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The World of Iniquus - Action Adventure Romance

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Archery: Is there a Bow and Arrow in Your Plot? Information for Writers

Look at that bulls-eye!

I'm hanging with Melody Scott, the instructor for my certification class to teach level one archery, in front of the Olympic-sized target.

Archery is enormously fun - and it might just be the trick that turns your heroine form victim to victor.

Archery is a sport of repetition. Your character might have 
* taken classes at school and been on
   their archery team
* taken classes at a camp as a child
* learned as a scout
* learned as part of a country lifestyle/ family tradition

You might want your heroine to use a bow and arrow if - 
* she is trying to poison dart the bad guy
* the villain wants to tranquilize your heroine from a distance
* she is a special agent taking out the bad guy, and there can be
   no noise from a weapon (remember guns with silencers are NOT
   silent; they are suppressed. They make noise - attention getting
   noise. Now, since she is a fabulous shot - I'm talking 
   Hawkeye-on-steroids good, the villain will fall silently to the
   ground - but otherwise, the victim is going to do some screaming.
   Maybe that's a good thing. Hey, I don't know what you need to
   have happen next in your story line.

So let's start with some basics. There are four main types of bows.

These are pretty rare. Chances are, this is not going to be the weapon you choose(unless you're writing about the Greco-Roman and Middle Ages), mainly because it doesn't shoot very far.

de: Schie├čen mit der Sportarmbrust 10m en: Sho...
Shooting with sports-crossbow 10m (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now your character may have this on hand if they are reenactors or live in olden times. But too, if your heroine is in a do-or-die situation and must fabricate a make-do bow and arrow set, it's going to be like the longbow.

One of the ways that the longbow differs from a more modern construction is that there is no "window" of cut out. In order to see the target, the shooter must turn the longbow to the side - sort of gangsta-style.

Field games with longbow Fran├žais : Parcours f...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A third kind of bow - and one that would have been used in most training/education programs so the more likely that your heroine will have some facility with the use - is called the recurve.

Fiona Quinn shooting a recurve, Level One Instructor Certification

* The draw (pulling back the string) is done by the shooter with no
* If your heroine is buxom, she may have to open her stance a little
   to get the string away from her girls. Because it hurts, just sayin'
* Harder to maneuver in tight places, in and out of trees etc.
* Can become fatiguing after about 20 shots or so, depending on
   the upper body strength of your heroine
* Does she have enough arrows? Or do they keep magically
   appearing like they did for Catniss in Hunger Games? 
* Just like a gun, she has to have enough ammo to get the job done.
* Unlike a gun, if she misses - there is the potential for finding the
   arrows and firing them again. Heck! Even if she hits her target, as
   long as the arrows didn't bend against bone, or whatever, then she
   can pull them out and shoot them again.

Another modern and frequently owned bow is the compound bow.

Compound Bow

English: I, Ewok Slayer, Created this Image. C...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

* It looks darned
   complicated, but it's pretty
   easy to use.
* The pulley system helps
   the shooter by supporting
   some of the weight of the
   draw (pulling back the
* In some of the more 
   expensive models, once
   the string is drawn, the
   mechanism holds the
   weight so the shooter
   doesn't tire and can spend
   more time trying to aim.
   This is especially helpful
   to hunters and trying to
   shoot moving objects. For 
   example, if she's trying to 
   take down a Yeti with a
   tranq so she can do some
   field tests...
* Depending on the model,
   it is about half the length
   of a recurve, this is better
   for moving in small spaces
   and working with 
* This is also a cheaper 
   weapon than the recurve
   so it is more likely that
   someone would own it.

There are ten steps to shoot a bow and arrow.
1. Stance - the shooter should have
   ` feet parallel, shoulder width-apart
   ` a balanced frame so they look like a flat "lower-case t"  when
     their string is engaged.
   `They should stand perpendicular to the target
2. Nock or nocking the arrow
Reflecting on arrows
Reflecting on arrows (Photo credit: PeterThoeny)
   `There is a little pincher end
     on the feather-end (vane or
     fletchingof the arrow
     that needs to be clipped 
     onto the sting.
   ` There is a nock locator on
      the string that was carefully
      measured and placed to help
      the shooter find the right
      position for the arrow. If
      your heroine is constructing
      a make-do bow,
      she could use dental floss or
     string to put this in place.

3. Set - the archer will pick up the weapon by the grip. It settles
    into the meaty part of the hand and is held between the thumb
    and first two fingers. Everything on the pinky-side of the hand
    from the life-line over is off of the grip. This allows the bow to
    move properly with the arrow. Your shooter wants the bow to

4. Set-up - raise the bow up string hand should be by the nose.

5. Draw (also called loading)
   ` pull the string straight back using the back muscles. 
   ` the elbow should be directly behind or a little higher than the 
     arrow. If it's lower, then your heroine might be using her bicep 
     because she isn't strong enough to pull the weight of the string
     with her back. The weight can be considerable. Each bow is 
     different. On a compound bow - the weight is easily adjusted if
     the character has an Allen wrench. But some of the hunting
     compound bows might have a 70 lb draw weight. On a recurve,
     the only way to adjust for weight is by changing limbs (the ends)
     - so that's probably not going to happen in your story.
  ` The archer uses the middle three fingers and rests the string at
     the first joint of the ring and index finger and on the pad of the
     middle finger. The thumb and pinky are tucked out of the way.
   `Note the lady below has two finger below her arrow and one
     over. This can cause the archer to pinch the arrow so that it will
     not fly correctly.

Nina - archery
 (Photo credit: ninahale)
6. Anchor - 
    `The fingers touch the face - usually the cheek or chin
    `The shooter always tries to put their fingers in the exact same
      space each time.

7. Transfer
    `When the string is in place, the shooter takes a moment to adjust
      the weight of the bow from the arm to the shoulder and back.

8. Aim

9. Release
    `The arms stretch in opposite directions and the chest expands

10. Follow-through
    ` The drawing hand continues back to the neck.
    ` The shooter should also have a spot that they always end.
    `  Follow-through is maintained until you hit your target.

So now I'm going to show you a very quick video of my shooting. 
* In the first shot, I wasn't aware that I had an audience and was
   focused. Look at my form: my stance, my arm levels. Bulls-eye!
* After I did a little victory dance, I realized I was being taped.
   Pressure! And on top of that, hubby asked me to do a cognitive
   chore - list ten items in order. This requires different brain centers
   than pure shooting (memory, speech, etc.). With these
   distractions, watch my elbow go up past my ear. Look at how that
   torques my body. I still got a bulls-eye. But honestly, I didn't
   deserve it, and I was a little shocked. All of that is to say, if your
   heroine is trying to function amidst havock, she will have to be
   darned good, or you should write her failing.  


Video Quick Study (16:00) Waaaaay longer than you need to watch, but I thought you would like to see a compound bow in use. Note that the women are using a clip that acts like a gun trigger, so they do not actually pluck their own bows at this level of competition. Also, the long metal polls help to stabilize the bow.

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  1. PERFECT timing! Thanks for this.

  2. How long does it take to truly become competent with a bow and arrow?

    Also, is it really realistic to tranquilize someone? That might be a bit different discussion since it's really more about drugging someone, but it was mentioned here. I thought it took a fairly precise amount to tranq someone.

    1. Hi Randall,

      Here's the article to answer your questions.


  3. Hi Randall,

    Competency - it's hard to say. As I tell my homeschooled kids, learning is a matter of cross pollination. What can the character already do? Are they physically fit enough to draw the string? Have they lifted weights/done yoga so they know about posture and transfer? Can they shoot a gun so they know about aim, breath, and steadiness? If they are in a disaster situation and making a bow, were they a Scout? did they do this as a kid all the time? Can they whittle? Do they have the character qualities of a survivor?

    As to the dart, I added that in to extend the thought process beyond cowboys and Indians. This is fiction after all. My understanding is that giving someone a tranq. does not put them right out; it takes 15-20 minutes. But - I am not a tranq expert. I have a pharmacist interview tomorrow, and I will ask him. Barring that, I will find a ranger who deals with large animals and interview them. Hold tight. I'll get an answer to you. It just might take a little bit.


  4. It takes years to develop the strength and skill to master a full-sized crossbow and use it to take down a large animal in one shot from a distance in the woods or to use it in combat situations, where rapid repeat is required. It only takes a semester to become competent enough to shoot the smaller bows at targets with accuracy at short distances. But, as you say, Fiona, there is more to it than picking up the bow and firing off an arrow. The character first has to be ready to pick up the bow. :-)

  5. Hello,

    Since I am a marks-woman and not a hunter, (in an apocalypse, my family would probably starve if I were trying to shoot dinner with my bow and arrows) I asked my Twitter buddy, Bill Cunningham @cunninghamb103 to weigh in.
    And here are his thoughts...

    Good morning, Fiona,

    Stationary targets are what most people practice with or very slow moving ones. Quick moving targets are only for movies, lol. I have bow hunted for ten years now and have only taken one deer, and only shot five times. A good hunter won’t shoot a target that is moving quickly due to the fact that you stand a greater chance of wounding a deer which is cruel. Most times, it’s about being out in the woods and seeing deer in a more relaxed environment as opposed to gun season where they are a little spooked after opening day. Plus, you have to have a deer within 30 yards to take a safe shot. My missed shots were right at the limit of my comfort zone and luckily went low and missed completely.

    So, about bows…

    21 States currently allow hunting with a crossbow, NY is pending. 49 states do allow some form of crossbow use. They are hard to draw back, but easy to shoot once you do (just like a gun) and some states even allow scopes on them. They have gained some popularity because of television (Walking Dead) and people think they are more accurate.

    Compound bows are more accurate than crossbows but crossbows are making progress.

    Compound bows are not necessarily cheaper than a recurve. Recurves at Cabelas range from about $150 (not counting cheaper youth models) to $700. Their most popular models are less than $250 (7 out of 13), A lot of people like recurves and longbows due to the fact they are somewhat nostalgic and a pure bow with no sights, accessories, etc. There are archery clubs that advertise instinctive shooting, as it is called when no add on gear is used, and some people are very much into that (purists). I would compare it to people who enjoy shooting muzzleloaders versus a rifle.

    Compound bows are common because they are used more for hunting. Prices range from $250 to $900 (again at Cabelas and Gander Mountain. I personally know people who have bows costing well over $1000. My bow that I have had for 10 years now cost about $400. One can add sites, range finders, stabilizers, trigger pulls.

    Distance… Most people can shoot compound bows accurately up to about 30 yards with a lot of practice. I have friend who shoots accurately up to 40 and even 45 yards. I am most accurate at 25 yards. I blame that on my bow, lol, and why I need a new one. My wife isn’t buying that argument.

    Hope this helps and again, thank you for what do. Your site is amazing!


    Thank you kindly, Bill for your compliment and your information.

  6. This post helps me in two ways. First, the main character in my next novel (if my publisher accepts it) relies on a bow. I'll reference this post for the editing sessions. Second, my oldest son wants to learn archery, so now I have a bit more information about the learning process. Thank you, Fiona. Your blog has great information for writers.

    1. Lovely. I'm so glad it helped and archery is an awesome sport for children. It teaches a lot of very applicable skills.

  7. To an English eye the bow in the picture marked longbow is in fact a flatbow with a shelf. Both in the States and in France to my knowledge flatbows are called longbows.
    An English longbow does not have a shelf and therefore the arrow rests on the archer's fingers usually on the left side of the bow (for right handers) but can be shot from either side. The archers of old could draw 100 -120 pounds or more. I find 45- 50 quite enough! Modern longbows are laminated from different woods. In the past they would have been of English or Spanish yew.
    It is illegal to shoot living creatures with a bow and arrow in the UK but still possible in some parts of France. A longbow will easily shoot a target at up to 50-60 metres. On field shoots (out in the woods with model animal targets made of neoprene type materials) this would be common here with most targets around 30 - 40 metres away. . Standing roundel targets out in the open are also common for those who prefer it.

    1. Graham, thank you so much for adding this information.
      Cheers, Fiona

  8. Thank you very much for this. I do have a heroine who comes to rely on her bow so this article is very useful and at the right time. Best wishes, Stephen

  9. Thanks for an awesome and timely blog post! My heroine uses a bow and charmed arrows. I'm writing paranormal. The blog post and the comments have been most helpful!

  10. Your post is very helpful, thank you. When it comes to hunting, some people prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, and that’s with a bow and arrow. It may seem simple enough to use, but there’s a lot that goes into learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, as well as getting the right equipment to suit you and your needs. See more