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A Flamboyance of Flatbows

What is the plural for a group of archers? This was discussed around the practice bosses at Loughbrickland, on Sunday the 5th of February, by a few of us. We knew, a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, a flamboyance of flamingos - my personal favourite –, an embarrassment of pandas, and a disaster of tories. But what is the plural for a group of archers? I could be cheeky here and suggest that a group of compounders be a glacier. A group of barebow archers could be a tuning and a group of longbow archers could be an unpredictability. And I’m sure we have all had competitions where we have felt more like an embarrassment, than a flamboyance.

This was our first outing to Loughbrickland for 2023 for the Daffodil Shoot, a mixed field round on Whyte’s estate. As I have written here before, this is what I refer to as a ‘classic’ venue for field archery; one every senior field archer knows and has been pushing their limits in the sport for some time.

From our arrival there was frost to be seen across the fields and the rooks were making their displeasure at our presence known. The sun, however, was out and doing its best to throw a degree or two of heat our way and it seemed that most everyone arrived all at once. Practice bosses were packed with those reviewing (sharpening) their marks and warming up, with a queue for equipment inspection. The turn out for this field round was great, considering the dire cold and, as always, the fact that it was a Sunday morning.

A maxim in field archery always goes, ‘Sure, what else would you be doing?’ I can’t say, but I know that I would be warm whilst doing it – and there are those whose spouses are glad to see them gone for the better part of the day, of course. Nonetheless, there isn’t really a better place to be.

Even before the whistle, there were rooks making a fuss above us in the trees and sky. A buzzard landed on a branch next to the practice bosses and was harassed and chased off by a pair of jackdaws. Robins, sudden, fleeting, bouncing about in the thick vegetation were common and on one occasion sat, boldly and proudly before one of the targets, stubbornly refusing to move. The buzzards were a common feature throughout the day, whether by sight or by hearing their call. Even a raven made themselves known towards the end of the first half, which is a first for me at Loughbrickland.

Among the archers present were several juniors, which is always encouraging to see alongside newer members of Ballyvally Archers. Lough Cuan Bowmen had five members represented – including myself with an American flatbow, three barebow archers and one instinctive.

Though I adore my English longbow, and it is my favourite way to shoot, I did mention that I wanted to pick up arrowhead awards. In thinking more about this, a problem came to mind that tangled my plans. World Archery only has three shooting categories for arrowhead awards: recurve, compound and barebow. Now, for the overlooked archers in the instinctive and longbow categories they can still claim arrowheads under barebow. But that means shooting from the blue peg. My plan of action was based on shooting a flatbow from the yellow peg (the peg designated by World Archery). Of course, I did e-mail World Archery for clarification, but they never bothered to get back to me.

Whilst this presented a dilemma for me, I have decided to stick with the flatbow, shooting from the yellow peg for the year at least, just to see what I can achieve. I’ll be taking Prydwen (what I have christened my Timber Creek Viper flatbow) to 3D and target rounds too.

As a side note, of sorts, between the blue and yellow pegs, a minor observation that I noted, is in how similar the bunnies and multiples are in terms of shooting distances. There is no marked 25m multiple of course, but there is still the laughing jester that is the 15m bunny. The bigger, more obvious observation is in how the 60cm and 80cm faces fall closer to the distances on the white peg. The maximum shooting distance for yellow peg is 40m for a marked round, and 35m for an unmarked round.

The steppingstone from white to blue is often slippery and uneven. The longer distance targets, that is, the 60cm and 80cm targets, stretch far off into an intimidating abyss for less experienced archers and as we all know, the further away the target, the exponentially greater the difficulty becomes. With the yellow peg, what is made available for the archer, is a fantastic intermediate peg.

Alright, back to the Daffodil shoot.

One of the interesting details of this shoot, was the presence of American flatbows, and the absence of English longbows. Whilst the flatbow is broadly referred to as a longbow, there is a significant difference between it and an English longbow.

Over the past few years more and more archers have taken up the flatbow. It leads me to wonder what the reason is for the bow’s popularity. They are beautiful and graceful in their simplistic and minimalistic, arcing design. Yet do not let the elegance of the bow fool you. Of all the bow styles it is one of the more challenging, which can put people off. However, taming this bow style and pursuing its challenging nature brings a magnificent feeling of satisfaction. The bow is uncomplicated; just string the bow and check the brace height and that is that. And perhaps, the bow is even considered exotic, with the association of adventure attached to it.

Barebow of course had a large turnout, another elegant and finely tuned shooting style and there were a couple of instinctive archers, too. In my target group, I had the pleasure of Tom Scott’s company, and Brad Stubbings, a barebow archer. A positive of being in a group of three is of course that it is unlikely the group behind will ever catch up and from the beginning of this shoot, there was the eerie silence of being alone in the forest, as if we were the only ones shooting. As we broke into the latter targets of the first half, we could make out the bright pinks and reds of archer’s attire through the trees and bushes. All was remarkably quiet throughout the day. Occasionally a judge would appear as if from nowhere, despite the fluorescent coats, to keep us on our best behaviour – you must wonder how many circuits of the course they manage through out the day, between set-up and taking everything down?

For once there were no arctic winds to batter the archer on the upper part of the course – it was a bit unusual and removed any excuses if you shot poorly on any of the distance targets on that part of the course. The only target I blanked was up there, the final target of the first half.

Tom Scott is the archer who put me on to arrows with two flights, which I have used in the past to great effect, and still will in the future at some point. During this competition, Tom explained to me how the Comanches would shoot, by drawing not under the jaw, or to the corner of the mouth, but against their chests. I’m always fascinated by the myriad ways in which archery has been practiced across history; go back to the thirteenth century and archery will be present over most the world, yet, how the bow is used in North America, versus Europe, versus Asia will be different each time. Needless to say, I shall be trying the Comanche shooting method out at the club.

It was great to take on a field round with a bow style that was – somewhat – new to me, at least newish within field archery. Switching to another bow style changes everything you think you know and, aside from giving the archer a better education in the scope of the sport, hones their shooting skill through pulling them from their comfort zones and away from what they are used to. It is very much worth a try, even for one field round to take up a shooting style that is unfamiliar.

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