I photograph landscapes, buildings, people and dogs, when not out in the forest as a traditional archer. There are one or two other things too, but we can discuss those later! Check out my Instagram feed – you'll get the gist …
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. 😉
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.
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.
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
Raw speed results in feet/second (fps)
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.
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.
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!
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 …
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 …
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 …
A year or so ago (pandemic time – could be either really?) I self-published a small photographic zine of mostly night-time images taken in Kyneton when I lived there. I think I printed about 50 and half are gone.
Now it’s 2021, we’ve had two years of rolling COVID lockdowns, and my computer’s hard drive is groaning under the weight of images captured in or near Castlemaine during that time.
Inspired by something that Sean Tucker said on one of his YouTube homilies, I decided recently to make a ‘fancy zine’ or a ‘little book’ rather than a monograph, with a fairly loose theme around ‘what I saw in that year’.
So here we are. It’s the end of 2021 and the COVID lockdown strictures are being stripped away with rude haste. I think it’s time to look back.
Using the somewhat ostentatious Latin title ‘CASTLEMAINE – DUPLEX ANNUS HORRIBILIS, PARS I – 2020‘, it’s basically part one of the double horrible year. But despite all of the horror of a pandemic, of which I’m in no hurry to trivialise, the landscape stayed beautiful. Occasionally terrible and raw, but always beautiful.
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.