SEBASTIAN, Texas — Rudy Garza has a thing about strings, and they weave their way through his life.
The Valley Morning Star reports Garza, 85, was a musician playing the 12-string bajo sexto with the father of Tex-Mex conjunto, Narciso Martinez, and other top performers.
In fact, he says, perhaps the pinnacle of his music career was being invited to play at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to showcase conjunto music, the toe-tapping, accordion-driven sound that was born in north Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.
"They didn’t know what a bajo sexto was," Garza recently recalled at his shop, Eagles Nest Archery. "It looks like a guitar, but it’s two instruments in one. It’s a guitar and a bass in one.
"We had a guy from Japan over here. He came down and wanted to know about it," Garza recalled. "I explained this to him, and that, and he said ‘there are too many strings’ and he left."
Like that Japanese visitor, Garza also said goodbye to 12 strings.
Now he obsesses on just one string, and its sharp "thwickk!" as it powers an arrow downrange.
"My dad was an avid hunter, but with a rifle. We went hunting, but I got to the point that you don’t feel the excitement to take an animal at 200 to 300 yards," Garza said.
As a younger man, he had a little recurve bow he practiced with. One day, his brother-in-law told him, "’Hey Rudy, there’s gonna be a demonstration in Mercedes. Wanna go?’" he recalled.
"Yeah, I wanna go!"
Garza said the bowman from Donna had a fancy bow with a sight. ("At that time I didn’t know anything about bows," he says.)
"He was hitting that little dot at close range, but to me, it was excitement. I say, ‘Hey, he’s good. He’s good!’"
Inspired, Garza said he returned home, filled up a gallon water jug, and commenced to firing in the backyard.
"I used to shoot at it, 10 arrows, and I hardly hit one out of 10," he said. "But I was determined to learn."
Then in the mid-1980s, Garza said he lost his job with a drug company. He couldn’t find another one.
He had been working on the side with a local archer and helping him with his arrows and other equipment, said his wife, Mary. That’s when the idea of opening their own archery shop came to them.
"So he kept saying, shall we open it? Shall we open it?" she recalled. "I told him, if you don’t open it, you’ll never find out."
In 1985, Eagles Nest Archery was born.
Running an archery shop is more than selling equipment. Both Garzas attended classes at PSE Archery, one of the giants of the American industry, to learn the basics about bows and to become certified on bow repair and construction.
Since then, Rudy Garza has become an international expert on arrows. He crafts primitive arrows out of wood (modern arrows are made of carbon fiber), and naps flint and obsidian to make arrowheads the way Native Americans did thousands of years ago. Fletching for the arrows comes from turkey feathers.
He’s proud of continuing that ancient legacy, but he’s also adept at building the best when it comes to modern carbon arrows.
One of the oddest requests was from South Africa, where a big-game hunter wanted to take a record cape buffalo with a bow. What he needed was a custom arrow to take down a legendarily tough, 2,000-pound animal.
"Hoyt (a major bow manufacturer) built him a special bow with a draw weight of 110 pounds, but they couldn’t find any arrows that would stand that poundage," Rudy Garza said.
Arrow weights are measured in grains, with an ounce being 437.5 grains.
He told Rudy Garza that to get the proper permit to take a cape buffalo with a bow, he had to have an arrow that weighed at least 900 grains, which is three to four times what an average arrow weighs.
"What I did was, I had to put one arrow inside the other one to make that arrow weigh so many grains," Rudy Garza said.
The customer came to Sebastian to pick up those 18 special arrows, and then returned to Johannesburg.
Rudy Garza said the hunter did get his buffalo, but after waiting three months for the skull to dry and shrink, it measured just short of being an official Pope and Young archery record for a cape buffalo.
"We’ve had customers from Puerto Rico, France, and over here, from California, Minnesota, Arkansas and Kansas," Rudy Garza said.
"Mostly it’s for arrows, because we specialize in arrows.
"How they get my number, we don’t know," he said. "But we will do what they ask for. That’s what we do."
For Rudy Garza, it’s enough to keep the strings of his life playing.