American Leathers ‘Big Shot’ Glove

American Leathers is a small, family-owned business based in Idaho. They produce exceptional gloves and armguards for traditional archers and bowhunters.

I purchased a “Big Shot” archery glove from them about a year and a half ago, opting for the elk leather model. It has proven to be the best shooting glove I have ever owned. Of course, “best” is a highly subjective word, so let me explain why “best” in this case comes down to two primary factors for me:

Durability – This glove has served me through thousands of shots over the past year +, and I can honestly say that this glove is merely worn in, not even close to being worn out. Not all leather is created equal, and it is evident that American Leathers doesn’t just pick any old scrap to build their gloves, nor do they build them with cost-cutting in mind. Great attention is paid to glove assembly, based on thickness, grain and other inherent characteristics of various parts of the hide. In addition, the nylon tips haven’t begun to fray at all in this time. They continue to provide an extremely smooth, flawless release.

Fit: The folks at AL encourage the buyer to fax in a tracing of their hand. This way, they can ensure that the glove will fit the buyer’s hand perfectly. Expect that the glove will feel a little snug at first – it should. But with use, like all good leather, it will stretch and conform to the contours of your hand until it feels like it was custom-made for you. I have found  no awkward seams, or pinch points with this glove at all, as I have experience with some other, cheaper gloves. Another key detail – the wrist strap is deliberately angled to pull the glove on to your hand and keep it snug, rather than developing a loose, sloppy fit over time. It’s this sort of attention to detail that has sold me on the Big Shot glove.

The elk leather “Big Shot” glove from American Leathers.

The underside of the Big Shot glove, showing the reinforced finger stalls.

I have used a number of leather gloves with nylon stalls by other manufacturers in the past, and none of them have lasted more than a few months of frequent shooting without the tips starting to fray, the seams starting to part, etc. And none of them have proven to have the excellent fit and comfort of my Big Shot glove. Based on past experience, I would have gone through a couple lesser gloves in the past year, and the Big Shot shows no signs of wearing out any time soon. As a result, despite the higher initial cost, this glove has turned out to be a great value in the long run.

American Leathers offers several other options, include a full-coverage glove, bison and cowhide versions, and a neoprene glove (for bowfishing and really wet conditions). They also offer a nice kid’s glove/armguard combo for a very reasonable price (<$25). If you have a young, aspiring archer, do yourself a favor and purchase this high-quality combo, rather than the typical cheap junk found in big box sporting stores.

For those interested in learning more, there is a great profile of the American Leathers crew, and the extent of their fine attention to detail, in the Dec ’12/Jan ’13 issue of Traditional Bowhunter magazine.

All American Leathers products are handmade with pride in the USA.

(By the way, all American Leathers products should be occasionally treated with Montana Pitch Blend leather treatment)

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Asbell Wool Pullover

Note – We’ve been covering a number of tried and true items so far, but they’ve mostly been from bigger-name manufacturers. We’re now going to switch gears a bit, and over the next several posts, focus on lesser-known producers of excellent outdoor goods.

It’s hard to imagine something that reflects the “cottage industry” approach more than the products offered by the Asbells. All of their fantastic wool items are sewn by one woman, out of her home. Her name is Teresa Asbell, and she’s been producing high quality wool garments for over 30 years. Her husband is G. Fred Asbell, well-known in traditional archery circles as the author of several books on instinctive shooting and hunting. Together, the Asbells run a small online store, selling a handful of items that they have personally developed and use.

I have really come to love their hooded wool pullovers, and now own several. They are well-made, warm, and great for everything from hunting to hanging out. Handwarmer pockets and a roomy hood make this a layer one can truly “hunker down” in, if needed. Despite all the hi-tec fabrics available today, you still can’t beat wool for warmth, breathability and durability, coupled with performance when wet. And for hunting, there isn’t any fabric that is quieter and the retains less odor than good quality wool.

The versatile, handmade, Asbell hooded pullover.

Variations include a sleeveless, hooded version for milder weather, a full-zippered option, and a heavier weight, two-piece “Mackinaw” that consists of the pullover, and a separate shoulder/hood combo. A variety of plaid patterns, and a few solids colors, are available. For the quality – both of the wool itself, and of Theresa’s workmanship, these items are very reasonably priced ($50-$80), and may be the best deal in a versatile outdoor wool garment that can be found anywhere.

The wool that is used in the Asbell pullovers all comes from sheep raised in the US, and all labor involved is domestic (as an aside, I would recommend avoiding garments made of “recycled wool” – the process strips the wool of much of its natural lanolin coating, resulting in a fabric that is far less water and wind resistant).

You can see the variety of Asbell pullovers, and the rest of their great products – including some very interesting, reasonably-priced knives, at this link.

(p.s. – we hope you like this shift in focus, and please – since many of these types of items tend to “fly under the radar,” feel free to give us a heads-up if you know of a product that you think would qualify.)

Bear Kodiak Magnum

Traditional archery is seeing a bit of a resurgence these days, as some folks consciously decide to take a step back from the over-abundance of technology that has come to define so much of modern hunting. Whether simply for target practice or for serious game chasing, being able to accurately shoot a bow without range-finders, sight pins, stabilizers, mechanical triggers and all the other accoutrements of a modern compound arrow machine is a great skill to have, and just a heckuva lot of fun. One could also argue that while your effective range might be a bit shorter with a trad bow (which is where good stalking skills come into play), you are also choosing to shoot something with far fewer things to malfunction or break, and therefore an implement that is significantly more reliable – always a plus in the backcountry.

From the 1962 Bear Archery Catalog

It’s hard to imagine traditional archery, or archery in our day and age at all, without talking about the iconic Fred Bear. Along with other archery advocates of the mid-20th century, such as Damon Howatt, Ben Pearson, Art Laha and others, Fred Bear continues to personify the qualities of classic traditional woodsmanship. While there are many talented bowmakers working today, and more excellent choices in recurves and longbows than ever before, there will always be something special, and historically significant, about the traditional Bear bows that were built during Fred’s heyday.

My favorite Bear design would have to be the classic Kodiak Magnum, particularly those produced between the early ’60’s and early 70’s. A great bow for shorter draw lengths, and for use in a blind or tree stand, this snappy, hard-hitting 52″ recurve is one of the best-selling Bear models of all time, and the classic versions are still highly sought after and collected.  Yet one can still find vintage K-Mags on various online auction sites occasionally.

My beloved 1970 K-Mag

In my opinion, the quality of materials, and the craftsmanship, of Bear bows from that era represent the pinnacle of what Bear Archery has produced throughout its long history. If you are lucky enough to  find one of these bows that has been well-cared for, it will shoot every bit as well, and be just as effective of a hunting bow, as it was when it was made (I was lucky enough to find a pristine, 1970 K-Mag from the original owner for half of what a new one sells for).

You can find more information about the history of Bear Archery, and about collecting historical Bear products, at this link.