Of Robin Hood and William Tell
Just call me Robin Hood. That’s a title I’ll claim not because I rob from the rich and give to the poor, but because of a rare and unexpected archery feat I executed last week. Modern day archers call it a “Robin Hood,” based on the mythology surrounding Robin’s legendary prowess with a long bow. You can trace it back to the 15th century and the ballad “A Gest of Robyn Hode” in which the oft told tale of Robin launching a golden arrow first began. In the story, Robin triumphs in an archery contest by making a near-impossible shot and
splitting his opponent’s arrow right down the middle. That feat is probably the one that the fictitious English outlaw/bowman is best known for.
That impressive arrow-splitting feat has become the singular climactic moment in dramatic renditions of Robin Hood themed movies from 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Errol Flyn to Disney’s 2012 animated film “Brave.” So today, when a modern archer sends one arrow perfectly concentric up the shaft of another on a consecutive shot, we call it a “Robin Hood.” Back in the day, when cedar arrows were the string-slung ammunition of choice, the result of such a perfect shot would be the splitting of the arrow. Today’s modern arrows are essentially hollow tubes constructed of aluminum or carbon fiber, so a perfectly concentric, precisely angled second shot will not split a modern arrow but will lodge inside it. This modern version of the Robin Hood is also called telescoping.
This effect is what I accomplished last week while practicing with my spankin’ new Hoyt Carbon Spyder compound bow. I was shooting at a 3-D target of a whitetail deer at a range of 20 yards while launching thin-diameter Easton Carbon Express PileDriver 350 arrows. I had shot the new bow maybe 100 times or so and was already becoming deadly accurate with it. My first arrow of the group hit just off center of the vitals bulls eye. I nocked a second arrow, drew the bow, held the twenty-yard sight pin on the same spot, and released the arrow. What resulted wasn’t the usual ker-thwock I had come to expect, but an odd splintering sound instead.
When I approached the target I discovered the second arrow telescoping from the back end of the other, having burrowed itself over a third of the way into the shaft of the first arrow while shattering the nock and splitting its carbon walls in the process. Yes, I had achieved a true Robin Hood, just the third of my illustrious archery career — and probably the most unlikely since the carbon arrows are so relatively small in diameter. My two other Robin Hoods occurred many years ago, also at a range of twenty yards, while using wider diameter aluminum arrows.
On one hand I was delighted that my accuracy with the new archery gear was right on target; on the other hand, I had just destroyed about $20 worth of arrows, both of which would have to be replaced. In the interest of full disclosure I should add that aluminum and carbon fiber arrow shafts used by modern archers are more consistent and straighter than wooden arrows, making for more consistent shots.
The use of new, state-ofthe-art compound bows like the Hoyt Carbon Spyder, helps as well, along with all the bells and whistles that come with it including lighted sight pins, mechanical releases, and stabilizers.
So perhaps my new archery claim to fame is a little tainted by the sophisticated status of our modern equipment, but I’ll still take it. Some people equate this bow and arrow feat to making a hole-in-one in golf. It’s been estimated that the average archer has a chance to shoot the Robin Hood stunt about once in every 10,000 shots, and most of those occur at closer ranges of ten yards or even less. Move out to twenty yards or more and the odds get longer.
Incidentally, as for Robin Hood himself, there’s no proof that he actually ever existed. The first mention of England’s legendary, arrow-slinging outlaw can be traced back to William Langland’s Piers Plowman from about 1377. The stories, ballads, and legend blossomed from there. From the 1700s on, scholarly attempts made to show that the character of Robin Hood was inspired by actual, real-life figures including noblemen and outlaws have been fruitless. None of the research has held water, pretty much establishing that Robin was an entirely imaginary creation.
But the sharpshooting bowman still lives on in legend and lore as Robin Hood, the well-intentioned English outlaw who steals from the rich and donates the wealth to the poor while supporting his band of Merry Men with the game he poaches from Sherwood Forest where he constantly outwits his longtime nemesis, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.
The only other famous figure whose archery feat rivals that of Robin Hood is Switzerland’s folk hero William Tell. The William Tell legends date back to 1307 when, as the story goes, Tell was forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head after refusing to pay homage to a Hapsburg liege. According to the legend, Tell succeeded in hitting the apple, securing his son’s life, and then going on to become a Swiss freedom fighter. Unlike Robin who launched arrows from a longbow, Tell’s weapon of choice was the crossbow, medieval Europe’s most prevalent arrow flinging device.
While I now have three Robin Hoods to my credit, I have no desire to accomplish a “William Tell,” which would, by strict definition, require me to shoot an apple off my son’s head with a crossbow. I own a crossbow and have plenty of apples, but although I have two wonderful daughters, I don’t have a son. However, I do have a son-in-law who, I suspect, wouldn’t be too crazy about the idea either.
Tom Tatum inspects the Robin Hood shot from last week where the second arrow buries itself into the shaft of the first for a telescoping effect. This one was made at a distance of just over 20 yards.