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Thank you for this article. I am a range safety officer and rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor.

Your general point about bows requiring more skill to use than firearms is true. However, I disagree that "Pulling the trigger of a firearm does not require any skill or practice."

The "pad" of the finger must be placed on the trigger for an accurate shot. Novice shooters often use the joint closest to their fingertip to pull the trigger, which causes the gun to point in an unintended direction.

Shooters must also be trained on the speed and pressure to use when pulling a trigger. Shotguns require shooters to "slam" the trigger (when shooting flying targets), while other firearms require a gentle "squeeze" or two squeezes if the trigger has is two-stage.

These skills take diligent practice to master.

Archery has four important drawbacks for hunting:

1. You must be closer to an animal to harvest it. This is less important in regions that use ambush hunting (e.g. tree stands), but plains or desert usually require stalking. As effective range decreases, your likelihood of harvesting an animal decreases, since the animal could be scared off when you approach.
2. Archery is more affected by wind than firearms are.
3. Deer can hear the "thwack" of a bow or crossbow and duck out of the way of an arrow or bolt. Because of this, hunters must compensate by aiming lower.
4. Archery cannot penetrate brush as effectively as firearms. Because of this, there are fewer shot opportunities in wooded environments if you do not use a firearm.

In hunting, weapons are often used closer than their effective ranges to maximize lethality and minimize the chance of suffering for animals.

There is also a spectrum of low to high-tech with firearms. A muzzleloader is more sustainable than a break action rifle, which is more sustainable than a machine gun. The easier a firearm is to repair and source ammunition for (without global supply-chains), the more sustainable it is.

Other low-tech weapons that are still useful for hunting are spears, slings, slingshots, and airguns.

I think the best plan is to use a mix of low-tech and high-tech weapons depending on the activity. Hunting and target shooting with archery are commonplace and could become more popular. Self-defense, law-enforcement, or military applications with a bow are unlikely to be practical, since criminals and rogue nation-states will continue to use firearms even if they are banned. For self-defense, there are low-tech solutions, such as martial arts, edged weapons, and blunt weapons.

Thank you,

Kris De Decker


--> Your general point about bows requiring more skill to use than firearms is true. However, I disagree that "Pulling the trigger of a firearm does not require any skill or practice."

Thank you, Seth, I will change that sentence.



For local, low-tech firearm manufacturing the Palestinian Carlo may be of interest. Sometimes made from homemade parts, sometimes assembled by recycling broken or obsolete weapons, sometimes by upcycling airsoft or paintball guns, usually welded in motor shops or on construction sites. Magazines may be jury-rigged to hold different calibres from the original. Operational life span is certainly less than the average longbow, though probably longer than the 3D printed handguns everyone was worried about a few years ago.

PS- in article link to "When lethal weapons grew..." is broken.




Dear Kris,

I love the website and and I implement quite a few technologies myself in our as sustainable as reasonable organic farm.

It seems that you were not aware of the work of Jörg Sprave and his slingshot channel. See for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUMBKcRwl9k

He has been at the basis of a development of hand powered weapons that closed the difference between guns and "crossbows". Quite impressive actually. Also what one can make from plywood with minimal tools at home.


kris de decker


@ W.

Thanks, we fixed it.

@ Tjeerd

Yes, I have seen some of his videos, quite impressive indeed. However, I left the slingshot out of the story because it's not a primitive weapon. It can't work without vulcanized rubber, an industrial product that you can't find in the forest.

The low-tech predecessor of the slingshot is the sling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sling_(weapon) It's a very effective weapon (I think the record range is more than 400 meters) but it requires a lot of skill to operate accurately (or even operate it at all), more so than the operation of a bow.

An improved version is the easier to use staff sling, which was still in use during the middle ages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSHD8RG_mSo

Both weapons are extremely easy to make.



Hi, Kris

I've been reading all of your articles in both Low-Tech Magazine. It's a little bit shocking to me that you included violence in the sustainability topic but violence will never become sustainable because the main goal of war is to win or to defend so your country must use anything at all cost possible to defend. However, accessing in low-tech weaponry is good for self-defense for the civillian people since many cannot afford even the cheapest guns especially in my country which is very poor. 

Low-tech weaponry is cheap, easy to produce, and accessible for everyone, arming civillians with a low-tech weapons could prevent mass shootings for worsening the number of kills, 20 people equipped with bow/crossbow in an area could prevent 1 shooter for going further massacre or robbers from robbing the store and also it can enable you, your neighbours, family, and friends to defend yourselves from violent crimes, it is not perfect though, it wouldn't always saved someone's life especially if the aggressor equipped with more advanced weapons but atleast the victim/s could fight unlike the unarmed when there is a shooter/aggressor, all that they can do is hide and run for their lives defenselessly.  The only problem is that government keep banning self-defense weapons even if it is not a gun.

The best thing about low-tech weaponry especially if made out of sustainable material such as wood is that it is applicable for mass ownership since it doesn't create a lots of material waste pollution if disposed, and the projecticles/ammo/arrows can be produce locally , don't need to rely on imported products/materials just to get reloaded.

Here are my favorite low-tech range weapons I've found.

1. https://youtu.be/TcDP9jN_FFQ
Bow with an arrow magazine - This is the most semi-automatic bow I've seen, the arrow magazine let archer shoot arrows without the need to pick arrows from the quiver one by one.

2. https://youtu.be/3WqUHy0bxGg
Chinese Repeating Crossbow - The chinese repeating crossbow is the fastest crossbow in history, however it is not used in the battle since it lacks range, and power. As far as I know, it was only used to defend against home invasion where aggressor is just in the close range enough to get killed by this crossbow

3. https://youtu.be/kP8bqIgd5ro
Gastraphetes/ Belly Bow - I don't much know about the history of this crossbow but it is one of the fastest way to reload a crossbow by pushing the front wood using the belly, although not as fast as chinese repeating crossbow but it has an advantage of range and power that is applicable in combat.

4. https://youtube.com/shorts/u981KjyN2QU?feature=share
Alcohol powered gun - This gun shoots marble or any light circle material, it has an effective range of 50 meters and the maximum of 100 meters. Although, the materials used came from an industrial output but it is mostly/all made out of recycled materials and the handgrip, stock and the barrel can also be made out of wood and bamboo, the reason I included this is that it is very easy to make, it make good use of the waste materials and most importantly is that the propelling charge is alcohol which is very locally available and can be made locally, unlike gunpowder which is expensive and hard to find but denatured alcohol is mostly used for extra power.

5. https://youtu.be/zSHD8RG_mSo
Shepherd Sling with stick handle - The stick handle gives more effective range which compared to just sling only

6. https://youtu.be/NHgUMUk3YwY
Atlatle/ Spear Thrower - It as simple as stick with a hook where you can place your spear and throw it with more power boost compared to hand throw only.

7. https://youtu.be/xRck2DS2o_U
  Chakram - it is a throwing circle metal with a hole in the center. It has been said that it was more easier to throw than knived and axes since this weapon has an aerodynamic shape which lowers the air resistance when thrown. An expert chakram thrower could easily cut limbs of a person. Just like bow, the user'a need to have a skills to be able to effectively throw.

8.  https://youtu.be/_L0o7lFSTIc
Blowgun - This weapon is easier to make than bow, the tips is usually dip in a poison to make it deadly. The propelling force of the blowgun doesn't only came from blowing, it can also came from compressed air, or alcohol just like the marble gun.

9. https://youtu.be/lslErRK05mw
Crosbow slingshot - crossbow slingshot just like crossbow,  it gives an advantage of accuracy than ordinary slingshot. Although the rubber came from industrial output but it is easy to make and doesn't need gunpowder to propell the projectiles.



Why do we environmental types talk about bikes and not bows? I suspect it's because as environmental types, we tend value human life, and that viewpoint doesn't sit well with lethal weapons of any time period. The purpose of a bike is movement. The purpose of a bow and arrow is to kill. It can't be an alternative to something harmful because it is harmful.

While there are weapons bans, they're sustained in a context of military and economic force. Any intransigent powers face punishment from other powers. We haven't banned nuclear weapons in any meaningful way. They still exist, and they still threaten us. The same logic doesn't apply to banning guns (or fossil powered militaries in general). If they were banned, then any intransigent power with a fossil military could easily fight off any attempts to punish it. And any power with just bows and arrows would be easy to overpower.

So I have some concerns about bows and arrows. But bows and arrows aren't the only alternative to a fossil powered military. I think the best alternative is Gene Sharpe's idea of Civilian Based Defense -- the use of large scale nonviolent resistance as a way to defend against invasion. The key idea is that while an invader might be able to put soldiers on the streets, they wouldn't get much further if enough people in the invaded nation refused to co-operate with them even in the face of violence.

Nonviolent defense doesn't get talked about much either. Largely because it feels too close to pacifism, impotent in the face of violence. It's easy to dismiss as obviously impractical without deeper investigation. But it has been put into practice, in more instances than the famous stands by Gandhi and King.

It has a good theoretical base. On an individual level, an armed person can kill or injure an unarmed person, but if an unarmed person chooses not to co-operate even in the face of threats, that's all they can do. And on an institutional level, large scale non-cooperation tends to break the complex, fragile systems that modern military conquest relies on.

It's also about as low tech as you could hope for. All it needs are trained people. Communication helps, but that could be carrier pigeons as much as social media.

Nonviolence defense sounds unrealistic. But then, as you say, so are bows and arrows. You're right that this is a discussion that we do need to have, but in the case of defense the better alternative isn't a direct substitute.



Dear Kris,

I apologise in advance for a long email, but I hope you are able to take the time to read it. I love your blog, and my partner and I have the book versions as well. I was just this morning reading your recent post ‘What if We replace Guns and Bullets with Bows and Arrows?’ I’m currently in my final year of a PhD. on war prevention so the post caught my attention. I don’t usually like writing in the comments, but I hope it is okay for me to write to you with some thoughts and a suggestion I have on this. I also want to be clear, these only pertain to the extent to which you discuss sustainable war, not weapons generally. Weapons have a wide range of uses (eg. hunting) and I have no issue (or knowledge) on those aspects of the post

There are three key parts to my thoughts:

* The least resource intensive weapons already are used in warfare and cause huge amounts of damage to the civilian population.
* You are overlooking a significant sustainability impact of war, which is the resource use required because of the weapons use.
* I think that you overlook the most sustainable alternative, which is not ‘greener’ weaponry.

The nature of war is to kill and harm. War pursues a logic of trying to cause as much destruction and hurt as possible, so that the opponent is unable or unwilling to continue. In a modern war, 90% of the casualties are civilians. Modern wars also do not often ‘end’ in a clear victory or defeat either, but are usually ended through a peace negotiation. This is possibly connected to the high civilian death rate— those suffering are not the ones able to end the war.

Yet this high death rate comes only in part from direct battle. Much of the harm caused is potentially ‘sustainable’, at least using the understanding you adopt in the post of a focus on the resources used to create weapons. This is because the spread of disease, cold and hunger do not need weapons per se, but just the destruction of the community’s infrastructure. This is both physical, such as roads, stores, farms, health clinics etc; as well as bureaucratic, for example, people flee and leave no staff to manage the department of health, or the port, or to take responsibility for sewer repairs. In this sense, hurt and destruction in war is spread not only through ‘direct’ violence, but also through the disintegration of the taken-for-granted, life-supporting systems that we all rely on.

With that context, the first thing I wanted to highlight is that in speaking about ‘sustainable’ weapons only from the perspective of ‘physical’ weapons, you ignore the huge harm caused by ‘sustainable’ (ie. low resource intensity) weapons currently (starvation, death through preventable disease, etc.). These take an enormous toll on civilian population (who are the predominant victims in modern war). I think that any discussion of modern warfare and the weapons it uses ought to address this.

The second point I wanted to raise is that you write only from the perspective of the resource intensity of the weapons creation and use. In doing so, you are ignoring perhaps the most significant sustainability impact war, the destruction it causes. This is particularly significant because it is also the intended impact of the weapon. Even the most sustainable weapon is designed to harm and destroy, and it will destroy things that need to be there. That is the point of weapons. They do not target the superfluous. This means that every time a weapon is used, there will need to be energy and resources put into repairing and re-building. This is all extra resource use, and ranges from hospital resources, to physical buildings to farms. What’s more, this repair may need to occur many time over because ‘re-builds’ during elongated conflict many be destroyed multiple times. It strikes me, that war cannot ever be sustainable, not because it is ‘unrealistic’ that militaries will use sustainably sourced weapons, but because the impacts of all warfare will necessarily demand extra resource use.

And this brings me to my final point, which is that when it comes to war, the real sustainability comparison is not bows and arrows vs. guns and bombs. The real comparison is war or not-war. Although it is not regularly spoken about, preventing war is entirely possible. Indeed it is the norm, both currently and historically. Anytime a war occurs, we should be viewing this as a policy decision, and one for which there were many alternatives.

So to be clear, my criticism is not that a low-tech weapons transition is ‘unrealistic’. You rightfully point out that weapons ban campaigns are often successful, and often successful despite military opposition. My criticism is that weapons transition is the wrong idea to be promoting. When it comes to war, the sustainable option is not to have war at all.

I know it isn’t really my place to ask, but I wondered if you would consider editing your blog post? To me, your blog post might be better to speak only about weapons (which have uses beyond war, such as hunting), and to avoid speaking about the sustainability of warfare. War and organised political violence is a very complicated area, and whilst there is a lot to say in relation to resource use and sustainability, the relationship is more complex than the post currently gives them credit for.

As I mentioned, how wars are avoided is the topic of my PhD. research, and it’s something I’m happy to speak to you about more (via zoom or email). What I would emphasise now though is that not-only is war prevention realistic, it is actually the norm.

I apologise for such a long email, I hope you don’t mind me writing to share my thoughts on this matter. As I mentioned earlier, I’d be happy to email more, or to call and speak.

Thanks again for your time,


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