The Battle of Towton took place on 29th March 1461. Two of the largest armies ever raised on English soil fought the battle which resulted in huge casualties and remains the bloodiest to have taken place in England. At the battle the Yorkist forces won a decisive victory over the Lancastrians. The generally accepted consensus is that the battle began in the traditional manner with an exchange of volleys between the archers, attempting to inflict damage to the infantry prior to an attack. Initially conditions were fine but over time they worsened and the main battle was fought in a blizzard. The blizzard had a marked impact on the effectiveness of the archers. The Lancastrians loosed their arrows into the wind ~ their vision was impaired and their range lowered. It is thought that a large proportion of their arrows simply fell short of the target. The Yorkist archers, on the other hand, had the advantage of the wind being behind them, which meant that not only could they see their target but also they could fire further into the mass of infantry. Casualties are thought to have been high as a result.
It’s unlikely that you will have to fight for your life in the way that those involved at Towton had to, but like them you can expect weather conditions to have an impact on your archery. This is because the conditions affect both you and your equipment and, whilst you won’t lose your life, your score might suffer. That being so, it makes sense for you to have an understanding of what impact the weather might have and to make appropriate preparations. For many archers that’s as simple as saying “I’ll not shoot in the rain or if it’s windy.” However, if you are going to a competition they will not postpone it until the conditions suit you and if you avoid the wind you are never likely to shoot on the field in Bingham.
Weather conditions, as everyone in the UK knows, can change from day to day and indeed on the day itself ~ the blizzard at Towton started after the battle was under way. This note looks at what different conditions might be and their impact on archers and their equipment.
The main variations we face are:
· Heat ~ whether it’s hot or cold
· Wind ~ whether there is any and if so what direction it’s coming from and how strong it is
· Precipitation ~ rain, sleet, snow, hail and whether there’s any thunder and lightning around
For simplicity we’ll look at each separately but in the real world there is most likely going to be a combination. So it may be cold and wet, cold and windy, hot and wet, hot and windy or even that rare day when it’s pleasantly warm with no extremes of humidity and no wind to speak of ~ we can always dream. Whatever the conditions the chances are they will have an impact on the archer and their equipment. The important thing is for the archer to be aware of the conditions, what effect they might have and how to deal with the particular combination of conditions you are facing. Many archers will not go out and shoot because it’s too hot/cold or it’s wet and windy, whatever it is they don’t like. As already stated competitions will not be cancelled or delayed until the conditions that you personally like prevail. For this reason archers should practice in all conditions so that they are ready for them in the future. It’s a bit like Daley Thompson’s well known rule about training on Christmas Day ~ because he knew the other Decathletes would not do so it meant he was better prepared, at least mentally. Archers who have practiced in different conditions are more likely to succeed when the heavens decide to deal you a bad hand. In the paragraphs that follow we’ll look at the different conditions and what archers can do to help themselves cope with whatever it is they face.
In the UK we are just as likely to have days when it is really cold as it is to be really hot. The simple thing here is that the archer needs to be appropriately dressed. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather it’s a matter of wearing the right clothes ~ but in addition to your clothes you may also find that conditions actually affect your kit and make it perform differently.
Hot days are probably easiest to deal with as taking off layers is simple and allows easier movement, when compared with those days when you are layered up to cope with the cold. We’ll look at clothing in a bit more detail later. The key thing is to ensure that whatever you wear it is as breathable as possible. Extremes of heat often come with high humidity levels and we will not cope well if we are hot and sweaty, so breathable fabrics that allow freedom of movement, at the same time as protecting the archer from sunburn, is the ideal. Sunblock should be in every archer’s kit bag, as should a drink.
Hot humid days lead to greater loss of fluid than on cool days and as we have a high percentage of liquid in our bodies replacing it is important. I’ll not go into detail here about what to replace it with that’s for elsewhere but will simply add that a simple isotonic drink, one with some salts in the liquid, is well worth having to hand. Many archers also use a cold, damp towel draped around their neck to help keep them cool. That’s another thing to put in your kitbag.
Tents are a regular feature on competition fields. Despite this most archers tend to use them very little, mainly as somewhere to store their lunch. This may be a mistake as the protection they give may well make a big difference. Similarly sitting down, not just at lunchtime but between ends is worth thinking about. In some competitions you can be on your feet for quite a few hours and if you are hot you get tired more quickly and once you are tired you lose the fine muscle control needed to deliver your best shot. So whilst it’s nice to wander up and down and talk to other archers, think of yourself and consider sitting down and resting from time to time.
Impact of heat on equipment ~ the part of a bow most likely to be affected by the heat is the limbs as they move and heat can affect how they do so; clearly that’s important. Modern recurve limbs are laminated with a variety of materials involved ~ wood, foam, carbon fibre and glass fibre not to mention the glue that binds them together. Each of these has a different response to heat and this can affect how they perform. To limit this impact it helps to keep your bow in the shade when not shooting it. This can be as simple as moving it into your tent, at a competition, or putting a cloth or umbrella over it to cut down the influence of heat and the sun. Other pieces of equipment may also be affected by the heat and you may find your sight marks are “wrong”. The simple thing here is to accept the situation and go with it acknowledging that when it’s hot your sight might have to come down/move back or even both.
Longbow archers are likely to be affected by extremes of heat more than most as the wood their bows are made from is usually laminated, like a recurve limb, and so has the issues touched on above but in addition they are made from a natural material which does not move as quickly when it gets hot as when it’s cooler. This means they lose cast and sight marks will change. Factor in the arrows also being made of wood which means they may flex differently when being shot and that will impact on both cast and direction. As already suggested keeping your bow and arrows in the shade may help, it’s certainly worth thinking about.
Cold Days ~ on a cold day you are likely to be wearing more clothes than when it’s warm. This can limit your flexibility as well as having an impact on string clearance. On hot days you want layers that you can take off and the same may be the case on cold days, of course it’s also important to be able to put them back on quickly. Many archers will have a jacket that they wear between ends, taking it off to actually shoot. This helps keep them warm. The impact of cold is less on equipment than on the archer ~ shooting with cold tight muscles means that you will be less effective and if you end up shivering then the fine motor control needed to get your best results is a lost cause. To avoid it the ideal is to have thin layers that allow freedom of movement but do not interfere with the bow and, in particular, string clearance. Gilets and body-warmers are a common sight on an archery field for just that reason. Gloves may also help ~ not necessarily while shooting but certainly in between ends when hand-warmers of various sorts are also useful. If you haven’t got a hand-warmer a cup of tea or coffee is a pretty good substitute.
Having said all that about clothing it is important that the archer keeps warm and supple throughout. This is why warming up before shooting is so important and ought not be neglected during the day, for example when there is a delay for whatever reason ~ moving distances, looking for lost arrows, equipment failure and so forth.
Tents are also helpful on cold days, particularly when it’s windy. You will find the temperature inside a tent is a degree or so higher than outside it, particularly if you close the entrance, and in addition you will also be sheltered from the wind. Just make sure you can hear the whistle and not miss your turn on the line.
There is an old adage that there is no such thing as bad weather just inappropriate clothing. AGB’s Rules of Shooting paragraph 307 details what is acceptable, these notes add a bit of flesh to the information there. Of particular interest is the requirement that clothing should be appropriate, clean, in good condition (i.e. not frayed or worn, either deliberately or by use) and conventional in style and appearance. Bear in mind that these are rules for competition, things will be more flexible at practice but, as with shooting in different conditions it makes sense to shoot in what you might wear for competition, that way you will find the items that aren’t quite right before they bother you when it’s serious and affect your score.
We have already touched on the idea of having different layers and breathable fabrics. In addition tight fitting clothing gives some support to muscles and so helps avoid injury. Modern Technical base-layers are well worth considering for just this reason.
Ease of movement ~ we’ve touched on this already but it bears repetition. Whatever you wear needs to allow for you being able to move around, draw the bow and pull arrows. So it mustn’t be restrictive but at the same time shouldn’t be baggy as that can impact on string clearance and shot execution
Now for some specifics…
Shoes ~ the basic rule about shoes is that they must enclose the whole front of the foot and toes, no open toed sandals or flip flops. This is straightforward common sense ~ arrows in the grass disappear and the last thing you want to find them with is your toes. Having said that it’s important that your shoes are comfortable. In a competition you can be on your feet for quite a long time and if your shoes are uncomfortable so will you be and your shooting will suffer as a result. Some coaches argue that shoes with thick soles are the ideal, not least because they also insulate you from cold ground. My view is that they need to be comfortable, waterproof and something you can wear all day ~ the style you opt for is entirely up to you.
Tops ~ at clause 307(a) AGB refers to clothing being dark green or white and this was certainly the case until a few years ago but clause 307 (c) (ii) states ~ any colour garments may be worn with the exception of blue denim, olive drab and camouflage pattern. Rules of shooting go on to refer to club and manufacturer’s logos, both of which are OK. What isn’t, at least in competition rather than practice, is wearing the kit of your favourite football team. More importantly tops need to “cover the front and back of the body (including the midriff when at full draw), they must not be strapless and, for gentlemen, must include sleeves.”
Waterproofs ~ as already stated weather can change quite quickly. It makes sense then for archers to have some form of waterproof ready for shooting in when it is wet. All the usual thoughts apply ~ it must allow freedom of movement and so forth. In addition it needs to retain its waterproof qualities when bracers, quivers and so forth are worn over it. As with everything else it makes sense to practice wearing it so that any adjustments can be made before an important day when your score matters. Ease of putting on/taking off any waterproof is key, given the speed with which conditions can change. As stated several times already, lightweight and breathable fabrics are ideal.
So in conclusion there’s a lot of things that can change on the shooting line and practicing in different conditions and wearing different clothing can only help you prepare for the worst that the heavens throw at you. Good Luck….