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

"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 Volume II, Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Q:  Is there an advantage to using a finger tab instead of a shooting glove?

A:  Possibly.  This is one of those arguments archers indulge in interminably that never seem to get settled.  Personally, I tend to see it as a matter of personal style, myself; although the kind of shooting you do has an effect on which you choose.  The idea here is to have as little between your fingers and the string as possible; ideally nothing at all, but most of us don't have cast-iron fingertips.  Gloves protect the hand completely, but some archers complain that they swathe too thickly, or that they bind in the wrong places.  A tab is a compromise between too much and not enough.  A single piece of leather, with a loop in it to stick your finger through it, covers only the fingertips you use to shoot with.  In addition, it is sometimes fur-lined to give a lower friction coefficient than the chamois that leather gloves are often made of.  However, some archers complain that they feel awkward on the hand, or that the flap gets tangled with the string.  A critical factor is the type of shooting you do.  Olympic-style target shooters have a tendancy to use tabs for flexibility and control.  In the SCA, people who di a lot of speed shooting tend to use gloves to insure that the tab doesn't foul the string and so that they can grab arrows efficiently.  This would make perfect sense, except that some good speed shooters I know use tabs.  And there are some Olympic-style shooters who swear by gloves.  Go figure...

My personal experience is that I invariably used a glove until one practice when I forgot to bring it.  I hastily purchased a tab, because they were cheap, and because a friend had recommended them.  I expected it to be awkward and uncomfortable, and so it was... for about four shots.  Then I forgot it was there and my scoring rose noticeably.  But, some shooters hate 'em.  So, my recommendation would be to experiment with both of them, and see which one fits best for you.

Q:  The points keep coming off my arrows when I pull them from the target.  What can I do about this?

A:  Stop shooting at high-density targets, or get arrows well enough built that the points are securely attached.  This problem stems from tough targets that grip the points too tightly, arrows whose points are not glued sufficiently to the shaft, or arrows over a certain age in which the glue has become dry and brittle.

Q:  What is the best way to pull arrows from a target?

A:  Carefully.  You should stand to one side of the target, look to be certain no one is standing behind the arrow you intend to draw - poking someone in the eye with the arrow is rude.  Draw the arrow straight out with a firm grip, following the line of entry.  Move it slowly, but steadily.  Do not on any count apply twist or torsion - the very least effect will be al slightly bent arrow.  If there is resistance, you may need to use two hands.  If there is a lot of resistance, you may need to jiggle back and forth gently, but be careful.

Q:  Another archer said my arrows were too long for my draw.  How did he know this?  How long should my arrows be?

A:  He knew it because he could see a length of shaft sticking out from your bow when you were fully extended.  When you draw your bow, the point of the arrow should be as close to your rest as is safely possible, without it falling off.  The idea here is to get as short an arrow as your arm-length will allow, since the longer the arrow, the greater the flex while in flight.  Measure the length of your draw, from your release hand to your bow rest.  The arrow should be just slightly longer.  Another simple measurement is to extend your arms straight out, and touch your fingertips.  An arrow placed against your sternum (don't hurt yourself, use the nock end) should not extend beyond your fingers.

Q:  What is a burger button and why can't I use one?

A:  A burger button is an adjustable screw on modern spring rests, controlled with an allen wrench.  It is used to fine-adjust the horizontal positioning of an arrow while still on the rest, and influence the cast of the arrow by reducing the 'fishtailing' of the arrow as it leaves the bow.  It is seen most frequently in center-fire compound bows; and let me assure you, you can indeed use them.  Just not in the SCA.  In the SCA, we promote traditional archery, and a burger button is one of those technogimmicks used in modern archery that wasn't even conceived of in the middle ages.  It's a very nice application of physics, but the SCA philosophy is that if you want a cast centered properly, aim it correctly to begin with!

Q:  How does my drawlength change the poundage value marked on my bow?

A:  I wish I could provide you with a nice, precise mathematical formula: and there are such formulae... about one for each bow, and each string, under each separate temperature and humidity level... I don't have enough space in this newsletter.  In general, overpulling will increase the poundage, or energy, behind the arrow from the stated standard on your bow.  Underpulling will reduce the effective poundage.  To determine how much, you need to test it on a poundage scale, which you can usually find at your local archery shop.  An approximate rule-of-thumb is add (or subtract) two pounds for every inch you draw more (or less) than the drawlength listed on the bow which is usually 28".  For example, a person who only draws 24" on a 45# bow rated at 28" is really drawing only 37#.  (28" - 24" = 4".   4" x 2 lbs./inch = 8lb.   45# - 8# = 37#)

Q:  The marshal rejected my bowstring because there was a knot in it.  Why is this a problem?

Q:  Is it safe if I have a few broken strands in my bowstring?

A:  I'm going to answer both of the above questions in one reply, since they are effectively getting at the same thing.

Tell me, have you ever seen a bull-whip demonstrated?  Do you know what that cracking noise is?  It is the tip of the whip momentarily exceeding the speed of sound, and leaving behind it a column of vacuum for the surrounding air to collapse into.  Now, here is the good news:  a bowstring that snaps apart is much smaller than a bull-whip.  The bad news?  It si most likely to break at maximum tension, i.e. right next to your face, directly in front of your eyes...

If you see that your string is getting a bit fuzzy, it's time to apply some wax.  If the string is beginning to fray a bit, it's time to consider getting a new string, soon.  If you see a strand or two actually broken, gently and carefully unstring your bow, NOW!

"A strand or two"?  I have news for you - most strings are only one strand, folded back on itself about 12 times to get a thicker, more durable string.&nbps; Flemish strings have two strands, not one.  If you see a strand broken, that means the entire string is trying to bear the load reduced capacity; the end result is very predictable.

And knots?  A simple overhand knot has been measured to reduce load-bearing capacity in a string about 45%.  That means the string can only bear 55% of the weight it is rated for.  Again, the end result is not mysterious.

Q:  Why did the marshal tell me my string was too short and how did he know?

A:  Presumably because it was.  As for how he knew, there is a real simple rule-of-thumb; perhaps the original rule of thumb.  It involves a measurement known as a "fistmele" roughly determined by placing ones fist (thumb up) against the belly of the bow and sticking your thumb out.  If the tip of your thumb is significantly above or below the level of your string (do remember to string your bow before doing this), then you have a problem.  If the string is well above your thumb, then it is too short (the string, not your thumb) and you are stressing the limbs.  If well below, your string is too long and you are losing power.  Bow architecture being what it is, the term 'significantly' is rather fuzzy and subject to interpretation.  In general, the string shouldn't be much below the knuckle on your thumb, or an equivalent distance above.

Q:  Into which should I put more investment, an excellent bow or an excellent set of arrows?  Which will improve my performance the most?

A:  Well, you should really try to get the best you can afford of each.  But if I had to make a choice, I'd go for the arrows.  All that is really involved in a bow is providing equal tension on both limbs to make the string go from here to there smoothly; beyond that is just bells and whistles.  Arrows, though, are complicated.  You have to ask how long are they?  What type of fletching?  What is the fletching made of?  And how many fletches are there?  How heavy is the tip and what type is it?  What sort of nock?  Is the shaft straight?  What is it made of?  Is it varnished?  What weight pull is the arrow spined for?  And so on.  All these questions are not just details, they all deal with things that are going to affect the flight of the arrow.  So it's vitally important to have answers to each of these questions that are appropriate to the kind of shooting you do and the sort of results you intend.  Which means obtaining precisely crafted arrows that fit those answers in as many ways as possible.

Q:  What characterizes an excellent set of arrows?

A:  For an object with no moving parts an arrow is a remarkably complicated piece of equipment.  An ideal set of arrows would be one in which all the individual arrows were exactly the same length, as as near to exactly the same weight as practical.  The tips need to be set flush with the shaft, and the same holds true for the nocks.  Needless to say, the shafts must be perfectly straight.  They should also be varnished or finished with something to prevent entrance of moisture into the wood.  Finally, they shuld be spined to the correct weight; that is to say, adjusted so as to match the draw weight of your bow.

Q:  Could you please explain the "One Man, One Bow" rule used at the Pennsic War?  Is there a short phrase that would cover the details better?

A:  I will grant you, that it is somewhat ambiguous since it could have two different interpretations, although both reflect medieval reality.  One way to look at it is "a person may only use one bow for all the shoots" at Pennsic.  A medieval archer could only afford to own one bow at a time and until it became unusable he didn't make or buy another (unless he was a bowyer by trade).  In today's reality, many of us have more than one bow, expecially if they are of different types.  Since in the Society we can adopt different personas to different activities, there is no problem with you shooting your English longbow at the advancing soldiers and then using your Turkish recurve on the clout castle.

The interpretation the marshals are using is that "any person who is shooting should have their own bow".  A medieval archer was not constantly borrowing a bow from his pals every time he wanted to shoot a target, especially in the midst of battle.  As an archer, he was expected to bring his own equipment with him.  Although additional arrows and spare bows (in case of breakage) might be supplied by the army, the archer's bow was his symbol of his profession.  If his bow broke in the middle of a battle, then he might 'borrow' a bow from a dead or wounded archer.  Likewise at Pennsic.  If you have done archery you probably own your own equipment or you have been borrowing a particular spare bow from someone for a while, your own 'use' bow.  You are familiar with the bow, you know what will be found at inspection, you know how it shoots; it is 'your' bow.  By this very concept it also implies it is not your first time ever shooting archery.  You are coming to the line with a modicum of experience.  If, for some reason, your bow does not pass inspection (or if it breaks during practice, which can happen to anyone at any time) then, as was the case for the medieval archer, you may borrow a bow from someone who has already shot.  This is the essence of the "one man, one bow" rule, that any archer coming to the line is familiar with the equipment he is about to use because it is 'his'.  This increases the safety factor a hundredfold for all archery participants.  Other than saying "you must have your own equipment" I don't know of any other way to say it and cannot think of anything short and catchy other than "one person, one bow".

Q:  Just out of curiosity, what was the maximum range on medieval bows?  I've heard a lot of different figures, but seldom any agreement on them.

A:  "Just out of curiosity,", eh?  What, someone you don't like lives a few hundred yards away, something like that?

The reasons why you have seen widely differing figures are that, on the one hand, the subject is often spoken of by authors (such as Sir Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle), who don't know what they are talking about.  On the other hand, there are a great many types of bows, each with its own potential range maximums.

The truth of the matter seems to be that a classic English longbow of the 14th and 15th centuries seems to have been able to reach no farther than about 280 yards.  This figure is based on several kinds of evidence.  Circumstantial literary, i.e. see Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV, Act III, Scene @; Archeological, i.e. Caernavon castle is built in such a way that its main courtyard is about 330 yards from a prominent hill on the mainland - if Welsh bowman could have regularly reached 350 to 400 yards as is alleged, the castle's architects would have taken that into account; and modern reenactments - reproductions of medieval bows built of period materials and in the hands of skilled archers reach no more than about 250 to 270 yards.

Crossbows are another story.  The most powerful of the late medieval models seems to have had flat trajectory up to about 60 to 80 yards, and have been capable of reaching 375 to 400 yards when elevated to 45 degrees.

Which leaves us with Turkish recurves.  The Turks have had a very long tradition of archery, and have pursued the subject with much enthusiasm.  The classic Turkish recurve is a very heavy composite, turned back onto itself when unstrung; they are extremely powerful bows.  With these bows, and a special arm-guide, and special flight arrows, Turkish records claim distances of 625 to 838 yards.  For those of you familiar with Pennsic geography, a comparable length would be from the bottom of Runestone Hill to a little beyond the crest of the hill behind the archery range.  You can believe it or not as you will.  For the record, a group of European archery enthusiasts in the 19th century witnessed a secretary to the Turkish ambassador to Great Britain reach with the special equipment mentioned above, a distance of 482 yards.  This archer later stated that he was "not proficient in the art of sending a flight arrow to great distance", and that there were other, stronger archers than he who could do better.

Q:  Longbows, shortbows, compounds, composits...  I'm confused by all these descriptions.  Could you clarify what the various kinds of bows are?

A:  I can try.  A shortbow is generally a tapered wand, about a yard or so in length, and is considered the simplest and most basic of bows.  Often called a "self bow", it is used most frequently in primitive hunting.  A longbow is a shortbow on steroids.  Traditionally "as long as the archer is tall", a longbow may technically be a composite, as the grip is often built up from different woods, and the nocks are often of some foreign material such as horn.  Longbows are traditionally constructed from staves of yew or ash, but in modern times osage orange and lemonwoods have become popular.  A composite is, as the name implies, any bow constructed of lengths of different materials.  Modern bows often rely on fiberglass in this mixture.  A laminate bow is simply a variant term for composite.  Recurve bows are ones in which the arms coil to one degree or another backwards when unstrung (i.e., away from the archer holding the unstrung bow).  Extreme examples of these are Turkish composite recurves made up of bone, sinew and metal plates, which curve back almost to touch.  Compound bows, illegal in the SCA are ones which rely on the mechanical aid of a compound pulley to develop thrust, though in practice they usually also include triggers, sights, balance bars, etc, etc.  Flatbows are ones in which the arms are flattened in cross-section, instead of round or "D" shaped.  A crossbow is a mechanical, bow-like device with very short arms, braced on a crossbeam, and used much like a rifle.  They are much more powerful than longbows, but much slower.  A stonebow is a mixture of crossbow and sling, a crossbow-like device (though I have primary source evidence for a center-fire longbow variant of a stonebow) which fires small stone pellets.  Or grapes, or marshmallows,...

Q:  Why didn't my scores get into the IKAC report?  I had a good score.

A:  You need to talk to the marshal-on-charge who ran the shoot.  Um... there was a marshal-in-charge, wasn't there?  It is the marshal-in-charge's responsibility to report any and all score results to the relevant authority.  This is true of all IKAC scores, and it is also true of Royal Round scores, as well.  If you know what you shot, and you see lower scores being reported later on, with no mention of yours than your marshal is quite probably remiss in his or her duties.  This is, of course, assuming there was a warranted marshal supervising the shoot.  If there wasn't, then not only will your scores not get recorded, but the shoot itself won't qualify as an SCA-sanctioned event.

Q:  Several of us in my local group are interested in archery, but we heard that we aren't allowed to practice archery without a marshal, and there isn't one anywhere nearby.  Is this true, and what can we do about it?

A:  Well, it is more or less true.  No SCA-sanctioned event involving archery may occur without a warranted marshal being present.  No marshal, no archery; and the definition of 'event' includes simple practice sessions.

What you can do about it, is write your regional archery marshal (address is in your kingdom newsletter), and indicate the dearth.  The regional may know of a marshal who lives not too awfully far away, who might be willing/able to visit at intervals and help out.  Another long-term solution is that if any of you are interested in becoming a marshal, once again, write the regional: ultimately that would solve your problem once and for all.

But what can you do in the meantime?  Well, note that you can't have an SCA-sanctioned event or practice without a marshal.  But nothing in the rules prevents you and some friends from going out to a local range and putting in some practice time as mundanes.  Just don't announce it at a local meeting.  The disadvantages are that your scores cannot be turned in to any competition and you will not be covered by SCA insurance.  Now, this is not to be read as an encouragement to you to ignore the rules; the reason marshals must be present is primarily one of safety, and if you shoot privately, you should certainly do so in a safe and well-organized manner.  But neither should you give up on archery just because there are some problems to overcome.  These problems have solutions, both long and short term.

Q:  A historical question, Archy.  What did the equipment of the Third Crusade archers consist of, and how had it changed by the time of Agincourt?

A:  The Third Crusade (May 1189 - Oct. 1192) was the one in which Richard the Lionhearted captured Cyprus, fought Saladin, quarreled with his allies, and came within 5 or 10 miles of Jerusalem before having to give up and retreat.

Christian archers wore full-length chainmail; a coif (over a steel cap), a long hauberk, and chausses.  Over this they generally had a surcoat, usually with a big cross blazoned on it.  Their equipment involved a shortbow or crossbow, ammunition, a belt, a rucksack with rations and personal gear, and a knife or dagger.  That was pretty much it, if you include some spare linen and a quilted gambeson.  The better equipped archers had doubled hauberks, two layers of mail instead of one.  If it occurs to you that all this may not have been ideal summerwear for Middle-eastern conditions, I should point out that long-term Christian residents in Palestine, and veteran campaigners, tended to discard some of the mail in favor of loose cloth, turbans, and cuiboilli leather.

The Battle of Agincourt was the final engagement in the Campaign of 1415, during the Hundred-Years War.  It took place on 25 October of that year.  The Anglo-Welsh archers in that battle wore steel caps, often with long camails attached.  They had quilted gambesons or tunics on, some with metal breastplates over this.  Mail hauberks, over or under the tunic, were fairly typical.  The chausses had usually been discarded for thick trews and boots.  A leather vambrace on the bow-arm, and sometimes metal or leather greaves, would complete the set.  Upper-arm brassards, and elbow or knee cups, were rare among archers.  The bow was the classic Welsh longbow, usually of yew.  Personal equipment included ammunition (in several types), a quiver (from the belt), a rucksack (but very few rations in it by late October for the English), a utility knife, a misericorde, and sometimes a shortsword.  Finally, a mallet and a big wooden stake which was sharpened at both ends.  They used the hammer to embed the stakes at an angle in the ground immediately in front of their positions, to prevent cavalry from charging them.


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