Session 19, 20 and field shoot

The nights draw in and the drizzle starts. Had just enough time on these last two outdoor club nights to try the 252 at 40 yards and fail miserably.

However, we had a good Saturday shooting in the field which made up for it. Broke one of my new arrows though. Next time I’m buying carbons.

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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!

Tournament Day

The day before the countywide tournament I had entered, I decided to go to a local archery shop and get some new arrows. It was last thing, after work, and obviously I wouldn’t get to use them until the 6 sighters (practice shots) at the tournament. No sane archer would do that, of course, but having bought two sets of almost identical arrows at my nearest store I couldn’t really see it would be a problem, and as I was down to 5 arrows with green fletching and 3 with yellow fletching, I thought it’d be nice to have one matching set for the competition.

I went to the new store and said exactly what I normally say, basically: “I have an Oak Ridge Ash of 40lb at 28″ but I have a 27″ draw length.” The young lad decided I needed 40/45 shafts with 100g field tips and cut it to 28″. I accepted this wisdom and chatted to the other shop attendant about jigs and fletching.

I bought the arrows (£80 for 12) and noticed they sold bow stands. Having failed twice to make a decent one, I thought I’d buy one. I did. It’s great. Such a relief to finally have one. Here it is holding my bow at the tournament. 

Except the point came out the first time I pulled it out of the ground. Since then, I’ve fixed this with some Araldite, but this was to be the least of my problems.

So, on the day of the tournament, I was on site at 9am and helping to set out the perimeter rope, the targets, and latterly the tables and chairs in the function room. It didn’t actually take long. Everyone worked together well and efficiently, as a good club should. I was filled with optimism.

People turned up, about 80 archers and many more attendees, and we all got started. 

I shot my six sighters with the new arrows. 

I was shooting at target 11. The arrows flew towards target 9.

I shot at target 13. The arrows landed near target 11.

They were, if I have this right, way too stiff and were flying wildly off to the left. Adjusting massively simply wasn’t a good option. My six sighters were wasted. I went back to my five green arrows and extra yellow one for the start of the competition and, sure enough, they flew straight. 
Now, I’d only shot at 60 yards on two nights last week as preparation, so I was never going to be great, but as the arrows fell on or around the 60 yard target I at least knew I was in the right ball park, so to speak. Unfortunately, I always missed with the yellow arrow, which was marginally different to the green ones. And then I lost a green one for four ends. So I had two yellow arrows that I always missed with.

So, I was effectively one or two arrows down, and missing plenty of shots anyway. But mostly I was just annoyed about spending money on arrows that were no use and placing my trust in the kid serving me who I felt at the time (hindsight being a wonderful thing) wasn’t really paying much attention or wasn’t sure what he was doing. And this annoyance certainly affected my shooting, although, in truth, not my enjoyment of the day. The sun was shining, people were in a good mood, and I was here to learn what it was all about, not to win or worry about my score. This was the last competition in the tournament (and the one hosted by my club) and it meant that I got to try out this sort of competition surrounded by friends and without any worry. Next year, hopefully, I’ll be able to join in more county shoots without any anxiety about what’s expected of me (in terms of how to behave, timing of shooting, who to speak to, order of shooting, how much cash to bring, etc.). In fact, it was a very relaxed environment. And I stayed until 7.30pm to help with all the clearing up and returning equipment to the usual club lock up.

How did I actually do? (I’ll put aside all the comments about having fun and new experiences.) I shot a ‘national’ round with a bare bow, so that was 8 ends of six arrows at 60 yards then 4 ends at 50 yards. I was awful at sixty. Excuses: mixed arrows and thrown emotionally by my bad purchase, plus only one week’s practice at 60 yards. But I was better at 50 yards and, on the last end, only missed with the yellow arrow. That said, this picture here  was my first shot at the 50… I hadn’t compensated for the lost 10 yards at all!

I scored 101, a fairly pitiful result, although some beginners scored around the thirty mark which makes it less bad, sort of. The worst ever was a mere 8. This year, the winner of my category scored around the 440 mark, so I need to quadruple my score if I want to win one day! If I missed less, this actually wouldn’t be too difficult. I missed on no less than 43 of my shots. That’s 43 arrows that didn’t hit the boss, or if they did they landed right on the edge. I can definitely improve on that with better arrows, a better mindset due to better preparation and having working equipment, and some practice at this distance. (It’s a far cry from the ~30 yard field stuff I’ve been concentrating on.)

Warts and all.

It was a real beginner’s experience. I loved it.

I’ve written to the shop about the arrows. I’ll let you know the result.

But a good thing has come out of that. I’ve been invited to get some bareshafts and try making my own arrows with a really experienced archer. This could be the first step towards me making my own.

New Toys

A jaunt down to the archery shop and I’ve got myself a Gomby long arm guard and a Buck Trail glove. These should do the trick for the meantime… the arm guard should help my butchered left arm repair itself, and the glove should, with luck, resolve the problems I’ve been having with the tab.

Also got myself a few replacement arrows. Different colour fletching to the ones I have, but when you’re buying £5 arrows without notice I guess you just take what you can get. The rate I’m going through them, I’ll need new ones in a month anyway. 

I asked about cresting and was told the best masking tape to use is Frogtape, which is what I had been using, so that was good. I asked how to get the edges sharper and was told this was done by covering them with a thin line made using a pen, like this one:

And the trick to getting those covering/border lines to look sharp is to attach the pen to something fixed, like a workbench, then rotate the arrow when in contact with the pen nib. The way to stop it wobbling is to make sure the arrow point is touching something steady as you rotate the arrow.

To anyone with any crafting skill this might seem like an obvious solution, but I’m not that person, and pleased with having learnt something.

I was also advised that I could using sanding sealer on the arrow, to clog the pores before applying varnish to finish it off, or Danish oil.

Eventually, I’ll try these things.

Now to read the latest Bow International magazine, which I also picked up. No archery today, next session is tomorrow.

My bow

The worst thing about being a beginner is: the cack-handedness you display in front of a professional when testing a bow you’re completely unfamiliar with, in a range that’s shorter than you’re familiar with. Like, in the shop where you’re buying your first bow.

Good news, though. I can ditch the club’s 26lb recurve and dodgy arrows, as I now have my own. 

So, I went to the shop and already knew what bow I wanted. More on this later. I tried it out with some arrows and shot pretty badly. As I said, bit of an unusual high pressure situation compared to usual, and a poundage much higher than I was used to. It didn’t help that the three finger (not split) tab only arrived this morning so it was literally the first time I’d used it and, I realise tonight, I wasn’t holding it optimally as it’s slightly too long in the finger for me. I might need to cut it back. 

I then held a measuring arrow in place a couple of times and determined a draw length of 27″, and then tried again with a very light bow and it was the same. Interesting to learn this about myself. It’s a bit weird thinking if I hadn’t taken up archery I’d never have learnt my draw length. It’d be like going through life and never knowing your shoe size, or something. 

I then chose some cheap wooden arrows. £5 a pop and I asked for field tips. I bought 12.

I also got some blue Goblin Snot, which is paint for cresting the arrows, with a view to having a go at that. I wanted to personalise them just enough to identify them as mine. My thinking was, if I make a mess of it then, well, who cares? They’re my first set, pretty cheap and I can chalk it up to experience.

I also bought a leather quiver which can be worn on the hip or back and a matching leather bracer. To some extent these are fashion accessories, since cheap plastic and nylon alternatives are readily available and perfectly functional, but… what can I say? They look great. 


Of course, I also had to buy some wax for the bow string, a bag for my bow and a stringer. I had prepared a shopping list and it included a bow hand glove but I was advised this was unnecessary because the bow had a shelf. Of course, the new shape of the bow meant I held it incorrectly and a vane caught my knuckle and sliced a cut in it. I won’t even go into the forearm bruise I have from shooting without an arm bracer under these circumstances!

It was a successful trip and I’m delighted with the bow and the gear. Anyway, back to the bow. To save me the effort of coming up with my own, here’s a description from the Merlin website:

One piece 64″ hybrid bow available from 25lbs to 60lbs increasing by 5lbs with a 7″ brace height. The riser is made of dymond wood with maple limbs and black fiberglass. Comes with a Flemish Dyneema bowstring. The shelf and rest plate are included.

I took a not very good picture, but here it is:

It’s a hybrid longbow, enjoying a shelf and slight reflex-deflex. And… 

And there’s not a lot more to say about that, really. One small step for any archer, one giant leap for this novice toxophilite. It actually felt like Christmas had come early when I left the shop with my first bow. I can’t wait to shoot it tomorrow, weather permitting.

I decided this evening that the stock arrows were a bit too much like a lot of the arrows in the club so decided to give them a one inch blue stripe with my Goblin Snot. 

The first couple weren’t great because I applied too much paint and the masking tape was rubbish and allowed paint to leak through. I switched to Frogtape which worked much better. The lines aren’t as clear as I’d like, but the job is done and I’m happy enough that they’re easily identifiable. And all the better for being personalised in some way.

Despite a few dodgy ones at the start, like the one pictured, by arrow three or four they were looking semi-respectable.

All that’s left now is for me to learn to shoot the bloody things.