Sacrifices! What we do for art! More archery research


I figured if I'm going to write about longbows I ought to shoot one. Well, there's a right way and a wrong way.

They say (whoever ‘they’ are) that one should write about what one knows about. Okay, fair enough. My new fantasy novel, The Unexpected Traveler, involves longbows. I’d never shot a longbow. As can be seen in another post (here) I borrowed a modern compound bow and shot it off a few times. But a compound bow is a precision machine. The parts being flexed are made of modern materials. There’s a front sight and a rear sight to help with repeatability. The draw weight is precise.
In other words, a compound bow is nothing like a traditional longbow.

PSE Legacy Bow, click image to go to PSE site

It was good to shoot the compound bow as it gave me a feel for a few things like aiming, draw weight, arrows, etc. But a longbow is essentially a stick with a string. No sights. No fancy arrow holders. No controlled draw weight.
I was in Denver this past week and grabbed the chance to stop at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, a huge affair in the Northfield shopping area just north of I-70 at the Quebec off ramp. The folks in the archery department listened to my story and were quite inquisitive about my fantasy novels and the research I was doing. They handed me a PSE Archery Products Heritage Series Legacy Bow—not an inexpensive item! The Legacy features real wood (although they do throw in some fiberglass) and looks and feels how I thought longbows ought to look and feel. Longbows are just that: long bows. The thing stands from the floor to my nose.
They have an indoor range and soon I was shooting it. There’s no sight, so it’s by-guess and by-golly—experience counts. Further, unlike a compound bow, the more you draw a longbow the harder it is to pull. There’s no pulling and holding—one pulls and shoots.
I did hit the target a couple times, much to my delight. After awhile my shots started going wild. They told me that’s the time to quit, otherwise I’d develop bad habits.
The longbow is not actually held straight up and down, but rather canted to the right (presuming a right-handed bow) so gravity holds the arrow in place. And one cannot sight down the arrow because the hand is in the way. Unlike a compound bow, which is shot with a trigger mechanism, I had to use my fingers on the bowstring—one above the nock and two below.
There’s a reason you see all those actors in Robin Hood movies wearing leather forearm protection. Unless the bow is held out just so, the bowstring will scrape the left inside forearm. The bruise you see is from just one such hit—that’s all it took! Ouch! It was operator error of course, but next time I will wear arm protection.
I suppose that’s the whole point of writing about what you know about—or else do research—because it’s the little things (like bruised forearms) that make the story believable.

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