Of the bowstring very little need be said. The only good ones are of foreign make, and the very best are, I have understood, the produce of one particular maker, a Belgian, in whose family the secret of their manufacture is preserved with such jealousy as to cause a fear of its being lost, inasmuch as its present possessor is the last of his race.
A thick string is generally supposed to cast the steadiest, a thin one the sharpest; but, though preferring the latter myself, I have not been able to discover much practical difference between them; the strength of the bow must, however, somewhat regulate its substance. In any case the string should be round and even, with a tolerably thick eye at one end for the upper horn, and plenty of substance in the twist at the other to form the loop for the lower end of the bow. This loop is formed by giving the appropriate end of the string one turn round itself, and interlacing or twisting it three or four times afterwards; taking care to do this evenly and firmly, so as to prevent slipping, and waxing the end before doing so. The length of the string between the loop and the eye must of course be regulated by the length of the bow; and ought to be such that, when the latter is strung, a space of at least rim inches for a man's, and five inches for a lady's bow, should exist between the string and the centre of the bow.
The string for one inch above and five inches below the nocking point must be lapped with thread or thin twine, well waxed, of such a substance as nearly to fill the nock of the arrow, and this again, as far as is covered by the fingers when drawing, with a lapping of floss silk. The object of the latter is to render the loose smooth and even, and to supply the place of greese wholly or in part. Any substance that is of the right thickness, and at the same time smooth and even, may supply the place of the thread and floss, and will equally well attain the desired object. A piece of smooth vellum, or thin strip of buffalo hide, have been found to answer admirably, being pleasant to loose on and very durable. Whatever is used, the nocking point must be of just such thickness as will fill the nock of the arrow without splitting it; this is one of those minutiae of archery essential to good shooting. If the string become frayed, it may be rubbed with beeswax, or thin glue; but if it be worn in any part, especially at. the nocking point or the lower horn, let it be instantly rejected and replaced with a new one; for it is poor economy to risk the loss of perhaps a favourite bow, worth many pounds, for the sake of eighteenpence, the price of a new string.
A few spare strings should be kept in stock, free from damp; if in a tin case, so much the better.
The object of the bracer or armguard, it is almost needless to Bay, is to protect the left arm from the blow of the string, in the event of this striking upon it when loosed. By the expression "in the event of," it is especially meant to imply that no need exists for the the string's striking the arm at all; and hereafter, and in its proper place, I hope to demonstrate that when this docs occur, it is a fault to be amended, not a habit to be indulged in; and that if it habitually takes place, an insuperable barrier is thereby presented to certain and accurate shooting. Ascham indeed will have it that the bracer serves also a second purpose, viz., "that the string, gliding sharply and quickly off it, may make a sharper shoot,"—which would appear to be about as probable a result as would be the accelerating of a racer's speed, when in full career, by striking against a brick will or any other obstruction. It is only, however, just to say, that he recommends the bow being so much strung up that the string shall avoid touching the arm at all; by which it may be concluded, that he merely meant to assert that the arrow's sharpness of flight was less injured by the string's striking against a hard smooth substance, such as that of which bracer's are usually composed, than against a soft yielding one, as the sleeve of the coat, for instance, would be—and not that there was any peculiar quality , in the armguard of increasing, actually and positively, the cast of the bow. The bracer then is simply a protection to the arm in case of need—unless indeed, as regards the fairer portion of humanity, it may be said to be of service in confining and rendering harmless those pendant armlets of lace, crochet, and frippery that nowadays adorn their dresses, and the which, however serviceable in rendering more fatal the ethereal shafts of Cupid, are anything but conducive to the correct flight of those grosser and more material missiles that obtain in an archery field.
Too much care cannot be taken to sec that, when fastened, no edge or corner protrudes that can by possibility obstruct the free passage of the string. I remember, upon one occasion some few years back and in my earlier days of practice, missing fifty-eight shots in succession, and only discovering at the end of that time that this mischance was entirely owing to one of the buckles having become loose, and so allowing the upper edge of the bracer at the time the arm was straightened to project some quarter of an inch beyond it; the string, in its passage back to the starting point, grazing against this projection, was for an instant arrested or else thrown out of the proper line; and thus the arrows either left the bow before the proper moment, and so fell short, or, receiving the same eccentric direction as the string, were cast about the field in every direction but the right one. Upon remedying this defect my shooting resumed its ordinary course.
In spite of good Ascham's "sharper shoot," a bracer made of moderately soft leather is preferable to a very hard one, as in this latter case the string on striking receives a greater rebound and vibration, which more or less injuriously affects the flight of the arrow.
The bracer must not be buckled too tightly on the arm, as, besides the discomfort and inconvenience this will occasion, it will serve to impede the free play of the muscles, and thus tend to destroy the accuracy of the shooting. It is a very good plan to have the upper edge of the bracer shaved thin, and then sewn on to the shooting coat (being still buckled as before), as this effectually prevents such an accident as that already related, and insures its fitting closely and tightly to the arm. The straps should be of such a length that the buckle shall be quite at the back of the arm, and not at the lower side, as in the latter case the sharp end will be in the way of the string—a very common occurrence by-the-bye. In-stead of straps an elastic band with hook and eye has been lately introduced, and with every success.
Punch's advice to persons "about to marry" will doubtless be in the remembrance of many of my readers; it was comprised in the single word "Don't." I shall conclude the subject of the bracer with the same piece of advice addressed to those who are constantly in the habit of striking it, and about to do it again—" Don't."
THE SHOOTING GLOVE.
By this is understood the protection that every archer more or less requires to the drawing fingers of the right hand. It is the one accoutrement of the archer that requires perhaps more care and attention than any other; for, as it is certain that skilful and scientific shooting depends in great part upon an even, certain, and unvarying loose, so I have found such a loose is only to be attained by the help of the most perfectly fitting and accurarely adjusted shooting glove. As will be shown hereafter in treating of that part of archery (the loose), the great thing is to have the perfect command of the string, of the exact "how" and the "when" it shall be allowed to quit the fingers. This becomes almost an impossibility should the shooting glove be either too tight or too loose; in either case this necessary command is lost; in the one by the hold of the string (from the slipping of the glove) being insecure; in the other, by the fingers becoming cramped, and, so to speak, comparatively hors de combat. Again, too thick a glove prevents the proper "feel" of the string; too thin a one hurts the fingers, and causes them to flinch from the proper degree of sharpness required for the loose. And, once more, with too hard a glove the string cannot be with certainty retained till the proper instant of loosing; with too soft a one it is apt to get so imbedded as to require an unnatural jerk to be got rid of at all.
From all this it will be seen to be impossible to lay down any defined and specific rules for its size, shape, make, &c., &c., each individual requiring to be suited according to the peculiar nature of his own fingers, be they hard or tender, fleshy or otherwise; and it is therefore strongly recommended to every archer to be the manufacturer of his own shooting glove, as no other can fit him with the nicety and accuracy positively required. It may, however, be said generally that the thinner the leather composing it be, the better (provided always it be thick enough to protect the fingers from pain), as also that it be not so constructed as in the slightest degree to confine the hand or cramp the knuckles. A small piece of quill placed inside will also be found of material assistance in giving a clean and certain loose.
I must candidly confess, however, that the endeavours of ten years have hardly succeeded in producing finger stalls perfectly to my satisfaction. The following is one of several good plans for making them:—Let the finger-guards be made of a smooth, pliable piece of leather, perfectly independent of each other, and fastened behind with vulcanised India-rubber, and further kept in their places by rings of the like material passed over the middle joint of each finger; such ring having a thin tongue (also of India-rubber), about an inch or an inch and a half in length, fastened to the leather stall inside the hand. The hand is thus perfectly free and unrestrained, and the elasticity of the India-rubber prevents any tightness of the stalls or confinement of the fingers; a guard or stop is placed upon each stall about half an inch from the top, by which the line of the fingers and position of the string is so regulated as to render the loose always uniform. (See accompanying sketch.) The merit of the vulcanised India-rubber is, as far as I know, due to Mr. Mason. Some have objected to the India-rubber, as stopping the circulation, and so numbing the fingers. This, I think, proceeds from having it too strong and tight. Latterly, instead of elastic rings, I have used silver ones, with good effect. If a little glue or resin be rubbed inside the stalls, it will keep them tight to the fingers, and the India-rubber back may be dispensed with.
Several excellent gloves have lately been brought out by Mr. Buchanan, of Piccadilly, very similar to those just described. For those who cannot bear the exposure of the tips of the fingers to the friction of the string in escaping, the glove here sketched may be highly recommended.
There is a peculiar kind of finger-guard, known by the euphonious name of "tab," that requires some notice. It is simply a piece of flat leather lying inside the hand, and held in its place by the fingers being let into it at one end. It cannot, however, be compared with either of the gloves just described, either for evenness and certainty of loose, or for perfect command of the string. Still it must in fairness be stated that several excellent shots are in the habit of using it. This does not, however, alter my opinion as to its being decidedly an inferior method, as who shall say how much more these might have excelled had they adopted a different and more rational one?