Mongol Bow

The Mongol bow is a category of recurve bows that were traditionally used while mounted on horseback. Mongolian archers were some of the most skilled and feared in all of history, and their bows were a big part of that. Mongol bows are shorter than other types of bows, which made them more maneuverable and easier to carry. This powerful and feared weapon was a key part of the Mongol Empire’s vast conquests. The Mongol bow is a composite bow, meaning it is made from multiple materials (usually wood, horn, sinew, and hide) that are laminated together.

The sinew comes only from the hind legs of long-legged animals such as the horse, because the hind legs are more powerful. The fish glue makes it strong and flexible. 13th century bows were said to be able to shoot 700-800 meters accurately.

Dr. Antonio Graceffo

 Mongolian composite bows are strongly recurved and cannot be strung by one person without risk of damage. The great amount of potential energy stored in the bow limbs when strung gives the bow greater long-range ability than many other styles of bow. This construction makes the Mongol bow very strong and resilient, and able to withstand the rigors of combat. The Mongol bow was a key factor in the Mongol Empire’s vast conquests. The mounted archer became a symbol of Mongolian power. At its peak, the Mongol Empire stretched from China to Europe! –

image: Bernd Thaller

European battle bows were said to only reach 200-300 meters at that time. In 1230 there was a battle in Poland, where a Mongol army, led by Ogedei, the third son of Genghis Khan, the second Great Khan, defeated an army four to five times their size due to the greater range of their bows.  

(Dr. Antonio Greceffo)

While the Mongol bow is a special weapon. The technique used to fire it cannot be overlooked. Mongol archers use a thumb release, also known as a Mongolian release. In this technique, the thumb is used to pull the bowstring. This is a contrast to the wider known three-fingered Mediterranean draw. In the three-fingered draw, the forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger pull on the string. The arrow nock is held between the forefinger and the middle finger. While the 3 fingered pull is seen more often in modern international competition. The thumb draw was widely seen in many archery styles of East Asia. Since the thumb is the strongest finger, a thumb draw makes sense. For a mounted right-handed shooter, the arrow would often rest on the right side of the bow. However, some would still let the arrow rest on the left side. When using a Mongol style, the nock of the arrow rested between the thumb and the forefinger. This provides several advantages to the mounted archer. First, it allows for a much quicker nocking and drawing of the string than the fingered draw. Second, it puts less strain on the muscles of the arm and shoulder, meaning that Mongolian archers could fire their bows for longer periods of time without tiring. Finally, it gives more control over the arrow on the string. the grip of the hand on the arrow prevents the arrow point from bouncing around or falling off the bow while on a galloping horse.

In modern Mongol archery, the arrow shaft can sometimes be seen resting on the left side of the bow. This is perhaps used to increase accuracy when standing since the speed of release isn’t as important as It might be in mounted combat.

When you use the thumb draw, you can shoot several different arrow spines, and you can drawback further without worrying that the string will slap you. It is also easier for your forearm and wrist, and you don’t need to worry about finger pinch. You can shoot it from different directions because it is less restrictive. It allows faster arrow speed and a clean release.   


The thumb ring is a key part of the Mongolian thumb draw. The thumb ring is worn on the string hand (the hand that pulls the string) and is used to help distribute the pressure of the bowstring evenly across the thumb. This helps prevent injury to the thumb and makes it easier to hold the string for a longer period of time. While generally made of brass, copper, or leather, these thumb rings are available in a myriad of materials and designs. Some are simple and fairly plain, while others are ornate and decorated with symbols of good luck or power, or personally engraved. No matter the design, all thumb rings serve the same purpose – to help make the Mongolian thumb draw possible.

and the thumb ring helps distribute the pressure of the bowstring evenly across the thumb. They come in an array of materials styled and are sometimes engraved.

The Mongol bow is a well-designed weapon for warfare, hunting, and sport. It has a long decorated history and is sought after by many bow collectors. Its long range, as well as its history, makes it special among the various styles of bows available.  Perhaps most of all, it is tied to the heritage of one of the most dominant empires in world history.

image: Bernd Thaller

featured image: Bernd Thaller Mongolian Archer

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