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.


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.

Session 12

Decided to spend the evening shooting at the 40 yard boss with a vague view towards doing the 252 challenge on it sometime. 

I still feel like I’m not shooting as well as I did before I slacked off the sessions a bit. Real life gets in the way. 

One of the club’s coaches offered some advice, saying I was shooting fine but for my release which was lazy, dropping, and not following through. We also had a discussion about tuning arrows again. Definitely something I’d like to do. It’d involve buying all the bits I need, and I’m not eager to spend more than I have to on archery at the moment, especially after forking out for some clothing. But, mostly, it’s a matter of time and opportunity.

Anyway, tonight the grass was a little longer than usual and much of my evening was spent with this view… I am an arrow hunter (someone who hunts for arrows, not hunts with them). I like to joke that I have two hobbies: archery and metal detecting. It’s unclear which is the dominant one.

Going back to my sloppy release, another comment my coach made was that he thought my 40lb bow could do with being a bit heavier now. I had noticed the symptoms myself. Just like the club’s 26lb recurve I’d used at first, I find myself standing at full draw and aiming for a while, until my draw length eventually starts to reduce, or I’ve wobbled out of all possible chance to aim properly (reminiscent of my beginner nickname: spag bol, because inner body strength of a wet noodle). Same problem. Different bow.

There was also some discussion about stance. As the bow is canted clockwise slightly, why not lean forward at the waist slightly and tilt your head that way too, so the bow and your body and head line up? Works for barebow shooters, but not so much for me trying it yesterday. Hence the metal detector. 

In other news, I got given a free club polo shirt, with the club logo on, by a fellow member. Pretty chuffed about this, as there’s a heritage shoot coming up and I want to be recognisably from my club. 

I also paid for a club hoodie and also a hoodie for the private shooting club I’m part of (see last blog post). It’s an inclusivity thing.

Also know now my first two 252 badges are on their way. Baby steps, eh? 

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.

Lesson 4 of 6

The first thing I did today was have a hospital procedure, during which I was given Buscopan which, at one point, made everything up close very fuzzy to the point where I couldn’t text on my phone after the procedure. With this in mind, I wasn’t really expecting a night of great shooting, and sure enough, after a little unexpected initial success, it went downhill.

Three balloons on the boss. I shot one, and then the next, and then almost got the third – very close. This to jeers of “you shot the blue but you were aiming for the green one” and so on. Hard to concentrate when you’re chuckling. That was about as good as I got though, there were a lot of near misses and for the first time a significant number of arrows that missed the boss. Just glad to have made it to the session.

Tonight we had novelty targets on bosses set at alternating distances of 20 yards and about 14 yards, and we all rotated between the targets. Some had hallowe’en pictures, some had apples, some had milk bottles stuffed with rags, some had Sellotape rings stuck in pyramids, as pictured. It was a night of fun shooting, but the real aim tonight was to let us see some real bows and arrows, not just the £80 recurves we’d been shooting.

So, first a coach showed us his hybrid flatbow, which was £485 worth of Bearpaw Bodnik Quick Stick, right handed, bow weight 50lbs. He was shooting barebow, being an instinctive archer.quick stick He was shooting carbon arrows with yellow goose feathers (£10 a pop). He shoots with two fingers and uses a modified tab. Impressive and inspiring to see someone hitting bulls’ eyes with this set up as I hope to achieve this myself someday. It was explained that there’s more accuracy than a recurve because of the rigidity, no flex in the limbs like a recurve, but that it isn’t so fast. It was clear the instinctive shooting style looked quite different to that of the other coaches.

Slightly reluctantly he let me try it out (pulling it back without an arrow) and I found I could draw it to full draw length for me. Sure, it was a lot heavier than I was used to and probably too heavy, but I managed it fine. I’d probably manage a good few arrows before getting tired with it, but I understand you need something more manageable when you’re still learning your form.

Continue reading “Lesson 4 of 6”

Lesson 3 of 6

So we come to lesson three. In the last lesson, we were handed a sheet with these steps on it, which I memorised:

1. Stance
2. Nock arrow
3. Set hands
4. Prepare
5. Raise bow
6. Draw
7. Anchor and aim
8. Release and follow through

It seems clear, but then you start to wonder what is involved in the ‘prepare’ part, and shouldn’t you be aiming from when you raise the bow? I know the steps though and having had a little practice and got to grips with using my shoulders, I feel confident going into this lesson, although partly just confident that I’ll realise how little I actually know in no time at all.

Continue reading “Lesson 3 of 6”

A day off

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.