Name: Jim Dattilio Town: South Burlington Job: Bow Technician
At 9:30 a.m. midweek at Dattilio's Discount Guns & Tackle, owner Jim Dattilio has been troubleshooting problems with a customer's hunting bow for more than two hours. The second of two bow-and-arrow seasons doesn't start until December 6, but the customer, Dale Adams, needs a string repaired for an upcoming bow hunt in Illinois. Though rifle season starts the coming weekend and Dattilio's phone is ringing constantly, he'll end up spending more than three hours to ensure that Adams' arrows fly straight.
Dattilio, 56, is South Burlington's hunting and fishing jack-of-all-trades. For decades, hunters of all stripes have come to his shop inside a Sunoco station on Shelburne Road, a colorful place cluttered with fly reels, fishing nets, lures, ammo boxes and crossbows hanging on hooks. One aisle features such supplies as coon urine, musket caps, scent killer and a decoy called the Estrus Betty Peeing Doe.
Dattilio sells rods, bait and lures, bore sights, rifles, bows and scopes. He buys and sells firearms and provides other goods and services to the local hook-and-bullet crowd. But his specialty is repairing compound bows — a rare skill these days, he says.
In a room that was once the gas station's garage, Dattilio instructs Adams to shoot an arrow point-blank at a paper target. Adams draws the string and fires, sending the arrow through the paper and into a nearby backstop. Dattilio inspects the hole and frowns. It's a long, jagged tear, not the clean puncture he likes to see when "paper-tuning" a bow.
"Could it be the biscuit?" Adams asks warily.
"Could be the biscuit," Dattilio answers, making adjustments.
The biscuit is a round, bristled rest that holds the arrow in place before it's shot. Because this one's "whiskers" are worn, the arrow wobbles midflight. So Dattilio removes it and installs a new rest, then tells Adams to fire another arrow. After a half dozen shots and subsequent tweaks, the arrows consistently hit their mark.
"See how we got a perfect hole? It's got to be the biscuit," Dattilio says.
"It can't be the biscuit, Jim. I love the biscuit," Adams complains.
"Well, if you want the biscuit, your arrow's gonna be fucked up all the time when it flies out of there," Dattilio says. "For the record."
"If Jimmy Dattilio sets up your bow," Adams says to me, "you know it's dead on."
Dattilio, a South Burlington native and lifelong hunter, initially taught himself to fix bows by necessity. At age 16, he bought a new TSS Quadraflex — "the first split-limb bow in the state of Vermont," he boasts. But when it needed a new string, Dattilio waited in a local sporting goods store for more than an hour before the salesman noticed him.
"Finally he turns around and says, 'Nice bow,' then hands it back to me and says, 'Take it back to the place you bought it and let them put the string on,'" Dattilio recalls. From that day forward, Dattilio did all his own repairs, occasionally asking family and friends for help.
Dattilio has owned his shop since 1981. He used to work on cars there — hence the location — until one day he scored a good deal on wholesale fishing lures. Selling bait, rods and tackle, and then guns and ammunition, soon supplanted his car-repair business.
According to one old-timer waiting to buy ammo, Dattilio's shop hasn't changed in decades. Dattilio still works with his 80-year-old dad, Vince, who's a dead ringer for Johnny Carson's onetime sidekick, Ed McMahon. The two men can often be heard railing against Obama, property taxes, tree huggers and flatlanders who buy up whole mountainsides and then prohibit hunting.
"All the hunters in this state are going to other states to hunt," Dattilio complains. "There are some nice deer in Vermont, but they're few and far between."
Despite the flood of hunters angling for Dattilio's time and expertise last week, he agreed to answer this nonhunter's questions while he worked.
SEVEN DAYS: Are you seeing more women getting into bow hunting?
JIM DATTILIO: A few women are getting into it.
SD: I thought The Hunger Games would've made a difference.
JD: The Hunger Games did make a difference. Sure as hell did.
SD: Have bows changed much since you started working on them?
JD: Definitely. The limbs are more parallel on them. The aluminum is stronger. They're lighter, stronger, faster and quieter.
SD: What's the best part of your job?
JD: Working with my father. And then going out and getting to test a lot of this stuff in the field. The No. 1 ingredient for being successful in hunting is having time. You need time to bag the big buck. I only get bits and pieces of the day.
SD: What's the most unusual problem you've dealt with?
JD: My most unusual one would be this guy who got out of prison and says, "I need a bow. Can you fix mine?" It was in pieces. He says, "If you can't fix it, I'll take one of yours and bring it back when I'm done." I knew if I let him out of here with my bow, I'd never see him again. So I told him, "You come in here, but you're gonna have to wait." It was the day before bow season opened. And back in the '80s and '90s, this place was mobbed. There were a lot more people hunting in this state than today. So the kid stood here from 6 a.m. until 1 a.m. the next morning. I made him a bow out of leftover parts. Sure enough, he was only out for a short time.
SD: Out hunting?
JD: No, out of the pen. He might have hunted a little that year, but then went back in [prison]. He just came back this year to say hi.