Ah, archery. One of the staples of nearly every work that deals with medieval-era fighting (the ones that don't focus too much on swords, at least). The history of medieval warfare can be found here, on The Other Wiki, and many other places besides--this page is going to focus on the basics of archery itself.
Modern archery involves detailed and extensive accessories, but there are really only a few things needed to actually practice the sport: A strung bow, arrows, protective gear, and a quiver. And a target, of course; you should NEVER shoot at living things (aside from sanctioned, legal hunting); Annoying Arrows are a little more deadly in real life.
It should be noted that the main factor in archery's death as a martial skill was not because it was "primitive." Bows are as directly effective as guns, and have significantly higher rates of complication from the fact that you've got, essentially, a tiny knife stuck in your flesh. Moreover, while you can sometimes survive leaving a bullet or harmless fragment where it is, you can't leave any part of an arrow where it is--and the process of removing it is probably more painful than being shot in the first place, if you're not unconscious or drugged. You'd need to get the arrow cut out of your flesh, by the way. And that's only if a trained surgeon has the tools for it, lacking that the only alternative is to push the arrow out the other end, break it and then pull the shaft out which is as painful as it sounds. Yanking it out would cause lots of bleeding, may cause permanent damage depending on where it is/was, and at the very least would make the wound much harder to treat than if a trained medic/surgeon made some very careful incisions before carefully pulling it out.
The main drawback of archery was the learning time needed: It takes weeks to build up the strength to shoot even a light 25-pound bow, much less a war-bow needing twice that force, and it takes more weeks to become proficient enough to hit targets consistently. A popular saying was that "To make a good archer, start with his grandfather." Also, something as minor as slouching or head position can affect your shooting drastically, while guns can be shot from any reasonable position. The trade-off between efficient but time-consuming bows and slightly inferior but easy-to-learn guns heralded the end of the bow's military use.
Despite what it looks like, arm strength is the worst way to judge how much draw weight you can pull--you'd risk dislocating your shoulder every time you draw. The back and shoulder muscles are the ones that should bear the draw-weight, and one should only use the arm muscles to keep them properly aligned. (This is why archers are typically depicted as Fragile Speedsters or Glass Cannons.) Most people are unaccustomed to using their back muscles, and may need a much lighter draw-weight than they think; rule of thumb is to get a bow that only requires 75% of one's strength at first. Beginners are strongly advised to have someone act as a spotter for the first few weeks, since improper technique can lead to extensive problems both short- and long-term.
Also, if you prefer traditional archery (anything but a compound bow), you should always unstring your bow when it's not in use. This greatly increases your equipment's lifespan, so you won't have to worry about your bow and/or string breaking in half only a few months later.
Archery's pretty damn awesome once you get it right, though.
- Anchor point: How far the archer draws, so-called because they need to "anchor" the bowstring at the same spot. Common anchor points are the chin, just under the cheekbone, the nose, and as far back as the ear for longbows.
- Arm-guard/Bracer: Gear for the bow arm to avoid getting cut/burned by the string. Essentially a piece of material (often leather) that covers the inside of the forearm. While most garden-variety bracers cover the majority of the forearm, the more skilled archers only need small bracers (3-4 inches) since they know exactly which spot the bowstring will hit.
- Of note is the fact that one can avoid being hit entirely by rotating one's elbow and not locking the joint, which some prefer not to do because it interferes with their grip on the bow and can put stress on the bow arm.
- Bow arm/hand: The hand that holds the bow. Requires an arm-guard/bracer to keep from getting cut by the bowstring. Modern bows often make specifically right- or left-handed bows, while traditional bows are interchangeable.
- Dominant eye: The eye used to aim, which is usually determined by one's dominant hand. Right-handed people draw with their right hand, so their right eye is dominant. The reverse is true for left-handed people. However, if your eye and hand dominance is different, choosing your eye dominance is preferred. In that case, your draw hand will be the same side as your dominant eye. Most people determine eye dominance by pointing at an object a few feet away and closing one eye at a time--if you're still pointing at or close to the object, that's your dominant eye.
- Draw arm/hand: The hand that pulls the string. Requires a shooting glove or tab to keep the bowstring from cutting into the fingers. Which hand is the draw hand and which is the bow hand can be determined either by your dominant hand or your dominant eye.
- Bow length: In traditional archery, the length of the unstrung bow. This is important, since correctly-sized strings are about four inches shorter than the bow. Longer strings would decrease the bow's power and make it difficult to shoot, and significantly shorter strings run the risk of damaging the bow. A sixty-inch bow would ideally have a fifty-six-inch string.
- Chest guard: Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A virtual necessity for women, particularly if that woman has a more generous chest - otherwise that woman will be wearing turtlenecks most of her life to cover the bruises.
- It should be noted that as with many sports, enough practice with the bow will shrink one's bust size, and chest guards should be adjustable to accommodate that.
- Draw length: How far the archer can draw. Draw length can be measured by dividing one's arm-span by 2.5 (rounding up to the nearest inch if necessary). Arrows should be two or three inches longer than this.
- Draw weight: The amount of force needed to draw the bow, often used as the main description. A "light" bow requires less force than a "heavy" bow: For example, a 25-pound bow is commonly used for target practice, while hunting requires at least a 35-pound bow to ensure a humane killing. Bows for children should not exceed 15 pounds of draw-weight, while adults can usually learn to shoot from a 20- or 25-pound bow. War-bows, if needed to punch through armor, could reach at least sixty pounds of draw weight.
- Nock: The action of putting the arrow to the string, the notch in the end of the arrow for that purpose, or the notches in the horn tips of an English longbow.
- Quiver: Used for holding arrows, and often made of leather.
- Ground Quiver: A device for holding arrows on the ground, suitable for target shooting or other times where movement is not necessary. Has the advantage of not causing any interference in body movement and stance. Usually consists of a horizontal ring attached to a stake driven into the ground, sometimes with a rest for setting the bow on.
- Shooting glove/finger tab: Protection for the draw hand. The former is a glove that covers the first three fingers, while the second is a piece of leather held between the fingers. Do not confuse shooting gloves with Fingerless Gloves--they are the exact opposite and do absolutely nothing for protection. While one can develop calluses akin to that of string musicians, nobody short of a Determinator would tolerate the constant pain long enough to do so.
Types of bows
While the most famous type of bow is the English longbow, there are several commonly-found types that vary in style, materials, and shooting technique.
- The (English) longbow: This bow was essentially a curved and unfinished stick, and while yew was preferred (and often called the King of Bow-woods) it wasn't rare to make the bow out of ash or elm. At six and a half feet, it was extremely powerful and efficient as both a hunting bow and war-bow. Draw-weights of surviving medieval bows were estimated at 150-200 pounds. The English longbow is not the only type of longbow, but on that note, it is important not to lump them in with the Japanese yumi; they are made of different materials and require different ways of shooting. Longbows were common in wet climates, where shooting in forested areas was uncommon.
- The recurve bow: The three main differences between recurve bows and longbows are size, power, and shape. Recurve bows are smaller than longbows with tips that curve away from the archer when unstrung, and they require comparatively less effort for more power than the straight bow. They were common in heavily-forested areas and with mounted archers.
- The composite bow: Made of different materials laminated together, and can be even more powerful than ordinary bows despite often being the smallest in size. The most powerful bows use horn and sinew, and can reach up to 160 pounds of draw weight. It should be noted that while many composite bows are recurves, not all recurves are composites. These were often used in areas where quality bow-wood was hard to find.
- The yumi: Any kind of Japanese bow. They, like longbows, are massive at nearly two meters (6.5 feet) in length, and traditionally made by laminating bamboo, wood, and leather--thus they can technically be considered composites as well. They are asymmetrical in shape, with the grip located at the bottom third of the bow rather than the center. There is no clear reason for this--theories range from making mounted archery easier, to being able to shoot while kneeling, to the shape being the best way to deal with inferior materials. As with many other aspects of their culture, the Japanese prefer to uphold tradition; while bows of synthetic materials exist, they are often passed over in favor of bows with the traditional wood/leather combination.
- The compound bow: A modern bow made of metal, usually aluminum or magnesium. It cannot be used like a traditional bow--it uses a series of pulleys and a levering system, and requires stabilizers and an external sighting aid for proper shooting. Most compound users will have a mechanical arrow release as well. While its reliability, power, and efficiency does outstrip most other bows, this renders it even more sensitive to faulty shooting than a traditional bow. As such, this (and the ensuing cost) makes it unsuitable for beginners.
- but even this is only done when taking it out would potentially cause more damage than leaving it there
- an arrow in the arm or leg is not Just a Flesh Wound. It is a Potential Nerve Damage Wound!