Friday, 8 June 2012
How to Make and Use Bows and Arrows
How to Make and Use Bows and Arrows
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From The American Boy magazine, April 1911. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, June 2012.
MOST boys who are fond of the woods and outdoor life have an instinctive desire to get back to primitive conditions, and scarcely a boy can be found who at some time or other has not "played Indian." While many of the Redman's traits and habits are scarcely to be recommended as an example, yet the self-reliance, healthy life and knowledge of woodlore and nature brought about by imitating the savage are most beneficial.
Even if the outdoors boy does not act the part of the Indian he will find added pleasure and interest in his woodland life if he learns to make his own weapons and implements, his own fishing tackle and camps and can fashion his own moccasins and clothing from skins tanned by himself and obtained through his personal prowess as a hunter or trapper.
Almost any boy can become a good shot with rifle or shotgun, and with modern arms very little skill is required to hunt and kill ordinary game, and the habit of always carrying a gun or rifle in the woods and blazing away at every living creature cannot be too strongly condemned. Unnecessary slaughter is cruel, wasteful and unsportsmanlike, and with modern weapons the advantage is all on the side of the hunter. Although a sort of savage instinct causes us to enjoy hunting, yet the real pleasure is in the chase itself and not in the actual killing. Hunting is the best of training for body, mind and eye, but far more real pleasure may be obtained by using bow and arrows for weapons than by the use of your up-to-date gun. The boy who hunts with bow and arrows and depends upon matching his own skill and cunning against that of his quarry gets far more enjoyment and benefit from his hunt than his friend with the gun, and gives his prey a fair show besides. Moreover, wild creatures hunted with bow and arrows seldom become shy or wild, even if shot at repeatedly, whereas the report of a gun soon frightens all the game within hearing.
Even if you do not hunt, a good bow and arrows will lend added pleasure to your out-of-door life, for target shooting at imitation animals can be made quite interesting and exciting.
Many of my readers may scoff at the idea of using a bow and arrow, for nowadays these implements have come to be regarded as mere toys or playthings by most people. You should not forget that the bow was the most important weapon of our ancestors for many centuries, and that the prowess of the English archers won many a hard-fought battlefield and laid the foundation for the great British Empire. Even our pioneer forefathers found the Indian bows and arrows dangerous weapons, while at the present time many tribes depend entirely upon the bow for hunting. Archery reached its highest development in the days of Robin Hood and the English bowmen, and while the stories of their deeds are doubtless greatly exaggerated, there is no question of the remarkable skill acquired by many of the British archers.
It is an easy matter to become proficient in the use of the bow, and within the last few years many lovers of out-of-door life have adopted the bow and arrow as hunting weapons. It seems almost incredible that geese and ducks may be killed in flight by an archer, and yet such men as Maurice Thompson and his followers have repeatedly accomplished this feat.
Armed with a really good bow and properly made arrows any boy may easily become an expert archer, for practice is the only requirement, and you will be mightily surprised to find what a lot of fun you can derive from the use of these simple weapons. No one who has not experienced the sensation can possibly imagine the thrill felt by the archer at the twang of a taut bowstring and the soft whistle of a well driven arrow, or the breathless interest with which he watches the flight of his feathered shaft as in a graceful curve it speeds straight and true to its mark.
The first and most important requirements for the archer are perfect bows and arrows, and of the two the arrows are far more difficult to make and are of greater importance. As there is little chance for outdoor life during the late winter and early spring, much of your time may be happily employed in preparing your equipment for the coming season, and no portion of your outfit is worthy of more care and trouble than your bow and arrows. It takes time and patience to make these weapons properly, and it is an excellent plan to have several bows and a large number of arrows and strings on hand.
The first step in making a bow is to secure the proper wood. Yew, Cedar, Orange Wood, Lancewood, Ash, Elm, Hornbeam, Apple and Hickory all make good bows, but of all the native woods I prefer good, straight-grained white Hickory. The wood should be thoroughly seasoned winter-cut sticks, and if there is a carriage or wagon shop in your town you will find that the best place to obtain the right material. Bows vary greatly in length, width, thickness and shape with different tribes and people, but as a rule the long, slender bows are best adapted for target work and long range, while the shorter and broader forms are more suitable for hunting.
The North American Indians use short, broad bows, while the Central and South Americans use very long, slender bows, and both seem to succeed equally well. The arrows vary as much as the bows and many of the South and Central American tribes use arrows four to six feet in length and entirely destitute of feathers. With such weapons I have seen them kill birds from the tops of tall forest trees and shoot fish several feet beneath the surface of rapid mountain streams. These peculiar arrows are, however, the exception, and you will do best to follow the more usual and conventional styles.
For ordinary hunting use, your stick of wood should be about five feet long and two inches square and should be cut so that the line between heart and sap wood runs exactly through the center.
However, you should not be discouraged if you cannot obtain a piece with both heart and sap wood, for excellent bows may be fashioned from clear hickory or other wood provided the grain is straight, fine and free from knots or curls.
The stave should then be worked down with draw shave and plane until about an inch thick and an inch and a half wide for fifteen to eighteen inches in the center, and from this should taper off to about three-fourths of an inch wide and half an inch thick at the ends. Great care should be used in scraping and working down the bow in order that the heart and sap wood may remain of equal thickness the entire length. As you work you should test the bow frequently to see that both ends bend evenly, and all the surface should be scraped with glass, rubbed smooth with fine sandpaper and kept as smooth and even as possible. The bow should be flat on one side and slightly convex or rounded on the other, and the flat side should be the outward side when bow is bent. (Fig. 1.) The exact size of the bow depends upon your own strength and judgment, but as a rule a bow drawing at from fifteen to thirty pounds is about right for boys' use. A short distance from each end you should file or cut a smooth diagonal notch on each side and connect these by another groove across the flat side. (Fig. 2.) The bow should now be rubbed with linseed oil (being very careful not to put on too much or the spring will be lost), and then rubbed until polished with paraffine, bayberry wax or similar polish.
At the center of the bow a space about six inches long should be covered with soft leather or cloth glued in place and with the edges neatly sewed together on the back side of bow. This serves as a grip for your hand and prevents slipping of the arrow. (Fig. 3.) An excellent grip may be made by winding the bow with fine and strong waxed linen thread or by winding with adhesive bicycle tape. The string is now the next thing to make, and as bow strings are often broken or frayed, the boy archer should provide himself with a number of extra strings. Catgut, sinew and rawhide are all used as bowstrings, but I have found clear, unbleached flax or hemp the best material. To make a hemp or flax bowstring secure the best shoemakers' flax and some shoemakers' wax. Wax the thread thoroughly and wind it around two nails or pegs seven feet apart until you have fifteen or twenty strands. (Fig. 4.) Wax these and cut through the bunch of strands where they cross one of the pegs. Divide the strands into three equal parts and braid them loosely together. Now wind one end of the braided string with fine silk or linen thread thoroughly waxed. At the opposite end make a neat, smooth, loop by winding the string where it goes around the peg and then removing it from the latter, wind the loop formed by the unbraided threads. (Fig. 5.) Now slip this loop over one end of your bow, draw the other end of string around notch in opposite end and bend the bow carefully until the string stands out about six inches from the bow at its center. (Fig. 3.) Secure the string by a timber hitch (Fig. 6) around the other notch and wind a space of six or eight inches in the middle of the string with fine silk thread. (Fig. 3.) Loosen the string by slipping off the loop (so it slides down on the bow) (Fig. 2) and give all the windings a coat of quick-drying varnish or shellac.
For arrows you may use either white pine, Oregon spruce, Norway pine, Ash or Hickory. For target use, pine arrows will do, but for hard use and hunting, Ash is the best material. Indians often use straight shoots of Arrow Wood (Viburnum) and similar shrubs, but it is very difficult to obtain these perfectly straight. If you wish to try this sort of material you can make the shoots much straighter and better by hanging them up while green by one end with a heavy weight attached to the other and allowing them to dry thoroughly in this position.
In making arrows from wood secure a block of perfectly straight grained, well-seasoned pine or ash about 24 to 28 inches long and split this in half; split each of these pieces in half again and continue halving the pieces until the pieces are all split into straight sticks about half an inch to three-quarters of an inch square. Place these sticks on a smooth level board or bench and plane them straight, working around and around until the sticks are smooth, fairly round and absolutely straight and true. When all your sticks are in this state go over them with coarse and then fine sandpaper and work at them until they are as round and smooth as possible. If you work the sandpaper with your hand or fingers your arrows will be very likely to have hollows in them, and to avoid this cut a half-round groove lengthwise of a block of soft wood and place your strip of sandpaper in this and use it like a plane. (Fig. 7.)
The next step is to cut notches in the arrows. Examine each stick and determine which way the grain runs, and in the end towards which the grain runs cut a smooth notch quarter of an inch deep and wide enough to readily admit the wound, central, part of the bowstring. A fine saw-notch, smoothed and widened with a fine file, is the best and easiest to make, but very good notches may be made with a small-bladed penknife. (Fig. 8.)
To feather your arrows secure a number of stiff wing feathers of some large bird such as turkey, eagle, swan, goose, blue heron, gull, cormorant, pelican or crane. Keep the feathers from each side of the bird by themselves, for if feathers from opposite sides are placed on one arrow you will obtain very poor results, owing to the different curves of the feathers. Strip the feathers or plumes, with a thin piece of the midrib attached, from the quill and cut these into pieces of even length and trim so that a short piece of the midrib projects at either end. (Fig. 9.) Now mark three lines on your arrows, spaced equal distances apart and so arranged that one comes opposite and at right angles to the notch, while the others are nearly parallel with it. (Fig. 10.) These lines should be drawn on with a ruler, or straight edge, and if they all turn slightly at an angle or "twist" they will result in better feathering, for these marks are to guide you in fastening on the feathers, and the feathers act like the grooves in a rifle barrel, causing the arrow to revolve in flight and thus travel straighter and more evenly, as well as to prevent its tendency to turn end over end or "keyhole." Your arrows being marked, glue the strips of feathers along the lines, keeping them straight and true, and finish by winding or lashing the projecting ends of midrib with fine waxed silk or linen thread. (Fig. 11.) Indians use sinew to wind on the feathers and there is no reason why you should not use similar material if you wish. Remember, however, that the materials used by savages are due to necessity and not choice, and that the uncivilized man is only too anxious to adopt civilized materials whenever he can obtain them. Place your arrows in a cool, dry spot, and while the glue is thoroughly hardening you may prepare the tips, or heads, of your arrows. These may be made of hardened wood, brass, horn, stone, bone, or iron. For hunting purposes wooden heads, hardened by fire, will answer, but these soon become dull and their light weight has a tendency to cause erratic flight. Brass or steel ferrule heads may be purchased of sporting goods dealers at nominal cost or may be made by any blacksmith or machine shop by drilling a hole in pieces of rod. (Fig. 12, 1.) Bone makes very good heads but is too brittle for everyday use. Horn makes good hunting points and is excellent for birds and small animals, although for birds blunt wooden, or bone, heads answer very well. (Fig. 12, 2-3-4.) In certain districts,—such as Ohio and Indiana,—where stone arrow heads are found in large numbers, the boy archer may readily obtain excellent stone arrow heads for hunting use. (Fig. 12, 6.) The best heads of all for hunting and general utility are made from thick hoop iron, or thin steel, and these can be cut up into any shape desired. (Fig. 12, 5.) Steel wire nails may also be used as arrow heads with good results. (Fig. 12, 7.) Use your own taste and judgment as to material and shape of heads, and when you obtain good results, stick to your own style. The heads,—if of ferrule pattern,—are merely glued in place, but if made of horn, bone, stone, or sheet metal, should be inserted in a notch, glued in place and the shaft wound tightly with very fine copper wire or strong thread. This lashing holds the head in place and prevents the arrow from splitting, and should be wound as evenly and tightly as possible and thoroughly waxed and varnished. The last step in finishing your arrows is to varnish or paint them, and as bright colors render arrows more readily seen among brush or grass and serve to distinguish one boy's arrows from those of another, there is nothing better to use than quick drying enamel paint.
When the arrows are thoroughly dry you may go forth and try your new weapons, although before doing so I advise you to prepare a quiver and an arm guard.
These may well be made while your arrows are drying, and while not absolutely necessary, they are very useful. A bow case and quiver combined is easily made from leather or canvas and may be ornamented and fringed to suit your own fancy. (Fig. 13.) The bow case should be long enough to completely cover the bow and loose enough so that the bow may be readily and quickly drawn when needed. The quiver should be a little shorter than the arrows and fairly stiff, and a study of the illustration will show you how to make it without any description. (Fig. 14.) The arm guard consists of a piece of flexible leather,—an old boot leg does very well,— laced or buckled on the arm which holds the bow to protect the wrist from the bow string. (Fig. 15.) You will also find gloves, with tips of fingers cut off, a great help for the feathers of the arrow, and the snap of the bowstring will soon chafe and cut your hand and fingers if you shoot very much.
To use the bow with success you should stand with your heels in line with the target, your left hand with bow extended towards the target and at almost right angles to your feet. Place the arrow on the string and rest it across the bow and on and across your thumb and finger of the bow hand. Now hook your first three fingers of the right hand over the string with the notched end of arrow between the first and second fingers. (Fig. 16.) Raise your bow hand to the level of your chin and draw back on the string and arrow with your right elbow raised almost to your shoulder line and in line with the arrow. (Fig. 17.) Draw until the head of the arrow is almost to the bow and, glancing along the arrow until in line with the target, release the string by opening the crook of right fingers. Keep your left hand and bow fixed till the arrow strikes and watch the result. Doubtless your first few arrows will fly wide of the mark, but note whether they travel to right or left, above or below, and you will rapidly improve. Learn to draw your bow in exactly the same manner every time and remember to draw your right thumb to the same spot on your cheek at each shot. This will result in uniform shooting and failures may be more readily corrected. You will find that there is a most remarkable variation in the way your arrows act. Some will fly almost straight, others will swing and wabble, others will travel through a wide arc or curve and still others will prove so erratic that they cannot be depended upon to shoot true. Discard the latter, if after trying trimming the feathers or fitting new heads they are still unsatisfactory. Every arrow (even though made exactly alike) has distinct individuality and the successful bowman studies the peculiarities of each shaft until he knows instinctively just which arrow to select from his quiver for each and every purpose and condition.
Some arrows travel best on windy days, others on calm days; some will shoot straightest against and others with the wind, and some are better for long than short shots, and vice versa. An expert arrow maker can fashion an arrow for a certain purpose and knows just how to trim and set the feathers and balance the head to develop the best possible results; but this knack can only be acquired by long and constant practice and experiment and cannot be described or taught. As a rule the long, small-feathered arrow is best in the wind, while a large-feathered shaft is superior in calm weather, but much depends upon the size and weight of the head and the general balance of the arrow.
In shooting at a mark use an old sack or similar object stuffed with hay, leaves or straw; or place your mark on a hay stack. Unless you have arrows to waste, never shoot at a hard object, such as a tree, fence, barn or post, for the impact will be almost sure to spring or split your arrows.
Excellent practice may be obtained by setting up cardboard or cloth birds or animals backed with a sack of straw, for in this way you learn far more than by shooting at a conventional target of rings and bull's eye. You should commence shooting at a mark not over twenty or thirty yards distant and gradually increase the range as you become more skillful. When you can drive three out of five arrows into a paper deer at sixty yards you may consider yourself quite proficient and need not fear to try your hand at real game. You will find, however, that shooting among trees or brush is far harder than in the open, and for that reason I strongly advise you to practice in the woods a great deal, setting up your imitation game at various distances and under various conditions of light and shade.
A very interesting and instructive game may be played by a number of boys traveling through the woods and dropping bits of paper, or beans, for a "trail" and setting up cardboard or cloth targets representing game in spots that the real game might select as resting places. The archers are to follow the "trail" exactly as if they were stalking real game, and as soon as they see the quarry are to shoot. This method may be varied by having the trail makers attach a string, or rope, to their targets and as the archer draws to shoot they should endeavor to jerk the target out of sight before the arrow reaches it, thus more closely imitating the action of a wild animal. This will teach the bowmen to act more rapidly and surely and will develop far more skill in stalking and shooting than a fixed target.
Running or jumping targets are easily designed and will prove most useful in perfecting your marksmanship, while the ambitious bowman will not be content until he has become an expert wing shot and can pierce a cloth ball or pasteboard box when thrown into the air at ten or a dozen yards.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.