After all that can be written on the art of archery, there is much more to be acquired by practice, than to be learned by theory. There are many arts, says Mr. Roberts, in which men are so aided by a complication of mechanical powers, that the engine, and not the man, may be said to accomplish the end. This is not the case with the bow, an instrument of most simple construction, and which, therefore, depends for its operation and effect entirely upon the attention and skill of those who use it. "Perhaps," he adds, "no art whatever requires more attention, if we would attain high perfection in it. Like the art of music, which can produce many who can perform exceedingly well upon an instrument, yet but few Orpheuses; so, archery can boast of many good shooters, though but a few Robin Hoods."
It is a common fault of young archers to begin with bows beyond their strength. By this imprudence, they are liable not only so to strain themselves as to endanger their being compelled to lay aside the exercise, with sorrow that they ever took it up; but they are sure also to make a much slower progress in the art than if they had commenced with a bow of moderate power, and gradually advanced to a stronger instrument, in proportion as practice induced skill and dexterity.
It is impossible to lay down any precise rule as to the powers of a bow adapted to every beginner. A man must know his own strength, and acquaint himself in some degree with the powers of the instrument he intends to use, before he selects a bow for his first practice. Perhaps it would be better, in the first instance, to be guided by the judgment of another, than by his own. An experienced master of the art of archery would tell him at once whether the bow which he thought of selecting was adapted to his powers, and calculated for the rudiments of practice.
The bows ordinarily used by persons who have attained their full strength, and are in good health, are of the power of forty-eight to fifty pounds for a short length; fifty-five for a long length, and sixty for roving or flight-shooting. Ladies and boys' bows possess on an average a power of twenty-seven pounds, yet many can use those of thirty-two pounds with ease and skill.
In speaking of arrows, we have already noticed the ordinary length at which they are manufactured for men; those used by ladies and boys seldom exceed the length of twenty-four inches; and it may be here observed, that an archer may often find it advantageous to increase the power of his bow, and shorten the length of his arrow.
When an archer has attained such a command over his bow as to be able to brace and unbrace it, and to stand, nock, hold, draw, and loose, with ease and dexterity, he may commence practising at a mark.
In modern archery, the first and shortest distance recommended is thirty yards; after which the learner proceeds to sixty; which latter distance is said to be a key to, and to command, all other lengths.
But perhaps, as many experienced archers have suggested, it is better to begin after the manner of the Turks and Persians, at a much shorter distance than thirty yards; even, as some advise, at ten yards; at which length an archer may by practice become so expert as to hit the smallest mark. He may then increase his distance by degrees to thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, and a hundred yards. Shooting at once without this previous training at distant marks, is a practice much to be reprobated. By the gradual course which has been recommended, the bow-arm and the eye acquire by degrees a steadiness, which such practice only can impart. Great benefit, however, may be derived by practising on the same day at different distances, (and hence the advantage of roving,) by which the young archer will gradually accustom himself to the various degrees of elevation of the bow necessary for the different marks, acquire strength to manage the instrument, and confidence in its use.
Elevation, is a point in archery which requires very considerable attention. If it be too low, the arrow will fly short of the mark; if too high, it will fly over it. Its true extent must depend greatly on the judgment of the eye, which is only to be matured by practice. At moderate lengths, it is observed, the lower the elevation can be made, the more certain is the shot; for the more the arrow in its flight loses the track of the parabola or curve, and approaches to an angle, the less likely it is to fall upon the mark; and the higher it ascends, the more liable is it to be affected by the wind. Hence a strong-armed archer has advantage over a weak-armed one; as the former, by drawing a stronger bow, can reach his object with a much less degree of elevation, than one who is constrained to shoot with a weak one.
In modern archery, the custom is, with a bow of ordinary strength, to shoot point-blank at a thirty-yard mark; but beyond that some elevation is always necessary.
In taking aim, an archer should remember to keep his eye constantly fixed on the object aimed at. Ascham particularly insists on this point. "Leaving a man's eye always on his mark, is the only waye to shoot streighte, yea, and I suppose, so redye and easye a waye, that if it b learned in youth, and confirmed with use, a man shall never misse therein. Some men wonder whye, in casting a man's eye at the marke, the hand should go streighte; but surely, if he considered the nature of a man's eye, he would not wonder at it. The eye is the very tongue wherewith witte and reason doth speake to every parte of the bodye. This is most evident in fencing and feightinge. The foot, the hande, and all, wayteth upon the eye. The eye is nothing more than a certayne windowe for witte to shute out her heade at. The chief cause why men cannot shute streighte, is because they looke at theyre shafte."
Archery must, of course, depend in a great degree on the wind and the weather. "Having marked the weather," says Ascham, "pay much attention to your standinge, that you may regaine by the latter what you have lost by the former. In a side winde, you must stand somewhat across into the winde, by which means you will shoote the surer."
Many archers make what is termed an allowance for the wind, shooting wide of the mark, and on the side on which the wind lies, in order that the wind may carry the arrow to the mark. This requires great judgment, and frequently deceives. The young archer should not trust too much to it. Standing in the wind and shooting through it, will be found far more certain, than, leaving the shaft to be guided by it.
To conclude, attentive observation, and imitation of the experienced in the art, combined with practice and an earnest endeavour to excel, will surely achieve what instruction, however laboured, or theory, however perfect, can never accomplish.