Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow. Archery has normally been used for hunting and combat; in these modern times, its main use is that of a recreational activity.
With the advent of firearms, archery has become all but obsolete in certain practices. Even the most devoted of archery-powered armies gave way to the accuracy and mobility of hand guns and rifles. Armies were brought up to speed more quickly because troops didn’t need to work on developing the special musculature required for accuracy, and firearms were much easier to maneuver when shot from behind barriers.
Possibly because of the bow and arrow’s use in the myths of cultural gods, or perhaps from the strong desire to bring popular medieval legends to life (such as Robin Hood), the tradition of archery is far from dead. It is still very alive as a sport and as a method of hunting. The craftsmanship involved in producing a good bow and the physical challenge of an accurate aim and release has continued to be an honored tradition. In England in the late eighteenth century, Sir Walter Scott helped establish archery as a pastime of the gentry, with all the costumes and glamour that is implied with any sport of the well to do. Women were included in the activities and were even allowed to dress as the men at these events.
Types of Bows
There are three main types of bows; the longbow, the recurve, and the compound bow. And though all three utilize the same basic mechanics (they use a flexible string which is attached to a brace for holding stored energy), they can be divided down even further into 1) bows which release an arrows upon pulling back on the string, itself, or 2) bows which release an arrow when a mechanism releases the string, as with the compound bow.
Arrows and Fletching
The pointed end of the projectile, of course is called the “head” of the arrow. Originally carved from stone or from the shaft itself, it is the part designed for penetrating the target, game, or enemy. The arrowheads are attached to the shaft of the arrow to serve as a projectile. Similar points can be attached to spears and launched from atlatls. The process of attaching an arrowhead to a shaft or spear is called “hafting.” This usually involves creating (or knapping or grinding) a sort of flange at the end opposite the head or point, and then the flange is hafted into a slit in the shaft and bound on with sinew or similar cord. Before their extinction about 24,000 years ago, the Neanderthals developed the extensive use of hafted stone tools. Archaeological investigation provides little evidence of the use of antler or bone. The Cro-Magnon hafted antler points onto spears between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. The Clovis culture is noted for its use of hafted spears in the Americas around 11,000 years ago. Stone Clovis points were formed in a way that may have allowed them to break off on impact with a target. Hafted tools thought to have been created by Homo Floresiensis up to 90,000 years ago have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores.
Arrowheads are usually separated by function:
• Bodkin points are short, rigid points with a small cross-section. They were made of unhardened iron and may have been used for better or longer flight, or for cheaper production. It has been mistakenly suggested that the bodkin came into its own as a means of penetrating armor, but research has found no hardened bodkin points, so it is likely that it was first designed either to extend range or as a cheaper and simpler alternative to the broad head. In a modern test, a direct hit from a hard steel bodkin point penetrated Damascus chain armor. However, archery was not effective against plate armor, which became available to knights of fairly modest means by the late 1300s.
• Blunts are unsharpened arrowheads occasionally used for types of target shooting, for shooting at stumps or other targets of opportunity, or hunting small game when the goal is to stun the target without penetration. Blunts are commonly made of metal or hard rubber. They may stun, and occasionally, the arrow shaft may penetrate the head and the target; safety is still important with blunt arrows.
• Judo points have spring wires extending sideways from the tip. These catch on grass and debris to prevent the arrow from being lost in the vegetation. Used for practice and for small game.
• Broad heads were used for war and are still used for hunting. Medieval broad heads could be made from steel, sometimes with hardened edges. They usually have two to four sharp blades that cause massive bleeding in the victim. Their function is to deliver a wide cutting edge so as to kill as quickly as possible. They are expensive, damage most targets, and are usually not used for practice. There are two main types of broad heads used by hunters: The fixed-blade and the mechanical types. While the fixed-blade broad head keeps its blades rigid and unmovable on the broad head at all times, the mechanical broad head deploys its blades upon contact with the target, its blades swinging out to wound the target. The mechanical head flies better because it is more streamlined, but has less penetration as it uses some of the kinetic energy in the arrow to deploy its blades.
• Target points are bullet-shaped with a sharp point, designed to penetrate target butts easily without causing excessive damage to them.
• Field tips are similar to target points and have a distinct shoulder, so that missed outdoor shots do not become as stuck in obstacles such as tree stumps. They are also used for shooting practice by hunters, by offering similar flight characteristics and weights as broad heads, without getting lodged in target materials and causing excessive damage upon removal.
• Safety arrows are designed to be used in various forms of reenactment combat, to reduce the risk when shot at people. These arrows may have heads that are very wide or padded. In combination with bows of restricted draw weight and draw length, these heads may reduce to acceptable levels the risks of shooting arrows at suitably armored people. The parameters will vary depending on the specific rules being used and on the levels of risk felt acceptable to the participants. For instance, SCA combat rules require a padded head at least 1 1/4" in diameter, with bows not exceeding 28 inches and 50 lb. of draw for use against well-armored individuals.
Fletching was designed to stabilize the flight of an arrow by providing air resistance. Fletching is usually made of strips of feather (each strip of feather or modern facsimile is called a “fletch”). Traditionally, three strips of fletching are carefully strapped or glued at the end of an arrow shaft, opposite the tip. By using even distances between the fletching, the archer can achieve a more consistent draw and reliable aim at the target. If the fletches are attached in a slight spiral arrangement, the arrow will spin somewhat in its path to the target.
Archers who choose the traditional means for making their own arrows take much pride in their work—not only in choosing the proper length for their arrows (this is determined by the length and pull of the bow), but also in the color patterns, means of attachment, and precision with which the fletching is affixed.
The Art of a Good Aim
Here are some excerpts taken from an article called “Practice or Cry” by Ted Nugent:
Believe it when they say, it’s 99% mental. Be it known that there are many archers and marksmen far superior to your humble guitar player out there, and we can all learn much from these dead-eye, precision shooters… The best shots all have one thing in common; they look and shoot smoothly and comfortably, with a fluidity derived from many, many hours at the range. Simply stated, they are obviously one with their bows. Their every move is confident, graceful and sure, their weapon a natural extension of their very being… Conversely, the bad shots also have certain traits and movements in common that can best be described as awkward and uncertain.
The description of the natural oneness with the bow cannot be overemphasized. If you find yourself squirming to get your arrow on the nock or the bow orientation at exactly the right angle for distance, you will most likely have already lost your best chances at a good result. Your muscles will already be under the prolonged stress of the aim, thus becoming more unstable for the draw. Here are some good, basic pointers for beginning shooters. But remember, this is only a step by step description of what should be a fluid process.
1) Your body should be perpendicular to the target, and your feet should be placed shoulder’s width apart. Though you may find a personalized stance at a later time, begin with this position. The leg furthest from the shooting line will be a half to a whole foot-length in front of the other, on the ground.
2) To load, point your bow toward the ground and place the shaft of the arrow on the arrow rest, which is attached in the bow “window.” The back of the arrow is attached to the bowstring with the `nock` (a small plastic component which is typified by a `v` groove for this purpose). This is called nocking the arrow. Often bow strings have a nocking guide, which will help you to consistently place the arrow at a consistent height. As mentioned above, most typical arrows have three fletches, so orient the arrow so that the prominent fletch (often a different color) is faced away from the bow as it is set into the nock.
3) Hold the bowstring and arrow with three fingers. Your index finger should be placed above the arrow, with the other two fingers below it. The bow string should be placed in between the first or second joint of the fingers.
4) Raise and draw the arrow to the bow. This usually done in one fluid motion. Draw the string hand toward the face, where it should rest comfortably at an anchor point somewhere between the corner of the mouth or on the chin. The bow arm is held straight and outward, toward the target. The elbow of this arm should be rotated so that the inner elbow is perpendicular to the ground (especially important if you have a hyper-extendable elbow). This position should help prevent you from getting stung by the string as it releases the arrow.
5) If you are standing correctly, your body will form a “T.” Pull the arrow to the correct draw length (again, to your anchor point). Your anchor and your nocking should always be consistent. If you are adjusting for distance or height, that is done with your aim. At a full draw, the arrow should be sticking out one or two inches past the front of the bow. If it differs substantially, you should be fitted for a different length arrow or new bow.
6) Releasing the arrow is done by simply relaxing the fingers of the drawing hand. By doing this, the drawing arm will remain rigid and, and its muscles will not relax until after the arrow has already hit its destination.
Places to Shoot
Whether you want to pursue your hobby on a practical basis (such as for hunting), competitively, or to honor the past through historical re-enactments and tournaments, there are many opportunities available for you to try. A good place to start would be to find nearby practice centers (either indoor or outdoor), and meet the people who use those places and post events on the bulletin boards. Get on their mailing lists. Learning from seasoned archers can be truly rewarding, just as the tradition has always been. You may find they are not using the same type of bow you are using, but much of their technique is valid and transferable, if you are willing to apply it. If hunting with a compound bow is your goal, read the magazines, use the internet, or ask to go along on hunting trips (if anything, offering to haul a deer to the truck can be a very kind gesture!). If you’re looking to improve your technique on a re-curve, try to attend events and competitions (and of course practice) whenever you can. To practice with the Society for Creative Anachronism, you will need to sign a waiver, but you’re not obligated to join the organization. These groups usually practice on a weekly basis at designated spots, and there are many imaginative events you can attend that use various targets and techniques, including crossbow challenges.
In addition to bow hunting and target archery, there is field archery, 3-D archery, Olympic archery, Clout archery (in the United Kingdom), field crossbow archery, flight archery, ski archery, horse archery, and several others. Visit the FITA (International Archery Federation) or the USA Archery website to help you pick a direction and get your new hobby off to a good start.