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"The Great Plains Man"
Bowyer and Craftsman
Electing to name his bow manufacturing firm "Great Plains Traditional Bow Company" proved to be an excellent choice for Bill Forman. Located in the eastern Texas Panhandle, Pampa, Bill's home town, lies on the great plains of the central United States. The region surrounding Pampa was once roamed by the Comanche, the Kiowa and the Kiowa-Apache. During the 1870's historical battles were fought at Adobe Walls to the northwest, Buffalo Wallow to the east, and along the North Fork of the Red River to the southeast. To the southwest lies the vast Staked Plains, the famed Llano Estacado. Yes, this is a proud land, rich in history, with a long standing tradition of hard work. That same pride, that same tradition, continues today with the craftsmanship clearly visible in the traditional bows of Bill Forman.
For some twenty years Bill' chosen occupation was that of a custom cabinet maker. There he developed a "hands on" knowledge and skill in working with wood. His experience, couples with an appreciation for the beauty and fine line of the recurve proved to be very promising combination, indeed. As the interest in traditional archery began to grow nationally, so too did the idea of becoming a full time bowyer. Knowing that it would not happen overnight, Bill began to make careful pans to make the dream a reality. By Bill's own admission, "A lot of time, hard work, patience, money, and a good banker were all necessary in the transition to custom bow manufacturing. So was the support Linda, my wife of twenty-five years."
From these humble beginnings was born Great Plains Traditional Bow Company. Initially, there was just Bill. "Great Plains now employs one full-time and one part-time employee to assist in the manufacturing process. Working with us on a part-time basis is a gentleman by the name of Reese Field. He's a confirmed longbow man with 20 some years of building experience. Reese is a fanatic when he sets to a task and provided excellent advice in our early days. He was also instrumental in the design of our original longbow. Reese Field and his efforts are sincerely appreciated!" Bill related.
"Since we've been in business, Great Plains bows have been sold not only in the United States, but internationally as well. We've sold bows in Canada, South Africa, Great Britain, and various European countries including, German, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland," Bill continued. Great Plains now employs a very definite marketing strategy. "We have geared our program to supply handcrafted bows to various Pro Archery Dealers, many that specialize in traditional archery gear and supplies. We encourage our customers to utilize these dealerships whenever possible. Many of the dealers keep great Plains bows in stock or can place custom orders for the individual," Mr. Forman continues. Bill realizes the great potential of these business relationships, the benefits to be derived by both parties, and value them greatly. During one of my visits to the Great Plains shop, Bill told me, in so many words, "I had to turn down a very lucrative offer because I felt it was detrimental to the programs I have established with my dealer. It wouldn't be doing them right." Enough said!
To the greatest extent possible, Bill believes he must promote Great Plains Traditional Bow Company and his bows personally. "We regularly attend dealer and national archery manufacturing trade shows in an effort to expand the markets and the sales of Great Plains bows. We also set up displays and participate in traditional jamborees," Bill said, "and, in fact, we attended one just recently. There were archers attending from everywhere. It doesn't seem to matter where they come from, they share the same interest in traditional archery and bowhunting. Whether they're from Colorado, Indiana, or Texas, they talk the same lingo. We sure enjoy those gatherings."
Competing in many regional 3-D type tournaments allows Bill to constantly test and evaluate his products. This exposure provides valuable feedback and insight into the product expectations and demands of the bow shooting sportsman and hunter. And to be perfectly honest, Bill loves to shoot the bow and arrow!
The Great Plains shop is a very interesting place indeed. Not ornate or lavish by any means, Bill's office is the main entrance, the reception area, the mail room, and the shipping/receiving department. Among the only furnishings are a drafting table, desk and chair. On the rear wall above the desk are overhead oak storage cabinets which were crafted, quite naturally, by Bill himself, then fitted with antler handles. On two other walls and over the rear door, which leads into the shop itself, are racks Bill made to display finished bows awaiting shipment, his personal "users," and those of his collection.
Entering the very spacious work area itself, one might be greeted with the smells of saw dust, the unique odor of epoxy finish just sprayed on a bow, or the high-pitched buzz of a hand sander as it smoothes a freshly cut riser. There are not sophisticated machines of mass production. To be found are many hand tools and wood working machines converted from a previous occupation and "set free" to pursue another honorable and worthy craft. While there are racks of bows and bow parts in various stages of production throughout the work area, Great Plains Bows are essentially crafted one at a time with a labor of love.
With the many demands of building bows, marketing, and meeting deadlines, things can get pretty hectic around the Great Plains shop at times. I do know, however, that Bill does truly like to talk about archery and the bows he builds. Half jokingly, I asked him if "walk-ins" were welcome? After a short laugh, Bill responded by saying, "Oh yes! We do like people to come in. Of course, local archers and friends occasionally visit the shop. We also have people from this vicinity stop by who have become interested in traditional archery and are surprised to find a builder in this area. I've had other builders come in. Quite often vacationers drive up from Interstate 40. We've definitely met some very nice and interesting people here at the shop." (Interstate 40, the replacement for the historic "Route 66" transverses the Texas Panhandle a mere thirty miles south of Pampa).
Designed for top performance, Great Plains bows are indeed beautiful. Top of the line takedown recurve and one piece models, some named after rivers and various tributaries in the area, include the Red River, Woodland Hunter, Wolf Creek, Kiowa, Rio Bravo, and the Palo Duro. Risers are of maple actionwood, coco bolo, Osage, walnut, tulipwood, rosewood, zebrawood, red elm, and shedua laminated and accented, as appropriate to the individual model, with bubinga and various colors of fiberglass. Limb laminations are available in actionwood and many of the same domestic and exotic hardwoods as the risers are crafted from. Placing these laminations under clear glass then reinforcing the limb tips with laminations of matching riser wood and micarta yields a very pleasing result which is completely ready for Fast Flight.
The longbow, aptly name Great Plainsman, is of deflex/reflex design and is available in many of the riser woods and limb laminations as described above. Its limbs are also Fast Flight ready with micarta reinforced tips. Leather grips are laced on by hand. "We are in the process of designing and developing a new takedown longbow. Currently, we are working on the #1 prototype. It will be a three-piece deflex/reflex design, and from all indications will be fast. Some changes are anticipated in the riser shape, so we haven't finalized which of our rise woods it will be available in," Bill allowed. "Of course, it will use a Fast Flight string and will be sleek, slim, and light weight."
What made you decide to give up a successful career of some twenty years and essentially risk it all to found Great Plains Traditional Bow Company when you could have enjoyed archery just as a hobby?
As a manufacturer of custom traditional bows, what does the future hold for traditional archery?
What, in your opinion, separates a mass production recurve or longbow from the handcrafted?
Some years ago one of your bows was the subject of a magazine bow test and article that was somewhat unusual. Please share that with us.
You've indicated that many tend to order too much draw weight in a custom bow. As a hunter who has harvested both deer and elk with traditional equipment, what draw weight would you recommend for these game animals?
Some of the subjects of debate in the traditional world include: light arrows versus heavy arrows; Dacron versus Fast Flight; straight fletch versus helical fletch; wood arrows versus aluminum arrows. Care to comment?
We've seen a return from high-tech to traditional and with some, a return from traditional to primitive archery. Do you have any plans to craft all wood bows?
I know this question is asked often, Bill, but what are your thoughts on the real threats to the sports of archery and hunting with the bow and arrow?
I understand you have three children and three grandchildren. Are there any "Little Bowyers" in training?
Would you like to make any closing comments?
Thank you, Bill.
In this day and time, while so many look to each day as just another day of toil, secretly wishing they were doing something else, Bill Forman daily lives his dream building traditional bows. In addition to his obvious skill, I've always appreciated the confidence he has in his bows and his ability to construct them. Largely due to Bill's own efforts and a fierce determination to succeed, Great Plains Traditional Bow Company will soon be celebrating its 5th birthday since "going national." With some 20 years in the field of wood working, Bill Forman, at age 46, looks forward to a long and rewarding career at the bowyers' craft. One can only imagine the many fine bows yet to come from his shop as he continues to develop his skill and ability in an attempt to build that ever elusive "Perfect bow." I have no doubt that Bill Forman and Great Plains bows will be casting arrows far into the 21st century!
Bill Forman and Great Plains Traditional Bow Company can be contacted at 314 W. Foster, Pampa, Texas 79065. Phone 806-665-5463.
This article appeared in "Traditional Bowhunter Magazine" Dec/Jan 1997. Reprinted with permission.