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I had such a good time at the range yesterday that I decided to go back today. I really like archery; I suspected I would, from what I remembered of it back when I was at summer camp, but this really confirmed it.

So yesterday was essentially my first time; I had shot over 15 years ago in summer camp as a cub scout, but even then it wasn't much of an experience and used childrens' bows and yadda yadda. This time I was firing a recurve, which is the Olympic style bow, and it was quite an interesting experience. When you're using a real bow, you actually use more equipment - there are finger guards for pulling the string back (putting 20 or more pounds of weight on your fingers directly can hurt them, and some of the stronger/more experienced archers use pulls of over 70 pounds - imagine that in a thin string pulled tightly against your fingers, over and over again! Ouch.), there are arm guards in case the string whacks the arm you're holding it with, and then of course there's the quiver for the arrows and the bow itself. There are other things you can use as well (especially on the bow itself) but as a beginner with the $5 rental, I didn't get those. ;)

So there are three main types of bows. The traditional, u-shaped bow that you generally see in movies set a thousand years ago, is a longbow. It's not used frequently, as it is uses none of the technological advances that the modern archer is used to: sights, for instance, or stabilizers. I saw a couple of people using them, though, but they used them mostly just for fun - it's an additional level of challenge. Neither of them would actually use them for anything else other than kicks, according to them, they're just not accurate enough.

(Here's a picture illustrating the three types of bows:

If that pic doesn't work, check it out here: http://www.gscomputing.demon.co.uk/BRFrame.htm)

The next type, that generally is used to Olympic and other competitions, is the recurve. The recurve looks similar to a longbow, but it curves back forward on both ends. I've seen them in historical pictures of Japan and Persia and some other areas, I think. Anyways, these bows can take various attachments - a sight is the most basic one, but they also have stabilizers and other little gadgets hanging off of them. Seeing a full competition bow is a little jarring - there are all kinds of things poking out, and you have to wonder a bit. What ever happened to doing it yourself, right?

Well, the final kind of bow is the compound bow, shown on the right side of that picture. Due to a series of sophisticated pulleys and such, it effectively multiplies your draw weight - the number thrown out at me was 3x. So a compound with a 40 pound draw will actually fire the arrow as if it had a 120 pound draw. Those doubting how well they work should just listen; you can hear the difference in the way the arrow flies out, it has its own particular woosh that is only attainable at high velocities. They people using them were also sinking their arrows basically down to the fletching (the feathers on the back). Compound bows are what are used by modern hunters, and have so many doohickies that you're really seriously separated from the actually firing process. You don't hold the string itself to draw it back, you hold onto a little grip that hooks around it and pulls back and holds the string for you, for stability. They often have stabilizers, shock absorbers, and silencers (yes, silencers, because bows aren't silent enough!) on them. Not only do they have sights, they often have scopes, and one of the guys today actually had a laser sight on his. These bows are intense, and are ridiculously powerful and accurate. These bows were designed for killing things, and taking them down hard. Put a broadhead arrow on one of those and you could kill just about anything. :P

Anyways! Yesterday I started off with a plain-jane recurve (i.e. nothing on it but a very simple sight) with a 20-pound draw. I was firing from 10 yards, and here are the results:
First time

As you can see, I wasn't all that accurate - I got some decent shots, but I was struggling to really group my shots nicely, they tended to be scattered around. I got better over the course of the day (around an hour and a half) but still needed some work. The second, day, though, started off much better. I took a few shots to calibrate the sight (same thing, 20 pound recurve) and then started shooting - and within a couple of rounds had managed a couple of bullseyes:
10 yards, 2nd time

After a while, I had put together a pretty nice grouping, including several more bullseyes and a lot of shots in the red:
10 yards, 2nd time

A father came in with his son, and they needed to use the short range, and rather than get cramped (it can fit at most 3 people, and being at max capacity didn't sound so fun to me) I moved to the full-length range. The guy suggested I drop my sight all the way (i.e. aim it up high) before I started shooting, to make sure I didn't fire any arrows into the ground. I did it, and unfortunately, the first shot was so high it hit the little area on the wall above the target area, maybe 4 feet above the target. So much for worrying about shooting too low. :P I adjusted it down, and soon was hitting the target.

It really is much harder to hit the target from 20 yards, though - being slightly off or having a slight wobble at 10 yards can easily mean you don't even hit the target at 20 yards. Shots that would've at least been in the color on the 10 yard target were missing the target entirely at 20. Yikes. I adjusted my sight a few times, finally getting it placed correctly, and took a bunch of shots. It took me some time, but by the end, I was shooting pretty well, placing all of my shots on the target and getting a few close to the bullseye. And one shot - lucky, I will admit - I nailed the target dead-on. That felt good. :) My shots were much less accurate at 20 yards, but here you go:
20 yards, 1st time

For next time, I've got a few things to try. First off, I want to move from a 20 pound bow to a 25 - the extra draw weight will fire the arrow faster, removing some wobble and some of the effect of gravity/ wind resistance/ etc. In other words, it'll shoot a bit straighter. The guy working there also suggested some changes - both in the way I hold my body when I shoot, and in the position I "lock" at when I'm pulling back - rather than pull back to between my chin and lips, which was suggested to me at 10 yards, I should actually lock back in the full Olympic draw position - my entire hand below my chin, my upper fingers just touching the bottom. That'll give me better stability and aim the arrow a bit higher, allowing for better distance, and resulting in less drop-off as it approaches the target.

We'll see how that works out. I'm fairly excited - this is a lot of fun, and there's something pretty cool about shooting with a bow and arrow. I also want to try rifles and pistols, but I think bows and arrows will be my weapon of choice. ;) I also want to work my way up to a traditional longbow - I want it to just be me and the bow and the arrow with nothing else interfering. But it'll probably be a few weeks or months before I can even really consider using a longbow with any accuracy or consistency. Until then, recurve it is. And there you go.

November 2010

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