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by Billy Berger

Although the vast majority of bowhunters enter the woods armed with a modern compound bow, the last 20 years have also been witness to an increasing number of hunters who have gone completely in the opposite direction.

Instead of the latest Mathews or Bowtech bow, these hunters have elected to hunt with a bow whose ancestry dates back thousands of years – the wooden longbow.

Wooden bows can be made from numerous wood species, though as a general rule, hardwoods like elm, hickory, oak and Osage orange are stronger, more forgiving of mistakes and better suited for beginners.

Wooden bows, often called primitive bows, are unfortunately often looked down on as crude, weak and ineffective.

“Primitive” means they are made of all-natural materials and does not reflect on their performance or effectiveness. In fact, a well-made wooden longbow can match the performance of the most expensive fiberglass longbow, shooting hunting arrows between 165 and 185 feet-per-second.

Along with the bow, primitive archers will often make their own arrows. Manufactured Port Orford cedar is by far the most common material used for traditional arrows, but during prehistoric times, arrows were made from whatever was available – straight shoots of hardwood or reed or long splits from straight-grained woods like hickory or cedar.

After being dried and straightened, they were fletched and tipped with various points of bone, shell, wood or stone.

Even though this method is thousands of years old, hardcore primitive archery purists still make their arrows the same way. River cane, tonkin cane, bamboo and reed, as well as shoots of dogwood, chokecherry, serviceberry, syringa, sourwood, oceanspray, privet, tamarisk, poplar and hickory are just a few of the many wood species that can be made into arrows.

Primitive hunting arrows can be tipped with a variety of points. Modern steel broadheads work well, but purists will usually make their own metal points from old files, circular saw blades or tool steel. For those with the patience and persistence to learn, beautiful stone arrowheads can be chipped out of flint, chert, agate, obsidian (volcanic glass), and even man-made glass.

Even though stone points may be considered primitive, they are extremely sharp and have proven just as deadly as the most modern steel broadhead. In fact, high-quality flint and obsidian can have edges that are sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel.

Hunting with such a weapon is where the real challenge begins. A primitive bow has a limited effective range of 20-25 yards for most archers, so the hunter must get close to his game in order to make an accurate shot.

However, carefully crafted arrows and regular practice can increase the effective range of a primitive bow. Even at longer range, the primitive bow is deadly.

Those who hunt with a primitive bow undoubtedly develop a tremendous respect for the skills of the people who once relied on these weapons for survival. So what is it about primitive archery that continues to seduce people?

For many it is the camaraderie, challenge, and fun of taking something as benign as a stave of wood and crafting it into a lethal weapon.

In this modern world, where technology advances at a furious pace, there is something incredibly satisfying about slowing down and getting back to basics. Sitting by the fireplace and creating a bow just as man has done for millennia continues a tradition that reaches far into our past and provides the craftsman with a deep satisfaction in keeping this craft from extinction.

I believe this type of archery will always hold a fascination because it is an art that all of us as humans share.

Go back into your ancestry far enough, and you will find someone who once crafted wooden bows and survived with them.

Billy is based in Canton, Ga. Meet him at the Midwest Land Co. during Big Buck Expo in Lakeland, Fla. July 9 -11.