Writer’s Guide to Archery
Table of Contents
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 !
- The Caveman Gym did a great series of posts all about archery, you should definitely check it out:
A Writer’s guide to Bows: Part One
- 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
- More about archery misconceptions
Debunking some common misconceptions about archery
- A video about how to shoot the English Longbow