Saturday, July 21, 2012

Traditional Archery!

Today Wyatt and I took advantage of a beautiful sunny summer day to practice our archery skills.  Archery is an amazing sport that combines elements of extreme mental discipline, physical dexterity and strength.  There is something magical about watching the gentle arch of an arrow in flight and hearing the satisfying thunk of a well placed shot hitting home.

  I got serious about archery in the 1990's with the help of my brother-in-law who is an accomplished bow hunter and Native American expert.  I've shot bows and arrows all my life starting with the typical stick and string attempts while a boy.  As a older kid my dad got me a fiberglass recurve which I continued to use to advance my competency and simply have a lot of fun.  As an adult with an eye towards bow hunting I started off with a "wheel bow" or compound, the modern culmination of thousands of years of archery evolution.  

In time thanks in no small part to my love of history I soon discovered the incredible heritage that the bow and arrow has provided to mankind.  I jumped headlong into the world of traditional archery exploring the more organic experience of shooting a wood bow and arrow shafts and drifting away from the machine like and in my mind over commercialization of  the compound bow.  I learned to shoot recurves and longbows in the traditional manner through repetition. Aiming instinctively without the aid of a rack of sight pins much like a pitcher learns to throw a baseball into the box.

  I use a technique called "gap shooting".  When at full draw I orient the tip of the arrow to a position just below and to the right of my desired point of impact before I let it fly.  Over time and with lots of practice this automatic mental targeting system sharpens and even compensating the angle of the bow arm for elevation when shooting at unknown distances becomes second nature and not a conscious part of the mechanics of shooting. 

In the above photograph Wyatt captured the arrow in flight just an instant after release.  When an arrow is released the energy transferred from the limbs causes the shaft to flex and slightly bow around the handle as it leaves the string and begins it's trajectory.  This oscillation continues for a few cycles and the bend of the arrow is plainly visible in the shot. 

As much fun as I have with the hobby myself the real treat has been introducing this discipline to my son.  This summer he has grown strong enough to draw his mom's recurve bow which has greatly increased his range and precision.  The bow is a 25# recurve target bow and fits him perfect.

Range is about 20 yards.

Today was Wyatt's first time out with the recurve and he was enjoying himself immensely.  The performance was a huge step up from his basic "toy" kid's bow.  The arrows I handmade from Red Cedar shafts and natural feathers glued with the help of a fletching jig.

About ten years ago I reached the point where I had to try my hand at bow making.  After all I already had a woodworking shop and I always jump at the chance to use my skills from one hobby to augment another.  After much research I settled on a design and wood type to use.  The bow I'm shooting in this post is one I made in 2004 and is a Hickory backed Osage Orange flat bow.  The flat bow is a style of traditional long bow that was used by the woodland peoples who inhabited the Ohio valley for thousands of years.  Osage Orange, sometimes known as hedge-apple or boise d'arc from the Louisiana French literal translation "bow wood" is in my opinion the ultimate material for traditional bow making.  Besides possessing superior elasticity and the ability to remain flexible even in extreme cold temperatures this very dense and hard wood was first used for bows by Native Americans.  While my German ancestors from the distant past probably shot bows of European Yew I consider myself an American and I wanted to shoot the same wood as those who once roamed the forest and field of my homeland. 

This flatbow is 64 inches long and at my draw length of 26" the pull is about 47 pounds. I've chronographed the speed of a 525 grain arrow shot from the bow at an average of 180 feet per second.  Adequate energy to bring down any game in North America with a well placed shot.

This is the third bow I have ever made and the second from Osage.  I have been so happy with the performance of this one over the past eight years I've not felt the need to make another.  A curious trait of Osage Orange worth mentioning is the photo-sensitive nature of the species.  When first cut the color of the exposed wood is a bright lemon yellow.  As time passes the yellow mellows gradually to the  golden honey shades shown in the photos.  This slow color change adds a unique facet to the enjoyment of owning an Osage bow.

The hickory backing is glued to the front of the limbs to reinforce the wood fibers and prevent a catastrophic failure of the Osage limb.  Backing a bow was a technique also used by native Americans except instead of modern two-part epoxy and precision machined laminations the Indians used natural materials such as sinew and hide glue.

The arrow rest is covered with a small patch of Alaskan seal skin a durable yet slippery surface for the arrow shaft to touch before and during it's launch.  My arrows I also custom made from Sitka Spruce with a dark stain for camouflage, solid brass field points and banana cut barred feathers.

In closing I have to say this was a great father and son outing and something I have wanted to share in my blog pages for quite a while.  There is something special about archery that has been ingrained into the human psyche over the millennia.  The proof of this I think is watching the wonder and enthusiasm displayed by a youngster when given the opportunity to experience and develop one of mankind's oldest skills.


  1. Mike you truly are a Renascence man. Love the handmade bow and enjoyed the back story on your interest in archery; although my first read of the post title was "Traditional Anarchy", my perplexity left me when I saw the first image... dur.

    When I was a kid I had a 25lb Bear recurve that a scoutmaster gave to me after I earned the archery merit badge. He was a long time archer who used to blow our minds when he'd sink arrow after arrow into the bulls eye. I ended up giving it to another scout when I was in high school but wish I still had it. Great post!

  2. Wow, What a beautiful piece of work Mike.Truly inspirational! Tom, AB9NZ

  3. I'm amazed we speak English when I see these weapons....

  4. Very nice looking bow -- looks like a smooth shooter. Your shooting technique sounds interesting , I will give it a try. Always looking for ways to improve accuracy. I like your quiver , been looking for one that attaches. Where did you get yours ? Great post Thanks -- H. Gill

    1. Thanks H! The Osage flat bow is still shooting great after 13 years.

      Check out 3 Rivers Archery That's where I get my archery gear/supplies.