I have a day off work. I decide to go to the local archery shop. It’s miles away and located in a barn on a country road, but thanks to sat nav and asking a stranger I get there. It’s not particularly busy and I spend an hour and twenty minutes chatting to the assistant. He’s ex-army and done 30 years of archery, and competed at regional level (one up from county level, one down from national.) He shows me the recurve bows, the flat bows, the long bows and the compound bows. What’s the difference? I’ve tried to encapsulate my understanding here:

Long bow – a bit of wood with a leather grasp, no shelf, not particularly accurate or easy to use or fast, but traditional and fun

Flat bow – like a longbow, but ergonomic hand grasp, and shelf for the arrow to sit on, not so fast or accurate, good for beginners, cheaper, doesn’t recurve

Recurve – has limbs that look like half-a-ski and which curve back in on themselves, limbs interchangeable so you can increase poundage over time, fast and accurate

Hunters bow – one piece of wood, like a flat bow, but does have recurve, and has a shelf

Compound – latest tech, all wheels and pulleys, not necessarily for a beginner, expensive, very fast and accurate, practically a machine

I got to shoot an Eagle flatbow and having not shot for a week was not very good, which was embarrassing. He taught me a little and I got better, but I didn’t like the flatbow and struggled to keep the arrow on it, although perhaps this is because my club’s recurve has a little rubber bit (don’t know the name for it) which keeps the arrow in place. Having warmed up a bit, though, when I got to shoot the longbow I did quite well and really enjoyed it.

But the real benefit here was that drawing back the bow I was shuddering a bit and he said not to pull with my arm, but shoulder, and the way to do this was to pretend you were elbowing someone in the face behind you, just sock it to them with the elbow. Focussing on the elbow going back totally changed my focus, made the motion fast and smooth, engaged my shoulders, and suddenly the string seemed lighter. I had learnt something new and valuable and it made the trip worthwhile just for that. But he taught me one more thing, which was to keep my fingers farther apart when shooting so as not to twang the string. How many times have I heard this now and I’m still getting it wrong?

Although he had started trying to sell me a flatbow, he could see I didn’t really get on with it but said not to get a longbow. No point paying £350 for one at 30# (that’s a pull weight of 30 lbs) only to need another one six months later when you’re strong and want 40# or 50#. Because longbows are made to your height and draw length, they’re not easy to sell, and you can’t adjust them to make the poundage heavier. But, on a recurve, you can replace the limbs relatively cheaply. He suggested the recurve might be good if you’re getting into competitions and want to hit your targets, plus you can put a sight on it when you want to and can try tech out with it. I started to think a recurve would be for me, and I’d move to longbow after a while when I was stronger and would know I was buying the right thing. I determined to speak to my coach about it.

After all that time, teaching and entertainment, I felt I wanted to buy something – so I bought the latest three editions of Bow International magazine. I’d wanted to read this magazine anyway, but hadn’t found it in my local newsagents.

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