So. Anyway. I thought it would be interesting to write a bit about my experience getting into period archery in the SCA. I first encountered archery in junior high gym classes, firing recurves and later compound bows. I don't remember any talk about technique, but I was okay at it, and enjoyed it. When I first got into SCA archery, I was inspired by my childhood enjoyment, an interest in something that seemed a bit more accessible than other activities, some solicitous archer friends who shared gear with me, and desire to dive in instead of sitting and watching. I'm still very new to this, but I thought it might be useful to others to know what things I wish I'd known early on before I learned bad habits, and what things I'm learning that are helping me the most.
First of all, somehow I missed the fact that only wooden arrows are allowed for SCA shoots. Those cheap aluminum or fiberglass arrows are fine for target practice, but if it's not wood, it doesn't count. My area has a fletching guild, and I hope to eventually save myself some money by making my own, but I haven't gotten to that point yet. In the meantime, I've started an SCA Archery Pinterest board with some sources for wooden arrows and arrow-making supplies. Honestly, I'll probably buy a set in the near future that will last until I have more free time to make some.
I've learned that different weights of arrows shoot differently, and so do different lengths. Measuring draw length and weight accurately are really important. I haven't done that with either of my bows yet, so it's on the list. I'm mostly shooting a previously-loved fiberglass bow Duchess Clare gave me these days. That woman is way too good at enabling me, and it was so kind of her to make me into an archer instead of a dabbler. <3 My period longbow is hickory with a fast flex core, from Rudder Bows, and was a gift from my husband. I'm enjoying learning how to use it, and it's very pretty. I've been told the lighter draw weight longbows don't tend to live too long, but hopefully I'll have built my strength up by the time it wears out and I can move up a notch.
I learned how to tie a bowyer's knot at practice a few weeks ago when the very experienced Sir Sagan took one look at my brace height and said it looked too low. He said brace height should be a thumb tip to pinky tip span (7 inches on my hand), so we undid my bowstring and shortened it a bit. However, if you look at the page I linked to, it emphasizes the importance of wrapping the knot the right way, and I don't think that happened, because the knot slipped out and loosened itself later in the evening, but the general consensus is that really, I need a new string. Making bowstrings is high on my list of skills to learn in all my copious spare time.
I'm also learning that consistent form is really important. My shots tend to be all over the place if I'm not thinking and centering myself. My dancer's roots are helping a lot, when I remember to plant my feet, aim my hipbones, turn from the waist, and breathe for a moment before I shoot. I am learning the archer's mantra of nock, draw (which really means draw as you bring up your bow), anchor (still trying to decide on the best anchor point, but right now it's the joint of my jaw just in front of my ear), and release. Personally, I think the fifth word in the mantra should be FREEZE, though, because that's the part that's hardest of all for me. I tend to shoot like I'm throwing a ball. My urge is to drop my hands as soon as I release the arrow. Though I can't see how a hand that no longer holds arrow or string can influence a shot, I shoot much better when I pause for a moment. It's hard to be deliberate while still trying to be quick, though, and I have yet to get six arrows off in a thirty-second quick draw shoot.
I'm learning not to grip the arrow with the fingers on my right (string) hand. If the nock is right for the string (and vice versa), the arrow will stay on the string. If I just touch the string, and not the arrow, the arrow doesn't swing out to the left, requiring me to use my left forefinger to try to stabilize the arrow. I've gotten enough cuts on my left forefinger to learn to keep it out of the way most of the time. I'm still working on relaxing my left hand too. This seems to be even more crucial with the longbow than with the recurve, but both styles should be allowed to resonate in the hand when you shoot. Taking that shock up into your arm is apparently a great way to injure yourself, and it seems to be bad for your aim too. It's hard to think of being so relaxed while doing something that requires strength and control. It's an ongoing struggle, as I'm on the anxious bundle of nerves end of the spectrum, and I clench my jaw, hands, toes, abs, and whatever else I can manage when I get stressed or forget to relax.
I also have the newbie habit of rotating/hyperextending my left elbow just enough that it gets in the way of the bowstring. I seem to always have a bruise there these days, but the bruises are getting smaller and lighter as I require fewer reminders (aka string slaps to the arm) to relax.
Anyway, these are all really basic things, and I'm sure lots of folks are reading this and rolling their eyes at the fact that I didn't know them. I've had great teachers along my archery journey, but they are mostly friends who are too kind to correct me (though I hope now they will). I'm getting better, learning to be consistent, making a few nice shots, and I'm having fun while I do it. I hope these points, gleaned from being a terrible shot for quite a while and finally admitting defeat and asking for help, are useful to other people like me who are new and backed into archery without formal instruction.