Hunting with a bow and arrow is one of those things that seem to be tied to human history. Humans have been using wood bows as a means to harvest wild game for about 60,000 years. The simplicity of a bow makes it an easy and effective tool for the common man to use. In the last 60,000 years that bows have been made, many were made with natural local materials that the people had access to. Some woods are not as efficient as others, but many types of woods and materials can and have been used for the creation of the tool.
In modern times it is common to see bow hunters using compound bows, though many are making the switch to using traditional bows due to simplicity and the challenge that comes with it.
Compound bows are overall more efficient and with the latest gear and gadgets arguably more accurate due to things like sights and stabilizers as well as allowing for a stronger bow that is efficient at ranges which traditoinal bows are unreliable.
You may be asking yourself, “why even bother shooting a traditional bow” and despite it being more challenging, I will tell you some of the reasons why I and many other hunters are interested in getting into this niche of hunting.
In the past few years I discovered a few youtube channels where people were showing themselves making self-bows (bows made at home using wood) with hand tools and the hunts they take the bows on. Clay Hayes and Ryan Gill were the youtubers who truly inspired me to make my own traditional self bow.
My first bow was made from a hackberry tree that I cut down by hand. The wood was green and only left to dry with the bark on for a week or two until I started working the wood. My first bow was a learning bow and I made a few mistakes along the way leading to it not being perfectly lined up and the draw weight I intended. My second bow was made from a red oak 1”x2” from Lowes and I ended up breaking this bow due to a crack in the wood. I plan on making more bows from a both hackberry and wood from Lowes in the coming weeks and will probably upload it on my youtube channel.
Despite all the effort and failures, the reasons why I continue to pursue this discipline include the tradition, simplicity, DIY aspect, discipline, and the struggle. I will further expand on these reasons below.
1. The Tradition
The first reason I wanted to get into building traditional bows for hunting was due to the long history and tradition of bows throughout human history. Something about the idea that it has worked for tens of thousands of years and is still used today tells me that the design is practical and efficient enough to have the desired outcome that all hunters want.
Since bows are relatively simple, it gives you a natural handicap which forces you to be in tune with your bow and really observe.
Observation is the key to being a successful bowman and hunter in general as without it you miss out on key hints and sign of animals nearby. It forces you to take the time to learn plants, sharpen your hunting method, and just really be able to just become a greater hunter as the requirement to get closer is required, causing little room for error.
2. The Simplicity
As I mentioned previously the design of the bow has been used for thousands of years. There is no perfect plan, each person just built their bows how they wanted them to be used and based on the quality of material that they were working with.
I am sure that they continuously tweaked with the length and overall design of the bow as to better suit their needs based on each person’s individual build, strength, and hunting conditions. Building a bow is not a hard task and takes relatively little amounts of skill to build a strong and lethal weapon from a once living tree. It is able to be taken apart and put back together in little time. It has so little moving parts that there is relatively little that you can do to cause a major malfunction outside of the manufacturing process.
3. The DIY Aspect of it
Speaking of the manufacturing process from someone who has little to no woodworking skill, building bows is not as complex as people make them seem. I believe that the average person can build one with little tools and little knowledge from either a youtube video or a book. I use only a few hand tools and got by just fine on my build.
I started with just a borrowed saw to cut down the tree, a old vintage draw knife, a couple of harbor freight wood rasps, a pencil, and a hatchet to get the wood carved down to shape. There are tools that you can buy to possible speed up the bow building process, though I personally find the entire thing meditative and relaxing.
You will most likely find yourself building multiple bows as you will find yourself either messing up or wanting to play around with the overall design and layout of the bow. Some bows could be more for target practice or for hunting. Some could be a long bow while others could be a short bow. One could be made from aged wood, while others could be green wood. The possibilities go on as there are endless different techniques and that many different cultures have developed intentionally or accidentally as a means to create better, more efficient bows in less time or with poor resources.
I personally find it so spiritual to not only hunt for your own food and connect with it, but to also build your own weapons and know where the wood and other materials came from. It makes the time you spend in the woods and the hunt you are on even more special/personal. It is a reminder that we are humans first and that we do not need to rely on a big company or manufacturer to produce a product for us to buy. With a little patience and effort you can get/make almost anything your heart desires out of materials that are already available to us naturally or from scrap.
4. The Discipline
Despite the simplicity of the desgign and abundance of materials, it should be known that bow hunting is one of those things that deserves some time allocation. For those who use compound bows, it may be just a weekend or two before whatever season you plan on using it for, but for those who choose to use the traditional bow, things are little different.
Since there are natural limitaitons to using a self-bow or traditional bow setup you cannot rely on things such as sights and stabilizers to help ensure you the shot. If you are using natural materials, you will not be able to reach the flight speed/velocity of arrows that are shot from compound bows which greatly reduces the amount of space that one should ethically take a shot from, though this depends hunter to hunter.
Many traditional bowhunters dedicate daily times year round to practicing with their bow(s) to ensure that they will hit their mark if the time calls for it. I personally like when I have hobbies that are part of my daily ritual. They end up being a meditative experience and remind me of what I am truly here to do as a human.
5. The Struggle of Hunting
Lastly, since there is a slight handicap when shooting a traditional bow, I find that with great struggle creates a stronger, more adaptive person. Using tools bows that are less efficient than modern hunting bows makes you rely on observation more. You can’t just set up at any old blind or stand and expect the animals to just walk right in front of you. You have to learn your landscape and find the areas that allow for close range shots.
You also have to understand food plots, field access, daily travel patterns etc. This is more excusable if you are off by a few hundred yards or so when rifle hunting, but in the field of traditional archery there is little room for mistake as you are limited to only 30-40 yards for an advanced shooter.
Traditional archery is a fun hobby that many people are familiar with. It is typically introduced to us as children and gradually forgotten as many tend to stick to rifle hunting or using a more efficient modern bow. There are some talks about the ethicality of using traditional bows instead of modern bows due to their inefficiencies, but I would argue the argument is not founded on a solid foundation.
There are many factors to tradtitional racheyr, many of them being its simplicity, its challenge, tradition, discipline, craftsmanship, and many more. I belive that using this bow not only makes you change your perspective on the pursuit of animals but makes you listen and think a little more. It forces you to adapt and change your ways and is unforgiving for the slightest of error. Depsite this it is beautiful and unlike anything in the world. Give it some thought if you haven’t or atleast consider bow hunting as a whole.