Native North American archery has always stood for efficiency, accuracy, variety, and beauty. Different Native American bows demand different shooting styles, some with very short draw lengths. For all self bows, the pause at full draw should be very brief, and most should be rubbed twice a year with natural animal fat. The self bow is a deadly and accurate weapon and will last for many years if handled with appreciation, but the self bow cannot be treated as casually as glass-reinforced weapons.
Selection of Native North America Bows
This array of bows was originally offered by bowyer Rob Young of Idaho. Rob is doing less of this currently but we have makers that can produce any one of these wonderful bows. Photo from Rob Young.
West Coast and Northwest (the first eight bows on the left)
- Hupa, 56" elk sinew backed juniper, elk rawhide tip protectors, braintan handle.
- Karok, 44" elk sinew backed juniper.
- Modoc, 56" elk sinew backed juniper, triangle pattern.
- Modoc, 56" elk sinew backed juniper, elk rawhide tip protectors, braintan handle, leaf pattern, primitive paint.
- Modoc, 48" elk sinew backed juniper, recurve tips, braintan elk on handle, flaming arrow pattern, primitive paint.
- Hupa, 36" elk sinew backed juniper.
- Chinook, 56" Osage orange, recurved limbs.
- Yahi, 56" Osage orange, Ishi’s basic design.
Plains (middle three)
- Sioux, 45" sinew backed osage orange, recurved limbs.
- Nez Perce, 48" elk sinew backed juniper, horse hair tassle, plaited porcupine quill handle decoration.
- Cheyenne, 50" Double thickness elk sinew backed osage orange, braintan elk handle wrap.
Woodland (on the right, excluding the last one)
- Cherokee, 60" osage orange, characteristic Cherokee nocks, see enlarged photo.
- Choctaw, 60" osage orange, flax string handle wrap, black patterns.
- Potawatomi, 60" hickory or black walnut, painted scallop edges.
- Wampanoag (named Sudbury by whites), 64" hickory or black walnut, the first bow seen by the Massachusetts pilgrims.
- Penobscot/Abanaki, 60" osage orange, bow on bow connected by rawhide.
- Algonquian/Delaware, 70" hickory or black locust, carved limbs and tips, unique nock shape.
West Alaskan Eskimo, 60" braided cable backed juniper using artificial sinew or flax. Real sinew moves to three times the cost.
Fine shooting self bow in hickory by Paul Rodgers. This near-universal self bow design is patterned after the artifact in the Harvard Peabody Museum. The taper of the limbs is perfectly gradual from the riser to the tips in side and back view. The name refers to the town in Massachusetts where the artifact was taken in a skirmish. Varying lengths and weights, full 28" draw.
Other Great Northern Selections by Doug Theiner of Alaska
45" sinewed hickory with buffalo horn pieces at limb ends. Imitation sinew cable, 24" to 25" short draw style. Real sinew cable available. Elegant in sight and movement.
Koniag of Alaska
45" rawhide backed hickory. Caribou and Otter figures on back depict land and sea hunting use. Red acrylic with concave back. 25" draw. Beautiful to see and good shooter.
Bull Snake, General Alaskan inspired
45" dark heartwood hickory shows on belly, sinewed on back and covered with Bull Snake skin. Smoked moosehide handle sewn with gut and sealed with pitch, wolverine fur trim. Mineral paints. B-50 string, or rawhide, sinew, or imitation sinew. Bear grease finish. A 56# version outshot an 80# longbow in distance competition. 27" to 28" draw.. (Composite versions of this design have reached 200fps with 400 grain arrows.)
The double bow
Judson Bailey, also a rare custom rifle maker, specializes in this one family of bows devised by the original Americans of the Penobscot Bay area in Maine. Usually of hickory (or elm) in varying weights. Finished to exquisite perfection to admire and shoot. Match with heavier arrows. Has real arrow shelf. 68," full 28" draw. Other versions available such as static recurve.
Seneca Style quivers
Split white oak woven in traditional Cherokee basket pattern, naturally strained accent splits of orange (blood root) and dark brown (black walnut hull). Made by accomplished basket maker and member of the Eastern Cherokee community, Eva Reed. The shoulder strap is of soft comfortable pigskin. The strap is adjustable and includes a leather piece between the quiver and the archer’s back.
Books, Prints, and Videos
American Indian Archery by Reginald and Gladys Laubin, 1980.
Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. $17.95.
Bloodties by Ted Kerasote
This highly recognized survival writer for Field and Stream contrasts survival hunting by the Intuits (he lived with them for several months) to sport and trophy hunting in Siberia. Challenging and enriching reading for hunters and non-hunters alike. $13.00.
Bows and Arrows of the Native Americans by Jim Hamm, 1989.
A complete step by step guide to making and understanding native bows, arrows, strings, and quivers from raw to finished product. Many high quality b&w photos. 157 pages. $14.95.
Cherokee Bows and Arrows by by Al Herrin (Oklahoma Cherokee) 1989.
A wonderful recapturing of the bow making of one particular people. Very clear writing, good sketches and photos. Paper, 160 pages. $14.95.
Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska by W. W. Fitzhugh and A. Crowell. Smithsonian Institution Press.
Paper, oversize, high quality color photos, four bows, and three quivers. $22.00.
Encyclopedia of Native American Bows, Arrows, and Quivers by S. Allely and Jim Hamm, Vol 1 (Northeastern. Southeastern, and Mid-west), 1999.
New York: Lyons Press/Bois d’Arc. $29.95.
Encyclopedia of Native American Bows, Arrows, and Quivers, Volume 2, Plains and Southwest by Steve Allely and Jim Hamm, 2002.
New York; Lyons Press/Bois d’ Arc. $24.95.
Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World by By Jack Weatherford, 1988.
Very much a companion piece to the video, More than Bows and Arrows. The last line of the book summarizes it, "Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492, but America has yet to be discovered." 272 pages, paper, $11.00.
Making Indian Bows the Old Way by Doug Wallentine.
A native American tells how with many fine photos and illustrations not seen anywhere else. 100 pages oversize. $11.95.
Native American Bows by T. M. Hamilton.
Authentic account with good illustrations and some rare art reproductions in b&w. Auspices of the Missouri Archeological Society. $14.95.
North American Bows, Arrows, Quivers, and Chipped Arrowheads by Otis Mason.
Reports of Smithsonian reports from 1891-1893 (limited reprint). Great sketches of bows. Over 200 pages in cloth. 2007 new reprint by Skyhorse Publishing.$14.95.
North American Indians by George Catlin.
Fifty-eight letters by a faithful participant-observer of Native Americans in the early 1800s. Many of his famous paintings are reproduced in b&w. 522 pages, paper. $12.95.
The Man made of Words by N. Scott Momaday.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Momaday is a Kiowa, and a Professor of English at the University of Arizona. One major proposition is that oral tradition kept humans connected to life and real experience, whereas written communication allows abstraction to the point of separating us from reality.
The White Archer by James Huston.
A profound novel of survival living with reliance on hunting with the bow in the harsh but often beautiful Arctic. A model young archer matures into a great hunter, and learns a higher way than that of tribal retribution. The story comes out of twelve years of living with the Inuit-Eskimo people. $8.95.
Wm Penn’s Own Account of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians by Edited by A. C. Meyers.
Direct and instructive glimpse into these lives in the late 1600s and early 1700s. $8.45.
Video, More Than Bows and Arrows
A Ph.D. Kiowa from Stanford narrates an inspiring but well documented pictorial account of the ways the original Americans contributed the fundamental knowledge for modern European Americans in agriculture, architecture, government, medicine, irrigation, and urban planning. Not much about bows, but a lot about the bowyers’ peoples. $25.95.
Map of undisturbed U.S. American Indian Tribal Locations
Published by Eastern Cherokees, 16" by 20." Great to teach yourself, and your children. $6.00.
Hidatsa Tribe, North Dakota $43.00.
“Split oak quiver by a Cherokee maker”
This finely crafted piece is by Eva Reed in Cherokee, NC. The dark splits are stained by boiled black walnut hulls, and the orange splits by bloodroot. Soft pigskin strap.