Saturday, 4 October 2014

That Robin Hood Vibe

When I took up archery again, recently, I found I could barely draw my longbow half-way. It over-bowed me.

So I started again with a recurve bow - which is fine, it's fun. But there just isn't the same Robin Hood vibe.

That was a couple of months ago.

 I've joined The Stourbridge Company of Archers - I find something very appealing about the collective noun for archers being 'company.'

One of the coaches in the Company told me 'the easiest way to string a longbow.' Which was something I'd never been able to do, even when I could draw the thing. I always had to ask some passing bloke to do it for me, which vexed me no end.

So when I got home, I took my longbow out and tried stringing it. And I did it! Quite easily, too. I can't tell you the thrill of being able to string my own longbow at last.

(I'm sure Madwippit knows how to string a longbow very well, but for anyone who doesn't, and is interested, here's how. A longbow has the string permanently nocked at one end (unlike a recurve, where you take the string off completely.)

Recurve Bow

Put the strung end of the longbow in front of your left ankle, the tip touching the ground.

Step through the bow-string with your right foot. The bow-stave is now going behind your right leg, with its slightly curved tip lodged in front of your left ankle. The string is in front of your right leg.

Lift the bow so the bow-stave goes, as my archery friend put it, 'around the fat of your bum.'

Now pull the upper end of the bow forward, under your right arm. Clamp the bow-stave between your legs, press down with your right arm, and bend the bow-stave around 'the fat of your bum.'

With your right arm, squeeze the bow-stave in and down as, with your left hand, you slide the string up the stave and into its nock. Considering that I could barely draw the bow a few weeks ago, this isn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. It's not effortless, but well within my capabilities.

My friend complained that this method bruised her left shin, so she didn't use it much. But I haven't found that it bruises.

Why did my previous club not tell me about this method? They
insisted that the only safe way to string a bow was to lodge the end in your instep, bend the bow with your left hand, and slide the string up to the nock with your right. I always found this beyond my strength.

Anyway, having triumphantly strung the bow, I tried drawing it - and found that I could almost - nearly - draw the string back to my chin. It was hard, but I could do it.

(I let the bow down without loosing the string, of course. I learned the lesson 'never loose an empty bow-string' the first time I ever picked up a bow, ten or more years ago. I drew back the string - and then loosed it before my instructor could tell me not to. It seemed the obvious thing to do. Big mistake! If you've ever wondered what it feels like to be a rat, shaken to death by a terrier, loose an empty bow-string. All the stored kinetic energy, instead of being released into the arrow, is released through you. It's a mistake you only make once, believe me - but one better not made at all.)

Even though the longbow still seemed a bit beyond me, I decided to take it along to archery that Sunday, and try it out. I took my recurve too, thinking that if I became incapable of drawing the longbow after a few arrows, I could swop to the recurve.

I arrived at the field to see the butts set out in a way new to me. Instead of being set out like this (with Os as butts and Is as archers):-

O        O            O           O

I         I              I             I

they were set out like this:-

O                          I                           O

O                            I                            O

O                           I                          O

So I left my bows in the car while I went to find out what was going on. It turned out they were holding a club tournament, longbow only - so it was handy that, by coincidence, I'd happened to bring my longbow.

I'd never shot in a tournament before, not even an informal club shoot like this. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though my score was pathetic.

I shot at the second butt, along with a couple of juniors, a senior and a hardened longbowman, Bruce, who was, in fact, the holder of this tournament trophy which, he told me was 'a beautiful thing,' a bronze longbow standing upright in a longbow stand.

I told Bruce my fears of not being able to draw my bow more than two or three times. "It's always lighter with an arrow on the string," he said - and this proved to be true. With an arrow on the string, the bow seemed to draw far more easily. I was able to come up to full draw and hold it while I aimed.

I shot for the whole tournament: 96 arrows - far more than I thought I'd be able to manage. The bow never felt too hard to draw. "It's psychological," Bruce said. "You're thinking about your stance and aim, and not about the weight."

That's probably true, but I couldn't help feeling that the bow was glad to be shooting again, and went easy on me. And, maybe, even, it had put into my head the idea of taking it along that day. Ridiculous, I know, but there's just something about a longbow... They seem more alive, somehow, than a recurve.

I found I was really glad to be shooting the longbow again. I felt something like relief, even though I wasn't good. The longbow just feels better than the recurve, even though it's a lot harder to use. There's less faff - you don't have to put it together and use a stringer to string it. You just string a longbow (once you know how), and there you are, set to go. And there's that Robin Hood vibe. You can't beat it.

The shoot worked like this - The adults lined up between the rows of butts, on the fifty yard line, and shot six arrows each at their appointed target.

Then the Juniors went to their line, ten yards closer, and took their turn, while the older and more experienced archers stood behind them, giving advice and cheering them on. 

We all walked up together, to check our scores and collect our arrows. One person from every butt collected the scores.

Then we turned round and shot at the other row of butts. At half time we took a break, and then the adults shot from the Junior's line, and the Juniors moved ten yards forward to a position marked by a red flag.

I'm still so out of practice that I feel happy if I hit the butt, let alone score anything. I managed to put at least two arrows on the butt about half of the time. The rest either fell short or went over the top - but a lot of arrows were doing the same, so I didn't feel too much of a doughnut. I was getting the line, but not quite judging the distance.

If the arrow hits the 'petticoat' - that is, the area of the face outside the outer ring, it scores nothing, so sometimes, even when I hit the butt, I didn't score. But I managed a few ones, a five and a three - and my best score was nine and seven. "Somebody's getting their distance," said Bruce. But, sadly, it didn't last. It was back to misses and ones after that.

(We were using a different scoring system to one shown in the picture. The inner and outer rings for each colour were ignored. So landing in the white, scored one. Black=3. Blue=5. Red=7 and Gold=9)

I'm already looking forward to next Sunday. The Stourbridge Company (club colours: white, black, blue, red and yellow, like the face,) have a beautiful shooting ground, surrounded by tall trees, with buzzards gliding overhead. As you walk back from the butts with your arrows, you look up at the sky, clouds and tree-tops, and breathe deep. It's grand. Thank you, Mr. Somers, industrialist, who left the big house and grounds to the local people, 'for their recreation,'  after WW2. I can only suppose he didn't want the house back after troops had been housed in it - still, it was generous of him.

It'll be me and the longbow, again, recreating next week. I must look into getting some wooden arrows for it... must keep it happy.

The Fair Toxopholists - not quite the Robin Hood Vibe

Actaen getting his - by Titian. Now that's a Diana who looks like she means business.


madwippitt said...

Hurrah! This is what I was trying to describe on Flatcap, but you have done it so much better! Although using a stringer reduces any twisting of the limbs. But yes, isn't the ease of use a joy? I am standing waiting impatiently on the shooting line to start while the others are faffing around bolting on limbs and sights and balancing rods and all; sorts of nonsense! And there is something wonderful about the instinctual element of it too ... Just me and my bow. No tools to or gadgets to blame. Just me!
And club tournaments can be fun. Always lots of banter going on at ours, nothing stuffy about it at all. Glad to hear you are having such fun! (And sometimes it can get quite competitive hitting that white - we often have a prize for the best white LOL)

Susan Price said...

'Just me and my bow.' Exactly, Mad - that's just how I feel. I just cannot see the point of having rifle sights on a bow - or balances or string-releases. Either you can shoot with your longbow, or you can't - At the moment, I mostly can't, but I hope to improve. And it's obvious that I'll get a lot a help.

A stringer prevents limb twist? - I'll look into getting a stringer then. I'm beginning to have great fellow-feeling for my longbow.

A prize for the best white? - My name's on that!

Katherine Roberts said...

You're back! The archery sounds fun. I wrote a book about Genghis Khan with the recurved bows... are they easier to draw than a longbow? The Mongols used them on horseback, shooting backwards apparently... have you tried that?

madwippitt said...

There are mounted archery clubs these days, or so I'm told, Katherine. A couple of folk at my club have tried it and enjoyed themselves no end. Irritatingly they were also quite good at it :-) The Parthians were also supposedly adept at firing backwards - hence the term about something being a Parthian shot. Archery gave rise to lots of phrases like that ...

Joan Lennon said...

I could go for any of the costumes except the last one.

Susan Price said...

You're right, Joan - I can't see me in the Diana costume either. Especially now the temperature's dropping.

And Kath - me shoot from horseback? It is to laugh.

Modern recurves are much easier to use than longbows. Their central section, the hand-hold, is solid and doesn't bend. The limbs, which bolt onto either end of the hand-hold, are flat in section and quite thin. So when you bend the bow, you're only bending the slim, flat limbs on either end.

They have an arrow rest - and modern archers add rifle-sights and balances - that's those bars that stick out in front of a recurve, and balance the weight, to make it easier to hold out at arm's length while you aim. Some even have string-releases, to help you loose the string correctly. I often used to wonder why these archers didn't just leave their bow on its stand and let it shoot by itself.

From my experience of shooting years ago, I always found the recurve easier to use, and much more tolerant of sloppy technique.

The longbow is a D-section, and you have to bend the whole length, from tip to tip. The bow tapers towards each end, but it's not flat, and it takes more effort to draw a longbow. (Though, obviously, you can get longbows and recurves of differing weights.)

A longbow has no sights, no balance, no string-release and not even an arrow rest. (The arrow rests on your hand.) It gives you no help at all, and is absolutely intolerant of any lack of technique. Get it wrong, and the string will bruise your arm, or sting your lip - it will wrench your wrist or your shoulder.

I'm far from being an expert, but I think the Mongolian and Scythian bows - which were much the same shape as a modern recurve - were much harder to draw, because they were made from laminated strips of horn and hide (I think). They didn't have any of the gadgets that a modern recurve has either.

I just don't see the point - and I think Madwippet will agree with me - of anything but the longbow. It was a longbow that the Stonehenge Archer would have used - it's the bow that the Stone Age man, Otzi, was carrying when he died in the Alps. It's the bow that killed him (he had an arrow lodged below his shoulder-blade.) In use for more than 5000 years - Now that is a bow what IS a bow.

madwippitt said...

Ah, but have you tried Barebow yet Sue? I have had huge fun with this too ... my first 'proper' bow was a laminate one piece recurve and a thing of beauty and elegance compared to the rather brutal looking modern bolt together jobs ... You can buy something similar for barebow, although they are not as pretty as mine. But basically a plain recurve bow with no accessories other than a bow rest, which is quite handy :-)