Obviously, guns are pretty superior to bows and arrows, nearly no matter how good you make a bow (within realistic measures). But in this case, I need a weapon that can have a slow projectile that can be tracked with the eye (it doesn't have to be super slow, but it does need to be traceable by the eye).

I figure a depleted uranium arrow or something similarly dense would be needed to achieve good impact force when a slower speed is required. As for the bow itself, it would need to be relatively easy to draw, yet still have good release velocity. I think that's possible with some pulleys or mechanisms that "activate" at full draw, creating a greater pullback after reaching full draw, but I don't know the specifics.

In any case, I'm wondering the specifics to making a bow and arrow (or similar projectile-launching device) that is traceable with the eyes, yet viable in terms of potential damage. If there's a better solution, I'm open to it. A bow and arrow is preferable, but not necessarily the only viable answer. If more info is needed, lemme know.

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    $\begingroup$ What goal do you aim to achieve with your slow arrow/bow? If you want a powerful weapon that is traceable by bare eyes you could go for grenades or mortar shells... $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jun 2 '17 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ The transfer of power to the projectile is dependent upon the length of contact between the propulsive force and the projectile. That's why shorter barreled guns pack less force (up until a certain point) than longer barreled ones, and PARTLY why shortbows are less powerful than longbows. Just make a bow with an exceedingly long draw like a ballista... though it wouldn't be usable by a single individual, since the longbow is pretty much at the human limit for the length of the draw. Useful Example: cad-comic.com/comic/the-campaign-into-the-fire-3 $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 2 '17 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ Then I'm not sure you can reach the tradeoff you're looking for - you're better off going Green Arrow/Hawkeye and attaching an explosive to the head of the arrow rather than trying to get a high impact from a low speed projectile. I will note that arrows CAN be tracked by the naked eye over long distances... $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 2 '17 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ Tracer rounds from modern firearms are 'observable' in that you can see the flight path. Do you need to see the flight path or do you need to see the actual projectile as it is flying through the air? $\endgroup$ – TylerH Jun 2 '17 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food I was referring to force, not range. The same ammunition used in a shorter barrel will have less pressure pushing behind the bullet since it exits the barrel earlier. Of course accuracy is affected by rifling as well. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 4 '17 at 4:03

As for the bow itself, it would need to be relatively easy to draw, yet still have good release velocity.

This requirement categorically rules out bows (as well as weapons operating under similar principles, like slingshots), because the energy contained in an arrow is entirely supplied by the user's strength. Powerful bows require strong wielders and practice to effectively exert that strength.

There's a technology contemporary to bows that alleviated this.


Specifically, Arbalests get around the issue of being limited to the user's ability to exert force by distributing that force with a winch. Using modern or science-fictional materials, you can have an arbalest with a very favorable gear ratio that can store a tremendous amount of energy while being easy to wind. The downside is that the easier it is to wind, the longer it will take to do so.

However, regardless of how this arrow or bolt is launched, your fundamental problem is that a slow-moving, heavy projectile is not effective as a weapon. Kinetic energy is linearly proportional to mass, but quadratically proportional to velocity. Higher velocities also increase range and accuracy, requiring less compensation for gravity.

For reference, where hunting bows tend to have around 50ftlbs of energy, common 9mm handgun ammunition has around 300ftlbs, giving it much greater range and armor-piercing ability. In order for this slow projectile to be a practical weapon in a sci-fi context, it needs to derive its killing power from something other than its kinetic energy. Thankfully, we already have the perfect solution.

Grenade Launcher

Or a derivative. A 40mm grenade launched from a handheld launcher travels at about 75m/s, comparable to crossbows, while being easy to load and fire and having softer recoil than its caliber would suggest. A variety of projectile types are available, ranging from dumb slugs (training rounds) to high-explosive to HEAT to buckshot to flechettes.

If a single-shot weapon isn't effective enough, try pump-action or revolving. You can deliver a much higher practical rate of fire than a bow, with much greater lethal potential.

  • $\begingroup$ Very good points. I suppose a projectile really has to be fast to be effective, unless explosives are used. I guess I'll need to take a different approach. This has been quite informative. $\endgroup$ – Iter Jun 2 '17 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ How does it categorically rule out bows? I'm a self professed weakling, but even I can draw a 30lb bow and have a hope of an accurate shot. With a compound bow, someone like me could draw something much more powerful. Add to this that a slug from a firearm is blunt, while a broadhead arrow point is very sharp. It will easily penetrate ballistic armor as long as it doesn't hit the shock plate $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jun 2 '17 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @PaulTIKI A 30lb bow is not a battlefield weapon. Significantly stronger bows than that had difficulty piercing plate armor during the Renaissance, even using bodkin points as opposed to broadhead. If you want a more powerful bow, you physically need to supply more energy in the draw, and that works against 'relatively easy to draw' as the OP specified. $\endgroup$ – Catgut Jun 2 '17 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Catgut you are correct about a 30lb bow. However, a 75lb compound bow with a 70% drop off (to 23lbs) could be used by people like me. The difficulty comes in holding the string until you shoot which is why the compound bow is attractive. With a long draw length and heavy arrow, someone like me could drop an Elk. We don't know exactly what kinds of armor we are facing, but if it's modern ballistic body armor a broadhead will go through unless it hits a strike plate. Bodkin arrows may have had problems with full on plate armor, but less difficulty with leather and chainmail $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jun 2 '17 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @PaulTIKI The utility of a bow against soft body armor is a reflection of the fact that bows are considered irrelevant to modern combat, so soft armor is not designed to resist arrow penetration. Soft armor similarly is not resistant to knives, but I don't see that as a compelling reason to take a knife to a gunfight, and ceramic body armor will stop an arrow cold. Even leaving armor-piercing ability aside, a 75lb compound bow has a quarter the muzzle energy of a handgun. That means much shorter range, and less terminal impact. A .22 can kill an elk too, but I wouldn't take one into combat. $\endgroup$ – Catgut Jun 2 '17 at 21:10

You projectile needs to be heavy to slow it down. Your impact will be:

F s = 1/2 m v^2 
F - force
s - slowdown distance
m - mass 
v - velocity

Since we are talking bow and arrow here, we can disregard the slowdown distance (assuming it's always the same, something close to 0), therefore to keep the force the same but lower the speed you need to increase the mass of the projectile. Obviously this becomes untrackable pretty quickly since the speed is squared.

Say you want to cut your speed by a factor of ten, from 10 to 1. F initial = 1/2 m * 10^2 = 1/2 *m *100 = 50m F desired = 1/2 m * 1^2 = 1/2 * m * 1 = 1/2 m

So to cut your speed from 10 to 1 (whatever units), you need to increase your mass 100 times.

Physics dictates you have to move fast to deliver a punch.


It depends on what you are shooting at, but Modern compound bows will meet your needs as stated.

There are a number of things an archer has to consider when doing the bow and arrow thing. Each contribute to how the arrow is going to perform.

First thing everyone thinks of is the bow. Draw weight and draw length determine a lot of how fast the arrow is going to go. Long draw length means the arrow is accelerating for a longer period and Draw weight is how much force is being applied to the arrow. In this question a compound bow (with pulleys) is mentioned, so we can go with that. For a normal human male around 1.8 m tall (6 feet or so) the recommended draw length from a compound bow is about 29 inches. The Draw weight can be anywhere from 15lbs for kids up to 75lbs for burly, manly men. A good guideline would be around a 40 to 50lb draw weight, because that's what is usually recommended for hunting medium to large game like deer. Here is where a compund bow has an advantage though, once you get to a certain point, it "lets off", meaning what it takes to hold the drawn bow is much less than the full draw weight. A 50lb bow with a 70% let off means you only have to hold 15lbs on target creating greater accuracy.

Next, the weight of your arrow. This has 2 influences on what you can do, Momentum and Energy. The Energy is how hard the arrow hits initially, but Momentum is how far that arrow will carry through the target. A light arrow is faster, and therefore has more energy, but a heavy arrow will have more momentum.

Next you have to consider the arrowhead. Simple target points are fairly blunt while Broadheads consist of multiple razor sharp blades. There are a variety of other types but these are the most common. You aren't going to kill a deer with a blunt tip even with a light arrow with a heavy draw, there isn't enough momentum to penetrate. A slower moving heavy arrow with a razor broadhead will cut through deep enough for a clean kill.

You can then combine these things to have a weapons system capable of bringing down Moose, Cape Buffalo, or just about anything else on the planet from a couple hundred yards, at least.

Other answers have mentioned explosives. Add impact or proximity based explosives for even more fun and carnage. These would be lightweight affairs, but they would have enough power to splatter everything in a small sphere. This mitigates the semi randomness a timed fuse might have.


Slings are even less futuristic than arrows.

enter image description here


A sling projectile travels more slowly than an arrow. But slings get the job done very well, and rocks are a lot cheaper than arrows. The reference for this table has some good back reading. The table shows the damage done as you increase projectile weight and speed. A normal arrow is about 90 m/s and so the fastest sling speed here was still slower; from the reference normal sling speed is probably 40 m/2.

enter image description here

You could scale it up, with heavier projectiles. With a really heavy projectile you need a counterweight as you spin it up to speed. Hammer throwers use their bodies as the counterweight. enter image description here

It occurs to me that if you want to throw a very heavy projectile, you might be better off throwing a group of lighter projectiles. The cloud will spread out in flight. It will be less easy to step out of the way.

enter image description here


You get power from speed and mass. If you decrease the speed, you have to increase the mass. This is OK if you are targeting a satellite or other non moving object. In fact the increased mass may mitigate countermeasures since it will take more force to knock the weapon off course.

However, if the target can maneuver and can see the weapon (or just knows it is in danger and is moving randomly), you will likely not hit it.

A slow moving massive object cannot be used in a strong gravity well unless the target is at the bottom of the gravity well. Shooting a slow & heavy from a bow on Earth will result in an arrow hitting the ground not far from you. However, dropping a crowbar from orbit onto a building on the Earth will be quite effective.

  • $\begingroup$ True. Would it be possible to utilize a computer tracker (say, in a helmet) to give the user a visual to track the projectile despite a higher speed? $\endgroup$ – Iter Jun 2 '17 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ It would be incredibly easy to track. That's the problem. The target can (figuratively speaking) just take a step to the side or avoid it. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Jun 2 '17 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Right. Sry, I meant could it be sped up to make it difficult to avoid (or track with just the eyes), but still traceable by perhaps aided means (such as a computer tracker). $\endgroup$ – Iter Jun 2 '17 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Iter, yes. That would give it the other advantages of speed. Tracking it from the launcher will be no problem since you can calculate it's path. You don't need to see it. Tracking it is kind of pointless though. As a projectile, it cannot course correct. Even if you turned it into a missile and put some kind of maneuvering thrusters on it, its mass would make it very difficult to move from its current path. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Jun 2 '17 at 19:42

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