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The End of Archery?
[07/11/2007] [Ethan]

Whether you know it or not, there is a sizable number of people who would like to see archery removed from the game of Amtgard entirely. Countless discussions on the Forums and numerous debates in Althings have addressed the pros and cons of an Amtgard without archery; not because of some repressed inner hatred of the scores of Robin Hood-like personas, nor because of latent “arrow envy”. Rather, the subject on many minds and tongues concerns the innate dangers of archery and the potential for injury and property damage from unsafe or improperly-wielded arrows. Unlike any of the other foam-padded monstrosities that we so eagerly swing at each other on weekends in the park, Amtgard bows are ACTUAL weapons, with the ability to injure, cripple, and even kill. Even the smallest, 18-pound child’s bow can send an arrow cleanly through the soft tissue of throats, abdomens, genitals, and into eye sockets. Furthermore, wielding a bow with intent to harm is a felony, and using a bow (or any weapon) without regard to its potential for harm can constitute criminal negligence.

Our answer to the threat was to develop a system, based partly on the successes and failures of other LARPs, of arrow safety and construction that eliminates, or at the very least lessens, the danger of bow and crossbow use. Legal Amtgard arrows are heavily padded, large enough across the tip to distribute the force of impact over a surface larger than a typical human eye socket, and our bows are lightweight and chosen to provide the least amount of relative force behind those arrows. Those rules, however, are only as effective as those who follow them; though our rulebook is fairly clear about archery safety, and provides detailed guidelines for safe and proper arrow construction, there are still an uncomfortable number of unsafe and even deadly arrows circulating throughout the game. Truly, a more proactive and enlightened stance is necessary unless we are prepared to lose one of the key elements of our game, which sets us apart from many of our competitor LARPs.

With all of the potential for problems, why would ANYONE choose to use a weapon with such an innate capacity to cause harm? Why would we trade our reliable swords and shields for something that propels bulbous-headed monstrosities in an inelegant and clumsy trajectory with less accuracy than a sword slash or stab? Frankly, it’s all about the coolness factor: bow-wielding classes comprise only one out of every five on the battlefield, yet despite the odds, our 20% has the capacity to be as much of a threat as the other 80%. Historically, archers were the most successful hunters, because they were able to kill their prey from a safe enough distance that they lived to hunt another day. In warfare, archers have been known to turn the tide of battle and enable entire wars to be won against less sophisticated opponents.

On the Amtgard battlefield, archers are the Wizard-hunters, the armor-destroyers, the dragon-slayers, and the sifters that sort out the weak and whittle down the enemy numbers. A newbie with a bow can easily take out a fully-armored sword knight warrior before the warrior even gets close enough to engage. A line of archers can pick off healers and wizards, and take out assassins before they can get close enough to do their dirty work. Archers shoot projectiles out of the air, bounce arrows off shields into unprotected flanks, and decimate even the most devastating siege weapons. With the right protective enchantments, archers can pluck arrows right out of the sky and send them back to their enemies with deadly accuracy. And let’s face it, at every Amtgard demonstration I have ever attended, it was the archery range that drew the most interest. In the simplest terms, archery is über-cool.

Many discussions about Amtgard archery focus on the “potential” for harm; receiving injury from an Amtgard arrow is not a foregone conclusion, and with proper training, careful construction, and a near-obsessive concern for safety, Amtgard archery can be perfectly safe and a fun part of the game. The problem comes partly from people who do NOT treat their bows and arrows with the care befitting a true weapon; willful disregard for safety and reckless combat practices result in head shots, shaft shots, harm to spectators and non-combatants, and destruction of property. Every shot fired needs to be properly aimed, with regard to the consequences of a missed or deflected shot. This is especially important when Mundanes or children are present, but should not be neglected even if only hardened combatants are on the field.

Even so, this is not the ONLY problem area in Amtgard archery: though much of the potential for injury can be eliminated by teaching people how to properly draw and fire their bows in Amtgard combat, by far the first issue that needs to be addressed is on arrow construction. This is one area where a literal adherence to the rulebook is not sufficient, but an intelligent and careful approach to arrowhead construction is required in addition to the written rules. It cannot be stressed nearly enough that of all of the weapons used on an Amtgard field, the most emphasis needs to be placed on arrow construction because of the semi-random nature of how arrows are utilized in combat. Consider the fact that arrows are the only projectiles that do not have “courtesy padding” on their shafts, coupled with the fact that they are typically propelled faster and farther than any other projectile, and you have a recipe for disaster.

With that Sword of Damocles looming over our heads, it is easy to see why there can be no leeway or tolerance for ignorance in the topic of arrow construction. If you are fairly new to archery, talk to someone who is well-established and respected for their arrow construction techniques and have them teach you their methods, before you branch off and try your own. It is better to borrow a tried-and-true method that is guaranteed to be safe, then to try and come up with your own and risk having your arrows pulled for safety reasons (or worse, one of your “targets” pulled due to injury from one of your arrows). In a perfect world, ALL new archers would have to consult first with a more experienced, respected Amtgard bowyer before attempting their own designs.

In the instance that such consultation is unfeasible (or downright impossible), you can prevent impending doom by keeping in mind a few important details while building your arrows. Though cost is often a factor when preparing to purchase arrows for Amtgard use, it cannot be stressed enough that a poorly-made shaft is the quickest route to destruction for a potential archer. Although wooden shafts are allowed, these require a complete wrapping of tape to make them safe, which adds weight and changes the dynamics of the arrow. Aluminum shafts are also allowed, but can easily bend from repeated use which causes them to behave erratically. Therefore, the first consideration that needs to be made is what kind of arrow shaft will provide the most efficient long-term benefits; for this purpose, carbon shafts are still some of the best. Also, exercise care when selecting your fletching, as all arrows will require some maintenance to keep them in good repair, and a bad set of fletching will destroy an arrow’s aerodynamics, effectiveness, and safety. Replace missing fletching, use strong and long-lasting adhesive, and don’t try to fire an arrow that is missing a vane or two, even if you ARE in the heat of battle.

The arrowhead, where the force of impact is focused, is also where the most care and caution needs to be focused. No matter what the composition of the shaft, ALWAYS remove any arrowheads or “bullet tips” before constructing and attaching the padded heads. This bears repeating: ALWAYS remove any arrowheads or “bullet tips” before constructing and attaching the padded heads. Individual arrowhead construction techniques will vary, and there is no ONE correct way to build your arrowheads, but there are scores of incorrect ways to do it, nearly all of them dangerous. Whatever technique you decide to use, be sure that there is at least enough foam on the tip of the arrow that it will compress to absorb impact, but not so far that you can feel the core of the arrow behind the foam. There is a common practice of affixing a penny or washer to the tip of the arrow; this is not intended to add unnecessary weight to the head, but to distribute the force of impact over a larger area so that the tip of the shaft will not protrude through the tip foam. In testing the tips, do not be afraid to press much harder on the tip than you would for a sword; at top flight speed, there are considerably more pounds-per-square-inch exerted on the tip of an arrow than on the tip of a sword, even in a hard stab.

Check your arrows before and after each battlegame, and anytime during the game when it is convenient; ALL legal arrows should be able to pass a rigorous and thorough weapons check at ANY time, not just before a battlegame. There is no shame in tossing an arrow off the field that is breaking down; it is much worse to have the Reeves do it for you, especially when the reason they are doing so involves someone bruised or bleeding. Never forget that every time you pick up a bow, YOU are responsible for anyone who sustains an injury or anything that gets damaged from any arrow you fire. That responsibility carries over into the Mundane world, too, and nobody wants to be on the bad end of a personal injury lawsuit.

For every person who wants to see archery removed from the game, there are just as many who would fight to keep it, whatever the cost. If the problem of safety gets any worse, we may have to resort to drastic measures and stricter regulations in order to keep archery alive in the game. It is much easier to nip the problem in the bud and take a stronger stance on safety and instruction early on, before it escalates into a serious problem. Ignorance and carelessness are not valid excuses: we must take the time to teach, counsel, teach, support, and teach some more. Furthermore, we cannot be lax or indifferent about taking the initiative, and delegating the problem to someone else solves nothing. Only with the cooperation of ALL of our provinces and ALL our populace can this be alleviated, and the subject of Amtgard archery safety laid to rest. In the final outcome, it is the responsibility of the PEOPLE of Amtgard, and not just those entrusted with the checking of weapons and the judging of battlegames; it is the responsibility of ALL of us, individually and collectively.

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