On close examination I found his bow to be the stem of a small sapling split in halves, with very little finish; but his arrows were a wonder of exact work and feathered on the true scientific principle. I could not bend his bow in the slightest, and, when he had braced it, it would have taken the balls of my fingers off to have drawn an arrow to the head on it, yet his great horny hands used it without trouble, sending an arrow of his make full as far as I could, with my bow, shoot the best Highfield target shaft! My hickory hunting arrows, made at great expense by a cunning carpenter, under my own direct supervision, and pointed by a smith of approved skill, were appreciably less nicely adjusted than his. You could easily discover the difference, watching their flight through a long shot over open ground. Here was a triumph of savage cunning and skill over enlightened science and art! This fine finish is not common to Indian arrows. Most of the missiles in the quivers of Sioux, Navajos, and Comanches are detestably rough and unreliable things.

From the first I recognized Tommy as my master in the noble science and art of archery, and I labored hard to win his approbation by some achievement worthy his notice. At last I accomplished this. He had a very broad-feathered arrow which he had named “floo-hoo,” on account of 2 peculiar roaring sound it made while flying through the air. You could hear it two hundred yards. One day he shot this arrow at a plover standing on a point of sand. It went loudly whizzing just over the bird’s back, making it settle low down as if struck at by a hawk and frightened out of its wits. I was at Tommy’s side when he shot. The bird was a good hundred yards away. He did not miss it a foot. Now was my time, and I settled myself to my work.

Selecting a light, narrow-feathered shaft, I planted my feet firmly, measured the distance carefully with my eye, drew to my ear and let go. It was a glorious piece of luck and good shooting combined. The arrow went like a thought, noiselessly, unwaveringly straight to the mark, cutting the game through the craw, killing it on the spot. I leaned on my bow with as much nonchalance and grace as I could command, while Tommy gave me my meed of praise. He patted me on the back and wagged his head significantly; he grunted in various keys, and finally wound up with:
“Beat! ugh! nice! good! dam!”

Maurice Thompson. 1879. The Witchery of Archery Chapter XIV: Three weeks of savage life.

Full book available online at http://www.archerylibrary.com/books/witchery/

5 thoughts on “On close examin…

  1. Isaiah

    I’ve been reading this book lately and recommend it: http://www.amazon.com/Longbows-Far-North-Archers-Adventures/dp/B008W4CHFW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382299181&sr=8-1&keywords=longbows+in+the+far+north

    My understanding is that the longbow is a weapon in which it is fiendishly difficult to acquire even the most rudimentary skill, far more so to master. Nevertheless, I’m considering acquiring one to attempt to hunt Caribou or Sitka deer in Alaska.

    1. ringtailcats Post author

      Thanks for the book recommendation, I ordered it today. Besides the obvious coolness factor, are you considering the longbow (over recurve or other options) because of their (potentially) absurd power? I have a 50 lb take-down recurve that is (purportedly) powerful enough to break elk bones. You can get recurves up to 65 pounds. I don’t know if the longbow is really that much harder to learn than the recurve, I’ve only shot one a few times. The difference is the “bending” of the arrow around the longbow, while with a recurve the arrow goes straight off the bowstring. I am certain you can become sufficiently skilled in either bow type with a few weeks practice to hit a deer at 60 ft. After you reach this level of skill, it’s probably more efficient to hone your stalking skills and animal behavior knowledge to allow closer shots. The Native Americans were totally uninterested in excelling at long-distance shooting, even when the got rifles (which they’d promptly ruin the rifling of by shooting pebbles), since they could easily get close enough to hit their prey even with inaccurate or weak bows and arrows. With a bow, you can take multiple shots without scaring the prey, and you can hunt all day without driving away animals.

  2. Isaiah

    To be honest, it’s not clear to me at all what the employment differences between a recurve and a longbow are; I had to google recurve. Which would you suggest I get? My priority is taking medium-sized ungulates in my first hunting season, without having to spend years learning the bow. I’m less interested in taking massive animals like Moose or Elk, although I would certainly consider it if I thought my bow was capable of it.

    I really didn’t know you were interested in archery or I would have asked your advice earlier. You should definitely plan on coming up to Alaska in August or September, when Caribou season opens. I intend to undertake at least one expedition to the tundra in the north, where the massive Caribou herds (almost a million animals) have their summer ranges.

    1. ringtailcats Post author

      Just based on availability and price, I’d go with the recurve. I got my takedown recurve for about $180. The maker is October Mountain, the model is the Mountaineer, and it is a 50# draw, and 60″ tall. I can’t remember the website I got it from, or really why I got that specific make/model, other than the price and draw weight. Emily just got a 30#, 52″ shakespeare archery sierra model from mom’s friends ranch sale, which is really cool and well-made, but out of manufacture. Most target archers, such as with the Cal archery club, use a recurve. The compound is for sissies and/or technophiles.

      One universal benefit of the recurve over longbow is its easier to carry while hunting in the field, especially if you’re maneuvering through thick brush. Also, unstrung, the recurve is shorter. If you get a takedown, it makes it super easy to carry, store in your pack, and quickly assemble (2 mins) when you want to shoot. There’s also the fact that arrows shot off a longbow need to “bend” around the bow, so you have to learn to compensate for that.

      I’m really not trying to dissuade you from the longbow though. Longbows are badass just for their history, make, look, and materials. Also, longbows can be far more powerful, up to 200 lbs for the ancient English war bows. Learning to shoot one would be a good skill to have.

      It’d be pretty awesome to bowhunt caribou on the Alaskan tundra. Or just to hunt at all in Alaska. I’ll definitely keep it in mind.


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