3 Surprising Facts About Traditional Turkish Archery

These 3 impressive facts about traditional Turkish archery may surprise you.

I’ve heard it said that a good idea is something people around the world develop independently. Take writing for example. In the past, people all over the globe came up with creative ways to record information through writing. Sure, the capacity of the language likely differed from region to region, as did the style. The truth is though, people had developed unique answers to a universal problem. Archery falls into the same category.

Although there are many questions to answer about the prehistory of archery, we do know a few things. First off, we know archery is pretty old. Although the oldest bow in the world is dated at 9,000 years old, we can be certain it was not the first bow ever created. Although we’ll likely never know for sure, scientists generally agree the bow is at least 20,000 years old. Twenty thousand! I’d certainly call that an established history.

Although we’ll never be able to know for sure, it seems that archery was developed independently around the world. Even if it wasn’t, cultures around the world put very unique twists on the same tool. Take the English longbow and the Japanese Yumi for example. Both bows. Both very different at nearly every feature. Both capable of meeting the demands of their designers.

Another example of a unique approach to archery comes from Central Asia. People in that region took an approach that people only acquainted with European archery may find interesting. The Turks were one group in particular that became expert archers, and had a few special tools and tricks.

These 3 aspects of Turkish archery really stand out.

Short Bow

Traditional Turkish archery tackle.
Turkish bows were short, some only 30 inches in length. Image via Wikicommons.

One feature of traditional Turkish archery that really stood out to me was the compact nature of the bows. They made composite bows of layered wood, horn, and sinew that were as short as 30 inches. When unstrung the curve of the bow appears like a crescent moon. The eye opening thing is it actually flexes in the opposite direction from which it will be drawn. It looks like a recurve on steroids.

The Turks tendency to fight from horseback likely gave rise to their mastery of the short bow. Many horseback archery societies, from the Turks, to the Mongolians, and even the Lakota after the introduction of the horse, generally make this shift. Short bows are just easier to handle when riding.

You can actually watch a modern bowyer build a traditional Turkish bow. The process is certainly impressive.

Performance

Another aspect of traditional Turkish archery that pops out is the performance these bows had. Although we might have a hard time estimating the speed of these traditional bows some folks guess they shot somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 fps. We do have record of them casting arrows to 800 meters. That is just shy of 1/2 a mile. Pretty impressive to say the least.

One way they were able to achieve this type of cast is by using bows as heavy as 130 pounds. Although this is not as heavy as the English longbow (180 pounds), it is certainly impressive when you consider the short bow design.

Overdraw

One incredible device the Turks used was an overdraw. An overdraw allows the archer to draw the bow back further and use shorter arrows. Overdraws were used to fire short arrows at your enemy during battle. The advantage was they were then unable to fire that arrow back at you. It is hard to imagine these days that was a very real problem for a Turkish warrior.

There is quite a bit of information on this traditional Turkish archery device, and this video gives a great visual.

As you can see, the archer is using half tube to guide the arrow. Doing such, he can shoot an arrow roughy half of the draw length. Not only did this allow warriors to shoot shorter arrows, but it increased the cast and speed of the arrow as well.

Personally I had never heard of, nor seen, any overdraw device until I stumbled across a video clip on Youtube. It was featured in a clip from the Korean movie War of the Arrows. The clip shows a man being pursued and creating, then firing, an arrow from an overdraw. You can watch the clip at this link. It is a little violent, but nothing compared to many American movies today.

Hopefully you’ve found these 3 aspects of traditional Turkish archery interesting and entertaining. Although their accomplishments aren’t necessarily “better” than the European approach, they were able to build archery tackle that fit their needs. It helps to teach us that archery is, in a sense, a very human thing to do. I may not be the ultimate archer of the world, but it does give me satisfaction to know I’m participating in an activity that people around the world used for sustenance, war, and pleasure. I’d say that archery is indeed a good idea.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights on the history of archery. Please comment in the space below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article and watch this Turkish archery video.If you like the content, I’d encourage you to follow the blog by subscribing at the bottom of the page You may also enjoy this article I wrote on the first hunting film; Art Young’s historic hunt.

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