Weapons of Choice

I thought it would be helpful for the true beginner to go over a list of gear you may need to work your way through the guide. Experienced Western archers may find this section interesting for how some of the materials differ from what they are used to.

Bow and StringArrows Thumb GuardsArm GuardQuiversPractice Space

The Bow and String

I won’t spend too much time here except to recommend the reader research the “composite bow” generally (very different from the modern “compound bow”), and the Turkish-style horse bow specifically. For terminology’s sake, below is a diagram of the type of bow Ṭaybughā would have been familiar with (Fig. 5), not labelled is the Belly which is the side of the bow facing the string, and the Back which is the opposite side.

If you want to put Saracen Archery’s principles into practice, I recommend the novice start with no more than 20-25# draw weight. I know that sounds low and if you have experience already with archery feel free to start with whatever draw weight you like, but I think you’ll see by the end of the guide why starting at a lower weight is smart.

If you’re looking to buy a starter bow, a very large and well-known online retailer has a tremendous variety of traditional bows in the $80-$150 range. Search terms like “traditional recurve bow” and “horsebow” are good starting points. Since nearly all new bows nowadays come with strings, I won’t mention them separately except to say the thicker bit near the middle of the string is called the “serving.”

bow terminology
The “Neck” can also be called the “Knee.”

The Arrows

It sounds odd, but don’t buy or make arrows right away because there are a few steps you have to get down before you will need them. Selecting practice arrows is covered in detail on the Nocking and Drawing page. When it’s time, be sure to start with inexpensive arrows because they will get abused. You will want at least one practice set without feathers, strange as that sounds.

If you just have to buy arrows now, pay very close attention to two things: the length of the arrows and choosing arrow stiffness based on the draw weight of your bow. Due to the unique Mameluke way of drawing the bow, your arrows need to be longer than they would for Western archery. Since you probably don’t know your Middle Eastern draw length yet, generally 30-32″ arrow length is a safe bet (you can always shorten an arrow but going longer means buying new ones). As for wood arrow stiffness (or spine), add 15 pounds to the draw weight of your bow since higher stiffness is safer for beginners.

As for feathers, your first arrows don’t need them, but there is one interesting point about them for later. I didn’t find anything in the text about how the fletching should have one unique feather (called the cock feather) to help with orienting arrows. I speculate this is because the Mameluke follow-through takes the bow and hand out of the path of the arrow, but we’ll get into that later.

When you do need feathers, Ṭaybughā recommends three-feather fletching that is between 2-1/2 to 5 inches long and no taller than 4/5 of an inch. See Figure 55 below for arrow terminology. (Labelled as farāwān, but not in English is the part between the Nock and the Fletching, which is the Heel.)

parts of an arrow

Thumb Guards

Due to the fact that the Mamelukes drew the bowstring with their thumbs instead of the first three fingers, there is a great need for a device to protect the thumb. See Figure 17 below and hunt around online for different types and how to get one that is properly fitted. You may not be able to get the most out of this guide until you have one that is comfortable (if you plan to increase your draw weight over time). In my own trials, one thumb ring was too small and it bruised and pinched my thumb until I adjusted its size. The advantage of the leather guard is that tightness isn’t an issue but they are much more technique sensitive. Beginners should use rigid rings, then change to leather once they get the hang of the thumb draw and have an excellent release and follow-through.

While your bow is light, feel free to practice without one, but once you get up around 35# or more you will have a hard time loosing very many arrows without pain.

leather and rigid thumb guards

Arm Guards

These aren’t mentioned in the book so I wanted to bring them up just enough to say you don’t need one. Thanks to the thumb loose, as shown in Figure 1, the string moves away from the forearm holding the bow instead of toward it. The only way to hit your forearm while using thumb draw is if you are are bending the wrist that holds the bow or have the bow rotated in your grasping hand. Both of these should be easy to avoid if you follow the guide. Also note, this diagram is a view looking down from above (and you’ll note the arrow is on the opposite side of the bow from Western archery, which will be explained later).

top-down view showing arrow position and direction the string moves when released while using the thumb lock


During the vast majority of your learning from this guide and really for the vast majority of casual target archery using these methods, you will not need a quiver. Crazy, huh? The only time a quiver would really be essential would be if you were doing actual mounted archery or were headed into battle. See the page on Nocking and Drawing for an explanation of why this is true.

Having said that, let’s still discuss them a bit. For a mounted archer using the thumb draw, a back quiver would be far slower than a thigh quiver on the same side as the draw hand. For the lightning speed the Mamelukes were famed for, the quiver should be worn such that the points are angled toward the archer’s front and the nocks are pointed up and back toward the archer’s back. See the image below for a modern example. (Photographer credit: http://www.honeybeiphotos.com/equine-photography/).

modern archer on horseback
Modern Archer on Horseback with Quiver

I was also able to find a guide on how to make a quiver similar to this out of leather (http://www.horsearcher.com/equipment.html). If you’d like to see what type of quiver a Mameluke archer would have used in combat, have a search for “turkish quiver.”

Practice Space

This isn’t directly discussed in Saracen Archery, but it makes sense to mention. At first, you can practice on your own just about anywhere. All you need is space to move around without bumping into things and this will get you by for several days or even weeks. Without getting into the “when” or “why” just know that you’ll need to be able to safely loose arrows first at the 4-6 yard range, then 20-40, then in a wide open space, then finally at 75 yards. Don’t worry if those larger distances aren’t reasonable for you yet because you won’t even need to consider them for quite some time. A very large percentage of your practice will be spent at the 4-6 yard distance and going beyond 20 could even be considered optional depending on how deeply you want to commit to Saracen Archery‘s techniques.

A helpful item for your inside practice space is a large mirror, like one of those inexpensive ones for hanging on doors. They can often be less than 10 dollars. Hang it up horizontally somewhere easy to see while holding your bow.

Foreword – Weapons of Choice – Bracing the Bow