gearing up for a gold rush
"All that most people can think of when they hear about archery is Robin Hood, William Tell, bows, arrows and feathers," says John Williams, a gold-medal winner at the Munich Olympics. "People don't realize that archery has changed."
It may have changed more than any other sport. "When I started shooting in 1929 we shot by instinct because we didn't have sights," recalls Millie Hill, a former U.S. record holder. "Then we got the idea to make a sight of sorts by attaching a blackheaded pin to a piece of felt on the bow. I remember how upset at first some people were over that."
"When laminated bows first came out we laughed and called them canoe paddles," says George Helwig, president of the National Archery Association.
"After Emil Pikula finished second at the nationals in '37 while using tubular aluminum arrows, he was called a poor sport," says NAA Executive Secretary Clayton Shenk.
Those who snickered or complained about such new gear were soon silenced by one irrefutable fact: sights, laminated bows and aluminum arrows enabled archers to hit the target's 10-point center gold ring with increasing regularity. Equipment in most sports has undergone only minor alterations in recent years, but with technological advancements promising more and more gold there has been a revolution in archery's accouterments.
No longer does an archer merely pull back on a bowstring attached to a makeshift bow and let his often-misshapen arrows fly. Laminated bows come in a rainbow of colors and can send an arrow hurtling downrange at 175 mph. Feathers have given way to plastic vanes that produce truer flight. Bowstrings, once made of barbers' linen or from sinew boiled in water and then pounded to the proper texture, now are made of nylon.
Nocking points, kisser buttons, levels, stabilizers, contoured grips, sights and clickers have all become standard equipment. When an archer prepares for a shot, the first thing he does is to fit his arrow on the bowstring. But he no longer has to worry about it slipping out of position; it will be held there by a nocking point, a small metal or nylon disk clamped to the string. Helping to assure the archer that he has pulled the arrow back properly is a little gadget fastened to the string, a plastic button that at full draw fits between the shooter's lips. A bubble-type level tells the archer if his bow is true or on tilt. Stabilizers are steel rods on the front of the bow that help balance it while the forward hand cradles a form-fitted grip. With his aiming eye, the archer squints through a bowsight.
When the bow is level, balanced, sighted in and comfortably gripped and when the kisser button is in place, there is just one more thing to do before releasing. That is to listen for the clicker. This fingerlike metal device on the side of the handle clicks when the tip of the arrow has been drawn past it. The clicker allows the archer to concentrate on aiming without having to look at his arrow tip to be certain he has pulled back exactly the right distance. When the arrow is released, leather or plastic guards protect fingers from being cut by the bowstring or having it snap against forearms. With all this gear the bull's-eye opens wider every day.