Chief Factor - Staff Writer


The North American Frontiersmen


Smoke Signals

Jan./Feb. '10



Letís Take Up Primitive Archery

By: Howdy Davis

In this, and in subsequent articles, Iíll walk you through the sport of primitive archery as it pertains to target shooting for fun, shooting primitive competition, and the more serious aspect, that of hunting with a primitive bow and arrows.

First and foremost, letís take a look at the primitive bow. If your desire is to shoot for fun, you wonít need the heavier bow used in hunting. The draw weight required of a hunting bow can be found in each stateís hunting regulations. We donít have anything to say about it. The laws are the laws and we must pay heed.

The draw weight of the bow is determined by the amount of energy it takes to pull a bow to a determined draw length. Most people will draw anywhere from twenty four to twenty eight inches. Some will draw twenty nine or thirty, but that is getting rare. Just about every bow that is worth its salt, made by a professional bowyer, will be marked with draw weight and length (AMO). Home made bows usually are not marked. The markings will look generally like this: 45# @ 28" and underneath that will be AMO 68". That all means that the bow draws forty five pounds at a draw length of twenty eight inches and it is sixty eight inches long. You can expect to lose approximately one and half to two and a half pounds of draw weight for each inch of draw under twenty eight inches (or whatever draw length is indicated in writing on the bow). Home made bows are usually not marked and if I were just starting out in archery Iíd stay away from them.

To get a decent bow, eschew the temptations of eBay and the local junk shops. Go to a reputable dealer or bowyer and explain your situation. Let him know that you are looking for a primitive bow, one that will last a long time and that will not have too much hand shock or string follow.. There should be no fiberglass or carbon composite in its makeup. With his assistance, acquire a bow and matching arrowsóbe sure they donít have plastic fletching or nocks. Your bow can be backed with sinew, rawhide, or another wood or perhaps even bamboo, although Iíd check on the regulations of the events I might want to compete in. Your goal will be to get a bow that is comfortable for you to shoot. Donít be so macho that you get one you cannot pull and hold for thirty seconds without your drawing arm trembling or shaking.

There are many good bows available, among them, Howard Hill, Mystic Longbows, Pine Hollow Longbows, Lightning Longbows (a favorite of Bill Cunningham) and Don Adams Archery. I really like the Howard Hill bows but frankly, people like John Schulz (who has a fantastic video out there and who makes a Howard Hill style bow) and many others can place a fine bow in your hands. But they will not be free. Perhaps you will want to look at some of the newcomers such as Striped Wolf. These bows are pretty, shoot well, and cost around $200.00. Or if you are really handy you might want to get a stave or two and make your own. In any event, Iíd recommend you get a copy of Primitive Archer magazine, online at, or phone at (713) 557-8209, or at many newsstands . This is my favorite source of information about primitive archery and has articles about some of the finest bowyers and equipment suppliers in the world. One of the most useful books to come out recently is T.J. Conradís The Traditional Bowhunterís Handbook. While it is mostly about traditional, not primitive, archery, it is related and will give you just about all the information you are going to need to become an archer, such as how to hold various styles of bows, how to tune your bow, how to make arrows, what the various quivers are and their attributes and shortcomings. It tells you how to shoot a left or right handed bow and how to choose one. No archer should be without it. A great source of learning about equipment and which style you like are archery meets and rendezvous. They often have dealers who set up with lots of equipment and youíll find them happy to help you. This is also a good place to get into a little competition. Donít be afraid of not being equal to other competitors. You wonít be as good as some and you will be better than others. The point is to have fun and to watch and learn.

When you have the opportunity to examine a dealerís bows, ask to shoot them. If the guy is reputable he should have no problem with that, and should even be able to give you pointers when he watches you shoot. If he doesnít, you can ask. If he still doesnít seem friendly and helpful, you can go somewhere else to do business. If you donít already know your draw length, pick up a bow with your left handódonít try to strangle it, just hold it and press the heel of your hand against its force; gripping it too hard takes the work away from the bow. Pick out a spot on a target or other object. Turn sideways to it (a 90 degree angle). Place an arrow on the string and draw it back until your middle finger gets to the corner of your mouth. This is called an anchor point. A hint: begin your draw with your shoulder, trying to make that shoulder blade touch the other one.. Once your shoulder has traveled as far as is comfortable, lock it in place and finish the draw with your arm. Hold the draw while someone pinches the arrow right up tight at the front of the bowóthat part farthest from you, called the back, and takes it away or marks it. Let up your draw being careful not to "dry fire" the bow (something you must never, ever, doóit has been the death of many, many bows). Measure the distance from the bottom of the arrow nock to the place where the arrow was at the back of the bow. This will be your draw length. After that, always draw to the same anchor point to ensure consistency in your shooting. In the beginning, add and inch or two to your arrow length to be save (you donít want to overdraw one accidentally). After you shoot for a while you might lengthen your draw length and if you donít you can shorten the arrowsóyouíll find it difficult to say the least to lengthen them. I always add an inch or so because in the excitement of a hunt I sometimes get excited and tend to pull more arrow. And besides, if you have a broadhead on there you donít want to risk pulling it into your fingers. They are sharp as razors and cut like scalpels. But remember, each inch of arrow that protrudes beyond your draw length costs you about ten feet of distance.

As soon as you can, find out your draw length and the draw weight you are most comfortable with. Among other things this will give you the length of arrows you will need. When I started in archery I was shooting a forty eight pound Bear tournament bow. Of course, I was in much better shape than I am now although I am still a fine figure of a man!. Even so, I had to constantly work outóthree times a week I competed on a national field archery course which consisted of twenty eight targets and you shot four arrows at each. It wasnít until I switched to a thirty eight pound Hoyt that was seventy inches AMO that I began winning every tournament I entered. In my opinion one thing to remember when buying a bow is that the longer the bow the more accurate it is. In those days I chose a seventy incher and later dropped down to a sixty eight AMO that gave me the power I needed to hit those eighty yard targets. So. . . begin with the lighter bow and get matching arrows and you will open up a new world for yourself.

For targets that wonít break the bank, save all your plastic shopping bags, bubble pack, and plastic sheet of all kinds and stuff them into a large burlap bag. Coffee shops are great sources for bags. They can cost from a buck to two and a half bucks. Get the coarsest weave you can find. Get a kid to jump up and down in there until the material is packed really good, then sew or tie the top, and waugh1, you have got a good target that will stop your arrows and will last for hundreds and hundreds of shots. Paint some red or yellow or black spots for aiming at and you are good to go. Keep in mind that starting out or practicing in the winter time all you need is about ten yards. Mark it off. You can find ten yards indoors if you donít want to shoot outside in the snow. I remember when I started I got my new Hoyt and I had an apartment with a hallway nine yards from where I stood at the back of the room. I practiced every night after work. I did put a hole in the wall that I patched up with Ivory soap. You must get or make an arm guard (called a bracer), and a finger tab or a shooting glove. To me, tabs are best. Cunningham will sell you one that he makes (bracers, too). He makes some fine stuff. Pizza boxes make wonderful targets to put on the front of your burlap bag. But donít draw a target on it.

Begin shooting at a short distanceóseven feet is not too close. Set up with no target, just the burlap bag filled with plastic. Draw your bow and practice releasing the arrow. Concentrate on a smooth release and consistent form. You will discover that form is everything! Fire at least fifty arrows a day. Shoot three and retrieve them. Shooting more than three at a time tires you unduly and makes for inconsistencies. When releasing the string, let it slide away and your shooting hand should come straight back, touching your ear lobe and stopping behind your ear. This has always worked for me although there are other methods such as keeping your hand close to your anchor point. Cunningham prefers to end up with his fingers resting against his cheek. Itís a matter of what feels good to you. Whatever you do donít "pluck" the stringóthat will cause your hand to fly off to the side as though giving a parade wave. Stare at the exact, small, tiny point you wish to hit. Stare a hole in it. At short distances your arrow will probably go high. Donít worry about it. In the next article Iíll talk about instinctive shooting. There is no black magic about itóitís just plain fun and itís quiet. You can do it anytime you have a spare five minutes. A real plus is that you donít have to take a bath with the weapon when you are done as you must with a muzzle loader.

If you should like to talk about it, call me. Iím on the membership list, or you can email me at Look for me at the NAF rendezvous and we will shoot some stumps.

Howdy Davis


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