Caring for and using your self bow

A primitive bow needs only a small amount of care, and really it's not very different than a modern lamination bow, except that with laminations the main point of potential failure is the glue and with wooden self bows it's the fiber structure. Some simple steps can keep your bow shooting for many years (my current self bow is ten years old).

Avoiding some bad habits while stringing the bow, proper storage, and some infrequent maintenance is all that is necessary for you to get the most out of your investment.

Good habits and routines to follow

Check Your String: Be sure to check the string for fraying so that it will not "pop" during use, which may damage the bow.

Bracing the Bow: With all bows, bracing incorrectly can result in damage to the bow. Whatever method you use, make sure it is bending both limbs evenly without overstraining one or the other.

Bow stringers are the easiest way to properly brace your bow. Considering the low cost of a bow stringer, it is a worth while investment.

The "Push Pull" method is also very safe for the bow, yet there is some danger to the face or back of the archer if done improperly. It is bit difficult to learn and can be frustrating in the beginning. Once learned it is a very convenient method requiring no equipment to perform. It is difficult to describe, so I recommend watching the video above.

The "Step Through" method can easily be done incorrectly. If the leg is not square with the handle throughout the bend it will result in one of the limbs being over strained, which is potentially damaging or fatal to the bow.

Before shooting

Warming Up the Bow: The importance of this step cannot be overstated. The longer a bow has gone un used the more care it needs in "warming up." This has nothing to do with temperature, but is rather like an athlete preparing for an event.

To use your Self Bow, first begin by leaving it braced for a few minutes to get used to the idea of bending. Do this in the environment you will be shooting it in.

Before Shooting it at full draw pop off a few arrows at half draw to get it used to shooting. Then you may shoot as normal. NEVER DRY FIRE YOUR BOW! A dry fire is when you pop the string with no arrow. This causes the energy that would have gone into the arrow to reverberate through the bow, and can break or damage any bow.

Shooting the Self Bow: When shooting the bow, be sure you pull back to full draw in a slower and more relaxed manner than with a modern compound bow. There should be no rush and there is no need rapidly pull back and then try to hold it. Aim as you draw and pause at anchor if it suits you.

Storing the Bow: Place the bow in a horizontal resting place when it is not being used. Storing in an upright or leaning position will warp the bow over time because of the varying barometric pressures, much like a pool stick. Under your bed or above a coat rack on two nails can be ideal storage.

Don't subject it to intense heat like a car in the summer, at least not for long. Wood and glue can dry out, causing cell wall collapse in the micro structures.

Friends using the bow: In general, don't let anyone else use your bow unless they thoroughly understand that it is not meant to be overdrawn.

If they over draw it, pull it back too rapidly and don't warm it up all at the same time, your bow could be damaged or break. Don't let this happen.

Occasional Oiling: Rubbing with a food grade mineral oil occasionally to preserve the luster of the finish and to keep the wood from drying out too much is not entirely necessary, but in general, wood likes to be well oiled and it certainly doesn't hurt.

Finger positions in primitive archery

Finger positions fall into three basic categories: Pinch grips, thumb-rings, & hook grips.

To ancient people, archery was a culture unto itself, with thousands of variances. I cannot reccomend any one style over another, as with practice all can be equally effective. It is good to be aware that most archery instruction and guidlines today are based on European target archery, which has little bearing on what used to be effective for ancient hunting techniques or warfare.

Arrow maintenance

Using your arrows responsibly is the first step towards maintaining them. I have hit rocks and not broken my arrows, but don't count on it every time. Safety requires checking on the arrows for splintering when mishaps like these occur.

Losing arrows in the forest is a common malady to the archer, and so it is recommended to use judo points in these situations.

The hardwood tapered shafts can take incredible abuse, while spruce and cedar shafts cannot.

The sinew binding on the arrows can dry out over time, and so occasionally adding a small amount of super glue to rebind them is neccessary.

The feather fletching can take damage from hitting your own arrows while shooting, or just mashing them in storage. I generally don't worry about it, as I find that feather fletching is very forgiving in flight compared to plastic vanes.



What Kind of Arrows can be used with a self bow?

Arrows are a very crucial partner for any self bow. It is imperitive that they are spined correctly to match the bow. For these bows I also strongly encourage the use of feathers rather than plastic vanes, the difference being that the vanes will deflect more than natural feathers.

"What is my draw weight?"

This is by all means up to you're personal preference and physic. But general guidlines from my experience are:

Male archery: 45 - 55 lb bow
Female archery: 35-45 lb bow
Bow hunting: 45 -55 lb bow

My mentor Errett Callihan said there were two types of bows in native cultures; 50 pounds for hunting, and 60 pounds for war.

Note that he was referring to stone age bows. In medieval times, bows were much heavier simply because they were using heavier arrows to penetrate armour from as far away as possible.

Traditional Archery vs. Primitive Archery

"Traditional Archery" encompasses Primitive archery, also includes all modern bows that have bending limbs... as opposed to compound bows which use pulley's and leverage. Archery is estimated to be at least 20,000 years old.

Our bows are made in the old fashion way, in that each piece of wood is cut, seasoned and individually shaped by a master bowyer, and the outer layer on the back of the bow follows one growth ring.

These fall into the category of "primitive bows", but please, throw away all modern connotations associated with the word primitive. I assure you they are quite effective, as 20,000 years of providing human sustenance has demonstrated very well.

How are artifacts preserved?

Bogs were once a place where people would make sacrifices to their Gods and or just lose things... like Self Bows. Because of the low oxygen and high tannin content, even wood can be preserved for thousands of years. In fact the oldest intact bow in existance today is from a bog in Denmark from 10,000 BC.

Sometimes glacial discoveries yeild excellent artifacts as well.

Many relics of ancient bows and arrows are cataloged and kept in museums for inspiration and research.


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