When it comes any era of archery history, Howard Hill must be considered one of the best.
One of the most alluring aspects of archery is the history of the sport. Although archeologists speculate at how old the technology is, the youngest date of the bow and arrow is around 20,000 years old. That’s old. Not only that, but the bow and arrow combination was used in nearly every region of the globe. It is mentioned as a weapon in the bible, used in warfare in Asia and North America, and its use by knights in the Dark Ages is comparatively modern compared to its age. As archers we should take pride in the fact we are extending the life of a truly old pastime.
Throughout the history of archery there have no doubt risen a few notable names. For one reason or another, some shooters have simply had a knack for the bow. Legends of incredible shots, tales of amazing accuracy, and the deeds of historic archers have become part of the sport. One archer whose skill certainly landed him in the select group of shooters that will be remembered is Howard Hill.
Howard Hill was born in 1899 and in his life he would be called “The World’s Greatest Archer” many, many times. Much of his early life was spent playing more organized sports, but his early 20’s he shifted his energy into archery from that point on. During his lifetime Howard Hill would travel the world promoting his skill, and our great sport. One way Hill tried to promote archery was by filming hunts and starring hunting films. In fact he performed the shooting tricks in an early Robin Hood movie.
In addition to Hollywood movies, Hill also released a few short films of his own. In the films, Hill shows viewers just what can be done with a simple bow and arrow. One of his more popular films was The Cavalcade of Archery. You can now watch the film on YouTube.
All of Hill’s extraordinary skill was not just used to film with, he was also a well decorated tournament archer. Throughout his life Hill would win 196 field tournaments…in a row. He was the most decorated field archer of his time, hands down. To say that everyone else was shooting for second place when Howard Hill showed up may be an accurate statement.
Although Hill shot movies, and shot at tournaments, his driving passion appears to have been hunting. In his book, Hunting the Hard Way, Hill recounts his exciting and prolific hunting forays. Not only was Hill able to shoot many animals in Africa, including an elephant, but he pursued a variety of animals in North America as well. In the book he tells of a shot he took at an elk, in which he estimated the distance to be around 180 yards. Hill deemed the distance too far for any type of accurate shooting. Nonetheless, he figured it would be the only shot he had at the bull and loaded an arrow. Giving the arrow flight he pierced the heart on the first try. Lucky? Probably to an extent. Good? Your darn right. Howard Hill was perhaps the best ever.
As far as gear is concerned, Hill was a huge advocate of the longbow. In his book he goes into great detail on the subject of choosing bows. He preferred the longbow, as he felt it was more forgiving and increased a shooter’s accuracy. In fact he reported that he had shot a recurve, and simply could not develop any sort of accuracy with it. When it came to selecting his longbow, Hill picked the heaviest bow he could draw. At one point he was hunting with a 115 pound longbow. Yikes.
The reason Hill used a heavy bow, and encouraged other shooters to as well, was because he believed it made aiming easier. Hill practiced what would be categorized as gap shooting when he shot. Gap shooting refers to a shooter using the point of their arrow to judge distance. With a very heavy bow, Hill’s arrow would travel very flat. The flat trajectory would allow him to hold nearly point on for many shots he took.
It is true that Howard Hill is one of the greatest archers to have ever lived. He was one of a handful of archers who helped archery gimp through the rough years of the early 20th century. His name is one of the few that has stood the test of time, and his feats have endured. His achievements with a bow and arrow no doubt fueled the fire inside more than one young archer. Perhaps his story still holds some magic in that department. Understanding his story, and the stories of others like him, can help us as archers better know our history.