Archery Fever

It started with The Hunger Games, and fortunately the movie was so well hyped that we had plenty of warning.  We all remember what happened when Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood were released.

Archery fever.


This is about a third of the people who showed up one Sunday for our archery public outreach

On the first and third Sunday of every month (except December and January), we invite the public to join us for a morning of archery instruction.  They come from all walks of life, with a heavy emphasis on families.  For a five dollar donation, we put a bow in their hand and an arrow in the other.  We check them for left-right eye dominance, we show them how to load the bow, how to stand, how to draw and many of the other minutiae of archery.

On an average day, we’ll see about thirty or forty people, with an even mix of ages and genders.

Then we noticed an increase in teenage girls, and one of the instructors told the rest of us about the books by Susanne Collins.

“This is going to get ugly,” somebody said, though we all smiled.  Like any other addicts, we love to get more newbies.

No sooner did we adjust to the increase caused by The Hunger Games then we were hit with fans of The Avengers.  Then, the final blow, Brave.

We split our normal three hour session into two sessions of one and half hours, bought more equipment and convinced more members to help out with instruction.

And we still had to turn people away.  I hate turning people away.  People started showing up forty minutes early in order to be insured a spot.  Our scorekeeper showed up to register people and give them numbers.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love.  We get a kick out of it when newbies finally put it all together and start hitting the target more than they miss.

Then we bring out The Balloons. Balloons have a magical quality.  You would be amazed at how much a student’s aim improves when there’s a balloon out there, laughing at you with every miss.  Yes, balloons can laugh.  Put one on a target next time you go to the range, and you’ll hear its shrill, mocking laughter every time an arrow doesn’t end its inflated existence.

Finally, it’s noon, and all the students leave and the instructors meet in the clubhouse for the after-action debriefing.  We talk about the students who shined the students who nearly shot their parents, the students who asked about club membership.

We know that Archery Fever will eventually burn itself out, even if the sport at the London Olympics it does enjoy a brief renaissance of popularity.  Eventually, we’ll be able to go back to sane Sundays, when only thirty or forty people show up.

Then somebody – I don’t remember who – mentioned that there’s a new television show this fall which has received a lot of publicity and seems to be very popular.  Revolution. A world with no electricity, and the inhabitants revert to archery.

“We’re doomed,” somebody said with a laugh.


Popularity of Archery still on the increase after theatrical release of Robin Hood.

Newbie archers at the SF Archers Public Outreach program, June 6, 2010

It was decided yesterday that the San Francisco Archers Public Outreach program needs new equipment.  This topic has been cussed and discussed before, but yesterday was the clincher as we had to turn a dozen people away because we ran out of loaner equipment and arrows.  The photograph shows about 1/3 of the crowd that showed up, even on a cool foggy morning.  Fortunately, is was a crowd of mostly adults who listened to instructions well, because the four of us instructors would have gone running away screaming if it had been an equal number of kids.

I mentioned in a previous post the reasons I think  a poor economy is good for archery.  Basically, it’s a lot cheaper than golf.  We have also noticed a trend in the popularity of the sport which follows the release of any popular movie which features archers.  The recent release of  Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, is an excellent example.  This is a very adult version of Hood, and so we got a lot of adults at outreach.  But you should have seen all the kids who showed up after the release of The Lord of the Rings.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to get a group of strangers to show up to try archery once.  We measure the success of our efforts by the number of people who continue to show up after the novelty of it wears off, and they realize that they can’t become expert archers in a single morning’s practice.  We know we have them hooked when they ask, “So, how much does it cost for a good bow?”  We get as excited as any drug dealer.

There are easily half a dozen very good archery ranges in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I explained to two women from San José that they could probably find one closer to where they live.  They don’t have to drive all the way to Pacifica to enjoy the sport.  They responded, “But you guys take care of us.”  That had me walking on air for several hours.

There tend to be two kinds of potential archers who show up: The technophiles who start drooling at the sight of the latest Matthews hunting compound, and those who are attracted to the sexy lines of the recurve or the earthy simplicity of the longbow.   The second group takes more attention because, quite frankly, it’s easier to become competent with a modern compound than a recurve or longbow.  For the second group, who are probably getting frustrated with their lack of accuracy, we make an effort to complement their form and point out their improvements.  There is very little in the way of instant gratification in traditional archery.

At the end of three hours, we did a thorough search for lost arrows, put the equipment away, and sat down to discuss our successes and failures.  We gotta get more equipment!

Rancho Neblina 2009 – Foam on the Range.

The weekend of September 26 and 27, 2009, gave us the 9th Annual Rancho Neblina Traditional Rendezvous.  Sixty-three 3D foam animal targets at unmarked distances on three separate courses set on a 600+ acre cattle ranch near Petaluma, California.  The cows were not pleased with having to share their fields with 200 bipeds. In spite of promises for cooler weather, the temperatures reached 100° F (38° C) on both days, and the heat took its human toll as some archers passed out or dropped from the competition.

You can find pictures of the event here.

I didn’t do well.  This is a major league disappointment after spending all year training for this event, and then to have it all fall apart.  A friend commented, “You can hit all the difficult targets!  What is it with the easy ones?”

Indeed, it seemed like I couldn’t miss the difficult targets, including one I call The Carousel of Doom.

But when it came to getting the easy ones, some madness possessed my arrows and sent them on strange and unexplainable trajectories, without regard to how much I tried to slow down and concentrate on aiming.

Ah well, it’s all practice, eh?

Next year.

Update September 30, 2009 –– I left the competition site before the awards ceremony because allergies were starting to flare, and I had already used my limit of anti-histamines.  I left thinking that I had placed poorly.  A friend sent me a message on Facebook, “You came in second!!” While this certainly made me feel better, my thoughts were, “Okay, other people performed worse than I did.  That doesn’t mean I performed well.”

We are always our own worst critic, aren’t we?

SCA Archery and the Labors of Hercules

On August 8th, 2009, the Shire of Cloondara, which is the SCA equivalent of San Francisco, California, hosted its annual Debardchery contest, a combination of archery and bardic contests.  As Archery Mistress, I ran the archery part.  It takes pretty much all year to plan and pull this off.

The Hydra from the Labors of Hercules as a homemade 3D target.

The Hydra from the Labors of Hercules as a homemade 3D target.

The theme of the even was the 12 Labors of Hercules, and we made our own targets.  Here you can see the Hydra.  The rest of the targets were painted on cardboard.  We used the Stymphalian birds as speed targets – The archer could shoot as many arrows as possible in thirty seconds.  There were six small targets, about six inches across, places between 5 and 10 meters distant.  The archer had to shoot each target once before shooting any target twice.

Debardchery 2009 Stymphalian Birds target

Debardchery 2009 Stymphalian Birds target

SCA Archery is restricted to traditional archery gear and wooden arrows, however the construction of the equipment is often modern.  After all, it is called “creative anachronism.”  This is due to the fact that “period” archery gear is near impossible to find on the commercial market, and most amateur archers are not comfortable building their own bows.  We’re comfortable making our own period garb, but functional weaponry, not so much.  There is, however, a “period archery” division in inter-kingdom competition. But if we insisted on strictly medieval construction for bows and arrows, we wouldn’t have many archers.  However, if you want to talk about homemade bows, I can publish some posts on that.

We're comfortable making our own period garb.  Functional weaponry, not so much.

We're comfortable making our own period garb. Functional weaponry, not so much.

Medieval women shooting modern bow

We had a record turn out this year.  Thirty-three medieval archers ranging in skill level from “I’ve never held a bow before in my life!” to “Yeah, I practice every day for an hour before work.”  We separated archers as best we could into five separate skill levels.

The distances to the targets ranged from 5 meters to 45 meters.  However, one 12-year old intrepid longbowmen was allowed to shoot from 30 meters max, as his bow was not able to cast 45 meters.

My schedule for the weekend was a simple one: Saturday – Debardchery.  Sunday – the Cupid’s Gate tourney, which is a “mundane” or real world competition.  So of course, I woke up Saturday morning with a fever and a hoarse voice.  One of the Shire heralds was kind enough to be my voice for the day.  However, she couldn’t compete for me in the Cupid’s Gate, so I regretfully did not participate.

Dunsmuir Games

In the 18th Century of the Current Era, Highlander Scots began emigrating to the New World in large numbers.  Many, if not most, were forced to leave in what has become known as the Highland Clearances. One of the results of this diaspora is that there are now more sons and daughters of Scotland in the United States and Canada than in Scotland itself.

As a 21st Century resident of California and descendent of the survivors of the Clearances, I find myself surrounded by people who come from similar histories all over the planet.  Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Germans, French, Jews, Palestinians, Greeks, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Mexicans, Haitians, Cubans, Iraqi, Native American, Irish, you name it.  They are all my neighbors, and every one of them is a proud Californian.

It has become a part of the California culture, however, to honor the rituals and history of one’s ancestral homeland.  Not a week goes by when we don’t hear about another cultural awareness event taking place somewhere nearby.  You can tour the cultural world just by spending a year in San Francisco.  According to the San Francisco newspaper, there are more than 140 actively spoken languages in the Bay Area (including Esperanto.)  I’m sure it drives the Department of Motor Vehicles nuts.

We traveled to Oakland, California this last weekend, July 11 & 12, to participate in honoring the culture of my own ancestral homeland at the Dunsmuir Scottish Games.  We drank Scottish beer brewed in a local microbrewery, listened to fine Celtic music played by a California band called Banshee in the Kitchen, spoke with members of a clan that seemed particularly enamored of the longbow (be still my heart, though I don’t remember reading that the longbow was of any particular significance in Scottish history), spoke with members of Living History recreationists St. Ita’s of Cill Ide House of Nobles, watched as kilted gentlemen tossed a telephone pole, and a game of  Shinty.  It would seem that Shinty is to field hockey what rugby is to American football.

Now, according to some friends who still live in Scotland, almost nobody there plays this game, and those that do all live in the Highlands.  Did you know that there is an organization of Shinty players that started in Northern California?

What’s the point of all this?  I’m not sure, other than to wonder if I’m not getting a bigger dose of Scottish culture right here in my backyard than I would by traveling to Loch Lomond.  (The one in Scotland, not the one located in Lake County, California.)

2009 Pacific Traditional Rendezvous

Pacific Traditional Rendezvous

Pacific Traditional Rendezvous

Regarding the pin displayed here:  yes, I know that Rendesvous is misspelled.  It doesn’t do any good to tell me.  I didn’t design the pin, and San Francisco Archers isn’t going to spend the money to redo the pins just to correct the spelling.  Any comment that’s left to tell me that the word is misspelled will simply be deleted.

On Sunday, April 19, 2009, the San Francisco Archers hosted the Pacific Traditional Rendezvous, a competition for  traditional archers to show their stuff.   I heard that there were 110 participants, which means that there were easily 200 people when you count supportive family members and those who crewed the kitchen and registration booth and other support services.

I arrived at about 7:30, still a half hour before the sun rose above the hills in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The archery range is generally the coldest place in Pacifica, a village which is renown for a cool and moist climate.  The weather people told us it would be “warm during the weekend” but we have learned to take their prognostications with a pound of salt.  The pre-dawn temperatures probably hovered about 10° C, and most of us were dressed in layers of clothes.  As soon as the sun poked over the peaks, people started shedding cloths as the thermometer started climbing.  And climbing.  And climbing.

I was too busy with the competition to note the high temperature, but we ended up wearing the minimum amount of clothing that’s prudent for walking around the forest shooting arrows at 3-D targets.Bea at 2009 Pacific Trad Rendezvous

We shot two arrows at each of 42 targets, including the Flying Pig and Running Rabbits and the mammoth.  I suspect that we walked about five kilometers over sharply inclined terrain while battling mosquitoes, hot weather, and severe Spring allergies.  We started at 9:00 in the morning, and finished the 42nd target at 3:45 in the afternoon.  I managed to lose only one arrow when I misjudged the distance to a moose who was standing at the banks of Broadhead Lake, and the arrow sailed into the brackish water.  The ducks laughed at me.  I learned that I really need to practice judging distances with larger animals.  Please note that the second arrow went through his foam heart.

I also sorely misjudged how long it would take to get through the course, so as soon as I shot my last arrow, I had to rush home to help get dinner started.  I had no idea what the results where until my friends, Bea (Pictured above) and Estel came for dinner, and informed us that I had taken Second Place for Adult Female Recurve.  And before you think to ask:  Yes, there were more than two of us in that division.  There were either five or six.  I don’t remember which.  The woman who took First Place beat me by 80 points.  That’s okay: she beat me by 100 points, while seven months pregnant, back in September, so I’m catching up to her.  She’s a very hot archer, and there’s certainly no shame in taking second place to her performance.  Congrats, Trish!!

Also, Congrats to Estel for taking First Place in Adult Female Longbow!  Woot!  I don’t know any of the other results yet.

Online Archery Score Pad

I stumbled across a very interesting website today: Archery Score Pad

Users can enter their archery scores and compare their performance with archers from around the world.  Or at least from Europe and North America, with an emphasis on the UK.

I went back through my archery log and posted some recent scores.  Also exhanged email with the site’s creator and administrator, Matthew Brown, asking if he has any plans to start including field archery rounds as well as the current list of target archery rounds, and he seems quite amenable to this idea.

It’s definately worth checking out!