Alan's animal friendly longbow/Warbow page
Page updated Nov 19

My longbow making guide The Back Street Bowyer HERE

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This is basically a diary of my own archery experiences, but I hope there is lots of advice/information here which will be helpful and/or interesting. It concentrates at first on my quest to get a bow with no animal derived parts as I try to avoid them, but I think this page will be of interest to everyone.
It all stared for me in Jun06
- I found myself enrolled on a archery training course - I had pointed out our local club (Beeston Rylands Archers) to my girlfriend a week or so before as she had once mentioned that she would love to try archery, next thing I new we were both enrolled !!

It consisted of four 2 hour lessons, I thought the first one may be interesting but how I would get through the other three I could not imagine...... It turned out that I really enjoyed it and the two hours lessons just flew past.
As it happens, I had always fancied the idea of trying a longbow (the bow which had won the battle at Agincourt etc. etc.) so when it came to the end of the course and time to think about buying myself a bow I had already decided that the longbow was the only way to go (the modern bows hold no interest to me but longbows are a piece of history etc.) but as no one in the club used a traditional  bow I had no idea where to start.

What is a English longbow

I suspected longbows would have animal derived parts in their make-up as they are a very traditional item, and I try to avoid all animal derived products if I can (being vegan) - No problem I thought, I will just get a bow made without the leather handle.....

Why would you want a longbow with no animal derived items in its making?

My policy is to live my life without harming any other animal (including humans) unless absolutely necessary - not as easy as it sounds

At first it seems there is nothing wrong with using horn as surely its just thrown away when an animal is slaughtered if its not used anyway, and the same goes for the feathers?
Well, this could be true but, if money changes hands for the horn or feathers then this money will be counted toward the profitability of the production/slaughter of these animals so by buying these I feel I would be a part of this just as much as if I had bought the meat. I have not yet managed to find out exactly where the horns used for longbows come from, so I am avoiding them.

Whilst trying to discover more about where the horns and feathers used for longbows come from I found an American FAQ on bow making with this section in it:
"I am currently using turkey feathers to fletch with, after spending half a day on a commercial turkey farm plucking wing feathers as the birds went into the slaughter house. Admittedly the other workers thought I was nuts but hey, that's life :-) And I've now got a sack of feathers in the garage which should last me several years. Although some of them need to be dyed to cover up the bloodstains. :-( The turkeys were *not* happy with the situation. "
This I doubt is the norm, but it did prove for me that I was right to be careful what went into making my bow and arrows.

Here is some info. on where Trueflight feathers come from - they are "gathered at U.S. turkey processing plants", which doesn't sound good to me :-(

I contacted a few longbow makers (Bowyers) asking if they could do anything to help me out. I soon received a reply from Pip Bickerstaff but I then seemed to spend more time trying to defend my vegan lifestyle choices than working out a solution to getting myself a longbow. It soon became clear he was not interested in making me a bow so I had to look else where. To be fair though, whilst we disagreed on animal rights issues, he did put a lot of effort into replying to my emails and he gave me a lot of info on how bows are made etc... (most bowyers I contacted just ignored me)

One piece of news I did get from this which sounded pretty terminal was that the archery associations insists that all longbows have horn tips (nocks). I contacted the GNAS asking for clarification on this point but again I seemed to have to defend my being vegan and I found out little more than "the rules must be followed" (whatever they are?), it was also hinted at that other longbow archers would not take kindly to someone having a bow which doesn't conform ???
NFAS The field archery association I understand is more forgiving on what bows are used?
It was looking like there is nothing can be used in place of feathers on the arrows with a longbow as they would cut your hand (it made sense to me as the arrow rests on your hands on a longbow, anything other than feather would slice your hand when you release the arrow?).

So at this point it looked like it was pretty hopeless. I was unable to find a bow maker who was willing to help me and if I did I wouldn't be allowed to use the bow at a club anyway.

UPDATE Jun07 - I have just received an email from GNAS to say that anything can now be used to make the nocks and the wording of the rules will be changed to reflect this :-)

Note - I did later receive a reply from another local Bowyer and they were more positive - K.G.Archery - They seemed a bit bemused by my request but they did have some suggestions
Among other things, they suggested that a flat bow may be worth considering as it is very similar to a longbow and they can be shot in competitions as a bare bow with modern aluminum arrows (i.e. no feathers) - I am determined to get a longbow, but this may be a last resort if all else fails

I eventually emailed pretty much every bowyer I could find on the internet but I had very few replies.

I wondered if it were possible to get some horn material without involving any cruelty - maybe some animals shed their horn naturally or maybe antlers could be used and so usable material could be collected from a forest floor somewhere?
It turns out that the horn used is taken from slaughtered animals and antlers which are shed naturally are of no use in bow making as its the wrong type of material. (I was later told they could be used but they are difficult to work with and far from ideal)
It may be possible to find an animal sanctuary or similar where a horned animal has died naturally but even this would be far from ideal and being "farm animals" it would probably be illegal due to all the regulations etc..?

Update Apr07 - Steve Stratton (of DIY Archery) has used goat horn which is from a species which naturally shed their horns so it is possible to find cruelty free horn to use. Also, I have discovered that Axminster Power Tools sell fake horn material - See below for more details. Also antler can be used (it has to be soaked first to make it soft enough to work)

Feathers on the other hand I thought more feasible as surely they could be collected from a nature reserve or something after they have naturally fallen from the birds? 
I was informed that only 4 feathers per bird can be used for making arrows and they have to be in best condition, so finding enough of these seemed a bit unlikely (3 per arrow, 8 arrows = 24 feathers = 6 full birds).

I was pretty much ready to give in on the idea when I made contact with someone via eBay who makes bows (very good and cheap bows by all accounts) and he was more positive / helpful :-)

He said he could supply a bow without horn (self nocked) but he was unable to offer any alternative to feathers but if I were to collect some he was willing to have a go at making arrows with them for me.
He even offered to collect feathers from local road kill pheasants for me (I was very impressed because collecting feathers from road kill is not a very pleasant thing to have to do). Whilst this may seem against my vegan principles at first, I was unable to think of any logical reason why this was an ethical problem (as the animal wasn't killed for fun for profit - or even on purpose) so I asked him to go ahead.
Maybe next time I have arrows made I will have had time to collect some decent fallen feathers but at the moment this seems my best/only option.

There was no answer I could find to the horn problem (I didn't expect any horned road kill cows to turn up in the near future ;-) so in the end I decided my best option was to have a bow made which used something other than horn but looks as standard as possible - I thought a self nocked bow would draw too much attention? - If I get thrown out the archery club now, at least I can say I did all I could ?????

I have asked him to make me a bow and some arrows....

I have since made contact with a vegetarian archer - Kevin Boone
he tells me the archery associations are not as strict as I had been led to believe and he has seen self nocked bows being used at club events.
He also tells me that the quality of feather is not as vital as I had been informed, so collecting feathers from the floor (even possibly seagull feathers from a beach) he thinks would work ok. - I hope to give this a try at a later date
He also says its perfectly possible to shoot a modern arrow from a longbow, these do not use feathers at all, so I suspect it must be possible to make a wooden arrow without feather fletching? - but you wouldn't be allowed to enter any competition with these as plastic flights would be seen as cheating.

I still think the pheasant feather option is my best plan for starters and I really like the idea of having a "proper" bow with the fake nocks (rather than a self bow)

Several weeks later:

I found someone where I work who has a longbow and he brought it in to work to show me, its a very nice Yew self bow - in fact its such a nice bow that it made me realise that the laminated bows being sold these days are a very different thing to a traditional longbow - So this changed my plans quiet radically !!!

I was coming to realise that the chap in Norfolk was not going to make me a bow, as I had still not even managed to get a price for the bow I had requested.
I visited a local archery shop (K.G.Archery) just to have a look what was available etc.. - Of course by the time I got out the shop I had spent 300 ;-)

I wasn't impressed with the longbows (nothing wrong with them, just after seeing the self bow I had taken a bit of a dislike to the Victorian style ones) and they let me try one of the flat bows they had originally suggested would be worth considering. It now seemed my only option if I wanted any bow at all in the near future and it meant I could use modern arrows so no feather problems - I bought one (56lb @ 28").
It was the archery club night so I took it along to give it a try - I thought of it just as my temporary practice bow until I could get myself a decent longbow but by the end of the 3hr session I had decided I really like it - despite the fact it had almost destroyed my arm (it took 3 days for the swelling to start to go down - I think a better arm guard is my next project ;-)


Actually, since proof reading the above I realised that my quest had actually been a bit of a failure really, as I had set out to get myself a longbow and I still didn't have one!
So I ordered a cheap longbow from Steve Ralphs (70 plus 20 postage) - Its a self bow with self nocks made from sycamore.
I wasn't expecting much as its just a re-enactment bow really but so far I have been very impressed with it - other than getting a Yew bow which costs big money I think this may actually be my ideal bow?
Update Oct 2010 - This bow has indeed turned out to be a very good bow and it is still in use to this day

I was expecting the longbow to be a much harder bow to use than my flat bow but it turns out the flat bow is a bit of a brute to shoot and so the longbow is a dream to shoot after this (I like the flat bow, but its not a friendly bow to be learning with, it has a lot of kickback and attacks your arm given the slightest chance)

I have matched the spine of my arrows spot on but the weights of the finished arrows are up to 50 grain difference (not sure how you get round this?) but they seem to work well :-)

BTW - Someone on a forum suggested that epoxy resin mixed with charcoal, put on the tips of the bow and polished makes a good fake horn so I may experiment with this one day ?

I have tried searching for feathers around the local nature reserve without much luck so I had pretty much given up on having feather fletchings on my arrows and I have been using plastic ones. I recently received an email from a swan sanctuary I had contacted a while back and they are willing to send me some swan feathers they have collected.
I have now made an arrow with feather fletches - it didn't make much difference to the flight of the arrow (with my skill level anyway) and they are very delicate and a bit of a pain having to be careful not to damage them (also it takes a lot of feathers to pick out some decent ones) so I think I will stick with plastic fletches and just make myself a best set of arrows with feathers?
BTW - I have not had any problem with the plastic fletches hitting my hand, in fact another longbow user I know has also decided feathers are a pain and he is converting his arrows to plastic fletchings.

Several more weeks later:

I have been using my sycamore bow for a while now and its still working ok but I am beginning to realise that I will soon need something better, not least of which because I am starting to shoot at 30 yards now and its struggling to reach.

Just as I was getting demoralised and fed up with all the negative attitudes I am experiencing regarding my vegan archery etc.. and my inability to find anyone who will help me;
I found a bowyer who not only isn't negative about my request but he is actually interested in my quest and very positive about the idea of making me an animal friendly bow (If only I had found him before it would have saved me a lot of stress and expense!)
He soon convinced me that unless I am willing to pay very big money for a Yew bow then I need a laminated bow (as any other wood on its own is not up to the job) and a "full compass" medieval type bow is not accurate enough for target archery - so I have decided to get myself a bow which will shoot well rather than look good and then at a later date, when I am a decent shot, maybe then I can consider experimenting with something more traditional.
So I have placed an order for a 60lb, triple laminated bow with fake horn nocks (hard wood) and made to look a bit medieval if possible.

This life saving bowyer who I can't praise enough is: Pete Davidson of - www.tradlongbows.co.uk
He is putting a lot of thought and effort into making my bow and not even charging me any extra for any of this extra stress/work.

BTW - My decision to get a laminate bow was influenced in no small part by the fact my friends self Yew bow I had so much loved, exploded recently - I don't want to spend 700 on a bow which is  likely to fail at any moment (spectacular as it is !)
if you have never seen a bow fail then this is your lucky day; against all odds I happened to catch a friends bow breaking on my high speed camera - see HERE


I now have the bow and I couldn't be happier with it:
It was built for me very quickly, very good communications/feedback as it went along and the finished bow is a real work of art.
Anyone thinking of buying a longbow I would highly recommend TradLongbows - he is a great chap and makes a great bow.

Here it is, in all its glory ;-)


Warbow - Dec06

I have now realised that the bow I have whilst its a very good modern longbow, it is just that - i.e. its a Victorian take on what a longbow is and bears little resemblance to a medieval longbow - I have always had this nagging feeling that this longbow just didn't seem to be the awesome weapon I have read about in the history books - It just doesn't seem to be much more than a toy and I cant imagine how wars could have been won with it??

I then found this web site. http://www.englishwarbow.com  - This changed everything !!!! 

- I have now bought a tri laminate warbow (80lbs at 32") from Steve Stratton - DIY Archery - just got to learn how to "shoot in the bow" now !
He was very understanding about my wanting a animal free bow and he has made the nocks by strengthening the bows wood using hard wood.
In fact no one on the warbow forum has shown any kind of difficulty with my being vegan :-)

Medieval bow
I think you will agree, this bow looks much more like it means business ;-)

Medieval bow
Here you can see how it differs from a Victorian bow (drawn to 32")

I have been informed that no bow over 70lbs is allowed to be used at my field archery club, the target club doesn't have a problem with it.
There seems to be a lot of resistance to warbows at archery clubs which I find very odd as I would have thought that anyone interested in longbows would ultimately want to get themselves a warbow as this is a real longbow isn't it ????

I think shooting at the marks will be where this bow will really be good fun to use, I intend to visit one ASAP

Mar07 - I have now shot a good few hundred arrows from this warbow. I was expecting it to be very difficult to use and pretty much a novelty item to be shot just occasionally, but I have found this bow to be a perfectly usable bow and I am now a total convert to medieval style heavy bows :-)
Anyone interested in longbows I would really recommend you give one a try as it instantly becomes clear that these are real longbows and you will never go back :-)

Apr07 - I can confirm that shooting at the marks is great fun :-)
I am getting on well with the bow, now trying to get accurate with it (no luck so far ;-) and I have just bought an even heavier bow although I don't expect to be able to use this full time yet (need to build my technique and strength a lot more yet)
This new bow is 120lbs and I have had the nocks made from some fake horn material supplied by Axminster Power Tools. Whilst DIY Archery were able to make my 100lb bow self nocked he was having trouble getting the wood to take the weight of this bow. Until I try the bow we wont know if this new material is up to the job but watch this space to find out ???? - it certainly looks the part
I had bought a 110lb bow but found much to my surprise that this bow was not as heavy as I had hoped so Steve kindly swapped it for a 120lb one. This bow is a 4 laminate one and a VERY different beast, I spent the first couple of days working on trying to string it !

Update Jun07 - All was looking good with the nocks but they suddenly failed on me :-(
It looks like it was the heat which did it (it was a very hot day) - luckily I wasn't pulling the bow when it happened so it is not damaged.
I contacted an engineering polymer company and they suggested Acetal (a black plastic material used for making bearings etc.) so I have made myself some replacement nocks out of this - so far so good :-)
Update Sep10 - I now use this on all my bows (upto 140lb) and it works great, it is softer than horn though so you need to have now tip under the string grove

BTW - I have had my bow scales calibrated and I can now say with confidence that my new bow has now settled down at 112lbs at 32"
I would recommend to anyone they get some decent scales and measure their bow as there does seem to be a lot of variation and what your bow is and what you think it is are unlikely to be the same in my experience.  Also a bow will tend to lose some draw weight over time/usage.

Jul 07 - I have now ordered myself a High Altitude Italian Yew warbow from Steve Stratton (DIY archery), it wont arrive until next April so I now have 8 months to build my strength up as its going to be 150lbs !
This will be the bow which is my ultimate aim to be able to use. (i.e. it will be what I believe to be a perfect replica of a medieval warbow)

Aug07 - I recently decided to have a try at making a bow myself, it went surprisingly well (once I figured out how to cheat anyway ;-) - Everyone should give it a try, a very interesting and worthwhile experience.  

See my guide on bow making HERE and info on how to make a tiller HERE

Nov07 - I have now made myself a 120lb at 32" one of these bows which I am now using as my main bow (cost me 16)
Its got a lot of compression fractures (chrysals) caused because I tried making this one much rounder in the belly (ash is better kept square) but its still going strong


Feb 08 - It took some doing but I have finally made myself a 140lb bow - in the end I laminated some ash and oak and this combination worked really well :-)
BTW - I have written a guide to making longbows (to pass on what I have learnt so far) HERE

I now plan to stop making bows for a while and concentrate on working up to being able to use this bow!

BTW - My High Altitude Italian yew bow arrived, its 165lb at 32"
Its going to be a good while before I can draw this bow (managing around 26" at the moment) but I think it's achievable
I visited Steve Stratton's workshop recently and he showed me a 200lb one he has made, this really demonstrates how good this Italian yew is as its not a big looking bow (copy of a Mary Rose dimensions).
As far as I know, no other yew can make a self bow this heavy, its impressive stuff and the nearest you will get to the wood which was used in medieval times.


Jun08 - I am now finally starting to get the better of my 140lb bow - I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get it to full draw !
We are now forming an archery society specifically for warbows (I am the membership secretary) so if you have an interest in warbows then please consider joining, we will be holding several shoots a year and there will be plenty of people there who are more than willing to offer help and advice to anyone wishing to give medieval military archery a try
see the society website HERE


Aug08 - The pinnacle of my archery career - I have appeared on national T.V. ;-)
I was shown for approx 1 second on a Channel 5 documentary "The Ghosts of the Mary Rose" - see clip HERE

Time for another picture I think - this is a recent pic of me shooting my 140lb bow in a EWBS flight shoot


Sep10 - After injuring my shoulder last year (which has now fully recovered) I have decided to limit myself to 130lbs from now on 
I have made myself a new laminate bow with much thinner tips than I usually dare, which I am hoping will improve my distances but I have not had chance to try it officially yet

Feb11 - I have been knocked off my cycle by a lorry recently and this has meant I was unable to do much archery for a while and so I have lost a surprising amount of strength in such a sort time !
I am now struggling with a 125lb bow, but the strength is coming back slowly
I have decided to resign from the EWBS committee due to disagreements with the way it is being run.  
This along with some other things with my local club all feels like the end of an era and so I have decided to end my archery career and move on to something new (not sure what yet?).

It was nearly five years ago when I shot my first bow, it has been a very interesting experience........

Misc info:

VARNISH - I used Rustins Danish Oil for coating the wooden shafts - it looks just like varnish after a few coats and its very easy to apply (I use a foam brush) but I have now changed to "quick drying varnish", I don't think its as good but it drys in an hour and makes it much quicker making an arrow and its water based so you can clean the brush in water..
BTW - I have contacted Rustins and they assured me there are no animal derived products in their Danish oil.

HUNTING - I am appalled that in North America (and many other parts of the world) they still hunt with bows (yes, there are actually people who's hobby is creeping around woods shooting unsuspecting deer for fun!) - fortunately we have already banned bow hunting in this country :-)
Whenever I need to get extremely angry I just look at this web page - http://www.martinarchery.com/2010web/huntingphotos.php

Archery Links:
Places to shoot
Warbow Wales

Forums: AIUK - PrimitiveArcher  
Great Bow Making Info

Fantastic bow making info -  Derek Hutchison

You can contact me on - alanesq@disroot.org

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