georgia as an ecologist and research biologist. I worked as a research technician and design engineer for research projects, and I made implements that were used in the field to conduct research.
Once I retired, I joined an archaeologist friend for several archaeological digs. I became fascinated with Native American tools and how they were made. That’s what initially sparked my interest in bow-making.
All my life I was involved in church, and about six years ago I felt the call to become a pastor, so I answered that call. It was sort of a late-in-life calling, but I’m the pastor at a small Baptist church in Edgefield.
Q. How much have you bowhunted during your life?
A. I started hunting with a recurve. When the compounds first came out, I thought the engineering on those things was just amazing, and it really was. The complexity of wheels and cables, and being able to generate a fast arrow without a strong pound pull, I just thought was amazing. I began hunting with a basic compound, shooting fingers. Of course, I went from there to adding a hunter rest and then a fall-away rest, and then the bows got so short you almost had to use a release.
I had gotten to where I had put a laser sight on my bow. I was sitting up in my deer stand one afternoon, and had yet to shoot a deer with the laser sight. I got to looking at this thing, and all the other technology on my bow, and thought: “I’ve subtracted the human element. I’m really not doing archery anymore.” I lowered my bow, got out of my stand, and I never touched another compound. I went back to my recurve. It was about the same time I got involved in making bows. I had been making the basic self-bows for a while.
Q. Have you ever shot competitive archery?
A. Yes, I shot competitively back when I was using a compound. I’ve shot more competitions since returning to traditional archery, mostly 3-D and indoor target shooting.
Q. Native American history increased your interest in traditional bows. Did that spark your interest in building them?
A. I wanted to learn how to build tools that Native Americans used, so I learned how to flint knapp. I made flint arrowheads and knives, and eventually arrows to put the flint heads on. One day someone asked if I could make them a bow like the Native Americans used. I thought, “Sure, it’s just a stick.” Then I built one and it broke. I built another one and it broke.
After about three of these things, I thought I needed to read something. I studied a little bit and found out what the whole deal was; you know, the grain of the wood and choice of wood. After that, the first bow I built shot amazingly well! I still have this bow, the first successful self-bow I built. From there, I thought I can refine this. I can do something with this. And that’s how I got started. I wanted to be able to take things from the environment where I lived and make something I could effectively take a deer with.
Q. Have you always been a craftsman?
A. Yes, I’ve always enjoyed working on stuff. I’m a hands-on person, absolutely.
Q. Tell us about your first successful hunt using a bow you made.
A. It’s nothing historical; nothing that’s going to go down in the record books or anything. It was an early afternoon in October. If I remember correctly, I was hunting a white-oak stand, and I had a small spike buck come by. (When you hunt) with a bow you’ve built, anything that comes by is a trophy. At that point in time I had shot enough to where I had tremendous confidence in what I was doing. It was a good, clean, quick kill; nothing monumental. But to me it was outstanding because I had done it with something I had made. It’s just an accomplishment.
Q. How has your craft as a bowyer evolved?
A. I can’t say it all came from my personal experimentation, although a great deal of it did. You read what other people have done, and you certainly learn from your mistakes, and you pick up on what other people do, and you figure out why other bowyers do certain things. You also understand why certain types of woods are used. I started out using basic types of woods because they were accessible. Today I use a variety of woods, and several exotic woods from places like Brazil and Africa. I use exotic woods on most of my upper-end bows. I say “upper end” because these types of wood are pricey. Also, with my scientific background I kept very accurate records as to what each bow did. I kept track of how they responded to a particular material or length, and came up with what worked best. I still have all of those records, and I go back to them all the time.
Q. What makes you most proud as a bowyer?
A. I’ve never had a bow returned to me broken. Every bow I’ve sold is still out there that I know of, except three. One was run over by a truck, and the other two burned up in a house fire.
Q. What is your “go-to” bowhunting setup?
A. I would probably use one of my reflex/deflex longbows, and grab one of my cane shafts that I know shoots really well with a discoid knapped point on the end. I encourage most of my customers to go with a carbon arrow because they shoot a whole lot faster, and they’re much more dependable.
Q. How long does it take to build a typical bow?
A. That’s kind of a difficult question to answer because of the diversity of the material used. For the training bows I make, I use red oak or hard maple, which are very accessible woods here in the U.S. A simple bow like that, if I’m not interrupted, takes about eight hours to make. That’s eight hours of labor, and there are several times where you have to wait for glue to dry. There’s also a significant amount of sanding and sealing, which also needs time to dry. They’re nothing fancy but they shoot well.
Now, some other bows I make with exotic woods in them, I slow way down. Some of these bows, before I even start building the limbs, will have close to $500 in the riser simply because the exotic woods are so expensive. I can’t afford to make a mistake, so I measure everything two and three times and make sure everything is exact before going to the next step. Those bows end up taking 30 to 40 hours to build. My average bow would take around 15 hours.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the bow-making process?
A. Shooting it the first time. That’s always so awesome. Here’s something I built, and I’m about to see it perform for the first time. When I put that string on for the first time, and walk out to my practice range, and watch an arrow come out of that bow, it excites me to no end.
Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to build their first bow?
A. I would strongly encourage they read all the volumes of “The (Traditional) Bowyer’s Bible.” Basically, what that’s going to do is take all of the experimentation out of it for you. You look at what these other bowyers did, and read about the mistakes they made, and the things that worked for them. These books give you an exactness for how to use your tools, what kind of woods to use, how to prepare the wood before you start cutting it, and what not to do. That would be the first thing to do if someone wanted to build a self-bow. If you (read the books), your first bow will probably be a success. Like I said earlier, I had no idea what I was doing (when I started). I just thought you could bend any piece of wood and it wouldn’t break. So, take time to sit down and read before you get started. Once you have a good grasp of the process, get good tools. If you have junk tools you’ll drive yourself crazy. Take your time and, at the end of it, you’ll have a bow you can shoot a long time.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of material out there on building laminated bows, so my suggestion would be to call a bowyer and pull information from them. Building a laminated bow takes more money because there are some specialized equipment, but if you’re only going to build a couple of bows, there are ways to get around that. Feel free to contact me, because I’ll tell anybody anything they want to know.
To check out Garvin’s handcrafted bows, visit his website here.