Nigel and Archery

I'm not sure when Archery first started to appeal to me but it has been buzzing about in my head for a good many years. It was probably rooted in my abiding interest in archaeology and history, followed by reading up on the interesting problem of 'what was the power of a Tudor longbow?' This is more of a problem than it seems as no medieval engineer helpfully wrote down the exact specification and saved it away for us and longbows have not survived well in the archaeological record. Well not until they excavated the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship, which embarrassingly sank in the Solent while leading the attack on some invading French galleys but before she actually managed to engage the enemy.

After only a couple of hours The Mary Rose provided us with some 172 intact long bows from the ship's stores and several thousand arrows so precise dimensions and wood for analysis was now available so the details began to be filled in. I was reading this and wondering what a Tudor Warbow would be like to handle. I googled long bows and realised in moments that this was not one of Nigel's private silly ideas but that there was a huge Archery community with extensive use of traditional long bows as one of its many facets. "Gosh I would like to try that," I thought. And I thought it again and again down the years.

Warren shows the way Now one of the great advantages of this 'retired' gig I'm now on is that I have the time to follow up on ideas like this. I fired up the computer and web-searched for Archery near Brighton, actually looking for shops or perhaps traditional bowyers, but what I actually found was the Brighton Bowmen. It appeared that I had an Archery club right near to me and the field where they shoot was marked '11 minutes drive' by their Google maps page. I read their website and there was a "Beginner's weekend course" course coming up. This introduces you to the equipment, thankfully using more modern bows, and trains you in all those vital safety procedures needed for sharing a field with lots of other people all armed with lethal weapons. So I went and, aside from the mammoth thunderstorm at lunch time on the first day, it was loads of fun too.

The picture on the right was part way through day one and Warren, the instructor, suggested having a photograph. I suspect he was being overly generous but it still felt good to have gone from not even recognising some of the kit to doing that in an hour or so. OK this was at the extreme range of eight and a half meters but I did manage to hit a target at twenty meters about 50% of the time on the next day.

Right, so suddenly I'm a beginner Archer and I'm starting by equipping myself with something rated for 'club shooting'. Please note that this is miles away from that historical long bow in my head but that was not the intention here. I had started on a 14 pound bow, then increased to an 18 and I could fire that for a few hours. I had pulled a 32 pound bow and that would take practice but a proper 100 pound plus Tudor war bow would probably rearrange my shoulder joints to the point where my arms would want to fall off before I got it half way back. One useful fact was that I had been measured as having a 25 inch 'draw' (26.75" AMO). I was warned it should increase as I trained but that gave me a starting point to select the size of the bow and the size of the arrows to buy.

So I needed some kit. I had already looked about on the web for local suppliers but the advice from the instructor mentioned The Archery Company so I browsed their webshop. The first thing I discovered was there are booby traps. I noted visibly incompatible fixtures on the pictures such as interconnecting parts sold separately that were obviously different types. Hence I did the sensible thing, I ignored all the problems, read all the bumph, made some overall policy decisions and then picked up the phone to ask questions of somebody who knew.

Peaceful... The poor girl at The Archery Company stayed helpful and cheerful for over half an hour, she sorted out all the incompatibilities and explained the differences between the cheaper, the mid range and more expensive versions of items, she wrote down my amended list, stock checked it, took my details and agreed to ship it for delivery on the Friday. I've probably spent much too much and aimed a bit up-market for a total novice but compared to my version of scuba diving it is just so cheap. My total outlay so far wouldn't cover the travelling for my diving holiday and that was in the UK. OK I have to admit there were some problems with the order but they fixed everything rapidly and generously upgraded one part when it turned out that what they had in stock was not what they expected. They win the coveted "would use again" tag as you learn a lot about a company by how they fix errors.

Starting kit - probably too much I settled for a 66 inch bow and 28 inch arrows and I decided to start with 18 pound limbs, that's 18 pounds for a 'standard' 28 inch draw so I'm a bit down on that. I will upgrade when I feel able hoping to reach 30 or so with practice. At my draw the bow measures at 15 pounds and I can shoot it all day. I bought the transport bag, the hip quiver, the sight and the various accessories I had been introduced too on the introductory course.

OK, when it all arrived I was rather surprised at the lack of instructions with anything. Even diving gear, where training is paramount to life expectancy, has detailed leaflets, booklets and stuff so I was planning an evening reading before doing anything. Since I was still waiting to hear back from the club on membership I didn't have an instructor or coach to bother yet so it rapidly degenerated into a "what's this funny thing?" style learning session. However the web has the manuals and videos of people wanting to tell you how to do it (watch several or you may get the loony) and it turned out I had quite good kit with some bells and whistles I hadn't been introduced to yet. Even the funny strap turned out to be a rather nice bow stringer and it was on the invoice as FOC so they must have decided I'd need one and added it in.

What else? Well I decided I needed some spares, some bow setting up tools and maybe a gadget or two. These probably aren't really needed at my level but a lifetime in Physics and Engineering is a cruel burden to bear and lays heavy demands on a guy. Gadgets are easy but my big concern is arrows. Selecting arrows is obviously a black art and I clearly have much to learn.

What about shooting at home? I have a nice big garden. Well the first point was that I have a patio under a veranda so it forms a box. Shoot into that space so only the most wild shot is not contained. Then, if something goes wrong, I may end up with a badly bent arrow but shooting towards the house not towards the neighbours is paramount. I bought a big block of target rubber foam, nice and thick, and some 'faces', that's the paper targets, to pin onto it. What I need to do is to get my stance and my release up to standard.

So what is needed as bowmanship? Well it's a bit Zen. What you need is an absolutely reproducible stance, draw and release so that the only thing affecting where the arrow goes from shot to shot is your chosen aiming point. That just has to be practice, practice, practice. Get it so normal is a millimetre perfect replay and any changes are deliberate. This is why you need a club. You want a club coach looking at you critically so you are moving towards the best possible sequence and a field where you can repeat and repeat watching things come together. OK, clearly there will come a point where you are good enough that upgrading the equipment will pay off but after a Beginner's session and buying what I believe to be quite future proof gear I probably won't need to worry about that for a while.

OK I also bought a few archery tools. Well no. I confess I bought a lot actually. The Bowyer's square was an obvious must have and then, as I was sent some crimp on nocks with my first string, I bought some more and a crimp tool to manage them conveniently. I haven't managed to damage any of my arrows yet but I'm slightly over equipped to repair them with glue, spare fletchings and a wonderful jig to do it all on. The list goes on. You can never have too many tools provided you have a big enough box to carry them all in.

But then...

Modified kit Well I really believed I wasn't going to change much for a while which only goes to prove that I'm a fool who doesn't remember the last time he started something new. Well after the first few weekends on the field I discovered that I could shoot for hours, literally, without any stress so maybe the 18lbs limbs were a bit light. I dithered about, decided to upgrade to 22 or 24lbs, couldn't find any in stock anywhere, and so I finally bought some 26lb ones in 68inch plus a new string more out of annoyance than as a considered, revised plan. However the first time out with them I shot about 30 ends and the scores went up and the arms kept going. OK, I was still only shooting 30 yards at the time and I tended to shoot 20s to 40s with averages in the mid 30s but I log everything and the numbers definitely improved. I was pleased with the 26s although I only draw them to 23-24lbs with my short arms so I suspect another increase will happen later as I seemed to have adjusted quite quickly to the increased load.

About this time I discovered NUSensi on Youtube. He is on the sensible end of the spectrum of video posters and gives mainstream target recurve advice without any obvious personal quirks. I confess I'm disappointed when the subscription flags up a new post and it turns out to be a tank review but I do other things than archery too. We can forgive him for being an Australian too.

Aperture and rest The other early positive add-on was a finger string so I don't have to grip the bow after I release it. Experimenting with it I discovered that if my bow hand just spreads its fingers and waits until the fired bow descended gently onto my hat I shot left a bit but if I caught the bow in my hand it went right. Since catching the bow is neither a well planned nor a well executed manoeuvre I decided that consistent groups would benefit from the 'do nothing' plan because 'do nothing' is very easy to repeat exactly. OK, I used a pair of cheap EBay coloured lines for a couple of quid each and one fell apart quite quickly but a bit of string would probably work just as well. I dithered about, trying things, and finally settled for a strap that hooks round my wrist. It's made of some stiff paracord and with a leather piece that goes under the long rod where it screws in. I like it because it is no fiddle. The stiff cord stands up in a loop and I slip my hand under it as I pick the bow up (see the picture).

I rapidly lost my temper with the simple starter bow sight I had bought. As a retired physics nerd I definitely needed a sight with numbers on both axes and a full range of adjustment, left and right, by just one control. I made some inquiries and discovered that sights only seem to come in cheap or expensive with no real middle ground so I have upgraded to expensive and hopefully it will last forever so I can benefit from its impressive rigidity. The other thing I did was that I drew up a spread sheet to convert an arbitrary unit I call a 'yellow ring' into sight counts which look like centimetres but aren't. I find it's quite easy to look at a group, nod and say to myself 'down two yellow rings and left one and a half' so that tells me what to do to the sight. I dropboxed it onto my Smartphone so I have it in the field.

While on the matter of the sight maybe my head is the wrong shape or my eyes are in the wrong place but I seemed to need the sight pin screwed out a long way. So far, in fact, that I ran out of thread. When I decided to try an aperture rather than the little box I realised that by selecting one, the Decut Tawant, with a removable thread I could just substitute my own longer threaded shaft. OK getting small quantities of 8-32 UNC threaded bar in the UK was a bit messy but it works. I expect that as my 'form' improves it will probably turn out not to be needed but it helps for now.

Another problem I found as the distance increased was that my bow arm was waving about a bit. Well a lot actually. At 30 yards the size of the yellow 9 ring is just about 8mm at the sight and my poor old arms are a bit bouncy at full stretch. I can aim to within a millimetre when/if it stops moving and the results are then excellent so adding some weights on sticks to increase the moment of inertia on the bow hand helps. However there are a huge range of arms, weights and dampers on the market but very little advice on how to select the combination that is right for you other suck-it-and-see. I have just bought a generic SF kit to start with. I was, I confess, slightly perplexed that they were fitted with vibration dampers (aka rubber bits) as this can only have an effect after the release. I suspected they are just there to absorb some of the energy that is dumped into the bow to stop it shaking your screws loose and I am assured they make a bow 'more comfortable' to fire. Either way my weights on sticks kit seems to help a lot even if it does make things a bit heavier.

Then there was a problem with the 'plunger'. Now I confess I haven't fully understood the physics of the plunger yet but the one that came with the bow just felt 'gritty' as I pushed it in and out with my fingers. That just couldn't be right so I upgraded to an expensive plunger too. It definitely felt much smoother so whatever it is supposed to do it must be doing it better now and my notes on the scores I shoot seem show it helped.

I'm on my second arrow rest too. On the basic intro days the bows were equipped with some plastic vanes which looked a bit vulnerable so, when waiting for my bow to be delivered, I got some spares. However the one that came with the SF riser was a metal wire and adjustable. Annoyingly I stuck it on a bit low and I had to set it right to one end. Then I bent the metal arm a bit to stop the arrows dropping off the rest as I drew it. Then it fell off. OK I stuck it back but I started looking for its replacement. I picked the Shibuya Ultimate because I liked the reviews. I especially liked the review of the adhesive and the fact that they supplied a spare adhesive pad. It was a tadge expensive though.

Sight and Plunger Then I bought a new bow stand. That wasn't a very reasoned decision, I just liked the idea of the bow being more upright and not involving swinging it about. It wasn't a very happy purchase. The engineering was shoddy and I had to redrill the holes in the base to get the legs to assemble correctly. Clearly there were no QA checks what so ever before it was shipped. Yes, I shall remember that against you Cartel.

Now, I thought, it was all going smoothly. The brainstem was beginning to put all the advice together and the 'group' was actually beginning to look like a group. Well group enough to be worth recording the sight settings. However the one thing that was becoming pretty evident about the group was that it was taller than it was wide. OK part of that was good. It showed that all the effort to get the anchor right and to put the string 'on' the sight as well as on my face was paying off but no way was I worse at my aim vertically than horizontally.

Those that knew nodded sagely and said 'clicker'. I guess it made sense. It wasn't the aim that was the problem but the power. Sadly I wasn't as consistent as I thought so I bought a cheap Midas magnetic thing to play with.

This wasn't quite such a happy move. Even at full stretch forward it didn't want to click until I was pulling my nice practiced anchor way out of position. I did wonder about changing it for a more upmarket model but looking at everybody else on the range they just had something like my toy and what was really wrong was that my arrows were a bit long. On reinspecting my photographs it was rather obvious, my arrows just stuck out further than theirs. It appeared that 28" was too long however 27" would put my current draw into the clicker range and still give me nearly two inches to grow into before it dropped off the rest.

Problem. If I go out and buy new 27" arrows these 28" ones are just going to sit and rot in a box. They are nice arrows and I quite like them even if I do suspect the spine value isn't quite right (1516 say the charts). This means I loose nothing if I modify them because even if I mess them all up I still have buy new arrows. Cool. Onto the internet to find out how the points fit. Hot melt glue? Right I have a nice hot air surface mount circuitry rework soldering 'iron' so put one point in a little vice, warm things up with a bit of gentle wiggling and, sure enough, once the heat is well into the arrow it slides off the point with no force. Load up the Dremel with a parting off disk, mark it, cut it and my arrow is shorter. Clean up the cut end and warm it up to reassemble. Bingo! I have a 27" arrow.

I played with my first arrow and the clicker still feels weird but it works so I did the rest and put it down as yet another skill to pile onto the moment of release. OK, I bought some more glue to do the others but that was, in essence, it. It's not a hard job even if you're a bit of old man like me and I suspect that, with a steady hand, you could do it on the kitchen table with a candle, a pair of pliers, a junior hacksaw and a couple of files.

Ready to go I'm going to list the kit because I want the sizes and numbers somewhere easy to look up:

Current Toybox
  • SF Forged + 25" riser
  • Shibuya Ultimate Recurve Arrow Rest
  • SF Premium 68" - 26lb limbs
  • Hexan Dacron 68"x10 string
  • Shibuya Ultima RC sight
  • Decut TAWANT Bow Sight Aperture
  • Beiter plunger (5/16 17.5-23mm)
  • SF Velocity stabilisers (30" 45°)
  • Cartel Midas RX10 bow stand
  • Easton Platinum XX75 1616 Arrows now 27"
  • Strele Archery traditional leather Armguard
  • Decut RugbII Tab (large) RH
  • Avalon Backpack
  • Paradox Archery Bow Sling
  • Avalon Field quiver
    More tools than any sane man needs

    BTW: Please don't tell me off for calling it a yellow ring as me laughing at you may cause offence.