Posted by: wrmcnutt | April 8, 2009

Combat Archery – Good Manners Still Apply

I’ve been a Combat Archery marshal for a long time, and a practicing Combat Archer for even longer. (And I’m gonna KEEP practicing until I get it right.) Over the years I’ve developed a number of habits that I think have had a positive effect on how Combat Archery  is practiced and perceived in Meridies, and I thought I’d share them with you.  To be clear: I’m not going to try to list the rules for Combat Archery here.  There are more authoritative sources on line for that, such as the SCA Marshal’s Handbook and the Meridian Marshal’s Handbook. 

This is a list of practices that I recommend and teach to my students.  Not everybody is going to agree with me on these practices, and that’s okay.  Some of these practices only apply to shafted-style arrows like we use in Meridies, Trimaris, and Ansteorra.  Some of the rest will apply more generally. The goal here is to increase the level of courtesy in Combat Archery as it is practiced in the SCA, and hopefully make it a little easier for the people who have to defend the practice in the Marshallate.

Who Calls The Shot?  (Hint:  It’s not YOU)

The most important part of good manners for the Combat Archer is to remember the first rule of courtesy of SCA combat:  the guy inside the armor is the one who gets to decide if he has been hit hard enough and cleanly enough for it to be a right good blow.  If you shoot someone with an arrow and they don’t call it, they probably didn’t notice it.  If you shoot someone a second time and they don’t call it, assume that they have new or re-furbished armor and haven’t quite gotten the calibration right.  Move on and engage someone else.  If you feel strongly that he needs to adjust his calibration, approach him after the battle, and courteously inform him that you though that you shot him ‘good’ a couple of times, and ask him if they were glances.  If he says that he didn’t notice them at all, ask him if he will be kind enough to allow you to take one or two calibrations shots to find out if your bow has become fatigued and is no longer providing sufficient force.  Be aware that some guys are extremely sensitive to being told that they are not calling their shots, and consider it a deadly insult.

Under no circumstances should you call your opponent dead.  You should especially not jump up and down and yell at him across the line.  It shows poor sportsmanship and demonstrates lack of maturity and political acumen.  Nothing makes all of us look worse than someone jumping up and down and yelling “you’re dead” across the line.

If writing it off as new armor doesn’t keep it from burning in your gut, looking at it another way – you know you got him.  He knows you got him.  And everyone who was watching knows that you got him.  That’s going to stay in people’s minds for years after everyone has forgotten who won the fight.  Unless you distract them by throwing a loud public fit.  Then they’ll remember that Combat Archers act like two-year-olds when they don’t get their way.  And nobody wants that.

Using Human Shields is for Terrorists

For those who are unfamiliar with SCA safety standards as applied to Combat Archery, archers are forbidden from shooting when there is a chance of a missed or bounced arrow straying out of bounds and hitting an observer.  While within the rules, this is un-sporting, and makes you no friends.  It leaves your opponents angry, frustrated, and inclined to think ill of both you and Combat Archery in general.

Don’t set yourself in a position where you can shoot out but your opponents can’t shoot in without risking injury to spectators.  In the parlance of modern warfare, this is called using human shields, and it lacks honor.  It’s one thing to find a position in the woods where people can only come at you from one side, or backing yourself up to a fortress wall in the fort battle.  That’s taking advantage of the terrain.  The general populace of spectators is not a part of the terrain. They are very specifically non-combatant.  And you should not use a safety rule (Do not shoot with the populace in the backfield) to your tactical advantage.

Recovering From Drops – In One Word: Don’t

If you drop an arrow, do not pick it up and shoot it. The person who sees you pick up that arrow may not have seen you drop it.  This will leave them with the impression that you are gleaning used arrows from the field and re-using them, which is flatly against the rules in kingdoms that use shafted arrows.  If the person is a marshal, it can get you into trouble.  On the other hand, if it’s an influential Knight or Duke who hates Combat Archery  just because he doesn’t like getting shot, it becomes one more anecdote of “how unsafe Combat Archery  is” to be trotted out and paraded around every time the subject comes up.  And that’s so not worth getting off one more arrow in the battle.  Worse still, the person could be me, and then you will have to listen to this smarmy lecture all over again. Note: This is one of those spots that is shaft-kingdom specific, such as Meridies, Trimaris, and Ansteorra, and does not apply in kingdoms that use tubular style arrows, most notably Calontir and the Middle Kingdom, as well as some others.  See your local Combat Archery Marshal for specifics.

Avoid “Treadmilling”

Try not to keep shooting the same opponent over and over.  This often comes up in resurrection battles.  I hate them – they turn into the same exhausting grind every time. But that’s another blog post.  You know the situation:  your worthy opponent is standing in an open spot, not paying attention to you, and has his shield down or is closely watching the line in front of him.  It’s practically a gimmie.  Then he comes back, stands in the same spot, and still doesn’t pay attention.  Well, after you‘ve shot him the third time, stop and engage someone else.

Yes – he should not stand in the same exposed position.  Yes – he should have better tactical awareness.  And yes, he should keep his shield up.  But if you haven’t taught him those lessons with three arrows, he’s not going to learn them from you today.  All you are going to do beyond this point is walk him back to resurrection point over and over again, and leave him pissed off and one more person who hates Combat Archery with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns .  And that’s not worth the tactical advantage you’re gaining for your side.  Just shoot someone else.

Please note that I said “avoid,” not “do not.”  Sometimes the assignment from your commander is to “walk their spearmen.”   I don’t particularly like that as a goal, but support your army as requested.

Practice the Fine Art of Shutting Up

Don’t discuss your “kill count” with anyone.  It’s a form of bragging, and you don’t deserve credit for all those kills, anyway.  Combat Archers are “force multipliers.”  You got your high kill count because 12 shield men held the line, six spearmen pinned down the opposing unit, and the reserve unit counter-flanked the flanking unit that was sent to crush you.  All your “kills” are actually “assists,” or, at best “rebound shots.”  Without your shield brothers, you would have been a grease spot with a kill count of about 0, or 1.  Another way of looking at it is to consider football.  When top scoreres come up, commentators don’t discuss kickers, even though guys who kick field goals trounce everybody else in scoring.  Why?  Because a team generally has a dozen receivers and only one or two kickers, so they have way more opportunies to score.  Plus – the kicker didn’t get to the thirty-yard-line on his own.  So bragging about “your” kills is in very poor taste.  If you must talk about your kill numbers, find a senior archer or your closest bud.

Never Give UP

In general, don’t yield.  Yes – it’s within the rules.  And yes, everybody on the field may yield at any time without prejudice.  But everybody else on the field gets killed by getting hit with a stick.  Declaring yourself dead separates you from the rest of the game.  Taking the shot makes you a part of the it.  Mind you, if you turn around and have a sword in your grill and your worthy opponent says, “Well, M’Lord?”  Take that. He’s trying to be polite.  But if your worthy opponent has, by dint of heroic effort, broken through your line, dodged three spears, two great swords and a mace, he’s going to find it anticlimactic to have you hollering “DEAD-DEAD-DEAD-DEAD-DEAD! And falling over in a heap.  Instead, duck, dodge, turn, spin, and hope your support gets there in time.  Who knows, someone might intercept him.  Or better yet, draw a backup weapon and engage him.  This brings me to my next point.

Play the Rest of the Game

Authorize to fight heavy.  Here in Meridies, it’s still possible to authorize as Single Weapon: Combat Archery.  I understand that there are folks for whom this is their sole heavy combat interest.  I used to be one of them.  But you have a clearer understanding of your opponents when you share a weapon’s style with them, and you integrate better into the game.  Additionally, on the best of days, Combat Archery is permitted in, at most, half of the battles.  After a year or so of sitting around and watching your brothers march off to battle without you starts to suck.  Trust me, I know.  I’m not real handy with a sword, you see, and always thought that because I’m not very good, I’m wasting everyone’s time.  Not so.  Anyone who can stand up, see lightning, and hear thunder, or any two out of the three, is useful to his kingdom on the battlefield.  If nothing else, even I can get in Duke Sir Sweatsox’s way for .5 seconds.  I’ve had days when I’ve been thanked for dying where I did ‘cause it made the spearmen from the other side have to detour around my carcass.  EVERYBODY on the field is useful to a good battlefield commander.  (Note: if you have a physical disability that prevents you from engaging directly in heavy combat and Combat Archery is your way of hanging onto this game by your fingernails, I’m not talking to you here.)

To sum up, be safe, and make sure that having YOUR fun does not rain all over somebody else’s fun. 

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”″%5D



  1. Now, if only I could teach the non-archers about the human shields thing. They don’t see it as unchivalrous. They see it as tactics…

  2. About nor bragging. It is OK to brag when your close associates, who know you well, ask “How did you do today?” They are actually wondering how you did – in comparison to your past performance or other archers.

    We KNOW you get a lopsided # of kills compared to a non-archer. But we want to know if you had a *good* day or a frustrating one. And we want to celebrate the good days with you and sympathize with you about the bad days (or avoid you if you look like thunder).

  3. This needs to be distributed throughout the Kingdom. You make too many good points to ignore. I think this should be required or at least STRONGLY suggested reading for Archers and any serious war fighters.
    I think everyone can benefit from “the fine art of shutting up”. As a spearman, I can only kill with impunity while my shieldman supports me or the archers force the enemy spear to duck and think about something other than me.
    War is a Team Effort. Sure it would be nice to be a Hero, but is it not more heroic to be humble?

    • I’m glad you like it. I’ve got some other heavy combat pieces in mind, if I can just find the time to write them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: