I'm saddened by the loss of Jack Howard. As a hunter and bowyer, he was and has remained one of my heroes since my boyhood. But I choose not to mourn his passing. Instead I choose to celebrate his life and what it has meant to me.
As a boy I read countless articles about Jack in the archery periodicals of the 50í and 60ís. Archery World, Bow and Arrow Magazine, Archery and later, even Bowhunter Magazine told of his adventures.
Jack was first and foremost a hunter. In his youth he was known to have jumped on the back of a mule deer and killed it with a knife.
Jim Dougherty, who shot Jack's bows to very good effect in the sixties and was a friend of Jack said something to the effect of... "Jack Howard shoots game with the cool detachment of a machine". High praise from a man who would make his life shooting game with bow and arrow.
I doubt there was a high profile bowhunter out there during the 50', 60's, and 70's who didn't admire and respect what Jack Howard consistently did in the game fields with his hand crafted bow and arrows. You'd have had to be the village idiot to not know Jack was at the top of the heap when it came to hunting.
He was also well known on the west coast for his ability on the field range as well. Many trophies from those days adorned his trophy room.
In a time when little was known about realistic bugles and cow elk calls, Jack brought home huge bull elk. Plucked from the heart of the western mountains by one of Jackís unerring shafts.
Very few bowhunters of his period made a habit of hunting elk with a bow let alone hunting specific animals.
He'd often go off into the wilderness of our western mountains alone with minimal camp equipment. (A run down of his gear for a 5 day stay was printed in the old Kittredge Bow Hut catalog. If I remember right, the whole kit didn't weigh over 15 pounds... most of us carry more than that when we go to our deer stands!)
Jack would have scouted his quarry in advance and taking advantage of his light camp and good optics he'd watch (sometimes for days) to find the very best approach or set up to shoot a particular animal. Only when he was sure did he move in for the kill.
Often for elk that would mean building a small blind near a favored travel route to feed or water.
As was common in the west in those days, his shooting position would often be a minimum of 30 yards from where the anticipated shot would be... and at almost twice the effective range of most of today's archers he would coolly capitalize on his shooting advantage and execute the shot with surgical precision.
His bows too reflected his preferred style of hunting. Jack began making bows in 1947... the year I was born! It wasnít long until they started gaining attention. Iím sure Jackís cool shooting and classic style helped in that regard.
His bows were long by today's standards... 66". Later in life he started producing his beloved "Gamemaster" in 64" to meet the demand for a shorter bow. Except for the shorter length, youíd be hard pressed to tell an old Gamemaster from a new one.
His unique and innovative techniques in bow making produced a very fast bow for the time and even for this time! It was and is dead stable on release and made to such exacting standards that he could duplicate the shooting characteristics of a particular bow just by pulling up it's registration card.
With the information he had recorded there he could assemble exacting components.
"Making weight" wasn't a problem for Jack. His bows were so meticulously made that at the very most a bow might come in a pound or two above finish weight. The Gamemaster was a true custom bow in a time when there were few or no custom bowyers out there.
It always looked the same, but that really isn't what "custom" is about. Looks are just cosmetic... how the bow shoots in the hands of the customer and his form is what makes a bow truly custom and Jack knew exactly how to make the best shooting bow for a particular style.
Never happy to accept the status quo, Jack even experimented with string material to find what he thought was best from his bows. What he found flew in the face of traditional thinking. At a time when everyone was thinking "no stretch" meant higher arrow speeds, Jack found a material which did stretch and improved the performance of his bows as well as being very easy on the bow.
I'm humbled that he shared his secret with me and gave me permission to market that material myself. I quite agree with his findings, but doubt it would ever gain acceptance over material marketed by the "big names" in string manufacture. As trad archers, we are a hard headed lot, but vulnerable to "hype".
Jack spent many years as an instinctive archer, but it was his use of sights on his recurve bow that really set him apart from other bowhunters of the time. For the most part it was thought that a sight couldn't be effectively used for hunting... Jack shot that theory full of holes. He was a master of judging distance and as has been said, cool as a cucumber at the moment of truth.
He was also a problem solver of the first degree. Unhappy with broadheads in those early days and their cutting/edge holding abilities, he started adding heavy duty razorblades to his multiblade heads. He may have been the first to do so and certainly not the last as today's trend in replaceable blade heads will attest.
In the days before "Bowhunter Magazine" put the push on to remind hunters to keep their broadheads razor sharp Jack was making sure they were... in those days only the very serious bowhunters seemed to realize intuitively that an arrow needed to be razor sharp to be as effective as they could be. He set a high standard for broadhead sharpness as in everything else he did.
Jackís long list of big game kills is impressive, but Iím equally impressed with his loss record. He had no losses from wounding with his bow and arrow combination. Simply amazing!
At a time when good quivers jostled and crowded broadhead arrows together, he developed a side quiver which held his arrows separate and securely. Ready in razor sharp condition to leap safely into the hands of the bowhunter... we see many variations on that theme today. Light, solid and convenient, it worked perfectly for Jackís style of on the go hunting.
Yes, losing Jack Howard (who I had come to know over these past few years) leaves an empty spot deep inside me. I owe who I am as a bowhunter to Jack. He raised the bar for me as a hunter and made it all seem quite possible to reach and even exceed his standards. I pursue those goals even today, never quite filling the shoes of a hunting icon like Jack.
Boy to man and now closing in on old age myself, I have always known Jack Howard, bowyer, bowhunter and he will forever live on in my heart, drawing a steady shaft to anchor on some huge old bull or pussyfooting through the sage to anchor a heavy horned mule deer buck.