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Chapter I

Archery as recreation
Part 1 of 2

THE beginning of the use of the bow and arrow is shrouded in antiquity. Evidence of its use goes back to a time before the dawn of recorded history and comes from every section of the earth. Asia, Africa, Europe, America—all had made use of this effective, if primitive, weapon at the hunt and in battle. The style and construction of the bow might have differed in one section of the globe from another, but these very differences merely emphasize the remarkable similarity in the means of waging war and for securing food.

The romantic traditions associated with the bow, however, come down to us principally from medieval England, where archery gained perhaps its greatest use and development. The English longbow with its deadly cast eventually gave way to gunpowder, but that only grudgingly. The bow was used long after the bullet backed by powder made its appearance in warfare. Fortunately for us, the craft of the old English bowyer was not lost. The bow and arrow as we know it today is patterned after the long bow of tradition. We, however, know it more as the tool of pleasure than of warfare. The necessarily grim features of its use in olden times have given way to joyous realization of the bow's value in recreation and sport. The kindly passage of time has dulled the memory of the race with regard to the sterner uses, and left us only the romantic traditions which conjure up the sallying forth of a Robin Hood and his merry band of archers to bedevil a hated noble or mischievously outwit the minions of the law of a past day.

We delight in believing, even in the face of skepticism, the remarkable flights and even more remarkable hits made by an expertly released arrow of a bygone age. We are indifferent when some prosaic skeptic insists that good modern archers equal in performance the best of that age. How does he know? Anyway, it is nobody's business but yours and mine if we choose to believe as authentic the slightly clouded records made long ago. We naturally have archery ambitions of our own, and how can we really succeed without hitching them to the star of past performance?

So we dream of the long ago and we see as on a stage a sturdy folk in doublet and hose and feathered cap, carrying out their roles of medieval life; and who, in spite of their ruder comforts, were surprisingly skillful in fashioning the hand tools of the times and in making and using fine bows and arrows for warfare and sport. With all the advantages of modern science and invention, we have made no material improvement over the bow of 700 years ago; instead we have substituted the terribly destructive weapons of a machine age and use some of them in sport. But think you that tests of skill in rifle shooting today carry more thrill than did the contests with the long bow in early England? The answer may be suggested by the fact that the skill of archery has persisted to this very day. The advances and complexities of modern life have not succeeded in burying this charming pastime into oblivion. It has persisted against all the encroachments of modern science in the hunter's art and in spite of the distractions of an age where methods of recreation and amusement have multiplied greatly. We have the fast speeding automobile and the airplane but we still love to watch a foot race. We also have the high-powered rifle, but the bow does not need to beg for recognition.

If, man or boy, you have never before shot a really fine bow, don't try it now—unless you are prepared to succumb to its fascination. And if, through some chance, you have been persuaded to make a bow for yourself, and if it proved to be a fairly good one, you have surely fallen for the sport. This first bow, which you will always cherish, is but the forerunner of others, each one of which will be made with the purpose of showing points of superiority over its immediate predecessor. Besides, you now have a wholesome amusement and a healthful form of recreation to occupy your spare time.

I have a friendly neighbor next door. We both like to construct useful things for and about the home, and so we each have accumulated a fairly extensive equipment of tools. But I could not arouse in him more than a polite interest in the subject of bows and arrows. When I told him I had made a bow, he replied that he was considering the construction of a complete electrical mechanism for his grandfather's clock; when I mentioned that I had made another and better bow, he said he was assembling an improved radio set; and when I ventured to suggest that he make himself a bow and some arrows, he grunted and "opined" that he could put his time to better use.