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.
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 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 →
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).
On 5 September 2015, Hamish Murray of Swindon, UK, shot 10 arrows into a 40 cm target, from an 18m distance, in just 1 minute and 0.5 second. With a 62 lb longbow. And he was just 17 at the time.
If your reaction to that is less “Ooof” and more “Guard my beverage”, then there’s nothing stopping you from having a go yourself. Murray currently holds the Guinness World Records (GWR) title for “Fastest time to shoot 10 arrows”, which is just one of a whole host of archery titles that GWR monitor.
Other current titles include “Farthest accurate distance (men’s archery)” for which the challenger must shoot an arrow into any scoring ring of a 120cm World Archery target. Which might sound reasonably do-able, until you consider that the current record stands at 283.47 m (930.04 ft). It’s held by US Paralympic legend Matt Stutzman, AKA the @ArmlessArcher, who, as his bio says, does everything with his feet. You might not want to put that beer down just yet. Another archer with proper foot skills is American Nancy Siefker who, standing on her hands and holding the bow with her left foot, shot an arrow into a scoring ring of a 5.5 cm target from a distance of 6.09 m (20 ft). If you fancy having a go at this, be reassured that the rules allow for a larger target than the one Nancy chose – anything up to 12 cm is allowed. Easy.
But in all seriousness, if you’re willing to put in the work you could be in with a shot (yes, I know) at one of the other records. Certain club members – and at this point the Wednesday evening crowd come, unbidden, to mind – might fancy their chances at this one: “Most balloons burst simultaneously by arrows.” The current holder, American Randy Oitker, loaded multiple arrows onto his bow and with this lethal cluster managed to burst seven balloons, pinned to a target, at the same time.
If endurance is your thing, there’s a record for the “Longest archery marathon”. This is pretty much what it sounds like: the longest time to continuously shoot arrows under World Archery conditions (with designated rest breaks allowed, so you can take care of requisite business). That record currently stands at 30 hours and 16 minutes, and is held by Dutch amateur archer Ton van Eekeren. Those who prefer outdoor shooting might like to consider the as-yet unclaimed title for “Highest archery score in 24 hours under World Archery outdoor conditions”.
Another, rather intriguing, record category also currently stands unfilled: “Most bottle caps removed using a bow and arrow in one minute”. That’s pretty much what it sounds like: the most crown cap bottles opened using a bow and arrow in one minute. Anyone taking home that title will not, in all likelihood, have to buy a beer for a very long time.
If none of the above records (and there are a few more on the website) sound like your thing, the GWR team are open to suggestions for new record categories. There are a few criteria to bear in mind if you want to propose a new category, though. One of these is that your proposed record must be based on a “single superlative” – so you could go for farthest, highest, fastest or most, but not a combination of these (so no “Farthest accurate shot whilst doing the loudest burp”, for example). Another important one is that the activity can’t be too niche: it’s got to be something that is currently subject to, or is likely to provoke, international competition. As impressive as it is, no-one is going to accept your suggestion of “Most zombie hostage targets hit by a vaguely hungover South London archer in 30 seconds (female)”.
You can also request that a record be split by gender, if there is justification for this. There’s no reason why women and men shouldn’t compete with each other for “Most balloons burst simultaneously by arrows”, but you could argue that “Heaviest longbow draw weight” – a record which, at 200lb, has remained in the arms of the UK’s Mark Stretton since 2004 could be split into female and male categories.
If you feel like having a go any of these records, you can fill in a short online form on the GWR website. Then, the records management team will send you the guidelines – basically, what conditions must be fulfilled and the quality of evidence they’ll need to see to evaluate your claim. Record verification is taken very seriously by GWR – the majority of archery records listed above must be undertaken using unmodified, World Archery-recognised equipment in the presence of independent expert witnesses registered with either Archery GB or the equivalent nationally-recognised governing body. By “independent”, GWR mean that the witness can’t have any personal investment in the outcome, so you can’t ask the club to do it.
But we will claim it was our training that got you there. Naturally…