Norsemen Archery – a South African icon

By Rean Steenkamp

As the only bowyer in the country for 17 years, Derek Nourse and Norsemen Archery have become synonymous with traditional archery and bowhunting in South Africa. It can safely be said that 60 percent of all traditionalists in South Africa know of or have shot with a Norsemen bow.

Norsemen Archery was born out of a desire to stop wasting money, says Derek. He decided to take matters into his own hands when almost all the overseas bows he purchased broke within two years, including those made by well-known bow manufacturers. One of these was a recurve and lasted only two months before one of the limbs broke. The replacement lasted a mere three months before the same thing occurred. One of the bows did remain intact, but only because the limbs pulled to the side, which prevented Derek from shooting it. He returned it to the maker, who claimed he didn’t receive it and refused to pay compensation.

Derek then decided to build his own bows, reckoning he couldn’t do much worse and at least he would save on freight costs. He purchased a semi-finished longbow and completed it, only to have it delaminate in the riser shortly thereafter. Being a factory fault the bow was replaced, but the replacement exhibited the same problem and also had to be replaced. Four bows later Derek was still experiencing problems. One of the bows was completely useless and not only delaminated in the riser (which he could not repair), but also pulled to the side. Another did the same, so Derek shortened it to make it serviceable, although this alteration made it a 100-pound bow.

Derek shot the bow regularly for a while but says its poor craftsmanship made it unpleasant to shoot and a real ‘beast’. The fifth bow finally proved satisfactory. Derek did manage to repair three of the problem bows.

These difficulties introduced him to the good and bad characteristics of bows and readied him to start building his own bows from scratch. From here things could only improve.
Derek started off with a jig for a longbow. An acquaintance had recently purchased a bow at an auction, which Derek recognised as the third longbow he had made. It was in excellent condition and only needed a string.

After the third longbow Derek tried his hand at a 66-inch recurve. Although this design didn’t change much over the years, that of the longbow did when a fire destroyed Derek’s first jig and he had to start all over again. The new form was better, however, as he remembered the shape of the original, but improved on it. He then made a third form, which was a further improvement on the second.

Next Derek made a jig for a takedown longbow. The sleeves he imported were poorly made, however, which made it difficult to fit them together without any play in between. Derek eventually made contact with Jack Harrison, who felt that the sleeves were not worth using and decided to make an improved version. He designed the sleeves so that the male and female each had the same taper, which enabled the two parts to slide together, giving a tight fit without any play. Derek says Jack’s system is extremely strong and the finest available.

Derek makes a SANIFAA-compliant longbow, a hunting longbow and a takedown longbow. He also makes three different recurves, a 56-inch, 66-inch and a 62-inch takedown.

Derek has made bows for some well-known names in South African and American archery. His bows are excellently designed, shoot fast and accurately, draw smoothly and look good. What more can one ask for?
Derek can be contacted at 083 661 2173 or 031 904 1173.

Clockwise from top left: 66-inch recurve; 64-inch bamboo-carbon longbow; take-down recurve of 62 inches, a 68-inch NIFAA compliant longbow and a 56-inch recurve.
Derek posing with one of the 56-inch recurves he made.
A beautiful 56-inch recurve made by Derek Nourse, but with a different riser.
A 68-inch take-down longbow with bamboo and carbon laminations.