Past Meets Present at Golden Gate Park Archery Range

Past meets present. Golden Gate JOAD instructor Gerard Hughes, readied for a medieval archery tournament, poses with Golden Gate JOAD archery student Patrick and his modern, Olympic-style recurve bow.

As Golden Gate JOAD archers learned the latest Olympic training techniques, another group of archers brought the archery of the past to life with a medieval-themed archery event, “Debardchery.” The Shire of Cloondara, the San Francisco chapter of the historical recreation group the Society for Creative Anachronism, held its annual archery event and social gathering at the Golden Gate Park Archery Range. SCA members attended in their own historical garb, and also welcomed the public in, providing them with loaner tunics and even archery gear.

The event featured multiple contests of archery skill, as well as for bardic talent and in prowess tossing a four-foot long pink flamingo proxy for distance–this is an SCA gathering that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

A bow set up for the Debardchery novelty archery contest at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park Archery Range.

The archery contests included a novelty round shot at an eclectic array of hand painted targets with inventive scoring. Targets included a cart loaded with wine barrels, with the highest score for hitting the spokes, hub or rim of the cart wheel (but not in between the spokes), a crescent moon and crown, a landscape and more. The final archery event was an SCA “Royal Round” consisting of single, un-timed 6-arrow ends at 40, 30 and 20 yards, and a timed speed end at 20 yards where archers were given the chance to shoot as many arrows as they could within 30 seconds for score. All ends were shot at a 60cm FITA target scored by the colors only, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 from the gold center out. The Royal Round scores are used to handicap archers in to ranks.

The Royal Round as practiced by the SCA is inspired by medieval archery but is, fortunately for most of today’s archers, a round that is very modern in terms of distance and target. Medieval archery practice was practice for military archers at the long distances that often give English longbowmen such a devastating advantage. Twelve score yards (240) was a distance that Englishmen were once required by royal decree to practice at to keep the country in readiness for war. Heavy draw weight bows were needed to shoot such distances, estimates range from 80 to 185 pounds–weights that require constant practice to draw, practice that is beyond the interest or ability of most modern archers, especially recreational archers.

The long distances we still shoot in outdoor Olympic-style target archery are the decedents of those military distances and practice sessions. In the 1700 and 1800’s when the English gentry took up archery as a social pastime they typically shot at distances of 60 to 100 yards using Englsih longbows–though the draw weights were much lighter than the English warbows of medieval times. Horace A Ford, the greatest target archer of the 1800’s, shot bows in the mid 50 pound range. Today, Olympic-style recurve archers still shoot long distances, including the FITA round shot at 90, 70, 50 and 30 meters. And they shoot about the same draw weight as Victorian target archers with 60 pounds being the maximum draw weight allowed.

This gets us back to that confluence of old and new, the Royal Round. To Medieval, Victorian and even modern Olympic-style shooters, 40 yards is considered a close distance. It is certainly a fairly modern distance, 30 and 20 yards even more so. But while 40 may seem close to some archers, it is also pretty darn far to recreational archers, especially shooting traditional bows without sights. They Royal Round is a modern compromise that still offers a challenge to archers, while at the same time allows archers to use lighter weight bows if they wish and still make the distance. And, of course, SCA archery is not limited to the Royal Round, but it is great that they have some accessible archery available for those archers who haven’t been practicing since childhood to be English longbowmen.

The Royal Court holds session at the The Shire of Cloondara’s Debardchery archery event.

Debardchery is a fun and welcoming archery event and one that local archers should consider attending in the future. Contact The Shire of Cloondara for more information.