Tag Archives: hunting

So I have a character who learned how to use a longbow when she was a child to hunt. My question is two-tiered: one, in what ways would that impact her physical development; and two, would this help her if she needed to use a bow against people?

Strong shoulders, strong arms.

In all honesty, the bow is a weapon you build to as a hunter. The first weapon she’d have learned was the sling. More useful for small game, and you can be deadly accurate with it. The David versus Goliath story in the Bible isn’t actually a joke or overblown. A child taking down a grown adult with a rock and a sling is entirely plausible if said adult isn’t wearing a helmet. The sling is the weapon of children everywhere, shepherds and hunters. In many parts of the world, they still use it. It’s also better for small game. Katniss would’ve done better braining the squirrels with a sling rather than a bow, like children do.

As a child, she’d be trained on a child’s training bow and work her way up the different types of bows practicing on a single target. The longbow is a weapon that requires a fairly hefty amount of upper body strength to wield, and she’d have to work and train up into her early teens before she was allowed to use it for hunting. The amount of strength you can draw dictates how far the arrow flies and how deep it penetrates. Depth of penetration is important, as is how far the arrow flies. Both define how close you need to be to your target in order to be successful. Herbivores don’t stand around waiting for a predator to kill them, and carnivores might just decide turnabout is fair play.

So, most of her childhood was spent on dummy duty with her bow as she learned to clean and care for it. Learning to stand, and that’s a whole series of lessons. Learning how to string the bow, learning how to hold it, learning to draw before she was ever allowed to shoot.

What whoever was training her would set her on before that is the other skills, and she’d act as a gopher for them the way all apprentices do. Following behind the older hunter, carrying their equipment, watching them and acting under their direction. You can’t hunt if you can’t find game, and you can’t eat it if you can’t clean it.

Hunting comes with a necessary subset of skills which allow the hunter to work. They don’t just go out into the woods and kill shit then come back. It requires patience. It involves waiting in one place for an animal to come by, sometimes for days. Traps, tracking, reading sign, learning to move through the underbrush without disturbing it, hiding your scent, etc.

Your hunter will catch more food that they eat on the regular with snare traps set for rabbits and other small game than they will with the bigger game like deer. Bigger game takes more investment, more energy, and a lot more luck. There’s also a higher chance of injury.

There are plenty of herbivores that won’t go down quiet, deer included. If your hunter hits wrong and they sense/smell them, there’s always the chance they won’t run and will come right in after the hunter. Animals have “fight or flight” too, and a doe can gore you just as well with her hooves as a buck can with his antlers. Any poor soul chased up a tree by a moose or just gut checked by a horse can tell you, herbivores are assholes. On an unlucky day, they’ll kill you just as well as a carnivore and that’s if you can find them at all.

The chances of managing a “one hit kill” with an animal like a deer are low and, even if you land a killing blow, they’re not just going to fall over dead. You’ve got to be able to follow it, recover the body, and kill it as it lies there bleeding out on the ground if necessary. You’ve also got to have some way to carry it back. Then, there’s the risk you run with whether the herd animals will return to the same place or move somewhere else if too many of their number die. If they do, and they’re your primary source of food, then you’ve got to move with them. Nevermind that there are quite a few animals a bow is simply no good for, like bears and boars. Where you need other tools like dogs and spears.

Hunting is a complicated business, and it doesn’t come with any guarantees.

Now, those skills do translate over well on a certain level to dealing with humans. Though, it’s not the weapon skills so much as the other less flashy ones. Many scouts in medieval armies, for example, were hunters of one sort or another. As were the foragers tasked with feeding them. The ability to tell how many people passed, where they passed, and what they brought with them from the tracks left on the roads or in the hills was a valuable ability. The ability to move through the woods without being seen, to hide your passing, to tell who is breaking trail, and to find their camps was also helpful.

The Ranger class in DnD is built on the hunter. You want a character who has more in common with Aragorn than Katniss. Aragorn uses a bow, but it’s not his only weapon.

The reason for this is that the bow isn’t a great weapon for close quarters. More importantly, it takes time to prepare. You don’t travel with it strung, as that wears out the string. If the string is no longer taut when strung then you can’t fire the bow. You don’t travel with the wood left to the elements. It needs to be wrapped, and packed away. Constantly be oiled to maintain its elasticity/limberness so it can be drawn. A dried bow is a bow you can’t pull, no matter how strong you are. You also can’t get it wet. It’s a weapon which takes a lot of prep in order to be used, a lot of care, a lot of maintenance, more than average, and a lot of hard work.

When you’re in, say, a military or part of a raiding force that knows its attacking then that’s great. Or someone who is on watch for certain periods during the day and will be relieved by another, that also works. Or when you’re sitting alone in the woods waiting for an animal to come by. However, the necessary prep time a bow requires is a lot less helpful when you’re taken by surprise.

By the time you’ve taken it out, unwrapped it, strung it, you’re dead. The enemy was also probably too close for the bow to really be of help anyway. Its a weapon which requires distance. Awesome when you’re pegging people from the ramparts, halfway up a tree, or fifty to a hundred feet off. Less so when they’re standing over you, axe in hand. The traditional role of archers in a military structure is artillery, and not that different from how we use the modern one. Their purpose is bombardment, they soften up the enemy so the vanguard can break their lines and kill them.

There is one kind of single combat the bow is useful for: stalking.

The bow is a silent weapon, and when used in a hunter-stalker mode, can be terrifyingly effective. It’s a stealth weapon, meant for ghosting in and ghosting out as you pick your enemies off. However, this kind of combat requires a proactive mindset and a willingness to get your hands dirty.

It’s also vindictive and, from the perspective of most modern morals, it’s cruel.

Humans are no more lucky than animals when it comes to hunting. The bow is the slow death. No character, no matter their skill level, is going to be guaranteed clean kills. However, what they do get is debilitating blows. An arrow through an arm, a leg, or better a lung, is going to take enemies out of the fight and if they’re not dead yet then potentially another one with them. Harassment is the order of the day. The slow path of carving off opponents, damaging them so they can’t fight back, following as they try to run, before moving in for the kill.

It’s a predatory style of combat, it is (really) just hunting. Hunting humans instead of animals. The terrifying form of combat that haunts so many horror movies. It’s psychological warfare.

However, it’s the kind of combat that takes time, patience, and a strong stomach. It’s up to you to decide if that’s the kind of combat you envisioned for this character to participate in. Or the kind of story you want to tell.

People embrace the Predator and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider (2013), and countless others that have this particular combat style.

It might, however, behoove you to consider coming up with other weapons this character has familiarity with. From knives, to traps, to fishing lines, to other more improvised weapons built on the fly. This character has a range of options within their skillset, and there’s no need to stick to just one.

Also we have a bow tag, and an archery tag for past discussion on this subject.

-Michi

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In my story, there are clans of hunters. Most of their time is spent finding food or practicing weaponry, and just about all of the adults are skilled with a few. Later in the story, the clans are at war and fight with the same weapons they hunt with. Is there a difference between fighting against people and animals? (My MC uses knives and swords, if that helps.) Thank you!

Is there a difference fighting against people versus animals?

Yes. Yes, there is. For one thing, very few animals come with combat training. For another, a person cannot, for the most part, replicate the defensive attributes of most major predators or even most herbivores on their own.

Bows, spears, snares, traps, and slings are the historical methods with which people hunted. You need to keep a fairly significant amount of distance between yourself and the animal to avoid the teeth, hooves, claws, charging, and any number of other attributes which will leave your hunter very dead in fairly short order. Even with all the necessary precautions and use of appropriate weaponry/assistance of domesticated animals (horses, hunting dogs, whatever), there are no guarantees.

Herbivores like deer, buffalo, and other big game animals are exceedingly dangerous when put under threat. It’s best to get the Disneyfied idea that the only animals that will threaten your hunters are the big predators like lions and wolves. No, it’s the deer and the buffalo they should be looking out for. Herbivores can be very aggressive, they are also very large and very agile. After the mosquito and it’s good friend malaria, the most dangerous creature in Africa is the hippo. Knights used spears and lances when they hunted boar and even then many did die by getting gored on very sharp tusks.

If you’re really planning to write hunters than brushing up on your nature documentaries (and Animal Planet’s When Animals Attack) may not be a bad idea. You may also want to look into documentaries, studies, and other literature about the social structure/history of indigenous cultures around the world. You may also want to check with your local Fish and Wildlife Bureau (or corresponding group in your local country) to see what they suggest for more information on hunting and anthropology departments at your local college/museums to see if there are any suggestions for beginning good sources to brush up on. I also suggest checking with your local librarians to see if they have any suggestions for books similar to the one you’re planning. Lit reviews are always helpful when it comes to putting together a setting.

The business of hunting and the suggested methods change depending on the animal in question. I will say that your hunters will probably not be regularly chasing big game (lots of effort) if they predominately stay in the same place. They’ll subsist mostly on small game (like rabbits, turkey, etc) and foraged vegetation. Again, I don’t know your setting well enough to know what those would be. However, I do suggest looking into bushcraft and survival/camping manuals to start getting a grasp of how one goes about finding food.

There are a lot of excellent resources available if you are willing to look.

When it comes to combat weapons knives and swords are meant for humans, they were not used for hunting. (The knife is used to skin and clean the game after it’s been killed or kill the trapped animal.) Swords are weapons specialized for warfare and for killing other humans, hunter gatherer societies don’t really have a use for them. You can take a machete or a kukri, which are tools not weapons but within the short sword range, and maybe find a use for them in the clearing vegetation/butchering animals stage.

The problem here is that swords, especially the longsword, require a fairly advanced development of metallurgy. You need someone to make the weapons and the ability to find/mine the necessary materials. You also need a society where metal (be it bronze or iron), even if crude, has become common and necessary to the society. These are usually societies that have transitioned from hunter/gatherer into agricultural. Agricultural societies need blacksmiths to develop better tools for farming, stonemasons for houses, etc.

If those resources are minimal, then they will go toward those items that the culture needs more like knives, spearheads, and other tools than a weapon they have little use for (a sword) when they have other weapons available like bows and spears which work just as well.

You said it yourself, the clans aren’t initially at war and later they “go to war with the weapons they hunt with.” As we’ve said in the past, “You do not go hunting with the weapons you take to war.”

That said, there’s a lot of room to play with some very interesting weapons, tactics, and techniques from a vast number of indigenous cultures across the world that have nothing to do with swords. There’s a vast and very rich cultural history of varying kinds of warfare among the Native American/First Nations tribes, the Zulu and other tribes throughout the continent of Africa that have massive varying differences depending on region and climate, and a number of indigenous groups in many countries in South East Asia with a long and interesting history.

The advice I give everyone for world building is this: you have to learn how to marry what you want with what you’ve made available through your setting. Weapons are primarily developed based on need and available resources. A society primarily based on hunting is more likely to develop better traps, better bows, and better spears. If they are migratory (with a lot of open space like plains or steppes) then they may domesticate animals like horses for easier travel over long distances. Their homes may be lighter, easier to break down and carry with them or they may need to stay in one place but travel great distances because game in their region is sparse.

A group in a jungle may develop a machete or a kukri to clear vines, use boats for travel because they have rivers instead of horses because an enclosed environment doesn’t favor them. Goats, Llamas, and donkeys/burros are common beasts of burden in regions with more mountainous terrain.

There are a thousand reasons why, but what is key is finding the set pattern of development for your setting. Not all your societies necessarily developed the same way. They may use different weapons or different variations, different tactics based entirely around dealing with different threats from different regions.

This is why looking at historical cultures and modern ones is so important. Once you develop an understanding of how other people adapted to their environment and the different ways they did even within the same region, then you can backtrack to your characters, look at the world they live in and come to a better realization of understanding what they do and why it is that way.

-Michi

I’m planning out a shirt story set in a medieval alternate universe where a small troop of characters hunt down a mutant beast. Any tips on using swords and arrows and such against a creature similar to a mutant lion or tiger?

Yeah, don’t. A sword is a weapon designed to kill another human being, it’s not a hunting tool. As you may have noticed, people are not particularly adept at clawing your face off. When that’s a consideration, you’re better off looking at a lance, pike or some other polearm.

Those should keep the enraged, wounded, and (hopefully) dying animal far enough away that it can’t seek bloody retribution on members of the hunting party.

Other than that, the best advice is just, “poke it with sticks until it falls over.” This one isn’t that much more complicated.

If the critter requires a specific sword to kill it, your best bet would still be to skewer it, wait for it to wear down a bit, and then deal the killing blow with the required weapon.

Bow hunting is a completely different kind of approach that favors parties of two or three people. You take a shot and then follow the blood trail until the animal wears itself out and expires. Finding the animal is usually the hard part. At least that’s how it normally works. I’m not sure about bow hunting apex predators, but, I have a feeling that could get massively out of hand, fast.

-Starke

A character of mine is a teenage girl from medieval times training to become a hunter. Her weapon of choice is a bow. What kind of bow would she use and what would be some examples of training she would undergo?

For reference, I’m just going to point out that a teenager in the Middle Ages is an adult. This is especially true for a peasant who would have transitioned to womanhood the day she got her monthlies. It was not uncommon for women as young as fourteen to be married off and having babies by the time your talking about your character receiving her “training”.

This is a basic misunderstanding that a lot of people suffer from: the idea that the world has always been like it is now. I recently saw a pitch about the daughter of a Pirate Queen being kidnapped by her mother and taken from her home to be trained to take over her position. (Ignoring that the position of Captain on pirate ships being non-hereditary, for a second.) The biggest issue with her pitch was that the Pirate Queen returns for her daughter when she’s nineteen. Traditionally, sailors of the time period began their careers at the age of nine or ten. If the Pirate Queen wanted a successor, she’d already have been training one from within her crew. Nineteen is too late, by this point her daughter is a “landsman” and has missed a critical window for her future profession.

In modern day America, the idea of child labor is abhorrent to us. In the Middle Ages, the major reason to have children was to provide free labor on the farm. Whether wealthy noble or poor peasant, kids were expected to work and learn the trades of their parents. A wife wasn’t just a homemaker, she was an extra hand in the field and, in some cases, little more than slave labor. A peasant in the Middle Ages was lucky to make it to forty. If you’re waiting half their life to start training them, then you’re waiting too long. The concept of childhood only dates back to the 18th Century in European cultures. Your character isn’t benefiting from it and it’s best if you stop thinking of them as being “like me”.

Gender roles aside. What I’m saying is that your character isn’t training to become a hunter, she already is one. By the time she was eight or nine, she was already assisting her father or mother in the field as part of her training. She’d have been given small jobs, helping to make and set the traps, learning the best spots, building the hutches, learning to track, being taught what plants are edible, etc. How to cook the game they catch, skin and prepare the game they catch, and where the best places to sell it to the locals. Before the bow, she’d learn the sling, and before all those she’d learn the different types of game and the means used to catch it. (Shooting is not always preferable or even logical.) It’s also worth remembering that when you shoot an animal it doesn’t just keel over and die like it does in Skyrim or the movies. Sometimes, your character is going to have to track it to where it expires. This can be an arduous process depending on how wounded the animal is.

Hunting is as much a matter of patience as it is skill. It relies on “getting lucky” because, even if the hunter knows the forest like the back of their hand, animals are not automatons. They don’t show up 100% of the time, even when they’re in a place that’s usually a sure thing. A peasant hunter may have one dog, but they won’t have access to the pack used by the nobles and the family horse is better off on the plow. You kill what you can carry. Depending on how amenable their local lord is, they’ll mostly be hunting small game like rabbits and birds (small to large). They may go after rats too. If they’re a hunter by profession (as opposed to hunting for food or for recreation like a noble), they might make most of their money by helping their parent set traps and hunt game on their neighbors’ farms to trap, kill, and drive off the animals eating the crops. While your character might be able to subsist on their gains from foraging and hunting alone, there’s very little reason for them to and they’re more likely to starve come winter. If they’re keeping an animal to assist them with the tracking and hunting then they have to be able to feed it. (You’d be surprised how many fictional pets never seem to need to eat.)

Of course, this is all me avoiding the most major piece of historical trivia. In the High Middle Ages, hunting was no longer a primary means of sustenance and transitioned into a noble’s only activity. By nobles only, I mean more and more nobles prohibited hunting on their lands and those lands that didn’t belong to the nobles belonged to the king. This where the concept of the King’s deer from Robin Hood comes from. The penalty for an individual caught poaching on a noble’s lands was death and since the King owned all the lands that meant all the deer belonged to him. (For any incensed History buffs: it’s obviously much more complicated than that.)

Nobles, especially in England, during the Middle Ages was more than just a recreational activity. They used hunting as a means of training their youths for warfare. Hunting allowed them to learn the skills they would need like tracking, horsemanship, and the use of weapons. Most of the information you’ll be able to find about hunting in the Middle Ages will relate to the ruling class as it’s the best documented.

Because hunting was dominated by the nobility as a sport, Forest Laws during the Middle Ages became increasingly strict. Peasants were only allowed to hunt on common land and not on any land owned by a noble or a monarch (which was most of it). While this didn’t stop peasants from poaching, the penalties were very severe. According to the site Medieval Life and Times, they included “hanging, castration, blinding, or being sown into a deerskin and hunted down by ferocious dogs”.

If you thought your character was going to be like Katniss, just remember: she never had to worry about being caught by men and women on horseback who’d be only too happy to use her as the day’s special hunting lesson or just unleash the hounds and ride her down. It’s a case of low-risk versus high-risk. Poaching on the local lord’s lands is high-risk.

-Michi

Possibly Helpful Research:

The good news is that hunting, wilderness survival, and foraging are skills that haven’t changed much and transition easily (so long as you remember to cut out the technology aspects). Here’s a list of several useful tools you can dig into that may help you with your setting building.

The Boy Scout Handbook – Starke is the one who has read this in detail, but the Boy Scout Handbook is chock full of useful information about foraging, camping, wilderness survival, and other stuff that you will need to know when writing your character. I put this one first on the list and at the highest priority for you to pick up and learn from.

The Dark Wind (Navajo Mysteries #5) by Tony Hillerman (And all Hillerman’s novels). If you’re interested in Navajo culture, Hillerman’s books are well known their accuracy. For the author who wants to write a hunter, Hillerman’s POV character Jim Che spends a lot of time discussing tracking and will give you some good ideas on how to track and how to fit those descriptions into your story so they feel natural to your character.

When Christ and His Saint’s Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. Penman’s novels dealing with the Plantagents are a very accurate snapshot for life among the nobility (and the peasantry) at the time and may be helpful to you for starting to get an accurate sense for the social and political aspects of your setting. They’re also really good, really in depth, and have awesome footnotes that will help you further your research.

Whitley Birke’s Hunger Games sporks over on her blog Reading With A Vengeance have a lot of good information buried in them on world building, bushcraft, and how to survive when you’re starving. Her critique of the first novel may help you avoid some critical errors and First World Problems which may end up in your novel. You can check out Farla’s too.

Scholagladiatoria’s Youtube channel is full of a ton of information dealing with swords and HEMA, but the key thing is that he also spends a lot of time talking about the Middle Ages, life during the Middle Ages, and developing technology plus dealing with a lot of misconceptions.

There are a variety of treatises from the time period dealing with hunting available online.