Copyright © 2000 Robert G. Ferrell

Fletching: A History

Fletching is essentially the art of putting feathers onto pointed sticks.1 It can trace its ancestry to an episode in 8,242 B. C. (give or take an epoch) when a young Assyrian lad lightly tossed aside a branch to which were stuck several feathers that had, until recently, belonged to his supper. This alert young fellow noticed that the projectile in question traveled in a more linear and predictable trajectory than one would expect for a tree branch.2 Excited by this observation, though dimly, he and his tribe worked feverishly on some way of exploiting this novel concept, but invented only Lawn Darts.3 This is obviously not their story.

Eventually, through processes and mechanisms too lengthy and involved to chronicle in these pages, people realized that flinging a pointy stick with feathers attached to it at targets they wished for one reason or another to pierce was on the whole a pretty good plan. They also realized that the velocity of this missile could be dramatically increased by launching it with a string made of various portions of previously pierced (or pummeled, or crushed) animals stretched tightly between the ends of a larger and more flexible stick with no feathers required for its proper functioning.4 This complex and rather unlikely procedure came to be known, for whatever reason, as Archery,5 and it is in this practice of making holes in things you wanted to eat or in people with whom you disagreed that fletching found its fullest and most natural expression.6

There are several ways to attach a feather to a pointy stick. It may be tied on with animal gut, glued on with animal glue, or wedged into a split in the end of the stick. Most animals disapprove of the whole business, of course, but this last method is the one of which they disapprove least, since it doesn't involve any additional animal parts and produces the least accurate shafts. Most archers have come to understand this, however, and the "wedge it in a crack" method has been largely abandoned (but not by the Doogawng Tribe of Southeast Central Elangovania, who to this day depend on natural disasters and old age for most of their meat supply.7).8

Early fletchers discovered that the more feathers they attached in a radial pattern on the end of a pointy stick, the more accurate the resulting arrow became. This principle cannot be extended ad infinitum, of course, and they soon realized that in order for the shaft to be really effective, it must be able to get free from the bow string. Eventually, then, the optimum number of feathers for fletching was settled on as three.9

The history of fletching gets much more muddled from here on out, what with St. Sebastian and Robin Hood and William Tell, and so on. As a matter of fact, this singular observation is the principal contribution my years of careful research has to offer, which is one of the reasons I dislike getting up before noon. If anyone manages to find a sequitur buried in that, I don't have any shoe polish.

FOOTNOTES (fits sizes 8-12)

1. Bleery, I. B., Obvious Definitions for Writers, Vol. II (Rome, Georgia: No Kidding Press, 1985), p. 13.

2.Condrum, A. E., Dewbonnet, L., and Errebits, Z. Z., "The Culinary Basis of Military Development," Journal of Experimental History, 43, no. 7 (July, 1966), pp. 423-444.

3. Bintuwang, A. S. E., Spatial Relationships and Recreation in the Stone Age (Vienna: Der Dumtheoretikalmushwërken, GmbH, 1988), pp. 32-67.

4. The Association for Turgid Prose, A New Guide to Obfuscation for Those Who Can't Remember Where They Last Shelved the Chicago Manual of Style, p. XXXVIII.

5. Actually, I just made up the term "Archery" for this book. I hope everyone gives me credit for it.

6. Tames, R. O. , et al, "Little-Known Speculations on Inconsequential Events," The Collected Works of Someone Whose Name We Really Do Know, But Just Can't Think of Right Now (Utopia, Montana: The University of Our Lady of the Desolate Wastes Press, 1945), pp. 1245-1277.

7. Goodbosum, R. R. R., "Stupid Peoples of the World, An Atlas," Social Dysfunction and the GNP (New York: Putrid Publishing House, 1976), p. 2.

8. Neurot, S., A Field Guide to Engineering Mistakes Throughout History, Part 1 (ASYMMETRICAL WHEELS through POORLY DESIGNED VIADUCTS), (London: Jolly Good Profits Press. 1970-1974), pp. 34, 785, 1357, xxiii.

9. All of the arrows that came with my Bear Junior Hunter bow have three feathers, even if they are plastic ones.

10. No footnote, really; I just had some space left.