Albany’s Jim Babcock and his wife, Barbara, display trophy kills from a hunting trip to the southern African
nation of Namibia. An avid outdoorsman, Babcock custom-makes longbows and arrows at his southeast
Dougherty County Big Jim’s Bow Co., which are shipped all over the world.
ALBANY, Ga. -- He may be too genuine for television's inexplicable infatuation with trash Southern "reality TV" characters, but Hollywood is missing out on the real deal with Jim Babcock.
Born in, of all places, Albany, Minnesota, Babcock -- affectionately known as "Big Jim" because, well, he's a bear of a man -- has the heart of a pioneering outdoorsman and the soul of an artist, which manifests itself in the creation of stunningly beautiful longbows at his southeast Dougherty County Big Jim's Bow Co.
Babcock, with the help of his wife Barbara -- herself a true belle of the South Georgia outdoors -- has shipped the bows he handcrafts in a customized shop he built adjacent to the couple's breathtaking log cabin and arrows he and Barbara build together to Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Dubai, Taiwan, Singapore and Canada.
Big Jim's has also shipped bows to pretty much all 50 states ... and those are the places Babcock can think of off the top of his head.
"We custom-make the bows and the arrows, build them to order," Babcock said of Big Jim's business plan. "There are a few local folks who come to our place for their bows, but mostly we sell through our website (bigjimsbowcompany.com) or at shows.
"There are traditional longbow enthusiasts all across the country. A good number of them are hunters, but there are plenty who just enjoy shooting these bows. We'll set up our displays at 17 shows this season, some of which will draw as many as 7,000 people."
Just as they did over this past weekend, Barbara and Big Jim pack their display tent and rows and rows of merchandise to sell to enthusiasts at various state longbow competitions: from bows to arrows to feathers to gloves to targets to just about any archery accessory an enthusiast can think of ... plus others they can't.
The Babcocks traveled to Rocks Pond, S.C., early Friday and returned home late Sunday. They'll make treks over the next six months -- in the down time between the open and close of hunting seasons -- to Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They'll attend three shows in Georgia as well as host their own in August.
Jim Babcock grew up in Albany, Minn., (pop. 1,701) and from as far back as he can remember he spent most of his time hunting or fishing. He decided his calling in life was as an outdoors guide, and after working a private circuit into his 20s, he discovered a school in Illinois that offered a wildlife management degree. He went through the program and was sent to serve an internship initially in Arizona.
"They wanted to send you somewhere you weren't familiar, but in Arizona it quickly became apparent that I knew more about hunting pheasant than the people I was supposed to learn from," Babcock said. "So they sent me to plantations in North Georgia (Monticello and McDonough), and after I completed my internship I worked from plantation to plantation in the state."
It was while working for a period at Senah Plantation in Lee County that Babcock grew tired of the on-and-off employment and started a construction company. He built carports and installed metal roofing for a decade before returning to his passion: the outdoors.
"Before I ever built my first longbow, I knew I could do it," Babcock said. "I'd always hunted with compound bows, but I got tired of them. I was looking for a greater challenge, and about two months into hunting with a longbow, I knew I'd never hunt with a compound bow again.
"With a compound bow, you've really got to do things wrong to miss. It quit being a challenge. With the traditional bows, there's a greater amount of skill involved. I decided to try my hand at building and selling longbows."
As Babcock's reputation for building unique bows from the world's most beautiful and exotic woods grew, and the construction business became "more fickle," he and Barbara -- whom he met 10 years ago at a Harley-Davidson dealership and has been with since -- made the gutsy decision to turn Big Jim's Bow Co. into their life's work.
"There's a lot of work involved, but this is our passion," Barbara Babcock said. "I never really thought I'd get this kind of opportunity, but this is something I always saw myself doing.
"One of the great things about the business is that we get the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people."
The Babcocks met a man in Alabama who owned the business that would eventually become Big Jim's, and even when that gentleman decided his hobby had outgrown him, his asking price for the business was too steep for the Babcocks. Finally, though, in the depths of the Great Recession, John Sullivan decided to let the Babcocks sell his remaining inventory out of their venture, and Big Jim's became reality.
In addition to providing Babcock an opportunity to create some of the most amazing bows from blocks of wood he keeps in his shop, owning Big Jim's has inadvertantly created another significant perk for the Babcocks. With money still tight as they "make a living" from their business, both have had to curtail the hunting trips that they've always loved so well. However, they get more invites from satisfied customers than they could ever hope to fill.
A connection with a friend in Namibia allowed the Babcocks to take a dream hunting trip to the southern African nation, where they killed a zebra, a warthog, a giraffe, an eland, a springbok and a waterbok.
"That was an amazing adventure," Barbara Babcock said. "They have different hunting laws there; what game you can shoot is up to individual landowners."
The Babcocks also help their Namibian friend sell African hunting excursions through Big Jim's.
Touring his workshop with Jim Babcock is truly seeing a man in his element. He offers detailed descriptions of every block of wood he has in stock and shows off some of the most intricate -- and beautifully crafted -- designs on bows that are in various stages of completion. Babcock is as at peace in that shop as he is out in the wild, stalking prey with one of his bows.
"I feel at home (in the South); I don't really see coming here (from Minnesota) as a big adjustment," he says. "In a couple of years, I will have been here as long as I lived in Minnesota anyway. I'm not going to necessarily get rich doing this, but I've found my passion and I get to meet and hang out with some pretty amazing people.
"I can't imagine what more anyone could want."