Of Robin Hood and Wil­liam Tell

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Tom Ta­tum Colum­nist

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.

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