Archaeology of Archery

A friend with an interest in lithics leant me this book by Alf Webb.

It looks at various types of early bows, their creation, and then arrows, arrowheads, release techniques, and archery accessories.

I found a number of interesting anecdotes, but the development of early archery (including a discussion of pyking early recurve bows) was an interesting topic in itself.

It’s a short book and certainly satisfied my desire to learn a little something about early archery, such as where self bows used to snap or the construction of longbows in 3000BC.


Renewed optimism

Another night in a garden shooting a boss, this time with all my new arrows.

Some of the points had been badly machined and didn’t fit the 5/16″ taper but I was given replacements, no problem, by the seller in our club. So, now I have 11 arrows that are cut to fly straight for me, and with bright orange fletching and nocks I’ll be able to find them (although we’re going indoors soon at the club as the nights have drawn in fast). (The twelfth arrow was the very weak bareshaft one I broke before we cut any down, it just vibrated and snapped.) 

I’d taken a pair of scissors to my tab. I shoot 3 fingers under but my release has always been bad, twanging the arrow, etc. Partly this is from over-extending, but I always felt the tab was sabotaging me, but didn’t want to fall into that old thing of a bad workman blaming his tools. Anyway, when my friend/coach realised there was too much leather and I bunched it up between the pads of my hand and the string, he said that was wrong. I did this so the tab only just came past the string, to reduce flappiness (you know what I mean) but this left a load of wasted leather bunched up in my hand. Anyway, I cut it down and suddenly things are a lot better. After an hour and a half shooting, I could lock my anchor, pause to focus the shot, then release and I could feel the release was clean and the arrow would go where I shot it. Incredible feeling.

My friend stuck an A5 sheet of paper on the boss’s centre and I aimed for that. At the start of the night I had two of eleven arrows in it, if I was lucky, and the rest were spread out. By the end of the night I’d have all but four in it, and the four errant ones would still be close. Even I could see the significant improvement in my grouping. 

He did something else, too. I had a little brass nocking point that was put on by the shopkeeper when I bought the bow. He did it by sight. My friend took it off, used a bracing tool to measure where it should be (it was a little low) and then made a new one using thread, which he waxed, tied round the string a few times, and then lit with a lighter to solidify it and burn off stray ends. But he also gave me a second nocking point just below it to help avoid those odd occasions when the arrow might slip. I learnt to hold my drawing fingers together and wedged right under the lower nocking point. It made a difference alright!

Winter is coming (where have I heard that phrase before?) and I’m looking forward to going indoors and shooting without the inevitable ‘lost arrow’ delays, plus hoping for some more coaching during that time. I feel that now I have the equipment set right, it’s going to be easier to improve myself. (And I know the equipment is right not just because of the effect on my own shooting, but because at the end of the night my friend had a go and placed 6 of my arrows together in the centre of the boss within a diameter about the size of a tennis ball.)

Feeling: renewed optimism. 

Bareshaft Tuning 

Instead of going to the field for a session, I went instead to a friend’s garden to shoot.

Ostensibly, we were going to do bareshaft tuning with the twelve cedar shafts I’d bought. I got them from a guy at the club who told me they we 40/41 spines, which should mean they’re more consistent with each other than the 40/45 bundling offered by most local archery shops.

Now, obviously my shooting isn’t consistent enough to really make true bareshaft tuning work properly, but what we did do was shoot a couple of bareshafts and prove they were weak and see how they went. Couple of mishaps: lost a point that wasn’t screwed on tight enough in the boss and snapped a weak bareshaft.

We trimmed back the bareshaft, shooting it multiple times, until it was angled just slightly with the nock to the left of the point, meaning just a tad weak. Once this was happening consistently, we cut down three arrows to this length and seeing they were flying consistently well and only slightly weak, we fletched two. 

We shot the fletched couple alongside a bareshaft and the fetched ones flew totally straight, having the slight weakness righted by the feathers.

So, not exactly arrow-by-arrow bareshaft tuning, but the result is my now having arrows that are well-suited to me and my bow, and shot repeatedly enough to know that when I shoot them well, they’re spot on, they’re straight. Which is a huge step up from shop bought ones.

Unfortunately, some of the points I was given were a tiny bit slimmer than the others, so it’ll be a few days before I have the full compliment of arrows, but meanwhile should soon have 7 to work with, which is better than the mixed bag of 2 remaining greens and 3 remaining yellows which is just the disastrous end of the shop-bought ones.

(As for the twelve arrows that I’d bought for the countywide tournament recently, which I sent back to the shop for flying 20 yards off to the left every time – I did eventually get my money back on those, although not the postage, but you can’t have everything.)

I leant more about making arrows tonight too. 

Step 1 – use a taper tool (glorified pencil sharpener) to make an end for the nock

Step 2 – identify the grain pattern (rift) on the shaft to determine the rotation of the nock, the rift should be on top and pointing to what will be the pointy end. 

Step 3 – add cement to tapered shaft, insert and orient the nock (outside edge of nock in line with the grain pattern) 

Step 4 – next, sharpen/taper the point’s end

Step 5 – screw on point with pliers, later to be superglued on. 

I also got to watch the fletching being done on a ¬£30 Bearpaw jig. 

Steps: insert arrow in jig, clamp feather, superglue length of feather, put clamp in jig, lower clamp so feather attaches to shaft, spray with activator. When all 3 done, put a bit of superglue on end of each fletching and smooth to help prevent feather coming off in grass.

We decided there was no point me worrying about using Danish oil on the shafts because I’ll probably have smashed them all before I know it. 

He explained that he uses wraps to crest his own carbon arrows because if the fletching gets damaged you can remove a wrap from a carbon arrow and then re-crest and re-fletch. This wouldn’t work with a wooden arrow.

So, I ended up with a few good arrows. I’d bought bright orange nocks and bright orange fletching. I figure I’ll spend less time hunting in the grass this way. All 3 feathers are orange. I’d thought of buying a different colour for the index vane / cockfeather but he pointed out there’s no need. I hadn’t thought about it before, but there’s only two ways a nock will clip on to the string and only one way that looks remotely right, so the index feather is of limited help really. And actually, if everyone else uses one, not having one just makes it all the easier to identify your arrows.

I’d known to buy parabolic, left wing, 3″ goose feathers from Merlin. This is what his jig was set for, so made things quick and simple. Not sure what’s involved in that initial set-up if I were to buy my own jig! 

The ‘bareshaft tuning’ also showed up the inconsistency in my shooting and, with a bit of tuition, I could see how often I was overextending my draw, or as I called it: pinging the arrow. I was told my drawing hand was doing too much. It needs to be simple, and it needs to lock into place. Simple mistakes, simple fixes. Things got better quickly. I’ve known for a while my release was bad, but this short-range shooting made it really easy to see where it was going wrong and how to fix it. The feel and sound of a good release and solid impact are very different to the twang and shudder of a bad one. I wish I had space for a boss in my own garden!

All in all, an informative night, and quite enthralling from my viewpoint. Injected some excitement – as having mixed arrows and a bad experience buying new ones was a bit of a downer. Making my own is within my grasp now!