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Home > Books > The British Archer > The art and practice of archery
Part III: The art and practice of archery
Part 5 of 6


"No instrument can be more affected by the animal spirits, than the bow." Coolness, attention, and confidence, should ever be present with the archer ; for without these requisites, he cannot expect to attain to any great degree of excellence in his art. Possessed of these, he can take a proper, steady aim; without them, he cannot. At the moment of taking aim, much judgement is required, for the care that is necessary to insure " the keeping the length," is different from that which directs the arrow straight. The first is by the draft and elevation of the bow; the latter is by the eye and mind acting together upon the object of the aim. It should be remembered, that however an archer may find it expedient to give elevation, or otherwise, at the moment of taking aim, (in which he will naturally be directed according to the distance of the mark and strength of his bow,) he should ever accustom himself to keep his eye constantly fixed on the object aimed at. This is indispensably necessary to straight shooting. Ascham particularly insists on this point; he says however, " some, and those very good archers, in drawinge, loke at the marke, untill they come almost to the heade, then they looke at theyr shafte, but at the very lowse, with a second sight, they finde theyr marke againe. This waye, and all other afore of ane rehersed, are but shiftes, and not to be followed in shootinge streight. For leaving a man's eye always on his marke, is the onlye waye to shoote straighte, yea, and I suppose, so redye, and easye a way, if it be learned in youth and confined with use, that a man shall never misse therein. Some men wonder whye, in casting a man's eye at the marke, the hande should go streighte; surelye if he considered the nature of a man's eye, he would not wonder at it. The eye is the verye tongue wherewith witte and reason doth speake to everye parte of the bodye. This is most evident in fencing and feighting. The foot, the hande, and all wayteth upon the eye. The eye is nothing else but a certaine window for wit to shoote out her heade at. The chief cause whye men cannot shoote straight is because they loke at theyr shafts."

Thus it appears from Ascham, (our high authority) and the truth of which may soon be confirmed by experience, that the only advantage to be derived by looking at the shaft head at the loose, is, in order for a just elevation, to keep the length, or proper distance of shot; but which as this author justly observes, " yet hindereth excellente shootinge, because a man cannot shoote streight perfectlye, excepte he loke at his marke, draw and loose equally, and keep his bow arm steadily and firmly fixed at the time of loosing."


After every thing that can be said, and all that can be taught, there is still much in the art of archery to be found out and commanded, which theory alone can never accomplish. The bow is an instrument of much simple construction, and therefore its operation and effect depend wholly on the attention and skill of the archer—

Good instruction and example must be backed by practice and an earnest endeavour to excel.

On examination into the history, character, and military career of the English long bow, we may be tempted to conclude, that, from the comparative feebleness of our present archery, the principles of the art are lost. But on due consideration, it must be obvious, that there cannot be any material deviation on our part, from those principles which were settled by our ancestors; and that the only reason which can be assigned for our present deficiency in the art of archery, must have arisen from the partial attention lately paid to it, and to the want of that constant practice it once had, and which it demands. The art of archery gave birth to sayings, and rise to surnames of existing families—When the demand for implements of archery was universal, the business was conducted or divided into separate branches, from whence arose the names of "Bowyer," "Stringer," "Arrowsmith," "Pledger, or Fletcher," "Pile," "Nock," &c. and amongst other sayings, the well known one of "always have two strings to your bow," evidently by way of admonition to care and prudence. When the names of "Bowyer" "Stringer," &c. were adapted in lieu of, or in addition to others, we must presume that the value of archery was thoroughly felt, and most justly appreciated by the people; for no one would have voluntarily adopted a new name, if the meaning or signification of which had not carried with it a certain degree of consequence and pride. Archery, as has been observed, was the great care of the legislature, and was not only upheld as an art most effective in time of war, but cherished almost to adoration, as a recreative pastime, by all ranks of society among most of the nations of the earth, even in the hours of peace.


There is no better rule by which a young archer can govern himself in respect to the exact power of the bow which he should first take up, than judging of his own strength, at the same time bearing in mind, the absolute necessity of beginning with such a one, as shall be well within his power.

By first practising with a suitable instrument, strength, and a command over it, will readily be acquired : then may the weak bow, be changed for a stronger. This method was scrupulously adhered to by the Persians, who trained up their youths to be most excellent archers. Besides it is a fact, that nothing is more likely to deny the chance of any person's becoming a good archer, than first using a how fully equal to, or beyond his strength. This too common and fatal practice has often been attended with very serious consequences, such as, overstraining the muscles of the breast and arms, and more especially the tendons of the drawing hand. The surgeon's knife has been known to be necessary in a recent case, wherein the tendons of the inside of the palm of the drawing hand, had been overstrained, and which produced serious inflammation ! Young people, and boys between the ages of ten and fifteen years, may generally be supposed to be able to begin shooting with bows of about thirty pounds or thirty-two pounds power. Those between the ages of sixteen and twenty, may not find bows too strong to commence with of about forty pounds, or forty-five pounds power. Bows of twenty-four or twenty-six pounds will generally be found at first to be suitable for ladies of between sixteen and twenty years of age. One or two changes at most, will probably bring an archer or an archeress to be able to draw a bow from the above weak powers, to between twenty-eight pounds, thirty pounds, and forty pounds, for the ladies, and to about fifty pounds, fifty-five pounds, sixty pounds, and seventy pounds for the gentlemen. It may be here observed, however, that for target shooting of the present day, a bow of 50 pounds power, generally speaking, will be found a good standard for gentlemen after having shot with weaker ones a season or two.


A bow is often broken, either by the giving way of the string, by crooked stringing, by insecure nocking, by the breaking of a shaft, also by frets and crysals, as well as by using too long arrows. When the string breaks in the act of shooting, the bow in recovering itself, receives a sudden and very violent jirk, particularly at the handle, which in the recoil backwards, or against the proper bending of the bow, is raised up ; this contrary action, puts the bow in imminent jeopardy. It therefore behoves an archer to be extremely watchful over his string, which, at the instant he perceives in the least degree deficient, even by the rupture of a single thread, should be cast away. The reluctance to take off a string that has served well, and for a cause apparently so trifling, may be natural, but the doing of it would most probably be rewarded in the preservation of a valuable bow.

1st. By crooked stringing.—By this is meant, when the string does not go from the centre of each nock, and consequently, cannot run apparently straight along the belly of the instrument. Such an inaccuracy is easily remedied, by pressing that end of the bow down, which may be necessary, as is done in the act of stringing, and by pressing the loop or noose of the string a little to the side required, as has been noticed under the head of "stringing."

2ndly. By insecure nocking.—On well nocking, often depends the safety of a bow, as well as of the arrow; for, should the string not be well home in the nock, at the time of loosing, the force of the loose, may readily burst the nock. This violence is apt to give a twist to the string, and consequently to the bow, so as to throw them in their return, out of their straight course, which, in a backed bow particularly, is very likely to cause a fracture.

3rdly. By the breaking of a shaft.—The above observations, on "insecure nocking," are applicable to the present subject.—4thly. By frets and crysals.—It may easily be conceived, that as frets arise from the fibres of the wood giving way at the weaker parts of bows, so in the increase of the evil, (which most probably will be the case in the use of the bow,) if not either worked out, or bandaged up, the dissolution of the instrument, will sooner or later infallibly take place. The same may be remarked respecting "crysals." Frets are most commonly discovered on the backs of bows, and generally arise from positive imperfections in the wood; while crysals, so called among archers, are signified by pinches of the wood, in the bellies of bows, and which, like frets, too frequently prove fatal to the expectations of the archer. A crysal is caused by the fibres of the wood, being bent inwards, and pressed into one another, as it were at their several disjunctions. A crysal generally increases in magnitude with the use of the bow, until the destruction of the instrument takes place. Sometimes indeed a bandage timely applied, will prevent the mischief of a crysal or fret from further spreading. Fibres are liable to be disjointed in the working of the wood. The cure of these diseases of bows, should be attempted to be cured, only through the advice, or by the assistance of an able surgeon, or, in other words, by a skilful bowyer. As the breaking of a bow may be attended with serious consequences, to a bystander, it is to be recommended, that no one should stand in advance of the shooter, as fragments of a broken bow will sometimes fly to the distance of 15 or 20 yards, which must naturally imply sufficient force to knock out an eye, or wound a person in the face. A deep scratch in a bow may very soon cause a fret, to the ultimate ruin of the instrument. A bow must be always drawn in the middle, as by pulling the string too high or too low, it necessarily follows, that the then shorter limb is overstrained, which may endanger it. Shooting should be avoided in frosty weather; for then the sap expands, which renders a bow unfit for service; while in warm weather, the sap, the soul of the instrument, collapses, and fits the bow for action. Moist weather is also unfriendly to bows, as well as to arrows.

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