Precision Arrow Matching

by Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf, R.C.A.,R.C.Y.

If you have a set of properly matched arrows you can greatly improve your archery scores. Most archers think that if they buy a set of matched wood arrows from a supplier that they are fully matched. However the arrows are only matched in weight (within five grains), diameter (all five sixteenths or eleven thirty seconds, etc.) and spline (within five pounds-twenty five to thirty or thirty to thirty five, etc). So you see that they are not matched exactly.

These variations will cause your arrows to strike in slightly different locations even though you aim them all at exactly the same spot and release them in exactly the same manner. They will not group in the same pattern.

If your arrows are not grouping in a good pattern and you are a beginner, you will have a hard time improving your scores. This is because out of a set of twelve, you may have perhaps six of them that group in the center, two that hit high, two that hit low and one each hitting left or right. If you are shooting and your first two arrows go in the gold, but your next one goes high, you may try to adjust by aiming lower on the next shot. But this next arrow may be one of the two that hit low anyway. The result is, rather than hitting in the Gold, you are in the white at six o'clock. So now you correct by aiming higher, but that arrow is one that goes wide to the left and your arrow strikes high and to the left. And so on... to your total frustration.

Now that is if you are shooting a set of store matched arrows. But if you are shooting, as many novices do, with a set of arrows of different: diameters, lengths, weight, spline, and fletching, then your results will be so inconsistent that you will not be able to tell what you are doing right or wrong. You will take a long time to improve, if you have not given up before that point. If you are past the novice stage, then you will be able to make a marked increase in your scores.

The way for you to achieve good scores is through consistency. A consistent stance, draw, aim and release. Your equipment must also be consistent as well. If you use different bows, tabs, gloves or arrows, you will change the way shoot and have to correct for the equipment. You will find that this is not conducive to good learning.

If you are serious about improving your scores, you need to practice consistently with your own bow, glove or tab, bracer and your own set of precision matched arrows.

The first step in precision matching your arrows is to purchase or make the best set of matched arrows you can. You must make sure that they are the right spline for your bow and the correct length for your draw. If you are not sure, then ask an experienced archer to assist you in your selection. You should get a full set of twelve arrows if you can afford it. If not, then you need to have at least six arrows to shoot most competitions. However, since some of the arrows you buy will not group with most of the others, you should buy more than you need to make a full set, plus the sad fact that you will lose and break some of them. If you want a set of twelve, you should buy eighteen or nine if you want a set of six. If you are lucky most of them will group well and you will have spares.

Now if you are a beginner go out and practice with this set until you are good enough to keep your arrows grouped on the scoring face of the the target at twenty yards. If you can already do this then you can precision match your arrows. Or if you are a beginner and have a friend who is a good archer, capable of keeping most of their arrows within the blue at twenty yards(or better) ask them to do the shooting for the matching for you.

There are two steps you must do before you precision match your arrows. First: you should number each of your arrows (one through nine, twelve or whatever). Write the number just in front of the cock feather, so that you can see it when you nock the arrow. Second: You will need to make a sheet to record where your arrows strike. Divide a unlined sheet of eight and one half by eleven paper into six equal boxes with a pen. Then draw, using a compass, a target face in each box. The targets will have a center(gold) of one quarter inch radius with the remaining rings having a radius one quarter inch larger. You will end up with a target of five concentric rings, just like the Royal Round or IKAC targets. Now you should have your original Zeroxed. You need to make enough so that there is one target face for each of your arrows. And you might as well make some for future use as well. Now write a number for each of your arrows in the corner of each box.

Before you go to the range, you can make the matching easier by adding some accessories that are not used in SCA archery. You can tape an bow sight to the back of your bow and may add a peep sight to your string as well. The addition of the bow sight will help to eliminate errors in aiming. This is not needed, but can reduce the number of times you need to shoot each arrow to get a good sampling. You are not testing your skill, but the grouping of your arrows.

Now you are ready to match your arrows. You use a standard five ring target, just like you drew on your record sheet. Now take your stand at twenty yards (or further, depending on your skill). This can be done at less than twenty if space does not allow, but your groups will be tighter and bad arrows not as easy to determine. Now you shoot your arrows, taking care to maintain good form, a consistent aim and release and take note of the number of each arrow. If, as you are shooting you make a poor shot due to error on your part, remember the number of the arrow so that you can reshoot it. When you have shot all your shafts, go to the target with your record sheet and as you draw your arrows mark where each arrow hit in its corresponding numbered target face. For example: The first arrow you pull is number five and it struck the target face in the red at three o'clock. You then make mark on the number five target on the record sheet in the second ring at three o'clock. Then the next arrow is number two and it hit the blue at two o'clock. You would then mark the number two target in the third ring at two o'clock. etc. You do this for all your arrows, except for any bad shots that you know were due to an error in aim or release on your part. These can either then be reshot or ignored for the time being.

This process should be repeated until you have shot all your arrows at least ten times. This allows you to determine an average impact area for each arrow. However the shooting need not be done all in one secession, if you are getting tired and are unsteady the arrows will be going wild and will not be a accurate sample. It is better to take two or three secessions and be accurate.

When you have completed the ten shots per arrow and recorded them on the record sheet you will see a pattern emerge for each arrow. For example arrow number five may have a group of seven hits between the red and the blue from two to four o'clock, with three other arrows falling somewhere outside of that group. Those three were just bad shots on your part and can be ignored in the sample. The next arrow is number two and has a group of eight hits between the red and gold and from two to four o'clock, with two strays. Then there is arrow nine which groups nine hits between the blue and the black between eight and ten o'clock.

You should find that most of your arrows will tend to group in the same general area like numbers two and five, with a few like number nine and perhaps even one or two that have miss completely or are all over the face of the target. Any arrow that has no definite pattern should be discarded. The arrows that group, but stay off of the scoring face of the target may be either the wrong spline or weight, use these for another bow that they match. You can now take the remaining arrows that have the same general grouping and pick your precision matched set out of those that group around a common point. The arrows do not need to group around the center or gold to make a good set. If the set groups in the red and blue between two and four, then all you have to to is change your aiming point to the left, the same distance that the center of the group is to the right of the gold.

You may still be able to correct and use some of the arrows that did not group with the set. You can do this by examining the arrow's straightness, the alignment of the point, nock and the fletching. If the shaft is not straight, the arrow will not shoot straight. You can check for straightness by aligning the shaft against a yard stick and noting if the arrow is bent. If it is, then mark the high side of the shaft, so that you will know which way to rebend it. Use a heat source such as a stove burner on low, but be careful not to scorch the shaft or finish. Hold the shaft, using both hands with your thumbs on the mark, about a foot above the burner and as it warms up gently bend it straight. Then check it against the yard stick and repeat as necessary.

If the point of the arrow does not appear straight, then you should heat it over a low flame till the glue is soft and then using a pair of pliers reseat it.

There some problems you may find with the nock. First and most common is that it is too tight on the bow string. It may have a different sound from the other arrows when shot. Also it may have tended to fish-tail or wag from side to side as it left the bow. You can cure this by dipping the nock end of shaft in boiling water for about fifteen seconds, or until the nock is pliable. Then you fit it to the string of your strung bow so that it just hangs on, but will fall off if you give the string a light tap. If it is too loose, then it may fall off in the haste of speed shooting. If the shafts are not painted so that you can see the grain of the shaft, you should check to see that the nock slot is perpendicular to the grain of the shaft. They should all be the same, preferably perpendicular, but not mixed. If possible buy unpainted, but varnished, shafts so you can examine the grain. You should remove and replace nocks as needed so that they all are mounted the same.

For the fletching you should first check to see that the fletches are all the same size as each other and those on the arrows of the precision set, or if they are missing sections of the fletch If so, replace them with matching fletches. You need to check for damaged fletches. Are they glued tightly and smoothly to the shaft. Reglue as needed. The feathers also need to be of the same hand. This means that when you look at them, on the shaft, from the end they must all have a slight curve, all in the same direction. And all the arrows of the set must have fletches of the same hand as well. An arrow which has unmatched fletches will not fly true. And an arrow which has fletches of a different hand than the others in a set may not group the same. If the fletches are matted or bent, you can correct this by steaming them over the spout of a tea kettle. It is a good general practice during the shooting season to check for arrow straightness and matted fletches and straighten and steam as needed.

It is possible to use the arrows that do not match the precision set. What you need to do is know where you have to aim that arrow to group with the others. You can either memorize the corrective aiming point for each arrow or you can mark each one with a code indicating where to aim. For example, you can mark the the shaft by the cock feather, where you will be able to see it when you nock the arrow. The code"3/9" would indicate that you need to aim in the third ring (blue) at nine o'clock in order to hit the gold. Another method is to write o'clock figure "9" on a blue band, this is easier to read in speed rounds.

You should repeat the precision matching process whenever your arrows do not seem to be grouping well. The numbering of the shafts also helps you to identify any arrows that are striking outside the group and to repair or remove them.

Now that you have spent your time matching your arrows, make sure they stay that way. Do not stuff them into your quiver and then jam them into the hot trunk of your car under all your tourney gear. One way to protect them is to build a set of spacers for use in your quiver. You will need some belt or sole leather large enough for you to cut out two spacers the size and shape of the inside of your quiver. You should make these measurements about two inches from the top and four from the bottom of your quiver if it tapers. You should mark the top and bottom spacers for reference. Then using a leather punch, the diameter of your shafts, make a pattern of holes so that the fletches will not touch the inside of the quiver or each other(make sure the patterns match on both spacers). If there is room, punch more holes for extra arrows. Slide the top spacer on first so that it will fit a inch or two from the top of the quiver. Then slide the bottom spacer on to about four inches past the points and insert the set into your quiver.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir