We set out to build a survivalist AR-15 that might serve as a...
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This article originally appeared in Issue 3 of our magazine.
Photography by Michael Grey and Courtesy of AMC
Long before gunpowder forever changed the way man waged war and killed food, a pointy stick propelled down range was the pinnacle of ballistic technology. For tens of thousands of years, nations were won and game taken down using a simple bow and arrow. With all the different shotguns, rifles, and pistols to choose from, does a limited range, non-concealable, and low-power weapon have a place in your TEOTWAWKI game plan? The answer is “Yes” — for many reasons.
If you’re one of the many who enjoy watching Southerners being chased around Atlanta by the undead, you’ll know that a bow and arrow is a must-have badass weapon in a post SHTF world. Don’t get me wrong, guns have their rightful place in these scenarios too. But there are those rare occasions in which your favorite heater may not be the best choice of weaponry. Whether you need to be completely silent (even a gun with the best sound suppressor on it still makes a noise), have no access to ammo, or need to send a line over a high tree limb, it is nice to have a tool available to do all those things and more.
Unless you’re a bow hunter, way into The Hunger Games or a big Geena Davis fan, chances are you’ll need to brush up a little on your archery skills. For most of us, our first and maybe only exposure to archery was in summer camp, and the skills we learned then have fallen to the wayside along with playing tetherball. So where do we start our exploration into the ancient art of the curved stick and feathered twig?
First, let’s clear the waters. We’re in no way implying that a bow and arrow could take the place of your direct-impingement, multi-railed lead thrower. Given the choice of only carrying one weapon, a 1911 or a crossbow, we’d bet good money that all of us would choose the pistol. However, one of the first things we learn is that in order to survive and thrive, you first need a plan, then a backup plan, and finally a backup for your backup. Having access to a bow and some well-fletched arrows is a great alternative means of hunting and defense.
Secondly let’s not get bogged down in the pros and cons of archery. We’ve already established that most would readily reach for a firearm before a bow. Instead let’s explore the upside of knowing the methods and means of sending projectiles down range without a bang. And why a bow, in whatever configuration you choose, should have a place in your arsenal.
Archery is a good way to get kids involved in preparation and planning. Everyone should know how to shoot a gun, but sometimes there isn’t always an easy way to get the kids the range time they need. With bows coming in different lengths and draw weights, kids have easy, inexpensive access to learning how to contribute to the defense or the hunting needs of your family. As a bonus, it’s a great bonding experience when you can calmly converse with and teach your kids without having to yell through ear protection.
As with any weapon system, to effectively use a bow and arrow you need to commit to properly learning the techniques and equipment options. You don’t need to be William Tell or Robin Hood to consider having a bow in your arsenal. You should, however, practice until you are comfortably proficient. One of the advantages of practicing archery is that it can be done in suburban or urban surroundings without drawing attention to yourself. With a gun, it’s not so easy to run out to the backyard or garage and start practicing, especially if you’re in more dense living conditions — in fact, in many jurisdictions it would be illegal.
The bow and arrow was the first stealth weapon system (the jawbone of an ass is hardly a weapon system). There are many potential situations in which you might need to put down a threat or your next meal without the percussive report of a firearm. This is especially true in a suburban or urban setting where you would want to maintain a low sonic profile and not draw attention to yourself, whether defending your home ground or hunting for game near your base camp.
These are real world, plausible scenarios. There are plenty of real world SHTF threats to prepare for that have nothing to do with reanimated corpses trying to devour you. For example, everything has been off grid for an extended period of time and your food supplies are depleted; you’re in the local park’s nature trail looking for food. Elsewhere there are whole groups of starving, angry, unprepared, and less self-sufficient people waiting for food to come to them. A gunshot could bring the attention of those who would be less than polite in taking what you worked so hard to stalk (think kids fighting over the last cookie and multiply that times the population of your town). A stealthy takedown would ensure your return to your base camp with dinner.
The bow is also a versatile tool that can be used for things other than hunting and defense. Takedown recurve bows, like the industry-leading Hoyt Buffalo, break down into pieces that can be easily put in a pack and carried more easily than a cumbersome longbow or compound bow (see “Types of Bows” below).
Above: Crossbows use bolts (bottom) while bows use arrows (top). Bolts and arrows feature different flight characteristics and vary in overall size and weight. Many variations of each are available to suit a variety of uses.
A bow and flaming arrow was the first flamethrower. There may be times when you want to reach way out and set something on fire, but a flaming arrow shot high in the air can also be a great way to signal others. Of course, remember what comes up must come down, and small flames tend to create bigger flames. You can also attach a string to an arrow and shoot it over a high limb or across a gap anytime you find yourself needing to get a rope out farther than you can throw it.
Bows can be configured in many different ways and are adaptable to a wide variety of purposes. Debate always rages as to which type of bow is best suited for SHTF. It’s like debating which calibers are best; there are compelling arguments for and against each choice. Ultimately it’s a personal preference depending on what you’re comfortable with and what you intend to use it for.
The oldest, longest used and simplest of the bow types. A long semi-flexible plank of wood is put under tension by a length of string. As the bowstring is drawn back, the bow is put under increased tension. When the string is let go the release of tension propels the arrow.
An upgrade to the longbow, the recurve has the basic shape of the longbow, but curls (recurves) the tips in the opposite direction. As the bow is put under tension not only does the bow itself bend, but the recurved tips also straighten out. When released, the bow goes back to its original state with extra oomph imparted to the arrow as the recurved tips return to their original state.
This bow is born for those preparing for crisis events. The best of the bunch and our recommendation is the Hoyt Buffalo. It breaks down into three parts (plus the string) that can easily be packed away and transported more discreetly than a traditional recurve or longbow. Takedown bows have the advantage of having interchangeable limbs, great for kids (or adults) progressing in skill level.
The compound bow is the high-tech Formula 1 solution to an ancient design, using cams and pulleys to increase arrow speed while making it easier to draw. There are also more customizable accessories and accouterments that make the compound bow more accurate than its forefathers. Stabilizers, fiber-optic sights, string and limb silencers all combine to increase accuracy and ease of use. The downside, like any high-performance tool, is that it needs regular tuning. But with some education and guidance you needn’t be tethered to your local pro shop for service.
If you’re used to rifles and don’t want to make a big departure, the crossbow may fit your needs. The crossbow, when cocked, is at much higher tension than any of the other types of bows, sending bolts down range at speeds up to 450 fps. This is easily the most lethal of the bunch. One of the coolest developments in crossbows uses the lower receiver of an AR-15 and marries it to a long, high-tension crossbow “upper.” The result is a long-distance “sniper” crossbow. We’re not sure about making a non-regulated weapon like a crossbow into a regulated one by attaching it to an actual lower receiver, but it is a pretty neat system.
The new kid on the block and arguably the most fun — think of it as the love child of a sling shot and recurve bow. It’s easily the most portable of all the options, possibly even more than the takedown recurve. Better suited for CQB and taking down small game, the sling bow uses industrial elastic to send a wide variety of arrows down range. The three-piece takedown arrows are by far the most packable and practical. We like the Montie Gear Tactical / Modular Slingshot fitted with a whisker biscuit arrow rest and three-dot sight — it is the pinnacle of sling bow design and well worth the price tag.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for adding a bow to your stable of weaponry is the cost factor. Unlike a gun, you can readily find simple materials to make your own bow and some arrows (check out the video below). The homemade stuff is certainly not as good as the name-brand gear, but when constructed well, it can be an effective, make-do solution.
The point is that you needn’t run out and spend thousands of dollars on the latest over-hyped stick slinger. If you love archery and bow hunting, by all means get the latest and greatest top-of-the-line gear. But just remember that whole nations were conquered and millions of deer made into supper long before there were skeletonized risers, unobtainium limbs, and strings made from precious metals.
Surfing Craigslist turns up some great deals on models that were once the latest craze. My 15-year-old Craigslist find (seen above) doesn’t look slick, but it gets the job done, and none of the deer it’s taken down cared how old the bow is. If you’re looking to be the first one who plucks your bow’s strings, manufacturers such as Hoyt offer high-quality but inexpensive bows in every category.
There’s no need to hang up the ol’ Winchester and run out to start developing Apache-like skills. But there’s no doubt that the bow has a place in your toolbox. Think of it like this — even if you have a Phillips head screwdriver that handles most of your jobs, there are times when the situation calls for a flathead.
One of the most compelling reasons to include bow and arrows in your TEOTWAWKI plan is the flexibility of using interchangeable arrowheads. Below is a rundown on arrowhead types:
The simplest and least intimidating of the group. Used for target practice and occasionally small game (very small and frail game).
A flat or bulbous tip made of metal, rubber or plastic. Used for knocking the crap out of small game that would be torn apart by other types.
This arrowhead screams, “to hell with aerodynamics.” Loops at the edge of the arrowhead entangle a bird’s wings to bring them down.
A little bit more aggressive tip used mostly for target shooting and small game.
The most, steam-punk, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot-looking of the bunch. Spring activated arms catch leaves and grass so the arrow doesn’t get lost by burying itself in the under brush or embedding itself in soft ground. Used for “stump” shooting small game.
Pretty self explanatory as to its use. Spring-loaded barbs secure the fish as the arrow is reeled in using an attached string.
The most aggressive and “high-tech” of the group. Razor-sharp blades tear through the hide of big game. Size and number of blades vary. A variation of this type of arrowhead employs spinning blades that act as a guillotine, painlessly taking down gobblers and other fowl. Broadheads are the tip to use for both defense and bringing dinner home.