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Primitive Hunting - Part 1
 
We're doing a small series on primitive hunting weapons this winter, at The Human Path

I would like to be a little better about posting blog entries, and have a lot to write about, so I think I'll start with a short set of entries over the holidays on primitive projectiles. Mainly survival bows and atlatls.

Shooting a bundle bow made of giant reed (Arundo donax)

 
bundle bow
 
Survival bows are a lot of fun. The nicest thing about them is the fact that you don’t have to be too attached to the results when you’re making them. They’re not going to last more than a few weeks or months, so your expectations don’t have to be set really high. You’re not trying to make a self-bow that will last your lifetime and shoot as well as your fiberglass recurve.

Shooting a few different types of survival bows
 
primitive archery bow
 
What I try to go for as a goal when creating a survival bow is to make the bow in less than 2 hours at first, and eventually in about 30 minutes, with a minimal amount of sweat. Remember the adage, “ration sweat, not water,” when thinking about working, living or even surviving in the wilderness. To that end, take shortcuts when you are first learning, so that you get the concept down without getting frustrated on details. I use duct tape as a great tool to put survival bows together. It’s a faster way to bundle pieces of wood together and figure out the pull, evenness, etc., without having to spend a lot of time wrapping with cord (although there are many ways to quickly wrap with cord as well, but it’s not as quick and easy as duct tape). Use a good sharp knife, a decent hatchet, saw, etc., as well if you need, at first. Once you build up your confidence and are making great survival bows, then start taking away the tools that make it easy. Next use paracord, nothing more than a knife, and eventually move to stone tools and hand-made cordage. Don’t start your first survival bow with a stone edge and a clump of beargrass for your cordage, or you will never get to the main issue at hand. Learn how to make a bow quickly that is usable. Reading information in books and online (like this) is good, but you must learn from trial and error, and in doing so will likely invent something new that you never read about. Using tools and things like duct tape will make the trial and error part really go fast and be a lot of fun.

“Tree tillering” a survival bow – getting a consistent curvature. The half on the left is about what it wants to be for this bow (the tip could be thinned down a bit) – that is, it probably should be a little stiffer similar to the half on the right at this much pull, but it’s too late as the wood’s already been taken off. The half on the right is too stiff by comparison to the left side.
 
tree tillering
 
There are a number of different types of survival bows. Mainly what you’re trying to do is find (usually green) wood that will give enough resistance to create a 30-50 pound pull, and be relatively “snappy” in the release. It’s not something you’d want to hunt a deer with from 40 yards, but it is something you should be able to take a 20-40 foot shot with, even at a deer (with a good broadhead of one type or another), and get a kill. Certainly a survival bow is appropriate for smaller mammals and larger birds. The only problem is that it is tough to really get consistent accuracy with a survival bow. Especially if you’re making your own arrows. Every bow is different, and certainly every arrow is different, no matter how good you are at making arrows in the wild. The accuracy issue will make you a better archer though. After shooting survival bows for a while (whether with factory or home made arrows) you will start to get a much better “feel” for bows, for the wood and the way it flexes, and for intuitive shooting. You will really notice this improvement when you shoot a more well-made bow.

won’t get into arrows (yet), but do want to cover some of the different types of survival bows:

1) Reed Bundle Bow -This is my favorite type of survival bow. It is a very simple concept, very easy to make and can give you a great return on your labor in a short amount of time. The idea is to bundle together at least 2 pieces of flexible reeds. Reeds/grasses like giant reed (Arundo donax) and bamboo are great for this in the San Antonio and Central TX area. There are many variations of the reed bundle bow. You can bundle small lengths together at the handle if you don’t have overall length. I prefer to use longer lengths if possible and bundle the lengths from longer to shorter, setting in the different lengths (and alternating thick and thin ends) to offset the pull and tiller the bow this way. “Tillering” means working to get a consistent pull from the handle through the ends, with both sides being as equal in flex, stack and pull as possible. With a reed-type bundle bow, you have to work with different lengths to give you this since you cannot carve any of the thickness away the way that you can with solid wood (as the wood is hollow).

Fresh, Green American Sycamore branch for a one-piece survival bow

 
survival bow
 
2) Rat tail bows and solid core bundle bows - This can be a single piece of wood or two (or sometimes more) pieces of wood that are stacked together, with one long piece and one shorter piece. Whether one or more pieces of wood, this is a bow made out of solid wood (not a reed or grass), so you need to use your knife to “rat tail” the ends and make the bow a consistent and tapered diameter. If you are using two pieces of wood together, the relationship of tension between them is important. I usually put the shorter piece as the belly of the bow. If the shorter piece is too stiff compared to the long piece, the long piece may break at the tips. If it’s too weak compared to the long piece, either piece of wood may break nearer to the center. If using 2 or more pieces of wood, tiller each piece separately first, then put them together, center and tiller them as a unit. Again, this is where duct tape helps out a lot. Start in the center of the bow and just make a couple of turns around the bow. Work outward in both directions, with a tape strip about every 8-10 inches.

3) One-piece survival bow - This is sort of like a fast and furious version of a self-bow, except it’s usually cut from a green sapling or a branch off a tree. Being green wood, it’s usually really easy to carve it down, and it should last at least a few weeks (depending on the wood and the climate) until it starts to dry and crack. The picture above is a small, straight branch I trimmed off a sycamore tree. I cut it down to a rough and ugly little survival bow in about 20 minutes using a hachet and a knife. It has about a 40-45 pound pull and floor-tillered very easily, so it actually has a decent, smooth pull to it. However, it’s not as springy as I would like. This was my first try with this wood. I know sycamore was used for wagon wheels and furniture in the 18th and 19th century. As a green wood it’s very easy to carve on.

Finished, floor-tillered bow from Sycamore branch – about 20-30 minutes total time invested

 
one piece survival bow
 
There are some other types of survival bows and variations of the ones I’ve listed above. Some are interesting and take a little more work, like the “father-son” bow. However, I’m going to sign off for now. I will shoot that sycamore bow and get some video for the next entry, as well as make another bundle bow to compare it to, out of some local bamboo.