It’s an SHTF situation, you’re out in the wilderness, and you fear that one gunshot could be enough to invite trouble into your campsite, concealed from prying eyes.
You’d be right to worry. When society collapses, so does civility, and you want to remain as quiet as possible for as long as possible.
A DIY bow and arrow grant you the ability to hunt silently or perform archery if you’re bored in the woods. Not only does it prevent potential assailants from discovering you and your family, but it actually prevents the game from fleeing an area.
Gunshots can send animals fleeing even if they’re miles away from you, but with this homemade bow built with the tools mother nature left you, that won’t be a concern.
Materials You Need for Your DIY Bow and Arrow
Historically, through modern innovations, we’ve seen a ton of materials and variations in bows and arrows over the years. There are more primitive bows like crossbows, longbows, bamboo bows, yew bows, pvc bows.
Bows can be made of composite, metal, bamboo, aluminum, the list goes on and on. We have a few materials that we can talk about right now that are available for DIY bows and arrows.
Bows are made out of various woods, composites, and fiberglass (basically reinforced fiber-based plastic). However, the only one that’s a viable and fast-acting solution to make a bow right now or in the wilderness is wood.
Readily available and more reliable than any other material, a piece of wood offers flexibility and bounces back after extended use. Any bow you use will eventually be bent beyond compare, but wood will last the longest.
Different woods that you can use include: ashwood, osage orange wood, black locust, and hickory.
Those are available enough, and they’re softwood variants. Hardwood variants may last longer but are more difficult to use. It’s okay to use red oak, oakwood or maplewood, but you will have a much harder time crafting these bows.
Arrows are weighed in GPI, or grains per inch. This matters because every single grain is more drag when you’re trying to cut through the air and land your shot.
This is important to know while making your own. While we aren’t going for a long-distance shot to win a medal, we still want to have as much power as possible for short-distance shots for hunting and self-defense.
Different arrow materials apply to different levels of skill. A carbon fiber or aluminum arrow shaft is more useful to a master bowhunter, because they can make use of that extra power with better draw weight and straighter shots.
It’s also very difficult to machine metals down to make arrow shafts, which is why I strictly recommend avoiding that.
You should stick to bamboo and oak as a beginner. Yes, composite and carbon fiber are also viable, but that’s difficult to machine on your own.
Not as difficult as aluminum shafts, but still pretty hard. You can have potted bamboo plants that you can refine at your homestead, or simply cut down an oak tree on your land to build a small arsenal of bows and arrows.
Do You Have to Use Wood or Are Plastics and Metals Good Alternatives?
It depends on what situation you’re going to find yourself in. Are you crafting this bow before you end up in an SHTF situation, or are you planning to make this while you’re still at home?
It’s a lot easier to use plastics and even metal if you have a workshop and time on your side, not so much when you’re tying materials together with twine next to a campfire.
Let’s go over each of the three materials and talk about their usefulness.
All hail the ultimate bow material. It’s classic, it works well, and it hasn’t been knocked off the top spot for a reason. Wood simply has more flex, better snapback, and helps you anchor your shots more easily than any other predominate bow material.
All-wooden bows perform better, and because of the natural polymer, it bends back the way it’s supposed to with less damage than a fiberglass bow would incur.
You’ll find fiberglass, which is a form of plastic, in just about every modern bow that you can get your hands on. An all-fiberglass bow isn’t going to be nearly as good as a wooden bow, but it gets the job done.
There’s more flex than metal, and decent elasticity to prevent overbending and cracking. Fiberglass limbs aren’t uncommon, but you want a wooden core to have the right level of flex to carry out long distance shots.
Metal hasn’t really been used to make viable bows for centuries. The thing is, centuries ago, they didn’t have the grades of steel and lightweight alloys that we have now.
Metal serves in smaller parts of bows, such as pins, sights, and fastening equipment if a highly durable glue isn’t used. However, you’re not going to see any viable metal bow limbs out there. There isn’t enough bendability.
How to Make a Bow and Arrow
With almost 1m views this video tutorial is a great intro to making a bow and arrow set.
Bow making is far more simplistic than you might think, because you can do it with a single tool. One hatchet is all you need.
1. Find a Branch
Much like with arrows, your branch needs to have about 10% to 20% moisture content.
Find a solid, straight branch that you can chop off a tree. Keep in mind that you’ll be removing a lot of its mass, but you don’t want it to be too thick.
2. Begin Carving
Where will your hand rest?
Find that point by measuring from the center of the branch to each end. Begin carving out a handhold spot, which will be the thickest point in the bow.
3. Limb Carving
Your handhold can be perfectly circular, but the limbs have to bend to you.
The idea is to carve from the back end of the wood, pressing the branch against a tree to hold it steady, and creating the curve to the bow through carving.
4. Quality Check
As you go through carving the bow, make sure the limbs are around the same thickness across all of it. When the limbs are done, they should be somewhat simple to bend.
Before you’re finished, make a notch in the top of the bow, and one in the bottom. These should point inward at a 45° angle to prevent your string from slipping.
5. Attach BowString
Your string could be made out of paracord, but it could also be made out of sinew. The final choice is up to you.
Flax fiber, linen, there are a ton of choices out there. Secure the string to the nock while bending the bow to give it a resting level of tension.
How to Make Basic Arrows
I could walk you through using an arrow saw, but all that does is teach you how to source the parts for yourself and assemble an arrow. That’s not really the know-how you came here to find. This is how you make arrows from what’s available.
We’re going to use a method called flint knapping. This means that you use flint (or a big rock) plus whatever the material is for your arrowhead. We’re going to use that method plus fletching to make arrow shafts and heads.
1. Carve Arrowshafts
This is easier said than done. You have to forage for specific branches that line up with a good length, and you don’t want to find dried, decaying branches from the forest floor. Keep in mind that most arrows need to be between 20” and 32” to be effective.
Cut fresh branches, because we need 10% to 20% moisture content in that wood to remain flexible and not crack upon landing. Use a hatchet or a straight razor (yes, for real) to carve branches into mostly straight sticks of shaved wood.
Cut your arrows as straight as possible, working them to be straighter as you go. At the tip of the arrow, create a small line through the center going down the shaft where the arrowhead will rest.
2. Shape Arrowheads
This part is the most time-consuming. You need to grind your arrowhead material of choice against a rock or a piece of flint, something that’s sharp enough to whittle away the edges and create a shape. If you have sandpaper that could work too.
You’re going for a 45° angle on either side to create a sharp point in the center. The trickiest part of doing this is that, at the bottom of the arrowhead (where it connects to the shaft), you have to make small inward cuts to secure sinew down the line.
3. Tie Heads to Shafts
This was historically done with sinew – a sticky strand of fibrous tissue that connects bones, tendons, and ligaments together in human and animal bodies – which would bond to the arrow shaft after being honed over a fire.
However, you can use small fibers like paracord or natural fibers you find, such as thin shavings from bamboo plants. Run your material along the head of the shaft
4. Secure Feathers (Optional)
For short-range self-defense or killing game, you don’t necessarily need arrows, but they will help with accuracy and wind resistance.
These can be secured by cutting a long line in the bottom of the arrow shaft, and wedging feathers inside to equally project from at least two sides.
Creating an All-Natural Tool Takes Talent
Now that you know what it takes, you’ll have a better understanding and appreciation for the craft of making a survival bow in the wilderness from scratch.
Mother nature supplies nearly everything you need, so all you have to do is put in the time, test your own bow, and make arrows that will soar straight on through to your target. Self-defense or hunting; whatever you need it for.