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By Mistress Elska and Baron Snorri

Archery has always been one of my more longer-term interests – as a teenager, I briefly shot Olympic-style archery, plus it’s how I found out about the SCA way back when; asking around for a place to shoot traditional-style longbow archery and finding the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn’s weekly practice. I vividly remember my husband saying after attending a handful of practices not to get too invested as he did not intend to drive me all over the place…! Boy, did he misread that situation… But then, during the plague, I was only one of many artisans who kinda sorta lost their groove and had a bit of a rough start getting back into things when events started happening again. Cycling back to my beginning, what really pulled me back to playing again was the archery range. Not only is it outside and people automatically keep their distance – especially since I shoot left-handed! – the ranges have become quite an interesting challenge and something to look forward to at many events.

Iron Will Junior posing with helpers THLord Bjarki and Akira Watanabe

Culminating this past weekend at Pax Interruptus, where I met my match and got foiled by Will, the Advancing Man. I shot at Will, but I did not get him… I must admit, while on the one hand I was disappointed to be eliminated from the finals that quickly, on the other, the visual of eight archers’ worth of arrows bouncing off a moving target wearing chain mail is quite a vivid sight to remember! The mastermind behind this target, and most of the ranges post-plague, is Baron Snorri skyti Bjarnarson from the Shire of Coppertree.

Baron Snorri has recently been elevated to the Scarlet Guard – the Kingdom’s grant-level award for prowess in archery – and of course he takes his job of promoting the arts of archery quite seriously. When I asked his thoughts on the archery community of Æthelmearc, he shared the following: “We’re lagging behind other kingdoms here, especially the East. We need our experienced shooters to come and shoot at practices and events, and our novice shooters to put in the hours of practice needed. Archery is first and foremost about prowess – no one calls light when you hit gold, and no one else gets to decide that your score was lacking in some subjective measure. It’s one thing to know, as a new archer, that Grand Master Bowmen exist in the SCA. That can seem unreal and unreachable, though! But when there’s one of them right next to you at practice, filling up the gold with shafts every round, you start to realize that it’s actually possible, it’s a real, attainable thing – this guy next to you on the range still puts on his pants one leg at a time, and if he can do it, you can too!”

And just as I enjoy upping my SCAdian game to make my wardrobe and brewing more plausibly period, Baron Snorri has a similar mindset in regards to archery. He feels that people doing archery in a medieval recreation society should actually be trying to do medieval plausible archery. “It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a little bit of a purist (some would say a snob – and maybe, sometimes, justly) about shooting period bows and arrows in the SCA. So, to practice what I preach, I only shoot ‘period’ bows, and I only shoot ‘period’ arrows.” He puts “period” in quotes as he is well aware that what he is doing, and virtually everyone else shooting in the period divisions of the SCA, isn’t really shooting actual period equipment – just the draw weight itself is significantly lower and most bows, even period-looking horsebows, use modern glues and have fiberglass components.

To help the archery community define “period,” the Society Handbook includes a definition of a “period” bow and arrows for SCA context. The broad strokes are that the archer would shoot off their hand, meaning no cut-out rest in the riser (handle) of the bow, and shooting arrows with self-nocks, that is, the nock of the arrow is cut into the shaft of the arrow, rather than being a glued-on commercially-made plastic nock. Since all SCA archers have to shoot with wooden shafts and feather fletchings anyway, we’re already halfway, so this does not seem all that hard, right?

But in Baron Snorri’s experience, the vast majority of archers in the SCA cannot seem to quite get all the way there: most are still shooting what’s generally referred to as “traditional” or recurve archery equipment. In the before-time, pre-internet, it could be difficult to get a bow that met the period archery requirements. No one really made them outside of hobbyists, and the traditional archery scene in the USA is huge, so recurve types of bows are readily available – often at garage sales and secondhand shops for a near-pittance. But now that we have the internet, bows of a much more medieval form are available from a bunch of different places. Both horsebows and longbows that meet the SCA’s definition of “period,” as discussed above, can be had for around $100, and a dozen appropriate arrows can be had for as little as $40.

Now, certainly that’s not “let’s go try out archery” money for most people. For a beginner, telling them to fork out $150 to try out archery would most likely kill their interest immediately. But Baron Snorri is not trying to make the case that a beginning archer in the SCA should be shooting period gear – just like no one’s telling a fledgling fighter that they should be buying a $500 helmet before they can fight. But, just like with fighting, where when a fighter reaches a certain threshold of skill and time-in-grade, it’s time for them to surrender the ancient bascinet from the loaner pile and start looking at something that fits their own head and persona. And when archers reach a certain skill and dedication level, I feel like they ought to be looking to set down their Samick Sage or their 1978 Bear recurve, and start looking to move to a period longbow or horsebow.

He is unsure why many archers do not take their equipment to the next level (if you have an idea why, Baron Snorri asks to please reach out and tell him!). “My current working theory is, again, availability of equipment. Although availability of bows is largely a moot point now that vendors such as AliBow, Flagella Dei, Ringing Rocks Archery, and many others are selling longbows and horsebows that meet the SCA’s period requirements for very reasonable prices. However, availability of arrows may be an issue. Many, many archers in the SCA either make their own arrows, or personally know a person who is making their arrows for them, and if this is you, then you’re my target audience for this next section…” (see the first bullet point).

As the Scarlet Guard doesn’t have a “mission statement”, Baron Snorri made his own (which I think is worth sharing here):

It’s my duty as a member of the Scarlet Guard to:

  • Mentor new archers, whether by running practices, offering equipment to try, coaching, assisting with equipment acquisition, and teaching associated skills like fletching and leather working.
  • Challenge experienced archers by running challenging and exciting ranges, traveling to events that have archery, shooting in tournaments, and issuing personal challenges.
  • Represent the Kingdom of Æthelmearc and our archery community in a positive light, by competing for honors for our Kingdom in the Pennsic Champion’s Shoot, SSAC, GAT, GET, IKAC, and other inter-kingdom competitions.
  • Maintain my prowess by continuing to practice and improve in all disciplines: handbow, recurve, and crossbow.
  • Find and nurture archers to become new members of the Scarlet Guard, by taking Students.

To cycle back once again: Will the Advancing Man is both my nemesis, and a very well-done functional moving target. To entice other archers to challenge themselves against this wicked warrior – to shoot at Will! – I am letting you all know ahead of time this invader of our Sylvan Lands will make another appearance this coming weekend at Bog 3-Day! In the general shoot, the “easy” version is just a painted cardboard Viking warrior with a spear and a shield in the East Kingdom’s colors, attached to an upright backstop that’s about eight inches of closed-cell polyethylene foam on a 4-wheeled sled (want to make your own sled? Take a look at the Gallery of sled pics). Will the Advancing Man is shot as a 30 second timed end, with the sled starting about 40 yards out, and advancing to about 10-15 yards out. Hits to the warrior count for 3 points, hits to his shield or anything else are zero.

For the quarter finals, Iron Will Junior is something else: the cardboard Viking is removed and a “real” Viking is assembled by ‘dressing’ the backstop in a linen Bocksten tunic, a padded linen gambeson (worn backwards), and a real metal maille shirt. Snorri and his team added “arms” of duct-taped pool noodles with gloves on the ends, and a Styrofoam head. They glued a wig onto the head, and used expanding spray foam to securely attach a conical steel nasal helmet. The arms and head were attached to the body with 12” sticks of shaved rattan, just jammed between the layers of backstop foam. An old wooden shield was attached with a ratchet strap to cover his “legs.”

It is shot as a timed end in the same way as before, but at Pax all eight quarter finalists shot at the same time, with the four who stick the most shafts into him advancing to the semifinals.

Long Bodkin Medieval Glue-On Arrow Points

Medieval armor piercing arrow heads, called bodkins, as available from 3 Rivers Archery Supply.

To give well-prepared ‘period’ archers a leg-up, Baron Snorri had posted in advance of Pax that he would allow non-target points for this portion of the shoot. He was disappointed to find that only THL Bjarki took him up on this, and he only brought rigging-cutters for the semi-finals (to cut the water-bags, another really cool target), not armor-piercing bodkin points for Iron Will Junior… As this was a brand-new target, I asked Baron Snorri how he thought it worked out: “I tested Iron Will Junior at home with a field point arrow shot at 20 yards from my 45-pound horsebow. I blew through the maille, actually destroying seven rings. I figured this would not be an issue for the other shooters. Spoiler: I was wrong. How it actually worked: less than half the shooters were able to pierce the maille. Some were unable to adjust and stuck no arrows – Forester Ælfric of the Midrealm was skilled enough to adjust his aim to the [tiny and helmeted] head and stuck two there. As this was meant to be an elimination round, that’s ultimately fine, but it’s a lot more fun if everyone can stick arrows!”

Will you do it again or tweak it? “One time is not a great test of anything. We’re going to run him exactly the same at Bog 3-Day this weekend and see how it goes. I do need to fix the “snowplow” on the front though. We put an angled piece of plywood on the front at the bottom, covered in 2’ insulation board foam and fake grass, so that no one shoots the tires (we don’t actually care about the tires, we shot one as a test and it was fine, because they’re not inflated tires – but if you shoot the wheels as it’s rolling, your arrows get broken), and the weight of the fully-armored Iron Will Junior pushed that down just enough that it dragged on the ground a tad and it bent. Minor adjustment is all it needs.”

What other archery events do you have planned? “In the spirit of putting my money where my mouth is, I took over as Marshal-in-Charge from Naran Noyon of the Pennsic Period Bow Shoot. This will be the 8th Period Shoot at Pennsic, and it is running from 9 AM to noon on middle Saturday at the archery range. I have a collection of period targets from medieval Europe and Asia to shoot, and prizes for the best participants. We even have a fabulous period dayboard prepared by Baroness Oddkatla Jonsdottir and Baroness Annika Iosafova on the range immediately afterwards. It’s always a great time to come see all the different period missile weapons and garb everyone comes in.”

“Here’s a picture from the 6th Period Shoot: at least nine of those folks are Æthelmearcians, and we were fortunate that year to also be joined by Their Highnesses of Ealdomere. This shoot is an excellent time every year, and is always the highlight of my war. If the Archery Champion’s Shoot is the Super Bowl of SCA Archery, the Period Shoot is the Pro Bowl.”

Is there anything new happening in Kingdom? “This all JUST came together, and I’m SUPER EXCITED about it: the Æthelmearc Holiday Shoot! Big thanks to Master Denys the Decadent for finding the new site for the Holiday Shoot, and to THL Alrekr Bergsson for agreeing to be my co-Autocrat and setting this all up with his local shire, Hunter’s Home. I can’t even express how excited I am – HRH Arnthor is going to choose his next Archery Champion at this event, we’re going to have a HUGE prize table, the owners of the range are very excited to have us, and there are over EIGHTY targets at this indoor range to shoot at. We got a great price ($15 for members, NO CHARGE for non-shooters) and I’m ecstatic about this event. I’m expecting shooters from four or five kingdoms to be at this.”

And what about the very-near-future? Bog 3-Day this coming weekend! The archery range will include:

  • Woods hunt with 3D animals
  • Woods walk with a very challenging Spot Shoot
  • Clout
  • Wands
  • Yahtzee
  • Some various flavors of bullseye targets at known distances, timed and untimed
  • A moving Advancing Man timed end
  • A pumpkin

The eight best scores from all that will advance to the quarterfinals and shoot at Iron Will Junior, and the four who stick the most in him will advance to do falling water-bag duels!

Baron Snorri would like to thank the following gentles, who are always there to back him up: “Big shout-out to THLord Bjarki for always being game to help with whatever I’ve volunteered us for, as well as Lord Dalibor, Lord Halfdan, Lord Godzimir, Lord Gunnlaud, and everyone else in Ætt Skyti. I’m not a member of their household, but they’re always there to help and shoot.”

And thank you, Baron Snorri, for your help with this story but most importantly, for making the archery range something exciting to look forward to!

Your enthusiastic student,