Part III: The art and practice of archery
Part 4 of 6
OF STANDING, NOCKING, DRAWING, HOLDING, AND LOOSING.
Standing, nocking, drawing, holding, and loosing, are Ascham's five points of archery The first point, which embraces not only the mere footing, but the attitude of the archer, requires such attention, Ascham remarks, "as shall be both pleasing to the eye of the beholder, and advantageous to the shooter, setting his countenance, and all parts of his body in such a manner and position, that both all his strength may be employed most to advantage, and his shot made and managed to other men's pleasure and delight. A man must not go hastily about it, nor yet make too much ado about it. One foot must not stand too far from the other, lest he stoop too much, which is unbecoming, nor yet too near the other, least he should stand too upright, for so a man shall neither use his strength well, nor yet stand stedfastly. The mean betwixt both must be kept, a thing more pleasant to behold when it is done, than to be taught how it should be done."
The archer having strung his bow, should place himself in such a manner, that no part of his body be turned towards the mark, but, so that supposing the mark to be due north, his position should be facing directly to the east, which brings the mark immediately on his left at right angles. Thus placed, and holding his bow horizontally with the string upwards, he takes his arrow by the middle and drawing it from the pouch, carries it under the string until the pile pass outside of the left of the bow about an inch, when the fore finger of the left or bow hand, is placed over it, in order to secure the arrow, while the other hand is drawn back to the nock of the arrow, to slide it, with the cock-feather upwards, and so to place the string well home in the nock. The nocking, or second point, being now accomplished, the archer secures the perpendicular position of the arrow, by putting his first and second fingers of the right or drawing hand, close to, on either side of the nock, and holding it and the string firmly by about the middle of the first joints, now enters upon the third point. Standing erect, with his feet nearly squared, and about eight or ten inches apart he commences the operation of drawing, by gradually pressing bis bow down firmly with his left hand, at the same time that he draws the string with his right, keeping the right elbow well up, the archer now gracefully raises both arms, his left extended with his bow, which is held with the wrist turned rather inwards, and his right still drawing the string, till the arrow be brought up about half way. The bow being now, we will sup-pose, sufficiently raised according to the distance of the mark, the archer draws the remainder of the arrow, up to the pile, and keeping his bow firmly fixed, with a moment's aim, which should be sufficient, lets the arrow fly with a steady and sharp loose.
The steady flight of an arrow, greatly depends on drawing the string evenly, that is, not twisting it, either inwardly or outwardly by the too great exertion of the fingers. Drawing, is one of the nicest points in archery. Ascham considers it to be "the best part of shooting" The bow-string is very easily twisted by the joints of the fingers embracing too much of it. It is very common for a young archer to find the arrow turn from his bow, and fall from the string during the time of his drawing, which is caused by his twisting the string; and, if outwardly, it will immediately on the loose, by the recovery of the string, throw the shaft on the side of the bow, and thereby inevitably guide the arrow away from its proper direction, and often cause it to waddle. In target shooting, the drawing is conducted in such a manner, that the nock of the arrow is brought a little under the ear of the archer : but in long shots, as the bow must be more raised, so must the drawing hand be more depressed, and the nock of the arrow is then to be brought down towards the right breast.
Ascham has enumerated all the faults usual among archers, in the following humerous manner.—"Faultes in archers, do exceed the number of archers which come with use of shootinge without teachinge. All the diseommodityes which ill custome hath graffed in archers, can neyther be quickly pulled out, nor yet soone reckoned of me, there be so many.—Some shooteth his head forwarde, as though he would byte the marke ; another stareth with his eyes, as though they should flye out; another wink-eth with one eye, and looketh with the other; some make a face with wrything theyr mouth and countenance so, as though they were doinge you wotte what; another, blereth out his tongue ; another byteth his lippes ; another holdeth his necke awrye. In drawinge, some set such a compasse, as though the would turn about, and blesse all the field; another maketh such a wrestling with his gere, as though he were able to shoot no more as longe as he live ; another, draweth softlye to the middes, and by and by, it is gone you cannot know howe; another draweth his shafte lowe at the breast as though he would shoote at a roving marke, and by and by he lifleth his arme up pricke height; another maketh a wrynchinge with his back, as though a man pinched him behinde ; another coureth downe, and layeth out his buttockes, as though he should shoote at arowes ; another setteth forwarde his left legge, and draweth back with heade and shoulders, as though he pulled at a rope, or else were afraid of the marke. Another, I saw, which at every shote, after the loose, lifted up his righte legge so far, that be was ever in jeopardye of faulinge. Some stampe forwarde, and some leape back-warde. Now afterwarde when the shafte is gone. Some will geve two or three strydes forwarde, daunsinge and hoppinge after his shafte, as long as it flyeth as though he were a madde man. Some, which feare to be too farre gone, runne backwarde, as it were to pull his shafte backe; another runneth forwarde when he feareth to be shorte, heavinge after his armes, as though he woulde help his shafte to flye; another wrythes, or runneth asyde, to pull in his shafte straight. One lifteth up his heele, and so holdeth his foot still, as long as his shafte flyeth. " Now, imagine an archer that is cleane without all these faultes, and I am sure every man would be delighted to see him shoote."
Ascham concludes these remarks, by observing that "standing, nocking, drawing, holding, and loosing, done as they should be done, make fair shootinge."
Observe, that one of the greatest faults an archer can be guilty of, in respect to shooting, is, being unsteady in his bow arm. The arm that holds the bow should be as firm as a gun-stock.
OF SHOOTING AT MARKS.
The archer may proceed to shoot at marks, after he has attained a thorough command over his bow, viz. in bracing and unbracing it, and in the five points of archery just treated on. The shorter the distance, (say from about ten to fifteen yards, which agrees with the Persian method already noticed,) the better for the young archer to commence his practice, and at which, he may in a short time become so expert, as to hit the smallest mark. Nothing is so likely to prevent a person from becoming an expert archer, as by commencing the practice of shooting at very distant marks.—The bow-arm, and the eye, must in the beginning of the practice of the bow naturally want that steadiness and experience, which can be acquired only by first shooting at short distances.—Without sufficient practice and experience, long shooting, can be called nothing else, but random shooting. A command over the bow, can be obtained only, by degrees and steady attention. As the young archer finds his improvement, he will be better enabled to increase his lengths to thirty and to sixty yards, which latter has been said to be the key, to all distances within range of the bow. In practising at marks placed at distances from thirty to fifty and sixty, and upwards to one hundred yards, the young archer should always bear in mind, that the best shooting is always the most graceful, because, that which is most graceful is the most perfect; and that it is not enough for him, to be able to hit the mark, but, that his hitting should be attended with the utmost steadiness of flight in his arrows. Great advantage may be gained, by practising at the same time at different distances within one hundred yards, which will accustom the archer to various addresses, or degrees of elevation of the bow, necessary for the destined mark. By thus varying the distances, a much greater confidence is acquired in the art of shooting than could ever be attained by keeping to one fixed length. At private, or at public meetings, it is the usual practice to shoot at targets ; and the distances commonly adapted, are, for the ladies, fifty or sixty yards, and for the gentlemen one hundred yards.
OF THE VALUE OF HITS ON THE TARGET, &c.
The target or shield to shoot at, is a boss of twisted thrashed straw, made up in several layers bound very firmly in successive plaits or rows after the manner of a bee-hive, with a flat surface, nearly three inches thick—The targets for ladies are made three feet in diameter, whilst those for the gentlemen are generally four feet in diameter, their fronts are made by coverings of strong sheeting or fine canvass, sewn on the bosses, and of sufficient breadth to preclude the necessity of a joining, and painted in four circles equidistant, besides the gold or centre; viz. the red, inner white, black and outer white, the latter of which is bordered by a green, usually termed the petticoat, or spoon.
The value of each circle, according to many, is fixed as follows:viz. for,
The outer white, one,
Although this method may perhaps be said to be rather overrated as to their real value, according to the mathematical division of the target, yet it has been more approved than the actual value of the several circles, which as the gold is usually made a ninth part of the size of the outer white, the red a third, the inner white, half, and the black only four fifths, will render the respective actual value for the circles, thus ; the gold, nine, the red, three, the inner white, two, the black, one and a quarter, or five for four hits, and the outer white one. Ladies' targets, although so much smaller than the gentlemen's, are upon the same principle, and the value of the several circles are reckoned accordingly. Hits on the target, are thus counted, either by the number of them without destinction to the circles, or by number as to their value from the circles on which they may be made.
An account of the game can be kept on a card ruled and marked after the following usual method, and each hit should be pricked with a pin.
Or, instead of the ruled card, let each archer be furnished with a small target card, that is, a card of about two inches and a half in diameter, with the several circles marked and colored thereon similarly to the target. This being suspended, or attached to the left breast of the archer, has an interesting appearance. Every hit should be pricked by a bystander.
Target shooting is generally conducted under the management of one particular archer, who may be styled the "Captain of the Target," and by whom all disputes or differences should be settled. A pair of targets placed opposite to each other, say at the distance of one hundred yards, will do for six gentlemen, and also for as many ladies Let the whole party of these twelve ladies and gentlemen assemble at one end. The gentlemen will commence shooting, and after having discharged their pouch, or three arrows, they escort the ladies to a mark, or two banners opposite to each other, placed halfway between the targets, from which they will discharge their arrows at the same target as the gentlemen did.
Should the number of archers and archeresses exceed twelve, i. e. six gentlemen and six ladies, it would be adviseable to have other targets, arranged laterally at convenient distances, and each set may be distinguished by a small silk banner, when all the arrows shall have been expended, a simultaneous movement should be made by the whole of the party engaged towards the opposite target.
"Clout shooting," so called, as of old, is when, instead of targets, small pasteboard marks of about a foot diameter, are fixed to a short stick, and stuck in the ground generally from one hundred to one hundred and fifty, and two hundred yards apart. As this sort of mark is small, it is usually arranged, that every arrow counts, that hits, or that falls within two or three bow's lengths of the clout: and this mode of practising in the bow, is adopted by those who may not have immediate convenience of a field for targets or butts, but have to resort to a common or distant field, in which case, the inconvenience of conveying these small marks is but trifling.
"Roving,"—is another kind of shooting, attended often with much interest. Any thing, such as a tree, a bush, post, or paling, become fit objects for the archer's attention ; and the title of the exercise is derived from the circumstance of the archer's never being necessarily confined to one object. The game and distances are fixed on, as the party proceeds. It is all optional. This kind of shooting appears to be the most ancient of all, and was much attended to when the bow was a national and military weapon.
"Roving," or "shooting at Rovers," as it was called, was much prized by our ancestors. It requires much skill and strength, and a knowledge of distance, which being changed at almost every shot, contributes greatly to the improvement of the archer. Butt shooting formerly was used as roving marks, and not as we now generally shoot at them, as standing marks, without changing the distance at every shot. Butts are made with turfs of earth laid upon each other, and well pressed together, they may be constructed about six or eight feet broad at the base, about six or seven feet high, and of sufficient depth so as to insure stability Butts are worthy in their construction, if only for their use in saving the trouble of carrying targets and their stands to the ground, for a small pasteboard target may easily be conveyed to the place of exercise, and readily fixed on the face of the butt.
There are other names for different kinds of shooting, such as " hoyle shooting," which, indeed, is similar to " roving:" and " flight shooting," which is only for trying who can shoot the farthest, with various kinds of arrows, and " prick shooting," also, which is nearly the same as target shooting. The ancient "prick mark" was frequently called the white; and probably was a small white, pasteboard or piece of white stiff' paper put on the butt, the distance for shooting at which, was usually less, than common target shooting.
The Dutch still keep up the ancient game of " the popingjay." "It is a mark," says Roberts, "the shape and size of a parrot, which, by these people, is fixed at the top of a high pole, and shot at from the very base of it." The French also practice shooting in the Longbow in a similar manner.