In advising on the choice of a bow many points have to be taken into consideration; if, as is usually the case, the advice is required for a beginner, the weight which can be properly commanded should be the first consideration. By this is not meant the weight which can be drawn; that is quite a different thing, as many men can draw a bow of 56 lbs. with the greatest ease who could not loose properly one of 46 lbs. The weight of a bow should be that which the shooter can thoroughly command during the operations of drawing, holding, and loosing and as this last is the most delicate operation of the three, as well as the most difficult and important, so it is the power of loosing which should regulate the weight of the bow chosen. Beginners are constantly found increasing the weight of their bows, fondly imagining that by doing so they will get a lower flight for their arrows, and consequently lower point of aim; when, if they would do the reverse and take a weaker bow, the result would very often be more satisfactory. Lowness of flight is obtained by a good loose far more than by a heavy bow. What causes arrows to fly high is a dead sluggish loose or the usual fault of creeping, and these are increased by trying to shoot with too strong a bow. The number of promising shots that are spoilt, or get into hopeless tricks, by using too strong bows, is innumerable, and the evil does not end there; for should the archer see the error of his ways, and discard his strong bows, he will find that the difficulty of loosing properly a weak bow is very much increased by his experience with the stronger one. Nor is there any necessity for using bows of more than say 50 lbs. few of the good shots do so, even at 100 yards, and many use weaker bows at this distance with highly satisfactory results. The beginner had far better at first be satisfied with a bow of 46 lbs., and when he finds that he has thoroughly mastered, and can loose it properly, it will be time enough to try a heavier one.
From what has been previously said about yew and yew-backed-yew bows, it will be understood that both these bows require a certain amount of skill in their use, and are more or less liable to accidents it follows, therefore, that they are better left alone till the archer has obtained a fair insight into the art of shooting A self-lancewood bow is by no means a bad bow to commence with, though a lance and hickory is better, as the lance by itself goes down in weight very rapidly; but it is not expedient at first to buy a more expensive weapon than one of these two. Of course, until the beginner has had some sort of practice, the weight which he can properly manage must be to a certain extent problematical. It would be as well, then, to choose a bow of about 46 lbs., either lance or lance and hickory; as bows are generally marked two or three pounds less than their actual weight, the bow may he at first rather too strong, but it will soon go down. He should see that the bow is of a good shape --which has already been described-- is free from knots or pins and incipient crysals (for all these are found in lance as well as in yew), that the grain is straight and even, and the lancewood a rich golden colour and not black, and, if it is a two piece bow, that the hickory is straight in the grain. The bow should be strung, and looked at, string upwards, to see that it is true; it should then be reversed to see that the two limbs are true to each other, and that neither is cast. The next thing is to see it drawn, to ascertain that the limbs bend evenly and well. The bow should now be grasped by the handle, and the string pulled a few inches two or three times to see that it does not kick or jar; finally it should be drawn up, with an arrow in it (for no bow should ever be drawn more than a few inches without) to see if the weight is likely to suit; if all this is satisfactory, he will probably secure a fairly good bow.
With respect to choosing a more expensive bow, the different points of a good bow have given. That it will be possible to find a perfect one is not likely, but what has been said as to the various imperfections to which bows are subject should be sufficient to aid the beginner to make a choice, especially as by this time he will have acquired some experience of his own. If, however, it is proposed to buy a really expensive bow, it is just as well to secure the help of an expert, and the goodfellowship among archers is such that no difficulty will occur in obtaining this assistance.
All bows will lose both cast and strength if shot with many days running, and they will not readily recover if overshot, though all bows will not suffer to the same extent. A bow needs some rest, and to shoot more than two York Rounds running with the same one is injudicious. Even in one day a bow will sometimes go down one or two pounds, and some bows will lose as much as this in the first dozen arrows, hot weather especially affecting them, though it must not be understood that they will continuously get weaker and weaker. They will recover with rest, and it is therefore good economy to have at least two bows exactly alike, and of the same weight; the handles also should be the same, and care should be taken that they fit the hand. Various handles are in use--plush, mohair braid, leather, and the india-rubber covering of a tennis-bat handle, cut in two, all have their advocates. It will be found a good plan to have a pad on the handle to fit the palm of the hand when the bow is grasped; this can be readily put on by soaking a piece of sheet gutta-percha in warm water and putting it on the handle in the required place, and grasping the handle in the proper way; but care should be taken that the hand is wet, or the pad will stick to it, which will he found unpleasant. When the gutta-percha has set, the bow should be shot with, the pad gradually trimmed with a sharp knife to make it fit accurately. It is important that the handle should fit the hand, as unless this is the case it will not be possible to grasp the bow in the proper manner, as explained in Chapter XX. Should the bow be held in such a way that the grasp is below the true centre of the bow, the result is that the lower half of the bow is called upon to do more than its due amount of work, and is pulled out of shape; the converse is also the case. It is a frequent thing to find bows thus damaged, almost always in the lower limb, as it is a common fault to grasp the bow in such a way that the resistance, when the bow is drawn, comes on the lower part of the hand instead of on the ball of the thumb.
All bows require to be treated with care--backed bows, perhaps, even more than selfs, as they are more liable to injury from damp. After shooting on a damp day both the bow and the string should be thoroughly rubbed dry with a soft rag, especially at the ends and handle of the bow where damp is likely to settle. The string should be rubbed with bees'-wax, and the bow should not be placed In a case, or if it is necessary to do so to take it home, it should be taken out and again wiped as soon as possible. The end of the bow should never be placed on the damp grass; if it is a self it may loosen the horn, and if it is backed the glue of the lower limb may come undone. Nine backed bows out of ten which become unstuck do so in the lower limb, and from this cause. With all backed bows it is an excellent plan to have one inch of the bow nearest to each horn lapped, as if the bow should become unfastened this will probably save the bow from breaking. Damp is also liable to cause 'slithers,'or the rising of a splinter on the back. Should one be seen, it ought at once to be glued down and lapped, the best material for the purpose being narrow silk ribbon, also glued, covered over with thread, and when dry varnished; the bow will then be as good as it was before. Bows, especially self-yews, cannot be too carefully handled and protected from receiving dents and scratches, they are unsightly even if they do not injure the bow.
It seems rather selfish to say so, it is unwise to lend a bow, or, at any rate, a favourite self-yew. No two people pull and loose exactly in the same way, and they probably do not pull the arrow to precisely the same spot. A yew bow gets accustomed to being used in the same manner any difference in draw or loose is at once felt by it; thus it will easily be understood that the result of too much good nature may be a ruined bow. Never draw a bow fully up without an arrow in it: it is impossible to tell how much it is drawn, and many a bow. has been broken in this way. Nor should a bow ever be loosed more than a few inches, unless an arrow is on the string.
Formerly it was customary to unstring a bow after every three arrows in order to give it rest; a considerable diversity of opinion existed for many years as to whether the bow gained anything by being perpetually strung and unstrung. Possibly it lost more than it gained by the process, but be that as it may, it is now the custom to keep the bow strung as long as it is in use, and no harm seems to come of it. Of course a bow should never be left strung an unnecessarily long time, or between the distances when more than one is shot, though it is usual to string it son e five or ten minutes before beginning to shoot. One thing is especially to be avoided with respect to stringing and unstringing bows, and that is attempting to trend hack the limbs of one which follow the string. Nothing is more calculated to injure it.
With every care bows will break, neglected crysals and slithers broken strings, knots and pins, all are causes of fracture, and sometimes a bow goes without any apparent reason. Fortunately, they can also be mended; a new back or belly can be put in, or a bow may be repaired by putting in only part of a belly. A new limb earl be fitted to an old one, or better still, two old limbs can be joined together, as one will not then pull the other out of shape. Sometimes these repairs make the bow as good as ever, and on other occasions they are not successful; but if an archer is unfortunate enough to break or damage a bow, he should at once take it to a bowyer to see if it can be made serviceable--one thing is certain, the sooner a crysal or slither is taken in hand the better.
Bows can be strengthened or weakened if it is necessary. The former is generally done by shortening them, and provided the bow was originally long enough to allow of this being done, it answers very well, hut if this is not the case, it is attended with danger, unless a short arrow is to be used. Another way of strengthening a how is to put on a new back or belly. Weakening is done by scraping away part of the wood, and is not dangerous, but of course the cast of the bow may be altered. Mr. C. H. Everett has hit on an ingenious method of strengthening a bow by having horns with two nocks, so that by using a shorter string the bow is made stronger without shortening the wood.
It is not always the best-looking bow which will shoot best and examples may be found of bows which look as if they could not be worth anything having a remarkably good cast, while on the other hand, some bows which look perfect have none at all but what has been said, as a rule, will lead to the choice of the best bow.
Throughout this chapter gentlemen's bows only have been mentioned. This is not from any want of courtesy or respect to the ladies, but because the greater weight of men's bows --and, consequently, increased difficulty of procuring good material naturally-- requires the first consideration. Everything that has been said as to gentlemen's bows equally applies to ladies, the length and weight only excepted; the weight of ladies' bows is from 24 lbs. to 32 lbs., and their length should be 5 ft. 6 in. What has been remarked as to beginning with a weak bow also holds good, and 24 lbs. is quite heavy enough to commence with.