“Time flies like an arrow,  fruit flies like a banana” –  (Groucho Marx)

The TV series “Naked and Marooned”, where Ed Stafford managed to survive for about 60 days on a tropical island, was one of the best survival programmes I’ve ever watched.  I would recommend it as part of a double-bill along with “Alone in the Wild” (or “A Moan in the Wild” as it’s been referred to) as these two shows demonstrate the key factor that determines success in a survival situation.  In the former, Ed Stafford keeps his spirits up despite having no kit at all and limited primitive skills whereas in the latter Ed Wardle, who has every piece of kit you could hope for, including stocks of food, mentally falls apart in a remarkably short period of time. One Ed keeps on smiling, the other Ed keeps on weeping.

On his tropical island, Ed Stafford was not alone – there was a herd of goats who would wander into his camp but remain tantalisingly out of reach – struggling to find enough food he, unsurprisingly, decides to kill one and eat it.  His decision to make a bow and arrow for this purpose was, perhaps, not the best: a spear trap or a snare would surely have been a better option.  However, he did manage to kill one of the goats in the end and the delight at a good meal is clearly evident in his expression when he chomps down.

Watching him test fire the bow and arrow (and you can watch a clip of this here) I have to admit that I was not impressed.  As he put it himself “My sister could throw an arrow harder than that” and I wasn’t confident that he would have much success hunting goats with it.  I decided to see if I could do better and, very quickly, discovered that making a decent survival bow was much more difficult and complex than I’d imagined.

As with friction fire (‘just rubbing two sticks together‘), making a bow and arrow set (“just a bent stick and some sharp pointy ones‘) seems simple enough but requires a lot of the individual elements to be perfectly balanced, as well as a degree of skill from the user.  I found I could make bows that were very strong (i.e. high draw weight) but weren’t fast or smooth, I could make fast and smooth bows that weren’t powerful enough –  and bear in mind that i was using bamboo, which is probably the easiest material to work with for this purpose.

After a lot of experimentation I came up with something that satisfied the criteria I’d set myself – a minimum 30lb draw weight bow that was easy and quick to make and was smooth and fast; arrows that were quick and easy to make and didn’t require either arrowheads (there’s no flint here) or feathered fletching (try finding a feather in the jungle; they are in great demand by foraging nest builders!).


I think the ability to bow hunt in a survival situation would be a major bonus however, like any other task there is an opportunity cost – i.e. time spent building a bow and arrow set is time lost to do other things (e.g. build a snare, spear trap) and, like most survival skills, without having had some practice at doing it beforehand it will take the survivalist a lot longer to perfect than imagined.  I had the luxury of trying different designs and methods of making the bow at home, I would not want to waste so much time doing the same thing in a survival situation.

The bottom line for me is that, if there was bamboo around, I am confident of making an effective bow and arrow setup, if there wasn’t bamboo I would be very reluctant to try and shape/tiller a piece of wood into a bow, because: 1)  the wood is unlikely to be in good condition (there’s usually some sort of rot set in); 2) I’m not that good at shaping a bow and 3) it takes too long to build the bow and the arrows using wood.

On the subject of hunting for food in a survival situation I would recommend that anyone interested in  the viability of doing this (and of ‘living off the land’ in general) to read a blog entry on the excellent wood trekker site (here’s the link) – this guy did a lot of research on the subject and the results may well surprise you.  The figure he quotes that stuck in my mind was that to reach your required calorie intake you would need to hunt down and eat 25 squirrels every day….

….that’s a lot of squirrels!

Finally, at the risk of stating the bloody obvious, your ability to hunt (or snare) is directly related to your knowledge of animals and their behaviour – if you know where the animal is going to be at a given time or what it likes to eat, then devising a method of killing it is not going to be that hard.

Just for fun, in the video below I try and demonstrate this concept using a banana and a baseball bat.


(Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, no civet cats were hurt in the making of this video!)