After spending an entire week staring a computer screens to update this website, it was a great relief to spend a Saturday carving primitive bows in a workshop led by local self-reliance expert Christopher Nyerges. Kelly and I have been into archery for many years, off and on, but we’ve never tried to make our own bow.
A bow seems like a simple device until you try to make one that will work repeatedly without breaking. A bow is actually a very complicated tool, something that should inspire respect for our distant ancestors. Paul Campbell author of an excellent book Survival Skills of Native California was along to co-teach the class and help us all shape our bows.
The first step was to find some suitable wood. We used willow, a wood used by Native Americans in our region. It’s plentiful and makes an acceptable if short lived bow. Ash and oak and bay trees are local woods which are better for the purpose, but our goal for the day was a quick and dirty bow. These bows aren’t bowyers’ masterpieces. They are survival tools, and their effectiveness is not about their long-range accuracy, but on the skills of the hunter. Native hunters used their tracking and stalking skills to get very, very close to the game before they shot.
The next step was to begin shaping the wood with axes and knives. That’s about as far as we got in a few hours. My piece of wood was still too wet to shape, so it’s clamped in the garage to dry. Those who found drier pieces of willow got a bit further, with a few competed bows by the end of the day. Paul was using jute from the hardware store as string, but he also brought along a bow that had a sinew bow string. It’s also possible to fashion a string out of yucca fibers. Yucca plants are easy to find around here. I’d suspect that most regions have some kind of fibrous bark or plant which could be twisted into string.
Once my willow stick dries I’ll have to continue shaping the bow, eventually reaching the point where I’ll check the “tiller” i.e. even bendiness of the bow.
I normally use a very modern, Olympic style recurve bow. But lately I’ve had more fun with Kelly’s more primitive Hungarian horse bow. There’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of a primitive bow. Plus, it’s good to know that in a pinch, a functional bow can be thrown together in a day.
For more info on Nyerges’ informative and entertaining classes see his website: www.christophernyerges.com