For most people involved in a hobby, especially when coming in to them as an adult, the introduction is rather sedate. A friend or work colleague is the usual route in to many pastimes and it often takes a while before their interest peaks and they look for more serious endeavours in their chosen field. Not so for me as my route in to the elite competition of archery was both swift and a minor disaster. I had done archery a number of times, first via the scouting association, then a 6 week course in the summer and then at a small family run local club, where the social aspect was more important than actually teaching anybody to shoot to any decent level (although I must add things were always very safe).
Then I met Steve via his excellent "Robin Hood Events" format, an great way for people to try archery without the commitment in both time and money. A couple of visits to Robin Hood Events and my brother in law Martin and I were hooked, he a seasoned target archer and I a mere novice. The hospitality, friendliness and general inclusiveness of Robin Hood Events and Steve meant that we were made very welcome and this led on to an invite to join Steve and a few friends to a trip to France for the first European 3D Archery Festival, held in Tours in central France. So totally unprepared Martin and I set off on a mammoth trip to France to shoot against some of the best archers from across Europe, which of course is where things took a turn for the worse. Having never shot field before we were thrown in at the deep end, not only having to cope with the course, the extreme heat (it was the height of summer in central France) and the language barrier, I had hardly any real archery experience and it showed. The horrors of the weekend shall be kept for another day but I came dead last, not just in my class, not just the men, but dead last out of everybody. To be fair I was close to one chap but he had given up after lunch so there was no crumb of comfort to cling to there.
From there things could have gone one of two ways, I could have given up there and then, walked away at least in the knowledge I had tried or I could carry on, use the experience as a source of inspiration. The fact I am here today writing this should give an indication of which path I took, coming last was a humiliation which drove me on, for the next year I read everything I could about archery, I listened and learned all I could from anybody who had anything to say and I worked, shot until my fingers bled, shot until I could shoot no more, I was never coming last again. To say that trip to France was influential is an understatement, it left an indelible mark on my soul, drove me on to be the archer I am today and the yearly trip to France has been the highlight of my archery calendar ever since.
This year saw the 4th festival, again held in Tours as it has been since the start. It takes place in the grounds of the Château Cande, which is a wonderful location for a shoot. The festival is organised by CAVL Montlouis an archery club based in the area and affiliated to the FFTA, the French governing body of archery. There are a number of archery organisations around the world but this is under the umbrella of FITA which is normally associated more with target archery. But the festival is no small club shoot, the organisation is fantastic and this year there were close to 500 archers attending. My wife (Wendy) and I set off France early on Thursday and drove the 450 miles via the Channel tunnel, Friday was spent resting before registration opened in the evening which was followed by a quick practice.
The organisation as I mentioned is second to none, with an area set aside to gather before setting off to the targets. Small flags denote your course and target number and there is a quick safety briefing and recap of the rules under which we will be shooting. This year we were shooting under the French rules, 2 arrows shot at each target scoring 5 for a hit, 8 for a kill, 10 for the inner kill and 10+ for the pro ring in the very middle. I was on the blue course, peg 38 with my companions for the day, Alain, Patrick who I had shot with in previous years, Daniel and a young nervous looking Spanish chap Yeray. I speak a small amount of French but generally understand whats' going on but it can be a little difficult when the conversation turns to archery as your basic school level French doesn't extend to the in's and out's of archery terminology. In previous years I had been lucky enough to have been on a peg with at least one English speaker, Christophe the first year, the awesome Spanish champion Raul Ibanez the second year and Jacqueline last year, however this year nobody spoke English. But rather than be a problem I think we all enjoyed the experience of trying to communicate with each other in our small snippets, of course with the added fun of also having Yeray who spoke only Spanish, I do know some spanish but it only extends to please and thank yous and something about losing my car keys.
Our first target was a small dragon which the French lads insisted on calling a Pokemon, in previous years I had terrible starts so it was great to see both arrows find the target, this continued on two small skunks and then a bedded deer. We then came to our first longer target, a huge Elk, the style shot in France is all about the inner kills and the longest targets are 30 meters away maximum. For me this was bread and butter, I was up first and banged two right in the kill to a round of applause which was nice. This is where you see the difference between the various archery styles and skills as for the first time the rest of the group were missing the target. It was 3 more targets before I missed, on a polar bear down hill, I wasn't a mile away but a miss all the same, this is where the French scoring is different to the UK, a miss is brutally punished and too many of those and you are well off the pace quickly. I was back on the traget for the next few and then a fantastic double 10 on a deer, two arrows next to each other within an inch. One of the great things about this shoot is the quality of the targets, and our next was a really special one, the area is wonderful and we were in the lake section, the target was a large great white shark coming out of the water. The other great thing about France is that you can use binoculars and ever target has a picture at the peg detailing the kill and inner kill areas, this means you really can shoot for the 10 each time even if you have never seen the target before.
The courses are split in to two loops and we were soon at the end of the first loop and it was time for lunch, if there is one thing the French do well it's lunch so we headed back to the main area to enjoy some good food and a rest as the heat was extreme. This is central France in the height of summer and while it gets hot in the UK you can usually find some shelter in amongst the trees, yet hear the heat never gave you a moments peace.
Once lunch was done with we reassembled in our groups and were once again led out. We were in the higher part of the grounds this time and it was some considerable walk to the targets. Once we had arrived we took a quick breather and it was back on with the archery. I was shooting well, possibly as well as I have ever shot in France and by this time the scores within the group were starting to fragment, Alain led the way closely followed by Yeray and myself, with the others a small way behind. Our last few targets for the day were out in the open with the sun on our backs, we had kept hydrated during the day and kept our strength up and we all finished strongly. A long walk back followed and we went over the score cards to check and sign them. I had come in with 462, a best ever score for me in France and while it was never going to trouble the leaders was very respectable. We hadn't got off the course until gone 7pm and we were ready for some food and then off to bed to recover ready for the next day.
The following morning we travelled to the shoot to see how we had done, the top 8 archers in each class go on to contest the final while the rest are split in to groups of similar ability to shoot off for those extra one or two places and to win back their entrance fee. I had come in 23 on the first day and was in the third tier group for archers places 20 - 25, I had the pleasure of Yeray's company again as he had just beaten me on the first day, Bruno another archer I had shot with previously, Patrick and Jordi another Spanish archer. We had the very good fortune that Jordi was tri-lingual and spoke both French and English which meant that communication between all of us was much less effort than the day before and Yeray had the benefit of shooting with somebody from his own country. Having shot the blue course on the first day we swapped to the red course, however today we would only shoot half the course, on the 21-40 target loop. Also to speed things up we were shooting just the one arrow rather than the two from the previous day, although in practice this made very little difference in the time it took to shoot, but it did make for a less physical day in yet more high temperatures.
One great thing about this format is that the people you are shooting with are all very similar to you in ability. It's clear to see that the odd person has shot exceptionally well the day before and possibly somebody else has shot lower than their usual potential, but you are very much on a level and the scores remain very tight for the whole day. I had another very good day, missing just the once and came in with 120, which again was one of my best days. Once we had finished it was back to the main area close to the Château, the top groups of 8 had now been reduced to 4 and the final was taking place in the shadows of the Château, this is where this shoot sets itself apart, while the targets we had been shooting for the two days had been great the ones reserved for the final are something special, a full size giraffe, a rhino and various other exotic animals. The targets are a sight to behold, as is the archery on display as some of the best archers in Europe were in attendance. Unfortunately we had a long journey back and a train to catch so left before the medals were awarded.
This is the best shoot I have ever been to, the shoot itself is excellent, the organisation top class and the hospitality, friendliness and comradeship of the other archers second to none. If you only do one shoot a year make sure it is this one.
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