How to Make a Traditional Iroquois Bow

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The bow was an essential tool for survival for the tribes of the Iroquois League. It needed to be short and powerful to fell an animal as large as a deer, yet still be operable in the dense foliage of what is now the northeastern United States. Bows were commonly made of ash, hickory, yew, locust, willow or cedar wood. When making a bow, it's important to use a straight sapling or limb that is pliable and that is green or has not been dead or dried out for longer than one season.

Preparing the Bow Material

Cut one straight sapling or limb of ash, hickory, yew, locust, willow or cedar to about 4 feet long and 1 inch in diameter.

Remove the sapling or limb's bark with a sharp knife.

Taper the piece of wood's ends to 3/4 inch in diameter, leaving a 6-inch section in the middle of the sapling or limb at 1 inch in diameter for a handhold.

Cut two, small, 1/4-inch deep notches 3/4 to 1 inch from each end of the wood. Afterward, the sapling or limb has become a bow.

Preparing the Bowstring

Measure a length of braided sinew 6 inches fewer than the length of the bow. It will be the bowstring.

Form one loop on each end of the braided sinew big enough to fit over the bow's tips.

Tie a tight knot in the sinew to make each loop permanent. Ensure the knots are strong because the bowstring will endure a lot of pressure after the bow is strung.

Stringing the Bow

Attach one loop of the bowstring to one notch in the bow. Put the end of the bow with the notched bowstring on the ground.

Hold the bow's end that isn't notched with the bowstring in your non-dominant hand and the bowstring with your dominant hand.

Step over the bow with your leg that is on the same side as your dominant hand so that the bowstring runs on the outside of that leg.

Bend the bow away from yourself, using your calf as a fulcrum. Place the bowstring in the notch at the other end of the bow.


Arrows can be constructed from dowel rods or small willow reeds. Traditionally, the arrow wood was split in the center and flint was fitted in as the arrowhead and tied off with sinew.


A bow is a dangerous weapon. Misuse can result in death. Adult supervision is recommended. Point a bow only at an object you intend to shoot.