Aldo Leopold
Consulting Forester
Madison, Wisconsin

March 26, 1934

Mr. Herbert L. Stoddard
The Hall, Route 1
Tallahassee, Florida

Dear Herbert:

I am sending you by express a yew bow, which I have been making for you this winter. I have enjoyed it because it was a way to express my affection and regard for one of the few who understands what yew bows - and quail and mallards and wind and sunsets - are all about.

I cannot assure you that it is a good piece of wood. Staves, like friends, have to be lived with in many woods and weathers before one knows their quality. The fact that the stave is yew, has a specific gravity of .432, came from Roseburg, Oregon, and has been waiting for a job since 1930, is no more a test of how it will soar an arrow than the fact that a man is a naturalist, weighs 160, and has had time enough to season, is a test of the zest or nicety with which he will expend his powers in the good cause. All I can say of this bow is that its exterior "education" embodies whatever craft and wisdom is mine to impart. What lies inside is the everlasting question.

The bow is built for endurance rather than speed, hence the length. It's weight (in a cold cellar) is 50 pounds at 28 inches. This ought to temper down, in your climate, to a heavy American or light York. I doubt if it will hold on the gold at 100 yards, but it might. Should you use it regularly for York, I would advise a lighter string.

If it proves a good piece of wood, it should be re-tillered after a season's use, to catch up any "hinge" which may by then have developed. I will be glad to do this for you. A that time, should it have proven a worthy stick, it may also be shortened to make a straight hunter, or a York.

I have tried to build into this bow the main recent improvements in bow-design, but since some of them are not visible, they will bear mention. The square cross section and waisted handle are of course visible innovations, but probably less important than the new location of the geographic centre. In former days this was put close under the arrow plate, but in this bow it lies as near the centre of the handle as is possible without overworking the lower limb. In a 3-1/2" handle I have found this spot to be 1-1/2" below the arrow plate. Some authorities make it 1-3/4", but I know from observation that these too-modern bows never appear at two successive annual tournaments, or if they do, they are "on crutches" and reading for premature pensioning to some idle peg on the bow-rack.

The horns whence came these nocks were pulled off the skeleton of an old cow on the Santa Rita ranges by Dave Gorsuch. The slight flaws at the base of the upper nock are the measure of the seasons which bleached her bones before Dave found her. I doubt not that many a black vulture perched on her skull meanwhile, and many a quail and roadrunner, coyote and jackrabbit played their little games of life and death in the hackberry bush hard by her withering hide. Did that stodgy old cow, whilst living, know, or get any satisfaction from knowing, that within her growing horns she was converting her daily provender of desert grama and sun-dried mesquite into an enduring poem of amber light? Does an eagle know, or get any satisfaction from knowing, that in his incomparable pinions he is converting carrion into a structure so perfect that every breeze sings its praises? Does a yew tree glory in fashioning from mere soil and sunlight a wood whose shavings curl in ecstasy at the prospect of becoming a bow? Does a cedar's pride lie in his towering height, or in the fact - unknown to all save archers - that under his shaggy bark lies a snow-white wood that planes with the joyful sound of tearing silk - the sound that bluebills make when they hurtle out of the sky at the invitation of placid waters? These are questions meet for an archer to ask, but for no man to answer.

One cannot fashion a stave without indulging in fond hopes of its future. I hope this one will one day sire a litter of six golds for you and will many a time hear your gleeful chuckle as you add up the ends for a 500 score. On many a thirsty noon I hope you lean it against a mossy bank by cool springs. In fall I hope its shafts will sing in sunny glades where turkeys dwell, and that one day some wily buck will live just long enough to startle at the twang of its speeding string.

Among my more homely prayers are these: That the nock will never come off just as you start out for the woods or targets, nor the arrow plate spring loose just as you modestly explain to some visiting tyro that the inlay is of mastodon ivory which "stayed put" since the Pleistocene.

And lastly if the bow breaks, with or without provocation, pray waste no words or thoughts in vain regret. There are more staves in the woods that have yet sped an arrow, all longing to realize their manifest destiny. Just blow three blasts on your horn and I will make you another.

Yours as ever,

Aldo Leopold


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