Turning Back Time: Making Your Own Primitive Archery Equipment

MWF member Greg Munther, and MWF’s Western Field Representative Alec Underwood discuss what it means to build your very own primitive archery equipment.

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In a world where advances in hunting technology seem to be never ending, some of us are experimenting with going in the opposite direction. A small but dedicated group of Montana’s archery enthusiasts are learning and applying skills to make their own primitive archery equipment. There is both challenge and satisfaction in creating our own archery equipment similar to those used by our native Americans and early European ancestors.

Last summer, some volunteers from Traditional Bowhunters of Montana (TBM) organized its first Montana Selfbow Jamboree held near Three Forks. Along with some skilled Montana bow-makers, volunteers from Missouri, Oklahoma, and other states came to help at least 50 of us less skilled or total newcomers in selfbow making. A selfbow is the simplest bow of just a stick of wood fashioned into a bow and an accompanying string. While most of us chose to use the extremely tough osage orange wood native to Midwest, other native Montana woods such as pacific yew, juniper, chokecherry, and serviceberry have been used successfully.

After a selfbow is completed, it can become a goal to use it successfully to harvest an animal. In that case, the next step is fashioning arrows and arrowheads.  To replicate Native American equipment, creating a straight shaft from a shrub shoot may be the most challenging step. Straight, rather straight shoots or branches from rose, chokecherry, red osier dogwood need to be cut and dried for months. Once dried, they can be stripped of bark and further straightened by bending over heat. Then notches for fitting onto the string and to accept the points are cut and fletching is attached using sinew from elk or deer hamstring tendons. Again, to be authentic, wing primary feathers from wild birds need to be obtained and modified to be fletching. Legally obtainable feathers can be gathered from your harvested geese or turkeys. Arrowheads can be fashioned from numerous kinds of rock (obsidian, chert, flint) or can be shaped from bone or even hardened wood.

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Broadheads made from sharpened bone on arrow shafts from chokecherry shoots.

Making your own primitive archery equipment helps acquire knowledge of using Montana’s plants and animals, as well as giving us a better understanding of how our ancestors were able to develop their hunting tools from materials found in their surroundings. The hunting experience is greatly extended in the lengthy process of making your own equipment and potentially using it to harvest an animal.

Hunting with a primitive bow and arrows also requires the ultimate in getting close to your quarry. A twenty yard shot is likely the furthest most of us would feel comfortable with our primitive equipment. However, some of us love the challenge of self-limiting our hunting effectiveness, forcing us to fully utilize our hunting skills to have close encounters with Montana’s wildlife.

Editor’s Note:  This fall, Greg Munther completed his decades long quest of harvesting a big game animal with self-made primitive archery equipment.