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What kind of shafts should my arrows use?

Discussion in 'Research' started by DrBlackJack21, Mar 6, 2021.

  1. DrBlackJack21

    DrBlackJack21 Acolyte

    Ok, long story short, I'm writing a sci-fi/fantasy that takes place on an alien world in a primitive setting. The natives' technology ranges from the stone age to the late bronze age. They are just discovering how to make primitive steel using bog iron but just began gathering in real villages maybe a thousand years ago, give or take. The MC is a human who got stranded on the planet and is working with a group of natives to set up an outpost, but things like raiders are a real danger, and they are badly outnumbered.

    The natives are larger and stronger than humans, and naturally grow a kind of bone plate mail. As a result, ranged warfare never really developed because primitive ranged weapons were simply too ineffectual. However, the MC is looking to change this by bypassing a few thousand years of development and helping them learn how to make weapons that could overcome their natural defenses. Given their technological development and lack of infrastructure guns are out of the question, so he's looking into archery.

    At the moment he's looking into recursive bows, but the one area the aliens are at a disadvantage compared with humans is in their endurance, so aiming a drawn bow will be challenging, despite their greater strength. Eventually, he's going to settle on a modified version of the gastraphetes (belly bow) which can take advantage of their greater size and mass (I'm guessing their be able to get draw strength's close to 500 or 600 with their mass though I haven't settled on those numbers), but doesn't require the same level of endurance to hold with a drawn arrow.

    The next problem he's going to face is all the energy that's released when the arrows shatter on impact against the bone plate. Up until now, I've been able to look at real historical examples of where to go, but I'm at a kind of loss of what to do with the arrows themselves.

    I've got three ideas so far. 1: Simply make the arrows thicker. 2: Make the arrows out of iron or steel. 3:make a traditional arrow with steel reinforcement (A thin band stretching from the arrowhead to the fletching.). All three will seriously increase the weight of the arrows, but I'm hoping this would be offset by the greater draw strength, and they should all project a lot more energy into the target before the arrow bends or breaks. I'm also open to other ideas, keeping in mind the primitive technological capacity of the world.

    Since all my education in this subject has been what I could discover via google and youtube, I was hoping someone with more practical experience or wider knowledge might be able to offer some insight. Regardless, I appreciate any thoughts you all might have on the subject!

    (Here's a link to the story if anyone's interested enough to read it, but it's a long one, and I don't expect anyone to bother with it just to answer this question.) Book 1
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. Gwynndamere

    Gwynndamere Dreamer

    How thick, and what is the placement of the bone mail they grow? Are there gaps in the joints etc? In addition to the arrow compositiion, you could play around with the arrowheads to make them able to penetrate the bone. Perhaps your MC is able to create a hybrid "bullet", by putting some black powder into the tip of the arrowhead with a fuse they light just before they shoot, that would explode on impact with the bone.

    Ot they just need to practice their aim, to hit the exposed weak spots on the body.
    DrBlackJack21 and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I wouldn't worry about it too much, unless it is a crucial plot point somewhere along the line...
    From my limited knowledge, it is the flexibility in the shaft of an arrow that make it so effective.
    A slightly flexible shaft balances the ability to handle the forces of being loosed and the stiffness and lightness needed to fly true and accurate.
    And I have to admit that I don't think it all that likely that some could use a belly bow but not a recurve or long bow.
    I am not the fittest person in the world and not a good archer but I can still get five arrows off in a minute [and hit a target at 20 m]. You pull back and aim all in one movement. You shouldn't need to hold the bow at full draw. Admittedly after a couple of hours my shoulders do get stiff. But as I said I'm not a good archer.
    Last time I used a crossbow [the nearest to a belly bow I've been near] it was so much heavier and harder to load. That you did have to aim and hold up before you could shoot. I found it far more tiring.
    DrBlackJack21 and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  4. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    This is a bit like the questions that get asked when developing modern weaponry. Anyone using bows and arrows against someone with armour (be it bone or metal plate) will develop bows with more penetrating power (meaning a big bow with a big draw) or tactics which allow them to get close enough for smaller bows to have enough penetrating power. Eventually though, someone will ask if there is another sort of weapon which could be used. So your protagonists might investigate the use of a large hand held catapult with heavy (read small, dense) rocks to let them inflict crush type injuries on the enemy instead of trying to penetrate the bone. Or, they might try using slings with small heavy stones to penetrate the bone instead.
    DrBlackJack21 likes this.
  5. Malik

    Malik Auror

    First things first: you only aim a recurve bow momentarily. The shot is instinctive; you bring the weapon up as you draw, and you release when you have the sight picture. There's no hold at full draw like with a compound bow. There is no endurance issue.

    Secondly, as I've talked about in the Ask Me About Archery thread--a lot--hunting-weight bows of 40-50 lbs. are devastating. My last shot on a deer with a 54-lb. recurve shattered a rib on one side, traversed the body cavity through the liver and both lungs, split the far shoulder upon exiting, and buried itself half an inch into a tree 20 or so yards beyond. That was a simple, ash-shafted arrow with a plain steel broadhead. Steel-tipped arrows will split bone; that's how hunting works. Because of this, bone armor won't stop a hunting bow. It may make the occasional arrow glance, or slow an arrow down so it doesn't penetrate completely and hit the guy behind you, too.

    As for construction, you could make the shafts out of any dense wood. I like ash; it creates an arrow weight that behaves how I want it to given the particular length of arrow that I like--different lengths of arrow will screw up your shot, because you index off the point. An arrow that's too light or too heavy won't fly the way you expect, and again, the shot is instinctive.

    If I was breaking armor with a hunting bow and primitive tech, I would "foot" the shafts, using around 6" of super-hard wood: ironwood, cocobolo, bamboo, or around here, madrona. To foot a shaft, you splice two pieces of wood together and glue them. It looks like this:

    footed shafts.jpg

    It's super-effective and doesn't throw the weight off. You don't need much steel on the end, this way, either.

    Happy hunting.
    John McNeil and DrBlackJack21 like this.
  6. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Scribe

    The precurser to the bow and arrow was the atlatle. It is essentially an arrow that is propelled through the air by a simple notched stick that effectively extended a persons swing. Far more energy would be applied that just throwing the arrow and there was better accuracy too. With the natives added strength and size, the right projectile could easily shatter bones stronger than a humans.

    Bows use wooden arrows because they are light and flexible. Modern arrows may use aluminum or graphine shafts because of their weight. Crossbows on the otherhand use much sturdier bolts, sometimes solid metal. With the draw strength that you are proposing, you are getting close to siege weapon capabilities such as a small ballista. Metal shafts are better in those cases because you need weight, light projectiles at high speed tend to tumble.
    DrBlackJack21 likes this.
  7. DrBlackJack21

    DrBlackJack21 Acolyte

    Thank you all! You've given me a lot more info than I originally had! I think I know where I'm going to go with this now, I'll be sure to check back here the next time I have similar questions. (which is probably a little too often!)
  8. Ok. Malik has made the most salient points (pun intended). but a few things:

    1. Endurance won't be a problem as far as individual shots, but could be if they are shooting in repetition. Hunting you are just gonna shoot once, but in battle you may loose 50 or 100 shafts. that does add up. having shot 100 shafts in a day.... it does add up. volume is also what you are after. your basic armored knight (as a stand in for your aliens) can take a single shaft.. .but hit him with 10... they will find the weak points, splinter up to the throat, etc. it just takes one to get through. So volume and rapid firing is key.

    2. What about crossbows? that would really help with any endurance issue. and you get serious penetration power without a lot of training. Not sure the timeline, but crafting bows and then training people to use them.. its gonna take years. not sure how many you need but.

    3. I got no three. but 3 is a nice number so I put it. Mostly listen to MalikMalik
    DrBlackJack21 likes this.
  9. DrBlackJack21

    DrBlackJack21 Acolyte

    Yeah, that's why I decided to go with a modified version of the gastraphetes. It's kind of a hybrid between crossbow and bow. It's got the longer draw length, and thus more imparted energy of a bow, but has the draw strength of a crossbow. It's fired like one as well, so it doesn't take the endurance or training of a bow. Of course, you're sacrificing the speed a bow can fire at, but the higher draw strengths, and thus greater penetration, would hopefully compensate for that, and more importantly, it's something a craftsman could wield with deadly effect.

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