Archery has been around for roughly 10,000 years. Understandably in that time, it’s managed to accumulate some relatively famous practitioners, from Robin Hood, who probably wasn’t real, to the Green Arrow, who definitely isn’t real. The fact that most famous archers are works of fiction tells us a lot about the mythology behind the sport, namely, that it’s the sole preserve of ruthless vigilantes with a thirst for justice. Compare them to guns for example. Guns are loud, boorish, and require minimal skill to aim and fire. It’s why they’re so popular in America. A bow and arrow by contrast, is difficult to use, but it’s as quiet as a breeze, and you feel the baddest man on the face of the earth when you strike down whatever was stupid enough to get in your way.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night. I’m standing in the Talybont sports hall, ready to dole out some justice to the targets at the end of the cricket nets that have been carefully erected by the good folks of the university archery club. Now, in the interest of transparency, this isn’t my first time on a range. I worked at a summer camp in the United States for a number of years, where it was apparently a good idea to entrust children with weapons. And in between pleading with them not to try and 360 no-scope the targets, I managed to pick up the general idea of the whole lark. Point, shoot, high-five everyone after hitting the target. Just like the Glam toilets.
The first thing I noticed in the nets, and it really was the only downside of the whole experience, was the giant line of people waiting to shoot. There were four targets, with about eight archers at each target. Each shot took about a minute, and with the detailed coaching offered by the incumbent members, it was taking around half an hour to shoot three arrows. I should have seen the signs when people began sitting down and opening books that they’d bought along. But apparently, this was the last week in which people would be shooting individually, so there would be much more opportunities in future.
Eventually, I got my turn. Determined not to let the last half hour go to waste, I got set, knocked the arrow, and took aim. I was advised to take note of all my movements. Consistent repetition is the key; most of the veteran archers had their own idiosyncratic quirks, but they were the same every single time they stepped up to the line. I let go of the arrow, and it flies straight into the wall, about a foot wide of the target. I am almost certain I have broken the arrow. The equipment sec smiles and tells me it’s not a problem; she spends most evenings fixing arrows fired by idiots like me. Encouraged by her words, I fire my next two into the wall. They look to be broken too. I wouldn’t like to see her out of a job.
But with more practice I slowly begin to improve. It turns out that advice about consistency is super important. My hand draws the arrow back to the same place, I look to the same point on the target, I hold my breath because that’s what the snipers on Call of Duty do (and this is basically the same thing), and I start to hit the target more consistently. One arrow scores a nine! A goddamn nine! Out of ten! It doesn’t matter that the other two barely stayed on the board, I feel like a warrior king.
And therein lies the great appeal of archery; it really is a throwback to a different time. We live in a time of unparalleled leisure, and rarely have to use our own hands to do anything. I don’t have to kill my own food, I don’t have to build my own housing, and the only thing I really have a hand in actively creating is this newspaper, which I made on a computer. It feels nice to do something that’s so quintessentially primeval, because it’s an activity that connects you with literally millions of human beings that came before you. It might be an anachronism, it might be redundant, but there’s no denying that on the rare occasion that everything aligns perfectly, it’s a thing of beauty.
Archery is on from 5:30-8:30pm on Wednesdays at Talybont Sports Centre. The club also have access to a range at the Heath.