Archery: Speed Shooting Techniques, Part 2

A little over a year ago, I wrote about a couple of archery speed shooting techniques and posted some YouTube videos. Since then, I’ve come across a few more videos of archers shooting incredibly fast. These videos debunk decades of ridiculously bad archery rules in role playing games and show that some of the archery stunts pulled by the likes of Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies may not be that far off the mark.

In this video, a fellow named Lars Andersen (I can only assume he’s from the Scandinavian area) has developed his own technique that allows him to shoot three arrows in less than one and a half seconds.

He found all modern techniques for fast shooting to be inadequate to achieve the speed requirement described in the historical work “Saracen Archery,” which is an English translation of a Mameluke work on archery, written in the year 1368. He doesn’t actually show his technique, because he’s still trying to perfect it. I’m not sure if his technique can be done only with three arrows, or if it would work with more.

Update: Lars Andersen (not Anderson) has uploaded a new video that is going viral. In this video he shows that his technique allows him to shoot 11 arrows before the first arrow hits the ground. He also has a few closer shots where you can get a look at the actual technique, although it’s still not very clear.

The next video shows a Hungarian named Lajos Kassai who has perfected the art of shooting arrows from horseback. The video takes a minute to get into the meat, so feel free to skip to about 1:20 to get to the good stuff. With two guys throwing small targets into the air, Lajos fires 12 arrows in just over 17 seconds and hits every single target. The targets are disks about a foot in diameter and appear to be maybe 15 feet away. He shows how he holds the arrows using the pinky finger of the same hand that holds the bow.

After that, he performs a similar feat while riding a horse at 20 miles an hour, firing 6 arrows in 10 seconds and hitting every target.

One thing I wonder about with these videos is how much damage those arrows would do to real people. The arrows don’t appear to be flying out of that bow with incredible speed. With the second video, I also wonder how accurate he would be at greater distances, say 100 feet or so.

Regardless, it seems pretty clear that it’s possible to shoot much faster than most people believe. And since archery was a key military tactic in ancient times and had many thousands more practitioners than we have today, you can be sure they had developed their speed and accuracy to a much greater degree than a few random devotees who posted their videos online.

Update: You might want to check out my other archery posts:

  • Part One — Two videos of fast archery techniques from Russia.
  • Part Two — You’re reading it now.
  • Part Three — Methods for quickly spanning or cocking a crossbow.
  • Part Four — More videos showing some speculation on Native American archery, recreations of ancient Turkish techniques, and more fast shooting from Russia.

23 comments so far

  1. Ing | Saturday, 23 June 2012, 1:40 am |

    That is awesome stuff. Most gun enthusiasts (including me) would be hard-pressed to put 3 shots on target in less than 2 seconds. Although a gunshot would do a lot more damage than an arrow…

    One thing that seems like a key factor is a relatively small, lightweight bow and close-range targets. I bet they’d have a hard time damaging a reasonably well armored opponent or anything more than about 15 yards away — but that’s where the English longbow comes in handy. :)

  2. Jeremy Fox | Sunday, 24 June 2012, 1:01 pm |

    I can’t site sources, but I seem to remember reading (back when I shot archery) that the original archers were MEANT to be “close” range troops. They only needed to be out of the distance of the sword, lance, etc. to be safe. Their bows were lightweight and were able to do damage to only moderately armored soldiers.; but being up close gave them targets such as the face and other gaps in armor. That combined with this rapid fire technique would understandably be quite devastating!

  3. Ben | Sunday, 24 June 2012, 1:14 pm |

    I would think the English longbow would take a bit longer to draw and shoot, being bigger and with a heavier draw, and would deal more damage.

    I’ve seen videos of people trying to puncture breastplates with bows and crossbows. None of them that I’ve seen have ever been able to do it. Of course, we can never be a hundred percent sure that the breastplates we’re making are exactly the same, or even the bows and arrows. But it’s pretty consistent. Plate armor makes you virtually invulnerable to arrows, unless they get a strike through the face plate or into a crack. That does make a good case for archers being mid-range troops, it seems to me. I’ll have to link to one of those videos sometime.

  4. Ing | Friday, 29 June 2012, 10:24 am |

    Interesting point. By today’s standards, archers would certainly have been close-range fighters. Before firearms came along, everything in combat happened at much closer range. Inches and feet, not yards. In that context, being able to stand back 50 feet would be huge.

    I disagree on the inability of arrows to puncture armor. From what I’ve read, longbows were able to penetrate most armor, with only a few exceptions — certain kinds of plate that were fantastically expensive and not very common until the very late medieval era. Although most bows were much less powerful than longbows. It would be kind of like bulletproof vests today; a standard kevlar vest will defeat pistol bullets, but it’s not really bullet *proof*, since almost any centerfire rifle will punch through kevlar like it wasn’t even there; on the other hand, thicker armor that layers kevlar with impact plates can defeat most rifles. Also, actual combat armor would have been much lighter and thinner than the jousting pieces we usually see preserved, so that could be skewing people’s tests.

    When I say “from what I’ve read” it means mostly historical fiction, so take that into account. However, when I say “historical fiction” I mean Bernard Cornwell, and there’s no one better at getting down to the essence of how historical weapons were made and used — and how good people really were at using them. He has a description of how the English archers made bodkin points specifically to defeat plate armor, and I’d bet you anything you care to wager that nobody on YouTube has used a legitimate bodkin point on period-correct armor (well, no I won’t; all my bets are purely rhetorical).

    I think Ben made the point that with these being *the* military and survival weapons of the day, there would have been a lot more people using them. And they could have developed skills and techniques that we just don’t know anymore. The difference between someone using a bow back in the day and someone trying it now could be as big as the difference between me plinking at soup cans and an Army Ranger doing his thing.

    Okay, time to stop. I love these topics…

  5. Ben | Saturday, 30 June 2012, 6:03 pm |

    I love these topics, too. In fact, I finally created a new topic category called “medieval combat” to cover the several posts I’ve done on this sort of thing. I plan on doing more in the future. I’ve really been into this topic lately.

    Ing, I have to concede. I did a bit of searching on the ability of arrows to penetrate plate armor, and sure enough you were right. However, it looks like even the dreaded English longbow needed to be within about 20 or 30 yards in order to penetrate plate armor with a bodkin point. And even then, they wouldn’t necessarily have gone deep enough to cause a mortal wound. I’m sure it happened sometimes, but it wasn’t like puncturing a tin can, that’s for sure. I’ll have to post some of my findings here soon. I found several videos, some forum and blog discussions, and even a few scholarly papers.

  6. Riotimus | Sunday, 8 July 2012, 4:23 pm |

    I love this stuff. Because my Tales revolved around steppe nomads, I did a ton of research on this back in the day. The English longbow, as you guys pointed out, packed a lot of punch, but not a lot of range. The compound bows used by horsemen of the Eurasian steppe enjoyed a significantly longer range in part due to the longer draw length (hooked thumb instead of index and middle fingers). Their penetrating power didn’t have to be too great because all they really had to do was maim their enemies’ horses in their launch-and-retreat fighting style. Their code of honor had no compunctions about riding in and spearing survivors to death from horseback. Superior range, rate of fire, and maneuverability are why the steppes never changed their style of fighting for two-thousand or more years and remained unconquered until the mass produced machine gun came along.

    I know I digressed a bit for the actual topic; I can’t help myself sometimes.

    Okay, most of the time.

    R.

  7. Ben | Sunday, 8 July 2012, 7:19 pm |

    I find your digressions to be generally more enlightening than my original topics, so please, digress away. :) Seriously, that’s some awesome info. The second video, with the horseback archer, made me wonder what his accuracy would have been from 50 yards or more. He was pretty darn close to those targets. At a greater distance, he probably wouldn’t have needed to shoot quite as fast to be effective. As long as he could maintain accuracy, that is. I didn’t notice that his bow was compound the first time through, so I’m glad you pointed that out. I’ve read a little about the Mongols and their tactics. They were pretty darn scary.

  8. Riotimus | Monday, 9 July 2012, 5:28 pm |

    Thanks for the kind words. I love the subject, so it’s easy for me to go off on it. I didn’t notice in the video that it said how much time he spends practicing, but if he were a Hunnish, Mongol, Turkish, or other steppe-dwelling male, he would have spent the majority of his life in a saddle hunting with one of those bows. The way the tribesmen were able to easily translate ordinary hunting tactics to the battlefield is one of the reasons why, on occasions when they had a leader strong enough to keep them in line, they were so devastating in combat.

    R.

  9. Dr. James J. Ripley | Thursday, 8 November 2012, 10:38 am |

    I can’t see how you accommodate the six to twelve arrows in your bow hand. Could you please send me an image. Thank you.
    Respectfully,
    James Ripley

  10. Ben | Thursday, 8 November 2012, 11:20 am |

    James,

    There’s an example in the second and third video above. In the third video, there’s a closeup at about 1:46 and then a sequence showing the guy actually shooting all 12 arrows at about 2:00 even. It looks like you’d need long, strong fingers. Hope this helps.

    Ben

  11. Dylan | Tuesday, 4 December 2012, 10:07 pm |

    Plate armor on a medieval battlefield was relatively sparse in terms of total percentage of soldiers. Bow and arrow could mean victory even if the arrows couldn’t pierce plate.

  12. Daniel | Wednesday, 5 December 2012, 1:58 am |

    hallo !

    I am searched the book “saracen archery” for a long time. Seems to be very hard to get a copy here in Germany. Could u send me a scan? I would pay 4 ur affords.

  13. Ben | Wednesday, 5 December 2012, 8:38 am |

    Dylan, that’s a really good point. In a typical medieval battle, bows probably didn’t go directly against plate very often. I think someone pointed out on another post that full plate armor didn’t really become common until the late medieval period, when bows were beginning to be replaced by firearms.

  14. Ben | Wednesday, 5 December 2012, 8:42 am |

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a scan of that book. Good luck in your search.

  15. jarvis | Saturday, 12 January 2013, 1:50 pm |

    i notice you all say ‘compound’ bow. the compound bow is a bow with cams ( wheels). the ones they are using are called recurves. Common mistake. Compounds canot shoot even close to quickly.

  16. Ben | Saturday, 12 January 2013, 2:27 pm |

    Jarvis, I think what we’re all meaning to say is composite bows. A century or two ago such bows were called compound bows, so when you’re looking at things historically it’s a bit easier to get mixed up. Although I think that people often assume that all recurve bows are also composite bows. The Hungarian archer’s bow is definitely a recurve, though I can’t tell if it’s actually composite or not. I resolve to be more accurate in the future. Thanks for your comment!

  17. Cho | Saturday, 19 January 2013, 1:14 pm |

    The composite bows used in asia(including Turks and Hungarians) were kind of compound in that the siyah’s at the tip of the bow give a smoother and easier draw but much more power. The English longbow in that respect is less efficient but was not used for close range combat. The warbow use much thicker heavier arrows as its draw weight is much heavier and they were used to fire volleys at a distance. I don’t believe the English were the first to use such techniques but probably used it the most effectively. As for penetrating plate armor, nobody can be definite about whether it could or not but the ‘scare’ factor of having several thousand arrows rain down on you would probably have been enough to repel most armies and knights only made up a minority of ant army

  18. John | Sunday, 17 February 2013, 5:34 pm |

    To Ben’s comment on compound and composite bows; it is true that the technical names for such bows can get a little confusing. Hungarian/Mongolian bows were called ‘reflex’ bows, because when they were stringed, they were flexed against their entire bow ‘body’ when the bow is not stringed. Thus, when people talk of those bows nowadays, they call them “traditional reflex composite bows”. Recurve bows came in later in the medieval era, and are called that because the bow’s body originally curves towards the shooter, but toward the end of the limbs of the bow the limbs curve back out, hence the name ‘recurve’. European longbows were the most basic of all of the bows, being called longbows due to their elongated shape.
    To Cho’s latest comment, medieval style bows were pretty good at piercing chain mail; but with varying results on other types of armor. As for chain mail, the results also depended on the thickness of the chains used. It is harder to pierce scale armor, but it can be accomplished with different types of arrowheads, depending on the weight and sizes of the actual arrowhead. Though you were also right in some parts, even if you weren’t hit by an arrow, most people would run like crazy back to base, which pretty much has the same effect as if you had actually hit them.

    Hopefully helpful,
    John

  19. Ben | Sunday, 17 February 2013, 7:22 pm |

    Cho and John, thanks for both of your comments. I’ve looked into whether arrows can pierce plate armor, and I came to pretty much the same conclusion as John. Check out my post on the topic for some nice links and videos.

  20. Giles | Thursday, 5 December 2013, 1:17 pm |

    I was always told that in medieval warfare an archers accuracy wasn’t a crucial factor as they were trained to fire in devastating synchronized volleys wish i could try this technique but my bow is compound ( the one with CAMS)

  21. Giles | Thursday, 5 December 2013, 1:20 pm |

    also is it just me or is Lars Anderson leaning ridiculously forward and facing the target straight on? I was told to stand straight and be somewhere around parallel to the target

  22. Ben | Thursday, 5 December 2013, 1:38 pm |

    Giles, archery style depends a lot on the culture and time period you’re talking about. I think someone above mentioned Mongol techniques, where they employed a mounted launch-and-retreat style of archery. English armies tended to use the volley style.

    As for the leaning forward, I believe that people who have looked into the historical materials (there aren’t many) have found that leaning forward allows better technique for drawing powerful bows. Check out this discussion, for example: http://www.primitivearcher.com/smf/index.php?topic=35035.0

  23. James Griffith | Saturday, 18 October 2014, 7:38 am |

    I have considerable target and hunting experience with recurve and modern compound bow. Im currently adapting my archery to horseback. I’v viewed several of the speed shooting videos and postings and would like to know more. Particularly about equipment like arrow size, fletching and nock indexing, quiver design ect. If anyone has or knows of a source for this type of information please let me know

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