Bows and Arrows -- Part Two: Arrows and Archers
Nature Bulletin No. 593 February 27, 1960
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Daniel Ryan, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
Richard Becker, Naturalist
BOWS AND ARROWS - PART TWO: ARROWS AND ARCHERS
Archery, and hunting with a bow, are sports increasingly popular in this
country. Bows and arrows are still used by primitive tribes, such as the
pigmies in Africa and the aborigines in South American jungles, who
frequently tip their arrows with deadly poisons. The warlike Indians of
the Great Plains used bows and arrows long after the introduction of
firearms. Loading an old-fashioned musket took too much time and was
difficult for a brave on a running horse. After repeating rifles appeared,
they and cartridges for them were greatly prized but hard to get.
Like most Indians, the plains tribes made one-piece arrows from
straight shoots of young trees or shrubs. Species such as green ash,
black cherry, choke cherry, gray dogwood, bearberry, and willow grew
in river bottoms, on the prairies, and in the foothills. The eastern
woodland Indians could select from a greater variety including hickory,
maple, ash, the cherries, the dogwoods, alder, and arrowwood
vibernum. Birch arrows tend to warp and become inaccurate.
In general, the length of an arrow was governed by its purpose and the
length of the bow. Those used by the Blackfoot, Sarsi, Dakota (Sioux)
and Cheyenne averaged about 25 inches, although Sioux arrows for
killing buffalo were shorter. Those made by the woodland Indians were
longer because they hunted on foot and used longer bows.
A good arrow had a standard value similar to that of a dressed buffalo
hide, a beaver pelt, or our dollar. Among the Crow Indians, for
example, an average horse was worth 10 good arrows and the purchase
price for a wife was about 10 horses. To make an arrow required a day's
work and ordinarily each brave made his own, especially his hunting
arrows which were retrieved from dead game and used repeatedly.
Some individuals were exceptionally skillful and for a price, perhaps a
feast, could be hired to make a bundle of war arrows -- each decorated
and bearing the owner's brand.
Woodland Indians commonly bound a bundle of shoots with thongs and
hung them over the lodge fire for several weeks to season them. After
being sanded they were straightened: usually by greasing and heating
the crooked places and then holding each shoot in a straight line until it
cooled. The plains Indians straightened and rounded a shoot by drawing
it through a hole drilled in an antler or horn, and by rubbing it between
two grooved stones.
To control its flight and accuracy, an arrow was fletched with stiff tail
feathers from eagles, hawks, owls or turkeys. Many tribes attached three
feathers; others used only two, or even one. Sometimes, to give a
spiraling flight to an arrow, the feathers were twisted a half turn around
the butt of the shaft. Arrows used for shooting birds, small game, and
fish had small "bird points" or none at all. Those for warfare and
hunting big game had large sharp arrowheads -- fashioned from flint,
obsidian, horn, antler, or even bone -- attached to the tip with sinews.
After the white men came, iron was commonly used.
Modern bows and arrows are far superior to any used by the Indians or
by Robin Hood and his merry men. Many parks have archery ranges
(some indoor) and teachers, sponsor archery clubs, and conduct
tournaments for boys and girls, young men and women, and old folks.
Boy Scouts are being taught to make their own bows and arrows, and
how to use them. Most states, including Illinois, now have special
seasons for hunting deer and other game with bows and special arrows.
Archery has become an exciting pastime for young and old.
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Update: June 2012