Peter Laffin was sure about one thing: he didn’t want to stop archery hunting.
The Eureka man wanted to simplify his hunting, and he had to acknowledge that his body wasn’t allowing him to do what he pleased with a compound bow — namely, pull it at a draw weight that would allow him to release an arrow with enough velocity to make a killing shot on a deer or elk.
“I had a desire to not use sights and not use technology,” Laffin said. “And it was getting to the point where I just couldn’t pull a compound bow back as far as I needed to be able to, so that drove the impetus for the adventure,” Laffin said. “And, shooting instinctively is a lot more fun, too.”
Laffin said his desire for simplicity and the need for a bow he could pull at an adequate weight led him to use traditional bows, and then, eventually, to build them. He embarked on his journey to build his own perfect bow a little more than a year ago.
Laffin, originally from Vermont, is a former builder who constructed homes for the affluent.
“One of the things that came out of that was when I took on a project I didn’t always realize how hard it was going to be and after I had to figure some things out, it helped me pass through my limitations, and I ended up doing some really crazy houses that were a lot of fun to build,” he said.
Laffin applied his lessons from building homes to building bows — he wasn’t accepting any rules.
“It’s interesting what that allows,” he said.
Laffin had never built a bow before and didn’t spend too much time considering how others were building them.
“I’m not an expert, not an authority, but I just tried some things,” he said.
When Laffin started building his fiberglass long bows, he broke several as he experimented.
“The ones you break are the best teachers,” he said. “I started with no data and I wrote down everything I did. That way I know what I’ve done.”
One thing he did was take the deflex out of the bows he was building
“I wondered what that was really doing for me and when I did, that’s how I started to improve the speed,” Laffin said. “The more reflex in the bow, the more energy I’m storing.”
Missoula’s Jim Rempp, a traditional bowmaker who has built more than 1,000 bows in the last 40 years, praised Laffin’s work.
“I don’t have a lot of experience with his bows, but I did shoot them when we met at a show and they are pretty nice for a beginner,” Rempp said. “I’ve seen many, many different bows, but his are unique.
“The limb design, the way they are tapered and angled, he definitely has something going. And they are good shooters and they seem quite fast,” Rempp said.
Laffin said he has also started building, with help from Rempp, bows that are made from a single piece of wood, also known as self bows.
“Those are a whole different experience,” Laffin said. “I’m in quite a string of breaking them. What wood wants to do is very unpredictable. When they break, there’s no warning, they just explode!”
Andy Kvasnak has been friends with Laffin for 40 years, after they attended college together in Vermont. He has used both traditional and compound bows for hunting for 50 years.
“When I started bowhunting, it was only traditional because compound bows weren’t being made,” Kvasnak said. “Then I switched to compound when those came out in the ‘70s.”
But by 1990, another friend, who was a carpenter, made him a long bow. Kvasnak played around with it before using it for hunting.
“Once I did, I fell in love with it. I felt like Robin Hood,” Kvasnak said.
After his wife died and his kids were in college, Kvasnak decided to move to Colorado. Laffin was living in Durango at the time, so they started elk hunting together using recurve bows.
Laffin then moved to the Eureka area. Kvasnak followed a few years later.
“Peter talked me into building a bow and we worked on it together,” Kvasnak said. “We built a 42-pound bow and it’s pretty fast. I think when Peter came up with his design, he surprised himself.
“The craftmanship is outstanding on his bows. The lines are simple and functional, but elegant,” Kvasnak said. “And the bows are very durable, I leave mine strung all the time so I can just shoot whenever I feel like it.
“The thing about Peter that I really appreciate is he shares his ideas and thoughts and that’s very encouraging to see.”
Laffin doesn’t make a lot of bows, but he has sold 14 and is selling others.
“I didn’t get into this for a business, but it doesn’t hurt for me to sell a few and help pay for a few things,” he said. “When I’m building them, I do the most fun thing first and then I do the second-most fun thing next.
“Every bow I build is my favorite and my former favorites are for sale.”
Laffin may be contacted at 406-882-4780 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or email@example.com