Ammunition for the Bow

The science of Ballistics in the mind of the average person is confined to firearms and ammunition, ranging from the single shot .22 caliber rifle to the batteries of 16 inch rifles in the turrets of a modern battleship.

When gun enthusiasts congregate around the open fireplace in the winter evenings, the conversation will shortly fall into a familiar pattern and the ear will catch snatches of conversation where the words: headspace, rim-fire, cases, pattern, lands, and hollow point, etc. fill the air, and to the uninformed make no sense whatsoever. Volumes have been written since the advent of gunpowder on this one phase of the science and the end is not yet in sight. Ballistics in its broad sense covers a far larger field. Defined as “the science or art of hurling missile weapons by use of an engine,” we can substitute for the words, missile weapons the single word “arrows,” and for the word engine the word “bow,” and we realize that the archer as well as the rifleman is interested in the science of ballistics, and that the glossary of archery terms is no less confusing to the uninitiated than is that of the rifleman.

Since the bow was in common use throughout the ancient world, it follows naturally that both the bow and the arrow varied widely in design and the materials from which they were constructed. In parts of the world where the bow is still the principal weapon of primitive peoples it varies in size and drawing weight from the light weight three-foot bow of the African pigmy to the moderate weight eight-foot bow of the Siriono Indian.

The bow is the controlling factor in the choice of an arrow. In the case of the pigmy bow, the arrow is only a twig sharpened at one end weighing about 80 grains, while the arrow used by the Siriono Indian is more than eight feet long and one inch in thickness. The metal arrow was first introduced in competition in the year 1927 and at the annual tournament of the National Archery Association the double American round was won with metal arrows. Old customs die hard, but in the years intervening since 1927, metal arrows have largely supplanted the wooden shafted arrows for target shooting, principally because of their uniform quality, lightness, and durability; and for the convincing reason that their use has resulted in better scores. Expert field archers make use of the metal shafts when they shoot a standard field roving course. Among this class of shooters there are many who for reasons of economy make their own wooden shafted arrows, and the wooden shaft is still generally used in the hunting field.

Birch is a tough hard wood found in quantity in the New England States. Unfortunately shafts made from birch will not remain straight. However when a shaft warps it can be straightened by heating the shaft at the bend and bending over the heel of the hand. Do not hold the shaft too close to the flame. A little heat is all that is needed, and too much will damage the shaft. While birch lacks spine in comparison to Port Orford Cedar, its added toughness is a redeeming quality.

Port Orford Cedar, which grows on the Pacific coast, is a straight grained soft wood of excellent spine qualities and with proper care shafts made of this wood will remain straight. Any wood subject to a wide range of changes in humidity and temperature will warp. To straighten shafts of Port Orford Cedar, heat the shaft at the bend over a hot plate or an electric stove. Be careful not to soften the finish on the shaft by applying too much heat and do not under any circumstances use an open flame. Hold the shaft in the left hand and straighten by bending over the base of the left thumb. Use care in bending so as not to injure the shaft.

Norway Pine from the forests adjacent to the Baltic Sea makes an excellent arrow wood. Its spine quality comes from the slow growth of the tree in the climate along the Baltic.

Wood shafted arrows are divided into two main classes: self arrows and footed arrows. Self arrows as the name implies are made from a single piece of wood. The cheaper grades of arrows are all self arrows and the price differential results from the kind of wood used in the shaft and the quality of materials and workmanship used in attaching the feathers. The latter is called fletching.

When a hard tough wood is spliced to the head or pyle end of the arrow, the shaft is said to be footed. The purpose of footing is to provide added strength and a durable wearing tip or fore-end to the shaft. Woods used for footing are lemonwood, hickory, birch, and purple heart.

Arrows are further classified by their shape. The circular shaft of uniform cross section is the simplest shaft to manufacture, and consequently it is the shaft commonly used. It is generally manufactured in the following diameters: one-quarter inch, nine thirty-seconds, five sixteenths, eleven thirty-seconds, and three-eighths inches. To secure additional spine (stiffness) without a proportional increase in weight throughout the length of the arrow, shafts are tapered at both ends. Arrows made from such shafts are called Barrelled Arrows,

Chested arrows have the area of maximum cross section of the shaft below and under the fletching, and these arrows taper toward the nock and to the head or pyle. Bobtail is the name applied to an arrow whose shaft has its maximum diameter at the head or pyle and tapers uniformally to the nock.

The flight arrow used for distance snooting is a long, light arrow from twenty-eight inches to thirty inches or more in length, fletched with very small feathers or plastic vanes. Thin bamboo shoots are frequently used for flight arrows because of their strength and light weight.

Seamless metal tubing of both steel and aluminum alloy is used in the manufacture of metal shafted arrows. The metal shafted arrow is unsurpassed for its qualities of uniformity and durability. A set of these arrows, matched in weight and spine, custom made, and fletched and crested to the specifications of the archer, is a must in the tackle box of the skilled bowman. While the original cost of a dozen of these arrows is high, averaging around twenty-two to twenty-four dollars, with proper care the arrows can be shot season after season; and the manufacturer will recondition the arrows at a cost of approximately fifty cents each.

The metal tip attached to the head of the shaft is called the pyle. Its shape varies with the type of shooting for which the arrow is intended. Steel or brass are the metals from which pyles are made.

Number 1 is used in small game hunting and has the advantage when used in squirrel hunts that it is less liable to penetrate the limb of a tree and remain out of reach of the bowman than is the case with the field and target type of pyles. The target pyle, Number 2-A, of a metal shafted arrow is seated by being pressed into the end of the hollow metal tubing of the shaft.

Broadheads and field arrows may also be purchased with metal shafts. Due to the high cost, compared with wooden shafted arrows, and the rugged conditions encountered in the hunting field and in field shooting in general, the majority of bowmen use wooden shafts.

Like the gunner who hears a turkey gobble in a nearby thicket, extracts the loads of number 7 shot from the gun, and slips a couple of loads of number 4′s into the chamber of “Old Bess,” the bowman today can change quickly from a field point to a blunt, or to a broadhead, using a single feathered shaft.
Customarily, bowmen carry matched sets of arrows consisting of a half dozen each of field points and broadheads into the hunting field. Frequently the bowman’s quiver will be large enough to carry, in addition, half a dozen blunts when there is a possibility that a gray squirrel will offer a tempting target. Since the bow is a comparatively silent weapon, the bowman can often take advantage of more than one shot at a target, a possibility denied the rifleman, because of the noise which his weapon produces. A bowman carrying a quiver containing eighteen feathered shafts has a bulky package to maneuver through the undergrowth and the ammunition represents a considerable financial outlay.

The “quick change arrow head,” as it is known in the trade, permits a bowman to reduce the number of shafts he carries by two-thirds without the loss of ammunition of the proper kind for the game he is likely to encounter. Conversely the bowman can increase the number of any one type of arrow pyles without increasing the overall number of shafts carried in the quiver. The head of the quick change arrow is composed of two parts,

The ferrule is permanently attached to the wooden shaft in the same manner that one attaches a regular pyle. The base of the ferrule is tapped and threaded. The cross-sectional drawing of the ferrule in

The pyles, or heads as they are commonly called, can be changed in the matter of seconds. Blunt, field, and broadhead pyles are available. The broadheads are the familiar three bladed bodkin, formed of pressed steel, spot welded, and having a well ground cutting edge. The bodkin is the favorite of the author. It appears to have less tendency to plane or drift than the single blade and is the easiest of the broadheads to sharpen. The correct bevel of the cutting edge is maintained by grinding two edges on a cutting stone at the same time. A tyro can grind a keen uniform cutting edge in this manner. These heads, when screwed into the ferrule, seat solidly against flat bases. No tools are required to change from one head to the other. Field heads sell for $1.50 per dozen, blunts $1.20, and broadheads $4.25.

It is extremely important to the bowman that each arrow in his quiver match in performance every other arrow. Otherwise no two arrows, regardless of the skill of the bowman, would except by chance strike the same mark. Materials of high standard and workmanship of the first order must be maintained to meet this goal. A set of four of each kind of heads and four of the ferrules were chosen by lot and weighed on pharmacist scales accurate to within one grain. Three of the broadheads weighed 115 grains each and the fourth weighed 114 grains. The four field points weighed 120 grains each and the blunts 107 grains each. Two of the ferrules weighed 50 grains each, one 47 grains, and the fourth weighed 46 grains.

The ferrule equipped with the field point is the heaviest of the possible combinations. This group averaged 167.2 grains in weight. Maximum variation within the group was 4 grains. The lightest combination proved to be the ferrule equipped with the blunt which averaged 154.2 grains. The maximum average variation between combinations was 13 grains. Ordinary broadheads available on the market weigh from 120 to 130 grains for 11/32 of an inch shafts.

For field testing these heads I chose two target shafts, fletched with feathers 3l/2 inches in length and l/2 an inch in height. I removed the target pyles and installed the ferrules in their place on the wooden shafts. The arrow at this stage measured 271/2 inches in length.

For testing, I chose a thirty-five pound bow equipped with a sight, and the range distance established was twenty yards. The light bow weight and target arrow fletching were deliberately chosen to allow plenty of opportunity for the heavy pyle end of the arrow to exert its effect on the flight curve. It was the thought of the writer that any group shot under these conditions would be improved by shooting arrows fletched for the hunting field heads and a heavier bow.

No preliminary practice was taken. Two aluminum alloy target arrows were shot for the purpose of setting the bow sight. Next the test shafts were equipped with blunts, then shot. Their point of impact -was eight inches below that of my target arrows. The sight was adjusted accordingly. Without any preparation, the blunt tips were unscrewed from the shafts and the field tips or heads substituted. Record shots were then loosed in three groups of two shots each and the results recorded,

The test was made on a nice day in February and the author was agreeably surprised by the results of the test, since I had not been shooting since the close of the previous hunting season, and do not rank among the top flight archers when at peak form. In evaluating the results I would discount the number 1 broadhead shot, which I knew was a poor release as it left the bow. Nevertheless, I have shown it to make a complete record. The fifth and sixth shots with the broadheads landed in the position shown on

It was evident as the shooting progressed that my sight setting was nearer 1 o’clock than dead center. However I did not change the aiming point throughout the test, preferring to simulate conditions in the hunting field where the first shot is generally the only shot one can expect, and more particularly I chose to let the pattern develop on the target without any conscious effort on my part to compensate by changing the aiming point for any deviation caused by changing the heads. A single test cannot be considered conclusive, but I am convinced that there is merit in the interchangeable heads and I believe their accuracy compares favorably with the fixed-head equipped shafts. If half a dozen shafts will now provide the same variety and number of heads that formerly required eighteen shafts, the interchangeable head certainly rates a trial on the basis of economy of ammunition.


We have discussed the variety of pyles on the market and the same situation exists with respect to arrow nocks. The arrow nock is the groove at the feathered end of the shaft into which the bow string is fitted. In a self arrow the nock is simply a longitudinal slot in the end of the shaft. The slot is always cut across the grain of the wood,

Nocks offer another opportunity for endless experimentation to develop the material and shape best suited to the bowman’s needs. The introduction of plastics of considerable strength and the ease with which it is molded into any desired shape, combined with its lightness, has resulted in its wide use as a material for arrow nocks, and it is used on both low and high priced arrows. The low cost of the plastic nock has eliminated the self nock in all but the very cheapest grade of arrows. These detachable nocks are fitted to the feathered end of the shaft in the same manner as the pyle and are easily replaced when broken. Nocks are made in a variety of shapes and each manufacturer claims certain advantages for his style of nock. The plain plastic bow nock is shown in Fig. 36.

If you want to experiment to find a suitable nock, buy a dozen assorted nocks in the size which will fit your shafts and try them out on your arrows. The retail price for the assortment will not amount to the price of a couple of packs of cigarettes. With a sharp pen knife carefully whittle the plastic nock from one of your arrows and substitute one of the newly purchased nocks. With Duco Household Cement, which can be purchased in tubes at most five and dime stores, attach the new nock to your arrow shaft. The; cement sets quickly and the arrow can be shot in thirty minutes at the outside. Since nocks are frequently broken, a little practice in replacing them will not be time wasted. Try out the assorted nocks on the range and choose the one that performs best for you.


The feathers on the nock end of the shaft are called the fletching. To fletch means to fasten the feathers to the shaft. An arrow maker is known in the trade as a Fletcher. Feathers from turkey wings are used for fletching. Three feathers from the same wing of a turkey are used to fletch each arrow. The cock feather, Figures 5 and 6, as it is called, is placed in position so that it is at right angles to the nock, and the remaining two feathers, called hen feathers, are spaced equally one hundred and twenty (120) degrees from the cock feather around the shaft of the arrow approximately one inch from the bottom of the nock.

The cock feather generally differs in color from the two hen feathers and its distinctive color serves as a guide for positioning the bow string in the nock by sight. If you will study the fletching of an arrow you will see that this arrangement of the feathers offers the least resistance to the arrow as it moves past the bow at the beginning of its flight.

Feathers may be placed on the shaft so that their bases are parallel with the longitudinal axis, or they may be placed on the shaft so that they make a slight spiral. In the latter position the arrow will revolve around its longitudinal axis in flight. Hunting arrows are generally made with spiral fletching to counteract the tendency of the broadhead to plane in flight. This may result when a cross wind exerts pressure against a single bladed broadhead if it does not revolve in flight. Tendency to deviate from a straight line, due to wind pressure of unequal amounts on the surfaces of the broadhead, is called planing. This phenomenon is put to practical use in the control of vertical and horizontal flight of an airplane by the use of the elevator and rudder.

The fletching on target arrows is generally about three inches in length and one-half inch in height, which is sufficient to maintain the arrow on the line of flight. The heavy broadhead used on the hunting arrow requires an increased amount of fletching to prevent it from dropping in flight at the pyle end due to the weight. In general fletching on hunting shafts will be approximately five and one-half (51/2) inches in length and five-eighths (5/8) inch in height. The length is limited by the fistmele of the individual bowman. These are average dimensions where feathers are used as the material for fletching the shafts.The use of plastic as a material with which to fletch shafts was first tried out on flight arrows. Thin vanes made of plastic were substituted for feathers. More recently, target arrows fletched with thin vanes of plastic have been used by a number of target archers who have found their performance the equal of the feather fletched shafts. Plastic vanes make an excellent product to use in damp or rainy weather as they are not affected by moisture. Feathers change shape and weight when they become moist and the flight characteristics of the arrow will change accordingly. Scores of archers formerly suffered when the feather fletching absorbed water during a period of relatively high humidity or rain.


Golf and archery are two sports that have a lot in common. In both sports the score is determined not so much through teamwork but by individual effort. Walking takes up a major portion of the time; and hunting lost balls, a situation that bedevils the average golfer, is the counterpart of the archer’s search for lost arrows. Until some one comes along -with an arrow or a golf ball that will whistle to attract attention, beginners will spend a major portion of an afternoon walking in aimless circles with bent heads. “Mark your shot,” is just as important an axiom in archery as it is in golf.

The series of different colored bands painted on the arrow shaft below the fletching is called the crest. Arrow cresting serves a two-fold purpose. It identifies the individual’s arrows and increases the visibility of the arrow, thus facilitating its recovery when it has been lost. Custom made arrows are crested to the archer’s specifications by the manufacturer. Arrows which are mass produced will carry an identical cresting, making identification difficult when arrows of the same make are being used by different archers.

The bowman who attempts to modify or change the cresting on a single set of arrows finds painting a very slow process, for each color must be dry before an adjacent color can be applied. Any attempt to hurry the job merely makes certain that the colors will run together. A decal crest which simplifies the work of cresting arrows, requires no brushes, paint, or tools; and produces a dozen completed shafts in an evening’s work, has been placed on the market. These wrap-on arrow decal crests are available in a dozen combinations in four colors: fire orange, signal green, neon red, and saturn yellow. “Day-Glo” colors are used because of their high visibility. “Day-Glo” neon red colored garments are familiar to many deer hunters who have worn this color as a protective garment during the past several seasons.

These decal crests are three and a half inches in length and their application is relatively simple. The retail sale price is ninety cents a dozen. Shafts should be cleaned with fine sandpaper and the location of the top of the crest should be marked on each shaft. Lay the arrow on a table with the nock end projecting over the edge about one-third of the arrow’s length. Weight the arrow with a book or some other object, so that both hands will be free to apply the decal. Immerse a decal in a pan of hot water for about ten seconds. Remove from the water and hold the decal in both hands with the thumbs on the crest and the forefingers underneath the paper covering. Slip the decal sideways until about one-quarter inch of the long side of the decal projects beyond the protective cover. Lay this edge along the shaft carefully, with the long side of the decal parallel with the shaft, and press the decal in place with the thumb of the left hand. Gradually slip the protective covering away from the decal and at the same time wrap the decal around the arrow shaft. Let the decal overlap. Stroke any accumulation of water and bubbles of air out from under the decal with a wet finger and be sure that the edge is pressed firmly into place. If you work carefully, you will find that you have a neat and well aligned job. If it is necessary to realign the decal, it may be carefully removed, adjusted and rewrapped. Let the decal dry over night and then the excess adhesive may be cleaned from the shaft with a damp cloth.Day-Glo colors will fade if kept for long periods in a strong light. When not in use, your arrows should not be stored near windows where they will be exposed to the direct rays of the sun. If you desire brilliant colors do not varnish over the completed crest. Crests may be cleaned occasionally with a dampened cloth. A clear plastic finish sprayed over the decals does help to preserve them. Keep unused decals in a cool dry place and do not purchase more than one season’s supply at a time as the lacquers may tend to become brittle.

In order that arrows lost and found after a lapse of time by another party on the range may be returned to the owner, bowmen frequently print their name in India ink (a draftsman’s ink) on the shaft below the crest. If you use the decals, you can type your name along the side of the decal. The letters are not affected by the short period of immersion in the hot water. When the India ink is thoroughly dry, a light coat of varnish should be applied to protect it from dampness.

Many archers have adopted the practice of numbering their arrows consecutively. Each arrow can now be identified. If one arrow of the set shot into the target consistently falls outside or wide of the group, it can be identified by its number; and if this happens repeatedly to the same arrow it is conclusive evidence that the arrow and not the bowman is at fault. Should this situation occur in a match or a tournament, the quicker the bad arrow is identified and discarded, the less the score will suffer. There is, therefore, a distinct advantage in numbering your arrows for ready identification.

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