There is not any thing in all the art of archery more seriously to be looked into then the feather of the shaft; because first a question may be asked, whether any other thing beside a feather be fit for a shaft or no; then if a feather only be fit, whether a Goose feather only or no; if a Goose feather be best, then whether there be any difference as concerning the feather of an old Goose or a young, a Gander or a Goose, a Fenny Goose or an upland Goose; again, which is the best feather in any Goose the right wing or the left, the pinion feather or any other feather; a white, a black, or a gray feather; Thirdly, in setting on the feather whether it is pared or drawn with a thick rib or with a thin, (the rib is the hard quill which divides the feathers) whether a long feather be better then a short, whether to be set on near the nock or far from the nock, whether to be set on straight or somewhat bowing, and whether one or two feathers must run on the bow; lastly, in couling or shering, whether it must be done high or low, whether somewhat swine backed (I must use archers words) or saddle backed, whether round or square shorn. And whether a shaft at any time ought to be plucked, and how to be plucked; of these things in their order.
First therefore, whether any thing else may be used but a feather, both Plinie in Latin, and Iulius Pollux in Greek do prove, that feathers always have been used; and but only the Lycians of whom I read in Herodotus, did use shafts without feathers; understand then, that only a feather is fit for a shaft, and that for two reasons: First, because it is least weak to give place to the bow, then because it is of that nature that it will start up after the bow, which plate, wood or horn, cannot do, because they will not give place; and again cloth, paper, or parchment, cannot serve, because they also will not rise up after the bow; therefore the feather only is met, for it will do both; now if you please to behold the feathers of all manner of birds, you shall see some so low, weak and short, some so course, stoore and hard, and the rib so brittle, thin and narrow, that it can neither be drawn, pared, nor well set on, so that, except it be a Swan feather for a dead shaft (as I know some good archers have used) or a Ducks for a flight, which lasts but one shot, there is no feather by only of a Goose, that has all manner of commodities in it; & for the Peacocks feather, which some men do use at a short butt, it seldom or never keeps up the shaft, either right or level, by reason that it is so rough and heavy, insomuch, that many which have taken them up for their gayness, have laid them down again for their profit; so that I conclude, the Goose of all feathers is the best for a complete archer, and he that will go beyond it, let him be Hercules scholler and not mine, who feathered his arrows with the wings of an Eagle, a foul that flies so high, and builds so far off, that I had rather content my self with the gentle Goose, then search for the others feathers. Especially, because the Goose brings even to a mans door so many excellent commodities: for the Goose is mans comfort both in war and peace, sleeping and waking, what praise soever can be given to shooting, the Goose may challenge the best part: how ell does she make a man fare at his table, how easily does she make a man lie in his bed, & how bravely does her quills make us write, & record every occurrent: I do not think that the Romans give so much honor to the Goose for saving the capitol, when the set her golden statue thereon, and appointed the Cenfors to allow out or the common treasury yearly stipends for the maintenance of those creatures, they did it not (I say) so much for that one good act, as for a world of others, which we daily and almost hourly receive from them; insomuch, that if I were bound to declaim in the praise of any beast living, I would choose the Goose: but leaving this digression: now how a feather is best; it follows now, whether of a young Goose, or an old; the old Goose feather is stiff, and strong, good for a wind, and fittest for a dead shaft; the young Goose feather is weak and fine, and are best for a swift shaft, and it must be called at the first shearing somewhat high: for in shooting, it will settle very much; the same things (although not so much) are to be considered both in Goose and Gander; a Fenny Goose, even as her flesh is blacker, stoorer and unwholsomner, so are her feathers by the same reason courser, stoorer and worse for that purpose; whence it comes, that I have heard many skillful Fletchers say, that the second feather in some place, is better then the pinion in other; between the wings is little difference, but that you must have diverse shafts of one flight, feathered with diverse wings for diverse winds; for if the Wind and the feather do both one way, the shaft will be carried too much. The pinion feathers, as they have the first place in the wing, so they have the first place in feathering, this feather you may know before it be pared, by a baight which is in it ; and again, when it is cauled by the thinness above, and the thickness at the ground, and also by the stiffness and fineness, which will carry a shaft better, faster, and further then any other feather.
Touching the color of the feather, it is the least of many other things to be regarded, yet is it worthy some notice; because for a good white you have sometimes an ill gray, yet surely it stands with good reason, ever to have the cock feather black or gray; as it were to give a man warning to nock right. The cock feather is that which stands above in right nocking, which if you do not observe, the other feathers must needs run on the bow, and so spoil the shot.
Now concerning the setting on of the feather, you are principally to regard, that your feather be not drawn for hastiness, but pared with diligence and made straight. The Fletcher is said to draw a feather; when he has but one swap at it with his knife, and he is said to pare it, when he takes leisure and heed to make every part of the rib apt to stand straight, and even upon the steel. This thing if a man does not take heed of, he may chance to have cause to say of his Fletcher, as we say of good meat ill dreft; the feathers are praise worthy, but the Fletcher too blame.
The rib in a stiff feather may be drawn thinner, for so it will stand cleaner, on the shaft, but in a weak feather you must leave a thicker rib, for if the rib which is the foundation ground whereon nature has set every cleft of the feather be taken away too near the feather; it must needs follow, that the feather shall fall and drop down, even as an herb does which has his root too near taken away with the spade.
The length and shortness of the feather serves for diverse purposes and diverse shafts, as a long feather for a long heavy and big shaft, the short feather for the contrary; again the short mayustand farther, the long nearer the nock, your feather must stand almost straight on, yet after that sort that it may turn round in flying; now here I consider the wonderful nature of shooting, which stands altogether by that fashion which is most apt for quick moving, which is only roundness; for the bow must be gathered round in drawing, it must come a round compass, the string must be round, the steel round, the best nock round, the feather shorn somewhat round, the shaft in flying must turn round, and if it fly far it flies a round compass, for either above or beneath a round compass hinders the flying; moreover, both the Fletcher in the making your shaft, and you in nocking your shaft, must take heed that two feathers run equally on the bow, for if one feather run alone on the bow, it will quickly be worn & not be able to match with the other feathers, besides at the loose (if the shaft be light) it will start, if it be heavy it will hobble.
To coule, shear or cut the feathers of a shaft high or low, it must be done according as the shaft is light or heavy, great or little, long or short: the swine backed fashion makes the shaft dead, for it gathers more air then the saddle backed does, therefore the saddle back is surer for danger of weather, and fitter for smooth flying; again, to shear a shaft round, as they were wont in former times to do, or after the triangle fashion which is much used now; in these times, both are good: for roundness is apt for flying of its own nature, and all manner of triangles, (the sharp point going before) is also apt for quick entring; and therefore says Cicero, 'That Cranes taught by Nature, do in flying always observe a Triangle fashion, because it is so apt to pierce and go through the air'.
Lastly, plucking of feathers is naught, for there is no surety in it, therefore let every archer have such shafts, that he may both know them and trust them upon every change of weather; yet if they must needs be plucked, pull them as little as can be, for so shall they be less constant; And thus I have shut up in a straight room, what can be said of the best feather, feathering and fashioning of a perfect shaft, I will now proceed to the head.