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16. The Returning Arrow

While the Arabic adjective that describes this arrow is correctly translated as "returning," the temptation to use the word boomerang was very strong. That such an arrow was also known to the English appears from the following quotation of a footnote on page 163 of The English Bowman (London, 1801) by T. Roberts, "a member of the Toxophilite Society" and an acknowledged authority:
"It is said, that if a light shaft is feathered at both ends, the wood being lightest at the pile-end and the feather trimmed low at the nock-end and high at the pile-end, and shot against the wind, that it will return back again. And, that a shaft feathered in the middle will, in its flight, make a right angle."

We made an arrow very carefully on the Arabic plan: cutting nocks in both ends, making a hole at the bottom of one nock and filling it with solder, and trimming it with low feathers at the nock end and high feathers at the pile end—though there was no pile. The only oversight was that we used six feathers instead of eight. Whether or not the difference of two feathers was the factor that caused the disappointing action of the arrow we do not know but, though shooting it repeatedly and against a very light wind, we could not make it return. The graceful sweep like that of a soaring buzzard which we had hoped for was not even suggested. What invariably happened was that the arrow would go much as usual for about forty yards from a forty-six pound osage bow of good cast and then would turn over, flutter indefinitely with an almost complete loss of force, and fall to the earth nock end first with just enough momentum to stick up. We agree perfectly with the author that it did not return to the place where we were standing because we were not exact in its construction. The arrow certainly reversed itself on every flight and lost practically all forward motion, and we are inclined to believe that if it were properly designed it might swing around in a great arc back to the point of departure instead of becoming tangled up in its own conflicting forces and falling in impotence. However, we felt certain that the averred use of such an arrow to shoot an unsuspicious enemy, who was standing at the archer's side, was no more than an untested bit of romantic fancy.

During the same experiments we tried shooting an arrow that was feathered in the middle and found that it did exactly what was expected of it. From the same bow it would also fly straight for about forty yards and then would turn at a right angle with apparently very little diminution of speed. There seemed to be no obvious way of controlling the direction of its altered course. Shot from t: left of the bow it might turn straight down into the earth, fly off to the right, or go in any other direction. We finally lost it when sped off toward the left in a high, wide, and handsome course right angles to its original line of flight and cut through the leave of the tall forest like a swift and reckless bird. It was fun.