C-A-Handbook-art - 10/29/96
Sir Jon's Combat Archery Handbook.
NOTE: See also the files: fiber-blunts-art, c-archery-msg, CA-Hunt-Tips-art,
arch-supplies-msg, archery-msg, quivers-msg, crossbows-msg, arrows-msg.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
Date: Thu, 24 Oct 1996 14:08:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: John Edgerton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: combat archery handbook
a Manual for Western Archers
Sir Jon Fitz- Rauf, O.L., O.P.
Royal Company of Archers
Royal Company of Yeomen
Draft July 22, 1995
An Archer must be:
Keen of eye,
steady of hand,
fleet of foot
and cunning of mind.
This is not an official publication of either
The Society for Creative Anachronism or
the Kingdom of the West.
Copyright 1995 by John R. Edgerton. All rights reserved.
This book is not published by the Society for Creative Anachronism Inc.
Since the information contained herein may be used under circumstances
outside of their control, neither the author nor the Society for Creative
Anachronism Inc. assume any responsibility whatsoever for any loss or
injury resulting from such use.
Check with your kingdom marshal for the current combat archery rules in
SIR JON FITZ-RAUF, O.L., O.P.
Royal Company of Archers
Royal Company of Yeomen
revised July 22, A.S. XXIX
An Archer is:
Keen of Eye,
Steady of Hand,
Fleet of Foot,
and Canny of Mind.
Combat archery involves the use of light draw weight (thirty
pound maximum or fifty pounds with special oversize arrows) bows and
specially constructed arrows. Special protection is worn to help prevent
injuries. It consists of several types of combat, from individual duels
between lights to full scale field or woods battles involving both
heavies and lights. All participants are required to be familiar with
and follow the Rules of the List and SCA and West kingdom heavy and light
Combat archery first began in the SCA in the Kingdom of the West
at the Island War in 1967. The arrows were eighteen inch long green
stained bamboo garden stakes. There was no fletching and the blunt heads
were made of one inch thick foam rubber secured with white first-aid tape
and were about one to one and a half inches wide. There was no maximum
weight limit for the bows, because the short arrows kept the draw and
power down. The archers were not required to wear any face protection.
By 1970 the Saunders Bludgeon Tip was discovered in Atenvelt, it
was brought back by Duke Henrik of Havn and then adopted by the West.
The Saunders Bludgeon Tips were a commercially made three quarter inch
wide blunt of soft plastic made for hunting rabbits, squirrels and other
small game. This brought about the use of fencing masks, soccer cups and
other protective gear.
In the East Kingdom combat archery was developing using the blunt
created by the Markland Military Militia. These Markland blunts had a
two inch diameter head built up from foam around a one inch wood dowel.
These were large enough so that they could not pass through the visor
slot or bars of a helm and therefore screening was not needed.
As the SCA grew, the Eastern and Western areas developed their
own styles of blunts and their own conventions of combat. The first SCA
wide rules for combat archery were published in 1978. Then in 1985 the
rules were revised by the SCA Marshal, Earl Kevin Perigrynne. We now
have, just as in heavy tourney and war combat, a comprehensive set of
rules that provide for both safety and for conventions of light combat.
Just as in heavy combat, as long as the rules are followed, light
combat is a safe and enjoyable part of our SCA events. It allows
participation in combat by many that are not interested in, or capable
of, heavy combat. Light fighters are given a taste of heavy combat in
mixed battles and many later become heavy fighters. It enables heavy
fighters to broaden their skills as well. It also increases the tactical
scope of our wars, by including highly mobile elements capable of
striking from long range.
In missile combat, as in heavy, hits are counted on a honor
system. The fighter being hit decides how to count the blow. The main
difference is that a hit to a heavy fighter from the impact weapon of a
heavy fighter must strike with sufficient force to count. While a hit
from an arrow does not require a minimum impact to count. It counts no
matter how light the impact as long as it is not a glancing hit. This is
because bows strong enough and arrows hard enough to be felt in armour or
padding at sixty yards or more, would be highly unsafe at our minimum
range of five yards.
Arrow hits to the head or torso count as kills. Hits to the arms
or legs cause only the loss of that limb. Hits to the hand or below the
knee are not counted. In a mixed battle it is safer to have dead lights
leave the field, rather than remain upon it and be tread upon by live
When using non-contact missile troops, light fighters are NEVER
to be struck by heavies. They are killed when the heavy is within five
yards of the light. Some kingdoms use full-contact archers. These
archers wear, at least, minimum SCA heavy armor and can carry heavy
weapons and are qualified as heavy fighters. They have the option of
yielding or putting down their bow and drawing a heavy weapon to fight
All combat in the SCA is on a honor system. You do not question
a fighter you have struck, if he does not acknowledge your hit. This may
be discussed in a friendly manner after the battle and off the field.
However if a fighters padding or armour make it difficult to feel the
impact, then the marshals or other fighters may inform him of the hits.
But it is up to him to decide. Only the person hit has the final say if
the hit was good and the light is the final judge of if the heavy is
within the five yard range.
We now have several styles of combat arrows that combine both safety and
accuracy. The SCA and kingdom rules for combat archery provide a high
degree of safety and enjoyment for those who wish to participate in this
aspect of Medieval warfare.
If you are interested in becoming a combat archer the first thing
you need is obtain copies of the Rules of the Lists, the SCA Combat
Archery Rules and a copy of your kingdom's combat archery rules and war
rules from your local Marshal or Kingdom Archer. These rules will tell
you what the basic SCA requirements are for the equipment as well as any
specific regulations for your area.
As the SCA rules have priority over kingdom rules, the kingdom
rules must at least meet the SCA minimum requirements, but each kingdom
may make additional or more stringent regulations for combat.
One idea you should keep in mind is that the Society is based on
honor and courtesy both on and off the field. This applies to archers as
well as fighters.
The first item you will need is a combat legal bow. The SCA
rules limit bows to a thirty pound draw weight. This means that your bow
may not need more than thirty pounds of pull to draw a 28 inch arrow to
its head. You will find that most bows have the draw weight printed on
their lower limb. There are several types of bows that you may use for
combat. The most effective is a recurve or longbow made of laminated
wood and fiberglass. The most commonly used type is the fiberglass
recurve bow, but this is less effective than the laminate bow. The
remaining type, the all wood (self) bow is less efficient unless you are
lucky enough to find a quality bow constructed of yew, lemon wood or
osage orange or other good bow wood.
A good quality laminate recurve will far exceed most self bows
in velocity and range. The only exception to this is in the case of
quality self bows. They will out shoot solid fiberglass bows and some
laminate recurves. A laminate recurve is generally the best bow you can
use. But there can be reasons for not using one in combat. The first is
cost, but this can be avoided by buying a used bow. You can find good
bargains at yard sales, flea markets and pawn shops. A bow that might
cost $150 new can be found for under $50 and often for around $25 or
less. However you must consider the nature of combat, bows can be
damaged. You must decide if you are willing to risk an expensive bow on
The most durable bow is a solid fiberglass bow. These can be
found in both recurve and longbow styles. The recurve style is more
efficient than the straight long bow. The fiberglass bows can be
dropped, hit or walked on by a two hundred pound fighter in fifty pounds
of armour with little or no damage. They can be bought new for around
thirty dollars and for five to ten used.
Be cautious when buying used bows. A self bow must be examined
carefully for any sign of cracks or warping. If the finish is only
cracked or rough it is still safe, for that does not affect the wood
underneath. With laminate bows, you should also check by flexing the
bow, to see if the laminations are separating. If you do not find any
signs of cracks then you should string the bow and check again. After
you have strung the bow, you also need to check the limbs for
straightness. You do this by sighting down the string so that it divides
the belly of the bow in half, it should divide it equally. If the limbs
seem warped, do not draw the bow and do not buy it. A bow with warped
limbs is very hard to repair. If the bow still seems sound, draw it and
check again for cracks or separation of the laminations. Never pull a
bow to full and draw and release it without an arrow on the string, this
will damage the bow.
When you first shoot an older self bow you should wear face
protection, such as your combat helm fencing mask or at the least, safety
goggles. This is because old bows can dry out and when shot, break and
fly back into your face or explode and send splinters into your eyes.
The first few times you draw an old self bow, do not bring it to
full draw. First string the bow and let it set for a a day or two. Then
you should draw it a quarter of the way at least twenty or thirty times,
then half way twenty or thirty, then three quarters and finally to full
draw twenty or thirty times before you shoot with it.
Some archers feel that laminated recurves are not in period.
However, laminate recurves were in use before four thousand B.C.. The
Egyptians and Assyrians made early use of them. Then later the Parthians
stopped the Roman legions and the Huns devastated the armies of Eastern
Europe with them. The recurve has stayed in continued use into the
Twentieth century. They can also be seen in Medieval European drawings
and were used not only by Eastern archers, but sometimes by West European
archers as well. There are etching by Durer in the 1500's showing self
longbows with recurved tips and what also appear to be short self
recurves. Recurves brought from the near East were also used in Italy
and other Mediterranean countries.
Sometimes you may find an old self bow that has a marked draw
weight of over the thirty pound limit. It should have its actual draw
weight measured on a spring (fisherman's type) scale. You will often
find that the true draw weight of the bow is a few pounds less than the
original marked weight. This frequently happens with old self bows. As
wood ages and dries out it loses its resiliency and power. It is quite
possible for a bow marked thirty five pounds to have an actual draw
weight less than thirty pounds and to be legal. However, if you should
happen to have such a bow, you should have your area archery marshal test
and approve it and give you a waiver for its use.
Another exception that sometimes may be allowed, is bows that
weight over the limit, but have less power(impact) and range than a
fiberglass or laminate bow of a true thirty pounds weight. This is often
the case with old bows of all kinds and sometimes even with a new bow
that is not correctly labeled.
If you want to use a longbow and do not want to be out-ranged by
archers using laminate recurves, your best bet is to find a laminate
longbow. A well made laminate longbow can be the equal of a laminate
recurve and will be less expensive than buying a new, quality self
longbow. Also, yew is a soft wood and easily damaged by the rough
handling that may occur in combat. Quality longbows are generally used
for hunting and are hard to find used in thirty pound weights. You
should check with your kingdom archer for a list of longbow suppliers.
If you have some experience in wood working, you could make your
own longbow. There are articles available on how to do so. However,
before you attempt yew or osage orange, you should start with an
inexpensive and easy to work wood such as ash, elm, oak, hickory or red
cedar. Rattan also makes a usable bow wood.
What you need for combat is a bow that can loose an arrow fast,
flat and far. It should also be durable to survive being dropped or
stepped on in battle. The best bows you can use are a full thirty pound
draw laminate recurve or longbow, because of their flat trajectory and
speed. This allows you to keep your point of aim on or near your target
at longer ranges and makes it harder for your target to dodge your arrow.
It is important that your arrow nocks fit properly on your
string. The arrow should hang from the string without falling, until the
string is tapped lightly. If the nock is too loose then the arrows may
fall off when you are nocking rapidly or running. If it is too tight
your arrow may wobble as it leaves the string. The plastic nocks can be
made to fit correctly by heating them in boiling water for about thirty
seconds and then fitting them to the string while still pliable. You
should also be sure that you are using a string with the correct number
of strands for your bow. If it has too few it may be weak and could
break during shooting. Always carry a broken-in spare string with a
properly placed nocking point to replace the one you are using if it
shows signs of damage. Your bow string should also be kept waxed with
either bees wax or a commercial string wax. If you wax your string
whenever it begins to look "dull" or has a fuzzy appearance, you will
greatly extend the life of your string. You should keep a piece of soft
leather in your kit to rub the wax into the string. You should rub hard
and fast so that the leather gets warm and helps to melt in the wax.
Always check your string before shooting for signs of broken strands in
the string or servings that are coming loose.
The next accessory for your bow will be an arrow rest. Most bows
now have a built-in arrow rest or shelf. If you arrows are fletched with
feathers, you may shoot off this shelf. You will find that it is faster
to nock this way and that the arrows will stay on the shelf during rapid
movement, unlike an arrow rest. But if you are using plastic fletches
(vanes), you will need a simple arrow rest which will keep the vane from
rubbing on the shelf. A rest that has a firm upturned plastic finger,
such as that found on hunting style rests, helps to keep your arrow from
falling off during rapid movement.
If you are using a bow with a deep built up riser (grip) with
Markland type arrows, you will find that you can not draw the Markland as
far as you could a Saunders, HTM or Lohac style blunt. This is because
the base of the two inch wide head of the Markland will be stopped by the
bow riser. This can make you loose from one to two inches of your
twenty eight inch draw length and cause a reduction of both speed and
range in shooting. However this does not happen with bows that do not
have deep risers such as most solid fiberglass bows or most self
laminate longbows. This is a point in favor of longbow over laminate
recurves when deciding what bow you should buy for combat.
Once you have your bow, make sure you have a nocking point on
your string. This is used to insure that your arrow is always at the
same point on the string. You may buy one ready-made at any archery
shop. Or you can make one out of dental floss and some glue. If you do
not use a nocking point, then your arrows tend to hit either high or
low, rather than on target. You will determine the correct placement of
the nocking point during the tuning process.
This is one of many ways to tune your bow. First: be sure that
you have arrows of the correct spine for your bow, (i.e., They are stiff
enough for the bows draw weight.) Then remove the fletching from one
shaft. Set up a target about twenty feet away at shoulder level. Mark
your string with a piece of tape about 1\8 inch above where the top of
the arrow rests when at a 90 degree angle with the string. Now using
this as a starting point, shoot your fletchless arrow. If the arrow hits
with the nock high, then lower the nocking point. If the arrow nock is
low then raise the knocking point. Continue this process until the arrow
hits straight into the target. Then attach your nocking point to your string.
Now that you have the correct nocking point you may adjust the
brace height. If the brace height is too low it can cause the arrow to
point either to the left or right of center (this can also be caused by
the wrong spine or arrow rest), You should adjust the string by twisting
it a few turns tighter. This will reduce the time that the arrow stays
on the string. Staying on too long can cause poor arrow flight.
The crossbow is a very effective weapon despite its slower rate
of fire. The rate of fire is not that much slower that the average
longbow archer because of the light draw of our combat crossbows compared
to the weight of a period war bow that required mechanical assistance or
at least the placing of your foot in the stirrup to cock it. It is
particularly effective when attacking or defending fixed positions, when
the crossbowman has good cover such as a pavise or castle wall. The
crossbow's ease of use and accuracy more than compensate for it somewhat
slower rate of fire. Less training and practice is required to become a
good crossbowman than to become a good archer. The crossbow can be
steadied on the opening in the pavise or on the castle wall allowing
highly accurate aiming. It can also be used in heavy brush or under low
hanging branches, that would foul the upper limb of a regular bow. When
shot from a prone position it is highly accurate and allows the opposing
archers very little target for their arrows. It is an excellent weapon
for sniping and ambush.
A combat crossbow should not exceed the power of a combat bow. A
regular combat bow, recurve or longbow, has the force of approximately
six hundred and thirty inch pounds. This is determined by multiplying
the draw length at twenty eight inches (28 inches minus the brace height)
times the pull at twenty eight inches in pounds. This gives the force in
inch pounds. To determine the effective force of a crossbow (which is
allowed only 600 inch pounds), measure the effective draw length (the
distance from the string in an un-cocked position to the nut or string
release mechanism) and multiply it times the draw weight, e.g. 12 inches
effective draw length times 50 pounds pull equals 600 inch pounds. Six
hundred is under the limit and is legal. The head of the combat blunt
should project over the front of the stock, but not rest upon it, in
order to reduce drag and provide a smoother release.
Other methods of comparison are flight or penetration tests.
Both use target arrows. The flight test compares the crossbow against a
combat legal laminate recurve. Both bows are shot from the same line.
You must assure that the arrows are level to the ground (This method
requires less space than shooting for maximum range at a fourty five
degree angle). An assistant with a carpenters level can direct the bows
to level fire. You then shoot five arrows and then average the distance
for the recurve. You then shoot the same arrows from the crossbow, if
the nocks fit the string. If the string is to large for the nock, cut
the plastic nock of one arrow flat (It can be replaced afterwards). Then
shoot this arrow five times and average its distance. The crossbow may
equal but not exceed the recurve. You should also record the average
distance of the recurve for future comparison tests. With the
penetration test you need a target mat, such as ethalfoam, with no soft
areas in it. Then, from five yards, you shoot one arrow, five times from
the recurve and average its penetration. Then shoot the same arrow
(modifying its nock if needed) from the crossbow, at the same distance
and average out its penetration. Again, it may equal but not exceed the
The easiest way to modify a crossbow that is too strong, is by
reducing the draw length. This is done by moving the bow(prod) back
toward the nut or release mechanism. This distance can be estimated by
use of a spring scale to measure the draw weight at various distances.
You then multiply the distance by the draw weight until you find the
combination that equals six hundred inch pounds or less. However if the
prod is too heavy you may find yourself trying to reduce the effective
draw to less than about five inches. If this is the case you will need
to find a lighter prod to use for combat.
Now that you have your bow you will need combat arrows to make
use of it. Make your arrows to the kingdoms's specifications and ALWAYS
BE SURE YOU REMOVE THE METAL POINTS BEFORE YOU MOUNT THE COMBAT BLUNT
HEAD! Combat arrows should be as well made and matched as the arrows you
would use for a target competition. Be sure that the shafts are spined
for the draw weight of you bow and that all are of the same weight. You
may find it necessary to use a heavier spine to allow for the heavy
weight of the combat blunt head. With a twenty five pound bow you should
use twenty five to thirty pound spine arrows. And with a thirty pound
bow you should use thirty to thirty five pound spine shafts. The wrong
spine will cause misses to the side, while different weights will shoot
high or low. With a right hander, too stiff a spine will cause the arrow
to go the the left, while too weak a spine will cause it to go right.
It is likely that in 1997 the SCA combat archery rules will allow
the use of solid fiberglass rod, 1/4 to 11/32 inch, as an additional
shaft material. Each kingdom may then decide to allow its use as an
additional shaft material. So far it has tested out to be shatter proof
under combat conditions. It must be bent into a U shape before it can
break. And when it does finally break, it breaks like rattan into a
bunch of fibers.
Any differences between arrows in smoothness, diameter of head or
size of fletching causes a different degree of drag on the arrow. The
greater the drag, the slower the arrow. The slower the arrow the lower
it will hit. And the higher you will have to aim to compensate. You
should find information on target arrow construction and build your
arrows to these standards before adding the blunt and taping the shaft.
You should be careful to tape your shafts as smoothly as possible and see
that the blunt heads are smooth as well. For taping use the best quality
tape you can buy, such as 3Mtm. Cheap tape will not go down smoothly,
lacks proper stretch, will not stay secured and may break in cold
The size and type of fletching you use is important as well. The
heavy weight and drag of a combat blunt needs a large area of fletch to
guide the arrow to its target. For the Saunders, HTM or Lohac styles of
blunts you should use at least a three inch fletch. While with the larger
Marklands, film can, Thistles and others you should use at least a four
inch fletch. The Golftubes need a full feather (at least six inches)
fletch. If you set the fletching on at a slight angle to the shaft
rather than parallel it will cause the arrow to spin and become more
stable in flight (this can help to correct a poor release), although it
does cause a slight reduction in range. You should also be sure that the
fletches are all of the same hand. You may wish to have some arrows in
your quiver for use at long range, these should have smaller fletches to
reduce drag and to be less affected by crosswinds.
For ease in nocking your arrow under the pressure of combat
conditions the use of four fletches is very useful. When you use four
fletches instead of three you do not need to have the nock aligned so
that the cock feather faces away from the bow. If the four fletch arrow
nocks onto the string, then it is correctly nocked. With four fletched
arrows a smaller size fletch is used to provide the same surface area for
guidance. For example a two and one half inch instead of a three inch.
There are two types of fletching, feather and plastic. The
feather fletch is more forgiving of a bad release, which often happens in
the heat of combat. It can also be shot from the shelf of the bow or off
the back of the hand and does not need an finger type arrow rest. The
plastic vanes require an arrow rest and will not fly well when shot from
the shelf or the bow hand. However, they are very durable.
Since combat arrows get a great deal of hard use, it is important
that you see that the fletching is well secured. Whether you make them
or buy them ready made, you should glue them thoroughly to the shaft. In
addition to the glue under the vase of the fletch, you should run a bead
of glue down both sides of the base of the fletch or vane and put a drop
at each end. The economy grade of arrows from some stores have fletching
that will often fall off when shot, unless additional gluing is done.
There are two major types of combat blunts. First, the handmade
such as the Markland and film can styles. The Markland is built up
around a section of one inch wooden dowel which is drilled to fit the
shaft, glued and then covered with foam padding so that it forms a two
inch diameter head. Foam pipe insulation is very useful for this, it has
a one inch I.D. and a two inch O.D.. It is then carefully taped down.
Many of the kingdoms use this style because it does not require that
helms be screened for protection. The film can style uses a thirty five
mm film can with a insert of 3/4 inch plywood in which the arrow shaft is
inserted. The striking surface is covered with a half inch of foam and
the remaining area of the film can is often filled with silicon chauking
and then taped over..
The second are the commercial style blunts such as the Saunders,
HTM or Lochoc These have greater range due to the reduced drag of their
three quarter inch diameter heads. The Saunders blunts are no longer
being produced. But they have been replaced in the West by the Lohac
blunt which is a similar style and is made by SCA members in Australia.
There is a streamlined modification of the Saunders using a cone of
closed cell foam which is coated with plastic tool handle dip. This is
called the "Peacemaker" after its inventor Lord Wolf Peacemaker. When
shot from a good bow the reduced drag allows ranges of about one hundred
and twenty yards or more. The Peacemakers do not fly faster than other
arrows, they just do not slow down as fast due to the reduced drag.
These smaller heads allow fifty or sixty arrows to carried in a combat
quiver and to be pulled with ease. But helms MUST be screened for
protection. The Thistle Missile is a commercially made blunt the size of
a Markland blunt they have good impact due to their weight, but have a
slower speed and less range.
There is a third type, the Golftube(sometimes called Gooftube by
those that have used them). They are very safe and do not require helm
screening. But they are of limited range, require a fifty pound bow to
approach even Marklands in range, have very poor accuracy and are
difficult to handle. Archers using them have little chance of hitting
anyone. But they are used in some kingdoms where the heavy fighters have
managed to stop the use of the other more accurate styles. The arrow
consists of the plastic tube used to protect the shaft of a golf club,
the head is made from a tennis ball or foam in the style of a thrusting
tip. The golftube shaft can be stuffed with closed cell foam to make it
stiffer and less inaccurate.
Well matched arrows allow you to consistently hit your target,
before it hits you. Sometimes you have a few arrows in your quiver that
constantly hit either high or low. Mark these arrows with colored tape
just behind the blunt. Use one color for those that hit high and another
for those that hit low. This will allow you to see the color and
quickly adjust your aim as needed, before you release.
You should have twelve arrows at the very minimum, but twenty
four is a more reasonable number. Most good combat archers can shoot
twelve arrows in one minute if not prevented by incoming arrows or
attacking fighters. Always mark your arrows between the fletches, using
a fine point permanent marker, with your name and area for easy
identification. And color code them with your colors using colored
electrical tape. This allows lost arrows to, some day, find their way
back to your quiver. It can also allow the fighter you killed at long
range, to know who was good enough to take him out at sixty yards.
There are two basic types of quivers. The hip or belt quiver and
the back or shoulder quiver. Most commercially made target quivers have
too small a capacity to hold enough combat blunts for a war. If you make
your own quiver be sure that it will hold as many arrows as you may carry
in the future. Two to four dozen is a good minimum number for wars. A
back quiver is less apt to get in your way when moving rapidly. However
it is not very period for Western Europe, despite the movies and can hang
up on low branches. But a hip quiver is easier to refill or to search
for a particular arrow. Be sure that your quiver is well secured to
avoid losing arrows, or having it move to an awkward position, and trip
you while running. The most period style of quiver for Western Europe is
worn at the hip.
For combat helms, either make your own or purchase one from a
local armorer. Fencing masks can often be found at swapmeets for a few
dollars. Another useful mask can be made from a catchers mask. This is
done either by adding additional bars for the (Markland style blunts), or
by perforated metal not hardware cloth. The perforated metal has better
visibility than a fencing mask. It will stop a broken and splintered
shaft. Both masks require a heavy padded coif to fully protect the neck
and unmasked areas of the head. The addition of full neck and throat
protection made of closed cell foam and leather in the form of a
fighter's collar is good idea.
Your helm should allow you full visibility. If you have a bared
visor, you should be sure that the bars are not placed directly in your
line of sight and interfere with your aim. The inside of the bars or
perforated metal should be painted flat back to reduce glare. It should
also allow easy breathing and still fit firmly. If it does not fit well
and you anchor against the side of your helm, any shifting of the helm
will change your anchor point and cause a miss. Put your screening on
the outside of the bars so that it can not be pushed in. If you normally
wear glasses or want to wear safety glasses for extra protection, make
sure there is room behind your bars or screen to clear your classes even
when you get hit in the face with a javelin. Also the use of an
antifoging compound on your lenses can prevent fogging up and having to
shoot almost blind.
Your face protection can be attached to a brimmed civil defense
helmet or a construction helmet and plate protection for the sides and
back of the head can be added to give you full protection for mixed
battles. The brimmed helm helps to identify you as a light fighter and
also shades your eyes when shooting into the sun. A barred visor, versus
a fencer's mask or perforated metal, has the advantage of allowing a
drinking tube to pass through or the stream of water from a bota bag.
VISION Or if you can't see them you can't avoid them.
Missile weapons are used from a distance. If you wear glasses to
see at a distance in the mundane world, you need to wear them in combat.
If you can not see little pieces of colored tape on a helm, you will
unable to identify friend from foe. If you can not see clearly, you can
not aim well. If you can not see the arrows coming toward you, you can
not avoid them (this is a problem that some heavies have as well). You
should have an elastic strap to hold your regular glasses securely in
place or use sports glasses or contacts. If they slide down your nose and
you can not get to them to push them back up they are of little use.
When using wood shaft arrows with unscreened helms there is the
chance of an arrow bouncing back and hitting nock first. Most arrows do
not bounce back more than about ten feet before hitting the ground. But
in the first few feet of their bounce back they could present a hazard if
they were to enter between the bars or eye slot of your helm. There is
only a slight chance of this happening, but it could damage your eye.
If you want additional protection you can provide it by wearing
safety glasses under your helm or adding Lexan, a shatter proof
plastic,(In 1997 the use of Lexan may be approved at SCA Marsallete
level) or screening over just your eyes. It is not necessary to cover
the entire face, unless you want to. How much screening you add is
determined by how much additional eye protection your want. Screen with
smaller than 1/4 inch openings may limit your vision, while larger than
3/8 inch may not stop all bounce backs.
The main purpose of body protection is to reduce the impact of
blunts and prevent the mischance of a broken shaft from penetrating the
skin. There are several materials that provide good protection. They
range from heavy denim to light leather or moving pads. A mid thigh
gamberson of moving pad provides very good protection from impact as well
as penetration. This is also an excellent material for coifs.
Additional protection for the collar bones and kidneys can be constructed
of closed cell foam, heavy leather or plate. This can provide additional
protection in mixed heavy/light battles. The Fall 1993 issue of T.I. as
an article on "Jupons, Jacks and Arming Coats". The full sleeves of the
padded jupon would get in the way of your bow string but the padded jack
is a good design for a light combat.
Your padding should fit you well. You must be able to run and to
shoot in it with no binding and the string must not strike your arm
padding or the bottom of your coif upon release. If your padding is very
loose, baggy or flairs way out below the hips or under the arms, arrows
may strike the hanging fabric and look like a good hit.
Whatever form of protective gear you choose, keep the final
appearance of your outfit in mind. Your equipment should as good as any
heavy fighters. One important point to keep in mind is that whatever
style and degree of protective gear you wear, it should attractive and
period in appearance as well as providing protection.
Your arms and legs must be covered with at lest denim or a
similar material. Additional protection for the knees and elbows is
necessary. This can take the form of sports-type knee and elbow
protection worn beneath the clothing (lacross style works well), or plate
knee and elbow coups worn on the outside. The knee pads protect when
kneeling on rocky ground and the elbow pads can keep you funny bone from
being hit. Make sure that the wings of your elbow coups can not cut your
Proper footwear is also very important. Boots or shoes that give
you good ankle support and have a good non-slip sole (cleated or lugs)
are need for quick maneuverability in battle. Your best defense is rapid
maneuver and one slip could be your last, for that battle.
Armour is in period for European archers. There are countless
illustrations of archers wearing mail and great helms, body plate with
open face helms, and sometimes even full plate. If an archer could
afford it or strip it off a body and keep it, he wore it, as long as it
did not greatly interfere with his movement. A padded jack is excellent
archers armor and suitable for many periods.
If the rules for the war allow plate to be counted as arrow
proof, it can be very worthwhile in fixed position battle where you have
little need for rapid movement. You must always remember that an
archer's best defense is mobility and speed. Armour may give you
protection against arrows, but not against a heavy fighter's sword or
pole arm. Heavy armour worn in a mixed open field battle may slow you
down enough that you can not avoid the enemy heavy charging down on you.
However if you are not fleet of foot, then the loss of speed may be of
less consequence, and the protection from arrows more worthwhile. If you
wish to have both protection and maneuverability, a good compromise is
helm, breastplate (no back plate), taces and perhaps some upper arm
armour. But you must make sure that your armour will not damage your
bowstring or interfere with a proper draw.
Sometimes when plate is worn under tunics or surcotes it causes a
problem, when it counts as arrow proof. An archer may hit an opponent
with what looks like a good hit to the body, but it is ignored. What is
often the case, is that his opponent was wearing concealed plate. One
way to avoid this is, if the number of participants is small enough, to
have those wearing concealed plate to identify themselves and the
location of their plate before the battles during the "Listen Ups". When
such a fighter or archer is hit with an arrow, they should indicate their
plate by striking that spot with their knuckles of weapon, and by calling
out "Plate!". This practice is not required, but it can help to make
combat more enjoyable by lessening the causes of argument.
In addition to your regular padding which can be in your own or
area's colors, you can make additional tunics or surcotes which will help
you to blend into the terrain in which you will be fighting. However the
use of contemporary camouflage clothing or fabric gives an unfair
advantage over those using period materials and should not be used. But,
inexpensive hunting plaids can blend well with many backgrounds (The
Scots used this to great advantage) And there are many shades of green
and brown to mach any terrain. The use of dagged edges can also help to
soften your outline and allow you to blend with your background.
Patchwork, such as a fool's motley, in browns and greens can blend in well.
Another good defense against arrows is a shield. Shields were
used by archers and varied from the small Arabic round shield on the bow
arm to the large Assyrian wicker shields carried by a shield bearer or
the pavise of the crossbowman.
The archer's arm shield is an excellent defense. You can use it
to actively block arrows, and sometimes it will manage to block arrows
you did not see. But in light battles(they are not allowed in mixed
battles) it is limited to fifteen inches in diameter and must be marked
with the light fighters device, so as not to be mistaken for a heavy's
The pavise is a large rectangular shield about two by four feet,
it has a hinged leg that allows it to stand by itself and provide cover
for an archer kneeling or standing behind it. There is often a small
opening in the top center, for the archer to shoot through. It also has
hand straps for ease in carrying and a guige(strap) to carry it slung
over the back. It can be made taller, while adding little weight. This
is done by bolting two legs to the bottom at the sides. This allows the
opening to be located near eye level for the archer to shoot through. It
is best when used for attacking or defending fixed positions. If you use
it in an open field battle and you are about to be overrun, drop it and
run! A shield is of no use to a dead archer, except for being carried
off the field upon.
Crossbowmen can carry the pavise strapped to their backs. They
can shoot, then turn, kneel and reload and then rise and shoot again.
This provides protection for them when they are exposed while cocking and
Da Vinci designed an archers shield, about two feet in diameter,
which was attached to the bow and had an opening in the center to aim and
shoot through. However to use this you need a strong bow arm to hold the
bow and shield steady while aiming and loosing.
A good combination of forces is archers with a group of lightly
armed heavies with large shields. The heavies act as a moveable wall
shielding the archers both form incoming arrows and javelins while
protecting them from enemy heavies. The archers protect the heavies from
other missile troops and provide support against other heavies. Another
good combination is javeliners with tall narrow pavises and a supply of
javelins carried on the back of the pavise and archers. This group is
fast and mobile and has good protection from missiles. The javeliners
provide a defense against plated heavies.
Light's shields and pavises should be of reasonable weight
compared to heavies' shields to avoid an unfair advantage in mobility.
you should use a minimum of half inch plywood as a good compromise.
Besides, a shield of less than one half inch would never stop a real war
arrow from an heavy war bow.
You must mark your shield, with the light combat device, to
prevent it being mistaken for a heavy fighter's shield and having an
enemy heavy mistake you for a heavy. This error can be painful.
JAVELINS AND DARTS
All archers should learn to be proficient with javelins, darts or
other projectile weapons. There are two main reasons for this. One: If
you lose an arm you can still keep the offensive, rather than just
becoming a shield for another archer. Two: In some battles arrows are
not allowed, but javelins and other large projectiles are. This will
allow you to fight in more battles. You can carry two or three darts in
your belt or some javelins in a special quiver as back up weapons. A
sling, with a supply tennis balls, is also a good backup weapon, but
requires much practice. The javelins with fins, versus streamers, tend
to be easier to throw with more accuracy and less tendency to turn
sideways in flight.
LEARNING TO SHOOT
Before you can compete in combat archery, you must be able to
shoot a bow. If you do not know how or need more instruction, there are
several courses open to your. First: Professional lessons at a bow shop
or archery club. Second: Instruction from another archer either in or
outside of the SCA. And third: If you do not have access to any of
these, learning from a book. For the first, check the Yellow Pages. For
the SCA, check with your Kingdom Archer or Seneschal. And for the books,
check your library or "Books in Print" at your local book store. A good
instruction book still in print is "Archery for Beginners" by John C.
You should not learn to shoot with sights or marked bow limbs if
you main interest is in combat archery. It is better to learn an
instinctive style, suitable for field archery or hunting. Although
marked bow limbs are generally permitted for combat and are very useful
at long ranges, the instinctive style tends to be faster and more suited
Once you have learned the basics of archery, it is time to
practice for combat. You should always wear you head protection while
practicing. It is better to wear both head and body protection
together. This is important because your helm or mask will require a
different anchor point than you bare face. And your padding may get in
the way of your release. You should also wear your shooting glove or
finger tab and bow hand protection as well. Secure your full quiver and
you are ready to start.
You now need a practice area. The best is a large open space
about one hundred yards on a side, but this is seldom available. More
commonly at hand is a back yard or driveway. You can set this up for
safe practice if you have some kind of backstop to prevent arrows from
flying out of your yard. You can provide this by hanging an old blanket
or section of used carpet or rug in front of or inside your garage, or
against your house. You should leave about a foot of space behind it.
This will prevent damage to your blunts that could be caused by striking
a solid surface. You can secure targets on this surface, such as paper
plates, cardboard fighters, orcs or even dragons. It also makes an
effective backstop behind the plywood IKCAC fighter target. Which is an
excellent practice target because it gets you used to shooting at a human
You should make the backstop as high and wide as needed to stop
any arrows that might leave your property and annoy your neighbors (Who,
since you are in the SCA, may feel you are rather strange already).
This same system, called a "Carpet Butt", can be used for
practice in an open area or at a tourney. It greatly reduces the time
you spend in looking for arrows that miss the target. If two layers of
carpet are used it will shop target arrows as well as blunts. It can be
suspended from a one by four board and supported at either end by poles.
The poles can either be set in holes in the ground or held up by guy
ropes and stakes.
Now that you have a place to shoot and a target it is time to
practice for combat. First you must to learn to nock an arrow without
taking your eyes off your target. In combat looking down at your bow is
an invitation for an arrow in your chest.
Arrow nocks with a high indexing ridge, such as Mercury speed
nocks, are much easier to nock rapidly, even while wearing a shooting
glove. The nock should fit the string well and not fall off during rapid
bow movement or while you are running. Another method that allows rapid
nocking is the use of four fletches on your arrows. This way you do not
have to worry about putting the cock feather away from the bow. If the
nock slips on your string, then the arrow is correctly nocked.
Once you can nock and shoot without looking away from the target
and hit your mark, you should practice for speed. You should learn to
get off ten to twelve arrows per minute and have them hit the target at
close range (about ten yards). When you have mastered this, you should
practice shooting from different distances and positions: standing,
kneeling, siting, leaning around a pavise or other cover. For crossbows
practice: siting, prone and one handed as well. Learn to handle your
bow, arrows and your self in different positions and still hit your mark.
When you are wearing a helm it is no longer possible to anchor in
the same spot as when you are target shooting, the corner of the mouth or
chin. The helm will cause your anchor to be further out from the side of
your face. Therefore if you aim just using the tip of the arrow, your
shots will tend to go to the left of the target(for right handed
archers). This is because the nock end of the arrow is now further to
the right than normal and this causes your arrow to point to the left.
One way to correct this is to aim by sighting down the length of
the shaft, not just over the tip. To do this you need to tilt your head
so that your right eye is over the shaft and then look down it towards
your target. Rather like sighting down the barrel of a shotgun. You
should practice this, from different positions, until you have learned
the correct aim and anchor so that your shafts all hit on the vertical
center line of the target. Then all you need to learn is to adjust your
aim up or down for distance.
In order to keep an consistent anchor point on the surface of
your helm or screen, you may find it necessary to attach something to use
an anchor point that you can feel through your hand protection. This can
be a leather thong knotted through the holes of your screen or on the
bars of your face protection. However, you should note that most helms do
not provide a solid anchor point. If you press your string hand against
the side of the helm you find some degree of movement. The helm should
be as solidly attached as possible to reduce this movement. If for your
face protection you use a modified catchers mask in connection with your
helm. It can provide a more secure and consistent anchor point. The
mask being secured against your face does not move around like the
screening attached to a helm.
Do not just aim at the overall fighter. You must aim at a
specific point on the fighter. For example, do not just aim at the
torso, aim at a specific point in the middle of the torso such as a
buckle or rivet or link of mail. If you are aiming at a visor opening,
aim at the tip of the nose. If you have a tight mental focus and aim at
a small point, you will be more apt to hit.
Next, you must learn to all of this on the move. Nock at the
walk. Stop, shoot and repeat. When you have learned this, you will do
it at a run. Then you combine movement with different positions, e.g.
Run and drop to a kneeling position, shoot, jump up and run away, nock
and turn then shoot. As your skill increases you should increase your
distance and your speed.
You should now set up a man sized target, such as the IKCAC
TARGET. First you nock your arrow and while holding your bow horizontal,
you draw your string hand back even with your bow arm armpit. You then
run to within five or ten yards of the target and loose as you run past,
without slowing or stopping. This is great for hitting groups of
fighters without allowing them to hit you. This is best done from behind
or from the side, but works from the front as well. You should aim for
the back, if not arrow proof, and for the backs of the thighs if the back
is proof. This is a good tactic for breaking up groups, they may try to
follow. They will then be pulled out of formation where other archers
can shoot them or your heavies can cut them down.
You can have several numbered or colored targets set up at
different distances. This is excellent practice if you have someone call
them off randomly for you to shoot.
Always remember: Never take your eyes off your opponent or he
will kill you!
When you can find a large, safe area in which to practice, set up
a fighter sized target. This can be a live archer or fighter in full
gear or an IKCAC target. Now you can learn to estimate your distances
and where you have to aim to hit at those distances. First you should
learn your point blank range. This is the distance at which the tip of
your arrow is centered on the point you want to hit. With a good
laminate recurve and Peacemakered blunts this distance is about fifty
yards or with Saunders (face tape or filled) it is about thirty five,
depending on your anchor point.
Your point blank range can be increased, giving you more useful
ranges. You can do this by lowering your anchor point to your chest
(always use the same point), this gives you a long range point blank. By
using a corner of the mouth anchor, an under the chin anchor and a chest
anchor you can have a point blank distance for three different ranges.
Next you should learn the maximum range of your bow. First, put
a rubber band around the lower limb of your bow. Then have someone tell
you when you are aiming at a fourty five degree angle. You now shoot
several arrows at this angle and determine the maximum distance. Next
set up a target at your maximum distance. You now come to full draw,
with your bow again at fourty five degrees and perpendicular, aiming at
your target. You have the assistant move the rubber band so that is in
line with your eye and the target. You shoot several more arrows and
adjust the rubber band so that your arrows all strike close to your
target while using the rubber band as a sighting mark. You now have an
aiming mark on your lower limb for long range shooting. This rubber
band should be replaced with a permanent mark such as tape or paint.
However, your bow must be perpendicular when you are using this mark or
your arrows will miss far to the side of your target. You should now
practice grouping your arrows at long range using this mark. You should
be able to keep them within a five to ten yard circle.
Archers working as a unit should have a common long range mark on
their bow limbs. To do this you need to determine the minimum long range
of your unit's bows. Then you put a new mark above the maximum range
mark on the other bow limbs, this will be the sighting mark for the
unit's maximum range. If there is a great difference in the average
maximum range of your unit's bows, try to replace the weaker bows. This
will allow you to volley fire at long range as a unit, which is highly
A form which does not allow you to sight on your target is called
lofting. This is used when your target is behind a castle wall, shield
wall or similar defense. It is a type of indirect fire which is shot
high into the air to fall almost straight down upon your target. This
can be practiced at a target or against another archer or group of
archers. However do not try this on a windy day for your arrows will
drift off target. When you have mastered the basic technique, then try
shooting on windy days. You should set up target about twenty to forty
yards away. Aim your bow in line with the target and at about a seventy
to fifty degree angle. Now practice till you learn the correct angle for
this distance, then change the distance and learn that angle. If you are
doing this against another archer or group, you will note that the
incoming arrows are almost impossible to dodge. In combat try to
maneuver so that the sun is to your back and in your opponents eyes, this
makes high angle arrows impossible to see. This is not a highly accurate
method and works best against massed targets.
Combat archery is more strenuous than target archery. In target
archery you may shoot more arrows in a competition than in some battles
depending on how long you stay alive, but combat requires running. You
must be able to run and then and then stop and shoot without gasping for
breath so hard that you cannot hold your bow steady. Heavy breathing
causes your bow arm to lift and drop as you breathe in and out.
To prevent this problem you need to get in shape. You should
start off by walking briskly three or four times a week, for about half
an hour. Then longer as you become more comfortable with it. Try
running twenty to thirty yard sprints during your walk, then stop and
pretend you are drawing and aiming your bow. Observe how steady you are
holding on your mark. If you are lucky enough to live where you can
carry your bow as you work out (without being stopped by the police),
then draw and aim it at your mark, holding steady for a ten count and
then slowly let it down.
It is not necessary to run or jog the whole time. A fast walk
will do you as much good and have less chance of causing damage. But if
you want more of a work out you can use wrist, ankle or waist weights.
Or you can wear all or part of your armour.
You can develop your shooting muscles by just drawing your bow
without shooting. This should be done twice a day. You bring your bow
to full draw, hold for ten seconds, then slowly let it down. (DO NOT
RELEASE THE STRING WITHOUT AN ARROW IN THE BOW). You should do this ten
times at first and then increase as your muscles strengthen. This can
be done with your combat bow or a heavier bow for more exercise. To
avoid unbalanced development you should switch hands on the bow, holding
with your string hand and drawing with your bow hand an equal number of
The best practice you can get is with other archers and fighters,
both heavy and light. You should go to combat archery practices in your
area. But if there are none, get some lights together and form your own.
Go to some fighter practices and observe how fighters move, hold
their shields and weapons, what their armour covers and does not cover.
Observe all this with the idea of learning where they are vulnerable.
You can go through the motions, with empty hands, of drawing, aiming and
shooting at their unprotected areas.
A good basic practice is to form two groups and stand about fifty
yards apart in two lines. Start shooting, shoot six arrows; if you are
hit, acknowledge it and continue. Then move five yards closer and repeat
the process. This is good for learning to judge range as well as
providing good practice in dodging arrows. First try this on a one on
one basis. Then have all of your line concentrate on just one or a few
adjacent archers in the other line.
Form two units. One unit forms up in a line and remains in
position. The other unit starts at fifty or sixty yards and charges the
fixed position, stopping only to shoot. If you are hit, stop shooting
One armored, but unarmed, fighter or archer starts at fifty or
sixty yards and runs toward to line of archers. This runner must
zig-zag, change speed, dive to the ground and do everything possible to
make him impossible to hit. The best strategy for the line of archers is
to volley fire. This is a very important practice, for due to the slow
speed of out blunts, moving targets are the most difficult to hit. Most
SCA archers have a hard time hitting a moving target.
If you have the space, form two teams of fairly equal strength
and have a battle. For this you should not just form lines. You should
learn to maneuver, use flanking attacks, feints, concentrated fire, etc.
Set up small targets, about six inches in diameter of cardboard,
plywood or styrofoam wig heads, on poles five and one half feet high.
Practice shooting at these from five to ten years. When you get good at
this, reduce the size to that of a visor opening.
Try to encourage some heavy fighters to attend your light
practices. This will give the heavies a chance to learn to block arrows
and deal with lights. As well as allowing the archers to learn how to
handle heavies. Learn to work in units with the heavies. The heavies
will give the lights close range protection from enemy heavies and shield
them from long range missile fire. The archers support the heavies when
they are engaged with other heavies at close range. It is similar to
having pikemen behind them.
Your lights should practice rapid maneuvers with the heavies.
Develop fast flanking attacks with the lights as a screen for the heavies
and also with the heavies as a moving wall for the archers. Practice
close in support of your heavies when they are engaged with the other
side. You should earn to shoot through their line without hitting their
shields or them in the back of the neck. You must learn to maintain your
five yard minimum distance from the other side and avoid being hit by the
weapons of you own heavies. A heavy who is trying to watch both the
fighter he is engaged with and the archer that is aiming at his visor
slot, is greatly distracted. Just bouncing an arrow off his helm may
open him up to a killing blow from your own heavy.
In battles with large numbers of fighters you will often find it
difficult, when the lines are engaged, to get a clean shot at opposing
fighters through your own lines of heavies. A window may open for a
moment and then snap closed. You must practice to learn to see and take
advantage of these windows the moment they appear. The further you are
behind the front of the line of combat the more obstacles there are
between you and your target, but the more protection you have as well.
You should form permanent units of archers and fighters that are
trained to work together. The combined effect of such units is much more
than either by it self. An area that has heavies and lights trained to
work together as units, will win against areas that do not make use of
properly combined forces (other things being equal). And they may often
win against larger forces that lack this important basic ability.
Archery is most effective when archers make the most of their
ability to strike from a distance and to move rapidly. The most
effective uses of archery in history have been made by mounted archers,
with the exceptions of the Assyrians and the English. In the case of the
Assyrians they did not have nor were they faced by effective calvary.
While the English were faced by forces that did not make proper use of
their troops and let the English pick the battle sites. However, later
in the Hundred Years War the French corrected their mistakes and the
English, archers and all, lost. The Huns, Mongols, Parthians and other
mounted archers had long lists of victories.
In our SCA wars we do not yet have the massed ranks of archers
needed to make effective use of the English style of massed fire. Which
was rather like a rolling artillery barrage. What can be used
effectively is, units volley firing at selected targets at longer range
and at closer ranges carefully aimed shots hitting visor slots, armpits
and backs of thighs of plated fighters. This close in technique can be
compared to the use of a twenty yard long pike.
Mobility and speed are the archer's primary defense. If they are
placed so that they can not avoid a charge of heavies they will be cut
down where they stand. One way to meet a charge of heavies is to charge
back (this needs to be planned and practiced in advance). Split your
archers into three groups. One unit falls back and the other two run
past the heavies on their flanks. You should keep your distance and pin
them between you as you shoot at the backs of the heavies facing away
from you. When this can not be done, turn and run until you are out of
their range, then turn and continue to shoot. Always maintain a safe
distance between you and enemy fighters.
Fast moving lights can be effectively used to draw enemy forces
out of a good position. If the lights move in close, they can often
tempt the other side to try to close with them. Your lights only need to
fall back, while keeping up an attack with their missiles. You should
try to encourage the enemy to separate themselves from their main force.
When you have managed this, charge and surround them, shooting at the
backs of those facing away from you. With skill and some luck you may
eliminate them before they can fight their way back. This tactic was
used to good effect by the javelin throwing and lightly armored peltasts
against the heavy armored hoplites in Greece.
All of the foregoing ideas depend on speed. If your archers
carry too much weight in armour or shields, they can be run down by
fighters that close with them, before the archers can get up speed enough
to escape. You must not get caught standing still, move before they get
In open field battles, missile troops depend upon their mobility
or the protection of terrain or heavy fighters for their defense. They
must be positioned where they are free to move. Or protection must be
provided for them by the terrain, such as a steep slope, heavy brush, a
stream or ravine, etc., that can not be overrun by enemy heavies. In
most open field battles their protection is in the form of a line of
their own heavies. But if this line is penetrated or flanked and they
have no place to move they will be destroyed.
This line of heavies also functions as base or pivot for lights.
A unit of lights that has attacked and been repelled can fall back to
this solid defense and regroup.
You need to know the quality and quantity of your forces and
their equipment. Such as: ability and experience. Approximate number
of arrows and javelins. Range of bows and javelins. Types and amount of
body armour. Number of pavises and shield wall shields. etc.
Your battle plan should be based on several factors: Your
objectives for the battle. The strength and weakness of the enemy. The
strength and weakness of your forces. The terrain. And any special
rules or conditions for that battle. You must start each engagement with
a plan of battle and alternate plans as well. All your lights should
know the basic battle plan. When the battle starts, you should take the
initiative and keep it. Make the enemy react to your actions, not you to
theirs. If they find a counter to your action, then you should change
your plan before they can develop their counterattack. You must keep the
pressure on them at all times.
In open field battles, which often turn into a milling mob, it is
important for lights to make certain that they remain protected by nearby
friendly heavies. Often enemy heavies will flank your line and then can
easily move in and take out any lights that are behind it. When you are
concentrating on shooting and avoiding incoming missiles from the front
it is often easy to not notice actions on your flanks. The heavy unit
that you are behind may be too engaged to release any fighters to fall
back and protect you or they may not see the danger in time.
You need to keep one or two heavies back on each of your flanks
for protection or at least detail a light to watch for flanking actions
by the enemy and give warning in time to avoid or counter them.
Sometimes gaps will open in your own lines. When you see this
happen you can stand back of the gap(five yards away from enemy fighters)
where you have a clear shot at their lines without any of your own
heavies standing in your way. But you must remember you no longer have
any of your heavies between you and the other line and any enemy heavies
within five yards could kill you. You should be prepared to fall back if
the enemy charges the gap or your own troops move in to close it.
If you can not get a clear shot through your line, you can move
to a flank. If your line is engaged, you can let the heavies in front of
you know that you are behind them and ask them to leave a small gap
between their shields through which you can shoot. You must let your
heavies know that you are behind them and that you will be shooting past
them, so that they will stand still and will not accidentley bump you or
move in front of you when you are loosing. If you happen to shot one of
them in the back, he would be just as dead as if it was shot by an enemy
archer and he will most likely have a rather low opinion of your ability
in the future. If you happen to hit the back of a shield from two or
three feet away, your arrow can either break or bounce back at you nock
first. Always let the fighters right in front of you know that you are
about to loose.
If the lines have not engaged, you can sometimes kneel and loose
from between and behind two large shieldwall shields. If you do this,
you may not be noticed by the other side and when they charge they may
not be prepared to avoid your arrows. However you should be prepared
scramble out of there before the lines meet.
If you have trained with a heavy unit, the shield wall can open a
space for you to shoot through and then close or narrow it between
shots. This will provide full cover for you and make it hard for you to
be shot by opposing archers or javeliners.
It is important that you know who to shoot. Always try to
eliminate the best lights, heavies and the commanders on the other side
first. Get them out before they can do any damage. If you do not know
who they are, then ask. If you do know, point them out to those that do
not. However, you should not try to pick someone off just because of
their rank. Dukes, counts, viscounts, etc are here to have fun too. Do
not keep shooting them just because of their rank to keep them out of the
game. Shoot them when they present a danger to you or to your side. Do
not just shoot at a coronet because it is there.
During the pre-battle inspection you can estimate the number of
arrows, javelins, shield wall shields, plated archers, siege engines,
etc. the other side has. Conversation with enemy troops can give
information on their better lights, heavies, etc. While you do not give
out that information. Before the war, the leaders of your units should
check out the battle site or sites and locate cover, check terain,
determine ranges, etc.
When you are trying to judge the ability of archers on the other
side you should observe the quality of their equipment and how well made
and maintained it is. Better archers tend to use well made arrows that
are matched and well maintained because they know that accuracy is
dependent on good arrows. An archer with a random collection of arrows
with different size fletching, different heads and tape that sticks up
and fletches that are matted down, does not have accurate arrows.
If you are at a war where golftubes are used, you should observe
the style of the GT. If they are of the tennis ball type and have no
fletching and are bent, badly taped, have split nocks, etc. Then it is
likely that the archers will tend to use them in volleys at selected
targets or groups. This is because of their limited accuracy which can
make them unsuitable for hitting individual targets at any but the
shortest ranges. If possible you should also notice the poundage of the
bows. If most of them are under fourty pounds the GTs will be even
slower and of less range than if the bows are in the fourty to fifty
pound range. If the GTs are of the thrusting tip style, fletched with
three or four fletches and reinforced internally, with good nocks and
well made and maintained in general, they are more accurate and can hit
individual targets at moderate ranges.
The best unit leaders are not necessarily the best archers or
javeliners (best shots). What is more important than weapon skill is
knowledge of tactics, SCA combat experience and that hard to define
quality of leadership ability. Often, the best lights are of more
service devoting their full effort to shooting the other side.
TARGETS OF OPPORTUNITY
Targets of opportunity are those targets that present the
greatest chance of being hit. For example: Two heavies in padding and
shields, both twenty yards away. One is watching you and the other is
looking away from you. You will not be able to hit the one that is
looking at you, for he will block or dodge your arrow. But the one that
is not looking can be hit.
A general definition of targets of opportunity is as follows.
1) Not looking at you.
2) Too close to avoid your arrow (under fifteen yards).
3) Involved with another heavy or light and if he
blocks your arrow the other fighter will get him.
4) If you are given a choice of targets that are
looking at you, pick the nearest first or that being
equal the one that presents the most non-proof
5) If plate is proof then go for those in mail or
padding and only aim for faceplates, armpits,
buttocks and backs of legs on fully plated fighters.
6) Heavies using pole arms or two handed weapons,
javeliners and other archers present good targets
for they lack the defense of a shield.
7) Do not bother killing heavies that have lost a leg,
for they present little danger.
8) As a general rule try to eliminate archers first,
then javeliners next. If your side can remove all
of the opposing missile troops first, you can
concentrate on their heavies unhindered.
9) There is another consideration in picking targets and
that is immediate threat. If an light is trying to
hit you, avoid him or kill him first. If an light or
heavy is attacking someone on your side, try to take
him out. Even if you do not remove him from combat,
your arrows bouncing off his armour or shield or
flying past his face will distract him and allow his
opponent a chance to get him.
At longer ranges, unless your skill permits, stick to groups
rather than individual targets. At long range individual targets are a
unit project. Several archers can volley fire at the selected target.
The target might dodge one or two arrows, but not several and while
avoiding one he may move into another. While acting as a unit, maintain
an open formation and do not bunch up, for this provides a good target
for the other side.
Be sure of your range, do not waste arrows on targets you can not
reach. However, if your unit has some laminate recurves and good arrows,
you may be able to fool the archers on the other side into wasting their
arrows. Stay at the maximum range of your good bows (Use the sighting
mark on your lower bow limb for maximum range) and lob arrows into their
ranks. Thinking they are in range, they may shoot back, but to little
avail. Do not be tricked into doing this yourself.
One of the most effective uses of lights is in flanking attacks.
Archers on one or both flanks run wide around the enemy line and then
shoot into the backs of their rear lines of fighters. If you can do this
first, the enemy will be under arrow attack from two or three different
directions. When the enemy turns to face your flanking lights, your
archers should then aim for the backs of the forces facing away from
them, if within range.
Often in some battles there will no chance for maneuver and you
will find yourself behind all of your heavies. When you are shooting from
the rear ranks you must be careful not to hit your own fighters in the
back or to distract them by bouncing an arrow off the back of their
shield. If you are tall enough, you can shoot over the shoulders of the
fighters and between their helms. If not, you need to move to the
If you are working with a unit that has practiced with archers,
you may be able to move forward into the first line of pikes, behind the
shield wall and sword and shield fighters. But you must still keep your
five yard minimum distance from the other side. It takes practice to
shoot from inside a a milling mass of heavy fighters, they have to learn
not to jostle you or your bow and you need to learn not to shoot them and
to avoid the butts of their pikes. However, before the two sides close
and make contact, you can shoot from just behind the shield wall or the
second rank and then fall back before the two sides meet.
You must not become so engrossed in selecting and hitting your
target that you lose track of the flow of battle around you. For you
must remain aware and prepared to fall back if the other side should
start to break through your lines. An archer needs to maintain a wide
focus, in order to avoid incoming missiles or to spot a target of
opportunity. When you have picked a target, you may then narrow your
focus as you aim, but as soon as you loose you must widen your focus. A
tight focus works well for heavy fighters in a tourney, but often works
against them in a war. This is because they are so intent on the opponent
in front of them they lose awareness of most activity outside of a very
small area. As a result, some of the better tourney fighters are often
easily killed by missiles.
Often the fighters in front of you may be so closely packed that
there is no opening to shoot through. You should then move to the flank
or try to find a place to the rear of your lines that is high enough to
allow you to have a clear shot over your fighters. If you are light(in
weight) you might find a willing heavy(preferably with a full back plate)
to act as a shooting platform for you, by kneeling on his hands and knees
and letting you stand on his back. Two heavies can lift you on a large
flat shield to their waist height. This will give you a clear field of
fire, but will also make you a fine target for enemy lights, unless you
duck back down after each shot and have your "platform" occasionally
change its location.
You should try to enfilade the line so that your missiles rake
its length and an arrow missing one target will strike an other.
To avoid being hit in battle you should never stand still for too
long. You should keep moving and make use of cover. Most SCA archers
have trouble hitting moving targets with combat blunts. And the slower
the blunt, the harder it is to hit a moving target.
You should not remain in one place for too long. For this makes
you an excellent target and gives an opponent a chance to find your
range. You need to stop to shoot, but do not remain stopped for too
long. Upon shooting, you should move again at once, but you should vary
the direction in which you move. Do not always move just to the left or
to the right, for this sets a pattern and a skilled archer trying to hit
you will aim his arrow at the spot where you will be. Do not stay to
observe where your arrow hits or misses, watch it as you move. You can
use this same technique for eliminating other lights that have this bad
habit moving in a set pattern.
If you are shooting from behind cover, you should duck down after
each shot, renock and then come up in a different spot, if possible. You
should hold your bow horizontal as you come up or your top bow limb will
announce where you will arise. This also applies to pavises and castle
walls. You should not let your bow signal your location and intent or
you will be greeted by a volley when you arise.
You can sometimes manage a hit by deceiving the other side as to
your intended target. While they are watching you, come to draw on
fighter number one once or twice and then let down to show that you know
that they are watching you. When you have established in their minds
that you are after fighter number one, come to draw again. But quickly
turn at the waist and shoot fighter number two, who is near number one
and at the same range. You may catch him off guard.
If you should find yourself in an exchange of arrows with an
archer who is better than you and beyond your accurate range, you can
close with him until you are close enough to hit him. This advance
should be rapid and in a zig-zag. This way you have a chance of hitting
him, which you will not have if stay out of your range, but within his.
The reverse of this holds true for the better archer. However, long
range arrow duels are generally a waste of time and arrows. This is
because, at more than twenty yards, it is very easy to dodge the combat
If you put a second nocking point about five eights of an inch
for three quarter inch blunts or about one inch for markland style, above
your normal nocking point, it is possible to shoot two arrows at the same
time. The Arabs often made effective use of this technique. The arrows
will strike closer together if they have only two fletches. This is
because the nock ends will lay closer together on the bow.
When shooting two arrows you will have to aim higher than you
would with a single arrow at the same range. It is awkward, at first, to
keep both arrows on the bow, but if you tip the bow toward the horizontal
it will easier to do. At twenty yards the arrows will often strike
within two feet of each other. This can be effective at single close
target, for he will not know which arrow to dodge. And when shot at
groups at medium range this can double the arrows in you unit's first
volley. But it can take two or three times as long to nock double.
Shooting from a kneeling position lets you present a small target
to the other side. But it is harder to dodge incoming arrows unless you
throw yourself to the ground. Then when you are getting back up, you
make an easy target. However, if you kneel behind a kneeling heavy, his
shield will provide good cover for both of you. If you loose a leg, you
can hop or crawl to a heavy with the same problem and he can provide good
cover for you while you provide long range offense.
If you will be engaging in castle battles or other fixed position
battles, a pavise is a very important item. Four pavises, four feet high
by three wide, can provide good cover for ten to twelve archers. The
first rank ( the shorter archers) should kneel and and shoot through the
openings in the pavise faces or the gaps between them. The other two
ranks should kneel and take turns rising and shooting over the top. But
at long range the third rank can be hit by arrows coming in over the tops
of the pavises on a descending trajectory. You should practice nocking
and shooting as a unit in a confined space, so you will learn to avoid
interfering with the archers around you.
Pavises can also be used in an advancing attack by having them
carried forward as your archers shoot through the gap between them and
around the flanking edges.
You should avoid mixed battles involving bridges or ravines and
sometimes fortifications. This is because any arrows that fall under the
feet of the heavies or even the lights can be turned into kindling in
this limited area. These battles are best for: javelins, slings,
throwing axes and siege engines.
In attacking a fixed position you should use converging fire. If
the site permits, you should locate archers all the way around. If not,
then place them to provide fire from the widest angle possible, including
the center. This way the defending force will not be able to see all
incoming arrows, while the attacking archers have only to watch in one
You should move part of your force in close behind cover. While
the remainder stay far enough out that they will have no problem dodging
arrows. Your close-in group can either form a circle or an arc around
the position or they can concentrate in one area to clear that section
for an attack by heavies.
Depending on the arrangement of a fortified position, it is
possible to set your outer ring of archers at such a range, so that their
arrows which pass just over the top of the near wall ( missing the head
of a fighter there) may strike fighters in the back at the far. Each
archer in the outer ring will need to determine their own range for this
technique. For if they are too close the arrows that miss the near wall,
will also pass over the far wall.
If your unit is confronted by an other unit of archers at mid to
long range, do not bunch up, you should spread out. And then either
avoid them and move out of range or keep them involved and wasting their
arrows, while your unit shoots only enough to keep their interest (make
this as few as possible). At mid to long range an archery duel will turn
only into a dodging contest. This can be avoided by volley fire at
single archers. Your unit should volley fire at the leader or best
archer in their group. Then when he is taken out move your aim to the
next. If this happens to your unit, the archer that sees all the bows
aiming toward him, should wait until they release and then move very fast
to one side. The counter to this is to have half of your unit shoot and
two seconds later the remainder shoot at your targets new position.
It is a waste of time and arrows to just exchange arrows without
achieving any other purpose. However, sometimes if a small number of
archers can tie up a larger force and keep them out of action, it can be
worthwhile. But do not turn away from your objective just to exchange
arrows, do not be diverted from your objective.
One other way to break up this type of stalemate is to have part
of your unit nock and then charge their flanks while zig-zaging. They
should run in to close range and then shoot, you should be able to close
before they can renock. While the remainder keep shooting from further
out. If you have javeliners in your unit, have them charge the flanks,
while your archers charge the center, stopping only to shoot. Having the
javeliners charge their flanks removes them from your line of fire, while
forcing the other side to split their fire in three directions as well
as having to watch for incoming missiles from three directions.
You should practice shooting with different types of blunts, for
in a war you will not always be shooting you own arrows. You will often
be shooting back the arrows the other side has shot at you (after they
have been inspected). There is a great difference in your aim when you
shoot an Thistle Missile versus a film-can blunt. Their ranges are also
different. Just because your maximum range with a solid fiberglass bow
with a Saunders or Lohac Blunt is perhaps sixty yards and the nearest
enemy archer is eighty years away, does not mean that you are out of
their range. For if the enemy archer has a good laminated recurve and
Peacemakers or HTMs and some skill, he could reach out one hundred to one
hundred and twenty yards.
Each unit should have an experienced archer in command and a
second in command as well. Stay together and follow orders. Help out
other units when possible.
As a general rule, try to eliminate archers, javelins and pikes
first. If your side can remove all of the opposing missile troops, you
can concentrate on their fighters unhindered and removing their pikes
takes much pressure off your front line. It is in modern terms, like
superiority in air power. NOTE, this does not always hold true and your
objective depends both the battle plan as well as current conditions.
You should develop a simple system for communication of
commands. Such as: Messengers. Hand or flag signals. Drums. Streamer
arrows, etc. Make sure that all your unit leaders know the signals.
Many times, good opportunities to damage the enemy are missed because
commands take to long to reach a unit, or there is no way at all to
communicate with them.
A useful way of directing massed arrow fire is with streamer
arrows. These are combat blunts with narrow five foot ribbons attached.
The commander decides where he wants the missile fire to concentrate,
orders a streamer arrow shot into that area, and all or selected archers
concentrate their arrows on that spot. This can be used for signaling
movement and other commands as well. Concentrated arrow fire is very
hard to dodge or block. With this method you can eliminate part of a
line and then move your fire to another section picked by the commander.
The use of converging fire compensates for the ease of dodging
combat arrow fire, by giving your target too many directions to watch for
incoming missiles. In short, what you can not see, you cannot dodge.
Wherever possible you should try to position your archers, so that their
fire, either as units or individuals, converges on the target. This can
be done either with a line which extends well past the flanks of your
enemy. Or with separate units or individual archers are located to the
front, sides, and when possible the rear.
Consider your archers to be on horseback. Have them move in fast
and shoot. When the enemy tries to close with you, move out fast. Try
to wear down their heavies by making them chase you. Then, when you have
pulled them away from their main force, turn and surround them. Shoot at
the best targets. When they rush one side, that side falls back and the
others follow shooting.
In lights only battles, you can make good use of any heavies that
wish to fight by having them use shield-wall shields, or large fighting
shields and carry a javelin. They can also provide cover for a javeliner
by carrying his pavise and spare javelins.
In a mixed, heavy/light battle if you are killed by by missile
weapon, acknowledge the hit by calling out "Good" or "Dead" and leave the
field with your bow or javelin over your head. If you know who hit you,
it is courteous to acknowledge their skill (or luck). Give them a nod or
a wave indicate where they hit you and leave the field. If you are killed
by a heavy that gets within five yards of you, they will call out "Dead
my Lord/Lady" (or something similar). Then you will call out "Dead" or
"Good", give a friendly verbal acknowledgement as well and leave. This
helps to improve the altitude of heavies toward lights.
On the other hand, if you are called dead by a heavy that is
outside of the five yard distance, you should politely inform them that
they are not in range. This is just like a heavy saying "Light" to a
blow from another heavy. West Kingdom War Rules and Conventions. III:
War conventions, B: Killing conventions, 5: Acknowledgement of being
killed. "It is up to the opponent whether any kill (a blow, kill from
behind, a missile weapon blow, or melee combatant "kill" of missile
combatant) was good or not." But you must be very sure that the heavy is
outside the five yard range. You must be careful not to develop a
reputation for "Rhino Eyes" which is the light equivalent of "Rhino Hide".
If you take a light hit from an arrow it still counts, even if
there is little impact to it. But if it is a glancing blow that just
grazes you, it does not count (Unless you wish it to). W.K.W.R.A.C., II:
Additions/Changes to the conventions of combat, C: Acknowledgement of
blows, 3: "The convention that blows must strike squarely and with
sufficient force applies to missile weapons as well. However, it is not
to be interpreted that missile weapons must strike with the same force as
melee weapons to constitute a "good"blow.".
Sometimes in battles, where plate counts as missile proof, you
make what looks like a good hit, but the target does not acknowledge it.
This can often be due to them wearing plate that you did not see. So do
not get upset, just shoot them where they have no plate. If you are
wearing hidden plate in a battle and take a hit to your plate, you may
let the archer know of your plate by rapping hard on it with your fist
and shaking your head no. Or if they are close enough to hear, you may
call "Plate" as well.
If you should hit someone and they do not notice, sometimes, if
they are looking in your direction, you can point at them with your bow,
then indicate on yourself where you hit them and then point down to the
ground where your arrow is laying. But if they do not acknowledge your
hit, do not argue. It is their call and when you are involved with them,
some other fighter may kill you.
You should learn about different types of armour, as to what is
plate and proof and what is not. Learn with full plate where the non
plate areas are located. e.g. visor slot, throat, armpits, backs of legs,
All projectile weapons must be inspected before the first battle
and again before each following battle. The best way to do this is to
have the lights inspect their own weapons under the supervision of a
marshal. This marshal or marshals should have no other duties but the
observation of the archers' inspection. The marshal should also be an
archery marshal capable of inspecting arrows, bows and protective gear.
Arrow inspection by the lights rather than by the marshals saves
much delay. For example, if there are fifty archers with about thirty
arrows each, that is a total of one thousand five hundred arrows. At ten
to fifteen seconds per arrow that is a total of about four to six hours
for one marshal, or two to three for two, etc. This limits the number of
battles that can be fought each day and makes resurrection battles
difficult as well.
Before the first battle, all the archers should empty their
quivers for inspection. The marshal should check each set for any that
look too long. They can be checked against a legal length arrow carried
by each marshal. All the arrows should be looked at to determine if any
of them need a closer inspection. The marshal should ask each archer if
the metal points have been removed from all the arrows. Then select half
a dozen arrows for close inspection. The use of an inexpensive metal
detector can verify the absence of metal points under the blunt heads.
The marshal will also inspect the bow and protective gear to see that it
passes kingdom standards. When each archer has passed inspection he
should be marked. This can be done with colored tape. One piece on the
front of the head protection, this indicated approved body protection.
One piece on the quiver for arrow approval. And one on the back of the
bow. Each marshal may sign or mark each piece. This taping makes it
easy to spot an archer that has come on to the field without first being
To further avoid problems caused by archers coming on the field
with equipment that has not been inspected, there should be an area by
the battle field for each side where all equipment is held after being
inspected. Archers must pick up their gear from there before entering or
reentering the field. They must enter the field from those locations,
any lights coming on from anywhere else will be stopped by the marshals
and sent to those areas for inspection.
After each battle all lights pick up the arrows and return them
to the inspection area. The arrows should be laid out in one or more
rows. The archers then move down each row picking up their own arrows.
When they have taken all their arrows from the pile, they inspect each arrow.
In resurrection battles the slain heavies should be encouraged to
gleam arrows from the field on their way back to the resurrection point.
They will leave them there for the archers to inspect, this can help to
insure that your archers do not run out of arrows. It also helps to
reduce the amount of breakage caused by them being stepped on.
Each arrow should be inspected for: Any signs of the shaft
punching through the blunt on Saunders type, or of the padding
compressing over the base on the Markland types, check for loose heads.
Look at the fletching to see if it is pulling loose. Check for broken or
peeling tape, missing or damaged fletching or other obvious problems.
You then hold each arrow by the blunt and the nock, then flex it at least
three times in different directions, watching and listening for any
breaks. You should dispose of any broken, punched through or compacted
arrows, DO NOT CARRY THEM IN YOUR QUIVER DURING BATTLE. You may be
removed from the field, the battle or the war for having damaged or
dangerous arrows in your quiver.
If a marshal feels that an archer has not properly inspected some
of his arrows, then the archer should reinspect ALL of them. Do not rush
through your inspection, a defective arrow can injure the person you
shoot. Also bent arrows, damaged fletching or a broken nock may cause
you to miss the fighter charging down on you.
There are several good books on archery that you should try to
read. Check your library, if they do not have them, ask them to do a
book search for you.
The Grey Goose Wing by E.G. Heath.
Archery, A military History by E.G.Heath
The Medieval Archer by Jim Bradbury
Arrows Against Steel by Vic Hurley
A Book of Five Rings by Musashi
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The Double-Armed Man by William Neade
A history of the Art of War by Charles Oman
The Art of War in the Western World by Archer Jones
Certain Discourses Military by sir John Smythe
Toxophillus by Roger Ascham
The Longbow by Robert Hardy
Target archery by Robert Elmer
The Bowyer's Bible, vols 1,2,3
Bows and Arrows by James Duff
The Archers Craft by Adrain Hodgkin
Archery, from Golds to Big Game by Keith Schuyler.
I would like to hear your comments on this and any suggestions,
questions, or ideas for additional material. I am also looking for
someone to illustrate the book with line drawings and diagrams to help
make it more clear.
Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
All Rights Reserved
Comments to author: email@example.com
Generated: Fri Nov 24 2000