Ever wondered if arrows could be traced to the scene of a crime? You may have watched a Hollywood crime drama and wondered if they could do the same thing in real life. Most people know how ballistics experts can trace bullets to solve murders.
Are arrows traceable? Because of serial numbers imprinted on the arrows, most can be traced back to a suspect. Combined with other evidence like possible transfer of paint, materials or coatings to the bow and arrow, investigators could use this as evidence to link a suspect to a crime.
If you’d like to learn more about how crime scene investigators might trace an arrow to a crime, keep reading because we will explore this topic in depth.
By no means should anyone ever consider using a bow and arrow for a crime, and in fact, I will point out why it would be a terrible idea soon. Hopefully no one is even thinking of such things and simply wants to learn about it due to curiosity from seeing crime drama TV shows.
Traceable: The Modern World
In the past, tracing an arrow may have proven more difficult because we didn’t have the technologies. Today’s arrows, as a retired sheriff said, carry serial numbers etched on them for a purpose. Provided you recovered the arrow, you could trace it back to the store where it was purchased because of the serial numbers.
The store would proceed to show receipts of the person who bought the arrow and possibly trace it back to a credit card. If lucky enough, investigators may have evidence of the crime scene with video footage to show that that person purchased the arrows. This form of tracing ranks as one of the most common ways that you would trace an arrow, but you have other methods as well to show further evidence.
Let’s even give you a real-world example of where they used the serial numbers to prove a murder. Back in 1982 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a cop shot and killed a woman with a crossbow. Jimmie Dean Stohler was convicted of the first-degree murder of Michele Rae Powers.
Incarcerated since 1985, investigators pulled the serial number off the arrow and traced it to the store and person who bought it. This example of abuse from police became an embarrassment to the Tulsa Police Department. While they never recovered the crossbow, the evidence from the serial number on the arrow proved critical to pinpointing the murderer and giving him a life sentence with parole.
Stohler was recently released on parole after serving over 40 years in prison. As you can see, shooting with a bow and arrow or a crossbow wouldn’t make it impossible to trace the person behind the weapon.
Tracing Arrows for Other Crimes
We talked about how to trace arrows for murders, but they would use the same technique for other types of crimes too. For example, let’s say that someone drove past and shot your cow with a bow and arrow. Using the serial numbers on the arrow, they could still have a good chance of identifying the person who shot the arrow and bringing them to justice.
Important to note: Not all arrows have serial numbers on them, but most arrow brands today will use serial numbers.
Other Ways Investigators Solve Arrow Crimes
Some of the other factors that investigators might use besides tracing an arrow to solve a crime would be things like:
- Arrow diameter
- Time of shooting
- Trajectory and distance
- Arrow material
- String material
By themselves, none of these things could determine the shooter, but it could combine with other evidence to make it easier to pinpoint the perpetrator. None of this would be fool-proof by itself, but in conjunction with the evidence of a serial number, which will trace the arrow back to the store where it was purchased, you could prove innocence or guilt in a case. Nowadays, many hunters use game cameras, which could show further evidence.
Whisker Biscuits Leave Evidence
Someone who uses a whisker biscuit to take shots would leave tiny scratches on the arrow shaft. Believe it or not, this minor detail could be used by investigators to learn more about the suspect. Especially if they saw someone else who used a bow with a whisker biscuit, this could lead to further questioning.
Where is the Serial Number on an Arrow?
Most reputable brands understand how criminals may seek out the serial number to destroy it. You can find it embedded on the shaft, but it is barely visible to the naked eye in most cases, and you may need to hold it in a particular way like not in direct sunlight. Arrows are traceable because of the serial number, which investigators would use first, but they could use other things as well.
Destroying the serial number on an arrow would also be next to impossible since it is embedded in the shaft.
Ballistics with Bows: Where It Differs from Guns
Unlike with guns, you can’t pinpoint what particular bow shot an arrow in most cases. You would need paint to scrape off from the arrow onto the bow or the opposite, and in most cases, this evidence is paper thin in court. It wouldn’t hold up without other evidence to back it up for obvious reasons. Combined with other evidence, however, it could be used to strengthen a case against someone who committed a crime with a bow and arrow.
The strongest evidence in cases with a bow and arrow would be the serial number found on the arrow at the crime scene. Investigators may also take partial fingerprints to see if they could get a match. Again, none of this could give conclusive evidence, but in combination with other factors, it would go against the perpetrator.
Most of the evidence like this won’t necessarily prove a case, but it will reinforce it against a suspect. For example, if they found a shoe print in the mud at the crime scene, as many of these crimes happen out in the wilderness, they would use this as additional evidence against the perpetrator. Combine it with other evidence, and the case against someone becomes more compelling.
What if You Bought Used Arrows from Someone?
In most cases, this would hardly prove a problem because most bowhunters and archers don’t want used arrows. New arrows also don’t cost enough to where they would buy used. They would buy new arrows because shooting a damaged arrow can prove deadly. In fact, I wrote about the dangers of using damaged arrows here.
Theoretically, if someone were to shoot a used arrow from a bow to commit a crime, investigators would ask questions, and that would lead them to the other suspect who told them that they sold the arrow to someone else.
Trained interrogators have ways of learning things, and they could use this information to eventually find the truth. For example, they might look for evidence of an ad, whether online or offline of someone selling used arrows. If it was sold without this evidence, they would look for other ways to prove a case through questioning the suspects.
Why an Arrow Would Make a Terrible Weapon for a Crime
Arrows wouldn’t make a good weapon against someone for all the reasons outlined above, but you have another key reason to avoid using arrows in a crime. That is to say, someone shot with an arrow will rarely die immediately. They may not even die particularly quickly, which leaves them with plenty of time to attack or point out the murder suspect and make a lot of noise. The other danger is that the perpetrator would miss their target.
If an arrow struck a major artery, the person might bleed out, but it would take several minutes. It doesn’t happen like how they show in Hollywood. Hunters who have gone deer hunting know more the reality of what happens when you shoot a deer. Even a headshot doesn’t necessarily kill a deer, and there have been cases where people shot in the head with an arrow didn’t die either.
While bullets kill from high-energy impact that crushes bone and tissue, an arrow kills from cutting tissues and causing the person to bleed out. This doesn’t happen quickly in most cases.
Arrows are traceable, but you can’t trace them in the same way that you would trace a bullet through a ballistic signature. In many cases, it would yield less evidence in this regard, but it would still show a lot of evidence due to the fact that the person would rarely die instantly, and they can track arrows from the serial number.
Combined with other evidence, this knowledge can make it easier to pinpoint a suspect, and as pointed out above, people have been arrested and charged because they traced them through the serial number.
All of this article is written to show the silliness of crime-scene drama TV shows, and hopefully stop anyone from thinking that they could commit a crime in this way and get away with it. In many cases, the evidence from an arrow will prove even more than other weapons.
If you’d like to learn how long it takes to die from an arrow, check out the article that I wrote on that topic here.