The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Articles > Yahi Archery > Ishi's records with the Bow
Ishi's records with the Bow

There are no records of aboriginal archery with which to compare those of civilized times. That the American Indian was a good shot is conceded by all who know him, and fiction makes him out an incomparable archer, capable of deeds outrivaling those of William Tell and the redoubtable Robin of Sherwood Forest. But no authentic scores exist. It is therefore a privilege to have been able to compare the shooting of an unspoiled American Indian with that of modern archers.

So far as target shooting is concerned, it is well known that the greatest archer of all times was Horace Ford of England, whose records of 1857 were not approached by any in history, and have not been surpassed since.

There are two well recognized rounds in archery. The English or York round consists in shooting six dozen arrows at one hundred yards, four dozen at eighty yards, and two dozen at sixty yards, and adding the score thus attained. The American round consists in shooting thirty arrows at each of the distances, sixty, fifty, and forty yards. The target used is a circular straw mat four feet in diameter, four inches thick, covered with a facing on which are five concentric rings. The central ring or gold is nine and one-half inches in diameter, while each circle is one-half this in width. Their values are 9, 7, 5, 3, 1 points.

Because of the great distance, and his inability to hit the target often enough to warrant compiling a score, Ishi seldom shot the York round. But we have many records of his scores at the American round. It must be conceded that an archer may be a poor target shot and yet at the same time be a practical and accurate archer in hunting. Ishi's best scores at the American round are as follows, 30 arrows being shot at each distance:

October 23, 1914.
60 yards, 10 hits,   32 score
50 yards, 20 hits,   92 score, 2 golds
40 yards, 19 hits,   99 score, 2 golds
Total	  49 hits,  223 score, 4 golds

May 30, 1915.
60 yards, 13 hits,   51 score
50 yards, 17 hits,   59 score
40 yards, 23 hits,   95 score, 1 gold
Total	  53 hits,  205 score, 1 gold

The best score for the American round is at present held by E. J. Rendtorff, and is thus recorded:

60 yards, 30 hits, 208 score
50 yards, 30 hits, 226 score
40 yards, 30 hits, 234 score
Total     90 hits, 668 score

A good score will total 90 hits, 500 score. My own best round is 88 hits, 538 score.

At ten and twenty yards Ishi was proportionately much more accurate, and while not consistent, he could hit objects three or four inches in diameter with such frequency that it was a commonplace event. Out of every five arrows, one or two surely would reach the mark. In his native state, his targets were small bundles of straw about the size of a rabbit or quail, or he shot at a small hoop in motion.

At shooting on the wing or at running game, he did not seem to be correspondingly adept. At so-called turtle shooting, or shooting up in the air and having the arrow strike the object in descent, he was not proficient. In rapid shooting he could just discharge his third arrow while two were in the air; unlike the alleged performance of Hiawatha, he could not keep ten shafts aloft at once. Catlin reports that the Mandans could keep eight arrows in the air at one time.

Ishi's greatest flight shot was 185 yards. No doubt had he prepared himself for distance shooting he could have surpassed this; but using his 40-pound hunting bow and the lightest arrow in his quiver, this was his extreme length. After lshi's death, I shot his bow, with an especially light arrow with a closely cropped feather, a distance of 200 yards. The greatest modern shot was that done by Ingo Simon, at La Toquet, France, in 1914, of 45!) yards, with a very old Turkish composite bow. The greatest recorded flight shot with the English long bow was made by John Rawlins in 1794, a distance of 360 yards. The best American flight shot is 290 yards, done by L. W. Maxson, in 1891. Shooting a six-foot yew bow weighing 75 pounds with a flight arrow, my own best shot is 275 yards.

To ascertain the casting power of what Ilshi considered an ideal bow, I had him select one that he considered the best, from the entire number in the Museum. This was a Yurok bow of yew heavily backed with sinew and corresponded closely in proportions to those of his own make. After warming it carefully and bracing it, Ishi shot a number of light flight arrows. His greatest east was only 175 yards. Its weight was less than 40 pounds.

Besides the fact that Ishi, in common with all savages, failed to understand the optics and ballistics of archery, his arrows were of such unequal weight and dissimilar shape and size, that it is not surprising that his markmanship was erratic. A difference of ten grains in the weight of a shaft, or a slight difference in the height of the feathers, will cause an arrow shot sixty yards to fly several feet higher or lower than its predecessor.

The length of time required for Ishi's hunting shafts to fly 100 yards was 4 seconds. The angle of trajection was 30 degrees. The weight of these arrows was 1 ounce; their power of penetration was sufficient to pierce our target, which consisted of a piece of oil cloth, 2 gunny sacks, and 4 inches of straw target, entirely traversing these bodies. A steel hunting point, shot from 40 yards, readily penetrated an inch into pine. On striking a tree, the entire point and an inch of the shaft were often buried in the trunk.

The angle of elevation necessary for his arrow to fly one hundred yards is much greater than that needed for our target arrows. Shooting a 48-pound bow with a five-shilling, or one-ounce arrow, my elevation is 15 degrees, while under the same conditions with a 65-pound bow it is as low as 10 degrees. The time required for a 100-yard flight of this latter is 2% seconds. The average velocity of an arrow is reckoned at 120 feet a second.