Combat Archery

History

Combat archery began in the SCA in the territory then known as The Province in Marin and which has later come to be know as Caldarium. There were two primary reasons for creating Combat Archery. First was to increase the number of participants so the groups would not be limited solely to the number of armored fighters that were available to fight – since in the beginning combat archers did not need to wear heavy combat armor and thus could not be struck by heavy combat weapons, instead they only needed to be approached within “striking distance” by a heavy combatant in order to be eliminated ( ie. “killed”) from further combat archery in a particular combat scenario.
Second was to provide an opportunity for non heavy weapon combatants to still participate meaningfully and “be up close” in the relatively spectator unfriendly activity of “Warfare”, where the combat ranged over a large area that did not typically include a “set piece” List area as Tournament Combat did. In later years “Wars” began to include “Set Piece” scenarios that were more friendly to spectators such as “Bridges”, “Walls”, “Gates”, etc.

The first combat archery took place at the first SCA War, held in Nicasio in Caldarium, in July, 1967, AS II. This event was repeated during the following 10 years at the same Caldarium location, with improvements in archery gear being made as the popularity of combat archery grew.

During the latter part of that decade other SCA Wars sprang into being in other SCA Realms, and as heavy combat armor became more available, the need for filling the ranks with archers diminished and with more “Set Piece” activity at many Wars that spectators could see relatively well, the need to be up close vanished as well. At the same time the desire for archers to engage in combat utilizing bows and arrows grew so the ranks of combat archers actually began to grow in spite of the circumstances. Some heavy weapon combatants , such as myself enjoyed fighting during part of a War and then shifting to combat archery during another part of the same War.

Throughout this time combat arrows were generally made from regular arrows which had no steel tips ,but instead were tipped with some form of softer and larger than the shaft diameter, material, so they would not hurt excessively when they hit someone , armored or not. Everyone was required some form of face protection which had openings no larger than about 5/16 inches , so it would be able to stop a wooden arrow shaft, in case the larger padded tip had been broken off by accident.
A variety of methods to cover the face were possible. Simply covering the existing face protection of a combat helmet with wire screening, was done by many heavy combatants. To my recollection, this method never became a concern in The West Kingdom.

In other Kingdoms, the concept of combat archery was apparently not particularly popular with the majority of Heavy combat participants, at least not to the extent that they allowed the SCA BOD to radically change how combat archery was performed, to the extent that it now requires use of all sorts of safety measures to prevent accidental injury to heavy combatants ( primarilly their eyes) without requiring the heavy combatants to simply cover their face protection with wire screening, as they used to do. These changes now require using all sorts of non aerodynamic materials to make arrows from, so that combat arrows no longer can be shot like an ordinary arrow can – in a relatively flat and long range trajectory. Accuracy is no longer very possible using traditional archery techniques and the bulkiness of current combat arrows prevents anyone being able to carry a realistic quantity on their person. Last of all the cost of making such arrows is several times that of an early combat arrow ( $1.29 for the cheap fletched target arrow + $1.50 for the Bludgeon tip and $0.05 for a strip of duct tape, = $2.84 ). The labor involved is also much longer than simply taking a store bought wooden arrow, sawing off the steel target pile and pushing on a Saunders Bludgeon rubber tip and applying a strip of duct tape to reinforce the wooden shaft.

To my knowledge there are no commercially available ready made arrows
which satisfy current requirements. Building one’s own seems to be the only option that I know of or else buy soneone else’s custom made arrows which satisfy requirements. Neither is inexpensive nor easy.

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Training

The following is my own system which I believe will permit a prospective combat archer to increase their abilities in combat archery, I have no proof that it will work and it is solely my own opinion. Take it for what it is worth – my intended assistence.

Combat archery in the SCA now requires all archers to be minimally armored, as are heavy combat participants.

Combat archers, for the most part are also target archers. Target archers typically use a shooting procedure which includes use of aiming techniques common among western ( as opposed to eastern ) archers. These aiming techniques typically use establishing an “anchor point” ( often on the chin or cheek or other part of the face or head). They also include a sight line which includes at least the ti[p of the arrow and often part of or all of the shaft as well, and often the centerline of a part of the bow string, as well.

For target archery the typical sighting process requires unrestricted access of the shooting hand to the head or face, while holding the knocked arrow while aiming it and then releasing it to fire at the target.

Combat archery requires that the head and face be covered by armor – usually a helmet – so the access to the head and face for aiming, as in target archery, is not possible in combat archery. In addition, hand protection for the shooting hand is needed, at least to a significantly greater degree than typical target archery practitioners ordinarily use, so accuracy of combat shooting is further compromised.

Combat archers can alter their training from target archery techniques, to instinctive shooting techniques, in order to overcome many if not all the limitations that armor imposes on target shooting techniques.

I will offer here a methodoligy that was taught by a Lady in An Tir , several years ago. The only testimonial to how effective it is that I can offer is my observation of how well she performed after four years of practice ( which is what she testified was her experience).

In her particular case she was teaching mounted archery – on a horse. However the basic technique should do equally well for an armored archer trying to shoot at moving targets while moving oneself simultaneously, at least some of the time.

The Lady hit a 12 inch diameter target at a distance of 10 to 20 yards while cantering around an oval path around it on a horse, nine out of ten shots. She die equally well cantering along as the same target was rolled across her horse’s path. In other words she was moving and the target was rolling and still she hit it 9 out of 10 times. And she only shot instinctively, and never aimed down the arrow shaft. She said this technique was good for hunting rabbits from horseback.

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The Technique

The most important thing to remember to ALWAYS DO.

LOOK AT YOUR TARGET – ALWAYS !!!

Don’t look at your bow. Don’t look at your arrows. Don’t look at the ground. Don’t look anywhere, except AT YOUR TARGET ! FOCUS ON YOUR TARGET ! If you can’t do that, then don’t try to shoot until you can do it.

That means you need to begin getting familiar with everything you need to shoot – bow, gloves, arrows, quiver, ground, feet, body, ARMOR – or a reasonable facsimile of the armor – particularly the helmet, etc.

( Since you can’t aim very well wearing a helmet using target archery techniques, it seems reasonable that wearing something inexpensive to simulate a combat helmet, while practicing instinctive shooting techniques, should offer relatively good results.

In that case buying in inexpensive used sports helmet or motorcycle helmet to practice in until a combat helmet is available, should allow a new practitioner to begin practicing combat archery. The process of putting on the helmet and shooting while wearing it should allow a person to develop most of the technique and ability desired.

With instinctive shooting, the technique is the main aspect that needs to be developed, and if it is with a real combat helm or a simulated substitute, the results should be close to the same. The success of the technique relies on developing muscle memory in the hands and torso more than on the head and face. So practice technique and FOCUS ON THE TARGET, not the helmet.

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Practice

So to begin with get all your tackle and arrows and bow, then begin handling them and practice doing everything from drawing an arrow from the quiver, placing it on the bow , raising the bow to shoot and releasing the arrow at the target – all without looking at anything except the target.

Three feather fletching is not symetrical around the knock of an arrow and requires positioning the cock feather correctly. To eliminate that issue make arrows with either four feathers evenly positioned around the knock slot or two in line with the slot. In either case it won’t matter how the arrow is put on the string and you won’t need to look. Just feel that the string is in the knock and shoot when ready.

Since the combat arrows may not fly very accurately, test to see if more than two feathers or vanes make any difference anyway. If not, go with the simplest.

Practice shooting while ALWAYS LOOKING AT THE TARGET, first at a stationary target, then at a moving one.

September 2019
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