Traditional Archery: Stick and String

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recurve bow
A traditional archer shooting at a local 3-D shoot. He shot straight up, 3 under, arrow is in line with his elbow.  Relaxed hand grip.  Notice the tips of the limbs on this recurve bow, a lot of potential energy waiting to be released.

The Beginning of Archery

Archery goes back thousands of years; the reality is that the bow and arrow were among the first known weapons used by man. From the late Paleolithic age around 8500 B.C. to the first legal bow deer taken in Wisconsin in 1930, traditional archery has continued to thrive as a useful way to hunt and a great hobby to attempt. Over all these years, the traditional bow has not changed immensely; in fact, Roy Case furthered the traditional archery tradition back in 1930.

Armed with a personal letter from the Conservation Department of Wisconsin allowing him to use his 61 inch Osage bow, 450 grain Port Orford shaft and a “Kiska” broadhead during Wisconsin’s 10 day gun deer season, he successfully accomplished something nobody thought could ever be done with traditional archery equipment: he filled his tag with a spike buck in the hunting season of 1930.

From that day on, archery seasons started popping up in counties all over the state of Wisconsin. The deep-seated passion for traditional archery has been passed on thanks to people like Roy Case, Fred Bear, Howard Hill, Dr. Saxton Pope and Arthur Young, just to name a few. Even with the invention of the first compound bow in 1966 by Holless Wilbur Allen, traditional archery has stood the test of time and all the changes in this sport. The fancy wheels, pulleys, let-offs, etc. that the compound bow began to offer did not draw the attention away from all the traditional stick-and-string enthusiasts. Even when, in 1969 the compound drew its first patent, traditional archers stood their ground and remained faithful to their ancestral ways.

Today more than ever, traditional archery has grown tremendously in popularity. Archers love the variety of the sport from the 3-D shoots, five spot tournaments, archery golf, shooting aerials and just plain old stump shooting; hunting is not the only thing that draws more and more people to the challenge of traditional archery. Even those who grew up shooting traditional but parted ways with it for the lure of the “bells and whistles” of the compound have found themselves being drawn back to the challenge of the stick and string. Many soon find out that traditional archery is truly addicting.

64" self-bow
64” self-bow, one piece stave of Osage.

For the newbie, the first time that arrow actually hits the spot where you were aiming, you’re both pleasantly surprised and ultimately hooked (especially since it most likely took weeks or months, a lot of patience, and old-fashioned will power to keep trying!). Some compound bow shooters never would have thought about giving traditional archery a try, but once they have taken the leap of faith they have just added another tool to their arsenal in pursuing whitetails and long beards-- oh yes, and it is as fun as it is rewarding!

The History of the Traditional Bow

Self-bows were first on the scene in ancient times. They were made out of wood of course, and with the proper grain direction a self-bow was very effective. The length of the bow was determined by the height and draw length of the shooter. Once the proper stave was found it was shaved down and fitted with a sinew string at the proper brace height. Strings were made from all types of things from animal intestines, to the sinew of a snapping turtles neck, to the toughest material of all, various plant fibers. Plant fibers held up the best because of their durability in damp conditions and they resisted stretching.

The name “self-bow” wasn’t used because the bow was made by yourself; rather it was named this because it is created completely out of one piece (stave) of wood; there is nothing else needed or gluing of any parts. Most self-bows were made of Osage, which would last anywhere from 5 – 10 years. Eventually though the limbs would start to wear out and the brace height would get longer. This would cause the bow to lose its zip. This ancient yet accurate bow has led us into the bow we shoot today.

Longbow and Hybrid
Left to right.  Classic "D" shaped longbow.  In the middle is a one piece hybrid with slight deflex in the limbs.  On the right is a 3 piece takedown with a slight deflex in the limbs as well..

The longbows of today came from the natural, one piece self-bow and eventually evolved into so much more. Current- day longbows are made of laminated woods glued together with cores of bamboo, foam and even carbon. The length of the longbow is determined by the draw length of the archer. A true longbow, when strung, has a slight “D” shape to it. There is however hybrid versions with a slight deflex in the limbs toward the tips. This would allow a little more speed of arrow flight, similar to how a recurve bow works. The popularity of the longbow has been steadily increasing for its ease and efficiency. A stringer is may not be needed to string this bow, and the light weight makes it a comfortable bow to carry around on a day’s hunt.

In ancient times the Kings of England encouraged archery tournaments to seek out the best longbow shooters. The winners were paid handsomely but were also then used in the king’s wars. In fact, all other sports were banned on Sunday except archery. Over time longbows were soon replaced by firearms for warfare, but bows did continue to maintain their popularity for recreation and hunting.

The modern-day traditional bow has been slightly modified to get more out of the bow. The longbow is only as effective as how they are drawn because of the straight limbs. The modern day adhesives and materials allow for much higher efficiency and performance than its ancient predecessor. This is where the recurve bow has the advantage. The tips of a recurve are rolled over on the ends so that the string is in contact with the bow before you reach the nock giving the bow more potential energy before it is even drawn-- on a longbow the strings’ only contact is at the tips. The mechanical advantage of the recurve is that when fully drawn, the limb is unwound, making the limb appear longer, thus giving it more speed and efficiency. The recurve is a hard hitting, smooth, reliable bow well-suited for all aspects of archery. Some may consider recurves better than longbows because archers can get away with a shorter bow and not give up any speed or smoothness.

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