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Once the weapon of choice for everyone from Native Americans to Turkish armies, the bow and arrow is one of the oldest hunting (and fighting) tools on Earth. .While it is not a match for modern weaponry -- or indeed for modern archery equipment -- a primitive bow and arrow can still save your life if you have to hunt to survive in the wilderness.
A high quality bow can take weeks or months to cure and construct, but a simpler version (1.0) can be made relatively quickly and with readily available materials. The instructions below, based largely on the U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76, can teach you how to construct a "field-expedient" bow.
- Choose a piece of wood for the bow. Find a piece of dry, dead hardwood--oak, hickory, yew, black locust, or teak for example--about 1 meter (1 yard) in length. The wood should be free of knots, twists or limbs. Green wood can be used if absolutely necessary, but it should be avoided because it does not provide the same power as dry wood. If using green wood, try for pine. It is the easiest to cut, and clean. Steel wool is usuable to clean it off. Also if using green wood, skin it, and soak it in water. Preferably hot water. This will help the bow to bend.
- Determine the natural curve of the stick. Every piece of wood will have a natural curve, no matter how slight. As you construct the bow, be mindful of the curve.
- Shape the bow. Ideally, you will want the bow to be strong (and hence thicker) in the center. A thick center will also serve as a good handle. Using a knife or similar tool, shave wood off the inside of the curve (the side that faces behind you when shooting) on the thicker half of the stick until it has the same width and pull as the thinner half. If the stick is roughly the same diameter all along its length, you may need to shave both ends to some degree. You want the bow to end up with a thick, strong center portion flanked by two thinner, more flexible end segments of roughly the same thickness and length (see Figure 1).
- Cut notches to hold the bow string. Use your knife to cut notches about 1-2 inches from each end of the bow. The notches should be in the shape of a half moon on the outside of the bow's curve (see inset, Figure 1).
- Select a bow string. The string can be made of rawhide, thin nylon rope, hemp cord, strands of cotton or silk from caterpillars, perhaps even vines or sinew. If you are stranded in the wilderness, it may be difficult to find a suitable string, and you may need to try a variety of materials before you find one that has the necessary strength. The string should not be stretchy, as the power comes from the wood, not the string.
- String the bow. Attach the string to the notch at one end of the bow. It is best to wrap it around the notch a few times before knotting it off. Then bend the bow and attach the string to the other notch. The string should be taut, and you should be able to feel the tension in the string and bow as you pull the string back even slightly. To make the bowstring reusable in the even that it should break, use a slipknot on each end.
- Select sticks for arrows. Arrows should be formed from the straightest sticks you can find. The wood should be dry and dead, however green wood does work if you can give it some extra time to dry out naturally, as the sap may ignite if placed over a fire to dry; each arrow should be about half as long as the bow, or as long at the bow can draw back. It does not do to have arrows that can't be pulled back to the bow's potential.
- Shape the arrows. You will need to whittle the wood smooth around the circumference of the arrow. You can straighten an arrow by gently heating the shaft over hot coals--do not scorch or burn the wood--and then holding the arrow straight while the wood cools. Carve a small notch at the back end of each arrow to accommodate the bow string.
- Construct the arrowheads. The simplest arrowhead is simply a carved point on the front of the arrow shaft. You can whittle such a point with a knife and then fire harden it by gently heating it in coals (again, be careful not to burn or scorch the wood). You can also construct an arrowhead from metal, stone, glass, or bone and attach it to the arrow's tip by notching the wood, inserting the arrowhead into the notch, and then lashing the arrowhead to the wood with some sort of string or cord.
- Find some feathers to make the fletchings and glue them (if possible) onto the back ends of the arrows. If fletching is not feasible, skip this step. While fletching improves the arrow's flight, it is not necessary for a field-expedient weapon..
- To make a fire using the bow you will need to gather dry moss, dryer lint, or other suitable tinder, a piece of hard wood that fits into your palm, and a piece of soft wood (softer than your arrow shaft).Cut a nock in the soft wood approximately 3 centimetres deep running the thickness of the wood, place this nock directly upon the tinder. Drill a small hole into the hard, palm-sized wood slightly larger than the diameter of your arrow shaft and no deeper than 5-10 millimetres. Twist a de-headed arrow into the string of the bow and place the butt of the arrow into the hole drilled into the hard wood. CAREFUL, as the arrow will want to twist out of the string and may injure you. Place the tip of the arrow into the nock of the soft wood. Begin pulling the bow back and forth, keeping the motion steady and even. The soft wood will begin to heat, smoke, and will eventually produce a small ember. This ember should fall into your pile of tinder. If carefully nursed, and blown upon until small flames appear, the pile can be picked up and carried by the bottom, carefully, and quickly to a prepared fire site.
- The bow and arrow detailed here is meant to be temporary and will not have a long life. Fortunately, you can relatively easily construct a replacement.
- The U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76, a public-domain resource, provides instructions for a variety of tools and weapons, and is a goldmine of survival tips. You can easily find a used copy online or in military surplus stores. The entire manual is also available free of charge in PDF format on the website for the Equipped to Survive Foundation (see External Links below).
- You can increase the bow's power by making two identical bows and lashing them together front-to-front (so that they form an "X" when viewed from the side) with string or rope. They should be tied together at the tips. Attach the bow string to only one of the bows. This is sort of a primitive crossbow.
- Additional Tip: Tightly wrap the bow with a wet strip of leather around the center two thirds of the bow (before stringing) and let it dry naturally. This will give your bow extra strength to resist breakage and should allow you to project arrows at a greater velocity.
- You can carve a notch about a centimeter into the wood and a inch up to put your arrows on once your bow is pulled back(to rest the arrow on,and keep it from wobbling).
- When you are testing a bow's draw weight, do not dry fire, or let go of the bowstring without an arrow on it. This will damage the bow over time.
- When making arrows, it is not necessary to fletch them, simply cut thin shavings off the wood, and leave them attached at one end, when bent up, these should act as make-shift and easy to construct flights. Do not let them run across your hand, follow the above tip to avoid that problem.
- When shaping the bow, make sure to shave wood off the inside of the curve (the back of the bow). Otherwise, the bow is likely to break on its first use.
- The bow and arrow is not easy to use effectively. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to hunt to survive, you may be better off constructing traps or a more easily-used weapon.
- This bow and arrow is a lethal weapon. Exercise caution when using, and never aim at anything you do not intend to kill.
- Use extreme caution with the knife or axe.
- You may want to carry a bowstring with you when camping as they are hard to make from scratch.
- Keep bow and arrows out of reach of small children.
- Always wait for everyone to finish shooting to collect arrows.
Things You'll Need
- A dead hardwood stick about 1 meter in length for the bow
- Non-stretchy string (Hemp string works best as it is the strongest fiber known to man and you can get it at any jewelry store)
- Wood cutting tool (sharp knife or axe)
- Straight, dead sticks about 1/2 meter in length for arrows
- Feathers for fletching
- flint stone,metal, or similar materials to make arrow heads
- Steel wool, if making a green bow
Sources and Citations
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