What materials can be used to make a hunting bow in the wilderness? Not just for the main structure but also the materials that would be suitable for the string. All of the materials should be from nature and not require any man-made tools besides a knife. I would prefer something more specific than just "wood" or "string". If applicable, please explain the technique in creating/assembling the materials.

There seems to be a similar question to this.

However, I feel as though that question does not quite cover the criteria of this one. That question does not seem to be focused on creating something that would be suitable for hunting to the level I am looking for ("made by child" was the part that stuck out to me). I would also like to gain knowledge on not just the main "bow" structure but also the materials that would be used for the string or any other parts necessary to make a successful hunting bow


2 Answers 2


In addition to the already given answers, I've found a in-depth guide on how to build a bow (full credit goes to Jason Knight).

How to Make a Quickie Bow from a Sapling

1. Choosing wood

The first step is to select the proper materials. Some of the best woods for making bows include osage orange, yew, ash, black locust, and hickory, though most hardwoods can work (other examples of hardwoods include oak, maple, and beech).

For a quickie bow, you want to start with a relatively straight section of sapling or branch that is free of knots, side branches, and twists. You want this straight section to be about 5 feet long and about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. Cut the sapling or branch carefully so not to create cracks or splits in the wood. This is your bow stave.

2. Finding the belly, back, handhold, and limbs

Stand the bow stave upright on the ground, hold the top loosely with one hand, and push outward lightly on the middle of the bow. The stave will swivel to show you which way it is slightly curved. The outside bend of the curve is called the "back" and the inside bend of the curve is the "belly". Leave the "back" of the bow untouched. The back receives the most tension and any damage to it can cause the bow to break. This is one of the most important bow making instructions.

Now find the middle point of the stave and mark out your handhold area by measuring and marking 3 inches out from the center in both directions. The handhold area will also be left relatively untouched. The area above the handhold is the upper limb and the area below is the lower limb.

3. Shaping

Now put the bottom tip of the bow on top of your foot and hold the top tip while pushing outward from the belly side of the handhold. Only push outward a few inches. Look at how the limbs bend. Observe which areas bend and which areas do not. Begin removing wood with a knife from the belly of the limbs where they do not bend while leaving material in the areas of the limbs that bend a lot. Remember: only remove wood from the belly side of the limbs, leave the back untouched. The goal at this step in the process is to get the limbs to bend evenly in the shape of a parabolic curve (like a satellite dish) throughout their entire length.

Take off material slowly and re-check the bend of the limbs frequently. The handhold and tips should stay straight or have very little bend. You are ready for the next step of bow making instructions once both limbs are no longer stiff and are able to flex evenly throughout their length – thick staves will take lots of carving, while narrow diameter staves may only need very little shaping.

4. Notches for the bow string

You can now carve small notches on the both sides of each tip, being careful not to carve into the back of the bow. They only need to be deep enough to keep a bow string in place. Tie loops into both ends of a nylon, sinew, or plant fiber string, using a length that will allow there to be 5 to 6 inches between the string and the handhold when the bow is strung. String the bow; though be careful not to pull back on the string yet (doing so can break the bow). Now you're ready for the next bow making instructions.

5. Tillering

Hang the bow up horizontally on a branch or piece of scrap wood by the handhold. Now pull down a few inches on the string while observing how the limbs bend. Now, not only do you want each limb to bend evenly throughout its length, you also want each limb to bend exactly the same amount (a mirror image of each other). Tillering is also one of the most important bow making instructions.

Observe which limb bends less and carefully remove more materials from the belly of that limb until both limbs bend equally and evenly. Re-check frequently, pulling down on the string a little bit further each time until you are able to pull it to your draw length (Your draw length can be measured by imagining to hold a bow and pull the string back to your upper jaw to a shooting position – the distance between the handhold and your upper jaw is your draw length).

The tillering process is complete once both limbs flex equally and evenly and the draw weight (pounds of pressure required to pull the string back to a full draw) is at your desired poundage. A 25 to 35 pound draw is sufficient enough for hunting small game while 40 to 60 pounds is needed for larger animals like deer.

The poundage can be tested by placing a five foot 2x4 piece of lumber vertically on a bathroom scale, then balancing the bow horizontally by the handhold on top of the piece of lumber and pulling down on the string to a full draw length. The scale will register the draw weight.

6. Finishing

For wilderness survival situations the bow can now be used as is. Be sure to never "dry" fire the bow (dry firing is when the string is pulled back and let go without an arrow). This can break a bow. To finish it off you can sand the belly smooth and oil it with a light oil to prevent it from drying out too quickly. Many bowyers prefer linseed or tung oil. To care for your bow, shoot it and oil it frequently and adjust the tiller as needed. We hope you've found these bow making instructions helpful. Enjoy!

By Jason Knight - Alderleaf Wilderness College

  • 1
    Now THIS is the answer I was looking for!
    – Programmer
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:52

Two different kinds of wood, fiber from bark (to make the string and to hold the wood together while gluing), a knife or hatchet, pitch from a pine tree, fire to temper the wood.

The stiff wood needs to be on the front of the bow, the less stiff on the back.

Edit: if making a recurve, you need to soak the wood, and bend it opposite the direction you will string it (and hold it there. Perhaps with more bark rope and THEN temper it with the fire. Then when you string it the right way, it will be recurred.

I should also point out, this isn't going to last very long. You want to update your techniques and materials as you build your toolset up. I.e. Kill your first deer and make tools from the bones and antlers...you need tools to make tools and they lead one to the other until you can start smelting or re-smelting and making tools from metal.

Once you have your immediate survival sorted out, you want to build a forge and find a source of metal. You can make a crude hammer head by pouring molten metal into a hole carved out of wood. The wood may catch fire, but the metal should set before the wood is gone.

Edit 2: to be honest, you are better off making a long bow at first. It's less complicated, and has less chance of breaking right away (suffers less amount of stresses during use)

  • How is the process different with a long bow? And what types of wood would be appropriate?
    – Programmer
    Nov 20, 2015 at 18:42
  • I also edited the questions to cover "bows" in general and not just recurve.
    – Programmer
    Nov 20, 2015 at 18:43
  • A long bow distributes the forces along a great length of wood, so it's less stress to the bow over all. A clear grain hard wood and a soft wood are the appropriate woods for a bow. Since you are talking without any tools, I am assuming you are limited to what's around you, so that would be picking two different woods...say maple and birch. Anything that is dis-similar will have the desired affect.
    – Escoce
    Nov 20, 2015 at 18:44
  • 2
    Doesn't matter whether it's recurve or not, the only difference between recurve and not recurve is the direction you set the wood before you temper it. Recurves are more powerful, but they are also under a great deal more stress and will break if not made right. A long bow is easier to make. It doesn't need to be curved. You make a long bow stronger by thickening the spine of the bow more so then by tempering.
    – Escoce
    Nov 20, 2015 at 18:52
  • Do you have any suggestion for the string?
    – Programmer
    Nov 20, 2015 at 22:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.