Black Ven by Broome Bows 60" 42@28#
It's always exciting to hear about new bowyers entering the market, especially here in the UK where the scene is dominated by low production English longbow makers. Often they are long term bow builders that get that small push to turn a hobby into something more professional, occasionally it's larger archery suppliers using their contacts in the industry to design and build a range of exclusive bows, but it's rare you see somebody attempting to make a full range of bow styles using the latest methods and materials. That's where Mike Broome at Broome Bows enters the scene, I was introduced to him by one of his customers and a long term supporter of Archers Review, Andrew Lehane at the recent NFAS national championships, unfortunately it was only a quick meeting as we were on a break from the competition, but it was more than enough time to see the enthusiasm Mike has for bow making and a quick glimpse of what he was capable of as he was shooting one of his own bows.
Having met many bowyers I can tell you their backgrounds tend to be as varied as the bows on offer, but Mike comes from a very interesting area because as well as stints as a game keeper and an engineer designing special-purpose machinery, his main occupation for the past 14 years or so has been as a boat builder, using both traditional and modern methods and to such a level that he now teaches students at the Boat Building Academy Lyme Regis in Southern England. Mike does have prior archery experience but it wasn't until 2014 that he rekindled that flame and it wasn't long before he was considering making a bow for himself, starting with a simple ash self bow. Without wanting to jump ahead it's actually remarkable that he is making bows of such quality with such a short time producing bows and it wasn't long before the ash self bow was being replaced by a recurve bow. For us mere mortals that would have been a trip to the shops but for Mike it was head first into making a form to make the limbs and bow himself. Anybody who has ever made a bow will know full well that the difference between producing basic self bows and recurves is one hell of a step up, but that of course is where years of working with similar materials in the boat building world has really paid off. We exchanged details at the champs and after a few emails Mike very kindly offered to lend us some of his bows so we could have a test and see what we thought.
First up is the Black Ven, possibly for a number of reasons the most advanced of the three bows we were sent to test and therefore a full showcase of Mike's talents as a craftsman and engineer. Mike describes this bow as a prototype, although that possibly hints at something unfinished, which this bow is definitely not. Although in essence it's a showcase of what's on offer as this bow, as all Mikes bows, are one off custom pieces, although obviously based around a central core bow design. There are two immediate things to notice that set this bow apart, firstly it's ambidextrous, here it's set up to be shot right handed, but the only thing needed to swap is to move the arrow pass material to the opposite side and it's ready to go for left hand archers. However this bow is also available in right or left handed versions, with a shelf cut close to, but not past centre, in that configuration it would meet the criteria for a flat bow in most classifications. The second thing to notice is that this bow is in fact a take down, the design brief was to produce a bow which offered excellent performance but was easy and compact to transport. There are a number of systems on the market for two piece bows, some more successful than others in implementation, however Mike manages to pull this one off from all angles given that it's easy to set up, no tools needed, it's stable and secure when in use and finally, and this is where many fail, it looks almost exactly the same as a one piece bow. You really would be hard pressed to know it was a two piece bow even on close inspection and in the hand as there is no noticeable additional weight. In this example you can see the composite handle, however you do have the option of a leather grip if you so wish. The system itself is a simple mortise and tenon joint, however the tenon is sheathed in fibreglass, this avoids any expansion differential in material types in the joint area.
All this technology does however not detract from the looks of the bow, it's beautifully finished and constructed, without wanting to labour the point more indications of Mike's craftsmanship credentials. The riser on this bow is shedua and bubinga with maple accents and it makes for a wonderful combination, however there is a bit more going on in there as it's been strengthened with a substantial G10 high pressure laminated fibre-glass spine. That's another one straight out of the boat builder's text book as G10 is used in marine applications due to its high strength and moisture resistance. The bow can be ordered with a different riser wood, although usual caveats about availability and suitability apply.
However it's the limbs, the real powerhouse of a bow that's going to actually be sending arrows down range and so all this work in the riser is ultimately a little secondary to what's going on there. The Black Ven limbs are faced with black Bo Tuff fibreglass laminations, under this is a layer of carbon which as we will see is where the performance of the bow ultimately comes from, finally the limb core is made from maple. The bow is a reflex/deflex design, this can be seen quite prominently when the bow is unstrung, however when strung it is less pronounced, but still visible as the limbs flick forward ever so slightly. The limb tips are matched to the riser with wood accents but also reinforced to allow for modern string materials.
Well after all of that technical information it's down to the nitty gritty and on to how the bow shoots. I had three Broome bows to test, the Black Ven, a flat bow and a recurve and so it was off to the woods for a full day of archery to test them all out. When I shoot bows I like to keep a few other bows on hand just to remind myself of what other bows feel like as it can be difficult to get a feel in isolation and you do tend to get a sort of tunnel vision without one. I won't mention the other bow because we have always tried to keep bows reviews independent and avoid direct comparisons but needless to say it was a bow I'm very well used to shooting and one I trust to perform to perfection, why this is relevant will become obvious later.
I suppose the first thing to mention is the grip section of the riser, I tend to shoot bows with a shelf and on the odd occasion I do shoot without one it tends to be on a bow which lacks power, an English longbow or some sort of primitive, however here the difference was obvious. Where normally on a hand shot bow I'd be taking a rather laxed approach to shooting I was quick to realise the Black Ven was something very different. It took a few minutes to find the right hand position, however that is aided by a rather obvious neck area which the hand finds easily, thus avoiding the perennial problem with hand shot bows, finding exactly the same position and height for the hand.
Drawing the bow is super smooth, it really didn't feel the 42# marked and so I checked with a decent and consistent set of bow scales, they indicated it was bang on the money. At 60" it's about right for my draw length and the poundage felt consistent through the whole draw to anchor, and in fact a little beyond. On release the arrow whizzed off at great speed and I was surprised to see it go a fair bit higher than I expected. Another few arrows and it was confirmed that was definitely the bow and not me, the carbon in the limbs was doing the job and this was as quick as any 42# flatbow I had shot. The bow is light in the hand, bumped up a little by the take down system but really not overly burdensome and only really noticeable because you know it's there.
The performance of the bow was excellent, little surprise really as it's using carbon in the limbs and that is where that little extra bit of speed is coming from. However carbon is not the only reason bows shoot well, the other elements all combine to make the shooting experience and this is where the Black Ven shines. Mike has blended the materials as only a craftsman can to deliver a superior shooting experience. I was done with the practice area and it was time to head off into the woods to do some proper shooting.
I spent the next couple of hours shooting the bow, it took little to no adjustment from my normal shooting as even at 42# it was similar enough to my normal 44# to produce the required results. The 60" length made it very mobile and even when shooting from cover it was easy to get around and take the shot. While I find that shooting with a shelf really does count from a consistency point of view I was surprised how well shooting from the hand was working. Perhaps it was the fact that this really is a high performance bow which is rarely packaged without a shelf. I've made a lot of the lack of shelf, but as mentioned it is an option on this bow, but it's good to know that there are good quality bows without them and I'm sure people used to shooting bows without a shelf will relish the opportunity to own one that performs as well as the Black Ven does.
The Black Ven really is a great bow and it's frankly mind blowing that Mike is producing this level of quality both in terms of construction and materials with only limited bow building experience. That in all honesty seems an unfair thing to say given it's obvious Mike is a master craftsman, be that boats or now in his new path as a bowyer. I can't wait to see what Mike does next, because what he is doing now with the Black Ven really is wonderful and a great addition to the UK bow scene.