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The simplicity of simplicity
By Cleve Cheney
I am intrigued by technical archery innovations. The advances in archery equipment since the development of the first compound bow in the mid-1960s have been quite phenomenal. Arrow speeds in excess of 300 fps, whereas they were almost in the realm of science fiction 50 years ago, are no longer a big deal. But I must also admit that the plethora of archery gadgetry is making me lean ever more towards the simplicity of traditional archery – by which I mean a bent stick and string and wood arrows.
There are just so many gizmos on the market today; in fact, the whole archery industry is driven by coming up with something “new”. Take any bow accessory for example – be it an arrow rest, stabiliser, broadhead, sight or whatever – and do a quick Google search. You will find that there are scores if not, in some instances, hundreds of shapes, sizes, colours and types of each accessory, all with some feature that supposedly sets it apart from the competition. It becomes quite mind-boggling and confusing. Sometimes there are genuine technological breakthroughs and developments, but manufacturers also just give an old product a new name and make us believe it is an improvement (and charge more for it!). The world is becoming ever more complicated and the archery industry that is bent on creating more and more gadgetry adds to the complexity of life and living.
Whereas modern bows are without doubt great performers in terms of speed and accuracy, the number of parts that make up a bow with its accessories has a much greater statistical probability of going wrong.
The average compound bow consists of between 75 and 85 different components, 27 to 30 of which are screws, nuts and bolts. Arrows can have between 8 and 20 different components (I kid you not). It is a logical deduction that when something is made up of so many parts more can go wrong. You may forget to tighten a nut, lock a set-screw, snap a buss cable, strip a thread. There is also so much more to be taken into consideration when setting up a compound bow: it can vibrate loose or go out of “sync”, and changing any one component or setting on the bow means you virtually have to start from scratch with tuning.
Then of course there is cost. All the add-ons fitted to a compound bow nowadays can cost as much as the bow itself. Replacing a modern synthetic bowstring can set you back a minimum of R400. Any broken part of the bow itself or an accessory will be expensive to replace. Then you generally need a set of special tools to work on your bow and arrows, which can set you back another R10 000 if you want to include an arrow cut-off saw (for carbon arrows), fletching jig, Allen keys, string jig, bow press and so on. If you break a riser or limb or cam, you need to have the knowledge and skill to make a new one, or have access to the type of technology or machinery required to make a new one, something most of us don’t have. That makes us very dependent on the supplier, and I don’t like being dependent on people.
Now compare a traditional bow to its modern compound counterpart. A one-piece stick bow consists of an integral handle and riser. No screws, no nuts and bolts and no accessories. Holding the ends of the bent stick together is a single string (no pulleys, buss cables, axles etc.). An integral rest does away with the need for a bolt-on arrow rest. The traditional archer teaches himself to shoot instinctively, doing away with the need of a sight and peep sight. He uses a gloved finger or finger tab, doing away with the need for a mechanical release aid. The bow is lightweight and easy to carry. Basically only two things can break – the bow itself and the string. If the bow breaks making a new one is possible using very basic tools. Anyone can learn the skill. A roll of Dacron can provide you with enough material to make five to eight new bowstrings at a fraction of the cost of the high-tech stuff. Two nails hammered into a board are all you need to make a string jig and you don’t need a bow press. It’s easy to make a serving tool.
If you have a three-piece traditional bow it will consist of a riser (with integral arrow rest and handle), two limbs, two limb inserts, two limb bolts and a string, bringing the total list of components to eight – still pretty basic and simple. The advantage of a three-piece bow is that if one of the limbs or the riser breaks, you don’t have to make a whole new bow – just replace the part that broke.
When it comes to arrows and you decide to go the traditional route, the arrow will consist of six to eleven parts depending on the design and type of arrow. Fewer parts, but generally not as durable or as accurate as modern arrows. However, it is cheap and easy (and fun) to make and replace. A modern arrow with a good broadhead attached can set you back anything between R200 and R500!
Because you can do most traditional things yourself you are not dependent on suppliers and manufacturers. You can become as self-reliant as a traditional archer – and that appeals to me more and more.
Growing older and having recently turned 61, I have come to the realisation that a simpler lifestyle is a happier and more contented one. I think I’m going to be spending more time in future building traditional bows and arrows and shooting them.