Meridian Star

February 21, 2014

Archery hunting — An ancient sport

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Bowhunters abound in our part of the country as they do in virtually all deer habitat. Elk, bear and pronghorn have special archery seasons in states where they are hunted. And wild hogs, wild turkeys, and moose are other big game that attracts archers in the United States. Ambitious bowhunters take the largest African game and Alaskan brown bears with bow and arrow. Recently in this space I wrote of Rassie Erasmus taking an elephant with one shot from his bow in Africa.

    The bow and arrow was developed by prehistoric hunters some 8,000 years ago. Some primitive tribes still use this weapon to kill game animals for food. Today, natives in New Guinea hunt wild pigs with archery equipment that has evolved very little from the first weapons made by man. Their bows are straight sticks made of tough wood. The arrows are wooden as are their arrowheads.

    My cousin and her husband lived as missionaries in New Guinea for years. They brought me a hunting bow and eight arrows from a native village. Most surprising are the bowstrings, which are made of strips of bamboo. The “string” is a thick sliver, some 3/8 inch wide, that is cut from the side of a bamboo cane. These strips are surprisingly strong. While the strips are still green and flexible they are tied directly to deep notches at the ends of the bow. Once cured, the knotted ends are so secure they cannot be untied without some kind of strong tool. The rear of the arrows are flat so they can be held against the flat “string.” They have no fletching.

    My guess is the natives shoot small pigs at very close range from ambush points along trails and then enlist companions to help trail the wounded animal after the shot.

    The bow and arrow is one of man’s most important inventions because it allowed hunters to kill game at a distance. Troops armed with bows helped establish the empire of ancient Egypt. Conquerors such as Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan depended on skilled bowmen. In one of the last major battles fought with bows, the deadly skill of English longbowmen defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt in northern France in1415. The English archers, pikemen and a small calvary numbered only about 13,000, but they routed some 50,000 Frenchmen.

    Perhaps the greatest influence affecting the fascination that modern hunters have with the bow and arrow is the long history of its use by native Americans. Stories, both true and fictitious, of early encounters with Indians, both friendly and combatant, rarely portray the Indian without a bow and arrow. And we are reminded of the long history of bow and arrow use by ancient tribes when we find arrowheads that can be dated back many centuries. These treasured artifacts lie in the same woods and fields where we hunt today, and their presence stimulates stirring contemplation about our kinship with early hunters.

    Today’s bows have modern mechanical advantages, precision sights and shoot arrows with perfect shafts and cutting points that can zip completely through an elk. Early Americans made their bows from saplings in the woods and their arrowheads from stone shaped by a piece of deer antler. Fletching came from wild turkey feathers. Contemporary hunters use tackle manufactured to rigid perfection by those specializing in the individual components.

    But we still bag animals essentially using a stick with a string that is pulled back and released to send an arrow arcing toward our quarry. Just like the Indians did it. Just like it has been done for thousands of years.

    (Note: Coming soon, Terry Rivers weekly column on basic archery returns to this page.)