Until recently I was an avid bowman, and would regularly take part in the popular sport of Field Archery.
In this post I explain how Field Archery differs from ‘conventional’ target archery. I also explain the distinctive shooting style and show the equipment that I used.
For many people, a typical archery bow will be the sort of monstrosity seen in events such as the Olympic Games, bedecked with all manner of doohickeys and thingamabobs such as counterweights, optics, spirit levels, and an intricate pulley system, top and bottom.
Olympic-style Compound Bow – an ugly, ‘Heath Robinson’ affair festooned with gizmos and techno-gadgetry.
My bow was not one of these. My bow was as far removed from those previously-described abominations as chalk is from cheese. In fact, the clue to my own bow’s description is to be found in the title of this post. Stick and string.
The official name given to bows such as mine is ‘American Flatbow‘. I personally prefer their other name of ‘Indian Longbow‘. Be that as it may, it is essentially a stick with a string attached.
My own weapon of choice is an ‘Atalanta‘ American Flatbow, handcrafted in the UK by KG Archery of Walesby, Nottinghamshire – an area that once lay within Sherwood Forest.
My only concession to ‘attachments’ was a pair of mink fur ‘silencers’. These simple strips of animal fur secured to the bowstring muffled the bow’s twang and helped absorb excess energy, thereby minimising impact to the hand and wrist.
Whereas the traditional English longbow – or warbow – has a ‘D’-shaped profile, the Indian Longbow has, as its more common name suggests, a flat profile. That is, except for the area of the hand-grip, known as the ‘riser’. It also possesses an inset ‘arrow-shelf’ – unlike the English version which lacks such a refinement.
Archers using English Longbows must rest their arrow on the ball of their thumb. That said, history tells us that this was a sound arrangement and it certainly got the job done. Ask a Frenchman, he’ll tell you.
Whether using an American Flatbow or English Longbow, archers employ a shooting style known as ‘instinctive shooting’. Unlike the aforementioned Olympic Thingamabob Bows with their high-tech optics, traditional longbows have no such sights. Aiming, such as it is, is more primal in nature.
Whilst the term ‘instinctive shooting’ may sound a tad mystical or ‘woo-woo’, it’s not. Anyone who’s ever thrown crumpled paper into a wastebin has employed instinctive shooting. In fact, if you’ve ever pulled off an amazing shot across a room, your paper hitting dead-centre … and then tried again to impress an audience, you probably failed miserably. That failure reveals a little of the magic of shooting instinctively.
The first shot to the bin, in which the paper was lobbed casually, was achieved without conscious thought. On the second effort, concentrating on the task and deliberately ‘aiming’ led to failure. You see, when shooting instinctively, an archer simply focusses attention on the target – zeroing in by eye on as small a spot as possible – and that’s it. The subconscious mind is left to work out all the serious stuff, such as distance, trajectory and the rest.
When shooting instinctively, the most impressive and accurate shots are those achieved without conscious effort.
That then is the traditional shooting style for bows such as mine, but what about Field Archery? What’s that all about? To explain, let me take you back to the Olympic archery event. There, you may have seen contestants face the roundel-style target butts on a level range, with unobstructed views across a set distance. If that event were to be likened to a hundred metre sprint, then Field Archery would be a Cross-Country Run.
A Field Archery course is always in open country, usually within a varied landscape.
My own local course was in a Lincolnshire woodland, with uneven terrain, ditches, clearings and copses. The undergrowth was often dense in places. Our own targets were almost all life-size animals, usually 3-D or sometimes 2-D.
The course’s irregular terrain, with hillocks, dips and hollows, messes with the brain’s range-finding tools making accurate distance calculations difficult. To make matters worse, obstacles such as trees add to the challenge. The above picture shows one of our targets – a classic Field Archery example. Here, a lone Ibex stands on a rise beyond a stand of beech trees. From the archer’s viewpoint the land dips down to a dried-up stream bed, rising on the far side. Distance to the target is deceptive.
Like all sports, Field Archery has a strict set of rules.
Each course has three ‘pegs’ or markers at varying distances to the target – long, middle and short range. The archer is allowed three shots at target, one taken from each peg. Scoring is based on the area hit – a wound, kill or inner-kill (heart) – and the distance peg from which the shot was taken.
In the illustration on the left, of the three attempts, one missed and the other two were hits. Of these, one arrow – the one to the left – represents a ‘wound’, while the one to the right is in the target’s vital organs area and is therefore a ‘kill-shot’. The smaller circle visible to the right of that represents the heart and is referred to as an ‘inner-kill’.
I enjoyed Field Archery for many years. For me, Saturday was always a highlight of the week, for that’s when I would spend most of the day in nature, enjoying an undemanding, therapeutic and altogether excellent sport.
The woodland setting, friendly competition of ‘pretend hunting’ and valuable fellowship with my fellow archers was nothing less than magical.
Sadly, all good things come to an end. The majority of the membership were elderly and ailing (at sixty-three I was a mere whip of a lad among my comrades). Furthermore, expensive targets also deteriorating with age coupled with 2020’s bizarre dystopian events to bring an end to what had been, for me, the perfect pastime.
So it was that, at the end of 2020 I hung up my bow for the final time.
Josh trying out his new KG Cobra American Flat-Bow – a replica of the Sudbury Bow, an American Indian’s bow found in a Massachusetts farmhouse in 1660.
Wood, string and leather, beads, bone and feathers – simply beautiful
NFAS – The National Field Archery Society