[Este artículo está escrito en inglés por deferencia a la organización del evento, que lo sugiró así]
To say that it was one of the finest archery weekends Angela and I have experienced would be... absolutely true. When little over a year ago we decided to contact Hilary Greenland to commision two bows, an English Longbow for me and a Prehistoric Mollegabet for Angela our email started like this:
"We are Angela and Pablo, two Spanish archers that practice 3D archery. We are fortunate to have plenty of 3D clubs near Madrid, where we live, but that doesn't mean we don't carry our bows to other countries when we travel abroad, always looking for opportunities to shoot among other fellow archers, be it 3D, field, etc."
Little did we know at that time that ordering those two bows would be start of a new archery journey where we would meet great people and enjoy our passion in new and profound ways. Fast forward to Friday 21st of April 2017 and you could meet us at a 16th century farmhouse restaurant and bar near Taunton, Somerset where we ordered a couple of pints after a flight from Madrid to London Gatwick and 3+ hours by car.
We were tired but excited, the anticipation for the weekend was there in every comment or deep breath. St. George's shoot was a true archers' gathering where traditional archery and fellowship where the main themes amongst SPTA members and sympathizers. Far from cultural appropriation we would indulge ourselves in different archery tests that would honour different peoples and ways of practicing archery. If you had been with us during that dinner you would have surely grinned at the prospects of failed expectation management, and you had been proved wrong 48h later. So let us tell the story of the 2017 St.George's Shoot!
We had too much breakfast. Our AirBnB host, Alyx, had decided that we should eat as a full company of archers or so it seemed. We didn't complain, we couldn't with our mouths full of toast, ham, homemade preserve and cheese. We took the car and drove 5 min to Taunton's Scout Camp, the place where the shoot would be taking place. We were greeted by Hilary Greenland, who was already carrying her megaphone, and said Hi to the people already there. We had Swiss, Dutch, Hungarians, Germans, French, Turkish, the various UK nationalities and Spanish, of course. The morning was a bit cold, the sky overcast but the rain was nowhere to be seen. The Scout Camp had a nice and simple complex of small buildings next to the car park where vans where outnumbering cars. The dining hall contained a fully equiped kitchen and was spacious enough to host all of us during meals and meetings. You could always find people happy to chat about archery and what not. Outside we had a small covered wooden alley where a practise target boss was placed and around the corner there were various other facilities to help manage the whole camp.
At some point we saw Richard Hornsby arrive, an always great archery partner whom with we have shot in the past. Some people from Facebook that I immediately recognised where there, like Peter Dekker or Raph Rambur, but also Alvaro Blanco and Carol Edwards. Two energetic Hungarians where warming up nearby with their characteristic bows and technique and the rest of us where basically having a morning cup of tea and setting up our equipment.
Now, despite owning two excellent bows that would have felt at home here, we were not brave enough to bring them by plane. Unfortunately, we had had bitter experiences in the past with our carefully packed archery equipment and we were not ready yet to endanger our precious ones so instead we brought a beginner's American flatbow for me and Angela's "travel Bearpaw Slick Stick". They looked a bit odd surrounded by plenty of English Longbows, traditional composite bows, and even a Yumi bow but that's what we could bring to the shoot and they were our bows anyway. [Note: there were other american flatbows with arrows rests but the point remains]
The plan for Saturday was kind of relaxed in the sense that we would be able to do everything and still have time to chat and wander around. We would start with Clout archery and then continue with volleys against Genoese crossbowmen and French men at arms. After lunch it would be time to fully experience the Tibetan shoot and the Popinjay shoot.
With our 25# and 35# bows, Angela and I would have to make the most out of them to cover their respective Clout distances (Gents and Ladies) in order to hit the Bhutanese target or the Clout target at either side. You really needed to nail the 43-45 degree angle and have good form and technique. The arrow flights were great. First came the gents with their volleys. All sorts of bows shot their three allowed arrows to the tiny target 180 yards away in successive turns, making the field around the target look like a nice Spring arrow field. No matter how many times we went there and back again, the target would remain pristine, until one gent was able to score. The ladies would shoot after the gents advancing several dozen yards and shoot with their statiscally lower poundage bows at the same target. Everyone soon realized that they were succeeding where the gents weren't. I'm not saying they constantly hit the target but they were able to score 3 times. Even with these low scores, would you think people got frustrated and tired? Not at all! We continued to shoot our arrows again and again, walking to one target, collecting arrows, turning back and shooting again at the opposite target like civilised maniacs, if you know what I mean.
I think it was around that time when we saw Jonathan and Angharad come, so we immediately went to greet them. They both speak really good Spanish but more than that, they are, father and daughter, a cheerful and easygoing couple.
At some point Hilary decided we had had enough of Clout and instructed us to attack the Geonese crossbowmen and French men at arms targets. At a slighter closer distance, several "actual size" targets looked defiant. I guess we were all so busy nocking our arrows and emptying our quivers lighningly fast that we all forgot to shout "Saint George!". (Half of us were foreigners so shame on the Brits!) But, yeah, I don't think we needed much encouragement, really. Angela and I looked at our 9-10 arrows and dreamt of having twice that so instead we enjoyed how other kept pouring arrows at the stoic frenchmen when we had already exhausted our ammunition. Even if it was technically easier to hit them than the absurdly small Clout target, not many arrows hit home so each of them was worth a picture if not a victory chant.
I can't tell how many arrows we had shot when Angela decided she had to stop for a while to prevent her arm from feeling a bit sore. You see, you really lose count when there is absolutely NO CONSTRAINT. There is no such thing as too many arrows but sometimes you simply need to rest a few minutes to be able to continue.
Long after any "official score" had really lost all of its meaning, we kept shooting more and more arrows but at some point Angela and I decided to have a break and have something to eat so, joined by other traitors, we fled the battlefield and headed back to the shoot's HQ. Some coffee and a tasty venison burger did the trick while we chat with Alvaro, a nice Spanish guy living in France. It was now obvious that the rain would not pay a visit that day. On the contrary, we were enjoying a particularly sunny day. People would mention the fact in rather low voices, fearful of spoiling it.
Anyway, time passed and we went back to the field, but this time we were faced with the Tibetan target where small groups of four or five archers would have to withstand the most terrible of tests; shooting their arrows (3) while everyone else was making distracting noise with whatever they had at hand (whistles, trumpets or rattles). As long as you did not touch the archers, all that deafening noise was considered "fair play" and since we all regarded ourselves as followers of true sportsmanship we fought hard to be the fairest player of all. The Tibetan target was seldom hit, to be honest, perhaps also due to its distance but when it happened, the whole group would be "encouraged" to observe the Tibetan tradition of dancing all their way to the target. The rest of us, posseded by our maniac version, would all repeatedly shout "Dance! Dance! Dance!" somehow making the whole scene less Tibetan and more Mad Max'ian. There were some cool dances, though, like the "I am aeroplane and I am about to crash" one or tributes to "The Sound of Music" film.
When everybody had gone through three little glimpses of the Archer's hell, we went to try out the Popinjay shoot, one of our favourites. At the top of a 45-feet pole rested a rubber duck. The duck would be "softly" stuck so it could be knock down by an arrow shot almost vertically from an archer standing at the post's base. Here we had to shoot flu-flu blunt arrows, of course, and we had three attempts.
So there we went, eager to be the one taking the prize (the rubber dick itself and a lot of points). The gentle wind made the post bend a little bit making it really impossible to hit the duck without a fair share of luck. Many tried without success with some notable exceptions. Tamás, one of the Hungarians, clearly shot his first? arrow so close to the duck that we heard it touch it. Angela, with her second arrow actually hit the duck twice (point and fletching probably) but her arrow also passed by without knocking the rubber duck down. The sun was high in the sky and we were all sitting on the grass like a collective picnic watching how arrows went up, some really close to the duck, only to go down fruitless. This obsession continued for far more than the 3 attempts per archer. Jürgen Junkmanns from Germany even tried with two arrows at the same time (and he nearly hit it several times). Some of us were happy with three or four attempts but some could not resist the temptation of meeting the post again and again and again. There was no reason to stop shooting arrows so why do it? At some point Angela and I decided that there could be some need of us at the camp HQ (dinner, general stuff) so we went back. When we were halfway through we suddenly heard a big cheer coming from the field, the rubber duck had been obviously knock down at last! We later knew it had been Adnan, the Turkish, who decided to stick the rubber duck to his cap from that moment on.
You can easily spot Adnan here
Before dinner was served Carol took Angela to the practise target to test some arrows. The plan was to find matching arrows for her Mollegabet at home, in Madrid. Her AFB was not exactly a similar bow but it allowed Carol to see how Angela shot with a similar in pundage bow. She quickly found the right arrows (she had brought dozens) and an order was placed immediately.
We had a special surprise before dinner. Peter Dekker had prepared a 30 min talk about composite bows. He would talk about the three main categories, the myths surrounding them, their distinct features and their advantages and many other useful bits of information. It was informative and entertaining and was a really nice "ending" for the day. It showed that the SPTA values knowledge about traditional archery and while some of us know less than others, sharing is important. We all gave a big round of applause when Peter finished, he really know a thing or two about composite bows.
Dinner was a delicious portion of pulled pork. These generous porks had been slow-cooked for 6 hours so it was no surprise that they were so tender and tasty. We got our share of big potatoes and veggies and we enjoyed an exquisite homemade peach liquor (made using white wine) from Maren and Jürgen. Morale was high and nobody was feeling tired so we engaged in all sorts of conversations with other people, particularly Collin, Claire, Matt, Jürgen, Maren and Richard.
Since we were not sleeping at the site, like others, we parted at around 22.30h. We weren't exhausted but we wanted to have a full night's rest before a much busier Sunday ahead. On our way to the car, we felt great, the night was clean and fresh but when we got to our room we almost jumped into the comfy bed.
After another of Alyx's neverending breakfasts, we went to the shoot with the certainty that it would be a wonderful archery day. The first activity was the Field Course and groups for all field targets were sorted out quickly. We would be shooting with Richard and Collin and we would start at target #11.
Now, this Field Course had a few interesting quirks worth mentioning. First, it was a 14-target course with four pegs each. One pair of pegs (red and white) would bear orange tips and the other two (also red and then white) would remain plain. The instructions were that we would shoot the targets in two runs. The first run from the orange-tip ones and the second run from the plain ones. So far, so good. We even had an extra target, the infamous squeaky rats, that only score if your blunt arrow hits them so hard and so in the middle that they make an audible noise.
So, I said there were two pegs for two successive arrows each run but the second arrow was actually a trap! The first arrow would score normally, Miss/5/10, but the second one would go -10/5/10, meaning that if you missed the second arrow, you would deduct 10 points from the first arrow! Even though the second arrow was optional, I don't think anybody actually considered not shooting it! The fun was to actually reach 0 points and avoid a negative score. So your maximum score per target could well be 20 but your minimum score would -10 instead of 0. You have to be in a particular mindset to look at your score card, see a negative score building up as you progress through the course and not get frustrated.
Of course, the Field Course layout was an evil exercise determined to make everyone wonder whether we knew to shoot an arrow at all. But I think that's the fun of it. Twigs in the arrow's way, tree trunks blocking your view or the target, VERY small targets, totally uncomfortable shooting positions, you name it. So you have to picture us walking through the Huish Woods, finding the target and the first peg, nocking our first arrow, shooting it, hitting a twig instead and, with a trembling hand, reaching out for the second arrow and suddenly founding ourselves going a bit mystical about the wood's spirits and mumbling some surely inappropriate prayers to please them. Yeah, well, -10, the wood's spirits were not pleased at all with us, too iconoclast probably.
Collin, Richard and Angela
Obviously, the whole thing was a blast and I hope SPTA (typically, Carol and Hilary are in charge) keeps departing from traditional Field Course layouts where all shots are straight and clean. It's true that there is a thin line between enjoying some extra challenge and being at the brink of throwing your bow away but so far I've seen much thought put into these courses and they keep your mind ALMOST in one piece.
What do you think just happened? Exactly
I started quite strong actually, quickly going beyond the 100 mark (positive). Angela was struggling a bit with her wooden arrows, distances and all the twigs. For some reason she had the "perfect" height to find a lot of targets partially blocked by branches or even terrain. Richard had also a good start and Collin was also happy with his results.
Collin and his beautiful composite bow
We got all sorts of shots taking advantage of the beautiful woods. Except for the very long distance target I think we had them all. We decided to stop for a cup of tea roughly halfway through and we met Robyn, who had just started practicing archery and fancied horsebows. She had just arrived and had no equipment so Richard and Hilary quickly produced a bow, some arrows and protections. She would insist on shooting with her thumb so I think she put some tape or something around it and off she went with us! Richard was always helping her with some coaching and I was very glad that one of her first experiences with archery was at the St George's shoot.
Shooting at a wolf downhill
It looked like everyone had decided to resume the course at the same time because when we went back to it, there was a bit of a traffic jam at peg #1. It slowly faded away and we were again feeling "alone in the woods", now shooting from the other pair of pegs, resulting in almost completely different shots. In the end it really felt like 28 distinct targets, well done! That pause we made did me no good and I started to shoot quite badly. Collin kept his cool and Richard and Angela started to shoot better and better. Angela actually went from -50 to 10, always showcasing her beautiful technique and form. Richard had a great time with his second visit to the baboons where he aimed at the smallest of them and got 40 points (that baboon scored double!). I think I liked that shot the most and I caught it on camera so you'll see his first arrow there in video at the end of the article. He started to get better scores and he ended up with 90 points or so. I was able to "come back" and get a decent score of 75 (again, positive). Collin did not keep a score card so I can't tell but it was clear he had had a great time too. So, all in all, in retrospective, I think we managed to survive the test!
It was 14.30h when we finished. Yes, 14.30h. We were starving and we hadn't even started with the rest of the archery targets in the field so we rushed to the dining hall and ordered some venison burgers while each one of us continued our private list of previously interrupted conversations with other SPTA members.
Angela and I decided not to immediately go to the field and instead relax a bit. When we finally went there we were hit by a sudden realisation, we would not be able to shoot at all the different "stations". Let me briefly go through all of them so you understand what I am saying.
- Clay pigeon shooting (with foam discs instead and blunt arrows).
- Mongolians surs.
- Nepalese target.
- Horizontal popinjay.
- Speed shoot.
- Horseless back archery
- Flu flu in the bin
8 different opportunities to test your skill as an accomplished "all-terrain" archer. Plus Field Course, Popinjay, Clout and Le Army, that makes 12 quite different archery tests, that's SPTA's own version of an all-you-can-eat with a bow and arrow. It was a race between our hunger for arrows and time running fast so we quickly picked our top choices for the evening menu.
We started with the Flu flu in the bin. We later knew we had got it all wrong. You were supposed to shoot an arrow straight up and let the wind carry it a few meters in front of you where the bin was waiting to "capture" the arrow on its way down to the ground. Based on what we saw at the past Nepalese shoot, we went instead for a "one third of the draw length and slightly upwards" shoot. We tried to be gentle so the arrow would not hit beyond the bin but it was sooo difficult. The angle didn't help at all because the bin opening was an almost flat ellipse from our point of view. We shot our three runs of three arrows and we immediately looked around for our next pick.
The second stop was an obvious one, the clay pigeon shoot "foam disc version", where we waited for Richard to load the spring mechanism and launch the disc into a nice parabollic trayectory that went 5-6 meters high. We had our blunt arrows ready waiting for our instinct to shout "release!" and so we did, with little success (I managed to slightly hit one and that was all). Other people were waiting for their turn so we left the station empty handed but still laughing out loud.
Our eyes scanned the field for more fun and we made an easy choice, we went to the closest one not really knowing what was going on there. There were five pairs of 5-foot apart pegs at different distances covering a total (including start and finish flags) of approximately 70 meters. And there was also a sort of three-sided target. It was the horse(less) back archery test! It's a bit challenging to explain it so I will instead share a video of the whole thing. Just bear in mind two things. You must toe both pegs and in order to score your arrows fully you had to make the whole thing in 45 seconds or less.
Angela and I fell in love with this the moment we both crossed the finish flag for the first time. Yeah, of course the whole thing was a pun about horseback archery but it made so much sense despite that! Horse(less) back archery was our personal favourite for the whole weekend and we are already planning to bring it to Spain this year (plus the popinjay).
The next stop was much more relaxed. We joined Richard again and went for the Nepalese shoot. We had some nice shoots but Richard was the one who managed to hit the tiny gold. Have you been to those Spa circuits where you have different water temperatures and cabins? The Nepalese shoot was the "comfort-zone" gentle shower after the bucket of chilling water that was the horse(less) back archery. The perfect transition.
Richard is proud!
Time was really running out now so we went for the Mongolian surs and tried to hit the little baskets placed at a considerable distance. We used blunt arrows for safety reasons but they didn't have flu-flu fletching because we really need them to fly fast to the far away target. I cried with joy when I was able to hit 2-3 baskets in the already damaged wall by Richard a few seconds earlier. These type of targets require specific training that we lack but being 3D archers, it occurs to me that it's easier for us to quickly adapt our shoot to this unknown (at least for us) distances than other indoor recurve archers.
We only had time for one last archery stop, so we picked the speed shoot. Rules were easy. Empty your quiver as fast as you can in a minute shooting arrows at full draw at a target only a few meters away (I'd say 8-9 meters). Every arrow in the black or gold scored one. Angela had 9 arrows and I had 8 so we basically went for all of them. While Angela was shooting, Tamás was algo giving it the nth try and we could see his characteristic Hungarian style of holding the arrows with the bow hand to allow for a faster shooting cycle.
I have prepared a short video of this too.
We didn't even go for the 3 attempts, we stopped at our second one because by now it was obvious that we should be heading back to the dining hall and wait for instructions on how to help bringing everything back for Carol, Richard, Hilary and others so they could easily load their vans before they made it back the next day. So we did and we were sent back to the field to put everything in nice piles of stuff next to the restrooms cabin. We saw Jürgen, Peter, Angharad and Jonathan too there so it was a matter of minutes before everything was sorted out. We asked about the field course but Maren told us that it was nearly done so instead we went to store our bows and archery equipment in our car.
Packing stuff up
I was about to close the car trunk when I saw Jürgen's book about bows and arrows he and Maren had given us the day before and so I went to him asking for an autograph. He was happy to sign it and then I remembered someone had told me Jürgen had a bow of his own making to sell, a "Viking bow". I asked him about it and he immediately produced a beautiful 1.80m long 50# Viking bow with its side nocks and characteristic nock sharp points. It was relatively thin in my hand and I tried to draw it but although I could, it was obvious it was not the bow for me. But Jürgen had a surprise waiting for me. He said "well, I have a weaker bow, it's 40#". Ooops... 40# is absolutely fine. My ELB is 40# and it's not an issue at all. So I tried that one instead, shot some arrows and... let's just say I now have a new bow added to my collection :). I will be writing an article on that bow later this month so stay tuned.
Anyway, it was raffle time! We had a lot of trinkets, odds and ends :) Some were actually great stuff and some others were borderline freak :D We had given our Ithilien's pin&patch pack and bought quite a few raffle tickets in return. It was a swift and fun raffle and nearly everyone got something, except for Maren, she probably got half of all the stuff on the table that evening!
The deodorants were the last to go, nobody wanted to give away their need so easily, tsk!
After that some people had to leave but some other people stayed. We didn't want the day to end at all so we stayed and had a great dinner with our SPTA friends, sharing wine, nice Welsh leek cheese and great French cheese too. There was a lot of stuff to eat. There was still some delicious pulled pork but also chili con carne, rice, potatoes, vegetables, sausages, salads, etc. At that point we were all satisfied both in archery terms and also in more earthly ways. There was even some wonderful Peach liquor left and the remaining of it was given to Angela, who treasured it like her archery mojo or something...
A sample of the dinner table next to us
Dinner and chat were great and we enjoyed both the company and the recent memories of a wonderful weekend. It was close to 11pm when we decided we were too tired so we said goodbye, wishing everyone safe travels and we went back to our AirBnB.
If you are still here with me reading these lines, well done! you have perhaps too much spare time :D but you'll agree with me that there are archery tournaments and there archery gatherings, and it's good to have a fair share of both but Angela and I could not live without the latter. The way SPTA and its members approach these events is an example to us and we are as grateful for their work and company as we are wishing we could do more. Let this article be a tiny token of gratitude to them.
I will now leave you with two short videos. They've got exactly the same content but one has music instead of real audio and the other one is real audio only. If you would like to watch both, I suggest you start with the music version first. Full screen is advised.