A few things you probably didn’t know about archery

So, I went back to the range on Sunday, and had a lovely time putting sharp pointy things into a crappy target made out of masking tape. My groupings are getting better, thank you for asking. But it got me thinking about the stuff that people don’t know about archery, whether because they watch too many movies, or because they haven’t yet discovered this most interesting and rewarding of martial arts.

Of course, now I must tell you all about them, these thoughts of mine.

You don’t draw the bow with your arms.

Does that sound odd? It’s absolutely true, you see. Your arms brace the bow, and the fact that your hands are on the end of them is convenient for holding it (obviously) but it’s not your arms doing the actual work. It’s all in your back and shoulders. The big trapezius and rhomboid muscles between your shoulder blades take the brunt of the force needed to draw and hold the bow, and that’s the first place you’ll feel the strain when you’re shooting for a while.

It takes a hell of a lot of strength.

I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s worth repeating. Drawing and shooting a bow, especially if you’re going to hold it at full draw and aim, requires a lot more strength than just swinging a sword. I can pick up a greatsword, which is almost as tall as me, and start using it straight away; I might tire pretty quick, but I’m easily capable of a few swings. But I can barely draw a 40lb bow at all, and anything heavier is simply beyond me. The average man can’t draw a warbow, which starts at 100lbs and justs go up from there.

For reference, that’s 100lbs of force on a small subset of muscles, braced by a bent arm, and held by three fingers on the bowstring. There’s a good reason why archers need to work on strength training and gradually increase the weight of their bows.

You do not ‘fire’ a bow.

This is a Hollywood thing, and it always makes me laugh. You fire a gun. You do not fire a bow, unless you actually set it on fire. You can shoot a bow, of course, but if someone was giving the command to shoot way back in medieval times, you can bet they didn’t shout ‘FIRE!’ like they do in the movies. ‘Release’ was more likely.

They used feathers because they could collapse.

Okay, I just learned this recently, and it totally blew my mind. Why feathers, for the fletching? Arrows need to have fletching to stabilize them in flight, right, and it made sense to use feathers because they’re light and plentiful. But you have to ask yourself – why didn’t they experiment with other materials? Modern arrows, like the ones I use, have plastic vanes instead of feathers.

Guys – it’s because feathers can collapse. When the medieval archer shot their arrow, the fletching needed to be able to flatten as it passed the side of the bow itself, and then spring back into shape to stabilize the arrow. Feathers do that! My modern arrows, with their non-collapsing vanes, are only okay to use with my bow because my bow is a modern recurve with an arrow rest that can flatten when the arrow passes over it. If I ever swap to a traditional bow, I’ll have to change all my arrows or I won’t be able to shoot straight.

If you don’t think that’s the coolest shit ever, I don’t want to know you.

You anchor the arrow to your face.

The secret to aiming and shooting accurately is really all about muscle memory and being consistent, and the one thing that helps you to be consistent is to pick an anchor. The anchor is the place to which you draw the bowstring, with the end of the arrow nocked to it, just before you release. Usually, it means touching part of your draw hand to part of your face in the same place every time. For example, I draw with my left hand, and my anchor is when I touch the side of my chin with my thumb, and the bowstring touches my cheek.

Hitting yourself in the face with the bowstring is normal.

Further to the point about anchors… everyone knows you need to be careful not to slap the inside of your forearm with the bowstring. Not everyone knows that you also need to be careful not to hit your own face. You can do this if your anchor isn’t right. I know because I managed to slap myself in the nose twice, just because I turned my head a little just as I loosed the arrow.

Well, I hope this has been both informative and encouraging. Archery is just such a fun, intellectual, and engaging pasttime that I highly recommend you try it out if you haven’t done already. Even though it’s demanding on the body, it really is for everyone, especially if you pick up a modern compound bow with all the doohickeys that make it easier to shoot.

Shoutout to Lykopis Archery – I gotta get my ass over there for a few more lessons one of these days!

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