Previously, I had asked if rhino horn could replace antelope horn in an ancient culture's composite bow (since antelopes--true or pronghorn--don't exist on my alternate Earth.) The answers are still on the "pending" side.

Back home, the recipe for the composite bow is as follows:

  • Horn (usually water buffalo, gemsbok, oryx and ibex)
  • Wood (usually mulberry and spruce because bamboo is a GRASS, not a woody plant)
  • Sinew (usually from the hindquarters of wild deer or domestic hooved mammals)
  • Glue (usually hide glue or gas bladders from fish)

In this alternate Earth, the recipe for the composite bow is as follows:

  • Either rhino horn or deer antler
  • Bamboo
  • Ivory
  • Heartwood
  • Yew sapwood
  • Deer, camel or bison leather
  • Sinew from the hindquarters of deer, camel or bison
  • Horse glue

So with this recipe, how would the alternate composite bow compare with ours? More powerful? Less powerful? Or as powerful? Would the materials even stick well together?

  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia says that [for composite bow construction] "water buffalo horn is very suitable, as is horn of [...] ibex, and that of Hungarian grey cattle". (The ibex are several species of goats.) Antelopes are not needed. Aren't antlers just bone, thus not particularly elastic? Is ivory noted for its elasticity? And what would be the use of leather? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '17 at 4:27
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    $\begingroup$ Powerful is a really tricky word when it comes to bow. There is draw strength, Transfer of energy from arms to arrow, draw to length ratio etc. Also, wood, leather, sinew and deer horn are widely used. You are not talking anything "alternative" here. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 27 '17 at 5:36
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP The yumi has leather in its construction. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Apr 27 '17 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP you glue on rawhide to prevent splinters. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 27 '17 at 15:21

I have no idea what to make of the recipe, and have no particular interest in archery, but one thing I know for sure is that both the English longbow and the composite bows used by the Byzantine cataphracts were just about at the upper limit of human strength and endurance; using them efficiently required long and strenuous training, and

Against massed men in armour, massed longbows were murderously effective on many battlefields. (Clifford J. Rogers, "The Efficacy of the Medieval Longbow", quoted by Wikipedia)

I don't think that there is much room for a "more powerful" bow without introducing more powerful humans.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is - reflex and recurve designs and ultimately compound bow - from the same draw strength and length each of these constructions will give you much more energy on the arrow than English longbow. That's why on Olympic games most used kind is reflex--deflex, and compound almost monopolized hunting. Still, first compound bows was made of wood all right. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 27 '17 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot: Doesn't that depend on the weight of the arrow? Medieval war arrows were very heavy -- doesn't this negate the ability of modern bows to restitute the energy quicker? (As I said, my knowledge of archery is spotty at best. I just don't see how armies which used powerful bows as their main ranged weapons for centuries didn't take this opportunity.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 '17 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ Each bow has it's minimum arrow weight - too light and not enough energy is transferred, and string or bow (or both) breaks. Too heavy and you don't get the speed you want. Still, penetration and ability to pierce game's hide is best for compound bow, if we compare the same draw length and strength and optimal arrow for each construction. For armies, bows with pulleys are invention of early 20th century (note: what now is called composite bow was called compound bow before invention of what is now called compound - what a mess). And reflex bows was used, for example traditionally by Koreans. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 27 '17 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ If you have no interest in archery, then why did you answer? $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Apr 27 '17 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey Because he/she/it felt they could provide a useful answer? $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Apr 27 '17 at 15:45

The "strength" of a non-compound bow generally has to do with the elasticity ("spring") of the bow. The bow needs to be able to bend, storing the energy, and then return, releasing the energy and shooting the arrow.

Bamboo is a grass, and my experience with wood-like grasses such as (and some, albeit limited experiences with) bamboo is that they tend to be very stiff and do not bend, or else they splinter. wood-like grasses tend to loose much (if they had any) elasticity once dried.

Antlers and Rhino horn are two completely different things. Rhino horn is solid keratin, the same substance as our hair and fingernails, while antlers are solid bone. Water Buffalo horns are bone with a keratin sheath, it is the hollow keratin parts that are used. Filing down a keratin horn takes a long time.

Long, short, and recurve bows can all be made exclusively from wood, and yew wood is often used in bow making. So feasibly, a bow could be made from a solid yew/leather/sinew combo, or a recurve yew/glue/leather/sinew. Ivory is also used in bow construction, but because it's ivory, I couldn't find much substantial about how, specifically.

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