It took a while, but here it is …
The inaugural Australian menzil archery flight shooting event. Yapeen, Victoria, 26-27 November 2022
The kernel of an idea
Over the second half of 2022 I had been contemplating finding an area large enough for me and a few friends to do some archery flight shooting. Generally that means somewhere big, remote and safe enough where you can aim for the sky and see how far you can send an arrow.
Archery flight shooting has a long history as a sport in both the west and east. The version of it that I’m drawn to has its origins in the middle of the second millennium CE in the Ottoman Empire. As archery began to decline as a military discipline, there arose at the same time forms of archery for sport, meditation and mindfulness – a martial art rather than a strict military discipline. Archery has deep roots in Islam, and believers are exhorted by the prophet to practise archery, for both mind and body.
Anyhow, as my thinking progressed, I talked to a few others, and it quickly became obvious that there was both a lively interest in and appetite for an organised flight shooting event along Ottoman menzil lines … or indeed along any line!
It seems to have been at least a decade, in some parts of Australia several decades, since any kind of western flight shooting event had occurred.
Finding a venue
So I started looking around in my part of central Victoria, for a suitable airstrip. Rural airstrips are ideal, because generally they have at least one runway that is around one kilometre in length. The runway surface is generally earth or gravel, and there are wide grassy verges. And they are ‘no go’ zones for general human or livestock activities. The first one I looked at was too busy – home to a very active gliding club. Next I looked at a small seldom used – but maintained for emergency landings and navigation exercises – airstrip near home. The Castlemaine airstrip at Yapeen. I contacted the owner/manager and he was quite relaxed about well controlled flight shooting on the airstrip. We just needed to get out of the way in the event that a plane needed to land there!
I practised out at Yapeen a few times and started to get a feel for how far an inexpert flight archer could send an arrow with non-specialised archery gear. In my case that was about 240m. In international competition with specialised gear, some archers reach 550m. Historical Ottoman records in the region of 800m are known, but it’s not very likely that I or anyone I know would get anywhere near that kind of incredible achievement. Well, not on first try anyhow!
Let’s get organised
Once I started to put out feelers about a date to shoot at Yapeen in a bigger group, the interest snowballed. I had a few weeks to get organised, and large numbers interested. Time to bring in some experts in archery event management.
Enter Omar Haniffa from Archery Ascension – an Ottoman style archery club from SE Melbourne, about 2 hours drive from Yapeen. Quickly we decided to cap the event (at 25 archers) and make it a pilot, so we could learn from the experience and plan for bigger events in the future. Traditional bows only, mostly thumb-shooters (but not exclusively), any kind of arrows allowed for this pilot event – no compound bows or crossbows!
I set aside about a dozen places for people from the Thumbshooters_ANZ group on Facebook that had expressed interest from the start, and then we opened it up to members of Archery Ascension and Maydaan Archery Club (from Sydney). We had ourselves some hot property, and the 25 slots were gone in no time at all.
As the 25 archers started to plan their trips, it quickly became obvious that nearly all the regular accommodation in the region was booked out, or booked out before our eyes as we searched. It’s perhaps a criticism of my somewhat narrow focus on other matters, that I was unaware that the weekend we had selected had (a) the Castlemaine Truck Show for two days, and (b) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis opening their Australian tour at Hanging Rock just to the south. The ‘Maydaanis’ found somewhere in Bendigo, around 30-40 minutes north. I stayed at home in Castlemaine and a couple of others parked their campers at the main caravan park in town. Most others camped at the beautiful campground in the crater of the volcano at Lalgambuk (Mount Franklin) south of Yapeen towards Daylesford. We were ready to go!
The day finally arrived
Early on the morning of Saturday 26/11/2022, I received sad news from Omar that there had been a death in his close family, and that he would be staying home to be with them. He had delegated Issam Ben Mansour to be his replacement in helping me run the event. The Archery Ascension (AA) team was ready to step in for Omar, and they did the club proud.
Tom Panic and I caught up shortly after for a quick Turkish coffee at Das Kaffeehaus in Castlemaine. Tom had travelled down some 1,600km from Brisbane for this event. I think that’s the definition of ‘keen’.
Then I made my way to Lalgambuk campground to meet the rest of the group. A convoy of AA members arrived from Melbourne. The Maydaan archers arrived from Sydney (~850km) via Bendigo, and a few others from parts of Victoria arrived a little later to the airstrip in Yapeen. After AA rustled up a delicious lunch it was time to head to Yapeen and start flinging arrows.
Yapeen, day 1
Under a threatening stormy sky we gathered at the airstrip in Yapeen – 25 archers, and nearly as many again onlookers. From that moment on the tone was set. Smiling faces, joyful greetings. It was without a doubt the friendliest and most supportive group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with. It’ll live in my heart for a long time yet.
After a few preliminaries about safety and the order of business, it was time to start flinging arrows down range. There was a reasonably strong and gusty northerly breeze blowing, so we set off for the North/South runway. The shooting line was marked and archers started to step up and shoot!
Five arrows each, 25 archers
125 arrows later the task began of finding the arrows that had mostly landed in short grass. A few took longer to find. Arrows were spread out along the airstrip from about 150 to 350 metres from the shooting line. Mine were just short of 260m!
When I first started contemplating a friendly, informal flight shoot, I hadn’t quite thought far enough ahead to realise that this would be a significant history-making event. The first official Australian menzil flight shooting records were being made. Right there in Yapeen, Mount Alexander Shire, Victoria.
All the archers went to stand beside their longest shots, to wait for me to come and measure the distance.
All throughout, people gathered in groups to watch or offer assistance. The mood was like a giant family get-together, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many smiling faces.
Just as we were coming to the end of measuring the first round of arrows, the storm that had been threatening from the west arrived. The rain managed to drive most of us into the shelter of the lee side of the aircraft hangar building, and so there we made some presentations.
Longest shot of the round, and therefore the first Australian menzil distance record holder, was by Mesud Sinanovic (Maydaan Archery Club) at 350m.
Second place went to Issam Ben Mansour (Archery Ascension) at 302m.
A beautiful gift from Paul Handley and Maydaan Archery Club was a commemorative medallion for all the participants, and special ones for first and second place distance.
As it was just rain but no lightning, a few crazy people went back out on to the runway and shot some more. Others started to make their way back to town or camp to get warm and dry.
After an action packed day, the first day of menzil competition was over.
Yapeen, day 2
It rained a little more overnight, but not much. Day 2 dawned with sunshine, and still a bit of a breeze, but really not too bad.
We were scheduled to go down to the roving/stumping course in the forest, but overnight Ahmed Karat made the suggestion that we instead go back to the airstrip for more menzil. Given how far many had come, and how rare the opportunity is to flight shoot on suitable ground, it was a great suggestion.
So we gathered again at Yapeen, and in much better weather proceeded to engage in a few hours of much more relaxed flight shooting. Some people had gone back to Melbourne the night before, but we still had about 20 archers shooting.
The occasion was right to try a few different techniques and items of equipment. Yesterday had all been shot with fairly standard bows and target arrows, with some tweaking of arrows to make them lighter and with adjustments to weight distribution, etc. Today we’d be doing more of that, but also seeing some use of overdraw devices such as majra and siper, and some highly specialised flight shooting arrows. Beautiful, delicate, hand-crafted wooden arrows with integral nocks, little paper fletches, and minute bone or horn points.
Archery scholar Bede Dwyer talked about various aspects of historical Ottoman flight archery, and demonstrated use of the majra and siper. Others such as Mesud Sinanovic and Ustadh Ahmed Karat joined in and shot majra, siper and tiny menzil arrows. Oscar shot his majra too. Many looked on, lots of questions were asked, much learning occurred. Those of us who had little direct flight shooting experience learned and practised new tweaks to form, and got ideas about making better arrows for next time. The friendly collegial atmosphere was awesome.
A new Australian menzil record was set when Issam shot 371 metres! Mesud lost a menzil arrow somewhere past there (it will be the stuff of legends!).
By about 11am it was time to close the flight shooting. Some travellers were heading straight back to Tumut and Sydney in NSW and needed to get on the road. Others needed a rest. Lots of friendly farewells, and enthusiasm for the next one!
The balance headed off south to Franklinford for some roving and stump-shooting in the forest.
Day 2 epilogue – roving in the forest
A much smaller group made it to the roving site near Hunters Creek in the Upper Loddon State Forest.
For most this was an even less familiar aspect of archery than flight shooting, with a whole different set of challenges. Every shot is at a different distance and elevation, and the extent that you’ll need to thread a shot through gaps amongst the trees. Not to mention that in bright sunlight, some of the tags I’d placed were hard to see (yellow) – maybe a different colour next time!
I had set out 10 shots in the forest, ranging from about 20 – 80 metres in length, criss-crossing a gully. Off we went, and people started having fun. Most took to it pretty quickly, and enthusiastically.
We spent a little bit of time looking at wildflowers (smelling the Chocolate Lilies), signs on the forest floor like the foraging marks of Echidnas and White-winged Choughs. We saw a group of half a dozen kangaroos stream by at close range. We talked about walking mindfully, feeling the changes in the ground for places where tracks and other signs might be more visible. We looked for pathways through the forest, and at how the gullies and hills influence the movement of animals.
I think we have converts to this distinctive, enjoyable and relaxing form of archery. One which is much less commonly performed with Asiatic reflex bows and thumb rings … but that might change over time.
After some farewells, and cries of “… we must do this again, really soon …” … the weekend activities were over and it was time to go home.
I think by any measure the inaugural Australian flight shooting event was a huge success. Sure, the archery was awesome, but the vibe from the big archery family coming together to practise and learn together and make new friends was simply wonderful.
We certainly must do this again, and soon.
Watch this reel from Archery Ascension for a sense of how wonderful the weekend was.
My archery account on Instagram is here.
In my seemingly insatiable appetite for archery roving and stump shooting [that delightful field-based archery experience that eschews formal targets for a whole range of informal ones – tussocks of grass, crossed sticks, a brightly coloured leaf … and so on, you get the picture] … I have been shooting in an un-named gully in the Upper Loddon State Forest between Guildford and Franklinford (in Central Victoria) quite a bit recently.
The site ticks many boxes: very little surface rock for breaking arrows, soft soil, relatively open woodland structure for long sight lines, enough topographic relief for some thrilling cross-gully long shots, and not far to walk from the car.
Today I spent some time marking out a roving ‘course’ comprising 10 tagged locations, with shot distances ranging from 19-82m, uphill and down, shots through narrow tree gaps, and a few cross-gully long bombs.
The general idea being that I might entice other trad archers to come and try their luck on a rough roving course, but one which has fixed roving marks to enable a comparison of their efforts – a little bit of healthy competition.
I shot the course twice today and hit about 50% of the marks. Some are very tricky shots – particularly the long ones through relatively narrow gaps in the trees across the gully. Uphill and downhill shots to challenge your distance perception. I’d rate it as very challenging, and therefore a lot of fun! Shoot blunts only, or you’ll leave some arrows stuck high in the trees. 😉
Who’s game to give it a try?
Catching up with an old friend
Today I had the pleasure of introducing a new friend to an old friend.
After the massive winter storm of 2021 in central Victoria, the forest roads were closed for a very long time as tens of thousands of trees had been blown down by the cyclonic winds. This whole area is also scheduled to become national park in the next few years. One way and another, trips to archery rove at Blackwood North, and shoot at the legendary “stump of woe” seemed like a thing of the past.
Today I had a hunch that there might be at least one more chance, and sure enough as I drove down Amblers Lane today, all the “road closed” signs were gone, and the road was open. So I went on down to visit the stump.
Around the time I arrived the wind was building, and after a while there was a howling in the treetops – a little too reminiscent of the big storm, so didn’t stay long. I strung the Simurgh and headed in, shooting at all the familiar old roving marks.
The tree that we always stood beside to shoot the 60m down into the gloom where the stump lurks in the old pine plantation had been decapitated in the storm.
In the past when I shot a flatbow, 3 fingers under, 60m seemed like a bloody long way. Since I’ve been thumbshooting Asiatic reflex bows and becoming more and more accustomed to 50, 60, 70 and 80m shots, it really doesn’t seem so far anymore. The old mystique is still there though.
Got it on the third shot, and finally the new friend Simurgh got to meet the dear old friend, properly.
Bow speed – when hunches and bias get a reality check
It’s a good thing that out and out speed is not the most important characteristic of a bow in the pursuit of traditional archery. But everyone gets a bit of a thrill out of a fast bow – don’t they?
It’s also the case that perceptions about bow speed are captive to a number of completely subjective factors. Which bow is the current favourite? What is the draw experience like? Why is it that some bows just feel faster than the others?
Spoiler alert – some of these subjective perceptions can be even more wrong than you imagined …
A little while back I bought a relatively inexpensive ballistic chronograph. A ballistic chronograph is a device which measures the speed of projectiles – like bullets out of a gun, arrows from a bow, or even pellets from a paintball gun, by calculating the time interval as the projectile passes over two fixed optical sensors. This one is either ‘new old stock’ that was made in China but not shipped and sold before the Chrony company in Canada went bust, or it’s just a really faithful knock-off. I can’t tell, but it seems to do all the things that a Chrony Beta should do, in the way in which a Chrony Beta would do.
So, time for the reality check. Reality checks, plural.
I have two related pairs of bows, about which I have preconceived notions as far as speed goes.
- Two laminated bows from István Szimeiszter in Hungary – a Tatar #43@29 and a Hungarian #45@29. [#43@28 means 43 pound draw weight measured at 28 inches of draw, etc.] To me the Hungarian seems faster, but István believes that on design principles the Tatar should be faster. Both have a lovely smooth draw, and I only draw to 29” most of the time, but if you’ve long enough arms they’re rated for a 32” maximum draw.
- Two biocomposite laminated bows from Csaba Grózer, also in Hungary – an Assyrian #45@28 and a Turkish Short #48@28. The Assyrian has a reputation for being very fast, and I have the delusion that I can shoot it at around 195-200 feet per second (fps) with a light enough arrow and draw closer to 30” (it’s maximum recommended draw is 32”). The Turkish feels fast, but at 29” or thereabouts I can also feel that I’m right up against the maximum recommended draw of 30”.
NB: I have not tested the bows to see if the draw weight claimed by the bowyers is accurate. It may not be.
So under controlled, repeated conditions, which Szimeiszter is faster, and is the Grozer Assyrian faster than the other three? Let’s put my preconceptions to the test.
- Mild, windless weather conditions, 18-19°C, blue sky.
- Chrony Beta ballistic chronograph, no light diffusers fitted, mounted on a tripod.
- Draw each arrow to 29”, thumb release with bronze Bozhur thumb ring.
- Add 2.5 pounds to the nominal draw weight of the two Grozer bows to allow for drawing them to 29″ like the Szimeiszters.
- Standard set of 7 x Goldtip Traditional carbon arrows with field points, approximately 440 grains in weight.
- This equates to:
- 8.8 grains per pound (gpp) for the Grozer Turkish,
- 10.2gpp for the Szimeiszter Tatar,
- 9.8gpp for the Szimeiszter Hungarian, and
- 9.3gpp for the Grozer Assyrian.
- This equates to:
I shot the Szimeiszters on 24/4/2022 and the Grozers on the following day. I used 7 arrow shots as sample data for analysis. I shot more than that in each case, but the numbers stayed in the same range, so I stuck with the first 7 for each bow.
|Szimeiszter Tatar #43@29||Szimeiszter Hungarian #45@29||Grozer Short Turkish #48@28||Grozer Assyrian #45@28|
|Szimeiszter Tatar #43@29||Szimeiszter Hungarian #45@29||Grozer Short Turkish #48@28||Grozer Assyrian #45@28|
So the Szimeiszter Hungarian is faster than the Tatar when considering either median or mean. The Grozer Assyrian is faster than the Grozer Turkish by either measure.
The overall fastest of the 4 is the Szimeiszter Hungarian by median value, but it’s the Grozer Assyrian by mean value. The fastest arrow in the whole test was 180.1fps from the Szimeiszter Hungarian. “In my hands” I should add – someone with a longer or better draw form might get a few more fps out of these bows.
Interesting. They are really not that far away from each other as a group, but the order of things is not consistent with where I started. Let the data speak! … and I stand corrected.
The other really interesting feature for me is the much tighter consistency from the Grozer bows. (In a boxplot the centre line across the box is the median value, the whiskers show the highest and lowest values, and the box contains 95% of the values. Smaller box, tighter spread of numbers.)
I discussed these numbers briefly with an archery buddy. Wayne took it all in his stride and then asked me “How was the draw experience by comparison?”. Good question. Taking these numbers into account – adding to that my recent attention to draw length and consciously getting it back up to 29-29.5” – it’s a very good question. The two Szimeiszters are fabulous to draw – that’s what István is best known for. The Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian is likewise, always a total delight to draw. All 3 are still a bit over a couple of inches away from their maximum recommended draw at my draw length.
On the other hand because I’m coming hard up against the maximum recommended draw length on the Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short, it feels a bit uncomfortable at the end – it’s not meant to be drawn longish, and I now realise, I really don’t enjoy that sensation. It might be partly to blame for my bout of short drawing!! 😉 Look at the data spread though – that hard stop at the end probably aids in drawing more consistently.
The surprise package overall though is still the Szimeiszter Hungarian. Not made for speed they say, but on some measures it’s the fastest of the 4. Nice.
The unstoppable march of the mobile phone camera
I really am a terrible blogger. At this rate I do about 4 per year, which probably doesn’t really qualify as blogging. Never mind, here’s one …
Although I still shoot film from time to time, I am very much a digital photographer these days, and have been for some years. Even when I do shoot film, I nearly always scan it and treat it much like a digital image thereafter – manipulation with DarkTable on a computer rather than with an analogue enlarger and photo paper in a darkroom.
Nonetheless, I’ve been unshaken in my belief that a purpose built digital camera is still superior to a mobile phone with a camera in it. The realities of the latest generation of mobile phone cameras have testedthat view a bit. However, ii I still believe that cameras and lenses in the shape that we traditionally recognise them are superior to hand phones.
The main reasons that I believe this are to do with:
- the flexibility that comes with interchangeable lenses, particularly being able to manually focus and change aperture – whether modern CADCAM versions or adapted old film era lenses – is difficult to match in a phone which has embedded, tiny lenses (and yes, these days usually ‘lenses’ rather than ‘a lens’); and
- ergonomics – unless your mobile phone is mounted in a gimbal or something similar, it’s just not designed to be manipulated in the same way that a well designed camera can be, and often feels too ‘droppable’ in more difficult situations.
My new Pixel 6 Pro mobile phone has 3 lenses – wide, standard and telephoto. The phone chooses when to engage which lens, based on where you land the zoom slider, so occasionally that choice by algorithm is a poor one. Often the software over-processes the image, to that it looks so ridiculously HDR as to be worse than a much older phone camera would do.
This phone also notionally has a 50 megapixel sensor, but in reality you rarely get anywhere near that pixel count because many shot options crop the sensor.
Getting the deft touch that switches from standard to telephoto by using the zoom slider isn’t as easy as you might expect. But like any camera, practice gets you closer to understanding how to either predict what the phone camera will do, or teaches you how to force it to do what you want.
However, once it all comes together, and you get some idea of how to work the controls and coerce the algorithms, the results can be rather impressive. Probably best done by using a 3rd party app on the phone rather than being limited by the standard Google Android Camera offering. Maybe sometimes using the modern phone’s ability to shoot RAW too, if you think there’s going to be an image worth some post-production. This phone shoots RAW in *.DNG format, which is about as universal as *.JPEG out there in photo software land.
The two digital cameras that I most often use are in no way threatened by how good the phone software and hardware is getting. The cameras still win hands down when it comes to the kind of micro control over images that come from fine-scale manual focusing, manual aperture and shutter speed adjustments, and being ergonomically designed to be securely hand held with all of those settings capable of being adjusted without looking away from the viewfinder or back screen. Probably pixel size matters as well, because the 50MP phone sensor versus the 24MP APS-C camera sensors must have quite different pixel dimensions? With some phone apps you can do fly-by-wire manual adjustment of ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc, but not without turning the phone around to find the controls on the screen.
These days most people are more attuned to being photographed by someone with both hands up in front of their face holding a phone. Using a small camera held to the eye, or at waist level with a flippable screen, is not a very familiar pose, and you can go largely undetected – great for candid shots!
But you tell me, which photo below is from the phone and which from the Fuji X100V camera? Different light on different days, and slightly different composition because of where I stood on each occasion.
Captain Flatcap in the pines
Self portrait meets archery kit from Ukraine
The source of most of my archery kit is a group of artisans in Hungary, but there’s a solid subset from Ukraine. Recently I agreed to get the camera out and put a few bits of the Ukrainian kit together in an archery selfie to send to Sarmat.
So here they are …
All the bits and pieces in these images are from the Sarmat company in Ukraine. Bow (Varang Lux, Viking longbow), arrows (bamboo) and quiver (leather back quiver) from Sarmat Archery. Vyshyvanka shirt from Sarmat Crafts.
And yes, I am thumb-shooting the longbow! Being styled as it is on a Viking longbow, it might be historically accurate to draw it either the eastern or western way, in keeping with the diverse cultural contacts and traditions of the Vikings. Either way, as a shelf-less bow, it lends itself well to the longer draw that thumb-shooting allows.
Beautifully made gear at very reasonable prices. Highly recommended!
Accuracy in archery – bow or archer?
As I threatened to do in the previous blog, I did go out to the forest with a handful of bows to test if in switching from one to the other the accuracy varied much.
The video is a bit rough and ready. Wind noise just about obliterates my commentary from time to time, and I forgot to turn auto focus off, so there’s a bit of focus hunting buzz as well.
But the five bows got a run, and it did feel like my technique was pretty even across the board. Looking back I think the Szimeiszter Tatar probably got the best result, and it is a great target shooting bow. But really there wasn’t much between them, despite differences in design, draw weight, etc.
Enjoy it for what it’s worth – a bit of fun. Leave some commentary if you feel so inclined …
“This bow is so accurate” – really?
I’ve often heard product reviewers of traditional archery bows, or enthusiastic new bow owners, exclaim “… this bow is so accurate …“. I’m guilty of the same thing myself. But recently I’ve been mixing up the bows I shoot on a rapid rotation, and it has prompted me to question what appears to be the underlying assumption or suggestion – that some bows are much more accurate than others, for any given archer. Really?
I confess, for a little while I’d been thinking that provided the bow and arrows you have in hand are passably well made and matched (to each other and to you), surely they’re all mais ou menos accurate if your shooting technique is solid and consistent. What changes though from one bow to another is that some seem to make being accurate feel easier. In other words, archers are accurate, bows are just tools …
I have six different bows in regular use, and I certainly have favourites! But it feels to me that on most occasions if I’m taking care of form when I shoot, and practising a lot, that at least in the 20-40m range I’m about as accurate with any one of those bows. [And before you say “… that just means he’s lousy with all of them …” 🙂 … don’t be cheeky.] It definitely feels easier with some more than others. Some are just easier to shoot, but they are all capable of producing accurate shots in my hands. It might take a couple of ranging shots to adjust if I’m moving from a 47″ Turkish bow to a 71″ Viking longbow (and I thumb shoot both), but it doesn’t take too much adjustment. Though make sure you stand well back, because I do side-down khatra with the longbow too …
That’s how it feels anyhow, but is it true? Sounds like an arbitrary, non-scientific experiment is called for! Six different bows over the same distance with the same arrows. Bow shape varying from Ottoman Sipahi to Assyrian, Tatar to longbow. Poundage from #34 – #48, mostly in the mid 40s. How much will the accuracy vary? And will it be according to my bow bias, or something else?
Planning to set up a test this weekend if the weather is cooperative. Watch this space …
And harking back to an earlier blog post, the presence of a camera sees me short-drawing in both those images above 🙂 https://mikrokosmfotos.art/2021/10/29/making-videos-is-bad-for-my-archery-form/
On the list for evaluation, the following:
- Sarmat Varang Lux ‘Viking’ longbow #40@28
- Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian #45@28
- Szimeiszter Tatar #43@29
- Vegh Sipahi #34@28
- Simsek Ottoman Hybrid+ #45@28
- Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short #45@28
Most likely I’ll use some Sarmat 30″ bamboo arrows, or maybe the Kelemen’s pine arrows, or both. Probably either a leather Ottoman thumb ring by Bekir Büyüksındır or a bronze Ottoman ring by Zack Djurica – that’ll depend on the conditions and how inflated my thumb gets …