Making a Bow and Arrow: Boys’ Rite of Passage?

More from The Dangerous Quest: “At some point,” says The Dangerous Book for Boys on page 35, “you may consider making a bow and arrow.” Actually, in all my life I have never considered making a bow and arrow until now, until I began this rather strange quest with my sons.

After reading the book’s instructions on how to make a bow and arrow (they go on for four pages, with illustrations), I was so utterly stumped that I felt that, in my heart of hearts, there was no way I was going to be able to do this thing. Not just make a bow and arrow, but every hard task in the book-building a tree house and making a go-cart and tanning a skin and all the rest of it.

Nevertheless I have not given up—not yet anyhow—and I recently read a couple of excellent young adult novels that have given me a new perspective on what making a bow and arrow might mean to my sons. One of the books was Blood on the River, an historical novel about the settling of the Jamestown colony. The author Elisa Carbone has won awards for her writing and deservedly so, for she tells a wonderful adventure story grounded in the actual events and people of the Virginia settlement. Mrs. Julie Seymour, Hank’s fifth grade teacher, assigned the book to all her students, and after Hank was done with it he recommended it to me and I read it.

A boy, Samuel Collier (a real-life personage), narrates the story. Samuel is the page of Captain John Smith and travels with him by ship to the New World where he, Smith and the other colonists encounter Native American tribes that are both friendly and not so friendly. (Pocahontas belongs to the former group.) Samuel lives for a time in the village of the Warraskoyack Indians and learns, among other useful skills, how to make a bow and arrow.

“Kainta teaches me how to peel the bark off the sapling,” writes Carbone in the voice of Samuel, “cut notches for the bowstring, and string it with strong gut. We make several arrow shafts from straight, thin wood. He shows me how to make an arrowhead, chipping a piece of rock until it is in the right shape. It is a slow process…but finally I am able to make my first arrowhead. Then I tie it to a shaft and balance the shaft with feathers so that it will shoot straight.”

Samuel talks about the power and pride he feels in doing this, and similar to what the Iggulden brothers recommend in The Dangerous Book for Boys, he uses his self-made bow and arrows to hunt a rabbit. “The next day the three of us go hunting,” Carbone/Samuel writes. “We walk quietly through the white forest, stalking rabbits…They [his Warraskoyack guides] want me to shoot, to have a chance to make my first kill. Silently I pull out an arrow and string it on my bow.” Then, to paraphrase Chick Hearn’s famous radio announcing call for the Lakers, he shoots and scores! And they have rabbit stew for dinner.

Making a bow and arrow-and then shooting, gutting, skinning and eating this wild game-is clearly a rite of passage for young Samuel, as it is for 13-year-old Brian Robeson, the protagonist of another superb young adult novel, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. After seeing me read one of Hank’s books, his younger brother Gabe recommended one of his favorites, Hatchet, to me. I read it too, being struck by the fact that late in the book the fictional Robeson makes, yes, a bow and arrow.

“He had sat a whole night and shaped the limbs carefully until the bow looked beautiful,” writes Paulsen. “Then he had spent two days making arrows. The shafts were willow, straight and with the bark peeled, and he fire-hardened the points and split a couple of them to make forked points, as he had done with the spear.”

Traveling to see his father, the 13-year-old Robeson is in a small airplane that crashes in the Canadian wilderness. The pilot dies, and the boy must fend for himself in the north woods without food or survival gear. He builds a shelter, learns to make a fire using his hatchet, and shoots a fish in a lake using his self-made bow and arrow. “With his bow, with an arrow fashioned by his own hands, he had done food, had found a way to live,” writes Paulson. “The bow had given him this way and he exulted in it, in the bow, in the arrow, in the hatchet, in the sky.”

So this is what I am contemplating doing with the boys: making a bow and arrow and possibly going out to hunt with it. I was talking about this at dinner the other night, and I mentioned how hard it would be to do this. “But if we get stuck,” I said, “I know where there’s a bow and arrow shop in Martinez.”

Gabe brightened immediately. “We can go buy one,” he said. “Yeah,” added Hank, “and say we made it.”

“Right,” said Jennifer, listening patiently to this conversation. “I think that’s the spirit they’re going for in the book.”

Need to catch up on the latest adventures in our Dangerous Quest? See the entire quest to date, archived for your entertainment pleasure right here.

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Filed under Books, Parenting, The Dangerous Quest

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