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If you’re new to archery, you will hear a lot of unfamiliar terms being thrown around. Here are some of the things you might encounter:
Draw/Draw Length: The draw length on a bow is the distance from the back end of the center of the bow (near where the arrow rests) to the point at which the archer’s drawing hand rests when they have drawn the bow back to fire it. It is a general measure of the distance the archer pulls the bow back and is important in determining proper arrow length, determining the power of a bow, and knowing whether or not an archer can safely pull a bow back all the way without causing damage to the bow.
Brace height: The brace height is the distance from the back end of the center of the bow to the string when the string is at rest (not being drawn). This distance is important because a bow with too short a brace can end up slapping an archer’s hand when firing, and a bow with too long a brace could potentially damage the bow. This can be adjusted by changing the length of the string.
Weight/Draw Weight: When archers talk about the weight of a bow, they’re not usually talking about how heavy it is to pick up, but about the amount of force exerted by the limbs of the bow. Generally this is measured by the amount of pounds of force required to hold the bow at full draw.
Spine/Spine weight: This is a measure of how rigid an arrow is. Arrows should be matched to the power of the bow being fired for maximum accuracy.
Field tip: The type of arrow generally fired at targets, as opposed to broadheads (which are typically used for general hunting) or blunts (which are used for hunting small game). Field tips are cylindrical with sharp conical points to allow them to penetrate targets without causing excessive damage to the target or ripping it up when removed.
Period (as in “period equipment”): In the SCA, anything that is “period” is something that was used prior to 1600 AD. In the case of archery, there are specific rules for “period” shoots as opposed to “open” SCA shoots. A period shoot is more restrictive as far as types of equipment and ammunition allow – for example, period shoots don’t allow plastic nocks on arrows or modern recurve bows.
Most shoots in the SCA have open equipment rules, unless specified otherwise.
Royal Round: A Royal Round is an SCA-standard set of archery rounds used to come up with a standard score for ranking. A single Royal Round consists of untimed ends at 20, 30, and 40 yards where the archer shoots 6 arrows per end, and one timed round at 20 yards where the archer has 30 seconds to shoot as many arrows as they can.
Arc D’Or: The highest level of archery award for the Kingdom of Ansteorra is the Order of the Arc D’Or (“Golden Bow”). Members of this order can be identified by a white archer’s bracer with a black Ansteorran star on it. They serve as leadership and mentors within the archery community and are always happy to help newcomers find their way!
Recurve bows are a common sight in modern archery, and anyone who’s watch Olympic archery will be familiar with the basic shape. Unlike many modern competition shooters, the SCA doesn’t allow any kind of sights, stabilizers, or other fancy gadgets on our bows.
Recurve bows are usually divided into single piece or takedown style bows – a single piece recurve is all one solid piece with limbs that cannot be detached, while a takedown recurve has a central piece (called the “riser”) with two attachable limbs. This allows the bow to be broken down for transportation, storage, or to put limbs of different strength on the bow.
Because they can be easily obtained from many sources at reasonable prices, recurves are very popular in the SCA. They tend to be fairly forgiving to shoot and are a good way for beginners to dip their toes into SCA archery without having to invest a lot in period equipment. Their handling will also be familiar to those who have learned to shoot using Olympic style equipment.
A long bow is a bow that is one continuous D-shaped bow without the half-S curve back that gives the recurve its distinctive shape.
Long bows are an old style of bow, although modern long bows have been built with additions like cut-out arrow rests that make them easier to shoot.
Many folks who have experience with non-SCA traditional archery may be familiar with the general design of the long bow. They have become extremely popular in the traditional archery world, popularized by the likes of Fred Bear and Howard Hill. The design of the famous English Longbow is probably also familiar to anyone who is a fan of the character of Robin Hood!
Long bows are somewhat more difficult to learn to shoot than recurves, having more hand shock and being slightly harder to shoot consistently. They can be found for very reasonable prices and have a simple design that requires very little maintenance if properly cared for.
“Horse bow” is a very broad term that encompasses several types of bow used by the Turkish, Hungarians, Mongols, Chinese, and Koreans throughout history. The general style of bow resembles a recurve somewhat, although it is shaped somewhat differently and they feel very different when shot.
Because the style of bow hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years (beyond using fiberglass in their construction), all of the horse bow styles are considered “period” by SCA equipment standards. This, combined with their excellent handling, light-weight, and consistent power have made them increasingly popular in the SCA.
Many horse bows can be bought from overseas companies for less than $100, making them an excellent option for archers looking for a period-accurate option on a budget.
What most non-SCA archers think of when they hear “crossbow” is only vaguely similar to the crossbows used in the SCA. The SCA doesn’t allow any kind of compound, split-prod (the “prod” is the limbs on a crossbow), or center-shot models of crossbow, and the typical designs pre-date any modern crossbow by a good 500-1000 years.
While a few modern-ish crossbows are legal to shoot in the SCA (the Whammo Powermaster and Barnett Wildcat designs from the 1970’s and 80’s are a couple examples), most of the crossbows shot in the SCA are hand-built versions of historic crossbows dating anywhere from the 1500’s all the way back to the 2nd or 3rd century BC.
In order for a crossbow to be legal to shoot in the SCA, it cannot have front sights or complex/adjustable rear sights (simple rear peep sights are allowed), and it has to a have a single piece prod. The prod can be made of any material, and you will often see archer using fiberglass prods to increase safety and reliability of their equipment.
Shooting a crossbow can be somewhat more expensive than using a recurve, longbow, or horse bow. Because of the restrictions placed on SCA crossbows, very few off-the-shelf options can be shot in the SCA, leaving potential crossbow archers with the option of buying a bow from a craftsman or learning to build one themselves.
Arrows and bolts (arrows for crossbows) used in the SCA are made of wood, with feather fletchings. Modern fiberglass, carbon, or aluminum arrow shafts and plastic vanes aren’t allowed in SCA competitions, tournaments, or ranked shoots, and are generally discouraged outside of new shooters who haven’t had the opportunity to obtain wooden arrows yet.
Plastic nocks are allowed (except in “period” shoots), as well as standard modern field tips.
Generally speaking, arrows should be the right “spine” for your bow – spine is measured in pounds for wooden arrows and the appropriate range can vary from around your bow’s draw weight to slightly less than the draw weight depending on the specific design of the bow. Bolts used for crossbows are less particular about spine, since the bolt doesn’t have to flex around the bow when firing.
Feathers used for fletching can be a wide variety of colors, lengths, and styles. Different lengths and configurations of feathers can affect arrow flight, giving the arrow a bit of spin (which helps with stability) or helping to provide additional lift over long distances.
Regardless of what you’re shooting, you will probably want something to protect your fingers from the string, and to protect your arm in case the string slaps into it when you’re shooting.
For their fingers, archers can choose to shoot with a variety of commercially available archery gloves or tabs. These are typically constructed with leather or a similarly thick material and help protect the fingers used when drawing the string.
Arm protection is usually in the form of some kind of bracer or arm guard, which is a piece of rigid or thick material that sits on the forearm used to hold the bow and helps protect the arm if the string slaps it when shooting. Archers that shoot bows “off the hand” (with the arrow resting on their hand) may also choose to wear a glove to protect their hand from being cut or irritated by their fletchings.
Generally the bows used for combat archery are similar to those used for target archery, but they have additional limits placed on their power to ensure safety. Combat bows are placed into two categories: “light” bows are allowed to fire fiberglass shafted ammunition, and “heavy” bows have to use large tubular ammunition.
For hand bows, the bow’s draw weight is measured at 28 inches. If the bow is between 20# and 30# it is considered light. Over 30# but no more than 50# the bow is considered heavy. Bows under 20# and over 50# are not allowed to be used for combat archery at all.
Measuring crossbows is slightly more involved – the bow’s draw weight at the lock (the mechanism that holds the string back) is measured and then multiplied by the distance from the front of the string at rest to the lock to calculate the inch-lbs of force that the crossbow has. If the inch-lbs measure between 400 and 600, it is considered a light crossbow. Over 600 but no more than 1000 inch-lbs is considered a heavy crossbow.
In addition to power considerations, there are other factors that affect the viability of a bow for combat. It must be able to safely and effectively nock combat ammo, which is sometimes an issue for certain types of crossbow design. For both types of bows, the bow must be rugged and reliable enough to stand up to field conditions, and the crossbow mechanism must not be likely to fail under heavy use on the field.
Combat archery bows must be inspected by combat archery marshals before being used at an event.
[photo here fathead] [photo here Lushan]
Combat archery ammunition generally falls into two categories – light “shafted” ammo and heavy “tubular” ammo. Most of the ammo you will see is fiberglass shafted ammo which is designed to be shot off of bows or crossbows classed as light combat archery bows.
Combat ammunition has to be made to very specific specs in order to maintain safety, and it must always be inspected before it is used.
There are both arrows and bolts, differing mainly by length, all using the same style of anti-penetration device (APD) on the back. There are several styles of blunt that can be attached to the front, most commonly including the Lushan “marshmallow” style and the Fathead style, with a few older types that are still in use as long as they pass safety inspection.
While combat ammunition is designed to prevent injury to armored opponents, it should never be fired at unarmored individuals as it can cause serious injury.
All combat ammunition needs to be inspected by combat archery marshals before it is fired in every scenario. Typically this happens at the beginning of the day and any ammo fired or dropped is then re-inspected after each scenario.
Like all armored combatants, combat archers and siege engineers are required to wear full armor. This consists of at least:
- Heavy leather with padding wrapping around the kidneys and lower back.
- Heavy leather with padding covering the neck and cervical vertebrae.
- 1/16″ steel helm with 1/2″ padding, including a full face guard consisting of at least 1/4″ steel bars with gaps no larger than 1″.
- Rigid material with padding covering the elbows and knees.
- Heavy leather with padding covering the outer forearms.
- Half-gauntlets made of heavy leather with padding or rigid material covering the backs of the hands, wrists, and first knuckle of the hand.
- Male participants must wear an athletic cup.
Combat archer and siege engineers must have their armor inspected by combat archery or armored combat marshals before fighting at an event.