Clubs

I’ve been shooting at my current target archery club for three outdoor seasons and two indoor. It’s the club that taught me the basics of archery and because of that it will always hold a special place in my heart but I feel that it’s now time to move on.

The motivation behind this decision boils down to three things: personal development, style and cost.

Personal Development.

At my current club I’ve always gone against the grain choosing to shoot traditional bows over the Olympic recurve, that were enthusiastically offered, wanting to shoot instinctive instead of adding a sight or using other methods and anchoring behind the ear instead of my chin. This has led to me being left to my own devices by the club coaches with my personal development coming from attending external courses, reading books and watching videos on YouTube. Personally, the coaching element is only a small factor for me but my bow choice seems to have impacted on any extra coaching I may have received.

Style.

Shooting multicoloured targets at set distances is the ultimate test for refined, precise technique and the archer’s ability to duplicate each shot again and again with the only variables being the weather and the archer but after three years of doing this I’ve come to realise that it’s not for me.

The elements of archery that I enjoy the most are the shooting, being outdoors and the chance to unwind and relax. I do get these things from target archery but I’ve found that I get all this and more when I’m tromping around a forest with my bow. Nothing can beat being in a forest with the earthy smells, hearing the birds, feeling the weather whilst loosing and even lose a few arrows.

Cost.

This one is a minor issue but if I feel it’s worth mentioning as everything boils down to money.

The target archery club costs

£107 per year membership. This includes the insurance and governing body fees. It also covers access to the field in the summer season which is two weekday evening and one weekend afternoon.

In the winter we shoot indoors and that is available one weekday evening and at the weekend. For the weekday shoot it costs £5 per session and £6 for the weekend session.

So if I went one evening a week on winter I be looking at £20 a month. The winter season is from October until March so that’s six months with a total of £120. So this coupled with my membership fees means I’m paying £227 a year and that’s if I don’t shoot at the weekends.

The field archery costs

£12 per year membership fees.

£25 per year governing body fees.

£5 per month club fee.

This gives you access to the indoor range for 3 evenings a week as well as the field next to indoor range. It also includes 24/7 access to the clubs 25 acre forest. If my maths are correct then the field club will cost £97 a year which is a difference of £130.

Hopefully, I’ve made the right decision. It feels right and the members of the club I’ve met seem friendly enough and there’s not a long rod in sight.

Forest Adventure 

Last night myself and an archery buddy were lucky enough to go on a guided shoot around the Muttley Crew’s forest. In the time I’ve been shooting I’ve never had the opportunity to go on a field shoot but it’s something that I’ve wanted to try as it seems a more natural fit to the traditional and instinctive side of archery that appeals to me. 

We arrived at the forest at six and were met by our guide for the evening, Geoff, who warmly welcomed us to the forest. As we got kitted up Geoff give us a quick talk about the history of the club, the forest, the types of targets that we’d expect to see and how the scoring worked.

After that we were taken into the forest were we met our first 3D target, which I belive was a wolverine. Geoff then talked us through how he’d approach the shot and then hr took a shot. We then had a go and shooting and surprisingly hit Logan several times.

This was the format for the rest of the evening. Geoff guiding us around the forest, he’d tell us how he’d never hit a particular target before and then he’d nail it with his first arrow! As we weren’t scoring myself and my buddy took several shots at all the targets, but we changed the angle and the distance so that we could get a feel of how the shot changed depending on the angle, elevation and distance.

The course itself was varied as it used the characteristics of the forest well, there where a few distance targets, elevation shots, half hidden and small targets and some targets hidden in darker areas whilst the archer stood in the light. My particular favourite was a target that was placed next to a stream, the shot was relatively simple but the setting was perfect, deep in the forest with just the sound of the stream and the birds singing in the background, it was serene. The whole shoot provided a unique but natural feeling challenge that ultimately was very rewarding.

My favourite part of archery has always been shooting outdoors. I enjoy being outside and seeing and hearing nature. However, I’ve found that when I’m shooting target archery nature has been controlled. The grass is cut short, the ground is marked for distance and whistles inform me when to shoot and when to stop. It’s these man made interventions that pull me away from truly losing myself in the shoot when I’m shooting target. In my first experience of field archery these controls where removed, the distances are unmarked, the path was a small trail and the only whistle comes from the birds. It was so much easier to immediately immerse myself in the shoot, in short it was perfect.

 

Arrowsmith

One of the things of saving up for a new and heavier bow is the realisation that you’ll also need to buy some new arrows. In the past I’ve just opted for buying some middle of the range wooden arrows that normally are around £80 for a dozen. These arrows will have 4″ fletching and plastic nocks, they’re wood and functional.

As I’m wanting to eventually get into the ‘warbow’ poundage I thought I’d take a look at how much the medieval reproduction arrows would cost. So we’re looking at 1/2″ shafts, 7″ hand whipped and hand cut fletching, horn reinforced nocks and arrow heads that are produced in a limited quantity. In short a lot of work goes into each arrow and the customer base is small. This means that to buy a set of arrow can get expensive quickly.

Quarterpounder

With this in mind I decided it was time to add arrow smith and fletcher to my skill set in the hope of being able to make a quality arrow at the fraction of the price as my own labour would be free. Now, I’m not exactly the most naturally craft person but I do enjoy making things and learning new skills – in the past I’ve been on a blacksmith course and I’ve also made my own longbow on a bowyer course – so I’m definitely up for the challenge of making some arrows.

The first thing I needed to do was research what equipment I’d need to start making my own arrows. The most useful source I found for this was Richard Head’s youtube channel, where he covers all the steps in great detail and I’m sure for the first few dozen arrows  these videos will be a constant source of guidance and reassurance.

After watching numerous videos and reading what I could I decided to order some tools as I’m afraid my tool selection is not very extensive. For the general tools went to eBay and picked up the following.

Tile Saw with a round blade – £6.95 – This will be used to create the nocks. The round blade should create a smoother cut.

10 piece Needle File set – £2.11 – to smooth out the nocks.

3 piece Rasp set – £1.75 + £1 p&p – to remove the excess horn from the horn sliver once it’s been glue into the nock.

2 piece Cabinet Scrapper – £3 – used to smooth out the rasp marks from horn and wood.

Rotary Cutter – £2.29 – used to cut the fletching into shape.

After spending a grand total of £17.10 on eBay it was time to pick up some more specific arrow making supplies. The first thing I wanted to pick up was an arrow cutting template so that I could ensure that my fletching was neat and uniform across all the arrows.

After searching around I found a German seller – Histro Fakt – who sold English Warbow Society fletching templates. I picked up the ‘Livery Arrow’ and ‘Poitiers and Crecy’ templates for 5.99 Euro each this coupled with postage to the UK came to around £17.

My next stop on my arrow making equipment purchasing odyssey was to actually buy the components to make the arrows. The other items that I’d purchased so far are an investment, as I can reuse them for every arrow I make, so the actual arrow components will be where any real saving will be made in the future.

After looking around for a supplier of all the bits I needed I stumbled across Now Strike Archery whose prices where very reasonable. For my first attempt at arrow making I thought I’d start with just 12 arrows until I’d got the hang of it. So from Now Strike I ordered the following.

Nock Cutting Jig 1/2″ – £19.99 – This will ensure that my nocks are cut to the right depth and are nice and straight. This item can be used over and over again so is classed as tool rather than a consumable.

Horn Sliver x 12 – £6 – The horn needed to reenforce the arrow.

Black Linen x2 – £6 – Used to whip the fletching to the shaft.

Fletching Needle – £2 – Helps to split the feathers in older to place the lined more accurately when your wiping the fletching.

Full length feather x24 – £13.20

Full length feather x 12 – £6.60 – this will be cock feather.

Ash 1/2″ arrow shaft x13 – £19.50 – I decided to go for 13 just incase I messed up on my first nock cutting!

So with posting of £10 that came to £83.29.

Now Strike didn’t have the arrow heads I wanted so this led me to Barebow Archery where I found some 1/2 steel bullet point at £2 each. I’m just awaiting a reply back but if I buy these that would be £24 + p&p at probably around £5.

If we look at the actual cost going forward for a dozen 1/2″ shaft, horn nocked, hand fletched arrows arrows IT will be around £90 including p&p.  This  still seems a little expensive to me but when you consider the price of buying the equivalent finished product the  price does look really reasonable.

Bearbow – Deluxe Medieval Arrow x6 – £150. x12 = £300

Now Strike – Deluxe Medieval Arrow x 1 – £21. x12 = £252

The Longbow Shop – Poplar Bobtail x 6 – £110. x12 = £220

All of these prices will need p&p adding to them so suddenly the price of £90 with p&p doesn’t seem so bad! Once everything arrives I’ll get cracking and I’ll share my trails, tribulations and hopefully, my triumphs!

 

 

Anchor Away

Last week I changed my anchor point from the corner of my mouth to behind my ear. You often see medieval depictions of archers drawing their bow behind their ear and it is these depictions that the modern warbow archer has looked at for guidancance.

Luttrell Psalter f.147v – British Library

At the moment I am no where near a warbow draw weight but it is something that I aspire to.  So whilst I save up for a heavier bow, at 80# @31, I thought I’d try and nail down the drawing technique with my lighter 55# bow.

Now, I don’t know anybody in person who shoots from behind the ear or for that matter shoots a heavy bow so I’ve been watching videos of warbow archers on youtube and bothering @keoghnick on instagram.

From my online observations it looks like the archer has a much narrower stance than the modern stance, to the point where the front leg is placed slight further forward than the back. As you place your arrow on the bow you learn forwards at the hips and as you move back into an up right position you stretch your back, push with your bow arm and pull with the draw arm and then slightly lean into the draw. This allows you to use your back muscles and not just rely on those in our arms. No movement is wasted in the draw process as it all helps get the bow back. Leaning into the shot also seems to allow your back to bear more of the weight much like a weight lifter would have an arch in their back as they do a deadlift.

I decided to try and video myself drawing this way so that I could see what my form was like. I didn’t knock am arrow as I don’t have the space to loose in my garden but it did give me a good guide to what I was or wasn’t doing. The video can be found here, I tired embedding the video but I gave up after a few attempts.

One of the things I found strange was the feel of the bow when I drew without an arrow nocked, it was probably physiological, as I was concentrating on the draw, but the bow felt really heavy. Another thing I noticed was that I was bringing my draw arm up and over leading to a rotation of my shoulder. This is something I’ve never consciously done before so I need to stop doing it before I overload my shoulder.

I’ve now been shooting from the ear for a few sessions and I can honestly say that it’s really comfortable. It does take a while to get used to the motion and the anchor but after a while it started to feel really natural. As an added bonus that extra inch or so added to my draw is leading to the arrows traveling quicker and faster. All in all I’m happy with my progress and as the weeks go on I’m hoping my technique will become more refined.

 

 

Stacking on the Pounds

The English Longbow was what first drew me to archery as it’s relatively accessible and has a tangible link to the past. For me, at least, my interest in the historical side of the longbow is as important as the shooting side so this one object encapsulates two of my great interests, history and archery.

When I first picked up the Longbow I was extremely fortunate to have as my first instructor – albeit for only two hours – a man named Kevin Hicks who is the embodiment of history and archery. Kevin does some amazing work by bringing history to life for both children and adults and he’s also a fantastic story teller and a great archer. His knowledge of both the history of the bow, his skill as an instructor and as an archer really energised me to get out there and bring archery into my life.
My aim, after joining a club, was to shoot a bow as close to a modern equivalent of a medieval longbow, especially those we’ve now labelled as ‘warbows’, as I could. However, as things tend to happen in life complacency settled and I’ve been happily shooting at 55# for nearly three years now.

This isn’t a bad thing as I can easily manage the weight which means my form and aiming have had the chance to develop. Recently, however, I’ve felt the need to increase my draw weight to go a little heavier and try to creep closer to the 100# mark.

If I’m honest, I have a few obstacles in my way that although won’t stop me outright I know they will slow me down. The first of these obstacles is the lack of a group of similar minded people. I shoot at a club where longbow archers are a small minority and on top of that, I’m already shooting a bow, at #55, that others consider to be heavy. So learning the technique of drawing a heavy bow will have to be one of constant self-evaluation and research, which is fine as that’s pretty much how I’ve developed so far. The biggest hindrance, I feel, is that I can’t just try another archers bow to get a feel for the draw weight so that means I’m pretty much guessing at what I can handle.

This then leads to the next issue in that I don’t want to keep forking out for new bows in 10lbs increments as that will get really expensive, really quick. So my solution is to save my pennies and then buy a bow at 80# @30. Whilst the coffers are being filled I’ve been working on strengthening my back muscles with daily weight exercises as well as practice my draw using several tension bands. Once I’ve got my bow then it will be a case of taking it slowly by shooting a few dozen arrows with the 80# and then dropping back to the 55#. After a while, I should be shooting the bow without issues apart from moving my knocking point to behind my ear.

That’s the plan anyway. Does anyone have any bowyers they can recommend that won’t cost the earth?

[Teddy] Bear Hunting

My local club is a traditional target archery club where arrows are shot at big white, black, blue, red and gold target faces. If I’m honest the colourful target faces really put me off and I seem to shoot a lot better with both my Longbow and field bow when I’m aiming at a smaller target. As ‘Grizzly’ Jim Kent often says ‘aim small, miss small’ and he’s defiantly right about that! From my own experience I’ve found that targets that have a lot going on are difficult to shoot at which is an obvious hindrance when you’re shooting at targets resembling a massive rainbow.

My attempt at getting around this is to shoot at the black and white Worcester faces or the smaller but still colourful Bray targets. Again both are smaller targets and my groupings tend to be tighter but not as tight as what I’d like.
This changed the other night when one of my longbow shooting buddies rocked up at the club with two stuffed teddy bears and promptly whizzed them down the shooting line. To the scorn of the Olympic recurve archers the three longbow archers abandoned shooting at the massive rainbow targets and instead spent the evening raining arrows of death down at our would be cuddly attackers. In short it was a lot of fun as you can see from my happy little face below.

Although shooting toys was a lot of fun I did notice that my grouping were really close and when I did miss it wasn’t by much. Another thing that I noticed was that as I shooting at the teddy at ground level I was unconsciously canting my bow and leaning slightly into the shot which I don’t normally do. It was only after I’d shot and was analysing my shoot sequence that I realised that I was doing this. This position seemed more natural when I was shooting at a teddy on the ground at 30yards away then it does when I’m shooting at a boss face at the same distance.

After a shoot I always try and take a little lesson away from it. I may not have shot great or improved, but if I can point at something and get insight from it then its been a worthwhile shoot. So my main take-a-way from the [teddy] bear hunt is that if you’re frustrated with your archery because you’re not ‘getting’ something then stop flogging the dead horse and do something fun; it may be shooting at softoys – or even doing a real 3D shoot – it may even be shooting some clout. Either way have some fun, smile, relax and maybe the block you’ve had will go away and if it doesn’t you will have at least had some fun.

Shooting Gloves and Releasing the Pain

One of the things I’ve found whilst shooting with a glove is that my fingers, especially the tendons that connect my finger tips to the rest of my hand, the ones that go over the interphalangael joints, become tender. The longer I shoot the more painful it becomes.

This happens because I have a habit of cradling the string as I draw in the corner of the joint which leads to the string cutting into the tendons. As an added bonus because I’m cradling the string in my joint as I release the string rolls across the tendon and then across my full finger tip which adds to further discomfort.

To try and remove this discomfort I’ve done a few things. The first is to fit a thicker string on my bow. My orginal string was 10 strands and I’ve added a few more so it’s now at 12. As the string is now thicker it’s less likely, I hope, to cause finger pinch. This however, comes at a cost as a thicker string leads to a slower bow which in turn will effect the flight of the arrow, this isn’t ideal. 

The second thing that I’ve done is purchase a thicker shooting glove so that my fingers are better protected. The issue I found with this is that with a thicker glove you loose dexterity in your fingers. Now for me the main reason why I shoot with a glove and not a tab is that I like the added agility a glove gives me, it brings me closer to a more intimate shooting experience and I don’t want to loose this by shooting with a thicker clumsy glove. I tried a number of different gloves that weren’t quite right but eventually I found the Bodnik Speed Glove that gave me an ideal balance between protection and dexterity. The speed glove does this by placing a fine layer of canvas material over the fingers. This canvas layer is soft enough that you can bend your fingers easily yet thick enough to protect you fingers from the string pinch. It’s a really excellent glove and seems to have helped eliminate the pain I was experiencing. As an added bonus it’s also very smooth so my release seems to be a little more consistent.

The third, and last thing, that I’m trying to do is change the area of my fingers that I’m using to draw the string. So instead of the string resting on my joint and tendons I’m now trying to rest it just above them on the bottom of my fingertip pads. This, like all technique changes, is a work in progress as thinking about where my hand holds the string when I draw puts a conscious thought into my shoot sequence that can and has thrown everything else out. This will go eventually as it just a matter of making that conscious action a subconscious one.

A combination of a thicker string, new glove and a change of technique has removed all of the discomfort I had when drawing and shooting for a prolonged period. This in turn has allowed me to get more out of my shooting as I can easily lose myself in the moment of the shot and not be “pulled back” to reality with a physical discomfort. Losing myself in the shot where everything else just drops away is the heart of archery and hopefully, one day I’ll be able to achieve that state everytime I shoot.