Advice from an (Amateur) Archer on Writing About Archers and Archery
Admittedly, I don’t have the widest range of experience when it’s come to archery. I’ve only been shooting for a year now, and the time that I do take to shoot have long months between them. Still, I think it’s important to outline the basics for anyone who wants to write an archer in their book and wants to save themselves the embarrassment of having the archer do something that an archer would never do in a million years.
- Archers usually unstring their bow after battle. Unstringing a bow is exactly what it sounds like: removing the string from the bow’s limbs. Usually, archers then wrap the string around the now-straightened bow so they don’t lose it as easily. Archers unstring bows because everytime the limbs are bent by the string, there is a large amount of tension in the limbs. If the string is on too long and the bow has not been shot for a while, the limbs will start to wear down and lose their power, resulting in an archer needing to buy new limbs or an entirely new bow.
- Archers always retrieve their arrows after battle. Arrows are expensive and take a long time to make, so archers want to conserve as many arrows as possible. Sometimes they have a repair kit with them at the ready, in case they find an arrow with a loose arrowhead or broken fletching that can easily be repaired.
- Training arrows are not the same as battle arrows. Training arrows have thinner shafts and usually blunted tips so they can easily be removed from targets. Thinner shafts break more easily, and the blunted tips – whilst they can pierce skin – usually won’t get very far in the flesh. They’re also easier to make. Battle arrows are thicker, and their heads are pointed at the tip and have two pointed ends at its sides. This arrowhead is designed to easily pierce through flesh, and is incredibly difficult to pull out because its two pointed ends snag onto flesh. If you want to pull it out, you’d have to tear the flesh away with it, which can lead to an even larger wound.
- Arrows are fatal, and one can incapacitate a soldier for the rest of his life. Arrows are not easily snapped off like you see in movies. The draw weight is too strong, and they can sometimes be as strong as bullets. They will pierce through bone and tendons, which do not easily heal. Furthermore, if you want to remove an arrow, you either have to go through surgery, parting the flesh away from the arrowhead so it doesn’t snag onto anything, or you have you push – not pull – it all the way through the body.
- Bows are not designed for hitting people with in close combat. The limbs are specifically made to flex. Imagine hitting someone with a flexing piece of wood. If you hit with the middle of the bow, it still does very little because there is no weight behind the bow, and so you might as well be hitting them with a pillow. It might be annoying to the opponent, but it won’t save you. Archers need a secondary blade in close combat. They cannot strike people with their bows and expect to win.
- Draw weight affects speed, range, and impact. Draw weight is measured in pounds, at least in America, and it is measured in how much weight must be pulled when you draw back the string. A high draw weight means stiffer, thicker limbs that can shoot further and hit harder. But, this is at the cost of speed. A low draw weight means thinner, more flexible limbs that can shoot smaller distances and have low impact, but can be shot faster. Before you acrobatic fanatics immediately seize the smaller bow for its speed, understand that a bow’s advantage is in its range. No one can hit an archer from 300 meters away with their spear or sword. The archer has complete dominance over the battlefield in this way, and their arrows can kill anyone who gets too close. Not hurt. Not annoy. Kill. And a higher draw weight means a better chance of piercing through specific armor, then flesh, then bone. A lower draw weight means less range and, even worse, a lower chance that the arrow would even pierce through armor if the arrow even hits its target.
- Bows will always be outmatched in close combat against any other weapon. Bows take too long to draw and shoot, and at such close range, the opponent has an easier chance to dodge oncoming arrows. I already explained that the bows themselves cannot be used to take down a foe.
- Bowmen on horseback are utterly terrifying. Archers usually can’t move from their spot because range is more important than mobility, and at such a long range, you usually don’t need to move from your spot anyways. Bowmen on horses, however, are closer to the battle, and worse, they are faster than almost anyone on the battlefield. Not only are they difficult to hit, you have no way of predicting where they will shoot next because they can circle around you in confusing ways. If you want an interesting archer character, I’d advise trying these guys out.
- Never underestimate armor and padding. Arrows will never be able to pierce through plate armor because its curved surface will always deflect oncoming arrows. Arrows can pierce through maille because maille is made out of metal rings that can be bent and can fall away. However, padding usually lies underneath, which is surprisingly durable and can stop an oncoming arrow, as well as absorb some of its impact. Because of this, make certain that the archer is focusing on gabs in the armor. To know this, you MUST study armor. Gabs usually lie where the joints are because soldiers need those gabs open so they can move. Typical gaps lie in the neck, the armpit, the inner-elbow, the knees, and the palm of the hand. Impact is also an archer’s friend. A war arrow shot by a hundred pound bow, hurtling at incredible speeds and gaining momentum the further it travels, can evoke serious damage. To be hit by one of these arrows will feel more like being hit by a horse than being hit by someone’s fist.