The game of archery-lawn shooting, and roving
Part 2 of 2
In 1835 there was a shoot between members of the "Royal Toxophilites," the "East and West Berkshire Clubs," "The Windsor Foresters," and the "Welbourne and Clapton Archers." The distance was one hundred yards, each archer shooting two hundred and ten arrows, with the following scores winning:
This was accounted fine shooting; so it may be taken as a pattern, and whenever you have at one hundred yards shot two hundred and ten arrows, hitting a four-foot target seventy or seventy-five times and scoring two hundred and eighty-six or two hundred and eighty-five, or near that, you may consider yourself a good archer.
The English archery meetings are often on a scale of luxurious grandeur surpassed by no public displays of modern times. Showy tents are pitched on the greensward, in the shade of old trees-banners wave, martial bands play stirring airs, the gorgeous targets shine in the distance, the gayly dressed bowmen parade here and there or draw the tough yew bow, and it is a festive time indeed.
It was the "Woodmen of the Forest of Arden," a most exclusive and aristocratic old society, who first admitted ladies into the circle of their grounds as competitors for their prizes, since which most of the clubs have been honored by the skilful shooting and charming influence of the fair sex. In the United States the "Wabash Merry Bowmen" and the "Staten Island Club" have led the way; the latter have their meetings on a beautiful ground at Staten Island, in New York; the former meet once a week on their own grounds at Crawfordsville, Indiana.
But the most delightful feature of archery, as a competitive game, is seen in the private social shoots held under the direction of some hospitable friend of the sport, when a few congenial spirits are called together for an afternoon to be spent in merry contest and converse, and closed with a simple and informal dinner.
Spring and summer are the seasons for archery, and the green and gold of the craft's trappings are for gay flower and vivid leaf, to make the archer in dress, as well as in spirit, a harmonious part of out-door nature.
In the summer of 1877, a party of the "Wabash Merry Bowmen" had a pleasant day in the woods --ladies and gentlemen joining in an excursion to a beautiful picnicking ground on the banks of Walnut Creek, in Indiana.
There was a sweet spring of cold water in the midst of the place, and a low, thick sward of blue grass carpeted the earth, shaded by grand old walnut, maple, tulip, and plane trees. Birds sang everywhere; the stream, a merry rivulet, brawled close by; and the merest swell of wind brought to the merry company the perfume of wild flowers and the indescribably delicious aroma of a certain decaying wood called by Western country-folk sweet-knot. A goblet of spring water, washed down with a thimbleful of wine, made all ready for beginning the day's sport. The shooting went gayly on, some resting while others shot, till the time came for lunch, when one of the ladies was missing. She was soon accounted for, however, as a moment later she approached from the shadows of the woods up the little glen above the spring, bearing in one hand her bow, and in the other a gray rabbit, quite dead, with her arrow still sticking through its shoulders. But her feat of archery caused her more regret than pleasure, and she declared her intention of never
again drawing shaft at living thing. In the time of Queen Elizabeth the killing of that hare would have been the boast for a year, of any fair dame who had chanced to accomplish it. After lunch the sport was renewed, shooting at rovers up and down the brooklet's bank, and with now and then a pause to watch the shoals of minnows, or pairs of sun-perch disporting themselves in the liquid lights and shadows of the dimpling water, or snatching a long-range snap-shot at a green heron or wary king-fisher, was continued till near sundown. The voyage home was as pleasant as cheery company and the soft twilight could make it. Just as they re-entered the suburbs of their little Western city, the full moon, like a great golden target-disk in the sky, was shining on the glorified rim of the east, with star-points all around it, like the arrow-marks of an unsuccessful archer.
Butt-shooting is a favorite game of archery in England. As its name indicates, a wall of earth is used for a target, and the centre is marked by a white circular piece of pasteboard pinned on the face of the butt, or a regularly lined target is placed there. The distance is one hundred yards for gentlemen, and sixty yards for ladies. I would recommend the latter for gentlemen, and forty yards for ladies.
But how shall one become an expert and graceful lawn archer? The answer to this question involves a concise outline of the theory and practice of bow-shooting. I may condense all this into two words: intelligent practice. Study your bow and the flight of your arrows; note the defects of your shooting, and consider how to mend them. If your habit is to shoot too low, see if you do not place your arrow-nock too high on the string, and vice versâ. If you shoot continually on one side of the centre of the target, note if your string be straight on your bow, and see if you do not twist the bow with your left hand just at the point of loosing the arrow with the right hand. Labor to acquire steadiness in drawing, and smoothness and quickness of loosing. To this end never over-bow yourself-that is, use a bow rather under than 0ver your strength to easily handle it. It is a common mistake with beginners to place the target too far off. This leads to bad results. A good way to train correctly, is to place your target ten feet from you at first, and shoot at it at that distance until you can hit a four-inch ring every shot; then re-move it ten feet further and repeat the practice till you keep inside the ring; move again ten feet and so on till you are shooting sixty or one hundred feet. You may then increase the distance daily, say three feet, till you can show good work at sixty or one hundred yards. When at sixty yards you begin occasionally to pierce the nine-inch central ring of the target, you may begin public shooting with confidence. But you must be patient and careful; nor should you expect to become an accomplished archer without long and severe training. Like rowing, boxing, fencing, walking, and base-ball, or in fact any manly sport, archery demands abstemiousness and discipline. This was well understood by the rulers and law-givers of Great Britain, in the days of her highest military glory, when a few thousand stalwart archers were laying deep the foundations of her people's liberties by hard shooting on many a bloody field.
The requisite to good archery hardest to acquire is utter concentration of thought and sight upon the object to be shot at-this more particularly at the precise point of letting go the arrow. Mr. Hansard thus accurately and graphically describes the true method of shooting: " Again I remind you that drawing and loosing are to he performed together. Grasp your bow with the firmness of a smith's vice; draw steadily, until the steel pile of your arrow rests upon the knuckle of the bow-hand, while the thumb of the drawing hand grazes against the upper part of the right ear. That instant of time in which the sight suddenly concentrates itself upon the target's centre, whilst every other object grows dark and indistinct, is the critical moment of your aim. Loose then, without a second's pause, by gently relaxing the fingers of the right hand." How often I have experienced this growing "dark and indistinct" of all surrounding objects, as for a second I stood at full draw in the act of letting go an arrow at game! You are sure to hit when this happens, for your aim is absolutely accurate. Those marvellously perfect archers of old had, no doubt, the power of commanding this condition at will. It is the meed for which all bowmen should strive and which may be won by judicious and regular daily practice.
It is very difficult to find rules applicable to every archer's condition; but an hour's earnest practice each day for a month will make one begin to feel like a bowman, and three months of such work will make him a fair shot at thirty or forty yards. The longer the distance at which you can success-fully practice, the better, for, as Ascham says: "He that can do good far-shooting can do good near-shooting," and, in truth, this long-range shooting is, after all, the beautiful part of public or private archery exhibitions.
Mr. Hansard relates that the elder Mr. Waring was "seen to strike twenty successive arrows into a four-foot target at one hundred yards, in the space of one minute. He has likewise shot twelve arrows into a mark two feet square at forty-six yards. Mr. Crunden, now the father of the Toxophilites, aiming the same number of arrows at a sheet of paper eight inches square, put in ten successive shots at thirty yards. And lastly, two other Toxophilites, Messrs Troward and Green, clapt each two arrows, at the same end, into a six-inch square paper at one hundred and twenty yards distance." To the above record I may add that Mr. Will H. Thompson, of the "Wabash Merry Bowmen," in the presence of some of the members of another club, in the spring of 1878, hit a nine-inch bull's-eye eleven shots out of thirteen, at forty yards.
But who shall teach you how to equal these examples? You must see to it yourself. Indeed, the whole process of archery is more easily learned than taught. The finer shades of its most difficult achievements-such, for instance, as that of nicely allowing for the effect of wind upon an arrow's flight--arc caught by the inexplicable operations of experience, observation, and memory, and are often so cleverly executed by the expert that the result seems something almost unaccountable. To note this, go stand near the target, and let a good bowman place himself sixty yards away. Let the wind be pouring heavily across the range at about right angles with the arrow's flight. Watch him narrowly now as he makes ready to shoot. His bow-hand is raised so that the arrow makes quite an angle with a horizontal line drawn through the shaft-hand, and its point sets in towards the wind, so that if, when let go, it should fly off at a true tangent, it would miss the whole target, far above and to the side next the wind. Surely, you think, that shaft can never touch the mark. But when the cord rings, and the hissing missile springs away from the bow, you see the line of its flight-a trajectory double-curved by the forces of wind and gravity-and with amazing accuracy it drops, with a dull thud, right into the gold! One must have a perfect judgment of distance, the strength of his bow, the weight of his arrow, the resistance of his arrow-feather to the wind, and the force and direction of the wind-current, all at once, to do this. But time and again you will see it performed by a good bowman, with as much ease as if he were shooting with a rifle. It is all in hard, judicious training and practice.
But, see yonder! a party of ladies and gentle-men on the lawn. Through the hall door you have a fair view of a lady drawing her bow. Get to your antique ascham, and fetch there from two goodly bows and some arrows, and let us go and take a few shots in turn. The weather is fine, and somehow I feel as if every shaft would find the gold.
Maybe, however, you would prefer a bout at rovers, which means shooting at any natural object that one or the other of us may choose, as we stroll about, here and there, in the soft shade of the wooded pasture-lands. He who hits the mark has the right to select the next to be shot at. This is a most charming rural pastime.