Thoughts on Archery
I don’t know how old I was when I first became interested in archery, but I think I was pretty young. I was a cub scout, and read biographies of mountain men and indian scouts. I poured over picture books about Native Americans and western adventure. I remember pine sticks and string that dad put together. He also had an old bow that he had found – that I think I finally broke it as a young adult – it was a nice long bow – or at least it seemed pretty long at the time. At boyscout camp I shot basic compound bows for the first time, but living in the city it didn’t really seem appropriate, and dad didn’t hunt, so it wasn’t something that really came up.
I remember loving stories about Robin Hood – on records, and then books and movies – I still have fond memories of Errol Flynn in the Adventures of Robin Hood, and I didn’t know anything about Howard Hill at the time. There was also gaming, and bows certainly played a role there as well, I had characters that were archers, or rangers that all carried bows. My interest in the outdoors supported these ideas, learning about nature, camping, hiking and exploring all fit with the fantasy worlds that I read about and played in.
Then, when I was playing around with the SCA I finally bought a recurve, but I didn’t have any arrows, so I didn’t use it – in fact I don’t know if I have ever fired an arrow from it. I left it with my friend Dave when I left the state.
Not too long ago, I decided to get back into it. So I looked up making bows online. My first attempt looked pretty good, red oak with a backing of fiberglass tape. It was stiff and slow and it worked OK for a while, long enough that I had custom arrows made for it. Then it broke. I also tried salt cedar a few times, and they broke, and I tried laminating a bow together, and it broke. Erica bought me a bow for my birthday – a nice simple Samick Journey - #45 take down recurve, since I wasn’t having any luck building a bow, and I started practicing with that.
But I still had the bug to build my own, so I bought a kit from Bingham Archery Supplies and built a form, and pressed it all together, and shaped it, and ended up with a lovely almost #40, 72” long bow. It shoots very sweetly and is pretty accurate, and quiet. But it isn’t as stiff or fast as I would like. The recurve is closer to what I was looking for as far as performance – but I didn’t build it. I have also built up my ability to draw a bow, so I’d like an even stiffer one.
I now have a wide variety of arrows also – I had some built for my long bow, and the ones for the broken bow work great with the recurve, and I have a few others of different spines and materials that aren’t quite perfect for either. I wonder if I should build my own arrows too? I don’t have the tools for that right now, and am not sure I want to invest in the project. But I might at least get a fletching jig so that I can fix arrows that get damaged (I bought one, and have fixed a couple so far. Good investment. I guess I don’t really need any other tools to build arrows – except a die to cut the feathers into the right shape.
What is next? I have a few options, and really want to do them all. The cheapest and simplest is to buy new heavier limbs for my recurve – that would let me know if I can draw that weight or if I want to go heavier. I would also like to buy a Mongolian style bow. Third, I would like to build another, reflex/deflex long bow – hopefully picking up a little speed, but still able to call it my own. And forth, last for now, I think about an English War bow – over 6 feet long, #90+ monsters that throw massive arrows. And then the question is, how much do I want to spend on all of this?
Update: I finished another bow. I started with a 20”riser that I put together from Bloodwood, Ipe, and Maple, then ordered a kit from Bingham for #55 bamboo and carbon for 68” straight longbow with an 18” riser. Then I made a form that was a bit reflex-deflex. When it was all assembled at 68” I got a 65” string and noticed that it was still a pretty light draw. I did some math and with a target of about #50-55 cut 2.5 inches off each end – so I now had a 63” longbow. There was added incentive to this – I had a 60” string on my 64” Journey recurve. I strung it, and it felt stiff. Maybe I’m just weak? I’ve been doing some exercise specifically for the purpose of a higher draw weight, so I didn’t think so, but maybe? I noticed how bad my form was to compensate for the higher weight – more exercise necessary obviously, but it shoots, it shoots pretty straight, my 400 spine arrows seem to work about right. Then I took it in to work to discuss with my arrow shooting colleagues. The local guess was 60-65 pounds. Last night I set it up with my luggage scale, drew it to 28” and found that it is 65#, pretty much on the money. I guess I wasn’t as weak as I thought I was. But I still need to work on it. I feel like I have gotten better already with practice. I have lost two arrows through my fence though – need to put in a stiffer back stop so that when I miss everything I don’t lose any more arrows.
Today over lunch I decided that I would try it for flight shooting – ie going for maximum distance. I don’t know if I am getting the angle right, but I tried it 3 times, twice with Easton XX75’s and once with one of my wooden shafts. They ranged from about 238-250 paces, probably about the same in yards – the terrain was flat and not any wind to speak of. I think my longer bow (37.5#) did about 180, but that was a much hillier terrain, so harder to compare.
I am still planning to buy a Grozer bow, he came out with a batch of Hungarian bows, up to 50#, but I really want about 55#, and maybe higher as a result of my current long bow. I am hoping that the next batch is Assyrian, but we will see. And then last night the new batch appeared on-line! I ordered a 52# Assyrian, so I will have a 37, 45, 52 and 65. I think that will be enough. I sure hope so J Next mission…arrows.
UPDATE: I got it and it is beautiful – now my favorite bow! Fast, light, traditional, and a good weight! I haven’t tried it from a distance perspective yet, but I am guessing it will beat the 65#.
I had one of my colleagues say that they might order a bow from me. I don’t know if I am consistent enough for that – or maybe I am since the first two started right around 38#… I’m just not good at hitting my weight target.
Back to the main story.
The other question is, what am I going to do with all of these bows? I can shoot them in my back yard, but there isn’t a lot of diversity there. I could go to one of the archery shops, but shooting inside seems lame (yes, I climb inside, but that is more due to time restrictions – if I could do that at home I would, or better, go to the field and climb real rock! But I haven’t even been to the gym in a few months).
I feel like I should get a hunting permit and try to shoot something. But I’m not really sure I am ready, or accurate enough.
Mostly, I just want to try out a few more bows, and figure out what style and weight I am really looking for, and then get pretty good with that. And THEN, maybe try hunting something with it.
Right now shooting in my back yard is therapeutic – it takes focus, but is peaceful (funny, shooting a weapon is peaceful). I have made a couple of light bows for the kids, and they are variably excited about it, Autumn mostly after Brave came out, and Penny suddenly took interest after Autumn’s interest level dropped off. Interestingly enough, Penny’s focus is better than Autumn’s was.
My accuracy is getting better, despite mismatched arrows, and switching among bows. Most of my arrows hit the 18” target that I have set up on the back fence. I finally had to get a foam block target – I was using a wallboard backstop, then straw, then another board, with a fence behind that, but after repeated use, I was punching through too often, and, since there is another shed and home behind that, it wasn’t really safe anymore. I still miss every once and a while, but the set up seems to stop things before the fence most of the time. Unfortunately, not all of the time. I need to beef up my back stop. I’ve lost two arrows into the neighbor’s yard…