Storms Ciara and Dennis have been shrieking overhead on recent Saturday afternoons at Horntye, lashing the South Saxons hockey players on the astro turf outside with horizontal rain. Not quite the best conditions for field sports, you would think. But inside the sports hall all is still, dry, pleasantly warm, and quietly sociable as around 25 archers, of both sexes and widely ranged in age, line up to aim their arrows at a series of targets across the floor.

It’s the regular weekly gathering through the winter of the Bayeux Bowmen, keen to maintain their skills but also to attract newcomers to the sport before the out-door season resumes in full earnest at the beginning of April. 

The Bayeux club was formed in 1993 by Pam and Terry White, the former a bronze medallist in the World Archery Championships in 1973. The current Bowmen have a permanent range near the village of Catsfield, open to members seven days a week for practice, and they compete one day a month in winter for the Frostbite League competition (perhaps should be renamed the Windchill this year). Winter matches, both outdoor and indoor, are ‘postal’, which means that, like in distance chess, you don’t actually have to meet up with your opponents; instead simultaneous shoots are conducted at respective home venues, and scores exchanged. Members also travel to open shoots all year round.

Meanwhile the Bowmen offer regular six-week beginners courses for up to six people at a time, with all equipment provided. You can also turn up any Saturday afternoon for an initial try-out – which is what I did recently. 

Genial chief coach Colin Ford sets me up with a forearm guard (against abrasions after arrow release) and a recurve bow (see adjacent column), and inducts me on health and safety issues: one hoot on the whistle to begin shooting, three to stop and retrieve.

I once tried clay-pigeon shooting, and found that I was left-eye dominant, though right-handed, a sighting problem that was solved for me by wearing an eye patch like John Wayne. With a bow it’s easier: Colin advises me just to turn it round and shoot left-handed. 

The arrow is put on the string via the ‘nock’ (notch at the rear of the arrow meets grooves in the string); the thumb, forefinger and ball of my extended right hand hold the bow straight and upright; the middle fingers of the left hand bring the bowstring back to the corner of my mouth; my left eye looks down the centre of the sight window to the gold centre of the target 20 metres away – then I let go. 

Unexpectedly, success seems to be a matter of timing. There’s a rhythm, or should be, in bringing the string back to its peak-draw position with perfect stability, then releasing it before that stability wavers.

“It’s all in the mind”, says Colin, encouragingly. “You have to believe on each
shot that you’ll hit the centre. If you don’t, you won’t.”

That self-belief must of course be earned – by concentrated practice. Unlike golf or snooker, or even darts, it’s basically the same unvaried shot over and over again, calibrated only microscopically by the distance to the target (anything from 30 to 100 metres in club competitions). The purpose: perfection. If you are a perfectionist, it’s your kind of sport.

Next beginners course starting at Horntye on 28th March 3.00-5.00pm
is already oversubscribed. 

But contact [email protected] to book a later course, and come for
‘Have a go’ sessions in the meantime.

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