The urge to shoot bows and arrows is latent in all of us. Bows and arrows standing in a corner or hung on the wall draw people like honey does flies. Pick up a bow, brace it and place an arrow on the string. Go through the motions of shooting, and everybody is at once interested. They just itch to try it. The use of the bow goes back to the days of early man, to the reindeer hunters and to the caves of our ancestors. No wonder the desire to pull a strong bow and loose a keen shaft survives.
Primitive bows and arrows were very crude. Arrows were neither feathered nor straight. They were tipped with sharp flints, splinters of bone or had fire-hardened points. The bows probably had every possible fault that a finicky archer of today can discover even in a fine yew, osage or lemonwood weapon of modern make. Yet the men of the Neolithic age met beasts of all kinds -and conquered; for we, their descendants, are alive today. The love of the bow is our heritage.
When we consider that guns, as effective weapons, are only four to five hundred years old, we can easily realize how those first crude bent sticks and rather pitiful arrows eventually became the glorious weapons of the English yeoman, the crossbows of Europe and the amazing works of art that the Turks, Persians and East Indians called bows. Man can do a lot with an idea in fifty thousand years; a conservative estimate of the age of archery.
Every nation used the bow and arrows and, as time progressed, developed its own individual type of tackle. Early Saxon and Norman archery grew up to be the famous English long bow and cloth-yard arrow. Germany, France, Spain and Italy seemed temperamentally unsuited to long bow archery and developed the cross bow. When we see the workmanship of these weapons, we marvel at the craftsmen who did the work. Exquisite carving, inlay work and decoration beautified the stocks. The steel prods or bows were made by master metal workers, and those that have survived can still drive a quarril or cross bow arrow four to five hundred yards.
With their composite bows, the Orientals reached perfection in the bowyer's art. How long it took them to discover that animal sinew, wood and horn combined, make weapons of exceptional cast and power is a mystery. Shredded sinew, laid in a specialized glue, formed the backs. A very thin strip of wood separated the back from the horn belly. The sinew back, the thin wood core and the horn were all glued together skillfully, and the ends of their short weapons were reflexed. The Turks, who produced the most beautiful weapons, left the polished horn belly exposed, while the Persians and men of India covered the whole bow with rawhide, birch bark or thin shark skin. Artists vied with each other in decorating the masterpieces of the old bowyers. Gold leaf, brilliant lacquer and colored embellishment of fantastic design enhanced the work of the bow maker. They were fit gifts to and from sultans and shahs.
The bows of the American Indian were all shapes and sizes. They were usually quite crude but nevertheless effective. The Indian was a hunter rather than a long distance archer. His knowledge of woodcraft and his ability to stalk game made up for what his weapon lacked in range. African bows and arrows also are all forms and lengths. The pygmies of the Iturbi forests have little implements three feet long, while the Ikoma bows are regular long bows.
No wonder then, that all youth, when it reaches the tribal stage of development, similar to that lived through by ancient forebears, wants to shoot the bow. The hunting, fishing and camping urge is strong in him, and the thrill he gets when his arrow whistles to the mark is a survival of the savage joy of that ancestor of centuries ago, who watched his feathered stick plunge into the heaving side of reindeer or wild horse.
History is full of tales of the bow. Regiments of sturdy English archers met and conquered panoplied and armored knights at Crecy, Poictiers and Agincourt. When the masses of the English got the long bow, along with it they got liberty, confidence, pride and self reliance.
Archery is a grand sport and knows no age limit. Sixteen or sixty may shoot the bow and arrow. You may go in for formal target shooting. You may take your cherished bows and arrows on hikes and camping trips. You may stroll over the landscape with a good friend and shoot at anything, trees, stumps, bunches of grass, a conspicuous bush or what you will. That sort of shooting is called roving, and is the finest training for hunting. You may try for distance. The record is over 500 yards, so you have something to look forward to. You may experiment with trick shooting, or else see how many arrows you can keep in the air at one time. Archery-golf is played over a golf course.
Shooting the bow naturally falls into three classes—Formal Target Shooting, Field Shooting or Roving, and Hunting.