Archery in the SCA

Introduction

You stand poised at the line, the target...a wand at a distance of 35 yards. Heraldic banners flutter in the light breeze...it is a beautiful sunny day in the middle of August. You wait patiently for the marshal to declare the range clear and prepare to shoot...the other archers get ready too, fingers lightly touching the string of their bows in anticipation. This is the start of the annual Silver Arrow Archery Tournament at Foxworthy Manor...the prize - the coveted silver arrow! You glance quickly down the line, last year's winner is at the other end, confident that she will walk away with the prize once again. Abruptly, the marshal calls "it's clear down range - begin shooting". Confidently, you draw your bow and take aim, muscles stretching, and in an instant, the arrow streaks toward the target...

A scene from a Robin Hood movie? Perhaps. But in this case, it is a real tourney at a local SCA event here in Pictou County. Archery is probably one of the first activities that you are likely to participate in when you join the SCA. It is also the one martial activity that just about everyone can take part in - adults and children of all ages, regardless of your physical condition or handicap. It is also one sport that just about anyone can do well in and compete on an equal footing. And the hitting the gold at the center of the target...or splitting the wand [a narrow pole stuck in the ground] is definitely a satisfying accomplishment.

One of the unique aspects of archery in the SCA is that it is, for the most part, a non-competitive sport. Much of the shooting is focused on a personal 'best' and almost all competitions are purely for fun...what we are essentially doing is reenacting an activity that was an integral and essential aspect of day-to-day life in the Middle Ages. So let your imagination go...you won the competition, and now you are called before Their Excellencies at Baronial Court to receive the token of your accomplishment...His Excellency compliments you on your prowess at the butts, and hands you the silver arrow as a momento of the honour and glory of this day!

Archery has been one of the focal points for SCA activities in Distant Shore. Archery practices are held on a regular basis during the summer months, beginning in late May and usually drawing to a close somewhere around the end of October. Archery practices are currently being held in the New Glasgow area on Sunday afternoons depending on weather conditions and the availability of marshals. Updates on practices are posted on the Distant Shore website (link to Events page), the Ruantallan mailing list and local group facebook pages. Anyone interested in coming out to an archery practice are encouraged to contact one of the local archery marshals, (Eadwynn æt Hræfneshyrste - Edna McCulloch or Wynfrið æt Huntandune - Paul McCulloch) at 752-2158, or by email (pmcc@eastlink.ca) for further information.


A Historical Perspective

The bow and arrow has been the personal weapon of choice throughout the ages, and evidence of its use goes back well beyond 5000 B.C. The bow stands uniquely by itself as an effective and highly efficient hunting weapon and has been used continuously throughout the ages by most cultures, both primitive and modern. Early military records concerning the use of the bow have been recorded from countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Far East and has figured prominently in the success of numerous military campaigns throughout history. Although in modern times, the role of the bow has been virtually replaced by the use of gunpowder, it still remains the favorite weapon of many sportsmen. In fact, the bow, in its most primitive form, has been used to hunt big game throughout the world, including the African elephant.

References to the use of the bow as an important military weapon come from most of the early civilizations in Europe and Asia. In the context of the time period covered by the SCA (500 - 1600 A.D.), the bow first gives rise to prominence as an effective military weapon in the 11th century during the Norman invasion of England in 1066. As the story goes, the Saxon King of England, known as Edward the Confessor, died without an heir in the spring of 1066. The English Witan [ruling council] decided to name Harold, the powerful Earl of Wessex who was a Saxon, as the successor to William. However, through his connections with Edward the Confessor, William the Duke of Normandy expected to assume the crown of England. William decided immediately to invade England and take the crown. On October 14, 1066, the Norman army consisting primarily of archers and mounted troops met King Harold and his army of foot-soldiers who were armed with battle axes at Hastings in southern England. The English army was initially successful in holding off the Norman invaders, but as the battles wore on, and through a series of rouses by the Normans, the English troops began to suffer unyielding losses at the hands of the Norman archers who were using longbows. The battle that insued was soon over when King Harold died as a result of being hit in the eye by an arrow. Duke William was then crowned William I, King of England, and henceforth is remembered throughout history as William the Conqueror.

The longbow went on to prove its worth in other famous battles in the ensuing years both in the British Isles as well as on the continent and was instrumental in facilitating key turning points in the political history of more than one nation. Other variants of the bow such as the composite recurve bows, or Turkish bows, of the Middle East and the numerous variants used by military forces in the Far East, including Japan and China, were equally important in the political struggles of other countries throughout the Middle Ages.


Archers to the Line!

Like any recreational sport, archery in the SCA is meant to be fun. There are two main stipulations however and these include 1) a strict adherence to safety, and 2) all equipment should adhere to the spirit of mediæval archery. Apart from this, the amount of fun you can have will only be limited by your imagination, and whether you are a beginner, or an expert, the challenges are unlimited.

With regard to safety, all shooting done at any official SCA events, including practices and competitions, must be coordinated and run by a trained archery marshal. Archery marshals will inspect equipment to make sure that it is safe to use, and coordinate the running of the lines to ensure the safety of all those present, including participants and spectators alike. In this regard, there is a stringent set of written policies which sets the guidelines, both for archers and marshals alike, governing the standards, requirements and responsibilities of all archers in the Society.

With respect to equipment, only traditional style bows and arrows are used. This means that we do not use modern compound bows or crossbows, sighting mechanisms, or releases, etc. and arrows must be made of wood with natural feathers. All other styles of bows including recurves, longbows, selfbows, crossbows, and various composite bows reflecting the style and types of equipment used during the Middle Ages are fine. Modern materials in the construction of the bows is also perfectly exceptable as long as the finished bows maintain the appearance of their mediæval counterparts.

There are several levels of recognition for proficiency with the bow based on a standardized shoot referred to as the Royal Round. This is essentially a ranking system that is designed to provide individual archers with a method to compare individual skill levels. The ranking system is based on the average of the three highest Royal Round scores submitted to the Archery Scorekeeper within the previous twelve months. Scores are based on a shoot using the NAA-FITA standard 5 colour, 60 centimeter round targets and consisting of one end of 6 arrows shot at measured distances of 20, 30, and 40 yards, and a 30 second speed round at 20 yards. These rankings and their respective titles are as follows:

Archers are awarded an archery badge for each level of achievement (shown above). Archers who achieve the rank of Grand Master Bowman also receive an illuminated scroll in addition to the archery badge.

Other archery competitions include the Inter Kingdom Archery Competition (IKAC), various Baronial, Principality, and Kingdom level archery championships, and numerous other local competitions such as the annual Silver Arrow Archery Tournament mentioned above. Any one of these competitions will comprise a variety of different types of shoots such as the following:



Equipment

So maybe you would like to give this archery thing a try! Like most recreational activities however, there is some basic equipment that you are going to need. Besides a bow and some arrows, you should also have a shooting glove, an arm guard, and a quiver. In this regard, most SCA groups have loaner gear on hand for those that want to try some shooting before heading for the archery shop. Unless you have some previous experience with archery, this is probably a good thing to do as it affords you the opportunity to have a look at some of the equipment and ask questions, as well as try your hand at shooting to see if this is really for you.

The following is a brief discussion on the equipment you will need, along with prices and some general comments. Prices are quoted in Canadian dollars.