The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #34: Archery in the Media

Episode #34: How Archery Gets Portrayed Inaccurately in the Media 

Discussion of how not shoot a bow by modeling Hollwood, book covers, and other art

The Hunger Games movies and books have created a resurgence in archery as a sport.  A lot of times, beginners will wrap a finger around the arrow to keep it from falling off.  But it’s best not to ever put your fingers anywhere near the tip of the arrow.

Some different grip styles of drawing a bow.  There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong – just depends on the gear you have.

The famous Diana statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  I originally thought she was using a thumb style draw.  But after looking at the statue more closely, she isn’t; she’s pinching the arrow nock, a common way beginners think bows are drawn (they can be, though it’s hard to manage a stronger pulling bow this way).  Since she’s supposed to be a hunter, probably not a hunting bow.



Not sure what’s going on here – guess it’s some stylized version of the pinch grip.

Image result for archer drawing bow mechanical release

There are some situations where the drawing hand is in this position, but it’s when a mechanical release is used.

Here, Oliver Queen from Arrow shows an anchor point on his chin, important for accuracy, The position of his right hand seems a bit off in this photo, though I can’t imagine they were using real arrows on set.

Lara Croft from Tomb Raider (2013) shows the same.  This game actually portrayed archery pretty well, though there some artistic licenses clearly taken.

A floating anchor point (the drawing hand is not anchored to another part of the body, like the face or chest).   Not great for accuracy … – a funny article about the portrayal of Hawkeye in the Avengers movies.  The 2012 version of the comics, though, portrayed archery more realistically.

Needless to say, art is. of course. different from real life and gets a pass on one level for creative license.  But it makes it not the most reliable place from which to learn – at least when it comes to archery.


News: free raffle for these three ebooks until 4/10!

Brain to Books Fantasy Cyber Convention 4/8/16!

As always, thanks for listening!


The Halloween Bow

I happened to be in the store Party City the other day when I came across this:


Billed as a “Native American Bow and Arrow,” it carried a sticker price of $16.99, which I have to say, seemed kind of steep since it was only Native American by way of China and was mainly intended to be a costume accessory.  But looking closer, I saw a few interesting things.  Despite a rough finish, the central riser was hardwood, and the limbs were bamboo rather than, say, plastic.  The arrows were solid bamboo shafts and were likely way too heavy for this little 40″ bow, but it did get me thinking … what if it could be turned into something more than a costume accessory?  Could it serve as a functional, rather than decorative, bow and arrow?

The answer is yes, which I’ll detail below, though, to be honest, unless you can find it cheaper than 17 bucks, you’re better off making a bow out of PVC. You’ll get a better, stronger, and faster bow for much less money.  But … where’s the fun in that?  And so began another wayward project.

Here’s a picture of the bow taken out of the package:

2015-10-31 10.30.32For some reason, the manufacturers used a clear monofilament line (like a fat fishing line or a string from a classical guitar) for the bowstring.  Even more bizarrely, instead of cutting nocks in the ends of the bow, they drilled  holes in the distal parts of the limbs and threaded the string through that.  Kind of a fail, since doing that weakened the limbs, but, to fair, they were never intended to be very functional anyway.  However, for my purposes, it also limited the bow’s draw to less than 20″ (15 or 16″, I think, definitely less than the length of the included arrows, which were 20″ long; at that draw length, it pulled about 10#).  So all this needed to be changed.

Here was the bow’s profile unstrung:

2015-10-31 10.33.17

Not too different from the strung profile, huh?  I heated up the limbs with a heat gun and gradually bent them forwards to reduce the amount of deflex:

2015-10-31 11.33.32

I thought about recurving the ends more, but with the holes drilled in the ends, the area would be weaker, so I decided against it.  I did cut nocks in the ends, extending the limb length another inch and half or so.2015-10-31 12.17.56

There was a central cutout in the riser with an arrow rest intended for a left handed shooter, but since it neither lined up with string nor reduced the archer’s paradox in any way, I got rid of it and reshaped the handle a little to be more comfortable to hold. Then I wrapped it with the cloth strap that came with the bow and wrapped it with a leather thong:

2015-10-31 12.17.28

Here’s the bow strung:

2015-10-31 12.17.23

It now draws to about 22″ and pulls about 15#. Not going to win an power or speed awards, for sure, but with these minimal changes and a properly matched set of youth arrows, it could actually serve a starter bow for young hands.  I’ll save it for my daughter when she’s big enough to use it.  Can anyone else think of ways to modify this Halloween bow?

Speaking of which, Happy Halloween, folks!

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details! 


Videos are Now Also on Vimeo

Vimeo, a video sharing site like youtube, tudou, and facebook, to name a few, has a quite a few independent films in its catalog.  So I thought it might be a nice place to add content created for The Thirteenth Hour.  So far, I’ve uploaded the book’s trailer, the music video, and the bow creation video.  They’re already on youtube, but the more the merrier.

They’re available here:

I have some ideas for a promo of A Shadow in the Moonlight which ties in a bow I recently made (the hunter’s bow from the story) – some shots of a hunter cloaked in black aiming his bow at an ethereal deer in a forested background. I don’t have any actors to use, so I may just end up using myself in a homemade costume, but there is magic in Adobe Premiere, me thinks, that may give even potential poo a glimmer of gold.  And I think a little movie (well, more like a 30 second commercial) might be fun to make.  So, when that’s done, I’ll upload it to vimeo as well.  As always, thanks for watching.


How to Create Your Own Three Piece Takedown PVC-Fiberglass Bow

When I was writing and drawing the pictures for The Thirteenth Hour, I thought I’d give Logan and Aurora, the main characters, some unique gear.  Not to the level of James Bond-style stuff, just something a little distinctive.  Kind of like how Indiana Jones had his whip and hat, Luke Skywalker had his lightsaber, Marty McFly had his Delorean and flying hoverboard, etc.  I’ll cover some of these things in future posts, but this one will be on archery gear.

It’s not a huge part of the book, but I do have a few mentions about a three-piece takedown bow that Logan is issued (meaning a bow that can be broken down in to three pieces for ease of transport).  I figured these special soldiers should have something special up their sleeves when it came to their armament.  Something functional and compact, but with a bit of, how shall we say, elan (pardon the French).  Bows are, by nature, kind of bulky, and despite characters on TV using their bows as maces and staffs for braining people, they’re actually kind of delicate in some ways: large dents in the limbs from using the bow as a club would probably compromise the integrity of the wood; the string and wood are subject to temperature and humidity changes; bows should ideally be unstrung when not used so the limbs don’t take a set (and so on).  So I figured someone on the move without a lot of time to fuss over equipment would appreciate something that could be easily taken apart and packed in a backpack and wouldn’t be much longer than a quiver of arrows.

Hence, the three part takedown bow (nothing new from a modern perspective; but probably pretty neat in a less technologically advanced world, like the one in the book). Below is a picture of a generic Imperial Ranger with a typical loadout – note the bow in the upper left-hand corner.

Imperial Ranger LoadoutWM

So I figured, why not try to make one myself?  Although this is another topic entirely, it’s not difficult to make a bow quite cheaply and easily using PVC pipe that is heated and bent into the desired shape.  If you search on youtube (there is also a corresponding google+ community), you will find many such examples.

Although I’d made a number of PVC bows, the takedown ones never quite worked out until recently.  Luckily, PVC pipe is so cheap that experimentation is fairly painless.  In any event, this design, which did work, was so quick and easy I thought I’d share it.  It doesn’t look like the one in the picture above (that’s for a future project), but captures the spirit of what I was going for in the design: quick to take apart and put together, easy to use, and compact.



This is an aside, but archery gear is, in my opinion, incredibly overpriced.  I can understand paying for bows that are handmade or made using difficult-to-work with materials (like horn).  No complaints there.  But most archery tackle is produced on a larger scale and with prices in the several hundreds of dollars for a bow (much more for a competition or top flight hunting bow); it’s beyond the reach of most people.  So although not related to the book, for this project, I wanted to make a bow that could be made quickly and easily out of readily found or re-purposed household items (in keeping with my roots of making bows out of household materials).

Here’s what you need to make it:


The youtube video below documents the process of making the bow:

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on it – via this site or through my email address (

Interested in making more PVC takedown bows?  I’d highly recommend looking for other examples on youtube as well as checking out the book Takedown Archery by Nicholas Tomihama for more details of making takedown PVC bows and more.

If you’d rather buy a takedown bow, there are, of course, many commercial examples to choose from.  You can also buy handmade PVC takedown bows from the following sellers at very reasonable prices:

1.) LLBows and Archery (see the takedown option)

2.) Jaycubl (see “Takedown Survival Recurve Bow Set”)

Happy creating and safe shooting!

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details! 


On the State of Lars Andersen, Speed Shooting, and Armchair Quarterbackery

In my last post, I talked a little about how archery has been brought out of the dark ages in the last decade or so thanks in large part to popular media that have featured modern day Robin Hood-styled characters armed with bows.

So I thought for this post, I’d comment on a video that’s been making the internet rounds lately and currently has racked up over 25 million hits on youtube at the time of this writing, again catapulting archery into the limelight.  I didn’t even know there were 25 million people who even cared one way or another about archery, but you learn something new every day.

You’ll have to watch the video (linked above) to get the idea, but basically, Lars Andersen is a Danish archer who put together some videos of himself employing an unorthodox way of shooting where he holds arrows in the hand that draws bowstring, allowing him to shoot faster.  He also claims to have figured out this technique by reading old archery texts, which as far as I (or anyone knows), he certainly could have.  Bows and arrows have been around for a long, long time, there are lots of ways to shoot them, and lots that’s been written about them, some of which is probably good, some probably not, just like stuff written today.

So I can’t really comment intelligently on any of the historical aspects of what he says (that’s been picked apart ad nauseum by his critics anyway, as discussed below).  My only take on the historical bits is: isn’t all this conjecture now anyway?  How many people walk around wearing armor to ward off arrows these days?  Okay, yes, maybe if you work at a renaissance faire.  But even there, people are not being killed for the sake of entertainment.  And yes, although people can certainly argue about the practicality/lethality of whatever medieval military practice from a historical perspective, but, come on, people have guns to shoot each other with now.

Academics aside, what I will comment on is the level of fervor that the video has sparked.  You can read some on youtube or in any of the response posts (e.g. this one) and videos (e.g. this one).  Then, if you’ve gotten through those, here are two more pages of responses from facebook (1, 2).  It’s interesting that there are both Lars supporters and Lars haters, and like the US Congress of late, most of the time, they can’t seem to agree on anything other than their own personal view being right.  Occasionally, someone will concede Lars’ skill in a backhanded kind of way, saying something to the effect of, “Well, he obviously practiced a lot and is good at what he does, but 1.) these techniques wouldn’t be effective on a medieval battlefield, or 2.) he must be using a really light bow, or 3.) if I weren’t too (insert some pejorative personal characteristic), I could do that, too.

Which is probably true.  Perhaps we should all keep that in mind.  It’s a remarkably optimistic and hopeful view of personal achievement.  You know those those gold medals folks win at that thing called the Olympics?  Yeah, you could probably win those, too.  Yup, just like that.  President of the United States?  Sure!  Why not?  Anyone can do it, right?  Made it to the NFL?  Finally got your PhD?  Ehh, no big deal, sure, you could do it if, you know, you tried.  But you don’t feel like doing that right now.  But later, you know, no problem.  Just let me send a few text messages and finish this can of Pringles first.

To be fair, Lars’ supporters also end up sporting the same kind of fanboy/girlism in the veracity of their support (just read the comments in some of the links).  But this kind of thing is nothing new.  People are divided on lots of polarizing topics, both big and small – Republican vs. Democrat, PC vs. Mac, Sega Genesis vs. Nintendo, Apple vs. Android (actually, my brother wrote an article that touched on the latter two), pro vaccination vs. delayed/no vaccination, prochoice vs. prolife, Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding … the list goes on and on.  I guess the only difference now is that the internet has given anyone with access to it an honest, uninhibited voice to be heard in a public forum with the anonymity of a computer screen that protects against real-life retaliation, violence, and social ostracization.  Because when you turn the computer off, all those flame wars go away.

Or do they?

One does have to wonder, when Lars’ staunchest opponents are alone with their bows, those moments when the range is empty or they are in their backyards somewhere where no one can see – do they get an urge to fiddle around and see if they can figure out how Lars shoots?  Do they flip on one of his youtube videos on their phones or computers, try to copy what he does, and mutter under their breaths, “Wait, what does he do again?” and then go back and rewind for a better look?

And one has to wonder – what about all of Lars’ supporters?  For all their staunch online defense, what do they get?  They flip on one of his youtube videos, try to copy what he does, and mutter under their breaths, “Wait, what does he do again?” and then go back and rewind for a better look … is that what happens, too?

That, I would say, is my main critique of the video – the man doesn’t tell you exactly what he does and how he does it.  And that is … damned frustrating in this age of instant gratification of information available at our fingertips.  But why should he?  I mean, if *you* read ancient texts from the library of Alexandria (or whatever) and figured out a lost secret hundreds of years old, would you give that shizat out for free?  Hellz, no!

So, at over 25 million views, he clearly did something right.  Whatever publicity he gets, good or bad, it’s good for him.  And hopefully, good for archery as well.


Not that this really relates to anything, but what would Logan from The Thirteenth Hour think of all this?  I always pictured him as the kind of guy who held his arrows in the same hand that held the bow (or stuck them in his pants, like in the picture below).

He seemed like the kind of guy who wasn’t really organized enough to, you know, have all his arrows in an actual quiver.  I pictured him as someone who’d just grab a few on the fly and then kind of hope for the best.  So I’d guess he’d like the idea of the Lars Andersen technique of holding arrows and might try it a few times but, in the end, scratch his head in confusion, shrug, say the hell with it, and go do something he liked better, like skipping rocks or something.  Because he wasn’t really a guy who was super into archery.  For him, it was just a means to an end.  A tool in his tool chest.  And that gets to the idea that, at the end of the day, archery today, which is done as a hobby, should be fun.  Lars Andersen says so on his youtube page, and that’s probably something we can all agree on.

(P.S. If you actually want to lean to shoot like Lars, I have found only one place – so far – that attempts to reverse engineer and explain what he might be doing – see this youtube playlist for more info.  It’s harder than it looks!).

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details! 


On the State of Archery

For awhile when I was a kid, I wanted nothing more to be an American Indian.  Of course, my conception of being an Indian largely revolved around making fishing poles, shooting bows and arrows, and running around in the woods.  That’s pretty much it.  I’m sure I would have been disappointed to find out anything else, but such is life as a child.

One of my favorite books, The Sign of the Beaver, had a chapter where the main character learns to make a bow.  The premise of the book is that the young boy, left alone in the woods while his father leaves for months to bring his mother and sister to their cabin, is eventually befriended by an Indian tribe, who teach him how to eck out a life for himself without the white man’s tools (like coal and black powder).  They also teach him a fair bit of their culture.  Such subtleties of plot and culture, were, of course, lost on my twelve-year-old self.  The part I remember is the bow chapter, of course, which I dogeared to read 20+ times.

Thus began my odyssey with the bent stick.  And many a stick I bent, many more I broke.  For some reason, I tended to use the worst wood possible.  Do you know those flat pieces of wood that are in vinyl shades?  The piece near the bottom to give you something to grip when pulling down the shade?  I’d pull those slats out, tape a few together, attach a string, and there would be a functional, if weak, bow.  Sometimes, I’d find a piece of flat molding in the garage and try using that.  The problem with all these attempts was that the wood was almost always pine, which was entirely too soft a wood to use for a proper bow.  So these all inevitably broke with enough use or if I drew them back too far.  I had slightly more luck trimming fallen branches from the oak and maple trees in our yard and making arrows out of relatively straight wooden dowels I found lying around the house.  Even with the instructions from The Sign of the Beaver, all these bows inevitably broke and/or did not shoot terribly well.

Eventually, my father either took pity on me or decided that he’d had enough of me shooting holes in the drywall and took me to a real archery range about 20 minutes from our house, where, presumably, I could shoot holes in someone else’s drywall.  There, I learned how to properly shoot a bow.  So, for a few years, this became a kind of weekly ritual which I now look back on fondly – my father would take me to the range for a few hours on Friday night, and he and my younger brother would go do some grocery shopping or other errands.  My brother always loved these outings, as I recall, since he usually managed to get my father to take him to a comic book shop that wasn’t far away from the range.

If you’ve never been to an archery range, it’s quite different from a range where there are firearms.  It’s less noisy, of course, so no one needs to wear ear protection.  Eye protection is not needed, either.  I’m not sure about this, but I imagine that people being less walled-off against the potential self-inflicted dangers of their weapons probably lets down other social barriers as well.   Imagine it being kind of like being in a bar on a weeknight (like, say, Tuesday) minus the alcohol.  There are a group of regulars – generally men in their forties to sixties, often hunters, sitting around chatting, smoking, fiddling with their equipment, and occasionally taking a few shots with their bows.  The TV is usually playing in the background (or at least the radio).  There’s usually an area to buy food, often a vending machine, but occasionally a convenience store-style fridge with cold drinks, and these machines sometimes see more action than the bows do.  The decor is decidedly seventies at best – wood paneling is the usual staple, and perhaps not surprisingly, women are a sort of rarity (this may be changing though, more below).  The atmosphere is generally warm and relaxed, with plenty of good-natured ribbing, but in a casual sort of way.  The smells are earthy and homey – stale coffee, cigarettes, wood finish, and oil.  The sounds are as well – chatter from the men discussing their latest hunt, the laugh track from whatever sitcom is playing on the TV, the twag of bowstrings with thunks as the arrows thud into the backstops downrange, and someone occasionally yelling, “clear!” – the signal that it’s safe for all to walk down and retrieve arrows.

All in all, not a bad place for a pre-pubescent boy to observe groups of men in their natural habitat.  I was generally the only kid there, but I don’t think anyone really minded.  Occasionally, someone would stop by to give me pointers, ask about my bow, or help me adjust the sights (that thing was always getting knocked out of alignment) so I could actually hit something.  But for the most part, people let me do my thing.  It’s not like women and children were prohibited, because as far as I know, there was no age minimum to shoot, and there was no “No girls allowed!” sign on the door, at least not literally.

What was clear, even to a pre-pubescent boy, was the range represented an escape for these men.  An escape from the daily grind of their jobs and other aspects of their lives, a chance to revel in the glory of a hunt, a chance to hone their skills in a martial craft from an era when men relied on bows to bring food to the table and defend their homes, and a chance to do, you know, stereotypical male things – burp, fart, scratch their genitalia, eat junk food, tell dirty jokes, watch bad TV, comment on the relative hotness of the actresses on said bad TV shows – all in a place where no one else would really care, either.  But if you asked them, I’m sure plenty of the guys in the range would have loved having more women around – at least, in theory.  Having a mix of genders does change the dynamic somewhat (sometimes for the better, sometimes probably less so).

All that was over twenty years ago, so things may have changed, and who knows, I may be remembering things differently from the way they actually were.  Such is the way with memories. At the time, archery seemed less … public.  Less well-known, from a bygone day, more like something out of the back of an old comic book.  Cool in an old Boy Scout knife kind of way, but not exactly on par with soccer, basketball, hanging out at the mall, or whatever other kids my age were doing with their time.  Of course, there were notable popular cultural exceptions (see below for pictures).  There was always Robin Hood and his famous splitting the arrow trick, in paper, animated, and live action forms.  There was Rambo, the Army Ranger still mentally grinding through Vietnam that could live off the land and eat things that would make a billy goat puke, who did quite well for himself with a bow.  And there was Arnold Schwarzenegger, using a homemade bow to defend himself against the Predator.  And there are probably plenty of other good examples that I’m not mentioning.

Today, however, bows are a part of popular culture in a way that even Robin Hood, Rambo, and Arnold could never have competed with.  A few examples out of many: The archer, Katniss, from The Hunger Games series, is pretty much a household name (and I wouldn’t be surprised if a rash of people in 2014-2105 name their kids after the character).  (See this article from the NY Times on the impact of the character on archery.)  The DC comic book hero Green Arrow, a sort of Bruce Wayne equivalent in a different city sporting a bow rather than a Batarang, has his own TV show, on its third season, no less.  Hawkeye, the Marvel equivalent archer, is a character in the popular Avengers movie and has a rebooted solo comic series.  The popular video game Skyrim has a number of fantasy style bows to use from both a third and first person perspective (see this article for other games with bows).   And the Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 had a young Lara Croft sporting a bow as her default weapon rather than her usual twin pistols, and thanks to well designed controls, it was surprisingly intuitive and easy to use.

aurora with dragonWMLogan fighting sea serpent updatedWM










Archery featured in The Thirteenth Hour

At the time when I wrote the first draft of The Thirteenth Hour, I just put in little bits of archery here and there because I liked it and thought it fit with the world the characters inhabited.  But certainly most people in the wider culture couldn’t have given, as King Darian, a character in the book says, “two rat’s rears” about it then.  So I guess if you wait around long enough, things become popular that weren’t.  And I’m sure the rise and surge in archery lessons brought on by the appearance of all these big screen heroes with bows will ebb and eventually die down after people discover that 1.) archery equipment is (still) way overpriced, 2.) owning a bow does not make you shoot like Katniss Everdeen, Hawkeye, or Green Arrow, and 3.) like anything else, it takes a lot of work and practice.

I do hope, however, that archery will emerge better than before given this recent surge in popularity.  In terms of society as a whole, goodness knows modern civilization can benefit from any kind of activity that gets us off our duffs and using our muscles for something other than texting.  I also hope that archery itself will see this as an opportunity to recruit a more diverse constituency and in turn, begin to tolerate a wider array of practices.  It’s fine to nit pick about correct form and all, but at the end of the day, people have been shooting bows for thousands of years, and there are plenty of ways to shoot a bow from all over the world, not all of which are the ways people are taught now (at least here in America).  At the end of the day, if you can hit what you’re shooting at, shouldn’t that be good enough?

In the next few posts, I’ll continue this topic with a few more archery-related posts.

 Disney’s Robin Hood


Arnold aiming at the Predator

Katniss from The Hunger Games trilogy

Green Arrow taking aim with a hybrid compound recurve in Arrow

 The Marvel Hawkeye comic series

 Skyrim – the game already has a many bows in it; this is one of the many mods for it that just happens to be about making the bows even better …

 Lara Croft taking aim in Tomb Raider (2013)

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details!