We often forget how much terminology we use in archery and how daunting it can be as a beginner so we thought we’d tackle a few of the big questions here on the blog starting with:
What does it mean when my archery instructor says that someone is ‘over bowed’?
Obviously, it doesn’t mean that they have too many bows because we all know that you can never have too many bows. This is what garages were invented for (or in London spare bedrooms, large cupboards, or any available wall or floor space). It actually means that the weight of the bow that the person is trying to pull is too much for them.
So, firstly ‘how can you tell?’ and secondly, ‘why is that a problem?’ Well, the second most important rule of archery (the first is about where you’re pointing the pointy end) is that in order to be successful an archer must be completely in control of the shot at all times. You want a smooth, repeatable shot cycle – which is exactly the same for every single shot that you take.
So, how do we know you’re over bowed? A good sign is if you see the archer wobbling around, raising their shoulders (no they shouldn’t be up around your ears and yes, it is possible for them to come down) or doing any one of a million other small, painful things (huge tension in the neck is another giveaway or grim locked-jaw with throbbing forehead veins) to try and brace yourself for the huge HOICK back… then you’re not fully in control.
Why is it a problem? Because it throws your shot off and because it’s not repeatable. If you are over bowed it will get progressively worse through the session as you tire – meaning ever more random things start to become part of your shot. We practice regularly to try to build muscle memory in a positive way – we REALLY don’t want for an archer to build in any of those painful things. So, if you feel that you’re tiring or perhaps you’re on the very edge of being over-bowed – once you start to feel that your shots are off, or you are not fully in control – then stop!
Give yourself the break and come back fresh another time.
When you feel that the time has come to buy your own bow, you have a decision to make that goes beyond your income and the distance to the nearest archery shop: traditional or modern?
2020 Archery teaches using a modern style – recurve training bows – and you can stick with the club bows (with no charge!) for as long as you need. But you’ll have seen club members using the full gamut of styles: longbows, flatbows (AKA the “American longbow”), horsebows, Olympic recurves, and the occasional compound bow. Broadly speaking, the former three cover the most popular styles of traditional archery, and the latter two are considered modern.
So what unseen force pushes the novice archer to follow one path over the other?
There was an economic aspect to my decision to go traditional: my first bow, a Buck Trail flatbow, cost around £130. That figure aligned far better with my bank balance than the £200-plus that a recurve could have set me back, even before all the accessories used with freestyle – long rod, V-bars, sights and what have you – were factored in. But even if I’d been feeling more flush, I think I’d still have gone trad. That’s partly because shooting a stick-and-string makes me feel closer to the historical archers I like to learn about, and partly down to a (somewhat masochistic) desire to find out just how far I can go with the uncompensated mechanics of my own body.
I don’t think traditional is in any way superior: it’s a very personal preference. But I was interested in what makes people, as a general rule, choose one school over the other. I was also curious as to how far people grow into their preferred style – how important is your shooting choice to your identity as an archer? Are you an archer who happens to prefer traditional, or are you firmly a Traditional Archer?
“I don’t differentiate between the two”, said Erin. “I’m currently shooting a recurve, but I definitely plan to buy a traditional bow in future.” Erin sees the positives of both: “With my modern bow I’m at the point where I’m confident my arrows will hit the target where I want them to, which is obviously a nice feeling. But I like the idea of trying out a bow that doesn’t have the sights and other accessories, to develop my style.”
Kat shoots a longbow, a style of archery that she’s been drawn to since a child. Her bow is made in the Victorian style – something I’d previously been unaware of, but Kat described a photograph, currently hanging in her hallway, of Victorian ladies shooting similar bows at Crystal Place. Whilst feeling a deep connection to the longbow, Kat has a good practical reason for her choice. “I’m dyspraxic, and the relative simplicity of the longbow suits me for that reason.”
I have oversimplified by defining the choice as simply Traditional versus Modern, of course. There is, at least some kind of, meeting point between the two in the form of recurve barebow and traditional barebow. The former is a good option for those who prefer to shoot a modern recurve, but without sights, stabilisers or draw check indicators. It’s not unusual to see a club member who usually shoots freestyle remove their sights and stabilisers, just to mix things up a bit. On such occasions, their fellow archers may be treated to said archer’s musings on how their “release feels different when I shoot it bare”, which certainly livens up the session. Recurve barebow is recognised by Archery GB in their national rankings, alongside freestyle recurve, compound and longbow.
Recurve traditional is similar to recurve barebow, but requires the use of wooden arrows, alongside a couple of other stipulations.
We also have a few compound shooters in our club. These bows are fast, accurate and comparatively easier to hold at full draw (although, remember that you DO have to pull it through the peak draw weight so you need to be able to control the full weight of the bow). Like recurves, compounds can be shot with or without stabilisers and sights. You can read Archery GB’s detailed explanation of the various bow styles in the Rules of Shooting.
So is tribalism in archery a big thing? Not in our club, it seems. Even those firmly attached to their preferred style have chosen it for personal or practical, not ideological, reasons, and everybody I spoke to expressed an interest in learning about the choices of others. Archers, it seems, are curious folk. In a good way.
But since this is my blog post and I’m a traditionalist, I’m going to end with YouTube archer NUSensei’s fine demonstration of the difference between freestyle and traditional shooting. The defence rests (on the arrow shelf).