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I'm creating a science fiction dystopian world that takes place about about 50 years in the future. One of the characters for this world is a member a highly sought-after group of mercenaries that I want to use a high-tech bow instead of guns. What explanation could I give for this?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 26 '16 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ Deer season.... $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner Oct 26 '16 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ Also - perhaps everyone in the future just belongs to the cult of Daryl $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner Oct 26 '16 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Propaganda $\endgroup$ – Henrik Ilgen Oct 27 '16 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ If this scenario is dystopian, how about "there is no gunpowder anymore"? $\endgroup$ – Hazard Apr 24 '18 at 21:16

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Make gun detectors common.

If you assume that firearms remain common because of all their advantages, then bows could be an useful niche capabiliy. Archers infiltrate enemy lines, take sentries out, etc.

Perhaps the first scout in a patrol carries a silent bow. The second scout carries a machine gun, in case a bow isn't enough.

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    $\begingroup$ in a world with all these detectors, a bow wouldnt be striking? $\endgroup$ – lois6b Oct 25 '16 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ @lois6b Quite possibly a bow can be disassembled, and possibly the materials in use might be detection-proof? $\endgroup$ – Shaamaan Oct 25 '16 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ About sound detectors... keep in mind that "silencers" used in movies make gun fire seem almost silent, and that's not really the case. A real suppressor cuts down on the sound a lot, but it's still a very obvious loud sound when you're nearby. Bows could be much quieter. $\endgroup$ – JPhi1618 Oct 25 '16 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ @GhillieDhu The crossed arrows were originally used for the Indian Scouts and passed down to special forces more for tradition than anything else. $\endgroup$ – Geobits Oct 26 '16 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ This will really only foster a market for silent air-pressure guns, or something related. Or even crossbows. Bows are just worse in practically any aspect... (I am a recurve and longbow archer and love bows, but they are simply not very useful nowadays.) $\endgroup$ – fgysin Oct 26 '16 at 10:55
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Total State Gun/Gunpowder Control

If it's a dystopia, and there are rebels, this infers that a totalitarian government is in place. Such a government would want the tightest control possible over anything that could be used to subvert or oust them. This can extend to guns, and the chemicals necessary to make gunpowder. As such, munitions would be a prohibitively expensive black market product, if available at all. Trading in munitions could carry a mandatory life sentence with hard labour.

Cool as F**k Bow

Other people have given some really nice ideas already for this. If the bow is demonstrably cool and useful in a way that a gun isn't, readers won't have an impulse to ask "Why a bow?", it will be obvious. This means providing a motive for having the bow, rather than an excuse.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sure you could make an adequate if short-range or long-barrelled firearm driven by a hydrogen-oxygen or butane-air mix. Even compressed air (as discussed here recently) could provide a better rate of fire for an unskilled operator $\endgroup$ – Chris H Oct 25 '16 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ That's true, Chris H. The "Tihar" in the game, Metro: Last Light (It may be featured in the Metro books, haven't read them) is a nice example of this. $\endgroup$ – daveyfaherty Oct 25 '16 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ This will really only foster a market for silent air-pressure guns, or something related. Or even crossbows. Bows are just worse in practically any aspect... (I am a recurve and longbow archer and love bows, but they are simply not very useful nowadays.) $\endgroup$ – fgysin Oct 26 '16 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ Rebels will fight and kill to overthrow the totalitarian government, but they would never violate a gun control law... $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Oct 27 '16 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi A will to break the law does not confer an ability. Gun runners take paid according to their risks, so for rebels guns under sufficient control may be prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable in practical quantities. Guns cannot quite yet be willed into existence (unlike other crimes). $\endgroup$ – Williham Totland Oct 28 '16 at 14:35
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Actually this is not a fantasy situation. In fact some assassins in real world in today's times have been known to refrain from guns altogether and use crossbows for various tactical reasons. The reasons they gave in the documentary are:

1- Dogs and chemical detectors do a marvelous job of detecting bullet propulsion chemicals (aka gunpowder and guncotton). This means that sneaking in a gun to a high security building is extremely difficult.

2- It is quite easy to assemble the crossbow bolts/arrows by joining different parts (the head, the shaft and the tail/fletching) once you have the components smuggled in. The only thing which could look slightly suspicious are the pointed arrowheads. These too, could be smuggled in as part of some decoration scheme etc.

3- Crossbow components are very hard to detect for anyone who has been trained to look for components of firearms. Smuggling in different parts of the crossbow one at a time would be quite easy. And smuggling in parts of a manual bow is ridiculously easy. Smuggling in parts of a sniper rifle would be next to impossible.

4- Bows don't misfire or jam.

5- Bows (and crossbows) don't require silencers. They are quiet by default.

6- It is much easier and faster to assemble explosive arrows (arrows with explosive tips) than getting or making explosive bullets.

7- Assembling a manual bow (not a crossbow) is much faster and simpler process than assembling a rifle or smg.

The conclusion is that while an assassin wielding a sniper rifle (or assault rifle) is much more dangerous than one using a bow, it is far easier to smuggle in, and operate with a bow and arrows in high security settings.

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    $\begingroup$ On point #4, bows do have the potential for the string snapping, coming loose, or the bow somehow breaking. I'm not sure how the likelihood of these events compares to the likelihood of a gun misfiring or jamming, but thought it might still be worth noting that bows aren't immune to similar issues. $\endgroup$ – SnoringFrog Oct 25 '16 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ @SnoringFrog: It is quite easy to keep several spare bowstrings and test them beforehand without raising any suspicion at all. Of course you would want to test the strength of your bowstring before tying it up on your bow. Bowstrings don't come loose anymore as they are passed through a hole and tied with a particularly non-slippery knot. And modern (metallic) bows don't break. Only wooden bows have the the liability of breaking. That too, was extremely rare. As in extremely rare on critical situations. Usually you would know weeks beforehand when your bow is showing signs of fatigue. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Oct 25 '16 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Name of, or link to the documentary? $\endgroup$ – Mazura Oct 25 '16 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ [Citation Needed] $\endgroup$ – Kyeotic Oct 25 '16 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, boy. Youstay Igo, you need to stop watching NatGeo, or at least stop thinking it cares about reality. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Oct 26 '16 at 14:30
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50 Years in the future it might be possible to have advanced bows linked to goggles (or implants) that tell you where the arrow will hit (HUD style) even with ballistic shots. That way bows could be used to attack targets behind cover with a certain level of accuracy.

In addition to that worn body-armor might be tough enough to prevent both sub-sonic ammo from firearms and arrows to kill with a single shot but arrows could be fitted with needle-points carrying fast acting nerve-poison to take out individuals. That way even a slight scratch would be enough.

And the size of an arrow makes it easier to build stuff into the arrow as compared to a bullet. Be it explosives, electronics of some kind, burning agents, poison gas etc.

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    $\begingroup$ See the shadowrun RPG game. Folks in 2063 have really nasty bows. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Oct 25 '16 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ I'd suggest that goggles don't tell you where the arrow will hit, they inform the arrow about where it needs to go. Arrows are (conceivably) guidable in a way that bullets and other high-speed munitions are not. $\endgroup$ – TMN Oct 25 '16 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @TMN-That would only work if you turned your arrow into a rocket propelled missile or had explosive warheads. Otherwise, having the arrow turn to fly towards its target would slow it down so much that it would have no penetrating power remaining by the time it reached the target. $\endgroup$ – Dunk Oct 25 '16 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ @TMN Just for a precedent, Vernor Vinge had firearms with a combination of computer controlled fire-timing and terminal guidance for bullets in The Peace War. Getting large changes in the trajectory may not be necessary with a little automation to help with when you fire. Just strafe the barrel in the general direction of the enemy and let the computer worry about the fussy details. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Oct 26 '16 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee The Peace War guns had to be on target, you couldn't just point them in the general direction. You had to sweep the gun across your target(s) but the gun would determine the best time to actually fire. Had he aimed too high or too low the result would have been no rounds fired rather than 10-for-10 hits. (And note that there is a gun on the market that has this capability (single shot, though), but not the target acquisition of The Peace War.) $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 26 '16 at 22:58
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Perhaps widespread recognition of the dangers of having toddlers, suicidal people, mentally ill people, etc. having access to guns caused a few countries to adopt very strict Japan/U.K. class gun control laws with great positive outcomes and that led pretty much every civilized nation in the world to follow suit.

Suppose that around the same time that international bans on trade in firearms to be aggressively enforced. Fifty years to achieve that would be similar to the time frame in which chemical weapons were banned in an effective way - not totally gone but much more rare in world warfare.

Bow and arrow control would not be nearly so necessary, because bows and arrows are only highly lethal in the hands of skilled users as opposed to toddlers, drunks, mentally ill people, suicidal people, etc. They are also well suited to allowing loosely regulated hunting while not leading to overkill of wild prey species like deer. And, in the absence of guns, bows and arrows would gain comparative advantage relative to the alternatives. It is much easier to learn to use a club or knife or staff or spear than a bow.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer is not the right place to discuss politics and gun control. The comments have been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 26 '16 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ Regardless of civilian gun control, I don't see the world's militaries getting rid of firearms in the near future, particularly in a dystopian world. Depending on whom the OP's mercs are fighting, this may have little effect. $\endgroup$ – Kys Oct 26 '16 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ 50 years from now your ban will be meaningless, cheap CNC tools will be capable of turning a file and some metal into a gun. (You can do it now, just not with cheap tools.) Attempting to restrict propellants might be more effective but I doubt it. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 26 '16 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ > bows and arrows are only highly lethal in the hands of skilled users They are only lethal in hands of strong users. It doesn't take much skill to injure someone accidently if you can draw a bow, so that only rules out toddlers. They are also less convenient than a crossbow which does not require that much strength and skill to operate. Crossbows are toddler-compliant. While it's true that laws don't have to be based on logic, I don't see how ban on guns implies our terrorist will use a bow, of all alternatives. Widespread gun scare? Even less so. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Oct 27 '16 at 10:12
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Since you are only trying to justify the choice for an individual, you could use any number of reasons; they wouldn't even necessarily have to be entirely accurate/reasonable if the character was operating on bad information or superstition. For an entire group, you need a bit stronger and more reliable justification.

Some ideas for an individual:

  • The character learned to use a bow quite well before encountering/using firearms (hunting or archery contests as a child, perhaps?) and preferred to continue with the knowledge/experience they had rather than attempt to learn a new skill (firearms)
  • The character has some strong aversion or even PTSD related to guns. For example: Batman (DC Comics), MacGyver (after a traumatic experience with them as a child).
  • Someone from the character's past made them promise never to use a gun for some reason (maybe that have aversions to it like in my previous point), and they intend to keep their word.

The remaining reasons are a little more applicable to groups, should you need to justify the choice for more characters:

  • The characters value stealth, and silenced weapons are not readily available. Bows are quieter than firearms.
  • Arrows are much easier to retrieve after use than bullets. This provides two benefits that I can think of.
    1. The arrow can potentially be reused
    2. Bullets can be traced back to the gun that fired them, but collecting them after use may be difficult or impossible. Arrows probably aren't as traceable (depends how far you go with the "high tech" angle of the bow, perhaps), but are also easier to collect after use so that they don't remain to be traced.
  • Arrows can be arced over various structures and forms of cover. Bullets? Not so much. A high tech bow may even amplify this advantage through some sort of targeting assistance.
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Fatal allergies to any (or all) of the substances forming gunpowder this includes potassium nitrate, sulfur, coal, and many more.

Whenever you discharge a firearm there will always be some powder or smoke that gets on the shooter's hands, eyes, and skin.

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    $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest removing gunpowder from the equation, too. The only issue with this is that high-tech air rifles would probably be just as viable. $\endgroup$ – Cooper Oct 25 '16 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ allergy since kid, hence the bow skill learning, before high tech coil rifles are made? and once you're skilled, you don't need those pesky rifles. $\endgroup$ – CptEric Oct 25 '16 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ Gunpowder you describe is easily replaced with more practical alternatives like smokeless powder though. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Oct 25 '16 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ More allergies! ;) $\endgroup$ – CptEric Oct 25 '16 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ ...And some belief that "God directs me" because any time character tries to wander away from plot like any reasonable human being - well, turns out he has more allergies! $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Oct 25 '16 at 10:35
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Your question had somewhat created the illusion of someone of higher class, so with that assumption, the usage of a bow (no-matter the high-techness) could simply be due to family heritage and long used hunting tehcniques and tradtion passed down in the family. These types of things are especially common in higher class families as they often have a very well documented and proud family background. I hope my answer can be used in conjunction with other great answers here :)

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    $\begingroup$ So basically, they're eccentric, +1. It's also a nice calling card left sticking out of your opponent that says, I can kill you with a device invented over 4000 years ago. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Oct 25 '16 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura if we go purely by the time frame, he should probably go for martial arts. No human invention has come before the invention of arms and legs. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Oct 27 '16 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ but martial arts aren't ranged... :) $\endgroup$ – John Hon Oct 29 '16 at 4:15
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Actually, many reasons but most of them also apply to other high tech weaponry (eg. gauss gun, rail gun...).

The power of a gun is in fact hidden in the bullet. You can buy a bullet and discharge it even without a gun (bad idea though). There's a video of a guy shooting shotgun slugs out of pipe. At 1:18 time of the video he hits a bottle over about 12 meters. That's pretty impressive for two pipes, isn't it?

The point here is that if government REALLY was afraid of it's citizens, it would control not (just) the guns, but the ammo. In extreme case, any explosives would be zealously controlled since homemade bombs are popular within ranks of rebels. Additionally, it is not trivial to make ammo at home or in a forest.

This brings me to the answer:

High tech bow's ammo is cheaper and easier to get than gun ammo. Presumably they can shoot arrows from plastic and steel? Manufactoring arrows is simpler than manufactoring slugs. Arrows are reusable. Unlike with a gun and a bullet, the energy of bow and arrow is packed in the bow and your arm (and in your case some bow's power source)..

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Depending on the type of dystopia, manufacturing might be disrupted to the point that bullets are simply no longer available. It takes a factory and a well-organized supply chain to mass-produce bullets. People would no doubt use guns for as long as possible after whatever event triggers the downfall of civilization. but eventually, bullets will become rare commodities, available only to groups that planned ahead, or that have a lot of power and influence.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good arrows (and you need good ones if you want to reliably hit your target from longer distances) are also not that easy to manufacture. Why should there still be a good supply of arrows? Especially since bows are mostly only used for sports nowadays, so they might get less priority when resources for manufacturing stuff run low. $\endgroup$ – luator Oct 26 '16 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ @luator Given that bows and arrows have been around in some form for much longer than guns and bullets I'd argue with Charles that they are easier to manufacture. Gun's need to be made of heat and pressure resistant material that can be machined in precision (modern metals) - these materials or equipment might be limited or even restricted in OP's dystopia, whereas rebel craftsman can create even complex bows and arrows with a variety of materials and processes. $\endgroup$ – plast1k Oct 27 '16 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, arrows can be reused (if you're able to retrieve them). There is no circumstance under which you can reuse bullets unless you have very specialized equipment. $\endgroup$ – Charles Burge Oct 27 '16 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @plast1k Hm, I am still not convinced. We are talking about high-tech bows and with those you probably want to use high-tech arrows and not some clumsy wooden ones (at least not, if you want to be comparably efficient to others who are using guns). Those also need to be manufactured with high precision and can't be made of arbitrary materials (weight and flexibility have to be well tuned) or without special machinery. $\endgroup$ – luator Oct 28 '16 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesBurge if you're able to retrieve them -- I would argue that this is usually not the case in critical combat situations, so the advantage from this is relatively small. $\endgroup$ – luator Oct 28 '16 at 8:46
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There is an old war film on that subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOM4IQjQtM4

This question and answers also have excellent responses on the matter: https://www.quora.com/Are-bows-used-by-any-modern-military-unit-in-combat

The main thing is that bows are quieter than guns. You can also theoretically make your own low quality arrows anywhere. One group of special forces learns to make their own bows and arrows from forage in the woods, the Taiwanese mountain company. Crossbows are much more common among special forces and riot police, but bows aren't theoretically a bad choice.

The thing with spec ops is, you generally take out the target with the first shot, or the alarm will be sounded and you failed, so the greater rate of fire of the bow is less considerable due to that. If you could work out what explosive arrows were good for, you might be able to figure out a use based around that (haven't found information on that yet).

You could consider a mixture of bows and crossbows. If the crossbow fails to take out the enemy, the bowman can unleash rapid fire. Another possibility if there is a technological reason for it. Like, armour that works similarly to earth, and is bullet resistant, and arrows with molecular blades that are good at dealing with the armour.

Hope this was helpful, it is an interesting idea for a setting.

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    $\begingroup$ Bows being quieter is not necessarily a good reason for bows being commonly used. You can build specialized guns that are quieter than bows. There just isn't much point since you rarely need to be that quiet and for a rare need using a bow or something similar is much better use of resources. But... If the setting would put so much value on being quiet that it could reasonably make bows common, then it would make perfect economic sense to design and mass produce silent guns instead. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Oct 25 '16 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi Crossbows are fairly popular with special forces, because of that quietness: youtube.com/watch?v=57_WFo_7LiE You can make quieter guns via silencers, subsonic ammo, etc., but emphasis on quieter, not silent. Bows aren't entirely silent, but about as close as you can get. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Oct 25 '16 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ You missed my point. Which was the difference between our world where being silent is a specialized need and a world where being silent is important and common need to the point where it determines which weapons are common. The guns we have are by design noisy and how silent they can be made is limited. In the other world guns would be designed differently and would not have such limitation. (It is about whether the guns are designed to release supersonic gasses to the environment or not.) $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Oct 25 '16 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ There are various types of ammo that don't release gases, used in some pistols or else. Outside of their niche (being silent) they are not practical though - and expensive. Thus they are not used everywhere. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Oct 25 '16 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Daerdemandt Yeah, that's the kind of thing you have to do to make a silent gun, kill off range and ammo capacity, with questionable effects on penetration and killing power. The main value of that gun is it is concealable, a good close range assassination tool. For spec-ops work, a bow or crossbow is much preferable. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Oct 25 '16 at 23:14
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Personal force fields that deflect high velocity projectiles were the reason why, in Stargate season 1 episode 8 The Nox, the SG-1 team use a traditional bow and arrow:

SG-1 plots to take Apophis down a second time, this time utilizing a flaw in Apophis' personal defense - a slow moving object, like a staff weapon or an arrow, passes through the field easily, while also deflecting faster-moving bullets and staff weapon blasts.

Source: stargate.wikia

Building from this, if forcefield technology is common and can be exploited with low velocity weapons, then those weapons will develop into more specilised designs, e.g. arrows loaded with tranqulisers to subdue a target, bows that can be deconstructed and look like household items to smuggle them etc.

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The Trigger, a novel by Arthur C. Clarke explored the implications of what would happen if gunpowder could be made to remotely detonate. In this case, conventional firearms are unusable, and are replaced by other weapons (which could include bows in your case).

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Arrows (and knives) can pierce bulletproof vests, which are typically not stab-resistant. See, e.g. this video.

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Maybe bows are more common/accessible in the character's home setting?I imagine that one could ban or place controls on guns due to the ease of them being used indiscriminately or accidentally (how easy is it to shoot yourself with a bow and arrow?)

Alternatively, the larger form factor of an arrow allows it to deliver payloads with larger mass, at least when compared to a bullet. For example, you can make arrows that deliver explosives, corrosives, poisons, or even electrical shocks. If you try that with bullets, you find that you have to fire more of them -- which may not be an option, depending on the situation. Additionally, the size of the payload and its concentration can be what makes it effective.

Imagine firing multiple explosive bullets onto a surface. Multiple shots do not necessarily mean that they can overcome the intrinsic hardness of the material. But a larger single payload on an arrow will deliver a concentrated punch that can make it through.

The trigger mechanism will need work though, and you have to consider that without proper construction the arrow would break from the act of firing it alone.

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    $\begingroup$ If I need an explosive payload I can use a 60mm mortar or an RPG and get a far larger payload, deliver it faster and at a longer range than any bow. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 25 '16 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ I had to assume there was a reason that the mortar or RPG was out of the question, especially since the OP was asking how to justify individual characters' use of bows. $\endgroup$ – LiveMynd Oct 26 '16 at 0:15
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Guns are very loud. Even with silencers and subsonic ammo, they make a huge noise. In comparison, bows can be made completely silent. Just look at modern hunting bows. And while there are/have been some odd gun designs made specifically to be silent (more silent than the standard silencer+subsonic ammo setup), they are still not as quiet as bows and they are extremely limited in capabilities: usable only at very close/point blank ranges, bullets have very low power, cumbersome to use, etc. These guns are pretty much useless in general combat, and are/were used exclusively in very special circumstances, like cia/kgb/mi6/insert-secret-service-of-your-taste operations (usually assassinations at very close quarters). Another reason could be the scarcity of ammo. Making decent quality ammo in large numbers requires specialized factories with lots of rare, specialized (and expensive) equipment that's difficult (and expensive) to make. Acquiring the needed chemicals in large enough quantities for the production of gunpowder and primers can be very difficult. Making the guns is actually a lot easier than making the ammo they shoot (assuming modern ammo that we use today).

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Just put your characters in a world of ice. Like a thick jungle with layers upon layers of spikes overhead, all made of brittle ice and ready to fall.

Let's say that any detonation would break tons of ice above and around everyone, and crush everyone. I am not sure how scientifically accurate that physics rule would be, but in our world sound can break glass and big guns are used to trigger avalanches, so it is not such a stretch of imagination.

In such a world, people would avoid using guns, for their own safety.

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I used to play a Shadowrun character armed with bow and sword. During the course of playing, I discovered many advantages of bows. The most obvious is, of course, that they are silent. The second is that you can shoot in an arc, giving you the ability to hit targets that a gun couldn't reach.

Once you begin to modify your arrows, it becomes really interesting. Since you are talking about a high-tech world, some ideas might work in your world as well.

Combining explosive arrows with rangefinders allows you to program the explosion so that you can shoot above or past the enemy and the explosion happens next to him, above him or behind him, negating cover or front armor.

You can attach light (carbon or nano material) ropes to arrows, to double as grappling hooks or to deliver electronic shocks / taser effects.

Range and power of a good bow are comparable to most hand-held guns. And aside from full auto (which is spray-n-pray anyways) the rate of fire is not so bad. English longbow archers had to be able to get three arrows into the air before the first one hit the ground.

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An automation dystopia.

Over the next 30 years, an automation singuarity arrives. An exponentially increasing numbers of jobs are automated. The resources needed to feed and clothe and shelter a human become less efficient for almost any task than building a robot with substitute resources (ethanol farming instead of food) and using the robot's labor.

A welfare state initially develops. The police and military are replaced with automated police drones, so lives are no longer endangered. Brutal wars occur.

As the underclass of unemployables grows over time, they are demonized and their economic activity criminalized. Drone police are exceedingly efficient, and the underclass gains a huge percent of criminal records. Criminals cannot vote. Disenfranchised and demonized, the police get increasingly harsh. Atrocities performed by people tired of their family being killed by drones are used to justify more serious crackdowns.

A civil war breaks out. The anti-automation forces lose. It isn't pretty.

The underclass expands. Becoming indingent becomes grounds for losing the vote and full citizenship. That underclass is stripped of rights to use weapons.

There are small armed drones that are all over the place. They hunt down and kill people who use firearms and explosives (both chamical and nuclear).

This is done through visual, auditory, chemical and radiological scanning.

These drones are part of the infrastructure that the rich caste has put in place to prevent revolution. They are also used to police neighboring rich people and prevent them from raising an army using such weapons and use it against each other. Only a small number of elite guard (nobles themselves, if lesser) are permitted such weapons under the treaty.

Violence among the poor is an amusing sport for the rich, so whatever they do to each other isn't really the noble's problem. Nobles also engage in "peasant warfare", where you get your non-firearmed peasants to war with another noble's peasants, especially on small scales.

Time-delayed video of such wars (filmed by said drones) are a valuable entertainment product.

Meanwhile, military drones conquor and settle more territory in the remaining anti-automation states. Traditional national allies and enemies are mostly gone; ensuring no anti-automation revolutions occur is the unified work of the automation dystopia.

Possibly there remains one or two nuclear-armed anti-automation states. They are surrounded and choked off.

Anti-ballistic missile drones fly around the free states borders. It is uncertain if the free nuclear states full-scale nuclear bomb strikes would be able to get through, but as yet they have not been overrun directly.

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Fire arms usage began dominating the battlefield between the XVI and XVII th century (source: wiki). The main reason was that it was easier to train for muskeet than for arquebus (another reason was that muskeet were fairly inaccurate but capable of piercing through plate armour).

To reverse this situation one of the following or a combination would be possible:

1) Battles relying mostly on guerrilla tactics rather than open field battles.

  • as mentionned above bow shoots are not as easy to locate

2) Bows being easier/ cheaper to use than guns

  • bows can be made easier and more balanced than guns which could prove to be in advantage if running / horse riding most of the time and shooting at short notice a need.
  • bows could be easier to recharge if the environment is mostly wooden (post apocalypse, cities being no go for germs / chemical / nuclear waste)

3) Bows requiring less training than guns

  • if the daily life is based around hunting with bows, more advanced skills / training around bow shooting would be available leading to natural preference for bow as a weapon
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    $\begingroup$ Don't agree with point 3 being possible in practice. A quite inexperienced person with a few weeks of training can still be quite accurate and lethal a distances that would be very challenging for even an intermediate bowman with years of training. Using a bow also takes a much greater level of physical fitness than a gun. It is very hard to change those fundamentals. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Oct 25 '16 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ Agree with @ohwilleke. I have shot bow and arrow, and it isn't easy even at intermediate distances. Don't be fooled by the stories of Robin Hood and similar; shooting accurately with a bow is decidedly non-trivial. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 25 '16 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ @ohwilleke while I cannot judge on relative easyness, I maintain that if the kids started from their youth to use bows I cannot see how it would not be easier for them to use bows as adults. $\endgroup$ – Auberon Vacher Oct 25 '16 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ A life of training with a bow still won't give it the range or accuracy or rate of fire of a month training with a modern rifle. $\endgroup$ – Erik Oct 25 '16 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ > guerrilla tactics rather than open field battles Can you shoot war bow while crouching? From behind the cover? $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Oct 25 '16 at 11:01
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Honor and code of chivalry. Like Samurai warriors in modern Japan, who refused to abandon their swords in favor of fire weapons. If your world has a chivalry order, or some fighters who follow a strict moral code, employing bows instead of guns could be part of that code.

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  • $\begingroup$ The myth of samurai refusing to use guns is simply silly. Nobunaga pioneered early firearm tactics. The Samurai didn't particularly like guns, they didn't want their pictures taken with a gun, but they realized their tactical benefit and made use of them freely. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Oct 27 '16 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Doe Your historical clarification is correct, but this doesn't change the meaning of my answer to the original question. My simplification served as an example. $\endgroup$ – FraEnrico Oct 28 '16 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that's entirely true. As you example was a historical basis for why people may give up the most effective weapons for less effective ones due to some sense of importance beyond ethicacy. However, your historical example was not correct. I'd similarly dispute the plausibility of an obviously more effective weapon being discarded for such reasons, other than in notable exceptions like Jack Churchill. The closest example is that duels and social fighting may not use the best military weapons for a number of reasons. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Oct 28 '16 at 7:52
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You could go the Green Arrow route. Maybe these arrows have some specialized technology that would be impossible to fit into a bullet. Incendiary arrows, smoke arrows, arrows with a small speaker to distract guards on a stealth mission, (boxing glove arrows,) but the one that I could see having a definite advantage over a sniper a mile away would be homing arrows. Tiny motors in the shaft control the arrow's fletching in mid-flight, and a forward-facing sensor allows it to identify and track the target it was pointing at when it was shot, even when the target moves around a corner. It could even have a small solid rocket motor at the tail to give it additional range.

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This isn't necessarily Earth, right? How about vicious and hungry raptors which turn up immediately after any loud detonation, or any loud noise.

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I would say there is about 4 reasons for choosing a bow over a sniper rifle (for comparison)

  1. Stealth (Nearly no sound except the string and the impact of the arrowhead)
  2. No flash. (Guns have a lot of excess gasses coming out of the barrel which makes them give a pretty distinctive flash and in a high security building you do not want that.)
  3. Bows can be improvised. (You can ofcourse buy a bow somewhere but you can also make a pretty decent bow if you have a knife/something to carve out wood.)
  4. Bows can be as expandable as you want. (Compound bows for example are more "assault" and heavy duty bows which can fire arrows which do the same or more damage than a handgun. There are also alot of options which you could make up yourself since hey. We're 50 years in the future.)
  5. Different arrowheads, same bow (A bow can fire incendiary, explosive and in your book maybe even EMP arrows and this is only touching the surface. A rifle can also shoot most of these arrows in bulletform but it would be plainly annoying since a lot of the time you need to find a rifle which is compatible with said bullets.)
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  • $\begingroup$ +1 For different and particularly EMP arrow heads. ; -1 improvised bows : a proper, dangerous, bow takes time and material to craft, not just a tree branch and a knife. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Oct 27 '16 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed a proper bow requires time to craft but don't forget that you "could" craft yourself a bow without too much effort. A gun on the other hand is a lot harder to manufactor because you would need: gunpowder, metal, a forge and tools to work with the metal. The material cost is just a lot higher with a gun. A bow has been used for centuries/millenia and is known to be able to be crafted without the use of modern day machinery. Also the power of a handmade bow would indeed not be the same as one made using modern machinery. $\endgroup$ – Joost Blok Oct 31 '16 at 9:55
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EMP arrows could be a good thing, guns could say have an electronic finger print lock (or DNA scanner) that makes it only work for its user/owner; Knocking out the computer would make the gun a paper wait. Guns could also be electronic, say laser/plasma a computer (or some other elecronics) is going to be needed for regulating the energy. Shafts of aluminum arrows are hollow, so imagine adding rocket ignition to the arrow. Rocket arrow more impact & greater range. Rocket engine could ignite 10-20 ft after leaving the bow. Also the bow could be reinforced and/or have a blade mounted to it top and/or bottom for hand to hand combat. With reinforcement could just be a bo(asian quarter staff)/walking stick blades hidden when bow is unstrung that is if you like the blade idea or no blades mounted and concept still works well.

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Lots of good answers already. I won't repeat them, but I don't think this point has been made by anyone else:

Using a bow makes things harder for the police forensics experts.

  • Ballistics: It will be harder for them to work out the trajectory of the shot than it would be for a gunshot.
  • A bullet can be linked definitively to the specific gun that fired it. It is impossible to do this with bows and arrows.

I don't think either of these points is enough on their own to justify using a bow, but they certainly would help.

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If there is a shortage of nitrogen or the agricultural needs for nitrogen overwhelms the needs for guns, then you cannot product enough bullets so bows and arrows make more sense. You could change the chemistry of your world so nitrogen do not lead to explosions.

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Arrows could be extremely compact, silent and accurate if fired as a rail-gun system using magnetic principles.

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    $\begingroup$ -1 for not answering the question (at least, not directly). The OP asked how to justify his characters' preference for bows over guns. $\endgroup$ – LiveMynd Oct 28 '16 at 0:47
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How about changing the laws of physics so that the speed of light is in the same ballpark as the speed of sound (hundreds or low thousands of meters per second)?

That way, as you try to accelerate past the speed of an arrow, the energy requirements go up exponentially, making guns take huge amounts of energy to go even 10% faster than arrows.

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    $\begingroup$ It also causes a host of other problems, and doesn't explain why arrows are the projectile of choice rather than bullets that travel at the same speed. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 28 '16 at 11:04

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