Lough Cuan Bowmen - Archery

archery target with arrows

It has been said that archery was the 3rd invention made by man after fire and the wheel although it can be argued that the bow was probably invented before the wheel. Cave paintings in Southern France, Spain and North Africa dating from around 30.000 years ago depict archers in a variety of situations. 

'PRIMITIVE' ARCHERY (please note the inverted comas).  There are archers who make and shoot their own bows to a variety of designs occasionally resorting to stone age implements, sometimes making their own arrows and even strings from natural materials.  While not conforming to the modern 'orthodox' bow styles these bows are frequently as capable as the newer materials.  Man has survived for many thousand years before the 20th century bow inventions using such implements. 

The following are the various styles commonly found in the U.K.  Other styles may exist in other countries

During the Middle Ages, from the 11th to 15th centuries, the bow and arrow in the hands of skilled men won a variety battles for the British.  LONG-BOW – the longbows used today are similar to the longbow of the past. Archery at its simplest – a stick and a length of string. Normally made today from laminations of select woods rather than a single billet of timber this is a deceptively simple piece of equipment which is difficult to master. Often called the ‘bent stick brigade’ long-bow archers frequently count any hit on the target face as a score rather than counting the actual scoring ring hit. They have, after all, had about 600 years to think up excuses for missing! Shooting arrows made from wood fletched with feather this discipline has a fascination from the historical aspect as well as the challenge of shooting consistently.

AMERICAN FLAT BOW – Howard Hill copied a Cherokee pattern to make what is now called the North American Flat bow in 1930. This really came into fashion around 1948 when unidirectional fibre glass was developed. Continental rules often class this as a Long-bow although UK rules do make a distinction between the two so they cannot compete in the same class. Some organisations do have a separate section for AFBs.  Often used by archers using the TRADITIONAL style which also uses wooden arrows.

RECURVE – more usually the equipment used by TRADITIONAL archers (see above) this traces it’s development to the Asiatic Composite bow. Developed in its present form in the 1930s this has flat limbs with distinct curves (hence often referred to as a 'curly' bow) and often can be stored in three parts for ease of transport. It can be used without other attachments (BAREBOW and BOWHUNTER) or with sights and stabilisers etc (FREESTYLE) depending on the archer’s preference. This is the standard equipment for OLYMPIC competition and is the choice of most archers. Arrows are an aluminium alloy or woven carbon fibre or a fusion of the two.

COMPOUND – patented in 1963 this uses an arrangement of pulleys for power and archers are jocularly referred to as 'having gone over to the dark side'. Using arrows similar to the recurve this bow can store and deliver more power than the others described making it potentially far more accurate but also emphasises any mistakes in technique. As with the Recurve it can be used BAREBOW and BOWHUNTER with no additional aids, LIMITED with some basic additions permitted such as fixed sights, or UNLIMITED with just about every advance known such as magnifying sights etc.

(The term BOWHUNTER above describes a style rather than action.  Hunting with a bow and arrow, even for vermin, is illegal in most EEC countries)

CROSSBOW – tracing its origins back to the early Middle Ages this bow can be made more powerful than other bows described but, as it shoots a shorter arrow (or bolt), is less accurate at longer distances.  Currently there are no archers in Lough Cuan Bowmen who use a crossbow regularly preferring instead to shoot the other bows mentioned which demand more skill to use.

Each bow type is compared with those of a similar type in most competitions so contests are fair. These can be divided into two main categories.

TARGET ARCHERY is what most people think of when archery is mentioned. A standard target size is shot at with a standard number of arrows from a standard distance on a flat field or indoors. The standards will vary for each contest orROUNDand can range from 18 to 90 meters, from 36 to 144 arrows and targets from 40 to 122 centimeters in diameter.
A distinct variation is the
CLOUT where the range is 180 yards (less for Juniors and Ladies) and the target is a circle of 12 feet diameter on the ground.

Increasingly popular, FIELD ARCHERY, despite its name, is usually held in woodland. Targets can vary in size, number and form as can the distances and the number of arrows. Taking just one example the FITA Field round uses targets of 20, 40, 60 and 80 centimeters in diameter each shot at with three arrows from distances ranging from 5 to 60 meters. The course designer has the task of making the contest as difficult as possible, within limits, to make the contest challenging. Shots can be up or down hill, into sunlit or shady areas, down tunnels created by trees, over water etc. and often the archer has to decide on the actual distance as this is often not divulged in advance.

FLIGHT ARCHERY where the aim is to shoot your arrow furthest.  This needs a lot of space and short, powerful bows.  The record (using specially constructed equipment) is about 1 and 1/4 miles!

There are also the
POPINJAY where arrows are shot vertically at targets 90 feet above the ground, MARKS, a sort of cross between Target and Field, where targets are a permanent fixture and archers can select one from several within sight, ROVING (or HOYLES) which is similar but instead of having permanent targets archers can call a natural feature to shoot towards often taking more than one shot to reach the target – believed to be the origin of golf links. ARCHERY GOLF is popular in the USA where archers compete against golfers.

Each style of bow and contest has its own appeal and challenge. Not all are common in all parts of the country and there is nothing to say that any archer has to stick to a particular style of bow or contest. Try them all at least once where possible!