Every once in a while, we ask questions and wonder about things in the world. Perhaps you have thought to yourself about if you were hit by an arrow how long it would take to die from it. In the movies, they show it as an instant death. Does that have any basis in reality?
How long does it take to die from an arrow? How long it takes to die from an arrow depends on where you were hit, but you rarely die instantly. Instant death only happens if you were shot in the heart. The greatest danger comes from severing an artery, which could kill you in seven minutes.
If you’d like to learn more about arrows and how fast they can kill, we will explore the subject further in the coming article.
Why Does a Heart Shot Lead to Instant Death?
An arrow shot through the heart would cause a giant hole, and at worst, it would shred the heart. Everything depends on the heart. You may not die instantly, but this marks as close to instant death as what it gets. Blood would pour from the aorta and blood pressure would drop to where you lose consciousness quickly because your brain can’t keep oxygen.
Arrows that injure the heart mean no heartbeat. What is the sign of life? The heartbeat is the sign and without that, you would die quickly. You could survive an injury to the heart with an arrow, but the chances are extremely low. In one example, Donald Morehouse, a Korean War veteran was shot through the heart by a firearm and didn’t learn of it until his bypass surgery. It could happen with an arrow, but the likelihood is extremely low like getting shot in the heart with a bullet. The chances of dying within a minute or less are more likely.
How Long Do You Have if the Arrow Severs a Major Vein?
If the arrow severs a major vein in the body, your death would come from bleeding out. You would lose consciousness and die within five to seven minutes. Here’s why: Arrows are low-velocity projectiles. They only injure the immediate area. Bullets fired from a firearm, on the other hand, will send shrapnel pierces scattering throughout the body, causing damage everywhere.
An arrow that hits you in this way would kill you, but it wouldn’t kill you right away. Don’t look to Hollywood to get medical facts. Arrows usually kill from hemorrhaging. Anyone who has hunted whitetail or other big game knows the game rarely dies right away after an arrow strike. You often wind up following a blood trail where the animal bleeds to death.
To be clear, arrows can kill, but you shouldn’t expect them to kill quickly.
Example from Papua New Guinea
We can look to Papua New Guinea where medical work even in the 1970s involved feuds that tribes settled with violence and the traditional bow and arrow. What many doctors reported was how the arrows in and of themselves rarely killed a person. They could kill, but the key danger from arrows came from how it disabled the warrior from the fight. They couldn’t run away or fight back, and this would lead to someone coming in and finishing them off with an axe.
In medieval battles, archers weren’t intended as people to mow down the enemy. Instead, they were supposed to take you out of the immediate battle. You couldn’t move too much from the arrow injury because this would cause greater pain, and you could potentially bleed out faster or worsen your wounds.
Historic Truths: Arrows were rarely meant to kill on the battlefield, but they were intended to stop the soldiers from fighting well. Injure them enough to take them out of the battle.
Factors to Determine How Fast You Die from an Arrow
You have two main factors that determine how fast you would die from taking an arrow:
- Location of the arrow
- How much damage was sustained
You can’t say how fast you would die from an arrow without looking at the location of the injury. An arrow that severs a major artery will kill within five to seven minutes. The other thing is that an arrow that hits a major organ will likely kill, but it doesn’t kill instantly. It depends on the damage sustained from the arrow. In some cases, it might shut down the organ quickly, which would lead to other organs shutting down.
Headshots: Not What You Think
Video games praise headshots as the perfect kill shot, and you receive extra points for it. That doesn’t translate well in reality. In some cases with an arrow, headshots don’t even kill. Many whitetail hunters respect deer too much to shoot it in the head. Here’s the problem: The deer often doesn’t die right away. You have pictures of deer with arrows sticking out of their head, and in some cases, they even survived that way.
If you were to die from a headshot with an arrow, the death would come from brain swelling or hemorrhaging, but you probably wouldn’t die right away. Don’t believe Hollywood. Even snipers don’t shoot for the head. They aim for the upper body mass because the head can prove a difficult shot. It’s smaller with a smaller brain, and it moves around more than the body. This isn’t practical.
The same could be said for hunters who shoot for deer. Many won’t shoot for the head because it doesn’t kill them right away, and it’s a cruel way to die. The body near the lungs, in comparison, is the ideal place to shoot for deer as a hunter.
Medical Attention Slows Death
All of this considers how if you received no medical attention from a shot, you would die within that allotted timeframe. You could improve your timeframe or even survive if you receive expert medical care. Having a major organ hit could still cause death, but you’d improve your chances of survival with modern medical attention.
If hit with an arrow, you would want to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Arrows kill mostly from hemorrhaging with the severed veins. You could even die from an arrow that punches through your forearm if it severed a critical artery. In some cases, people have survived an arrow several hours later.
How Arrows Cause Death
You have to lose an estimated 33 percent of your blood to die from hemorrhaging. This means that the death time will vary based on how fast you lose blood. You have an estimated 1 oz of blood for every pound of body weight. An arrow can kill by cutting vital tissue or severely damaging a critical organ.
Despite the talk of arrows killing differently and people surviving them, you shouldn’t think of them as safe either. Arrows can still kill. You have people in bowfishing who have died when the arrow came flying back at them because the fishing line tangled in the string.
Expert Bowfishing Tip: If you decide to go bowfishing, you should never go without a bowfishing safety slide. This protects you from having the arrow come flying back at you.
How fast you die from an arrow depends on where you get hit. If you sever a major artery, it can take five to seven minutes. Arrows rarely bring about an instantaneous death unless shot through the heart, where you died within a minute or less. Arrows kill from blood loss, which takes time. In some cases, it can take several hours before you die from blood loss.