Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bows and arrows

I've always been intrigued by archery. When I was a little kid, my brothers and I would make our own bows and arrows out of sticks we found in the woods near our  parents' house, and some string my father had in his workshop. These bows never worked all that well -- I think they were accurate to about a foot -- but they were fun. Many imaginary "Robin Hood"-type adventures were enjoyed using these simple, makeshift weapons.

And we never put our eyes out.

We lived right next door to a small cemetery, and I recall that occasionally we would scrounge through the wilted, cast-off flower arrangements, looking for the little green plastic arrowhead-shaped things which were used to keep flowers in their proper place in the foam blocks employed by the florists for such arrangements. We would stick these on the ends of our primitive arrows. It didn't improve the accuracy of these missiles, but they definitely looked cooler.

All my life, I have been a fan of the tales of Robin Hood and his band of merry men in Sherwood Forest. In fact, I recently purchased a Blue-Ray edition of the Errol Flynn movie version, "The Adventures of Robin Hood", and a couple of nights ago watched all the special features, including some cool demonstrations of expert archery by a gentleman whose name I forget at the moment. He did most if not all of the stunt shooting in the movie, for those instances where it was important to show a character getting struck by an arrow… which shows you how good he was, if these various actors were confident that he could shoot them precisely in the spot where hidden padding would protect them from harm.

And after watching "The Hobbit" for the second time, I decided to re-watch the three "Lord of the Rings" movies (wonderful films, and I was once again struck by what an incredible job of realizing the world of Middle Earth was accomplished by the folks at Weta). There is quite a bit of nifty bow and arrow action in those movies (even if some of it is digitally realized).

Combined with some discussions about archery with a new friend who is writing a fantasy novel for teens in which archery plays an important part, I was inspired to do something I have thought about for a long time, but never acted on…

… I decided to try my hand at self-taught archery.

I bought a bow (an inexpensive plastic long bow-style item) and some practice arrows, as well as a foam target, did a little research on the Internet about proper form, and started shooting. We are fortunate to have a fairly large (and mostly empty) basement, and -- after trying shooting outside in the snow -- I decided to move into the much warmer and drier basement. 

I quickly discovered several things.

Those target arrows I had bought were too short -- even at the thirty-five foot distance I was using for practice, they just didn't seem to fly straight enough to suit me. So I went out to the local Dick's sporting goods store, and picked up some longer aluminum arrows with screw-in steel target points, and those worked much better.

(Of course, I also discovered in short order how easily aluminum arrow shafts can BEND, especially after they strike a concrete wall at speed.)

Though the bow I had bought was perfectly adequate for my initial explorations, I was intrigued by what I was reading about compound bows, and within a week had purchased one of those -- again, an inexpensive ($60) model meant for older kids. And about a week after that, I succumbed to the desire to also own one of the lovely laminated wood recurve bows I saw in an online catalog.

So I've been practicing for the last few weeks, and it's been a lot of fun. I am gradually learning how to use these bows, and to figure out what I need to wear to protect my fingers and forearms from bruising and abrasions from the bowstring. I'm also realizing what a cool exercise this is -- it takes some strength to pull those bowstrings back to the proper distance, and then hold them there while you line up your shot. (Not so much with the compound bow, which I guess is one of the reasons they have become so popular.)

A few nights ago, I accomplished a modest goal -- I got all of my group of arrows into the target, with no misses! I'm not saying they all went exactly where I intended them to -- a few did, but not many -- but at least none of them veered away from the target. Here's a photo of the result:

I think I am soon going to try shooting at a longer distance -- there is a hallway in the basement which is about sixty feet long. I'm looking forward to the post-winter weather so I can get outside to practice. That should be interesting. -- PL


Bookgal said...

In high school I picked archery to do for gym class. Turned out I was horrible at it, until I started to aim roughly three feet to the left or right of the target, and then most of my arrows hit in the center area. I never DID figure out why.....

Mark H said...

Very cool Pete,
That sounds like a lot of fun. I have thought about buying a cheap compound bow for practice. I always thought the bow was “an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age”. (wink) I’ve never really had the urge to fire a gun but, the bow seems appealing. I don’t know if it is the skills needed to use one or, the romanticism involved with a bow that appeals to me.

PL Said:
(Of course, I also discovered in short order how easily aluminum arrow shafts can BEND, especially after they strike a concrete wall at speed.)

Out of curiosity. What are you shooting at? From the photo it looks like your in a garage or basement.

It is funny that you talk about making makeshift bows out of sticks and string when you where a child. I used to do the same thing. The worst arrow I ever made was out of a stick with a rock that looked like an arrow head taped to the tip. Needless to say those rock arrows did not fly very well.
From the looks of your target you are getting really good at archery. Have fun with it and, be safe!
Have a good one,