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Back to the Gwyntarian Archer's Guild home page Ask Archy, part one

"Ask Archy" was a series of articles devoted to answering questions about traditional archery in "The Bodkin's Point", a Gwyntarian Archer's Guild publication that ran from 1992 through 1995.  The following questions and answers are from Issue 1, Numbers 2 and 3.

Q:  My bow didn't pass inspection at the last event I attended.  Can you tell me why?

A:  Not having seen the bow in question, I can only hazard a guess or two.  Let's look at the inspection process.  When you go to an SCA-sanctioned archery event, your equipment is supposed to be inspected by an archery marshal.  If it isn't, you should complain, because it is in your best interest to have safe equipment.  The marshal will be looking for five things.

First is the Bow: How old is it?  How good a condition is it in?  Are there any visible cracks or fissures developing in the grain or lamination?  What condition are the nock points in?  Are the limbs twisted out of alignment?

Second is the String: Is it waxed well?  Are the servings becoming unraveled?  Is it the right length for this bow?  Has someone tied a knot in it? (Oh yes they do!) Are sections becoming frayed or separated?

Third are the Arrows: Are they the correct strength for this bow?  Is the fletching secure?  Are the heads secure?  Is the arrow straight?  Does it flex or crack?

Fourth is How the bow behaves under stress.  The marshal will ask you to string and pull the bow, looking to see if any cracks develop that were invisible unstressed.  The marshal will also check to see if the string seats itself properly after being pulled.

Lastly, the marshal is looking at you.  When you pull the string, can you do so without a struggle or is your pull-arm shaking from trying to manage too heavy a poundage.  Also, are you obviously drunk, insane or senile?

Assuming everything is OK, you are free to play.  However, if there is a question on anything, further consultation may be necessary.  Sometimes, equipment doesn't pass.  If that happens to you, you have the right and the need to know why.  If the marshal doesn't explain why he or she made the decision they did, you should ask.

Q:  The last time my bow was inspected, the marshal suggested that I replace the string soon.  What can I do to prolong the life of the string?

A:  Wax it, mostly.  this keeps the fibers supple, while keeping moisture away from them.  Check your servings (the wraps at each end which secure the bow-loops, and the thick wrapping in the middle) on a regular basis; if you see them starting to unravel, clip the loose ends and retie them.  Finally, don't keep your string under extreme conditions; too much heat or cold, or leaving your bow strung for long periods of time, will progressively damage the string (and the bow, too!).

Q:  What is the difference between straight fletching and helical fletching?

A:  Look at your arrow.  Hold it up and sight down the length.  Try not to poke yourself in the eye while doing so.  Is your fletching straight?  Then it is straight.  Does it curve gently across the surface of the shaft?  Then it is helical.  Helical fletching is the exact equivalent in archery to rifling in a gun barrel, and the reason is identical in both instances: it causes the projectile, whether bullet or arrow, to spin rapidly while in flight.  Why give it a spin?  To stabilize the flight, and cause it to travel somewhat farther and in a straighter path.  What you trade for range and accuracy is a bit of power; a spinning arrow doesn't pack quite as much force as a nonspinning one.  This may make a difference in hunting, but not usually for target shooting.

Q:  What's the difference between 3 fletch arrows and 4 fletch?

A:  One fletch.  Seriously, though, the extra fletch helps in speed rounds when you want to nock your arrow as quickly as possible; a 4 fletch has a 50% chance of being oriented properly as it is drawn from the quiver, a 3 fletch has a 33% chance.  Additionally, 4 fletch arrows have a smoother, more accurate flight, which you pay for by additional mass and drag on the arrow that shortens range somewhat.

Q:  Someone told me I should never dryfire my bow.  I'm perfectly willing not to, but I need to know what it is first.  Can you explain?

A:  To dryfire a bow means to release the string as if you were shooting an arrow, but without the arrow.  What happens when you do such a thing?  Quite possibly nothing at all.  Such activity will age your bow and string rapidly.  You see, without the arrow, the energy developed by pulling the string has nowhere to go but the string, or bow itself.  However, the most common effect is to produce stress cracks throughout the surface of the bow.  On some occasions, the stress produced will actually crack the bow itself, sometimes suddenly so.  So, it's never wise to do such a thing.

Q:  What's the best way to string my bow?  I've heard of three different methods with good and bad about all of them.

A:  The three ways you probably have heard of involve two manual methods and one using mechanical aids.  Sounds like a personal problem to me.  The most common is the step-through method, in which the archer seats one end of the string properly, places that limb (facing backward) against an ankle, places the other leg between the string and the bow and braces the rest of the bow behind that leg.  Pressing the upper limb forward, he slides the string up the limb (or brings the loose loop over the end of the limb) and seats it properly.  This method has the advantage of speed, simplicity and reasonable safety but it is usually slow death to your bow, especially if it is a recurve.  It is possible to provide even, untwisting pressure against the upper limb, but this is not usually the reality.  Any imbalance or torquing is going to slowly warp the limb out of true.  This is the reason why inpsecting marshals are always sighting down the length of the bow and muttering darkly to themselves.  (Well, not the only reason, but...)

Another method involves seating the string in one end as before, bracing that end (facing forward) against your heel or foot, pulling the center of the bow toward you while bending over in order to press the top end of the bow away from you while simultaneously sliding the loop up the limb into the seated position.  This method works fine if you have the arms of an orangutan; the rest of us have to lean over in a very awkward position.  In addition, may St. Sebastian have mercy on your soul if the braced end slips.  Slipping outward will cause the bow to perform some truly indescribable arial acrobatics.  Slipping inward, between your legs, will... well, never mind, you'd rather not know.

The last method involves using a bow-stringer, which is a looped rope with some cups or other attachments in it.  There are numerous styles and varieties, but the general idea is to connect both limbs of the bow to the rope with one end of the bowstring correctly seated.  Stepping on the center of the stringer while lifting the bow applies even pressure to both limbs allowing the limbs to bend enough to seat the bowstring.  Get a marshal to show you the exact sequence for a particular bow-stringer since there is considerable variation.  The main advantage is the application of equal stress which reduces the possibility of warpage in the limbs.  The disadvantage is that they are not period and can be rather slow and a bit cantankerous.  As a general rule, recurves should probably use a stringer, while longbows may use whatever the archer finds most efficient and convenient.

Q:  What did the marshal mean when he said "Watch out for deadwood"?

A:  "Deadwood" is the euphamism for spent arrows lying near the target on the ground.  The cry "Beware of deadwood", or similar, reminds archers to avoid stepping on such arrows while approaching the target to retrieve; stepping on arrows being considered bad form and extraordinarily unhealthy for the arrows.

Q:  Why can't I use broadheads on the range?

A:  Because they chew up the targets and bales with remarkable speed, as well as being more dangerous in a general sense.

Q:  Is my stance important to shooting well?

A:  Try shooting while lying down...  Seriously though, yes, stance is important.  Not so much in terms of specific angle - I recall the first time I saw a long-bowman who was an experienced hunter; he had an odd sort of crouched-over stance and held his bow at a considerable angle.  This was completely opposite to everything that I'd ever been taught and I was appalled, but he shot well.  Even in such extreme variants, the principles are the same.  The whole point of correct stance is to provide a stable base so as to engage the shoulder blades and attendant muscles in a connected series in order to provide full drawing power as well as maximum possible extension of the string.  What is most important about stance is to be consistent and take the same stance every time.


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