Maybe I’d once fired a plastic sucker-ended arrow as a kid, I don’t know.
I don’t have any particular memory of having done so.
Here I was, standing in a field in a National Trust property in the summer of 2016, and for £2 I had purchased the right to shoot six arrows. I’d always wanted to try archery and here was the first time I would ever shoot an arrow. The target was a vaguely human-shaped dummy about 10 or 20 yards away (how to tell?).
I was given a bracer (a leather arm guard) and a longbow and my first arrow and quickly instructed on how to stand and shoot. The string struck my arm above where I’d placed the bracer and it left me with a bruise that lasted weeks and changed through various unhealthy greens and purples before eventually diminishing then vanishing. The arrow embedded itself in the mud not too far from me.
“That’s a forty pound longbow,” said the man who was part of the medieval re-enactment group for the day and who was instructing the archery. “Try this one, it’s about 30.” So, I’d been downgraded already because I wasn’t strong enough. At least I understood enough to understand he meant the poundage associated with drawing the string back. He then told me about medieval archers being trained from birth and pulling tremendous weights. I forget the details.
I was told not to hold the arrow, but I hadn’t realised the plastic clasp at the end of the arrow – the nock – would actually hold the end of the arrow on to the string without my securing it with my fingers.
The next shot, I managed not to ping my arm so badly, but the arrow fell away stupidly again. Third attempt and the same thing happened.
The instructor then explained again not to pinch the arrow itself and I learnt I could just pull on the string without touching the arrow. Seems obvious. He’d probably told me four times by this point. The trouble was, my understanding of archery didn’t extend to arrows that stayed stuck to the bow. Why would they? They didn’t in Robin Hood films. So, the arrow stayed positioned where it was nocked to the string. I pulled back on the string and released. This, as far as I was concerned, was my first real shot, since it was the first I had in any way executed correctly. I practically took the dummy’s head off. It hung limp and backwards, split at the neck. One of the re-enactment folk exclaimed, “You’ve taken its head off!” I had done well. I had aimed, I had hit the thing, and I’d hit it with force.
I suspect it was at that moment that I was hooked on archery, but perhaps I had always been and just hadn’t realised it. Who doesn’t love Robin Hood, after all? I remember reading Robin of Sherwood by Major Charles Gilson when I was about ten years old and I’ve never stopped loving the character. My next arrow hit the dummy in the heart. The next one was off slightly, hitting the shoulder. They seemed impressed with my first three “real” shots, and I certainly was.
It would be a while before I could capitalise on this newly discovered love of archery.