I enjoy the process of making cinematic looking videos with traditional archery as the focus. Facts of the matter though, for the last 20 months of intermittent COVID lockdowns, the only regularly available archer has been me. Almost inevitably, one of the first things I notice when I watch back video of me shooting a bow, is that I short draw whilst looking slightly sideways at the camera to make sure I’m in picture. In other words, I’m so distracted by simultaneously being a cinematographer and an archer, that something has to give. I’m sure the images could be better, but I know for sure the archery form is suffering.
So what to do about it?
What I chose to start doing this last week was to go back to basics somewhat (with archery – the movie camera can wait until there are other people to put in front of it, for now).
I started a few days ago with the lowest poundage bow I have that is in the traditional archery type and shape a lot of western archers know as a “horsebow”. That generalisation is inaccurate – these bows can be shot from horseback of course, but also for all the other ground-based situations that any trad bow can be put to – that’s a discussion for another time.
This bow is a laminated Asiatic reflex bow inspired by an Ottoman Sipahi bow from around the 17-18th century. This particular bow is the Végh Sipahi, made in Hungary by Robert Végh, draw weight of 34 pounds at 28 inches. I should be drawing 30 inches at full draw, making the draw weight maybe about 37-38 pounds. The draw experience with this bow is very soft and smooth, so drawing 30″ is a doddle if I’m paying attention. Assuming my draw and release are on song, it can deal with arrows of variable weight and stiffness easily. And despite it’s low draw weight it can propel those arrows accurately out to 60-70 metres with no difficulty at all. It is a complete delight to shoot.
So an evening spent stump shooting in the pines with the Végh Sipahi got my draw length comfortably back to 30″. No problem. Khatra (bow hand movement at release) with this bow is completely natural – side down in my case, and I sometimes employ a little bit of string twist too. Effortless accuracy. It’s a gem.
In case I forget to mention it later – all of this is thumb-shooting. No fingers were harmed in the making of this blog …
Tonight I decided to speed the process up a tiny bit. I took two bows, and shot for about half an hour with each of them.
First I braced the other soft and smooth drawing bow. Also a laminated bow, hand made, bespoke in this case, in Hungary by István Szimeiszter. Check out those beautiful pear wood laminations … but I digress. This bow looks a little similar to the Sipahi shape, but is slightly longer, and the grip/riser bulges towards the archer rather than away. It’s based on a Crimean Tatar bow from around the 18th century, and so also broadly from within the Ottoman universe. This one draws 43 pounds at 29 inches, so if I’m drawing 30″ should be about 45 pounds. Another delightful bow to shoot, but it punches the arrows out with a little more authority than my Végh. Again, being so soft to draw, and concentrating just on archery, full draw is easy. Very accurate with side down khatra and a smidge of string twist. I seem to be back on track.
The last bow in this series of three is very different. It is a modern take on the ancient hi-tech Ottoman composite bow. Traditional composite bows going back centuries are made with a wood core, a layer of horn (buffalo, goat, etc.) on the belly and a backing of sinew. Typically the sinew also has a protective layer of leather. The bow is strongly c-shaped when not strung. Like the other two it has bending limbs, but static tips. Widely known in Asiatic reflex bows by their Arabic name as siyahs (ears), the tips act as levers on the bending section of the limbs, so that the load is felt by the archer as soon as the draw starts, but gets softer and easier to hold towards full draw – thus facilitating the use of very high draw weights in a very short bow, and propelling lightweight arrows at great speed. Spectacular organic high technology developed to a very high level by the Ottomans, from basic designs harking back across the steppes to Mongolia and thereabouts centuries before. The horn and sinew impart compression and stretching tolerances far superior to bows made of wood alone.
The third bow is a Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short bow – 48 pounds at 28 inches – around 51-52 pounds draw weight at 30″. Another made in Hungary, this one by Csaba Grózer. This bow looks much more like a historical composite bow, with its compressed horn plate on the belly and leather backing over a compressed sinew plate. The string nocks on the siyahs are leather lined and reinforced with sinew. The transitions from limb to handle are also sinew reinforced. The Grózer haters will be on my back if I fail to mention that all of these traditional looking materials are reinforced with modern adhesives and fibre. The modern tweaks make the bow much simpler to use and maintain, despite the shooting experience being close to a real composite. Unlike a typical fibreglass modern bow though it is nearly as lightweight as a genuine hornbow.
But did I easily get full draw back on this heavier bow? Yes, of course. It’s made for it, and I was paying proper attention. Easy.
The Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short is an intoxicating bow to shoot. It’s very fast, very accurate, light to carry, and brutishly handsome. This one is shaping up as my overall favourite bow these days, but stump shooting in a stony area where I live does lead to a few broken arrows because it propels them so fast and flat.
Now I just need to see if I can remain focused!