Blunt Arrowheads in Medieval Archery

There is no doubt that archery was big during medieval times. It was used in hunting, war, and as a recreational activity.

When it comes to medieval archery, several topics always seem to stir a discussion. One of them is the use of blunts.

While everyone agrees that blunt arrowheads were used, the question is more about how they were used.

So, let’s take a deeper look at their use.

The Use of Blunts in Medieval Archery

Most people believe that blunts were mainly used for recreation and hunting.

First of all, metal was not as cheap as it is now. So it made sense for people to use the much cheaper blunts for recreation, as opposed to metal arrowheads.

The other reason would be that pointed metal arrowheads are easier to lose. Unlike a blunt, a pointed arrowhead can bury itself under grass or the ground. It will be hard to find.

A blunt can barely penetrate through the grass and the ground. It will most likely land on top.

When it comes to hunting, especially small game, blunts make much more sense. A blunt arrowhead will stop the animal or kill it (blunt force trauma) ”neatly”. A sharp arrow will go through the animal, making a mess and damaging its pelt.

But apparently, these are not the only explanations for the use of blunt arrowheads.

Read on.

A Theory About Another Use of Blunts in Medieval Archery

Over time, different people have talked about the use of blunt arrowheads back in the day. And so you may see various theories out there.

But this one is a little more interesting.

Mark Wheatley was researching something about medieval archery and his findings directed him to the use of blunts.

He is an archer, re-enactor, and metal detector.

Mark dove deeper into learning more about archery in medieval times. And he found answers to a few of his questions. But his research also brought up new questions.

As a metal detector, he started searching for metal arrow heads. After all, they are the only metallic part of the weapon.

He had noticed that, although the use of archery for military purposes was widespread, finding these metal heads is rare. It is even more so on grounds where people shot arrows for practice and recreation.

Most of the ancient arrowheads that have been found so far were in places where there was military activity.

This raised questions.

Any archer will tell you that losing arrowheads is quite common, especially with military longbows. And when one is lost, they go to great lengths to look for it.

Now imagine how important it was for an archer to find a lost arrowhead several centuries ago. And remember that metal was more expensive back then.

One could argue that ancient arrowheads are hard to find because archers put more effort into finding lost arrows. They wouldn’t give up easily.

But again, there is no way they could have accounted for every arrowhead. If military archery was as widespread as people believe it was, then more arrowheads should have been lost.

To make sure he was looking hard enough, Mark Wheatley contacted more of his friends in the metal detecting community. He asked them to let him know if they found something. But they found nothing.

How come metal arrowheads are that hard to find? This is something that was widely used.

The fact that archers made great efforts to retrieve lost heads does not quite answer the question.

Mark argues that everything always turns up: things of equal or more value. You see coins in gold and silver, buckles, elaborate broaches, knife blades, and seals.

Why not metal arrowheads?

So Mark started questioning their use. What if they were only used for military application? Many of them are being found where there was military activity or the places that were areas of production.

However, this raises yet another question. If the archers were not practicing using metal arrowheads, how did they become proficient?

They had to practice somehow. It is also safe to say that they used a military bow for practice. And, therefore, they would have needed an arrow suitable for that bow during practice.

This caused Mark to go back to contemporary manuscripts and illuminations. He was looking specifically at the period that archery was used in a military context. This time, he wanted to focus on the use of blunt arrowheads.

As discussed above, many people believe that blunts were used for small game. If you have been reading about medieval archery, you may have also come across the term “practice blunts”. Many took this to mean that the medieval man used them for plinking.

There is no way they would have been a substitute for proper military arrows, right? That would have been the same as saying that you can substitute live rounds with blank ammunition.

But what if the archers used them to practice so they didn’t have to use military arrows? Could this have been the case?

If this were true, the blunt arrows would need to have the same characteristics as a military arrow. This would make it possible for the blunt to be shot using a proper military bow.

The obvious starting point for Mark was the Luttrell Psalter. It is one of the most instantly recognized medieval portrayals of archery from the period in question. This, and more images found by David Pim, showed that the use of blunts was probably more common than many people thought.

A few may argue that blunts can’t be as effective as military arrows. At least not effective enough to be used as substitutes.

Some will say that the blunt heads are too heavy or aerodynamically inefficient for the role. It would be tough to beat 100 yards. However, these are just claims without evidence because no one had actually tried.

Mark Wheatley, Ian Coote, and Joe Gibbs from the English War Bow Society decided to conduct a test. The initial results showed that a well-designed blunt head on a 0.5-inch, fully tapered arrow shaft will perform well when shot from a 170-lb Italian yew self-bow.

The result wouldn’t be very different from that of a livery type arrow like the ones on the Mary Rose.

In July 2013, Joe shot six livery type arrows from the bow. They landed in two close groups of three, about ten yards apart. A following blunt arrow, shot immediately after, showed it landing between the two groups on collecting.

In the future, Mark hopes to discuss how he developed the blunt heads to work effectively. He initially thought that this was simply a case of turning up heads and shooting them from a suitable bow.

But it turns out that the process was more complex for him to achieve suitable results to vindicate his theory.

Now the main task is to prove that a blunt arrow can shoot as far as a metal-tipped arrow. Once this is achieved, it will be reasonable to assume that a blunt and a metal arrowhead have similar characteristics (kinetic energy, initial velocity, etc.).

It will also support the theory that blunts may have been used as viable alternatives to metal arrowheads.

This, however, is not a conclusive explanation for the lack of finds. It is more of a possible explanation as to why metal arrowheads are rarely found where there wasn’t military activity.

It also brings to light some more reasons why they may have been used. These may include:

Manufacturing costs: it is cheaper to produce blunts compared to metal arrowheads.

Reduced risk: archers wouldn’t be a threat to those in power if metal-tipped arrows were only issued in times of military necessity.

The French never really adopted the bow. And many believe that it is because they never trusted the peasant class to have such a potent weapon. Bear in mind that for them to become proficient archers, they would need to have the weapon at all times.

Blunt arrows are easy to find: we have discussed this above. Blunts don’t bury themselves under the ground or vegetation. They are also less likely to break if you shoot them on stony ground.

Conclusion

The use of blunt arrowheads appears to have been more common during the medieval era than people thought. But people did not just use them for hunting small game and recreation.

What if they are the reason why metal arrowheads are so hard to find in areas where there wasn’t military activity? Is it possible that the medieval man used them to practice? This is a theory worth exploring.