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The traditional bow is also evolving
Many believe the traditional bow stopped evolving with the invention of the compound, but this is undoubtedly not true, writes Rean Steenkamp.
Over the millennia many different bow designs have been used by mankind. These include the Assyrian and Scythian, the composite bows of the Mongols, and the famous longbows used by the English against the French. The bow has also changed much since archery was reintroduced in the USA by well-known archery legends such as the Thompson brothers, Saxton Pope, Ishi, Art Young, Will Compton, Chester Stevenson, Howard Hill, Fred Bear, Ben Pearson and others.
When interest in archery was rekindled, most archers used the English longbow. Since then, however, modern traditional bowyers have tended to follow Asiatic designs rather than English, unless the bowyer is specifically interested in replicating an English longbow.
In the USA, the evolution of the traditional bow has also borrowed design features found in specimens produced by the indigenous people of the Americas, as well as materials not previously available, such as fibreglass, which can serve as an effective and more durable substitute for both horn and sinew. Bows referred to today as longbows are not longbows at all, but rather a hybrid of a longbow and a flatbow.
< A modern take-down recurve made by Johan Smit – easy to pack when travelling, but powerfull enough to kill nearly all plainsgame.
Bowyers continued to experiment with bow designs and material to make modern traditional bows shoot faster and more smoothly. For instance, fibreglass has been improved to give more cast, carbon fibre has been introduced and many bowyers now use action bamboo to make bows lighter and faster.
How the bows are designed and how their laminated layers are tapered also has an effect on how fast the bow can shoot and how much hand shock it produces. For instance, I own a Scythian recurve that is very short and light. The bow has siyas at the ends of the limbs, which should make them heavy. The grip is very small. This bow should produce a jarring hand shock, yet there is none and the bow shoots accurately, even though it is very short. This was only made possible by extesive experimentation in bow design and such a bow was probably not available 20 years ago.
A good friend of mine builds fast bows. When we compared his recurves with compounds, the recurves shot a heavy arrow nearly as fast as the average compound. He also builds 50-pound bows that can outshoot my 65-pound bow of a few years ago.
My wife owns a short 42-pound recurve, my friend made, that shoots an arrow faster than my 50-pound recurve. This proves that traditional bows did not stop evolving after the compound came on the scene. Just take an old bow from the shelf and shoot it a few times. You will quickly notice how harshly it shoots, compared to a recently designed bow.
The author and his bow. >
When Howard Hill shot with his longbow, the arrow was shot from the hand. Since then the arrow shelf has been introduced, making it possible to shoot stiffer-spined arrows. Many modern bowyers today build bows with a centre shot. This improves arrow efficiency, helping the arrow to travel less erratically as it flexes less. The arrow speed is thus improved, as well as accuracy. Since it travels straighter, its momentum is enhanced and the arrow penetrates deeper when it hits the target.
Most modern traditional bows have a pistol-shaped grip, making it easier for the archer to hold the bow consistently in the same hand position, thus also contributing to better accuracy. Many bowyers have experimented extensively with riser shapes, in an effort to find a shape that helps archers shoot their best.
Today’s string fibres have also helped to improve the speed of modern traditional bows. Dacron has been replaced by new string materials that have less stretch and thus improve the cast of the bow.
The same has happened with arrows. Aluminium and carbon arrows are straighter than their wooden counterparts. The straighter the arrow, the more accurately the archer can shoot.
As new materials are invented and bowyers experiment with these, recurves and longbows will shoot even faster, more smoothly and more accurately. Traditional bows will never compare in performance with compound bows, which are evolving even faster. You will certainly never shoot as accurately with a traditional bow as with the modern compound, as traditional archers do not use sights or mechanical releases. When a modern traditional bow is shot with a mechanical release from a shooting machine, it shoots just as accurately as a compound. The problem is not the bow, but the style with which the bow is shot. What is true, however, is that in future you will be able to hunt big animals with increasingly lighter-pounded bows.
I have shot four kudu bulls with my 50-pound Scythian and on the last hunt my arrow flew right through the animal. A few years ago I would never have considered shooting a kudu with such a light bow and only did so because my light bow compared favourably in speed with the higher-poundage bow I used previously.
Updated: Friday, May 20, 2011 11:06 AM
About the Author
Rean Steenkamp, editor and owner of Africa’s Bowhunter magazine, is an enthusiastic traditional archer and bowhunter. He started hunting with a longbow in 1997 and has since bagged many African plains game with traditional bows, compound and black powder rifles. He also dabbled in bow building and published a bowhunting book titled “Let loose the arrow!”
Rean started his career in journalism in 1984 at a newspaper in Pretoria, South Africa. He interrupted his career at the end of 1991 when he joined the 37th weather team expedition to Gough Island, where he worked for 14 months as the communicator. The team consisted of only seven people living in isolation on the seven by 16 km island. Rean started the Africa’s Bowhunter magazine in 2000 while working as editor for the Game and Hunt magazine.