Celebrating the Bow: National Archery Day

It’s National Archery Day! The second Saturday of May is recognized as National Archery Day, an obscure holiday meant to celebrate the iconic duo of the bow and arrow. Archery is the application of the bow in combat and recreation across history. An “archer” is an individual armed with and wielding a bow. People can celebrate National Archery Day by learning about the history of archery, practicing archery on their own, or seeking out programs where they can learn to use the bow under the guidance of a professional. In the age of the Internet, people can even record or livestream themselves practicing with virtually any type of weapon and share the video with a professional for critique and advice.

Picture of a modern archer
Archery is still widely practiced in the modern age

Compound bows were invented in the 1960s, and archery became a regular Olympic sport in 1972 after making a few early appearances at the games. National Archery Day was founded in Louisiana, Kentucky by the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) back in 2015 to celebrate their annual archery competition. While archery has become arguably obsolete in warfare and self-defense – at least in the presence of firearms – it is still popular in hunting and as a recreational activity. Archery is also a practical skill involving a weapon one can craft with simple materials and use to survive in a desperate situation.

A bow is a very humble tool, although more complex variations have been invented, such as the previously mentioned compound bow. In its simplest form, a bow is a short, wooden staff which is strong, but flexible. The two ends are connected by a shorter piece of string which bends the wooden staff into a curve. The arrow is a shaft made of wood or a comparable material with feathers or feather-like vanes on the end, and a sharp arrowhead on the tip. The arrowhead may be made of metal, bone, stone, or another comparable material capable of forming a sturdy, cutting edge.

Arrow Feathers
Arrows use feathers for enhanced accuracy in flight

The arrow is notched against the bowstring and the string pulled back until the arrowhead is just ahead of the bow itself. The archer grips the end of the arrow in between their fingers and hooks the bowstring with the same hand to pull it back. Pulling on the bowstring creates a tension referred to as potential energy. When released, the potential energy stored in the bow is converted to kinetic energy and launches the arrow at the target. The sharp arrowhead allows the arrow to penetrate the target and makes the arrow useful as a projectile.

Today, there are many different types of bows. The traditional bow is what started it all and has been used historically by hunters, warriors, and athletes in every part of the world except for Australia. The longbow is also a very prominent design which, as the name implies, is longer than a traditional bow and enables more powerful shots over longer distances. The recurve bow is a lighter bow with modularity for travel over longer distances and greater ease of replacing or swapping out parts. Eventually, the compound bow incorporated multiple strings and wheels which enhance the functionality and effectiveness of the weapon.

Recurve Bow
A recurve bow consists of multiple modular components which can be easily replaced.

The staff forming the body of a bow must be springy. It cannot break when bent, and this limits the kinds of materials which may be used in its construction. Before modern materials enabled easy manufacturing of strong, flexible materials, inventors of bows had to be creative with their designs. Bamboo offered a natural wood which served well as a flexible body for bows. Composite bows were also invented which involved gluing multiple sheets of wood together into a flexible whole. Sapwood and heartwood could be put together to form a durable, yet flexible staff for the bow.

Historically, arrow shafts have often been made of wood. The arrowheads have been made of a wide variety of materials. Hardwood, animal bone, flint, bronze, and eventually steel have all been implemented. Anything which can cut and keep an edge will do. The bowstring has historically been made of animal guts such as tendons, as well as fibrous plant materials. The stringy, flexible material is strong but can bend as well, providing tension that creates energy for the shot. Silk and rawhide have also been used. Out of all the materials, fibers made from plants were arguably the best, as they were not affected by wetness or dampness when rained on, submerged in water, or carried threw damp, tall grass.

Archery from Horseback
Samurai were famous for using archery on horseback, an artform still preserved today in recreational archery.

The bow is a revolutionary tool from human history which has been wildly influential. Later on, we will explore the influence of archery on human history in another blog post. I have tried archery once before as a child, but never dedicated myself to learning the artform. One day soon, I hope to do so. Archery is a very practical skill and a human practice which should certainly be maintained.

What do you think about archery? Have you every trained with the bow? What is your favorite kind of bow and why? Feel free to share your thoughts.


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All posts by The Pen and Sword are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Published by Louis

I am a freelance writer from the United States.

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