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Writer’s Guide to Archery

Arrow Wounds and how to treat them

Arrows if powerful enough, can cause grave injuries even if they do not penetrate the body. Much like gunshot wounds, they can result in a blunt force trauma that could sometimes prove fatal in some circumstances. It has been shown that knight in plate armor sometimes died after being hit with powerful warbows.
However, the most effective arrow points for causing injuries are termed “broadheads”. They are razor sharp blades hooked on the front of the arrow. They cause injuries by compromising internal organs and causing massive blood loss.


Your character was shot by an arrow
Surprisingly, arrow wounds could be more dangerous than gunshot wounds during the American Civil War. Gunshot was more likely to pass through the body, and even if it didn’t the bullet could be left in the body to be encased in bones or tissue. However arrow heads are sharp and continue to injure and inflame the tissue around them; which would cause infection or death. So removing the head and all of it if it got separated in different parts, was vital.
But never, EVER yank it out.


First, doing it on the battlefield and away from any medical treatment would ensure massive blood loss (the arrow acts as a plug if left in) and made even more damage on the way out than on the way in, thanks to those sharp arrowheads.
Second, the arrowheads are bound to the shaft with tendon and sinew. When the arrow penetrates the body, the blood and moisture inside loosens the binding. Removing the arrow would make the arrowhead remain inside the body. Arrows could also lodge themselves in bones, making it extremely difficult to get out like that.

The arrow should be stabilized in place, making sure it doesn’t move and the patient transported like that. The easiest way to get the arrow out was to cut down to the head and extract the whole thing.

Injuries to the chest were the most common, with large numbers of fatalities associated with lung punctures. Nearly all wounds to the abdomen were fatal, back in pre modern-medicine time; due to massive blood loss and/or intestinal damage.
Wounds to the arms and legs were more likely to have the arrow pass clean through, in which case the majority would heal with minimal complications.

Side note: getting hit by an arrow will not knock people or animals back. The shock of injury will usually cause a fall but the force of the actual hit isn’t that high.


A lot of movies and book scenes show men getting hit by an arrow and dying immediately. That’s highly inaccurate.
An arrow is considered a low velocity weapon causing injury only to the immediate area; it’s the opposite of high velocity weapons like rifles that will cause internal injuries some distance from the wound because of internal shock waves.
If the arrow stroke a major blood vessel or vital organ, it could start massive blood loss that could be fatal after several minutes and cause unconsciousness within about 60 seconds. The only type of scenario that would cause this immediate response would be a direct shot into the heart or directly into a vital part of the brain (even though arrows could rarely shatter the skull).
An arrow shot can often be lethal but the death would most likely not occur immediately.


The arrow is out, now what?
The threat of infection is now your major concern.
If your character doesn’t have access to modern medicine, you will want to cauterize the wound. If not, you want to maintain pressure on the gaping hole, stitch it up and bandage it tightly. Any kind of medicine to combat infection would be a much needed plus.


Recovery and survival
Your character survived getting hit by an arrow? Congrats, but it doesn’t end there.

The major issue is that the scar tissue that forms throughout the arrow wound is generally going to impact any muscles in the area. Getting shot in the arm or the leg could mean not being able to use that limb for heavy work or ever. Shots that injure the spine could cause paralysis.

The pain is also a great part of the recovery. Arrowheads are much larger than bullets and very sharp which increases their chances to hit or injure nerves. This can lead to a long time of crippling pain, psychological traumas or long physical rehabilitations.


Conclusion & Extras

Excellent. Now you can write as many archery scenes as you like and be sure to sound like an archer yourself !


If you want more informations about archery, here are some extra sources just for you !

  • Hugh D. H. Soar wrote amazing books about archery including “The Crooked Stick: A History of the Longbow” and “Secrets of the English War Bow” both thouroughly researched and technically accurate. I highly recommend these books for any writer wanting more informations about archery or any curious person !
  • How To Fight Write is a blog dedicated to helping authors create realistic fight scenes and characters, they did an awesome post of archery :
    Weapon primer : Archery
  • A video about how to shoot the English Longbow

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10 Responses to “Writer’s Guide to Archery

  • As an obsessive traditional archer, I just gotta say this is the most accurate and involved article for writing about archery I have ever seen. The only improvement I would make is that, in the steps of shooting a bow, the lift and draw is usually done simultaneously in one step. Also, you mentioned the anchor point- which is great, because most articles don’t- but the BEST archers don’t always need an anchor point. Instead they can shorten or lengthen their draw length to make the arrow fly slower or faster and therefore drop slower or faster. It’s a difficult but great technique, especially for forest hunting scenes where you have to anticipate the arc of the arrow in between sticks and leaves.

    • Tales of Wonderland
      6 months ago

      Thank you so much for leaving this wonderful comment! I will definitely use your advice to improve the article. I’m so glad you liked it as a professional archer!

  • Love it!

  • I would add, on the point of arrows whistling, that traditional Western arrows generally do not whistle, but can be carved or bored to create a whistling sound depending on the use to which the arrow is put. As an amateur archer myself, I have to agree with Emily that your information is quite factual, and helpfully laid out.

    • Tales of Wonderland
      6 months ago

      Thank you for your comment! That is a good point you’ve made, I will add to the post 🙂

  • I think this is an excellent piece of writing with concerning archery. The only thing I would disagree with is the blunt force trauma.

    Hew Soar, in his book “Secrets of the English War Bow”, does talk about blunt force trauma with regards to plate armour. Despite what some may think his research has shown that the war bow was capable of piercing but not always. But it does not have to penetrate to kill. Soar mentions that modern research for military body armour has shown that a projectile with kinetic energy of 80 joules or greater can be considered fatal. He calculated that an arrow having a total weight of 102 grams moving a 47.23 metres per second would impart 113.76 joules of energy on impact. So even if it did not pierce the armour an arrow hitting on the head or over the heart could cause sufficient blunt force trauma to kill a knight in plate armour.

    I cannot remember the source but I do remember reading that there is research which shows that archers did aim for these areas when shooting at the enemy. As good place as any when you aim at your enemy no matter what he is wearing as I am sure you will agree.

    I hope you have found this useful.

    Happy trails

    • towadmin
      4 months ago

      Thank you for your detailed comment Peter! 🙂
      You’re right, I looked into it and arrows are sure to cause grave blunt force trauma in some instances. I added it into the post but didn’t go into too much details as I think writers will more likely write about penetrating injuries caused by arrows.
      Thanks again ! Jemma

  • TheStarlightLass
    14 hours ago

    As an over half a year junior archer (so for more experienced ones feel free to correct me if you see anything!) I’d clarify the ‘hold it’ ‘hold it’ myth: It is true the longer you hold the harder it becomes, but bear in mind that the less pounds the easier it also is to hold the string. So you can, and in some cases even have to or at least it’s very well recommended, to ‘hold’ the string while you try to find the correct height, check that the lining with the bowstring is correct and then aim. Just after that process you’ll release the arrow and hold the both hands up for so long that you hear the hitting sound or then long enough that the arrow has already got far away from your hands, because if you lower your either of your hands too early when the arrow hasn’t flown away from the string your hands’ movement can affect and change the arrow’s course. For instance the arrow can end up lower than you intended because of this.

    I just wanted to say this because you only mention compound bows. I’m a longbow archer myself and it’s true you can hold compounds for ages, but depending on the pounds of your longbow/recurve bow proportioned to your strength those can also be held for several seconds if you don’t have much strength in your back muscles/can’t use them or if you are the one with great strength can even hold them minutes. Again it depends on the strength of the archer and the amount of pounds on his bow. (Of course, tiredness can make things worse but that’s not the point).

    Oh, and here is probably good to tell why it is so. Because unlike tons of movies show, you actually draw the bowstring using your strong back muscles. (Or well that’s the correct way to do things.) Why so? Well, the back muscles are far stronger than the ones in your hands, do you agree? And also when you draw with your back muscles it sort of ‘activates’ the one you use for releasing the arrow, when you press that muscle and your fingers “slide” over the bowstring. That’s how it should go, but finger releases happen too, that just means you aren’t using your back muscles, which can make the loose appear more unsure, easier to fail.

    Another thing I want to point out is this: bows aren’t completely silent when you either draw them or loose the string. And one archer friend of mine told me that bows can even creak. At least the wooden ones do, like longbows. Well, that’s wood, surprise, surprise. They may not make as loud noises they’d be worth showing in a film but they do let out hearable sounds. This is also why hunters use those tufts, (modern things as far as I know) the furry things attached to their bowstring to silent that sound in question, because their prey can hear the sound of drawing and run away before the hunter gets to even aim. Imagine that delicious-looking deer escaping before your very, hungry eyes, not a very pleasant sight.

    But I still have to thank you deeply for doing such a fine job so far on putting this site up! And a little secret: this is one of those things that got me to try archery myself and caused it to become a hobby of mine, so I’d say this introductions has already proven to be successful! Thank you, you’ve done a great job, I appreciate your effort, after all you mention many things many don’t even know. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • towadmin
      1 min ago

      Hi The Starlight Lass ! First of all, thank you for posting such an informative and detailed comment! 😉
      As to the “hold it” myth, you’re totally right; a little holding is necessary/crucial to shoot the arrow correctly. In the post, I was only referring to those scenes where archers are ready to release their arrows (aim is right, position is right) but wait long seconds, even minutes to get the perfect dramatic timing for the scene. Of course depending on your strength, or your bow, one could hold it for up to a few minutes if one wished but that would only happen in the context of training, of exercising. What I wanted to demonstrate is that during a fight, while on a hunt,… no archer would sap his energy holding his bow at full draw any more than he needs to to shoot straight. That is especially true in the context of fighting as it would take an extraordinary amount of strength to keep holding a war bow anymore than necessary.
      As to the sounds bow can make, you’re also completely right; sometimes it can happen and also be prevented.
      The aim of this article isn’t an exhaustive writing on archery, there are wonderful books and other articles that touch on every detail out there. I simply wanted writers to get a strong knowledge base of what archery truely is and how it is done so they are not building their scenes with what they have been shown in movies/books which is often a “romanticized” version of it. That means I had to cut out a lot of details and make some general assumptions so to not have a too long post of a million characters 😉
      That being said, I really appreciate the time and effort you put behind your comment, all the precisions you made, as I’m sure every reader will find them useful too.
      Thanks again for your comment and keep having fun with archery!

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