Author Archives: Geoff Scaplehorn

Is it legal to shoot a Welshman with an arrow?

Occasionally, I let slip that I spent a decent chunk of my life living in Wales. As I teach archery, this commonly leads to the question of whether it’s legally sound to shoot a Welshman with a longbow in Chester or Herefordshire or whichever town or county the questioner can think of that borders Wales or Scotland. Occasionally, extra parameters are added: “It’s fine as long as you’re near the cathedral at midnight and you shoot exactly 12 yards”. That sort of thing.

This idea is so prevalent that even the people that run the country—or at least want to run the country—sometimes get confused. But is it actually legal?

The short answer is, somewhat obviously: no, it isn’t legal. Historic royal decrees and the wobbly process of defining a British person as legally Welsh, English or Scottish aside, murder is still murder, even when it’s perpetuated on the Welsh.

The longer answer is that it was never really a fully fledged law to begin with, and that even if it had been it’s been totally superseded. There are a few theories about how this urban myth came about, but the most likely theory seems to be somewhat ironically based around a decree written by the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales in 1403, that is; not the current incumbent.

It is a matter of historical record that the English and Welsh (and Scottish) have not always seen eye to eye. Despite Welsh archers being common in English armies (including during the famous so-called English victory against the French at Agincourt), loyalties to the Crown were largely dependent on what year it was and who nominally governed any given piece of land.

In the early fifteenth century, Prince Henry of Monmouth, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, was concerned about Welsh uprisings in and around Chester. Sir Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy had defected to join forces with Owain Glyndŵr, who was busy causing trouble for the English throughout Wales. Percy and Glyndŵr were unhappy with the then-King Henry IV, who had usurped the throne from Richard II.

During the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, Percy was killed by an arrow to the face. Prince Henry was nearly done for in the same way, but he was saved and left with a permanent scar. Worried about the possibility of further defection to the Welsh cause, Prince Henry (who later became King Henry V) decreed that there should be a curfew on Welshmen in Chester:

“…all manner of Welsh persons or Welsh sympathies should be expelled from the city; that no Welshman should enter the city before sunrise or tarry in it after sunset, under pain of decapitation.”

Welshmen were required to leave their weapons at the town gates and not congregate in groups of three or more. And shooting a Welshman in Chester? Archery was never specifically mentioned in the Prince’s request, at least not that anyone seems to be able to reliably report.

A few years later in 1408, the citizens of Chester elected a Welsh mayor, John Ewloe. There were periodic troubles between Ewloe’s allies and the constable of the castle, William Venables, but these came to an end in 1411 when Venables was forced to pay reparations to certain citizens of the city. In short, Chester itself didn’t have a bone to pick with the Welsh.

In summary: don’t shoot a Welshman with an arrow, even if the person asking you to do so was born in Monmouth and is the reigning Prince of Wales.

Why bother keeping score?

When people first join the 2020 club, I usually give them the following recommendations:

  • Don’t worry about your score.
  • Keep score every couple of months.

Let me explain.

When to start scoring

When you first walk onto the range having just finished a course, whether that’s a 5-week course or the intensive weekend version, there’s a lot to remember—and a fair bit extra to learn. Suddenly, all of those excellent gold shots you made on the last day of the course disappear and your arrows are wending their way three targets to the left because you can’t remember which way to move your sight or what the hell we were talking about when we explained string pictures.  

Which is why I say: don’t worry about your score, especially for the first few sessions. Focus on remembering your stance and set-up and sequencing—that’s the order of steps that you take from planting your feet on the line to releasing your arrow. Focus on getting 3 arrows in more or less the same place on the correct target, and then on moving that group towards the gold.

Eventually, though, your arrows should all be hitting the target relatively consistently. It’s at this point you might consider scoring.

The phrase ‘keeping score’ carries a whiff of competitiveness, but scoring isn’t about beating other people unless you’re actually in a formal competition. Keeping score is about having a numerical value that tracks your progress as an archer. As such, I thoroughly recommend you score yourself every few months. Scoring every time you shoot is frankly boring and can be off-putting because any improvements are likely to be slight, if they’re there at all.

How to score

Scoring is easy. There are loads of different types of competition scoring in archery, but the 2020 club generally uses a standard GNAS Portsmouth round of 60 arrows on a 60cm target face, for a maximum possible score of 600 points. We cover how to score on our beginner courses, but as a refresher, see the following image of one of our Portsmouth scoresheets:

Each end of 3 or 6 arrows should be totalled in the ‘E/T’ (End Total) columns. End scores should be written from highest to lowest (ie, ‘10, 9, 8’ instead of ‘8, 10, 9’). The ‘H’ column tracks the number of hits on the target, the ‘G’ column counts the number of gold hits (the number of 10s), and the ‘IG’ column the number of inner golds (‘X’s). *

Scoring at the club

It is usually possible to do a full Portsmouth in a single club session, along with a couple of ends for practise. The rule is, though, is that you can’t discount any ends from your scoresheet once you’ve started: no sneakily discounting rubbish shots! You should also assign someone to be your target captain, who will make sure you’re not being too generous with arrows that aren’t quite touching the lines and who needs to check your maths at the end of the session. Just ask the nearest club member—they’re usually happy to help and they might ask you to return the favour!

If you want to submit your score to the club, you’ll need to commit to a full 60-arrow Portsmouth round at the full indoor distance and have a target captain sign your scoresheet. Your score will be listed on our internal leaderboard and we might send you a shiny badge if your score is high enough. However, if all you want to do is check your progress, you don’t need to be so strict. We have scoresheets for Half Portsmouths of 30 arrows—just enough to get a good numerical sample.

Scoring with different bows

Do remember that the type of bow and setup you use will dramatically change your scoring potential. Most people shoot either ‘Freestyle’ (recurve plus whatever attachments you like, including a sight) or Modern Recurve Barebow (recurve without a sight), but you might also want to keep score if you shoot traditional bows. Whichever style you choose, make sure you mark your scoresheet appropriately if you submit it to the club, as unmarked scoresheets are defaulted to ‘Freestyle’ on the leaderboards.

And, of course, make sure you keep score if you go and buy a new bow: the biggest jump in your personal best is very likely to be the day you stop using a club bow and buy something tailored to you.

Read this article for more information about scoresheets, competition scoring, and scoring etiquette.

* Note: A GNAS (Grand National Archery Society) Portsmouth round does not officially recognise the central circle on the target as ‘X’; it holds no more weight than the 10 ring. However, we at 2020 think that counting the number of ‘X’s you hit helps with tracking your progress as an archer, and as such we allow ‘X’s to be marked on submitted scoresheets.

The day I spent building a longbow

Longbows are, at least for a British archer, the ultimate type of bow. Robin Hood, if you ignore the latest cinematic flop, shot an English longbow. The English army won at Agincourt with longbows shot by both English and Welsh archers. The English longbow is the reason that yew trees almost became extinct in Europe in the 16th century. Longbows are as synonymous with the history of Great Britain as the royal family, bowler hats, and arguments about Marmite.

Back when I primarily shot a recurve bow, I always said I would get a longbow when I scored 550 out of 600 on a full 60-arrow Portsmouth round. I’ve held a personal best of 549 for a couple of years, and the fact that I mainly shoot an American flatbow these days means I’m very unlikely to beat that. If I can’t reach my target for buying a longbow, I figured I’d just have to build one.

Sadly, I have the carpentry skills of a lump of wood. I sought out a proper longbow making workshop.

Finding a course

These days, longbows aren’t cheap: buying new, they start at around £200 for a very basic model and rapidly go up to £500+. Paying more doesn’t get you any particular advancement—this is a longbow, after all, not a fancy compound bow—but you do get a longbow made with better materials and with fancier nocks, crafted by bowyers clothed in original sheepskin who meditate in caves overlooking the sea.

Courses to build longbows, meanwhile, also hover at around the £300 mark. The courses themselves vary: some are single days, some are full weekends in a group where you camp and craft arrows for your bow. I opted to see Will Lord, an expert in prehistoric survival skills. His workshop lasts a single day and is taught one-to-one. He used to teach groups, he told me, but you end up with people fighting over the equipment and it’s all much less personal.

I visited Will at his home in Suffolk; a beautiful cottage near Bury St Edmonds. We’d exchanged a few emails prior to meeting up, and I’d let him know that I was looking to build a bow with a draw weight in the region of 35 to 40 pounds. This let him construct the initial stave with layers of hickory, purpleheart and lemon wood. After that, though, I’d be doing most of the work.

Building the bow

First up, shaping the limbs. Will had me using a wooden spokeshave, a form of plane originally used to round off wagon wheel spokes and later adopted by shipbuilders, to shape the rectangular cross section of the stave down into the classic curved D shape. He admits that this is not the most traditional method of shaping bow limbs, but it allows the bowyer to attune to and communicate with the wood. In my case, that communication mostly began as an argument, but under Will’s guidance I slowly improved. As the limbs take their required form, they are finely smoothed with sandpaper and—eventually—wire wool.

Once I’d mostly convinced the stave to be the right shape, we attached a premade bowstring and tested the draw weight. This is largely defined by the thickness of the purpleheart core and the lemon wood belly. We drew the bow to 35 pounds: perfect. Shortening the bow might raise the poundage, but we kept it full length at around 6 feet 7 inches: larger than the average and possibly a future cause of awkward journeys on the London Underground, but it looks perfect. We sharpened the points of the stave and attached blocks of water buffalo horn to both ends to form the string nocks. While the glue dried, we moseyed off to make a string of my own.

Making a bowstring involves effectively plaiting the ends of 2 separate strings together, with each of those strings being made up of 6 or 7 threads. I chose a mix of red and black threads; Will demonstrated the braiding technique on one end and I followed suit on the other, before handing back to him to tie it all off. A few twists in the bowstring and we were done.

When the buffalo horns were properly glued onto the bow stave, we then sanded them down to curved nocks. Truthfully, my only major crisis of the day was over-sanding the nock on the bottom bow limb, cutting into the wood that I’d so carefully pared down earlier. Will masterfully fixed most of the issue with his pocket knife, leaving me the relatively easy task of smoothing the wood again so that the mistake was practically invisible, although the nock on the bottom limb of the bow is now smaller than the nock on the top limb. If nothing else, it’s easy to see which end of the bow should point towards the ground.

The final touches

A final sand down of the stave and a coat of wax added a shine to the bow, and then we were on the final stage: building the grip. Will attached a thin piece of wood to thicken the middle of the bow, and then we cut a piece of leather to size for the grip itself. We used an awl to poke holes in the leather and stitched the grip into place, before hammering out and attaching 2 red circles of leather to decorate each end.

Bow complete. I took a few test shots outside in the field behind Will’s house, which allowed me to bask in the glory of shooting the bow I’d built and gave Will the opportunity to up-sell his arrow making course, where participants learn to forge their arrow heads from scratch. At some point, I will be going back.

The day was brilliant. Will is a patient teacher who has a comprehensive knowledge of his subject matter, and who will always step in the moment you have any difficulties. The bow I built is by no means perfect, but I built it and named it (I’ve never thought to name either of my other bows, but this longbow is “Suzy”) and so it will always have a special quality that all the money in the world could not buy. It shoots just as well as any shop-bought longbow you might buy for a similar price. If you’re in the market for a longbow, this might be one of the best and most satisfying ways of acquiring one.

Visit Will Lord’s website for more information about his longbow workshops and the multitude of other courses he teaches.

Our club is the ideal place to shoot a longbow, or indeed almost any other type of bow! Find out more here.

Buying your first bow: part 2

You’ve decided to take the plunge and get your first bow. Well done! But what do you need to buy?

If you’re buying a traditional style bow, this is an easy question. Traditional bows are basically sticks with a piece of string attached, so really that’s where most of your money will go; anything left over will go on arrows and a bag and maybe some peripherals such as a quiver, finger tab (or glove), and an arm bracer.

For a modern recurve, the answer is more involved. Modern recurves are modular, so there are choices to make around each part of the bow. Some of this is based on your physique and skill (how big should the bow be? How powerful?), but much of it will be around personal preference and what type of shooting you enjoy.

The easy way to buy a modern recurve is to buy a beginner kit or a starter bow. There are plenty around, but if you’ve read my previous post and want to go to a shop and build your own bow, this is what you will need to consider. I have put in some rough cost guidelines, although as always prices may vary. Continue reading

Buying your first bow: part 1

The 2 most likely questions for a budding archer to ask immediately after their first lesson are: “How much does a bow cost?” and “Where can I buy one?”. I generally recommend that any aspiring archer holds off buying a bow until they’ve been shooting regularly at a club for a while (6 months or more), but sooner or later we all hear the siren call of shiny new archery equipment.

Where can I buy a bow?

There are plenty of places you can buy a bow; Amazon and eBay are filled with beginner kits, second hand bows, and general equipment. Heidi, archer-in-chief at 2020, bought her first bow (a second hand beginner kit) via eBay and never looked back. However, while you might be able to find a bargain, many new archers may not know their draw length, required poundage, or simply how a bow fits together. Without the guiding hand of an expert, it is easy to end up with a duffer.

When buying your first bow, I think your best bet is to buy directly from a dedicated archery shop. Most archery shops these days have websites if you just want a quiver or a finger tab, but if you’re starting out with your first bow, you would be better off taking a trip to a physical brick and mortar store. Continue reading