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Home > Books > Hunting with the Bow and Arrow > Archery in general
Chapter IV
Archery in general
Part 1 of 2

Our experience with Ishi waked the love of archery in us, that impulse which lies dormant in the heart of every Anglo-Saxon. For it is a strange thing that all the men who have centered about this renaissance in shooting the bow, in our immediate locality, are of English ancestry. Their names betray them. Many have come and watched and shot a little, and gone away; but these have stayed to hunt.

From shooting the bow Indian fashion, I turned to the study of its history, and soon found that the English were its greatest masters. In them archery reached its high tide; after them its glory passed.

But the earliest evidence of the use of the bow is found in the existence of arrowheads assigned to the third interglacial period, nearly 50,000 years ago.

That man had material culture prior to this epoch, there is no doubt, and the use of the bow with arrows of less complicated structure must have preceded this period.

All races and nations at one time or another have used the bow. Even the Australian aborigine, who is supposed to have been too low in mental development to have understood the principles of archery, used a miniature bow and poisoned arrow in shooting game. In the magnificent collection of Joseph Jessop of San Diego, California, I saw one of these little bows scarcely more than a foot long. The arrows, he stated, the natives carried in the hair of their heads.

Those who are interested in the archaeology of the bow should read the volume on archery of the Badminton Library by Longmans.

Various peoples have excelled in shooting, notably the Japanese, the Turks, the Scythians, and the English. Others have not been suited by temperament to use the bow. The Latins, the Peruvians, and the Irish seem never to have been toxophilites. The famous long bow of Merrie Old England was brought there by the Normans, who inherited it from the Norsemen settled along the Rhine. Here grew the best yew trees in days gone by, and this, doubtless, was a strong determining factor in the superior development of their archery.

Before the battle of Hastings, the Saxons used the short, weak weapon common to all primitive people. The conquered Saxon, deprived of all arms such as the boar-spear, the sword, the ax, and the dagger, naturally turned to the bow because he could make this himself, and he copied the Norman long bow.

Although the first game preserves in England were established by William the Conqueror at this time, the Saxon was permitted to shoot birds and small beasts in his fields and therefore was allowed to use a blunt arrow, headed with a lead tip or pilum, hence our term pile, or target point. If found with a sharp arrowhead, the so-called broad-head used for killing the king's deer, he was promptly hanged. The evidence against such a poacher was summed up thus in the old legend:

Dog draw, stable stand
Back berond, bloody hand.

One found following a questing hound, posed in the stand of an archer, carrying game on his back, or with the evidence of recent butchery on his hands, was hanged to the nearest tree by his own bowstring.

It was under these circumstances that outlawry took the form of deer killing and robust archery became the national sport. In these days the legendary hero, the demi-myth, Robin Hood, was born. What boy has not thrilled at the tales of Greenwood men, the well-sped shaft, the arrow's low whispering flight, and the willow wand split at a hundred paces?

Every boy goes through a period of barbarism, just as the nations have passed, and during that age he is stirred by the call of the bow. I, too, shot the toy bows of boyhood; shot with Indian youths in the Army posts of Texas and Arizona. We played the impromptu pageants of Robin Hood, manufactured our own tackle, and carried it about with unfailing fidelity; hunted small birds and rabbits, and were the usual savages of that age.

But when it comes to the legends of the bow, the records of these past glories are so vague that we must accept them as a tale oft told; it grows with the telling.

It seems that distances were measured in feet, paces, yards, or rods with blithe indifference, and the narrator added to them at will. Robin is supposed to have shot a mile, and his bow was so long and so strong no man could draw it. In sooth, he was a mighty hero, and yet the ballads refer to him as a "slight fellow," even "a bag of bones." As a youth he slew the king's deer at three hundred yards, a right goodly shot! And no doubt it was.

Of all the bows of the days when archery was in flower, only two remain. These are unfinished staves found in the ship Mary Rose, sunk off the coast of Albion in 1545. This vessel having been raised from the bottom of the ocean in 1841, the staves were recovered and are now in the Tower of London. They are six feet, four and three-quarters inches long, one and one-half inches across the handle, one and one- quarter inches thick, and proportionately large throughout. The dimensions are recorded in Badminton. Of course, they never have been tested for strength, but it has been estimated at 100 pounds.

Determined to duplicate these old bows, I selected a very fine grained stave of seasoned yew and made an exact duplicate, according to the recorded measurements.

This bow, when drawn the standard arrow length of twenty-eight inches, weighed sixty-five pounds and shot a light flight arrow two hundred and twenty-five yards. When drawn thirty-six inches, it weighed seventy-six pounds and shot a flight arrow two hundred and fifty-six yards. From this it would seem that even though these ancient staves appear to be almost too powerful for a modern man to draw, they not only are well within our command, but do not shoot a mile.

The greatest distance shot by a modern archer was made by Ingo Simon, using a Turkish composite bow, in France in 1913. The measured distance was four hundred and fifty-nine yards and eight inches. That is very near the limit of this type of bow and far beyond the possibilities of the yew long bow. But the long bow is capable of shooting heavier shafts and shooting them harder.

Since archery is fast disappearing from the land, and the material for study will soon become extinct, I have undertaken to record the strength and shooting qualities of a representative number of the available bows in preservation, together with the power of penetration of arrows.

To do this, through the mediation of the Department of Anthropology of the University of California, I have had access to the best collection of bows in America. Thousands of weapons were at my disposal in various museums, and from these I selected the best preserved and strongest to shoot.

The formal report of these experiments is in the publications of the University, and here 'tis only necessary to mention a few of the findings.

In testing the function of these bows and their ability to shoot, a bamboo flight arrow made by Ishi was used as the standard. It was thirty inches long, weighed three hundred and ten grains, and had very low cropped feathers. It carried universally better than all other arrows tested, and flew twenty per cent farther than the best English flight arrows.

To make sure that no element of personal weakness entered into the test, I had these bows shot by Mr. Compton, a very powerful man and one used to the bow for thirty years. I myself could draw them all, and checked up the results.

It is axiomatic that the weight and the cast of a bow are criteria of its value as a weapon in war or in the chase. Weight, as used by an archer, means the pull of a bow when full drawn, recorded in pounds.

The following is a partial list of those weighed and shot. They are, of course, all genuine bows and represent the strongest. Each was shot at least six times over a carefully measured course and the greatest flight recorded. All flights were made at an elevation of forty-five degrees and the greatest possible draw was given each shot. In fact we spared no bows because of their age, and consequently broke two in the testing.

                                 Weight     Distance Shot
    Alaskan....................... 80 pounds    180 yards
    Apache........................ 28  "        120  "
    Blackfoot..................... 45  "        145  "
    Cheyenne...................... 65  "        156  "
    Cree.......................... 38  "        150  "
    Esquimaux..................... 80  "        200  "
    Hupa.......................... 40  "        148  "
    Luiseno....................... 48  "        125  "
    Navajo........................ 45  "        150  "
    Mojave........................ 40  "        110  "
    Osage......................... 40  "         92  "
    Sioux......................... 45  "        165  "
    Tomawata...................... 40  "        148  "
    Yurok......................... 30  "        140  "
    Yukon......................... 60  "        125  "
    Yaki.......................... 70  "        210  "
    Yana.......................... 48  "        205  "

The list of foreign bows is as follows:

                                   Weight     Distance Shot
    Paraguay...................... 60 pounds    170 yards
    Polynesian.................... 49  "        172  "
    Nigrito....................... 56  "        176  "
    Andaman Islands................45  "        142  "
    Japanese.......................48  "        175  "
    Africa.........................54  "        107  "
    Tartar.........................98  "        175  "
    South American.................50  "         98  "
    Igorrote.......................26  "        100  "
    Solomon Islands................56  "        148  "
    English target bow (imported)..48  "        220  "
    English yew flight bow.........65  "        300  "
    Old English hunting bow........75  "        250  "

It will be seen from these tests that no existing aboriginal bow is very powerful when compared with those in use in the days of robust archery in old England. The greatest disappointment was in the Tartar bow which was brought expressly from Shansi, China, by my brother, Col. B. H. Pope. With this powerful weapon I expected to shoot a quarter of a mile; but with all its dreadful strength, its cast was slow and cumbersome. The arrow that came with it, a miniature javelin thirty-eight inches long, could only be projected one hundred and ten yards. In making these shots both hands and feet were used to draw the bow. A special flight arrow thirty-six inches long was used in the test, but with hardly any increase of distance gained.

After much experimenting and research into the literature, [Footnote: Balfour, Composite Bows.] I constructed two horn composite bows, such as were used by the Turks and Egyptians. They were perfect in action, the larger one weighing eighty-five pounds. With this I hoped to establish a record, but after many attempts my best flight was two hundred and ninety-one yards. This weapon, being only four feet long, would make an excellent buffalo bow to be used on horseback.

In shooting for distance, of course, a very light missile is used, and nothing but empirical tests can determine the shape, size, and weight that suits each bow. Consequently, we use hundreds of arrows to find the best. For more than seven years these experiments have continued, and at this stage of our progress the best flight arrow is made of Japanese bamboo five-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, having a foreshaft of birch the same diameter and four inches long. The nock is a boxwood plug inserted in the rear end, both joints being bound with silk floss and shellacked. The point is the copper nickel jacket of the present U. S. Army rifle bullet, of conical shape. The feathers are parabolic, three-quarters of an inch long by one-quarter high, three in number, set one inch from the end, and come from the wing of an owl. The whole arrow is thirty inches long, weighs three hundred and twenty grains, and is very rigid.

With this I have shot three hundred and one yards with a moderate wind at my back, using a Paraguay ironwood bow five feet two inches long, backed with hickory and weighing sixty pounds. This is my best flight shot.

It is not advisable here to go further into this subject; let it stand that the English yew long bow is the highest type of artillery in the world.

Although the composite Turkish bows can shoot the farthest, it is only with very light arrows; they are incapable of projecting heavier shafts to the extent of the yew long bow, that is, they can transmit velocity but not momentum; they have resiliency, but not power.

Besides these experiments with bows, many tests were made of the flight and penetration of arrows. A few of the pertinent observations are here noted.

A light arrow from a heavy bow, say a sixty-five pound yew bow, travels at an initial velocity of one hundred and fifty feet per second, as determined by a stopwatch.

Shooting at one hundred yards, such an arrow is discharged at an angle of eight degrees, and describes a parabola twelve to fifteen feet high at its crest. Its time in transit is of approximately two and one-fifth seconds.

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