I was originally going to title this one “The Bow I Never Intended to Buy”, but passed in fear of slighting it or the bowyer. However, this is exactly how I met Tom Moran of River Raisin bows. I’d seen Tom at several shows over the years, but never gave him much thought for whatever reason. His bows were beautiful and he was friendly, but I hardly ever had the money to buy and minded my business. The pattern actually repeated itself at the 2013 Great Lakes Longbow Invitational, but I couldn’t help myself this time.
At the center of GLLI stands a large red barn where we house the raffle table and the majority of our vendors. It is full of all kinds of archery-related goodies for purchase and it is hard to pass through it without buying something. My something ended up being a beautiful, emerald-colored bow with a beautifully carved grip and a satin finish. I don’t usually go for that kind of thing, but I couldn’t stop looking at it in pissing. Finally, day three rolled around and I had to check it out. Tom caught me out of the corner of his eye and hollered “Hey! You want to go take that thing for a spin? I’ll make you a great deal!” I was fairly hesitant at first. I needed another bow like I needed a hole in the head, but curiosity found me down at the range flinging arrow-after-arrow into a bag target shortly after. Another “shortly-after” followed and I decided I really liked the bow. Hell…I LOVED it, which made bringing it back to Tom a sad state of affairs.
“Well? You like it?” He said. “Sure, it’s nice!” I chuckled. “But, I can’t afford a bow right now.” “We can work something out.” He said. “Think about it. I’d rather you shoot it and pay me as you go then let it sit in my shop collecting dust. I don’t really want to put it away. You’d be doing ME a favor by just taking it home today and figuring out payment later.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was this guy nuts? He didn’t even know me. Sure, he knew I was on the MLA Council but that was about it. “No, I can’t do that. I just can’t. Wouldn’t feel right about it.” I said. Tom paused a moment, hanging the bow back on the rack. “I respect that, but it is really no big deal. I’m not in this to make a buck.”
That settled it…this guy was nuts. Either that or he was a genius because as soon as I got home I decided I wanted that bow and ended up paying him $20 to ship it to me when I could have brought it home THAT day. Shortly thereafter my Partner longbow arrived with a brand new D97 string and fur silencers. It was marked 64″ and 57# @ 28″, which was the perfect weight for me. I’ve been happy with it ever since and plan to get it out on the courses this summer. All that being said, I was absolutely shocked at the amount of bow I got for the money and wanted to share what I consider to be a tremendous value with all of you. I also thought it would be great to introduce you all to Tom in the process. So here we go, my interview with Tom Moran of River Raisin bows.
Nick: What inspired you to build bows? How did you get started? When did you get started?
Tom: The desire to own many bows and the ability to pay for few. A friend showed me a Bingham bow he had made and I thought that it pretty nice and real affordable. I failed to consider the real costs, such as tools etc., but with much encouragement from my understanding bride, I jumped in, spent a bunch of money, and made my first longbow which came out 20# too heavy and as ugly as any bow I’d ever seen. That was in 1996.
Nick: Awesome! Where did the River Raisin name come from?
Tom: The River Raisin name comes from the river “Raisin” which flows a few hundred feet from my door. It has been a favorite place of mine for many years: great fishing for smallies and pike along with some great waterfowling. My nearly reverent regard for this river matched my obsession with the longbow at that time, so I couldn’t think of a more suitable name. I don’t know about the other counties this river runs through, but due to the heavy french influence here the river is called “River Raisin” not “Raisin River” here in Monroe. The name stuck.
Nick: What makes River Raisin longbows different than other longbows?
Tom: I guess today the only thing that I can think of is my refusal to use carbon. Other than that there is nothing really unique that I can say is my personal innovation or design. I wish to make it clear that I have nothing against the use of carbon other than it doesn’t feel right to me. This is strictly a personal thing as I have become a bit of a wood junkie. I don’t believe there is a better place for a beautiful piece of wood than in a longbow or recurve. I know that some will be quick to point out I use state of the art epoxies and fiberglass backings and therefore don’t understand my refusal to use carbon. Let’s just call it my personal line in the sand.*
Nick: How did you come up with your design?
Tom: There isn’t much that hasn’t been done and my bow designs reflect that. I would have to say that most of my designs are on the conservative side of that which is available on the market today. However I do not offer a straight limb like the Hill-style. I favor a mild r/d limb with a thinner wider cross section.*
*Note: Tom is extremely humble about his work. I find his bows to be very unique, particularly in his handles, which are beautifully carved to fit the palm of the shooter and keep the arrow directly above the knuckle of your bow hand. I haven’t seen many bows offer a contour like this. -NV
Nick: What is the base price of your longbows? What options do you offer?
Tom: My base price for the Partner is $450.00 for colored glass and most riser woods. I’m going to have to start charging more for cocobolo as the price has gone through the roof since the recent CITES listing. My price for a custom build with clear glass and single species riser is $475.00. You can get footed veneers or many different laminated risers at an additional cost. My three-piece takedown longbows are fetching $600.0 – $700.00 depending on the frills. All bows come with a D97 string.
Nick: What are your biggest challenges/obstacles as a bowyer?
Tom: Time. I have a fairly stressful day job and sometimes, when I get home at night, find it difficult to refocus. This middle-age thing seems to rob me of some of my motivation from time-to-time.
Nick: I can only imagine. Building a bow is time consuming. Especially when balanced with a day job. What is your biggest joy as a bowyer?
Tom: My biggest joy as a bowyer has to be satisfied customers. Many of my customers have become good friends and it just doesn’t get any better that that. Of course watching arrows fly from a bow you have made by hand is pretty cool too. I also like getting to work with the most beautiful woods in the world, which is wonderful.
Nick: I’ll bet and I’ve seen some extremely interesting examples come out of your shop! What are your future goals for River Raisin?
Tom: River Raisin was started as a retirement project. Something to keep me occupied, so I don’t drive my wife nuts and maybe make a few extra bucks for my efforts. Honestly, with retirement only a couple of years away I am hoping to be able to help with the cost of health insurance and am thinking this bow thing may come in handy.
Nick: Hahahah, at least you are honest. They are worth every penny. Talk about your relationship with the Michigan Longbow Association. Do you think it is important for a bowyer to be a member of such organizations?
Tom: I have many friends within the ranks of the MLA. That is my motivation for being a member. Same goes for the MBH (Michigan Bowhunters). I don’t think of myself as a bowyer who is a member, but as a member who happens to be a bowyer. I used to belong to many different organizations because of my interests, but that is no longer true. I like guns and waterfowling in particular, but I don’t belong to DU or the NRA. I like stickbows, but don’t currently belong to Compton’s or PBS (Professional Bowhunter’s Society). These are FINE organizations, but I personally prefer the more grassroots nature of our state organizations.
Nick: I totally understand. These are all fantastic orgs, but there is only so much time and I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the amount of organizations I’ve joined the last couple years. If I join something I feel like I’ll eventually need to get involved and do not have the time to do so.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Tom: I believe the folks showing up in our ranks today are here because this is what they want to do. It is not the latest craze as it was in the 80′s and 90′s. My hat is off to those who never strayed. If not for these few individuals, guys like me would not have had a lamp by which to find our way back. I would also like to thank all of my customers for believing in me and giving my bows a try in the first place! It is difficult to overcome name recognition and to get a person to walk away from all of the bows that he/she has heard of and try, let alone buy, a bow from someone that they don’t know of. I would also like to thank my wife for all of her support and understanding over the years and for the neat bow socks. I cannot mention her without touching on my faith in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has granted me more blessings than I can count. My family is the greatest of these gifts.
Nick: Thank you for your time Tom! It has been a privilege.
Tom: Likewise. Take care Nick!
Tom is located in Monroe, Michigan and his bows are available at www.riverraisinbows.com/. He has plenty of bows in stock and they are absolutely wonderful. I had a chance to shoot a few at the Great Lakes Longbow Invitational last year. If you ever see him at a show, they are definitely worth a look. Fill out his contact form should you want something specific and he will get back to you.