Catching up to a Bozeman bow-maker.
Charging along the ridge above Bridger Bowl, I struggled to keep up with Chester Floyd. From the top of the ridge, we stopped to gaze south, past town, toward acres upon acres of wild and public land. Between deep breaths he exclaimed, “This is exactly why I live here,” and then he left me in his dust.
Five years ago, Chester decided to move his business from Wisconsin to Montana because of the ample opportunities to hunt and recreate across the Treasure State. In a small woodshop off Main Street, Chester crafts custom traditional bows under the moniker RER, River’s Edge Recurves.
River’s Edge Recurves was originally founded in northern Wisconsin by the TerMaat family. While searching for a new bow, Chester developed a relationship with the TerMaats and decided to apprentice as a bower, eventually purchasing the business and moving to Montana.
Entering his shop, prospective clients are greeted by a wall that would normally showcase finished bows. However, there is just one waiting to be picked up. “They are selling as fast as I can make them. Right now, I’m booked out for months.”
Business hasn’t always been so good. After initially moving to Bozeman, Chester worked as a fishing guide by day and a bower by night. As a new Montana business, it took RER a couple seasons to reach a new clientele.
Training for The Rut, and for fall's backcountry hunts
But now, after only three years in town, he has already outgrown his space. In Chester’s woodshop, there is the steady hum of sanders and the smell of resin and sawdust. The wooden blanks for new bows spill from the corner and machines are crammed across the floor.
Crafting each bow can take Chester up to ten hours over the course of three days. Starting from thin strips of wood, he bends, sands, and shapes each bow to a custom fit for each archer. By the time they are finished and polished, these bows are unique works of art. Yet, their place isn’t above the mantel, but rather miles in the backcountry, where you’ll find Chester come opening day.
A custom packable bow for those heading off the beaten path
“I want to be able to hunt from a ridge I see in the distance, to travel further back than most hunters are willing to go,” says Chester. Thanks to a chance meeting, Chester is now fit enough and inspired to hunt further off the beaten path. When Mike Wolfe, a North Face athlete and founder of The Mountain Project, walked through the door to order a custom bow, Chester found himself intrigued because Mike was looking for a bow he could take along on his run.
While crafting this breakdown bow, Chester was invited to Mike’s gym for mountain athletes. For the last year, Chester has found himself working out two mornings a week at Mountain Project’s Hunting Conditioning class. With Mike’s encouragement, Chester is now just a few days away from running his first ultramarathon at The Rut, in Big Sky. “I asked Mike how I should train and he prescribed lots and lots of Baldy laps.”
No wonder he could drop me on the ridge.
As summer in Bozeman draws to a close, you can see Chester’s excitement radiate from his broad smile. On a recent run to Mystic Lake, his nose was in the air sniffing each scent of musk—bow season is coming.
"Smell that? It's almost bow season."
While Chester is waiting for opening day, stop by his shop, glance at his latest creation, and hear a few tales from the high country. Once elk season starts, he’ll be gone until his freezer is full and the only way to see his work will be at rerbows.com.