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Home > Books > A Study of Bows and Arrows > Arrow Feathers
Arrows

Arrow Feathers

Part 1 of 2

The American Indian used a variety of feathers on his arrows. Those preferred seem to be eagle, hawk, buzzard, goose, heron, flicker, woodpecker. The Japanese and Chinese employ a fine grade of feather, apparently a fish hawk, also a goose and pheasant. The arrows of South America have gaily colored feathers of parrots.

Methods of feathering.—Practically all arrows have three feathers. The popular opinion of the uninitiated is that they have but two because the older illustrations showed only this number. It may be stated that the only good arrows that have two feathers are on weather vanes.

The ancient Saxons seem to have used four feathers, according to the findings in the Nydam Galleys.[15] These were bound to the shaft with linen thread saturated with pitch, a method calculated to stand water. Ancient flight arrows not infrequently had many feathers attached to them, apparently in the vain belief that a feather lightens an arrow, while in fact it only adds friction to one end.

The process of binding the entire length of the feather by a spiral thread is well illustrated in the picture of the English archer shown in plate 1. Here the thread not only binds the extremities of the feather but runs up the shaft between the barbs and binds the stem fast to the shaft. Silk, saturated with verdigris, seems to have been the popular material for this purpose.

American Indians use sinew, which has a glue con­tent, to bind their feathers, but no attempt is made to glue the rib of the feather to the shaft. This unstable condition of the feather permits of greater irregularity in flight.

Experience has shown also that the stripped feather, or that whose rib is scraped very thin, is not so good as that which has been carefully cut with a knife. The latter stands up straighter and endures the rough usage.

Kiowa arrows (pl. 11, figs. 1, 2, 3) are typical game or war arrows. It was not a universal custom among Indians to have the heads of the big game arrows lance­shaped with the idea that they could be drawn out better. A barbed head can be forced through in the process of extracting it. These Kiowa arrows when shot fly very poorly after 25 yards, which may be assumed to have been their hunting distance.

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