The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Articles > The Ballistics of Archery - Part 1 of 6
The Ballistics of Archery
by Saxton Pope
Outers Recreation Magazine, April 1921.
Part 1 of 6

THE power of the ancient bow and arrow is not well appreciated. We have read about adventures of the early Spanish explorers in America where the Florida Indians could shoot a flint-pointed arrow through two suits of chain mail, drive a shaft through a horseman's thigh and pinion him to the saddle, or the arrow missing the mark, strike a tree with such force that it buried its head a palm's breadth in the wood. We have read of Plains Indians who could shoot clean through running bison, and of old English archers who pierced the steel armor of French knights with their cloth yard shafts. This all seems very improbable, however, when the man of today picks up his boyhood bow and funny little clumsy arrow, or watches some devotee of archery on the village green shooting puerile blunt darts at a straw target.

It is a distinct surprise, then, to learn that the bow is not dead, but can be used today as Robin Hood used it of old. During the past six years some of us out West have taken up hunting with the old yew bow of our ancestors. By a gradual process we have risen from weak playthings of our boyhood to the type of bow used in the chase a thousand years ago which won the battles of Crecy, Poictiers and Agincourt for Merry Old England. The process was a very gradual one.

The greatest timber in the world for bows is yew—truly it is a magic wood. There are many substitutes for this, but we use only yew and will speak of none other. Yew is very hard to get and hard to work, but worth the effort.

Our hunting bows are comparatively short, five feet six or eight inches. This permits us greater freedom in the brush. Too short a bow kicks in the hand, and, like a carbine, is not so accurate in shooting. About all a strong man can pull in archery is an eighty-five pound bow; but to handle one without fatigue and with perfect control, a seventy-five pounder seems our limit. Such a bow has a diameter of an inch and a quarter across the back and an inch and an eighth in depth at the handle.

A cross section is a semi-circle, subtended by a chord. The flat or slightly arched surface is the back of the bow. This contour is carried by gradual diminution to the tips, where the diameters are approximately three-quarters by one-half inch. In making the bow, of course, we leave the tenacious sapwood on the back, and never cut the grain, but follow it over hump and twist to the bitter end. We also back our hunting bows with calf skin rawhide, soaked soft and laid on glue, to insure them against fracture. Horn tips and a suitable hand grip finish the weapon. Then all is coated with spar varnish, or oil and shellac. The string is made of seventy-five strands of Barbour's No. 12 Irish linen, well waxed and twisted.