The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Books > Archery, its Theory and Practice > Chapter 5
Chapter V
Of The Arrow.
Part 2 of 2

A rotation about a horizontal axis would be prevented in the same way by this action of the feathers. Both these tendencies may be distinctly observed in the actual motion of the arrow.

If the foregoing reasoning be carefully considered, it will be at once seen how prejudicial to the flight of the arrow in the direction of aim any variation in the shape of that part of it in contact with the bow must necessarily be: for by this means a new force is introduced into the elements of its flight. Take for example the chested arrow, which is smallest at the point and largest at the feathers. Here there is, during its whole passage over the bow, a constant and increasing deviation to the left of the direction of aim, caused by the arrow's shape, independent of, and in addition to, a deviation in the like direction, caused by the retention of the nock upon the string. Thus this arrow has greater difficulty in recovering its first initial direction, the forces opposed to its doing so being so much increased. Accordingly, in practice, the chested arrow has always a tendency to fly to the left.

And so as regards the bobtailed arrow, which is largest at the point and smallest at the feathers, the converse of this is true. For here the tendency during its whole passage over the bow is to the right of the direction of aim, only retained by the retention of its both ends; it has a rapid flight, but docs not follow the point well 5 and is additionally objectionable as a departure from the straight line. In short, it may be set down as an incontrovertible position in target shooting, that any shape of arrow that causes the centre of its thickness to vary in its relation to the edge of the bow, is radically bad. Therefore none other than the perfectly straight arrow is here recommended.


The feathering of the arrow is the most delicate part of the Fletcher's art, and requires great care and experience to effect it as it should be effected. Rather full-sized feathers are to be preferred, as giving a steadiness and solidity, as it were, to the flight; they should have a fair amount of rib, for if pared too fine their lasting qualities are diminished; and all three should be of the same wing, right or left. The turkey supplies most of the feathers now in use; those of the eagle and peacock, though most excellent, being too scarce to be generally attainable. The feathers of the "grey goose wing," so much spoken of in the legends of our forefathers, as guiding their unerring shafts to the heart of knight and yeoman, despite of "Milan steel" and "Jerkins buff," are now quite out of fashion; but as, of course, it would be absurd to suppose that they were not wiser in their generation than we are in ours, we must conclude that either turkeys did not exist in those days, or that geese have degenerated!

The pile or point is a very important part of the arrow. Of the different shapes in use, the blunt or square-shouldered pile is the only good one. In every respect, even for distant shooting, it is superior to all others; but the greatest advantage it possesses is, that if the arrow be overdrawn, so as to bring the pile on to the bow, it will not alter the direction of its flight, as is the case with all the sharp piles. (See plate 5.)

No. 1 (in the same plate) is the only one recommended for target shooting. No. 5 has great penetrating power, for if it passes through the object struck, the whole "stele" will follow it, No. 6 is the old English barb. No. 8 is probably the shape of the pile used by the Emperor Commodus, who is said to have cut off the heads of ostriches at full speed! No. 9 is the whistling head, supposed to have been used to give alarm at night.

To prevent the pile coming off, either by damp or by a blow, it may be slightly indented on opposite sides by a gentle rap with a pointed instrument; a broken bradawl filed to a point is as good as anything.

The nock should be full and strong, and the notch as deep as still hold the string safely. To provide against the risk of splitting, I have found it a good plan to drill a hole through the solid part of the nock, as near the surface on which the string rests as may be, and to insert a piece of copper wire, which, when clenched or flattened at both ends, forms a safe rivet. A small Archimedean screw drill is the best for this purpose, but, great care is required in using it, or it will cause the very evil it is intended to guard against.

As regards the length of the arrow, no arbitrary rule can be laid down: every archer must suit himself according to the length of his pull: hereafter I hope to lay down some principles which will guide him in this: for the present it will merely be observed, that no man's arrow, whatever his pull may be, should be less than twenty-six inches in length, as experiment has proved that a short arrow flies less steadily than a longer one. It is not absolutely necessary, though it is better, that he should pull the whole length of the arrow, provided his draw be always to the same mark.

The weight of an arrow must, to a certain extent, be regulated by its length, and the strength of the bow with which it is to be used; for if an arrow be a long one, it must have bulk sufficient to insure stiffness, and stiffness in proportion to the strength of the bow; 4s. 3d. for the lowest, and 5s. 6d. for the highest weight, are two extremes, within which every length of arrow and strength of bow may be properly fitted, so far as gentlemen are concerned. For ladies, 2s. 6d. and 3s. 6d. should perhaps be the limits. It must be borne in mind that a light arrow is a decided mistake for target shooting. Even flight arrows need not be less than 4s. in weight.

To preserve the feathers from damp, let a coat of oil paint be laid on between and for 1/8th inch above and below them, and let this be afterwards varnished with a mixture of mastic and gold size, taking care that the rib of the feather be well covered, otherwise the desired purpose will not be attained. If the feathers be laid or ruffled by wet, they may be restored to their proper shape and firmness by being held for a short time before a fire, and kept turning, to prevent scorching.

Mr. Roberts mentions, and I have proved, a curious effect which is produced by feathering a light arrow at both ends, the wood being lightest at the pile-end; and the feather trimmed low at the nock and high at the pile-end; this, if shot against a wind, will return back again, like a Bomerang. If the same shaped arrow be feathered in the middle only, it will, in its flight, make a right angle, and no power of bow can send it any distance.

As the elevation should be regulated by the rise or fall of the left arm, and not by the weight of the arrow, the use of the same shafts at all distances is strongly recommended. Indeed, it is a great mistake to change any part of the tackle, bow or arrow, during the shooting, excepting in extraordinary cases; seldom, indeed, is the scoring bettered by such means.

Three arrows are usually shot at one time, and a fourth kept in reserve, in case of accidents. Now let it be remembered, that if the slightest variation either in shape or weight occurs amongst them, the line or the elevation is sure to be effected, to the serious detriment of accurate hitting; therefore too much care cannot be taken in their choice. Whatever kind or weight is used, let all the four be precisely similar in every respect.

Whether for store or daily use, the arrows should be kept in a quiver or case, made on such a plan that each shall have its separate cell, and so be insured from warping, or from having the feathers crushed. It is too much the custom to squeeze a quantity of arrows into a small quiver; let not the archer who prizes his tackle be guilty of this folly. They will wear out quite speedily enough, without the addition of ill-usage to hasten it. In drawing them from the ground, or the target, let the hand take hold as near the pile end as possible. Every archer should have an appropriate mark painted on each of his arrows, so that they may be easily distinguished from those of his neighbour.

It is a great point to have the arrow well stopped—that is, the wood should completely fill the pile, which otherwise, in striking against any hard substance, is apt to be driven down the stele, to the great detriment of the arrow, and often the destruction, by splitting, of the pile itself.