With Bows On

All this talk of Katniss and Hawkeye and the Green Arrow (or “Arrow” as we’re apparently calling him now)… it’s made me nostalgic.

So much so that I went to the bow cupboard and pulled out my own kit for the first time in… well, ages. I do bang on about longbows, but I’m a recurve archer too – I learned on a recurve, and I still have one. 

It’s been a while since I shot – given that young children and archery fields aren’t the best mix – and it took me longer than it should have to remember which way up the bow limbs were supposed to go, which way up the sight went, which way up the string went, how the flipping bow-stringer works (one of the reasons I switched primarily to longbow was the simplicity of putting the bow up. Recurves are… more demanding. Don’t even start me on compounds: they’re the divas of the archery world, requiring winching and oiling and goodness only knows what. Also, they have training wheels on them. That’s not proper archery, is it?) but finally, after much swearing and head-scratching, here’s my recurve:

Being a medievalist through-and-through, my bows have all had names. It’s the done thing in medieval literature, so it was natural I applied it to my own arsenal. The bow in the pictures above is Mordred. With a draw weight of 32lbs, he’s heavier than my first bow: a lightweight recurve which only needed something like 25lbs of pull to bring her to full draw. She was a lady, delicate and dainty. She behaved.

Guinevere, spring 2006

With marvellous disregard for any Arthurian literature I’ve ever read, I nicknamed her Guinevere.

The heavier draw weight meant I could move up to longer targets – but that was when I started to fall in love with longbows.

Shooting longbow is a completely different experience to recurve. You don’t have any of the aids a modern bow uses (I stopped with a basic pin sight, and an arrow rest with a button that pushed the arrow into a better position, but you can put stabiliser bars, weights… all kinds of kit onto the limbs of a bow to improve your shooting) and it’s incredibly disorientating when you switch from having an arrow rest and a sight… to having to balance the arrow on the edge of your hand and sight by eye.

Longbow shooting is also fast: because you don’t have a sight, there’s nothing to adjust – you look down the shaft of the arrow, place it on a marker that you think will guide your aim… and you shoot.

Every tournament begins with a round of 6 arrows called “sighters” which don’t count towards scoring: they’re used to help calibrate sights, or in the case of longbows, to find a marker.

God help you if your perfect marker is a tree branch: you wouldn’t believe how much they move…

Longbow archers tend to be more sociable at a shoot: with no sights, and wooden arrows which are more likely to be affected by wind, they spend the majority of it picking arrows out of the ground. As their kit is quick to put up, they spend a lot of time hanging around, particularly when there are also compound archers (who take a lot longer to shoot) involves. It might be just my experience, but many of them are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the history of archery and the longbow in particular.

The longbow archers at my old club were also apocalyptically sweary: I think they took pride in channelling the spirit of Agincourt… as well they should be. Getting to shoot the longbow over in France, on part of the Agincourt battlefield, was pretty special, and something I won’t forget in a hurry.

And archery does seem to be having a bit of a moment: between Katniss and the launch of the CW’s new Green Arrow vehicle, Arrow – not to mention Hawkeye, hopefully there’ll be a whole new batch of baby archers stepping up to the line soon…

I hope so.



  1. You know how I feel about it Lou. My two overly brief forays into the world of Archery have set a longing that I know will not go away. The two little sessions I had were just enough to plant the seed. The seed has bloomed somewhat after reading your above post, and I now know that buying my own bow one day has moved up the list of “things I must buy when I next have some disposable income”.

    1. It’s an amazing thing, isn’t it? I was completely hooked after my first couple of sessions, and I miss it dreadfully. Picking the bow up actually made me miss it so much it hurt! It can get very pricey, though, if you’re getting your own kit. I’d suggest starting with what’s called a “trainer bow” (which is what Guinevere was) because they’re light, and although the draw weight won’t get you to long targets, they’re perfectly good while you refine your technique and get used to shooting – and they’re nowhere near as expensive as heavier bows.

      And you absolutely have to try a couple out at a proper supplier with their own shooting range before you buy. Very, very important! 🙂

    1. It’s a dangerous road: I’ve had 2 recurves and 2 longbows… one of which broke my hand. Yes, I am the only person in the world to injure themselves while actually shooting a bow & arrow, as opposed to being shot by one.

  2. Awesome post Lou, nice to hear someone enthusing about longbow. I did a 10 week course a couple of years back, and I sucked – just can’t seem to keep still and replicate the same motion again and again . . . Better stick to swords then!

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