On Distance Shooting.
The Divisions—Clout-shooting—Absurdity of the Modern System as a test of skill or strength—The Edinburgh Match—Roving—An agreeable pursuit—Flight-shooting—Length of probable range considered.
Under this head I shall proceed briefly to notice the different kinds of shooting at distances beyond what may be called the regulation target lengths, and, in modern times, they may be classed under three heads—namely, Clout, Roving, and Flight-shooting.
Clout-shooting is so called from the mark being a small white one, termed a "Clout," instead of the ordinary regulation target. The distance at which it is placed varies from nine to twelve score yards: 180 and 200 yards are, I believe, the actual lengths usually shot. This kind of shooting, however, is very little practised now-a-days, but two or three societies, out of the many existing in the kingdom, advocating such distant marks; and these, I cannot but think, do so rather from a blind adherence to "tradition," than because of any amusement afforded by such Archery. In former times, when the bow was the weapon of war, great force of shooting was the grand desideratum—precision being less required than penetrating power. Hence the laws that were passed at different times, regulating the distances to be shot and the weights of arrows to be used, were made solely for the purpose of keeping up this force of shooting. One of Henry VIII., for example, forbids any but a sheaf or war-arrow being used at eleven score yards or under. In modern days, however, the cultivation of the bow being an amusement, and not a national necessity, it has very properly come to pass that skill and accuracy in its use have become the thing sought after, rather than the mere increase of brute force. Hence all existing societies, with the exceptions mentioned, shoot such distances only as are reasonably within the hitting range of modern bows. The exceptional societies alluded to, however, still preserve, under totally different circumstances as regards the practice of the bow, its antiquated distances; influenced, I conclude, by the idea of not degenerating from the force and strength of shooting attained by our ancestors: at least this is the only sensible reason I can think of. If this be the motive, however, they should enforce laws respecting the weight of the arrow, as well as the distance shot, and then they might at any rate plead, in defence of their system, their desire to encourage strong shooting. As, however, no such laws are in vogue, the result is that, instead of the bow being strengthened, the arrow is lightened, sensible persons very naturally declining to make a labour of a pleasure. Thus strong shooting is not encouraged, for a good fifty lb. bow will carry with ease a light flight arrow a distance of 210 or 220 yards, and this weight of bow is under the average weight used at the target distances. Thus this modern clout-shooting, as a test of strength, is a dead failure. Weak and inexperienced indeed must be the Archer who cannot range an arrow considerably beyond its outside distance.
As a test of skill it is simply ridiculous; for, owing to the excessive but required arch of the arrow in its flight to reach the distant mark, the utter impracticability of scientific aiming (from the impossibility of seeing the point of aim and the mark in juxtaposition), and the great and varying force of winds on a light arrow in a long flight, chance enters so much into the elements of success as constantly to baffle the most experienced shot. As if, too, this chance required still further development, the mode of scoring in use is beautifully adapted to increase its amount; since, instead of the Archer's average shooting, each end being reckoned, a hit in the clout, or, failing that (which, nineteen times out of twenty, is the case), the nearest shot to it, is alone allowed to count. Thus, supposing A and B to be two Archers, and that A shoots all his three arrows within a foot of the clout, whilst B sends one an inch nearer, but the other two any amount of yards off, B alone is allowed to score! though, as regards the relative merits of three shots, A is vastly superior. The chance inseparable from this mode of scoring, however, would be overcome by the good shot in a very short time, and his superiority be speedily made manifest, were he opposed to a single antagonist only; but if the shooters be numerous, it is a very different affair, since the probability of a chance arrow is of course proportionably increased according to the number shot. Thus an extreme case might actually occur where our friend A, competing with twelve others, each shooting twelve ends of three arrows each, might actually beat every one of his competitors thirty-five times out of his thirty-six shots, yet never score once, but be at the bottom of the list after all! For though, each end, his three arrows might be within a foot, or less, of the mark, some single arrow out of the thirty-six opposed to him might each time prevent his scoring. This is, of course, an extreme case; but it will serve to exemplify the system. A curious illustration of the truth of these remarks, as regards the amount of chance in modern clout-shooting, occurred at the Grand National Meeting held at Edinburgh in 1850. On that occasion, as (he gentlemen of the Royal Body-Guard principally practised the long distances, exceptional prizes were expressly declared for them, in order that their favourite shooting might come into play. Strange to say, however (yet not strange if the above remarks be properly considered), the first prize for the 180 yards, and the same for the 200 yards shooting, were both won by two gentlemen who had hardly, if ever, shot such lengths in their lives, and who were, moreover, inferior (at that day) at the target lengths to several of the Scottish Archers present. This unlooked-for result not a little nonplussed our friends across the border—as well it might.
In order that my readers may judge whether or no these long distances are fairly within the hitting range of the bow, the following is the result of the shooting at Edinburgh alluded to, though the targets were the usual four-feet ones, instead of the conventional twelve-inch clout—
Let me, however, do this modern clout-shooting justice. It has one recommendation, and it is that of being in some sort "a refuge for the destitute," that is to say, for some whose nakedness and poverty, as regards any real knowledge of Archery, would at once be apparent, where they to appear before the public at a hitting distance. For, as the clout may be said never to be hit (so seldom is this the case); as, consequently, all the arrows, good, bad, and indifferent, equally stick in the ground; and as the spectators very wisely take care to give the clout a very wide berth indeed (forty or fifty yards is not a foot too much for some of these "long rangers ")— the observation that would at once detect a miss at the targets is completely hoodwinked here. Thus, the most excruciating muff— the man who cannot hit a four-foot mark a few yards removed from him—may manage to pass muster as an Archer here, aye, and even strut along the stage of his Archery existence with a comfortable idea of his superiority over the poor, weak, benighted short-range man,—"he never shoots such paltry distances as sixty yards:" he knows better—he would be found out if he did. So, after all, clout-shooting has its advantages.
If it be desirable to encourage the strongest shooting, let such distances be shot and such arrows used, as shall in reality constitute a trial of strength and power over the bow. If skill be the desideratum, let such distances be chosen, and such a mode of scoring adopted, as may give it its fair predominance. This modem clout-shooting is just that happy medium that attains neither end.
Concerning roving, or shooting at rovers, a very few words will suffice. This shooting consists in taking stray and accidental marks, usually at long distances, as the objects to be aimed at, instead of fixed and certain ones. In olden times, when the bow was a weapon of war, the practice of roving was peculiarly valuable, as it tended not only to keep up strong and powerful shooting, but also to give a knowledge of distances and a judgment of lengths peculiarly valuable in battle. In the present day it is seldom or never practised, very few localities, indeed, being sufficiently open for it. It is, however, an interesting amusement, the uncertainty of the distance, and the consequent difficulty of accurately judging it, giving an agreeable amount of excitement.
Flight-shooting (so called from flight or light arrows only being used in the sport) is practised solely with the view of experimenting as to the extreme casts of different weights and kinds of bows, or to determine the greatest range to which the power and skill of individual Archers can attain. In modern times it may be safely asserted, that very few shooters (owing partly to a want of practice in flight-shooting) can cover a distance of 300 yards; and to attain this range, a bow, and a good one too, of at least sixty-two or sixty-three pounds, must not only be used, but thoroughly mastered, not merely as regards the drawing, but in respect of quickness and sharpness of loose also; for, as before remarked, the rapidity of the arrow's flight depends principally upon this latter qualification. Thus an Archer may be able to draw a bow of seventy or eighty lbs. and yet very likely be unable to loose properly one of more than fifty-six or sixty lbs., and, consequently, he will not be able to increase his range at all in proportion to the increase of power in his bow. Indeed, he will in all probability shoot further with the weaker bow within the command of his loose than with the much more powerful one beyond it, however much the latter may be under the power of his pull. Now, without hesitation, it is affirmed that there is hardly an Archer living (if there be one) who can loose properly a bow much over seventy lbs.; though there are many that can draw seventy-five lbs. or eighty lbs., and a few perhaps some pounds beyond even this; if this be so, a range much over 300 yards is not likely to be attainable.
Some years back Mr. Muir, of Edinburgh, made many experiments with strong and medium power bows, with the view of testing the possibility of accomplishing 300 yards; but, though an Archer of great power and experience, he found that with a bow of from fifty-eight to sixty-two lbs. he could shoot further than with a stronger one, and that with that weight of bow he could not quite reach the desired distance. Afterwards, however, with a Turkish horn bow and flight-arrow, he accomplished a measured range of 306 yards. Mr. Roberts, in his "English Bowman," (published in 1801), states that Mr. Troward shot repeatedly, up and down, and in the presence of many spectators, a measured length of 340 yards, with a self yew bow of sixty-three lbs.
In this kind of shooting I have, personally, had very little experience, but in the autumn of 1856, in the presence of a brother Archer, I succeeded, upon several occasions, in exceeding the 300 yards, the longest shots being 308 yards, with a slight wind in my favour, and in a perfect calm 307 yards one foot; the ground was carefully measured with the tape. The bow used was a sixty-eight lb. self yew, taken at random from Mr. Buchanan's stock, and was by no means remarkable for quickness of cast, though it has since proved an excellent target bow.
I believe, therefore, that, with practice, 300 yards is fairly attainable by many Archers of the present day, and that several might even reach very considerably beyond it; but to attain to this distant shooting, a particular study of itself would be required, as it is a totally different matter from target practice.
However, experiment alone will enable any Archer, curious as to his powers of distant shooting, to determine the length he will be enabled to reach. To that he is, therefore, recommended.