Making a Bow and Arrow for Bow Hunting

How to home craft primitive bow hunting equipment.

| May/June 1984

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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