The Ancient Practice of CLOUT SHOOTING

by Cliff Huntington

The term clout shooting is derived from the act of shooting at a clout. The clout itself is nothing more than any mark, historically white and in its most simple form, a small white rag. This is accomplished at long ranges, customarily between 9 score and 12 score yards. The event dates back to the first Elizabeth and has been practiced in varying form for many years and is an "old English form of competitive archery at a single mark."

Clout shooting probably evolved out of a need to train archers "to shoot to a length." The English were not disposed to willingly practice and maintain a degree of proficiency as is sometimes portrayed in verse and cinema. Without the compulsory week-end practice as was commonly dictated by law, skills necessary to successfully fend off aggression in defense of land and life were quickly lost. The English had to be forced to practice. From these forced sessions clout shooting was developed as the means to mass huge numbers of arrows to a common point. Archers provided a primitive yet highly effective form of artillery and history would record in graphic detail it’s effectiveness. During The Hundred Years War, the outcome of battles at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt would certainly have been different without the massed firepower of these ancient archers.

Few still practice the "clout" but here’s a view of how The Royal Company of Archers performed this event with ceremony and spectacle. Their range consists of two clouts separated by 180 yards. The clout itself is a circular mat, 30 inches in diameter, slightly elevated at the far end to make it more visible. Scoring is accomplished in the following manner; a certain value is set for striking the clout proper, say a three, a lesser value for the arrow closest to the clout, say a two and one point for any arrow within a 40 foot diameter ring surrounding the clout.

Shooting at this distance presents several problems, one of which is to determine exactly where one’s arrow has landed. It is here that the "services of a Marker are not only desirable but essential", to quote Badminton. The Marker’s role is to indicate to the archers exactly where their arrows have landed in relation to the clout. This is accomplished though a unique system of semaphore, using a simple instrument such as a napkin on a stick to relay the position of the arrow’s strike. The response to an arrow striking the clout requires some signal of jubilation from the Marker such as throwing his hat in the air, doing a jig or falling flat on his back and waving his legs in the air. Marking at the clouts is not accomplished without some danger which may explain the difficulty in obtaining men competent to undertake it. To protect the Marker "a slim, high, man-sized board, called a Mantle" is provided near the Markers station. In the event an arrow is lost sight of, the Marker can seek shelter behind "The Royal Company’s version of an air raid shelter."

When all archers are assembled at one clout with the Marker at the other, shooting is accomplished in a rapid manner, in sequence, one arrow at a time until the end is complete. Both parties quickly change places, scores are recorded and the procedure is repeated until a certain score is obtained or a pre-determined number of ends is reached.

During practice the Company wears green blazers and matching berets with red pompoms. If the occasion requires it, the more formal full field dress uniform is worn. The entire event is performed "impeccably, impressively and quickly."

During the 1922 NAA Tournament held at Cooperstown, New York, a Clout Shooting contest was held for the first time and none other than James Duff, a Marker for the Royal Company for eight years in his youth, laid out the course.


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