Vince Smith shot a rhinoceros.
Smith used a rubber-blunted arrow so he wouldn’t hurt the animal.
The thick-skinned animal didn’t even shutter when the arrow hit and bounced off.
But the rhino next to him charged at Smith.
“Lie down; He can’t see you,” Smith’s professional hunting guide said. “They have terrible vision.”
So Smith followed suit.
The charging rhino came very close, looking for the Fremont man in the grasses of South Africa.
It would be yet another interesting situation for the local bowyer.
More than a dozen years later, Smith reminisced about this and other adventures that occurred after he began building bows and arrows.
Smith owns Lonesome Wind Custom Bows, LLC, in Fremont. On average, he makes 25 to 30 bows and 60 dozen arrows a year. He made 80 bows in his best year.
He sells his custom bows at trade shows and has a Facebook page.
“I have bows all over the U.S., Australia, the UK (United Kingdom), Europe and Africa,” Smith said, adding that he’s also shipped bows to the Middle East and Korea.
He sent one to Germany and won for the best type of that bow in Europe.
Smith teaches bow- and arrow-making and is a certified archery instructor. He’s a past and current president of the Nebraska Traditional Archers group and served on the national board of the Compton Traditional Bow Hunters from 2008-2016.
In his basement shop, Smith builds laminated bows, which consist of strips of fiberglass with wooden core material. He also makes self bows from a single piece of wood. He makes wood, aluminum and carbon arrows.
Smith’s adventures in bow-making began years ago.
Originally from Blair, Smith grew up with a craftsman — his gunsmith dad, William, builds custom rifles.
“I learned from a very young age what quality and craftsmanship was,” he said. “I would help my father with what I could on custom guns.”
Smith was 18 when he began shooting shotguns competitively. A year later, he and his wife, Dede, married. He was 20 when he and Dede had their first child, Becky. They later became parents to a son, Ethan.
With a young, growing family, Smith didn’t have the money to compete in shotgun sports so he took up archery in 1994.
Someone gave him a compound bow with cams and wheels and he began going to 3D shoots with targets.
He found that guys shooting with old-style bows seemed to be having fun, while those with the modern compound bows were so serious about their scores.
That’s when Smith started shooting with the guys with the old-style bows and asked where they got their arrows. They directed him to John Schafer of Schafer Traditional Archery.
Smith said Schafer sold him the needed materials to build a set of wooden arrows — and he worked a long time on them — but they didn’t work right. So he returned to Schafer, who gave him another set. Those didn’t work right either.
This time, Smith was angry when he returned to Schafer’s shop.
But he learned something. The arrows he made weren’t the right ones for his bow.
And — in fact — they were a test.
Smith said Schafer had heard about his craftsmanship and tested him with those arrows.
Then Schafer offered him a job.
An Omaha police officer, Schafer said he didn’t have time to build the arrows.
“I was flabbergasted,” Smith said. “I went from never shooting a traditional bow to being an arrow maker for a shop. I went from never having built a wooden arrow to building 150 dozen my first year.”
At the same time, Smith was working as a maintenance man at the former Platte Chemical Co., in Fremont.
Smith said he spent a year building arrows, before Schafer handed him the keys to the shop. Before that, the shop didn’t have set hours, Smith said.
Schafer told him to set the hours. So after he’d get off work at Platte Chemical at 3:30 p.m., Smith opened the shop.
“I would keep it open until 9 at night and then on Saturday I would open at 9 and close at 3,” Smith said.
Smith said he and Schafer traveled to shoots around the Midwest.
One night, Smith noticed three unfinished bows in the shop. He took them home and stayed up all night finishing them.
Schafer looked at the bows and said it was time to teach Smith how to build them.
So Smith started building them in 1999.
The two eventually parted ways and Smith began building bows in his basement in 2001, acquiring equipment as he could afford it.
“John gave me a great foundation,” Smith said. “He taught me the mechanics of a bow — how a bow bends, why you make changes here and there.”
He would learn from other bow makers — called bowyers.
“It’s a great fraternity,” he said.
Smith began by making laminated bows with strips of fiberglass and a core material of bamboo, which are glued together with special epoxy.
Bows are made on a form. After a bow comes off the form, the bowyer grinds the bow blank to the desired width. More cutting, grinding and other work is involved, before a string is attached and the bow is tested.
“Any bowyer worth his salt will have a notebook with recipes,” Smith said. “This tells you what combinations make what pound (weight) bow. The more accurate your recipes, the easier it is to build a bow.”
Smith has three notebooks hanging on a wall in his basement.
“Every single bow I’ve ever built is in these three notebooks,” he said.
He’s put 80 hours into some of the laminated bows he’s built.
After he mastered the art of building laminated bows, Smith turned to self bow. These are bows carved from a single piece of wood. There are no recipes for these types of bows.
Smith teaches a two-day bow-making class for the Nebraska Traditional Archers once a year at the Izaak Walton gun lodge. Anyone is welcome. He only charges for the wood, not to teach the class. The next class is set for July 20-21. Smith teaches kids and adults. He’s had as many as 50 students and as few as five in a class.
“My favorite is to have parents and children,” Smith said.
Smith stresses the importance of getting women involved.
“It’s easy to get guys interested, but if we can women interested, that’s where it’s at,” he said. “If you can get a girlfriend or a wife interested in archery, her husband and children are much more likely to stay with it.”
Smith said archery is a way people can do things together and enjoy the outdoors without the electronics.
“You never have to hunt,” he said. “There’s tons of opportunities to just go shoot a bow. It’s a great activity to do with your significant other.”
Or other family members.
Smith tells how a woman brought her son, who has autism, to a bow-making class. She was so impressed with her son’s focus on the project that she wanted a bow, too. Knowing there wouldn’t be time for her to make a bow in the class, Smith made one for her — in two hours.
Another time, a man who is blind picked up one of Smith’s bows at a trade show.
“He ran his hands down it and said, ‘This is beautiful craftsmanship. Help me shoot it. I want to know if it shoots as good as it feels,’” Smith recalled.
Smith went to a shooting range with the man.
“Point me in the right direction and stand behind me. I’ll pull the string back and you tell me where to aim,” the man said.
The first arrow missed its target, but the man’s skills improved.
“We shot a few arrows and he got to where he could really hit — with me guiding him,” Smith said, adding, “I gave him a really good deal on the bow.”
Smith’s seen the benefits of bow-making.
“I’ve met so many great people doing this,” he said.
Now 51 years old, Smith hopes to turn Lonesome Wind into a full-time business by the time he’s 60.
“I’ve come up with some new designs lately and, hopefully, that’s going to help catapult me where I want to be,” he said.
Smith also hopes to grow the Nebraska Traditional Archers into a bigger group — which has two shoots a year at Hormel Park —and to pass on his passion to future generations. He proudly shows a photograph of his two granddaughters, Emmi, 3, and Maggie, 1, with bows.
And he reflects on that long-ago trip to Limpopo, South Africa and the charging rhino.
“If you think that’s a big animal at the zoo try being a few feet away,” he said.
As Smith laid in the grass, the rhino came just a short distance from him, but then the animal walked away.
Smith doesn’t advise anyone else to do what he did, but adds a humorous part of the story.
His professional hunter took a photo of Smith and sent it to his wife with a message saying, “Your husband shot a rhino. You owe me $60,000.”
Smith’s wife, who picked up on the joke, returned her own message.
“Keep him,” she wrote, referring to her husband.
Smith smiled as he told the story.
It was one more anecdote to add to his collection of bows, arrows and memories.