Ask me about archery, longbows especially.

Discussion in 'Research' started by John McDonell, Jun 5, 2012.

  1. John McDonell

    John McDonell Apprentice

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    Hi folks,
    First of all what a great site! I just wanted to let you know that I know a little about traditional archery as far a bow's capabilities and the comparision of different types etc as well as what worked best in combat. If you are a D&Der the value of bows in battle is pretty much lost as they are a suplimentary weapon at best in those games. If you have ever used a real bow with a 40# or more draw, you were likely astonished by the power of it. Fred Bear used his recurve bows to bring down all sorts of big game, including an Alaskan Brown Bears in one shot, (sorry to you non-hunters).

    Here are a few basics:
    Longbows in England were drawing at anywhere from 90-150 lbs (This is almost unbelievable by today's standards. It is not so hard to draw that weight once, but it is hard to shoot accurately and do it repeatedly.) Archers were trained from childhood and developed their back muscles to be able to accomplish this. In fact archeologists can identify an archer's skeleton on a battlefield by the curvature of the spine. Look up the Mary Rose for more information regarding the bows they found intact on this sunken ship.

    Crossbows were developed for the untrained. They were a quick solution to have troops with ranged attack capabilities. Basically you point and shoot a crossbow, similar to a rifle. A bow required much more training. Longbows a had a much further range than crossbows because they launched a much heavier arrow than a crossbow could, which also gave it more penetration when it hit. Bows also could fire much much faster than a crossbow due to the amount of time it took to load the crossbow. Crossbows did have a better accuracy at close range and hit much harder at close range due to the higher poundage.

    Composite bows were bows made from wood, bone or antler or all of the above mixed together. They were laminated and glued with natural materials. The mongols were expert bow makers of this type. They built short, powerful bows, similar to today's recurve bows. The purpose of this design was so it could be easily used from horseback.

    Ranges: There are not many arrows that I know of that will go over 200-250 yards. There are specialty bows that will do this. There is an asian bow, I forget the name at the moment that is very powerfull and apparently has longer range capabilities. To give you an idea of ranges I attend traditional archery shoots a couple of times per year. I use a 50# longbow which is fairly typical. Most of the ranges are 20-25 yards. I am a casual archer and only practice a couple hours per year, outside of the shoots and I can put an arrow usually within a pieplate size around the target, which isnt bad. Increase that range to 35-50 yards and my accuracy drops to wayyyyy less. That being said and archer in an army would likely practice everyday and could probably put the arrow within a softball target at that distance. A combat archer would also practice at longer ranges, which would be imperative to being an effective. It is sort of like learning to throw rocks accurately, you instictively know how hard and high to throw at certain ranges because you have done it thousands of times as a child. Anyway what I am trying to get at is, I think your average well-trained archer could be effective out to 50 yards, hitting a man sized target almost everytime. At 100 yards I think the first shot would be lucky to hit but it would at least give the archer his/her range for the next shot. Im guessing 25-40% hit rate at that range. (Personally I would hit 5-10% lol)

    That being said this is about fantasy writing and our heroes cold probably hit a housefly at 350 yards :)

    One thing I should mention. An archer never pulls the arrow back and stalks his prey or waits for the thief to show herself etc. I see it all of the time on tv or movies and in books. In actuality, the archer would have an arrow noched but never pull back on the string until he/she is ready to shoot. The act of flinging an arrow is kind of like a golf swing, it has a beginning, middle and end. You pull back the arrow and as soon as your hand touches your anchor point (on your face) you release the arrow in a fluid motion. (At least that is how it is supposed to be. Sometimes you can hold it if you want to adjust your aim, but really anything more than a few seconds is not productive.

    Hope you find this useful and please feel free to ask me questions. I'm no expert but Ill do my best to help.
     
  2. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I love archery. I shoot a traditional long bow (although mine is fiberglass). I make my own arrows too, so I'll add that. If anyone wants to know about how to make traditional arrows, I'll give you the low-down.

    Thanks for sharing. When I began getting really into archery I wrote an archer character, and he's one of my favorites ever.

    The awesome thing about those English longbowmen you mentioned were their devastating impact on battles. They would draw those big heavy bows, and launch a thousand arrows into the air, felling foes with a devastating cloud of missiles. That's the thing, they didn't need to be terribly accurate, because one wave of arrows would hit their targets right now... and then another wave would be striking them again right about now... and then another wave would be raining down right about now. Every 4 seconds another cloud of arrows would hit. It didn't take long before a field lay still.

    Thanks for the wonderful post. I love that we have more than a few traditional warriors in our midst.
     
  3. Ankari

    Ankari Staff Moderator

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    I own a modern 60 lb draw bow and THAT thing can be brutal! And I consider myself a pretty strong guy. The English longbows were used on the battlefield only, right? They wouldn't use such a powerful bow for hunting, would they?
     
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    no not for hunting
    In fact, my archery instructor said they were mostly pulled to mid chest rather than fully, and loosed very rapidly. He's pretty well researched, but I cannot confirm whether that is true.
     
  5. SeverinR

    SeverinR Valar Lord

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    I have a 30 lb fiberglass bow, looking to buy a recurve.
    Shooting for distance is great. I can step out my backdoor aim and shoot across a farmer's field, my compound bow came close to hitting the factory buildiing, but the traditional bow dropped just short of the drive to the factory.

    There is the remains of an arrow in the roof of the barn behind our house, my daughter stuck it in the aluminum roof. Her friend dinged my car, with a wild shot, luckily she couldn't pull back far enough.

    I have fletched two shafts with feathers I dyed but never cut to length or put a tip on. I do want to complete a set of arrows.

    If anyone is interested, boil "Rit" then place the feathers in for several minutes. Turkey feathers look great in red and yellow(barred)
     
  6. John McDonell

    John McDonell Apprentice

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    LOL there you go and I thought I was the expert. Mine is glass also...montana longbow 50#. I haven't made arrows but I'd like to try some time. I think the arrow storm that you described was the case in Agincourt. Truly devastating.
    I'm starting to feel like I just came home :)
     
  7. SeverinR

    SeverinR Valar Lord

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    Do you shoot with a group or just on your own?
    I am wanting to get back into SCA with archery. I bought my glass for combat archery, but I am in no condition to face combat.

    I have seen many new recurve bows on Ebay, I have bid a few, but they go for a little more then I can afford right now. ($60-$75) 45-60lb pull is what I am looking at. (I want to spend $50 including postage)

    12 wood arrows with feathers are $10-12 an arrow. So I want to make my own. I got a friend to keep a wing from a turkey they shot when hunting, that's how I got the chance to dye the feathers.
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Could you tell me a little about bow and arrows in China and India and how they might have differed from European bows? Thanks.
     
  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Hey all if you can wait a few days, I'll make an arrow-making tutorial. It's going to take me a few days to make them and post the videos, but this is just the motivation I need to complete my project!
     
    Devor likes this.
  10. Butterfly

    Butterfly Dark Lord

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  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    [​IMG]

    I hope this pic helps Devor. While I don't know specifically about the arrows being different in Asia, I know that eastern quivers were rigid and ornately decorated. If you want to know a little more, I have a research paper I'd be happy to send you about quivers. Don't know whether that would help you out at all.
     
    Devor likes this.
  12. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Just to expound on John's original very well-written post, I thought I might translate a few things for people who have never drawn a bow. When he talks about back muscles, this is regarding draw method. For English long bow, you draw using your back muscles, both pushing the bow with your left hand and drawing the string with your right. It's like an spredaing motion using your back rather than holding the bow in your left hand and simply using your right arm entirely to draw back the string. I hope that clarifies that one thing.

    Also, one major difference between traditional bows and modern ones, is that we now use a cut in shelf, which the arrow rests on when it's being aimed. Traditional bows have no shelf, and are shot off the hand and that necessitates a glove to be worn over the left hand (because nothing burns and tears skin away quicker than accidentally running your fletches along the top of your hand). Oww, Even with my cut in shelf I do it sometimes. When I post my tutorial I'll talk about the differences between modern arrows and period arrows, but the major differences are the self knock (rather than a plastic insert) and tied fletches (rather than glued). I use self-knocking arrows and both glue and tie my fletches, but in the arrows I'm making now, it will be hard to see since they're all black. Luckily I have some old ones to illustrate the point on.

    I'll list the supplies on a post on this thread so when I gloss over what I'm using, you all can have a supplies list in case you too want to give it a go.
     
  13. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Hey, here's a pic you might like. I went to an event and borrowed a bow since I left mine at home (same style, same draw weight). HA That was only three snaps! Call it a learning curve.
    [​IMG]
     
  14. Ankari

    Ankari Staff Moderator

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    Questions:

    1) do archers need to wear gloves on both hands? One for the string and and because the arrow rests on the hand?

    2) Modern archery uses a clasp around the string. You press a release and the string shoots forth. The theory is that it's better than using your fingers because fingers cause vibration. Was something like this used in the past?

    3) Explain the act of aiming your bow. Modern bows have balancers and gauges to help. How do you aim with a traditional bow?
     
  15. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    wow I don't know anything about modern archery, so all that is foreign to me. So gloves first. There is nothing saying you must wear a glove at all, but it's more comfortable, especially if you do not shoot enough to have pretty tough callouses. SO I shoot a light bow. It's 30-35 pounds, but I've shot 40-45 too and while it's more tiring, I didn't notice any difference in finger strain. However I have a friend who shot all day without a glove and over a year later he still has numbness from nerve damage.

    So if it were me, a glove which covers the top part of the hand (between thumb joint and index finger) is necessary. It ought to be covered to protect from what I lovingly call "feather-burn". That's when the feathers hit your hand and remove a small slice of skin with each pass. NOW this is also a fletching issue, because if you are using two hen feathers and one cock feather, the problem is the bottom hen feather. I cannot say what effect you would have with four feathers because I use three.

    When you drew a bow, you would knock an arrow like John said, and say stalk your prey. When you got close, you would draw and release in one fluid motion, not hold the drawn bow for 20 sec to aim. SO there is no clasp or anything. Unless you are talking about crossbows, which I can talk about later.

    So I want to talk about the bow itself a little. It would stand tall as most men or taller, and these were made of a solid piece of wood. They're called self bows (long straight pieces of carved wood that were bent to make it curve). The ends would either be made of carved bone or horn, or cut directly into the wood itself. That's where your string rests, in the carved groove. Strings can be linen or other fiber, but I think linen was very common. I don't make strings, but my friend does.

    Another thing about wood bows I thought I'd mention because it hasn't been said is that there's a reason not many have survived to study. Bows are not meant to be saved, they're like car tires, they work for a time and then become broken and they go the way of other useless pieces of wood... into the fire. Every time you draw a bow, it weakens. Most of our wooden bows can last 3-5 years, while some people use the same bow for 10 or more, but typically, if you shoot a hand-made traditional long bow, it lasts 3-5. I've seen a bow break. It's sort of a frightening thing. It sounds like a tree falling, you know, that great cracking sound that rips through the air? Yeah like that, and it isn't quiet.

    Aiming. Now today most bows, even if they're called traditional feature what's called a cut-in shelf. This means that rather than one long straight piece of wood that is wider in the middle for your off hand to hold, it features a sort of crooked notch cut in one or both sides. This is not period. So an archer today sets their arrow in the same place every time, supposedly to make shooting and aiming more consistent. But, when you shoot off your hand, it is easy enough to aim because you are aiming in relation to the bow, your knuckles, etc.

    Each bow is a personal tool. You get used to it, and it's distracting to borrow one. I have a friend who shoots a 60 pound bow, and if he wants to hit a bulls eye, he needs to aim low and to the left. His arrow actually CLIMBS after being shot. So the issue is that when you aim, you are trying to form groups of arrows. Then once you can do that, you switch where you are aiming and try to slowly bring yourself closer to center. If my bow fires high and right every time, I need to adjust my grouping, maybe by not aiming at the bulls eye, but aiming at the hay bale below the target. Nothing feels quite as weird as aiming at the hay bale and scoring a good shot, but that's what happens. So an archer needs to know their bow. An easy way is to use your knuckles to gauge where you're aiming, and then you have to know your distance and compensate for wind. I've been shooting for a relatively short time (3 years) but do so only occasionally, not often enough to develop really good habits. Consistency is the key to a high score.

    We do some fun tournaments though, like one time we did a pirate ship campaign where we traveled as a group around the field, so you never knew where you were going to be aiming from. Everyone got three shots at every location, but then we moved again. So that is certainly more challenging than a stationary target.

    I hope that helps. I'm making some videos to post here that will hopefully clear up more about arrows and fletching, but please ask anything else you want to know.
     
  16. SeverinR

    SeverinR Valar Lord

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    I never shoot long enough to need gloves. Never even had pain from feather burn. I've always had good callouses on my hands.

    I love the Battle of Wales link
     
  17. John McDonell

    John McDonell Apprentice

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    I shoot by myself in my backyard but I was taught by a great archer who lives close by. I belong to a traditional archery club and there are several shoots per year but I am lucky if I attend 2. To answer your question Devor, I unfortunately don't know much about Indian or Chinese archery sorry, I should re-name the thread :(
    Does SCA have maximum draw weights? A great site for SCA and traditional gear is 3riversarchery although you likely wont get anything in that price range, but they used to have a bargain section.
    I looking very forward to the arrow making tutorials!!
     
  18. John McDonell

    John McDonell Apprentice

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    oops just notice that there is a page two. I am a slow learner. Great info ...and spectacular bruises! ouch. The only thing I would ad about aiming is that there are two main schools of thought growing in popularity, one is instinctive shooting and one is gap shooting. Instinctive is my preferred method. For both forms it is imperative to have good consistant form. Instinctive is aiming by looking at your target and not really even seeing the arrow when you draw. It is a method that takes LOTS of practice from different ranges and positions. With instinctive you don't aim at the bullseye, you aim at the smallest possible thing you can clearly define IN the bullseye, such as another arrowhole. It is concentrating ONLY on that one thing. You often may have read something like: 'he knew he hit the orc in the eye as soon as the arrow left the string', that would be instinctive shooting. Gap shooting sound quite a bit like what Caged Maiden has described. It is a method where you develop your eye to judge the distance to the target and use that knowledge to judge how high or low to aim your arrow. It also takes LOTS of practice. In both cases aiming is more a function of figuring out how high or low to aim based on your range, not so much the side to side , although that's obviously important too. There is a world of difference in your arrow's trajectory from 20 yards to 30 yards, so the only way to learn that is by repetition. There are lots of good instructional books and videos out there. Have fun, but don't 'shoot yer eye out.'
     
  19. Jess A

    Jess A Shadow Lord

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    This may seem like a dumb question:

    I was writing a scene where a character is aiming his bow at a creature in the woods whilst his son escapes. He waits until his son is safe before putting away the bow (without shooting the arrow). How could I describe that in basic terms? I read a lot and should know, but I had this mental blank that hasn't gone away.
     
  20. John McDonell

    John McDonell Apprentice

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    Hmm.. How about:
    Describe the father raising the bow (all or halfway) and noching the arrow in one motion. He watches the creature, knowing that the fluid motion of draw and release were a second away if he had to do it. Knowing he would be more accurate if he didn't try to hold the drawn arrow on target. As the son escapes he lowers the bow with the arrow still on the string. That's pretty quick and dirty but something along those lines might work. Hope it helps.
    John
    PS Could also mention that he tries to avoid banging the arrow against the bow to remain quiet.
     
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