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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter XXI: Ladies' Archery
Chapter XXI
Ladies' Archery
By Alice B. Legh
Part 2 of 2

There are so many opinions as to what bows are the best for a lady to use, and what length and weight her arrows should be, that one cannot write definitely on the matter. A self-yew bow is generally considered to be the best; a good one will outlast almost any other kind, and the pull of it is so different from that of a backed bow or a bow of inferior wood. A backed bow is often a tough customer to deal with; you have a hard pull from start to finish, and you feel your strength gone before you have reached the end of the arrow. Now in a self-bow, and more particularly a self-yew, you will find it easy and even to pull; but you must pull to the very end of the arrow, for much of the spring seems to be in the last two inches; and its cast is then nice and clean. It is delightful to watch a well-shot arrow from a self-yew bow; it will fly low, evenly, and swiftly. Sometimes a lady is obliged to have her arrows made longer or shorter than the ordinary length by reason of her arms being either very long or very short; as a rule, however, I am sure our shooting would improve if we could make up our minds to use arrows of ordinary length and weight, and stick to one or two bows. If we have several of either to choose from, it is hard to decide which we will use; and after much deliberation we shall probably choose the wrong ones and then blame ourselves, or worse still, those who may have helped us in our choice. One thing to be avoided is using too strong a bow. It is distressing to see ladies struggling with one too heavy for them, though their difficulties are frequently due not so much to lack of strength as of knowledge how to apply it. The fragile-looking often pull a really strong how with greater ease than those who look well able to do so.

Bows and arrows are, of course, all important in archery; but there are a few other things which the majority of lady archers find necessary, such as a belt and quiver, arm-guard, finger-tips, tassel, and scoring-book. I should advise archers always to keep their score, more especially when practising; it is most difficult to form a correct idea of how you are shooting unless you do jot it down as you go along. Are you in low spirits you imagine that you are hitting nothing but blacks and whites, with an occasional red or gold, which is only a fluke after all. Or if you are in a happy frame of mind, all the Colours your arrows go into are of a brilliant hue, and the next time you go out to practise you go down in your own estimation. At a public meeting many prefer not to know their score for fear of making themselves nervous; but if you do know how you are getting on, it will save you a shock at the end of the meeting, either good or bad. To some of us archery is a mattes of life and death; and we wear ourselves out, mind and body, in our endeavours to hit the centre of the target; but, after all, it is. only an amusement, and worrying is quite as fatal in this case as it is in others. I do not deny that it is most aggravating when your arrows absolutely refuse to obey your will; but above all things do not show temper, or rage inwardly. You have some fault probably which must be found out and conquered.

All affections, and specially anger, hurteth bothe mynde and bodye. The mynde is blynde therby: and yf the mynde be blynde, it can not role the body aright. The body bothe blood and bone, as they say, is brought out of hys ryght course by anger: wherby a man lacketh hys right strengthe, and therfore can not shoote well. (Roger Ascham.)

See that your arrows are true before you go to a meeting--I mean, all true weight and straight. Have them very clean; a collection of dried mud or paint off the target must make a difference to their flight. See, too, that your bowstring is sound and well lapped; and, having your implements in proper order, you can go to the meeting fairly peaceful in mind.

An archery meeting on a bright day is one of the prettiest sights you can imagine. The varied hues of the ladies' dresses, the occasional green coats of the men, and the gay targets help to make up a lively scene. The competitors move about, greeting their friends, and finding out their targets; you hear laughing and talking, and all look as if they meant to enjoy themselves. There are, perhaps, prizes to be shot for and handicaps to be arranged, which give still more spirit to the meeting. In private clubs the bow or prize days are always looked forward to, a fine day and a good attendance of me bers hoped for. A great deal depends on the secretary of a club. He must have a certain amount of tact to know how to deal with all the members' wishes and suggestions; he must keep the peace and yet he very firm, follow out the rules of the club strictly, and make no exceptions, unless for some very good reason. He must make all his arrangements about moving targets, and marking out the ground beforehand, and have everything in good working order before the time for shooting arrives, so that the competitors may find everything ready for them when they reach the ground.

The post of secretary to an archery club is no sinecure, and we are not nearly grateful enough for all the trouble that is taken to secure our comfort and enjoyment. We grumble and find fault for the merest trifles; we object to the target we have been placed at: we want our tea between the distances or we don't want it then. Poor secretary! He has rather a bad time of it.

The Grand National is the great event of the archery season. It takes place about the end of July, or the beginning of August, and is also generally held in a different place each year. All shoot on their own merits at this meeting, so that the good shots take the good prizes; but there are always several prizes open only to local archers, and those who have not risen very high yet. And these really have the best time of it. To those archers who have to light for the high honours it is a most serious business, and a very doubtful enjoyment. No one can tell beforehand how they will stand at the end of the two days' shooting. You may take. a high place the first day, you feel elated, and go to bed happy; but, alas! next day your fall may be great, and all the more grievous because of your early success. There may be three or four who are shooting very evenly; oh, the nervousness when you feel that each arrow will make a difference! You long to find out what your adversaries are doing, and yet you are afraid to ask. Yon know that the eyes of W ends and foes are upon you, and you try to imagine that you do not care at all.

I must say lady archers are generally very kind; when they know you have a place on the scores to keep, they will help you all they can by their sympathy, or in some more practical way, careful not to put you out by talking, ever ready to lend or give you anything that may be necessary to your good shooting. Personally, I have always received the greatest kindness, and am most grateful for it. There are, of course, disagreeable to be met with, as in everything; but the agreeables far outweigh them.

There is something very exciting about a public archery meeting, from the time you reach the town where it is to be held. You keep your eyes open for all archers, and often take a turn out 'to see who has come.' If the target-lists are ready the evening before, there is a rush for them: all are anxious to know at what target they are to shoot, and who their companions will be: whether they will find a personal friend among them, and who is to be their captain.

The captain of a target is the lady whose name comes third on the list for each target. Her business is to: score for the others, to teach the target-boy his duties, and to keep order generally at her target. A captain, like the secretary of a club, needs to be firm and obey all rules. The ladies shoot in the afternoon; it must be very entertaining to an outsider to watch them arriving. On foot, in cabs, &c., they come with their bow-boxes, arrow-boxes, camp-stools, cloaks, &c.; they go to their tents and begin to equip themselves--at least, the businesslike ones do--and when ready go and keep quiet till it is time to begin; others stroll round to talk to all their friends and hear all their news, almost, and occasionally quite, forgetting to get ready. A quarter of an hour before the time to begin the first bugle, or bell, sounds as a warning, and the second one will find the ladies grouped round their targets. All spare time has been occupied in studying the ground and getting all possible hints from the men, who have been shooting since eleven o'clock. The ladies ply them with questions. ` What sort of a ground is it?' 'Is there any wind--which way does it blow?' and so on. At the second bugle there will be a stir among the ladies; they have been wondering when it would sound, and yet when it does some wish the evil moment had been put off a little longer. Do not all archers know how dreadful is the first arrow? When you have let it off, your heart stops beating till you know where it has gone, and you listen most anxiously for the sharp pat which an arrow makes going into a new target. The judge is very long-suffering and is kept pretty busy measuring the golds. He is constantly being called for; though we cannot all win gold prizes; yet we like to have our names put down, because, as a gentleman archer has said, 'It adds to one's respectability as an archer.' If you are fortunate enough to get your three arrows into the. gold, just notice the tremor of excitement which passes down the line of targets--you are the envied of all every lady competing contribute a shilling towards rewarding you; you are very glad to he the possessor of all the shillings, but it is a humiliating moment when they are put into your hand. Something of the feeling of an impostor comes over you; for, after all, you are being rewarded--for chance shots.

There is a little time allowed for a rest and tea between shooting the two distances, of which archers are only too glad to avail themselves. When the day's shooting is over it is very amusing to watch the ladies comparing notes about their doings; and at the end of the second day the excitement is intense. We are anxious to know what place w e have taken, and much as we may love our friends, we prefer to be above them, if possible.

188. Ladies' Day, Royal Toxophilite Society, July, 1893.
188. Ladies' Day, Royal Toxophilite Society, July, 1893.

The Grand National, and some of the other meetings, lasts for three days, but the shooting on the third day does not count towards the prizes of the meeting. All competitors are handicapped on the average of the highest score made on the previous days, and all contribute five shillings towards the handicap prizes. This is often the most enjoyable day of the three; the strain of anxiety, has been removed, and success or failure is no longer a matter of such importance.

There is one day in the season to which lady archers look forward especially the Ladies' Day at the 'Tox' Ladies are invited by the members of the Royal Toxophilite Society, and from ninety to a hundred gladly avail themselves of the invitation. The ground is a very good one, and everything is perfectly arranged for the pleasure of the guests. Beautiful prizes, a sumptuous tea, and moreover a good band are provided, and to my mind the last-named adds greatly to the enjoyment of the day, whether on the ladies' day or any meeting.

The 'Tox' ground has also been the scene of matches between ladies and gentlemen, twelve on each side, and very interesting they have proved. The matches have not been held often enough yet to show which are the stronger; and it is difficult to make the shooting fair, as the ladies' longest distance is the men's shortest; but we ladies like to flatter ourselves that we are quite as good shots as the men, and will strive hard to prove it.

The prize-giving at a meeting is rather an ordeal. The secretary and heads of the committee like to keep the ladies at some distance from the table on which the prizes are laid out; because they say it looks more dignified to see the ladies advancing over the green grass to receive their prizes than to have them slipping out from some quiet corner near by. The ladies think differently I We find it difficult to remember our deportment, as taught us in our youth, with many eyes upon us as we cross the grass; and our bow of thanks has often to be made while standing on steps-a position which, I am sure, no dancing-mistress ever took into consideration.

The prizes at public meetings take the form of money. About the desirability of this there has been much discussion lately, and there is a good deal to be said for and against it. No doubt, if the money prizes were done away with, or very much lowered in value, it would be the means of stopping some from competing, and the entries might be fewer; but then, if the prizes did not take the form of money, the entrance fees might be made considerably lower, and that would enable several to enter their names as competitors, especially amongst the young people, who have hitherto been prevented from doing so on account of the expense; and archery might gain many more votaries.

There is something mercenary about receiving money as a prize for doing well at an amusement, and people would surely enjoy shooting for its own sake, even if they only received a small badge as a token that they had been successful in the competition. All archers value the badges given at the National with each prize, and the ambition of beginners is to win a 'spider.' I believe they would sooner have their spider and no money than the money and no spider.

Archery is not a means of making money--far from it. It is a capital way of spending money, and I doubt if anyone, however successful, could clear 10l., after paying his or her expenses, through the season; by expenses I include travelling and hotel bills, as well as entrance fees, &c. . I have been credited with making 200l. a year by my archery; many might wish that it were possible to accomplish such a thing but it would change the whole character of archery if you could earn your living by it, and it would no longer have the same interest.

Some people contend that if archers receive money as a prize they are professionals; but it seems to me that they remain amateurs as long as they pay entrance fees and only receive a reward, in the shape of money, if they do well. When archers are paid a certain sum of money to hoot for the amusement of assembled spectators, they may be called professionals; but may that never be the case!

In olden days the bow and the arrow were used as weapons of war, and to kill flesh and fowl to provide food for man, and nowadays, they are still put to these uses among savage tribes in different parts of the world. Other and more effective means of offence and defence have sprung up in our enlightened country, but we hope long to keep archery what it now is--not a means of earning our living, or a mere game to be played at, hut a good old-fashioned pastime.

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