Chickasaw craftsman stalks deer with homemade bow and arrows

BY GENE LEHMANN, For The Oklahoman Published: September 28, 2013
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What do white-tailed deer and bois d'arc trees have in common?

Wayne Walker of Ada, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, hunts both. His ability to locate one is tied to harvesting the other.

Oklahoma's lengthy deer archery season opens Tuesday, and Walker will be hunting this fall with a self-made bow he fashioned from a bois d'arc tree. Flint arrowheads, intertwined with artificial sinew, will be affixed to seasoned river cane to form the projectile.

Walker's craft reflects a time almost 500 years before European traders swapped flintlock muskets for fur, hides and other goods possessed by the Chickasaw Nation.

His quest is the same as his ancestors — making bows and arrows to feed a family in the winter, making them with pride and patience to equip the hunter with the necessary tools for survival.

“When we (Chickasaws) began trading for guns, the bow and arrow became obsolete and the art of using them skillfully was almost lost,” Walker said. “Chickasaws were feared for their archery skills. Their bows were prized by tribes throughout the ancestral lands. Back then, capturing a Chickasaw bow would be like winning the lottery today.”

Since 1995, Walker has been making traditional Chickasaw bows and arrows in addition to flint knives, stickball mallets, and blunted arrows for harvesting squirrel and rabbit. He even fashions arrowheads from metal to illustrate how contact with traders influenced the ancient Chickasaws.

Walker, 54, does not make bows to sell.

“If you're making a bow for a friend, relative or grandchild, your heart is in it,” he said. “You take your time and worry about the smallest detail. You want it to be perfect.”

When deer season opens, Walker plans to hunt with two friends in the woods near Wapanucka in their quest for venison using bows and arrows manufactured in the ancient tradition. They will camp in a hunting lodge and pursue their quarry from dawn to dusk.

It will mark the first time in four years Walker has hunted.

“It is difficult to find places to hunt these days,” he said. “Landowners have discovered hunting leases are a profitable business. It isn't like the days of my youth when most everyone would welcome you on to their property provided you tended to the resource as if it belonged to you.

“My friend has practiced with the bow I made for him. He feels he is ready now. I, too, believe I am ready to hunt again as my ancestors hunted hundreds of years ago.”

He also will have an eye peeled for a straight, limbless trunk of a bois d'arc tree to make his next bow. The tree must be about five to six feet long. It must be straight and not twisted by the never-ending Oklahoma wind.

Finding one is more difficult than it sounds.

“I've walked all day long searching for the perfect tree,” Walker said. “I'll be searching creek banks where a group of bois d'arc trees are growing.