Elfsea has many experienced archers and Arc d’Or that are willing to host and teach regular archery practices to allow everyone a chance to learn and grow in the sport. If you just want to come and give it a try we have loaner equipment that anyone is able to use. Practices are hosted on a regular schedule, check the Baronial Calendar for the next practice!
How to Get Started in SCA Archery
by Knut Skytja Thorgundobald, Kingdom of An Tir
Archery can be an interesting sport for all ages and both sexes. You need no great strength or special skill and little equipment: just a bow, a set of arrows (usually about 12), finger and arm protection, and a quiver.
First you need a bow. You can purchase one at any of the archery stores or you can try to find one, such as a second-hand store or garage sale. A new recurve bow at Northwest Archery (just South of Seattle, WA) can be in the price range of $150 to $200. A new longbow may cost about $200 to $250. Custom bows can be even more. If you purchase any used bows, be sure to have a professional bowyer check it for defects. This is especially true if you find an old yew or other wooden bow because improper storage may cause bow breakage. A beginning bow draw-weight for the average person is about 30-35 lb. (a draw weight is the amount of force required to draw a bow back a certain distance, usually 28 inches). My personal advice is to buy the bow from an archery shop. There you know you are buying quality items from a reliable business. The bow is, probably, the single most expensive purchase for archery. Take your time in selecting one and deal with a reliable business.
Remember, you are not trying to prove how macho you are. Use a lighter weight bow in the beginning and increase your poundage as you shoot more;. Your shooting will improve when you acquire good shooting habits. If you shoot a bow that is too strong for you, you may become discouraged by bad scores. Work up to a stronger bow. Make sure there is an arrow rest on the bow. This can be installed at the archery shop if it is not already on the bow. Some people shoot without it, which is fine, but I do not recommend this practice for beginners.
A dozen arrows is the next item you need for your archery set. Within the SCA, you must use [wood]-shafted arrows with feather fletching with either target or field points for the arrowhead. (Editor’s note: broadheads and blunts are not allowed because they tear up the target.) I prefer field points over target points because field points offer better penetration of the target and field points seem to last longer. Aluminum arrow shafts are not permitted nor are plastic fletching, even if on wooden arrow shafts. You can either make or buy your own arrows. If you elect to make your own arrows, you can purchase the needed items at any archery store or from any mail order archery catalog. If you elect to buy direct, there are several archery stores and SCA merchants who can help you. A dozen arrows is a reasonable quantity to have. If you feel you need more, get more. When you shoot archery, you will lost or break arrows. Be sure to have extras. With arrows, there are two terms you need to remember: proper arrow length and arrow spline. A proper arrow length is a personal measurement taken from the archer. There are several methods to measure this length correctly. One method, probably the best, is to take a special arrow, extra long in length, draw it back to your anchor point, and have someone measure this pint on the arrow. You can use this method with a pre-measured arrow. Most arrow makers have this type of arrow. Another way to measure proper arrow length is to place a yardstick against your breastbone, extend both arms, touch the yardstick with your finger tips. Take this measurement for the arrow length.
The other term you need to know is arrow spline: how flexible or strong the arrow is. You must match up the proper spline with the proper bow weight. The lighter the bow, the more flexible the arrow must be, the higher the pull weight the less flexible the arrow must be. If you shoot a strong bow with a flexible arrow, it might break in two (you do not shoot a 15 lb. arrow with a 50 lb. bow).
Most archers use a fletching arrangement known as a three-fletch. In this arrangement you have one feather or fletch that is nocked at 90 degrees to the bowstring. This fletch is called the cock feather and is a different color that the other two fletches or hen feathers. Some archers use a four-fletch arrangement to help them in the speed round. I have shot both arrangements and find it really doesn’t matter. If you like the four-fletch, fine. Use it, and good scores to you.
Finger and arm protection are the next items you need. For finger protection, you need either a special glove or a finger tab. A finger tab is a piece of leather that covers the fingers of your shooting hand to protect your fingers from the bowstring. You can use any type of glove or make your own tab. I prefer to purchase a special shooting glove and use it instead of a finger tab. I have a difficult time shooting with a tab. The tab seems to wrap itself around the string. I use an archery glove because I have always used one. For your arms, you need an arm guard, sometimes called a bracer. This piece is protection against the string hitting your bow arm. You can either make this item or buy it. I have done both with equally good results. A quiver is a piece of equipment used to hold arrows. There are many styles and designs to choose form. I prefer the side quiver or belt quiver. Other archers use the back quiver. Your style is a personal choice. If you choose to make your quiver, you can use a shirt sleeve pattern, or Tandy Leather has a quiver pattern. If you are lucky, you can sometimes find quivers at Goodwill-type or second-hand stores. If you intend to buy a quiver, check with the local SCA merchants, local archery stores, sporting goods stores, or mail order stores. Prices can range from $1 at second-hand stores to $100 for a leather back quiver. If you purchase custom equipment, expect to pay higher prices.
Other Important Stuff
The bowstring is one important item often overlooked. If your bow does not have a string, take it to an archery shop and have them fit you with a proper string or you can make your won. I have, and it is fun. However, this is something done under professional guidance. Bowstrings are matched to the bow weight. Usually the lighter the bow, the fewer the individual strings. A bowstring is composed of several small strings waxed together. Make sure the archery store installs a nocking point on the string. This is a point where the arrow meets the string. The nocking point with the arrow rest on the bow keeps the arrow from wandering on the string. You need some bowstring wax to keep the string from fraying.
Additional items you may need are an extra bowstring, bowstring wax, a small notebook to record scores, and a belt pouch to hold everything.
A small fishing tackle box to hold items for field repairs is a good idea. My repair box is stocked with glue, extra nocks, target or field points, nocking points, nocking pliers, extra fletching, etc. Customize the box to your needs.
Now you are ready to shoot. Well, not exactly. You will need a place to shoot, that is, a range. Check with the local sporting goods and archery stores for nearby archery ranges. You can shoot in your backyard, if you have enough space, an understanding spouse (he or she may not like the arrow holes in the siding), and accommodating neighbors. Be very careful and very mindful of your background. You always need to think, “If I miss the target, where will my arrows land?” Some people get really upset if you place arrows in their yards, houses, children or pets. Please check the mundane laws before you shoot in your yard. some areas have very strict laws concerning discharging projectile weapons.
Briefly, to set up an archery range with hay bales, the yardage must be measured with a tape measure, not paced off. You need about three to four hay bales with the paper target three feet from the ground. An ideal backstop distance or safe impact area of 20 to 40 yards behind the targets is ideal, but depends upon terrain and space. You can hang an old rug or cloth for a backstop to catch the arrows.
If you are like most SCA people, you do a lot of shopping at Goodwill-type, second-hand stores and garage sales. You may find bargains at these places, but you have no control over the quality of goods, so buyer beware. At these places you may find the “old bow that Uncle Bob gave to my grandson in the fifties that we kept in the attic.” This type of bow is very brittle and may need special wood care and handling and you may not be too wise to shoot it.
In dealing with the mundane archery and sporting goods stores, please remember that these people are more knowledgeable about modern compound bows and equipment, target shooting and modern hunting. After all, this is how these people earn their living.
If you shoot at a mundane archery range, the modern shooters may give you some smirks, giggles and curious remarks. Remember your etiquette and manners and explain what you are doing and why you are doing this. Treat the occasion as Chatelaine time. Traditional archery is making a comeback in the mundane world, so you are not alone. You may meet some nice mundane archers who share an interest in traditional archery.
I have listed various sources of references, places to buy equipment, etc. All of the information contained in these articles is my personal knowledge and opinions. These choices reflect my personal preferences and are not officially endorsed by the SCA.
Northwest Archery Company
19807 First Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98148-2493
Store is closed on Sunday and Monday. This store is run by the St. Charles family. These wonderful people know about SCA archery. They keep a special selection of arrows for us as war arrows. They are the traditional archery headquarters for the state [of Washington] and have been under one ownership longer than any other archery store in the Pacific Northwest. What they do not know about archery is not worth knowing. This store is part museum, which alone is worth the trip, so be sure to visit. Very friendly people who will talk to you regardless of what or if you buy anything.
Traditional Bowhunters of Washington
Contact Northwest Archery Company. These people are a mundane hunting organization which endorses traditional archery rather than modern archery. Dues are about $10 per year. I am a member, but then again I hunt using my longbow.
PO Box 15583
Boise, ID 83715
Subscriptions are $11 per year. This is a mundane traditional archery hunting magazine, but it lists many traditional equipment dealers.
Goodwill Stores, Second-hand Stores, and Garages Sales.
Be careful and let the buyer beware. I have had excellent bargains, but I have also found junk. It is all a matter of timing and your personal knowledge.