In a time when compound bows are weighed down with as many gadgets as a sniper's rifle, Tab Leach prefers the elegant weapons of a former age.
"It's really cool to make your own stuff and harvest an animal with it," Leach said during a Monday presentation. "It's a rare feeling."
Leach handcrafts his own bows, arrows, arrowheads, atlatls and more, using techniques developed by the ancient peoples who once lived in Missouri. He stopped by South Callaway Middle School on Monday to teach students about those techniques.
Danielle Hecktor, a sixth-grade history teacher, and Principal Gary Bonsall, an old friend of Leach's, invited him to give the presentation.
"I want them to get a real-life perspective," Hecktor said. "You can watch someone making things like this on TV or in a movie, but to see it being done firsthand and to hold the artifacts in your hand gives students a different perspective."
Leach showed the students several bows he's made from scratch. Missouri is home to bois d'arc trees, Leach explained, which have straight-grained wood that's just right for making bows. Native American civilizations scattered throughout the country developed different types of bows depending on what wood was available, he said. Each group's hunting habits had an effect as well — for example, short bows are preferable when hunting from horseback.
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He also had the children don safety goggles so he could demonstrate flint-knapping, a technique for using simple tools to carefully shape sharp blades, arrows, spearheads and other implements, one chip at a time. Flint was ancient Missourians' stone of choice, Leach explained. Obsidian is also a great candidate for knapping but isn't found in Missouri.
"Does anyone know what this is?" Leach asked, holding up something that looked like an arrow sized to take down Godzilla.
He explained it was an atlatl dart, which can be launched using a short, lever-like length of wood.
"Just throwing this, I could probably get it 25 or 30 yards," he said. "With the atlatl, I could throw it at least 100 yards."
Without the fancy sighting gizmos, ancient technology takes a lot of practice to use with proficiency, Leach said. He started firing traditional bows when he was a toddler, but he still has to practice each year in the run-up to bow season.
"I shoot 75-100 arrows a night for three or four weeks before the season begins," he said. "The people who used these for food were probably a whole lot better at this than I am."
The students watching Leach's presentation seemed engrossed, frequently raising hands to ask questions.
"I definitely want to make my own, if my dad lets me," sixth-grader Rafe Murphy said after the presentation.
Leach said he was happy to pass on the legacy. His father hunted using traditional bows, and Leach is teaching his own grandchildren how to use them.
"I think it teaches kids respect and caution and rules," he said. "You never know what spark is going to happen in a child's eyes."