Indulge me for a moment…

While I talk about archery. I am the new-ish owner of a 68 inch, 35 pound longbow of breathtaking beauty. I am not a sporty type, due to a combination of a metabolism that never seems to deliver the payoff that exercise offers other people I know; resentment at my upbringing within a culture of reflex adulation for those who achieve in this field, and the contradictory forced inclusion/ridicule-saturated exclusion of those who don’t; and the, well, mundanity of most of its available manifestations. Most sports, until you get to be really, really good, have no use for imagination. Because of its ancient, varied and dramatic history, archery cannot really be separated from its imaginative context. All right, what I mean by that is that you can pretend you’re Legolas. Take that, soccer!

Movie still of Katniss drawing her bow in the woods.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

The best thing about archery is the instant gratification. Even as a beginner, shooting at a distance of, say, 20 metres, it will take very little time before most of your arrows will hit the target. Not the middle, but somewhere thereupon. So you feel the tension in your body on the draw, you release it, and you are instantly rewarded with a satisfying ‘thwack’. Also the kit is so goddamn sexy. While I completely understand the attraction of the bells-and-whistles compound bow, or the sensible recurve, the graceful simplicity of line of a longbow is what makes me sigh.

All this is bringing me around to what I really want to do, which is direct you to a series of great posts I stumbled across, while I was in no way Googling pictures of Jeremy Renner. Jim MacQuarrie of Geek Dad has analysed the archery technique of Merida from Brave, Katniss from The Hunger Games, and Hawkeye from The Avengers, and it’s a fascinating read. In brief, he was ecstatic about Brave, was impressed by Jennifer Lawrence, and absolutely took Hawkeye apart.

It seems that the artists on Brave did some serious homework, not only on what good archery looks like, but on the common ways that people screw up. Each of the three archers competing with Merida is convincingly bad:

“all of the guys who are doing it wrong are doing it wrong the right way; that is, they are making the actual mistakes that beginners and self-taught archers make.”

When he gets to Hawkeye, looking at a publicity shot of Jeremy Renner filming in front of a green screen, he spots that there is something you wouldn’t expect about his arm guard, which is used on the arm holding the bow to protect from the occasional whack with the bowstring on release, which can give you a nasty bruise:

“Why would the world’s greatest archer wear two arm guards? Some of my students don’t even use one, so why does he need two? Because he’s smacking the crap out of his arm, that’s why. I bet there are many hilarious out-takes of Renner wincing, shaking his injured arm and cursing a lot after each shot.”

He gives a terrifically detailed breakdown of everything in the actor’s form that makes it unlikely that he could make any of his arrows hit the Chrysler building from 42nd Street. MacQuarrie did write a revised assessment after seeing the Avengers in full, as his original post was based on watching the trailer. He believes that Renner, and probably the editors too, did some work in between the preview and the premiere. On a different blog, he has also applied his expertise to the archery equipment in a range of other works of fiction.

Production photo of Jeremy Renner drawing Hawkeye's bow, in front of a green screen.

What’s wrong with this picture? It depends what you’re looking for.

Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies

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22 replies

  1. can i start up some old fashioned fisticuffs re: recurve vs longbow in these comments? :oD
    i’m super excited because after moving across the country and across the world and back again, i’m finally picking up my bow (a beautiful recurve) for the first time in four years. i’m scared that i won’t be able to draw it all the way back after four years out of practice.

  2. Bring it on, sister! It sounds as if you’re on your way to a beautiful reunion. What’s the draw weight?

  3. Archery appeals to me. I like to watch it, I like the patient, calm nature of it, and the precision. Plus, you’re totally shooting stuff. I tried it once in high school, but depressingly couldn’t get the arrow to fly far at all before it skidded along the ground, still metres short of the target. It also seems like a useful skill, should peak oil or various other TEOTWAWKI scenario occur.
    If I wanted to have a go, without investing in my own bow etc, is there anywhere I can go? I live in Adelaide.

  4. I have a 35 pound longbow too 🙂 But I have a touch of tendinitis in my left elbow so I had to stop after a couple of dozen arrows when I shot it on the long weekend 😦 But I did get a Norman knight right in the head with my first shot (painted boogie board target). We’re off to do more shooting on Sunday, I suspect I will be mostly spectating *sigh*

  5. Oh, man, I miss archery. Another film that features a hero with a bow is Blade: Trinity. Abby’s arrows have tips filled with UV light for killing vampires. Aw yisss.

  6. It sounds wonderful – wish I’d tried a greater variety of sports when I was younger.
    I tried fencing while at Uni but unfortunately already had a dodgy knee which meant the lunging and *monty Python Frenchman voice* Knees-Bent-running-arounda was no longer possible. Same kind of romance about it, and the sexy kit thing, too 🙂

  7. Did you know that Lindt chocolate bunnies will explode if you shoot arrows at them?

    Arcadia, do you want to do mediaeval style archery, or modern? I can put you in touch with some people if you are interested in the former, but for the modern I would just try looking up archery clubs. I think there are a couple in Adelaide. The university (of Adelaide) has a shooting range in the parklands I think, so that might be an option if you are a student.

  8. Arcadia: here is the South Australian page of Archery Australia. I wish my Latin was good enough to make a joke about your appropriately pastoral name. Mimbles, it sounds like we need a shoot-off.

    • I love archery. My daughter and I were doing it together a couple of years ago (quite close to you, orlando!), and then the wheels fell off. IT would be good to start doing it again.

  9. Hoyden archery outing! We should do it sometime.

  10. Mimbles @4

    I have a 35 pound longbow too…

    35 pounds? Isn’t that a pretty hard pull? Or am I missing something?
    I’m no archery expert, but I do do a little archery at the YMCA place we go to for a week each summer, and IIRC the bows they usually give people are 20 lb. I’ve been using a 24 lb., and I don’t think I could go higher and consistently hit the target. And I’m a fairly big guy. I don’t think I’d be safe to be around if I were trying to shoot with a 35 lb. bow.

  11. It’s not particularly heavy for a longbow, my husband’s bow is 45 pounds and there are plenty heavier ones around. I have a longbow because that’s what fits with the historical reenactment we do, I make no claims to being particularly good with it but I can generally hit the targets at shorter ranges, with the occasional bullseye to keep my spirits up.

  12. @angharad: I honestly don’t know that much about archery to even answer (upon reading the links on this post, I then google image searched the various bows so I had an idea of what we were talking about), but I will guess that medieval archery sounds more difficult.
    @orlando: Perhaps best to hold off on the latin. My first boyfriend who attended a fancy private school was taught it, and commented to me that it was quite useful for deciphering school mottos, but that was all. I personally don’t know any.
    And thanks for that link, the Eden Field Archers are closest to me. Which sounds appropriately pastoral:)

  13. You’ll be able to say “et in Eden Arcadia”. Sorry, couldn’t resist (tigtog, did I just embarrass myself?). I was able to decipher that the Hogwarts motto is “don’t tickle sleeping dragons”.
    For those who are curious, Katniss is using a longbow in the picture above, while Hawkeye has a recurve.

  14. Since we’re talking about archery, and Hunger Games came up:
    some of the archery-related things seemed a bit unrealistic to me.
    First of all, near the end, Katniss shoots someone with a single arrow, and the victim falls over dead within seconds. My understanding was that arrows kill by making the victim bleed to death, so unless she managed to pierce the heart, it would take a while for the victim to die. Even piercing the heart, it wouldn’t be instantaneous. Or am I missing something?
    I was also wondering how Katniss, back when she was hunting in the woods around district 12, could consistently hit a squirrel or other small animal in the eye, especially with home-made — or rather, field-made — arrows. I’ve noticed that the arrows from the archery shed where I do my little bit of archery vary in how they shoot, and I’m sure they’re a lot better, and a lot more uniform, than the ones you could make from the materials and tools you could find in the woods. How much can a good archer compensate for less-than-perfect arrows?

  15. Ah, archery! My dad gave me a nice recurve bow a few Christmasses ago, and even though I only shoot when I’m visiting home (Brisbane suburbia is a little risky), I can now shoot lemons off the tree. 😛 There is something very satisfying about archery – I love the movements, the slowness, the precision. It is kinda sexy!
    And oy, you Latin-is-useless people, I’m a classics student in fourth semester Latin and I absolutely love it and it is very useful for Ancient History! So there. (This semester we’re translating Book 4 of the Aeneid. It’s gorgeous, and very very sad, and we have heated arguments about who is being wronged more – Dido or Aeneas!)

  16. Jo, one of my favourite quotes is from the Aeneid! Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit – Perhaps one day even these things will be a joy to recall. Quoted by a character in Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover as she was about to go to the guillotine. I cried. Also, lemons? Cool.
    tigtog, I was shooting for the Poussin painting, I’d forgotten about Brideshead.
    AMM, in the book she shoots him in the neck, which strikes me as likely to be quick, if grisly. I think the movie tried to soften up the violence, and for some reason a shot to the heart is regarded as less confronting. As for the squirrels, if you know your individual equipment very well you can adjust for its quirks (hence the way when she first shoots the bow in the demonstration for the gamemakers she is wildly off). Though you’re probably right.

  17. orlando @18

    AMM, in the book she shoots him in the neck, which strikes me as likely to be quick, if grisly.

    Actually, I was thinking of the end of the series, i.e., when she shoots Coin. Coin is described as falling off the balcony dead immediately after the shot. If it were an ordinary arrow, even a hunting arrow, I would have expected that the medics would have been able to save her.
    The only rationalization I can think of is that the arrow had something added to make it more lethal — poison, small explosive, whatever. Made more probably by the fact that she was expectd to kill Snow with it. But the book (Mockingjay) doesn’t explain.
    Throughout the series, it seems like whenever Katniss manages to actually hit someone with an arrow, they die right away.

    • AMM, on wading into some bowhunter forums, it appears that targeting the joints around the chest area on most large animals is considered best practice – if you can get a shot into the gap between the shoulder joint and the rib cage with a broad-headed heavy arrow, even using a wood shaft (there’s a whole slew of traditionalist bowhunters) then you’re likely to sever some major blood vessels, and if you manage to get a through-and-through shot that severs one of the major blood vessels around the heart then the animal can lose consciousness very quickly, and bleeds right out not long after.
      I’m sure you’re right that instantaneous death a la Katniss is not really feasible, but almost-instantaneous shock/unconsciousness leading shortly thereafter to death might not be. With Coin, if the arrow severed major blood vessels, I’m not sure even the skills of those medics could have been able to get into the wound and repair those blood vessels quickly enough – the wounds we know of them being able to treat successfully were more peripheral wounds where people take longer to die ordinarily and therefore there is more time available for medics to save them.

  18. Copied over from the Friday open thread, because it probably belongs here instead:
    Went to a come and try archery day at a local archery club today, and my 8 year old had a go too. Loved it. Time was limited – it was a free event, gear supplied, and lots of people were interested, but I was able to loose 18 arrows from a 20 pound recurve bow, all hitting the target, and a couple of those shots hitting the centre ring! I will have to wait months before I can go shooting more regularly though, as you have to complete a three week beginners course first, and that’s booked out all the way to next April.
    The target was not far off though, only 5 metres I’m guessing. Definitely exercised some muscles in my back I’m not used to using, by my shoulder blades.

  19. Sounds like a great introduction 🙂 Good to hear your 8 year old was able to shoot too, not all clubs will let the younger kids have a go. We had a very frustrating time doing the beginner’s course at the Sydney Olympic Park archery range a few years back because you had to be 10 or older and Tom was 8 (they ended up bending the rules and letting him shoot, he did have his own bow after all!).

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