Making a Bow and Arrow for Bow Hunting

How to home craft primitive bow hunting equipment.

| May/June 1984

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    Bow terminology.
    ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The shaft is the body of the arrow, without the fletching and point. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Any archery fan can add more enjoyment to the sport by making a bow and arrow. 
    PHOTO: TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Fletching gives the arrow stability in flight. The nock in the back of the arrow receives the bowstring. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Rasp
    Use a rasp to work the handle down to a size and shape that feel comfortable in your hand. Thin and taper the limbs gradually toward the bow tips. There is no one best size or shape for a traditional American Indian bow, but strength and aesthetics should be taken into account.
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Staves
    If you're careful, you can split two usable bow staves from a single sapling of about 1" diameter. In the right hands, a larger sapling or limb can be split into four staves. All subsequent shaping must be done with abraders; whittling can weaken the wood and may cause nicks.
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow C-Clamp
    To put the curve in a recurved bow . . . boil the bow tip for four hours, then place it over the convex side of a 2 X 4 form. Lock the tip in place with a C clamp, then bend the limb around the form and lock it down with a second clamp. Allow at least 24 hours before removing the clamp
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Limb Pull
    With the basic shaping of the bow completed, it's time to check the evenness of limb-pull. Tie a stout cord from end to end of the bow, place your bare foot on the handle, and pull up gently. If one limb is stronger than the other, carefully abrade away belly wood until the limbs pull evenly.
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Sinew Fibers
    The two ingredients necessary to sinew back a bow are sinew fibers from the leg or back tendons of animals, and hide glue (which can be prepared from raw materials or purchased). After the tendon bundles are dried and pounded, they will separate into individual strands. 
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Applied Sinew
    To apply sinew, first rough up the back of the bow to provide a good gripping surface for the glue. Wet the sinew strands, soak them in hide glue, then apply them in parallel rows until the entire back of the bow is covered. Allow the glue to dry, and then apply two more layers.
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Tail
    Arrow fletching.
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Shaft
    Arrow shaft. 
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Head
    Make arrowheads from steel, stone or bone. 
    TOM BROWN JR./MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 087-164-01-im2
  • 087-164-01-im3
  • 087-164-01-im1
  • 087-164-01-im9
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Rasp
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Staves
  • Making a Bow And Arrow C-Clamp
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Limb Pull
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Sinew Fibers
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Applied Sinew
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Tail
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Shaft
  • Making a Bow And Arrow Head

I'm an ardent primitive hunter. That is, I pursue game as the American Indians did: I pick up an animal's trail, identifying species, size, and (sometimes) sex . . . stalk the prey to within pulse-quickening distance . . . and bring it down with a well-placed arrow.

Now bow hunting is a challenge in itself, but the experience can be further enhanced by making a bow and arrow, using—as far as possible—the same materials, tools, and techniques that have been employed by bowyers for millennia. Of course, any number of excellent bows are available on the market today, but it's my opinion that no factory-made item can match the look and feel of a handcrafted bow.

I've fashioned many different types of bows, each designed to fit a special hunting need: short, highly reflexed, sinew-backed weapons like those developed by the American Plains Indians . . . long, recurved wooden bows in the style of those used by Eastern Woodlands Indians . . . English longbows . . . and models that borrow features from several other types.

As a professional tracker, stalker, and close-range hunter (I teach these skills for a living), I prefer a bow that's recurved like an Eastern Woodlands model but shorter, with sinew backing—for strength and longevity—and a twisted-sinew bowstring. Shorter bows are easier to handle when I'm stalking through heavy brush and making close shots with a minimum of elbowroom. For rainy-day hunting, however, I'm frequently forced to use a longer recurved bow that's fitted with a plant-fiber bowstring, which resists moisture-induced stretching. For bow fishing, on the other hand, I prefer a longish self—or straight—bow.



Of course, most folks can't afford the luxury of owning three different bows . . . unless they make the weapons. So I'm going to tell you how to construct your own archery tackle, using (for the most part) the techniques of the American Indians . . . with frequent hints on how to speed up the process when you're in a hurry. Keep in mind that we're not going to be covering the making and use of survival bows, which are a different breed. Those weapons can be cobbled together quickly and easily from whatever materials may come to hand, and they're suited only to very close-range shooting. Rather, this discussion will concern the crafting of precision weapons: high-quality bows that take a while to produce, but that will reward your patience and effort with years of reliable accuracy.

Some of the techniques may sound a bit difficult, but don't let the fear of making an error keep you from trying your hand at them. The raw materials needed are inexpensive or free, and experience is a great teacher . . . so read on, jump right in, and make a few beginner's mistakes, if need be. Keep at it, and you'll become proficient in the bowyer's ancient art. I'm certain you'll be glad you did.






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