There's a fair amount of talk that goes around about what types of firearms to carry in a bug out or what types are useful for general survival. There's even people talking about "alternate weapons;" for those that don't have or don't want to have firearms in the home. Many have tried to identify a "best;" but the truth of the matter is that what is best for one person may not be best for another. Truthfully, I still haven't decided what is the best for me, let alone what's the best for someone else.
Yet, weapons tend to be heavy, so we have to limit ourselves in what we carry. On a bug out, carrying one long gun and one pistol, with their ammunition, adds a lot of weight to your basic survival load. Yet some go as far as to say that they want two long guns; a rifle and a shotgun. While I can see the tactical and survival benefits of that, I can't see dealing with the extra weight.
Then there's the weight of the ammo. How much ammo can you take with you into the wilderness? How much is all that going to weigh? If you have to abandon your vehicle and go on foot, can you really carry all that ammo? If you don't have it all, can you survive?
Why the Bow?
This issue of weight has caused me to once again revisit and reconsider my personal weaponry for bugging out and surviving in the wilderness. I asked myself the question, "If I'm not going to carry a long gun, because of the weight, what would I carry?" The immediate answer was the bow.
While the rifle has some advantages over the bow, the bow has its own advantages over the rifle. Granted, the rifle will shoot farther and faster than the bow; some major advantages. But those may not be necessary in a survival situation.
From the bow's side of the story, there are several advantages too. The bow is definitely lighter than the rifle, as is its ammunition. The ammunition is reusable as well, meaning that a small number of arrows could last a considerable amount of time, if one is careful to retrieve them. It is also a silent weapon, so you don't advertise your presence. In a firefight, that gives you the opportunity to sneak around taking out your attackers, without them knowing where you are.
Perhaps these reasons explain why the bow has lasted so many centuries. Other than the knife, the bow is the only ancient weapon still in regular use. Oh, it has changed through the years, but it's still recognizable as a bow.
Selecting a Bow
While there are many different models of bows on the market, the vast majority of them fall into three basic categories:
The longbow is the oldest of these styles, harking all the way back to medieval England. It is essentially a straight piece of wood that has been tapered at the ends. This allows the ends or limbs of the bow to bend, while the center section holds almost straight. The string is attached to the ends by curving the bow, making a simple arc out of it.
While the simplest type of bow to make, the longbow is the hardest to shoot, especially to shoot accurately. It requires a lot of strength to pull the string back and hold it, while sighting the target. The bow does not help with this in any way. Longbows are shot "bare bow" which means that they do not have any sort of a sight. Sighting is accomplished by looking at the tip of the arrowhead.
The recurve bow has been in use almost as long as the longbow. Archers discovered that by bending the tips of their bows back in the opposite direction of the arc, the bow actually had more energy and shot farther. Since that discovery, the longbow was essentially replaced by the recurve bow. Recurve bows can also store as much energy as longbows, in a shorter overall package, making them more maneuverable.
Modern recurve bows can be shot bare bow, but are rarely shot in that manner. Most of the time, some sort of sight is used, as well as a counterweight to provide better balance and control. A number of different sights can be used with the recurve bow, depending on personal preference.
The compound bow is the most modern style of bow in manufacture. It is easily identifiable by the cams (they look like wheels) at the ends of the limbs. These cams allow the bow to store energy, without causing as much strain to the archer. As the bow is being drawn, once it passes a certain distance, the energy is held by the cam system and the amount of pressure on the archer is lessened.
This ability gives the archer a tremendous advantage, as it allows the bow to be held for a prolonged period of time, without excessive tiring of the muscles. For hunters, this means being able to draw and hold the bow, while waiting for an ideal shot.
Like the recurve bow, compound bows are accessorized extensively, adding sights, counterbalance weights and arrow rests. Each archer has to decide what he wants his bow to do and then accessorize it to match that desire.
Compound bows are often used with a handheld trigger mechanism for greater accuracy, although the string can be held and released by the hand. When a trigger is used, it grasps the string and is released by a button on the trigger mechanism itself. This prevents any sideways movement in the string from the hand, increasing the accuracy of the shot.
Which to Use?
The compound bow is the most common bow in use today. However, there are still a number of good recurve bows on the market. While most people will find the compound bow easier to work with, many people start with a recurve and then move up to the compound.
In a survival situation, where you might have to make a bow, the recurve bow is much easier to make, while still providing you with a useful and efficient weapon.
One of the most important factors in selecting a bow is the draw weight. This is the amount of force you have to apply, in order to draw the string back. Bows can range from about 35 pounds of draw weight up to over 100 pounds. Typically, compound bows are adjustable, allowing you a range of adjustment for the draw weight. Longbows and most recurve bows cannot be adjusted.
I say most recurve bows cannot be adjusted because "take down" bows, which are designed to be disassembled for transport, can be adjusted to some extent. However, they are not as adjustable as compound bows are.
The higher the draw weight of a particular bow, the more energy is stored in its limbs. This transmits to a higher "muzzle velocity" when the arrow is released. The faster traveling arrow will penetrate the target more, inflicting more damage. So, a higher draw weight is advantageous, if you can handle it. But never use a bow with a higher draw weight than you can comfortably handle.
Since recurve bows are adjustable, the thing to do is to buy one where the bottom end of the bow's draw weight range is at the point where you are now. That way, as your ability improves, you can gradually increase the draw weight of your bow.
Sights for Bows
Just as with for firearms, a good sight makes a lot of difference in the accuracy of your shooting. Archers shot their bows "bare" for thousands of years, and apparently were able to have great accuracy. But none of us are professional archers, so we probably need some help. Rather than bare bow shooting, we're better off with a good sight on our bow.
There are many different types of sights for bows. Most can be used either for hunting or for competition. Those that are good for hunting will also be good for survival.
The peep sight is a small metal or ceramic ring, about 1/8" in diameter, installed in the string. It functions like the rear sight on a gun, giving a frame of reference for the bow's sight. While it can be used alone, with the arrowhead functioning as the front sight, it is most often used in conjunction with another sight.
Fixed Pin Sight
The fixed pin sight consists of a series of color-coded pins, which are individually set for different ranges. Typically, one pin is set for 20 or 25 yards, and then others are set for ten yard increments closer or farther. While it is theoretically possible to use as many pins as one wants, practical limitations mean that most people use only three or four pins.
Moveable Pin Sight
Moveable pin sights have a single pin that can be moved to compensate for range. Typically, there is a slider scale with an indicator. The archer must judge the distance to the game and set the indicator, which will move the pin. This can delay the shot, as well as cause excess movement, which could be seen by any game being hunted.
Pendulum sights are a form of single pin sight, that is modified to allow the sight to compensate for angle. They have been developed for hunters who are typically in a tree stand, shooting downwards. The sight automatically adjusts the pin, compensating for the angle. While useful, these sights are very difficult to set up and require a detailed knowledge of arrow ballistics.
Magnifying Competition Sight
People who compete considerably might choose to use a tournament sight. This is a single pin sight with a magnifying lens, making it somewhat like a telescopic sight on a gun. While excellent for competitive archery, they are not practical out in the field or in a survival situation.
Red Dot Sight
The red dot sight is essentially the same thing as a red dot for a rifle, suitably modified for mounting on a gun. The great advantage of these types of sights is that they automatically compensate for your eye being out of perfect alignment with the sight. This allows for faster shooting, without sacrificing accuracy. That makes the red dot ideal for both hunting and self-defense, the two aspects of survival shooting.
A bow doesn't do much good without arrows to shoot from it. The arrows you use must match the bow you are shooting them from. Improper length or material won't work correctly and can actually cause injury from an arrow shattering.
Modern arrowheads come in infinite variations, but there are really only a few basic styles. The standard practice arrowhead would either be a blunt point, a bullet point or a field point. Blunt and bullet points look just like they sound, while a field point is a stepped point, with the forward-most part narrower in diameter than the arrow shaft.
While it would be possible to hunt small game with a field point, there is also a small game point that is available. This looks somewhat like a circular trident, with three claws that dig into the animal's flesh. Large game is hunted with "braodhead" points, which are razor sharp for maximum penetration. Some broadheads are designed to expand mechanically, increasing the amount of damage they do.
Proper arrow length for any bow can easily be determined by drawing the bow fully. At full draw, the back of the arrowhead should be about an inch forward of the bow.
Commercially made arrows come in a variety of materials:
This is the classic arrow material. If you need to make your own arrows in a survival situation, you will most likely fall back on wood. The problem with wood is that it cannot handle the stress of high powered bows, but will end up splitting. However, for lower powered bows, wood works excellently.
There are things that can be done with wood arrows, to make them useable on high powered bows in a survival situation. After all, wood arrows were the only thing available for centuries and some of the bows used by our ancestors had incredibly high draw weights. So, in a survival situation, these arrows should function.
Basically, you would need to start out with a fine-grained hardwood. That will ensure the strength of the arrow shaft itself. Then, the arrow shaft would need to be wrapped tightly with steel wire, just forward of the notch for the string.
Many high-velocity arrows today are made of carbon fiber. This lightweight material provides for a straighter trajectory, as it is lighter than aluminum. While carbon fiber is very strong, it is able to splinter when striking objects. This can happen when shooting through trees.
Aluminum arrows are the strongest, but also considerably heavier than carbon fiber. At a short range, this isn't a problem; but if one is shooting at long ranges, aluminum shafted arrows will have more drop than carbon fiber ones will.
It is possible to make your own arrows out of aluminum, as can be done with wood. Aluminum arrows usually use synthetic materials for the fletchings, rather than feathers. While feathers can be used, you will need an adhesive that sticks well to aluminum. The end for the arrowhead would need to be threaded to allow the attachment of the arrowhead to the shaft and a nock added to the back of the arrow.
Adding the nock (a notch for the string) to the back of the arrow would be the biggest problem in making your own arrows. Commercial arrows use molded plastic parts for this. You would probably need to carve yours out of hardwood, ivory or bone.
Building a Survival Recurve Bow
In a survival situation, a bow can be made out of a number of materials, first and foremost wood. However, there is actually an easier material to work with, which is readily available in our modern society; that's PVC pipe.
PVC pipe is both flexible and moldable, making it an excellent material for survival bow making. For most people, 3/4" schedule 40 pipe works well. Don't use the thin wall pipe, used for sprinkler systems, as it isn't strong enough. It is possible to make a bow out of one inch pipe as well, but it would require an incredible amount of strength to draw it.
To mold PVC pipe, all that's required is a little bit of heat. Typically, a heat gun is used. This is essentially a tool version of a hair dryer, producing more heat. Once the PVC is heated with the heat gun, it softens, allowing it to be molded. When making changes to the PVC to make a bow, it is best to heat only one section at a time and do the necessary work on that section. Then, once it has cooled enough to set, another section of the pipe can be heated.
Heated PVC can be flattened, such as for the end of the bow's arms, by clamping it between two pieces of 2"x 4" structural lumber. Once cooled, it will hold the new shape.
To form the bow, start with a five foot piece of 3/4" diameter PVC pipe. Flatten both ends, parallel with each other, as shown in the photo above. These ends will eventually be notched to allow connection of the bowstring.
Besides flattening the ends, there will be six separate heating operations necessary to form the bow. The first is to make the major curvature of the bow. Mark off the center four inches of the PVC pipe to be the handle where you hold the bow. Then, heat from just past that point to about a foot from the end of the pipe. This can then be curved, forming about a 30 degree angle. This is the main curve of the bow. Allow to cool and then repeat for the other side of the bow.
Please note that when you make this bend, it is perpendicular to the flat ends of the pipe. In other words, with the PVC pipe bent and sitting on the table, the ends of the pipe, where it is flattened, should form vertical lines.
It is important to ensure that your bends or curves of the pipe are equal on both sides. That way, your bow will come out even. This is easy to accomplish if you have some small, heavy items that you can set on your workbench. Bend one side and then set those items in place as a template. When you bend the other side, it must fit that template.
It is also extremely important when making any of the curves in the pipe that you keep everything on the same plane. It is easy to have one bend cocked over to one side and another cocked over to another side. If that happens, don't worry, just reheat the PVC and try again.
With the main curve in place, we're going to open the bow up a touch, so that there is more room for the PVC to bend. This is done by heating adjacent to the handle area and bending the beginning of the curve back just a few degrees, at the points indicated in the photo above. By doing this, we increase the draw length of the bow and the subsequent power it can produce.
Now we are ready to do the recurve. By definition, this is a curve that goes in the other direction than what we've already done. So, we're going to curve the ends of the bow backwards, as compared to the main curve of the bow.
At the same time we are making this bend, we need to ensure that the flattened ends don't become round again. Heating the pipe, which will be necessary to curve it, will tend to make those ends open up again, becoming round. To counter this, I clamped the ends in a woodworking vice, heated about the last foot of pipe on the end and curved the pipe around an empty coffee can.
The black mark on the pipe, in about the 12:30 position on that can is a reference mark that I made on the pipe, before starting. It is one foot from the end of the pipe. I also made reference marks where the handle is located.
Once the bow is formed, check everything to ensure that it is even. You should be able to lay it flat on a table, without any part of the bow sticking up and leaving a gap underneath it. If it does, that indicates someplace where you got a twist in the bow. You'll need to reheat that area and adjust it.
The bow will also need to be strung, so it will need notches cut into both tips to hold the string. In this case, I used paracord as a string, as I didn't have a regular bow string available. However, paracord is thicker than bowstring material, so in order to use the bow, I would need to make the nock in the arrows larger to accommodate it.
When the bow is strung, it should put some tension on the string. But, don't overdo it, making your bowstring too short, or you won't have enough spring left in the bow to draw it back fully for firing.
Shooting a Bow
Shooting a bow is fairly easy, but learning to shoot it accurately requires a lot of practice. Fortunately, the arrows are reusable, so there is no problem with paying for ammunition, like there is when learning how to shoot a gun.
To shoot any bow, start by grasping the handle, called a "riser," in your off hand. For right-handed people, this would be the left hand. Most commercial bows have the handle cut out in such a way as to provide comfort to the hand, even under the pressure of the draw.
Examine the fletchings on the arrow. Typically one will be a different color than the other two. This is important. The arrow should be notched to the string so that this fletching is horizontal to the ground, facing away from the bow. By doing it this way, the two fletchings that come into contact with the bow when you release the arrow, will do so at a 30 degree angle, allowing them to survive. If you place the arrow in backwards, the off-color fletching will hit the bow full on and be damaged.
Grasp the arrow just before the nock, between the index finger and middle finger of the shooting hand. Notch it into the bowstring, with the bow pointing downward and down range. Allow the front of the arrow to sit on the arrow rest, above your off hand. Some bows have arrow rests which lock the arrow in place, these are the best, as your arrow won't fall loose. With the arrow notched in the string, the string should be just off the first joint of your two fingers.
Push forward with the off hand and back with the shooting hand at the same time, drawing the bow back to the extent of its draw. Many archers raise their bow to a 45 degree angle, skyward, while drawing, as this provides better leverage for your arms. This is especially common with compound bows.
At full draw, the thumbnail of your shooting hand should be touching the corner of your lips. The string lightly touching your nose and your off hand fully extended with the elbow locked. If the arrow is the right length, the back of the arrowhead should be one inch in front of the bow riser.
Sight the bow by aligning the post on the front sight with the peep sight in the bowstring. Your point of focus should be the front sight. The front sight should be overlaid on the target, but the target will be somewhat out of focus. If you don't have a sight, then use the point of the arrowhead as your front sight, placing it over the target.
Release the string by straightening the fingers holding it. Do not allow the string to roll off the ends of your fingers, as this will put a vibration into the string, which could throw the arrow slightly off. You want the string to travel straight forward.Congratulations; you are now an archer.