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Home > Books > The Archer's Guide > Chapter III
Chapter III
The Art and Practice of Archery.
Part 2 of 2

As to the weight of an arrow, it should seem that one weighing from twenty to twenty-four dwts., and made of yew, was anciently considered by archers the best that could be made, The weight, however, is now proportioned to the distance to be shot, the greater the distance, the lighter the arrow, and vice versa. An arrow of the weight of four shillings sterling, is generally recommended for a length of 100 to 150 yards, and upwards; and one of five or six shillings weight, for a shorter distance. It was formerly usual to mark the weights between the feathers, by imprinting on the arrow as many short transverse lines as it weighed shillings; a practice still adopted by many modern arrowsmiths.

The length of arrows varies of course according to the power of the bow for which they are designed. Those used in England and Scotland from time immemorial have been twenty-seven inches in length, including the pile; but it is now the practice to make men's arrows, for a full-sized bow, twenty-seven inches in length, exclusive of the pile.

The nock of an arrow, usually composed of horn let into the wood, (to prevent the string from splitting the shaft,) must of course be of such a size as to admit the string with convenience.

Arrows are commonly furnished with three feathers, which assist both the steadiness and velocity of their flight. These are usually plucked from the wing of an eagle, turkey, or a goose; most commonly, in this country, from the latter bird; and the second, third, and fourth feathers of the wing are preferred. Two out of the three feathers are commonly white: these are plucked from the gander; but the third, which is brown, or grey, is taken from the goose.[6]

The latter is always placed uppermost, by which means the archer's eye is readily directed to the proper position in which his arrow should be strung.

The feathers of the turkey are not only of a much stronger texture than those of the goose, but they are less affected by heat or moisture, both unquestionable advantages. Goose-feathers, however, may, it is said, be made equal to any others by being washed with a preparation, (as a solution of gum copal in spirits of turpentine,) which not only renders them impenetrable by moisture or wet, but will not in any degree impede the shaft, or damage the feather.

The head or pile of an arrow, intended for the pastime of archery, is now invariably constructed either of thin steel, or very hard iron, and should be about three quarters of an inch in length. In ancient times, different species of combustible materials were attached to the heads of arrows, and shot from long-bows; and even subsequently to the invention of gunpowder, this practice was continued. According to Neade, who lived in the reign of Charles I., and of whom we have before spoken, an archer might shoot an ounce of fire-works from an arrow, twelve score yards. Among the stores at Berwick and Newhaven, in the reign of Edward VI., "arrows with wildfire," as well as "arrows with fire-works," are enumerated.

The quiver.

All nations that have used the bow have found it expedient to adopt some method of carrying their arrows, without engaging the immediate attention of their hands. It may be inferred, therefore, that the invention of the quiver speedily succeeded that of the bow and arrow. That it was a concomitant of the bow in the time of Isaac, is clear, from the passage which we have already quoted, in our first part, from the book of Genesis: "Now, therefore, take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow," &c. The high antiquity of the implement in Asia is thus satisfactorily proved; and there is no reason to suppose that, in the other parts of the world, its invention was much posterior to that of the bow.

The bark of trees, and the skins of animals, says Mr. Moseley, were most probably the materials from which quivers were anciently constructed. Those found among the savages of the present day are for the most part formed of such materials; some of them ornamented with elegant and curious workmanship, usually composed of the teeth of wild beasts, or fish, intermixed with shells, or feathers.

The quivers of the ancient Greeks, like those of other nations, were made of skins or leather. They were of various forms and sizes; sometimes round, sometimes square, open at the top, or closed with a lid. They were usually carried on the back, the upper end just rising above the right shoulder. Diana and Apollo are invariably represented by painters as carrying their arrows in this fashion.

By some the quiver was used, not merely as a case for their arrows, but also as a kind of rosary, by which the events of every day were registered. On retiring to rest, the Scythian threw a small stone into a quiver placed near his couch: and if he had spent the day in comfort, and to his satisfaction, he chose a white pebble; but if in trouble, a black one. At his death, the quiver was reversed, and the stones counted, and the owner was esteemed to have spent a happy or unhappy life, in proportion as the number of the white or black stones predominated.

Some of the Ethiopians are reported to hare made use of no quiver, but, in preference, to have carried their arrows stuck round their heads, like radii.

The Normans not only carried their arrows by the quiver, but they also used that instrument as a kind of drum, to assist the clamour they usually raised at the opening of a battle.

The Corytos, or Corytus, was a kind of case used by many nations to carry their bows in. It appears to have been made on the same principle as the quiver, and not to have much exceeded it in length; its object being to admit half only of the length of the bow.[7]

The quivers used by modern archers are seldom, if ever, carried on the back, but serve merely as a receptacle for the arrows at home. The pouch and loop appended to the belt are the substitutes now made use of on the target ground.

The bracer.

"A bracer," says Ascham, "serves two purposes; one to save the arrow from the stroke of the string when loosed upon it, and the coat from creasing; and the other that the string, gliding sharply and quickly off the bracer, may make a sharper shoot."

It is best, however, he adds, that the bow should have just so much bending that the string need never touch the arm, and consequently that a bracer should be needless.

He also says, that in a bracer (if used) three things should be particularly attended to; that it should have no nails in it, no buckles, and that it should be fastened on with laces without tags.

Ascham says nothing of the form or material of the bracer in his time. His annotator (Mr. Bennett) observes, that this account of the bracer is somewhat obscure, and that it seems to have been a kind of close sleeve laced upon the arm.

The modern bracer is composed of a piece of stout leather, polished on the exterior side, in order to allow the string to pass over it freely. In form it is either oval, or like the half of a coat-sleeve. The colour is either black or brown. The size of the bracer depends upon that of the arm, and the manner of holding the bow; for good archers (who hold their bows always steadily and alike, when they loose the arrow) find that the string generally strikes nearly in the same place, and can therefore shoot with a small bracer; but, in shooting with much elevation, the arm cannot be so well guarded by a very small one. Some modern archers have made use of a plate of horn fastened on the bracer, while others have glued small pieces of hard wood upon woollen cloth, having the sides opposed to the string made round, in order that the string might have the swifter passage in its return; but the leather bracer is the most commonly used: and it is now generally made from six to eight inches in length, with two straps and buckles to fasten it on the arm. see plate.

When the exterior becomes rough, the bracer shoud either be repolished, or a new one purchased, lest the string should wear by the friction of its rough surface, and the safety of the bow be thus endangered.

The shooting glove.

In modern times, various inventions for guarding the drawing fingers from the effect of the sharp loose of the bow-string, have been made use of; of which every archer uses that one which, upon experience, he finds suits him best. The following are the most generally used, namely,

1st. The shooting-glove, which consists of finger-stalls fastened to thongs buttoned round the wrist, and may be used with or without a glove.

2d. Finger-stalls sewed to a common glove.

3d. The tab, which is a piece of flat leather, into which the fingers are let, and which lies on the inside of the hand.

The best leathers for each of the above is what is called horse-butt, or cow-hide leather, dressed on that side which is used outwardly.

The belt, pouch, tassel, and grease-box.

The belt is usually made of the same leather as the bracer, provided on the right side with a sort of pouch, in figure somewhat resembling a small bucket, into which the pile ends of the arrows are inserted, through a leathern loop which serves to keep them steady by the archer's side. (See plate.)

The tassel, which is for the purpose of dusting or keeping the arrows clean, and usually made of green worsted, is slung on the belt on the archer's left side. (See plate.)

The grease-box hangs by the side of the tassel, and is a very necessary appendage to the sport of the bowman; as the grease contained in it, which should be suet and bee's-wax in equal quantities, is designed to keep up a moisture on the fingers of the shooting-glove, which, if allowed to become dry, will prove a great impediment to easy loosing. A neat fancy box may be procured for this purpose.

The Target

At a time when wars were almost perpetual, and the hunting of wild beasts necessary, archers could seldom be at a loss for living objects against which to direct their arrows; but as these opportunities, in the progress of civilization, became less and less frequent, men had recourse to stationary targets, at which to try their skill, and exercise their art.

The heroic games instituted of old tended effectually to preserve and cherish in peace those accomplishments which are necessary in war; and the palm which was held out to the victorious in those combat*s, excited that emulation and pride, from which all great efforts originate. Archery, however, does not appear to have holden any very conspicuous place among these. exhibitions. Among the Greeks, says Moseley, there is no instance of its practice in the arena, though among the Romans there are several But that the Greeks had places set aside for the practice of the art seems unquestionable from frequent references by classic authors. Xenophon clearly speaks of the ancient butts;[8] and a line in Æschylus[9] mentions that archers were accustomed to shoot at them.

The Persians of old practised at shields formed of raw hides, or sometimes of solid wood, which their arrows pierced without difficulty.

With respect to the Roman practice, Vegetius tells us there were places where the archers and slingers exercised, and where butts were erected for the soldiers to aim at. These butts, or targets, were sometimes single posts only; sometimes they were made of faggots or sheaves of straw; and they were usually placed at the distance of a stadium (or about six hundred feet) from the place at which the shooter stood.

These exercises were regulated by particular laws, and under the inspection of masters. One law was similar to a privilege granted by Henry VIII. to the Finsbury archers; namely, an indemnification from the charge of murder, if any person shooting should kill another passing between him and the butt. (see p. .) This was enjoyed by the Roman archers and slingers; but the Aquilean law denied the same to those who used the other weapons, such as the pilum, javelin, or plumbatum.

The butts formerly used in this kingdom were generally composed of earth; but those of straw are at present more ill fashion. The latter kind possess the advantage of being portable, 80 as to be moved with ease to any distance fixed on. Their manufacture is similar to that of the common straw bee-hives, and they are usually made about four feet and a half ill diameter, that is, twice the length of the arrow. The front part is covered with cloth, sheeting, or fine canvas; painted in rings of different colours, in order to mark the respective degrees of merit each arrow is entitled to. The circles being described, that part which is enclosed within the circumference of the first circle nearest the centre, is usually covered with gold or silver leaf Between the first and second circle is often a red colour, and the others are varied with white, black, and green. The target, thus prepared, is fixed on a frame of wood, so contrived that it may be elevated or depressed to, any angle of the horizon, in proportion as the shots are intended to be more or less remote.

The butts used by the archers at Edinburgh are made on a very different principle, when intended for short lengths. They are of straw, laid endwise, and pressed hard with a screw; after which, the front is cut with a knife, in the manner hay is trussed. They are then covered with a little building, which serves at once to protect the straw from injury, and the shooters from the rays of the sun while drawing the bow.[10]

The fashion of painting targets at the present day is as follows: besides the gold or centre, four other circles are described on it; and these are termed the red, inner white, black, and outer white, which latter is bordered by a green.

The average value of each circle is now generally computed as follows, namely:

The outer white 1
The black 3
The inner white 5
The red 7
The gold 9

The actual value, however according to the space apportioned to each circle of the target, differs considerably from the above estimate, namely:

The gold 9
The red 3
The inner white 2
The black 11/4
The outer white 1

Target-shooting is generally conducted under the management of one particular archer, styled the Captain of the Target, who acts as umpire in all disputes or differences.

In shooting at targets, either at private or public meetings, the usual distances are fifty or sixty yards for ladies, and a hundred for gentlemen.

The following plan, suggested by Mr. Hastings as a desirable arrangement for a party of six ladies and as many gentlemen to shoot at targets, may be recommended as Judicious; though we feel somewhat disposed to contest the point, as to whether it would not be more gallant to give the ladies the preference, by escorting them to their banner, in the mode prescribed, before any gentleman venture to draw his bow.

"A pair of targets," says he, "placed opposite to each other, say at the distance of a hundred yards, would do for six gentlemen and as many ladies. Let the whole party assemble at one end; the gentlemen will commence shooting; and, after having discharged their pouch, or three arrows, let them 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 advisable 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, (and not till then,) a simultaneous movement should be made by the whole party engaged towards the opposite target.[11]

The game may be counted, either according to the number of hits on the entire target, without reference to its circular divisions, or, according to the value assigned by the previous consent of the parties playing, to the several circles respectively. The usual mode of keeping an account of the game is by a card ruled after the following fashion, on which the hits of each shooter are scored, either with a pin, or a sort of needle termed a pricker.

Names. Gold.




Or, in preference to the above, some archery societies use the target card, or a card of about two inches and a half in diameter, on which is painted an exact representation of the target itself. This being attached to the left breast of each shooter, the hits are pricked by a bystander.

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