Welcome to Part II! For readers who crave for purely traditional archery, they can look no further than the Ranger’s Apprentice series. For 150 years, the Kingdom of Araleun has employed an organization known as the Ranger Corp to protect the realm from her enemies, foreign and domestic. When 15 year old Will’s plans to become a knight falls through, he unknowingly proves himself to become one of Araleun’s secret protectors.
Will advances with his recurve bow while Halt covers his apprentice with his longbow.
Throughout this book series, there are two types of bows that are known and used in the world of the Ranger’s Apprentice. The first is a recurve bow. This bow is given to apprentice rangers who are just starting their archery journey. Its appearance is similar to traditional Asiatic bows, particularly those used by the Crimean Tatars of the 16th century CE. These are composite or horn bows made of a wood core, layered sinew on the back of the bow, and horn on the belly of the bow. This combination of materials enables a bow of a short length to be used without breaking. In the book however, this bow is made of a lamination of several different kinds of woods to produce the same effect. It’s also said that while recurve bows produce high kinetic energy at lower weights, it cannot be made to higher draw weights which is why it’s only used by apprentices. This is contrasted by both horn and wood laminate bows of our world, which can be made to very high draw weights, in excess of 100 pounds if need be. Also in our world, horn bows are typically drawn using a thumb ring, which protects the thumb from harm as bow is only pulled with the thumb as compared to the three finger draw that is used both in our world and in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. When an apprentice is claimed worthy to be a Ranger, they put aside their recurve bow and is given another legendary weapon, the longbow.
Robert Pozderka using the thumb draw method with a Crimean Tatar bow. Note that the arrow is on the right side of the bow, rather than the left. This would be unusual when using the three finger method of drawing a bow, but is correct for the thumb draw.
While the recurve bow has taken inspiration from historical examples, the longbow of the Ranger’s Apprentice is identical the very same used by English and Welsh archers, to great effect, during the 100 Years War during the 14th century CE. These bows were typically 6 feet tall and made of a single piece of wood such as yew, elm, or ash. The wood is cut in such a way so that the natural features of it behaves similarly to a horn bow. The younger sapwood handles sheering or stretching force while the older heartwood handles compression. And the reason that the bow must be as tall is to allow the bow to be drawn as long as they typically do. Modern bows are usually measured to and only draw up to 28 inches. English longbows have been known to draw from 30 to 32 inches. If the bow is shorter, it cannot be drawn as far. That’s important because English longbows typically use heavy arrows that are three feet in length and are loosed at long distances. And to reach those distances, the draw weight of the bow must be heavy. 70 pound draw weight is typically considered the minimum for a military bow, but they go upwards of 100 pounds and more. Gloves or a leather tab for the fingers are a must as well as a bracer for the bow wrist for protection against the bow itself. For these reasons, the longbow is considered to be a bow only for fully fledged Rangers, as only with their experience and strength can they handle these types of bows.
Mark Stretton, in the brown vest, is the Guinness World Record holder of pulling a 200 pound war bow back to 32 inches, the full length of a medieval English arrow. He and a fellow war bow archer are pulling heavy bows that were used by English archers of the 14th century CE and the Rangers of the Ranger’s Apprentice books.
This post’s author with a Victorian style English longbow.
So now you’ve read a few books featuring some archers and you want to pick up a bow and loose some arrows of your own. I’d say it’s time for you to go to your local archery shop, which usually features a range for people to practice or to test any products they may want to try. Just in Bolingbrook, there is an archery range in the Bass Pro Shop. Being a big box outdoors store, their gear is primarily based towards hunting but you can get a decent start there. If you’re looking for a wider array of equipment styles, especially of the traditional leaning, Archery Custom Shop in Forest Park is a commonly cited place for that.
Nearby is also Chicago Bow Hunters, a private archery club that also has an indoor range and some property for field archery. They hold monthly events that are open to the public. Lastly if you’re willing to take a 30 minute drive to Warrenville, you’ll find the archery range inside the Blackwell Forest Preserve. It is an outdoor range that goes out to 100 meters and is totally free to the public. You just need to provide your own equipment. It’s my home range and during the warmer seasons, I’m usually found there on the weekends, but sometimes sporadically on the weekdays.
I hope that these books and the archers found inside them inspire you to read more stories about them and most of all, to pick up a bow yourself and become a part of a noble tradition that is as old as humanity itself.