Letter Re: Archery Equipment for Those Living in Gun-Deprived Locales

I just want to add a few comments on Archery as a means of self defense from someone who is no overwhelming expert on the subject, but has had a hand in Archery since childhood. So I put something together to assist those forced to use a bow in self defense. Bows can be swift, silent, accurate and deadly, and in the right circumstances, may be preferable to a firearm.  

Let me state at the very beginning that shooting wooden arrows out of most modern compound bows should not be done and usually will result in the splitting and shattering of the arrow, hopefully not directly into your arm and hand. It is possible to match a much higher draw weight than you think you are capable of, if the bow has a cam on it. The cam allows for a much greater let off in the muscle/force needed to keep the bow string fully drawn. As the bow is drawn, the draw weight increases to a peak and then “lets off”. The let-off is usually between 65% and 80% of the peak weight.  This results in the equivalent of eliminating 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the force needed to draw a bow at a certain point so that it becomes easier on the muscle/bones of the archer. More technically, the cam system maximizes the energy storage throughout the draw cycle and provides let-off at the end of the cycle and has less holding weight at full draw. A traditional type of bow has a linear draw force curve – meaning that as you draw the bow back, the draw force becomes increasingly heavier with each inch of draw. So it’s easier at the beginning and harder at the end. So you store very little energy in the first half of the draw stroke, and much more energy at the end of the draw stroke where the resistance is heavier. The compound bow may reach its peak weight within the first few inches of the draw stroke, and the weight remains flat and constant until the end of the cycle where the cams “let-off” and allow a reduced holding weight. This manipulation of the peak weight throughout the draw stroke by the elliptical shape of the cams, is why compound bows store more energy and shoot faster. The design of the cams directly controls the acceleration of the arrow. Bows can be had with a variety of cams, in a full spectrum from soft to hard (harder gives more speed).

Overall, a modern cam results in using a larger draw weight, a faster arrow, more accuracy, a flatter trajectory and with more penetration.   High draw weight bows require a heavier, stiffer arrow shaft.  So while they will generate more energy at the target, they may not generate much faster arrow speeds.  Lower draw weight bows can use lighter, more limber arrow shafts. International Bowhunting Organization (IBO) standards allow 5 grains of arrow weight per pound of draw weight. So a 70 lb bow can shoot an arrow as light as 350 grains.  A bow set for 60 lb, must have at least 300 grains and so forth.  Surprisingly, when set for IBO minimum standards, many bows are only marginally faster in the 70 lb version vs. the 60 lb version.  Since a 70 lb bow must shoot the heavier arrow, the savings in arrow weight offsets the loss of energy storage during the draw stroke.  A properly set-up 60 lb version of most bows will perform within 10 fps of the heavier 70 lb version.

The average bow of 15-20 years ago was barely able to reach 230 fps, and even at that speed many bow hunters got clean pass-thru’s on large game like Whitetail Deer. Today the average bow is shooting over 300 fps at 70 lb draw weight. This means that even bows in shorter draw lengths and lower draw weights will still provide plenty of velocity to penetrate the ribcage of a Whitetail Deer and other large game. A modern single cam bow with a 50 lb peak draw weight will still send arrows out at well over 220 fps. If you plan to hunt larger game like Elk or Moose, or if you plan to take shots from longer distances, you will need additional kinetic energy for complete penetration. A 40-50 lb draw weight should provide sufficient energy to harvest deer and a 50-60 lb bow weight will provide sufficient energy to harvest larger elk-size species. Unless you’re planning to hunt huge animals, a 70 lb+ pound bow really isn’t necessary. Penetration is most often expressed as kinetic energy (KE) and should be available with purchase of  the bow or by calculating it.  The measurable  “power” of your bow is its total kinetic energy output. This depends upon just two variables: the mass of the arrow and the speed of the arrow.  Kinetic energy of an arrow can be found by using the formula KE=(mv²)/450,240 where m is the mass of the arrow in grains and v is the velocity of the arrow in fps.  As a provided example, if your bow shoots a 400 grain arrow at a respectable 250 fps, your actual kinetic energy or “power” will roughly be equal to 55 1/2 ft-lbs. More than enough to take out a man.

Easton’s Kinetic Energy Recommendation Chart

<25 ft. lbs. Small Game (rabbit, groundhog, etc.)
25-41 ft. lbs. Medium Game (deer, antelope, etc.)
42-65 ft. lbs. Large Game (elk, black bear, wild boar, etc.)
>65 ft. lbs. Toughest Game (Cape Buffalo, Grizzly Bear, Musk Ox, etc.)

Bleed out is that fact that due to the cutting diameter of the blades on a broad head, more vital organs, arteries, tissue, etc. is often cut on the way through the flesh. This usually results in a faster bleed out of the target than is usual with a bullet. According to the information I have seen, when a bullet goes through the human body, the wound channel often closes back up. With a broad headed arrow the cutting action has left a much larger wound channel that cannot close back up as efficiently, and thus more blood escapes the body at a faster rate. Arrows do not have even remotely the shattering effect on bone that bullets do (making people on drugs physically unable to move a shattered limb) but can, in a certain way, can put a person down as efficiently as a bullet. This appears to be true in my own personal experience with deer but it is tempered with the fact that I have also figuratively knocked deer off their feet with a deer slug, which is not going to happen with an arrow.  

Psychologically, if you shoot an individual with an arrow, you have just got “medieval” on them and the shock of seeing an arrow sticking out of their body will likely put an end to the confrontation. Modern man in North America and Europe is just not psychologically prepared for being impaled like they used to be. Every time that arrow is moved, it creates some severe internal damage and pain and creates confusion and hesitancy in the mind of the target. Many who are shot with a bullet often don’t realize that they have been wounded until later. If a 2-½ foot long piece of aluminum or carbon fiber is sticking out of someone, they will realize it even if it is just a hindrance to their natural body movement.  

Bows are not a close-in weapon (they should have a range of at least 100 yards) due to the fact that your enemy can usually close with you faster than you can load, draw and aim. If they are shooting at you, you will need some solid cover. It is possible to get accurate shots from the kneeling position, but too often the knee interferes with the bow limbs and tracking a target. Chances are you are going to have to stand and present a full standing side silhouette to your opponent. Bows are great a shooting a target from ambush (even within your darkened house) and for keeping your location a relative mystery. After your initial shot(s), as they are closing in on you from 15 yards (or so), throw the bow down and draw your pistol, your going to need it.  

Thus it is possible for a bow to give power out of all proportion to the individual shooting it (just like a firearm) and you can be as sure of taking out the “target” as surely as people have done for the last several thousand years. – A.T.