By Simon Woodhouse
Thanks in no small part to the success of the Lord Of The Rings movies, archery as a hobby has grown in popularity over the last few years, especially among young people. But as a pastime, it has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and enjoyed by all classes of society. The bow and arrow themselves are much older still, with stone arrowheads discovered in Africa suggesting the weapon may have first been used as early as 50,000 BC.
Some of today's modern bows would certainly impress the original African inventors, but the method of firing the weapon is still the same as it was right back then. Technology may help to create bows of greater power and accuracy, however the skill and patience of the archer is still just as important.
For anyone wanting to take up archery as a hobby, your best bet is to join a club or association. These organisations will not only put you in touch with experienced people, they'll also provide somewhere for you to practice and hone your skills. A bow and arrow, after all, combine to make a ranged weapon, which is not something that should be used unsupervised by the totally in experienced, in an environment where they might pose a danger to others (i.e. your backyard). Members of your local archery club will be more than willing to advise you on what sort of equipment to buy, but I'll give you a quick run down here.
First and foremost, you'll need a bow. Primarily these come in three types. First of all there's the traditional bow, the sort of weapon used by Robin Hood in countless movies. This is a wooden bow, often about six feet long and used with wooden arrows. These arrows will be fletched (fitted with) real feathers, in keeping with the traditional theme. If you want something a little more modern, there's the recurve bow. This is so called because the ends of the bow curve outward, away from the archer when it is held in the firing position. If you've ever seen archery on the TV during the Olympic games, the competitors will have been using recurve bows. You may also have noticed the sights and stabilizers attached to the bow. These give the archer a greater degree of accuracy when firing the carbon fiber arrows. Lastly there's the compound bow, a relatively new piece of archery equipment (it first appeared around 1970). These bows require less strength on the part of the archer in order for the arrow to travel a greater distance. This is achieved by having the string pass through a pair of small pulleys, one mounted on each end of the bow. As well as offering a greater range, a compound bow is also very accurate.
Ok, so once you've decided on what sort of bow you'd like, you'll need another couple of pieces of equipment. An important safety item is a bracer. This is a strip of leather or PVC, that's strapped to the inside of your forearm just below whichever hand holds the bow. The bracer then protects the skin on the inside of the arm (a very tender spot), from being twanged by the bowstring as you fire an arrow. On your other hand you'll do well to have a tab. When you're pulling the bowstring back, you use the three fingers of whichever hand holds the end of the arrow. The tab sits on the tips of these three fingers, and helps to stop the string digging into your skin as you're preparing to fire. Finally a quiver to hold your arrows (usually attached to your belt and not slung over your shoulder as per Robin Hood), is a handy place to keep them.
Now you're kitted out with your bow, arrows and the basic equipment needed to get started, it's time to decide what type of archery you'd like to participate in. The most well known discipline is target archery. In this event, the archer stands at a fixed distance from a circular target, and fires a set number of arrows (normally 3 or 6). The target is divided into a series of concentric circles, the smallest of which is at the center. As this is the most difficult to hit it's worth the most points - ten. The other circles are then worth less and less as they radiate outward, with the one on the outside scoring only a single point. The winner in this competition is the archer who's scored the most points by the end of the tournament. Field archery involves a similar principle, but instead of standing in front of a target positioned on a level surface, the archer walks between a series of targets (usually set up within an undulating, wooded area), pausing in front of each to shoot. As the terrain differs from one target to the next, the archer has to adjust his style accordingly. Lastly there's flight archery. Probably the simplest discipline, it involves the archer firing an arrow as far as he/she can. There's no target, as distance is all that counts. Though the most straightforward type of archery, flight is in fact where the real innovation in bow technology happens, with the competitors constantly looking for lighter, more powerful equipment.
Nowadays, with the various improvements to bow design, archery is a hobby that can be enjoyed by almost anyone. Composite bows mean big biceps are not a prerequisite, with patience and accuracy being more important than strength. So if you want to enjoy an age-old pastime, and get a bit of fresh air while you're at it, perhaps you should give archery a try.