A master archer critiques Hawkeye's bow skills
He may not be everyone's favourite Avenger, but his archery skills are legendary. Could he really pull it off?
When it comes to the Avengers, Hawkeye has something of a reputation for being the odd one out. After all, the superhero team includes a Norse god, a green behemoth, a wizard, a racoon, a man who can shoot webbing out of his hands, a witch, a super-solider and… some guy with a bow and arrow.
But is that fair? Patricia Gonsalves, a master archer who has worked as an advisor on superhero show Arrow, starring DC hero Green Arrow, doesn’t think so.
“I hear that a lot,” she says. “When I worked on Arrow, a lot of people were like, ‘he should just get a gun’. But the people who say that are missing the point of the archery character – instinct is their superpower. They don’t need to see; they can hear things that the average person can’t hear. They turn around, draw the bow, they’ve already got the image of their target in their head. Anyone can fire a gun. Instinct, stealth and subtlety – that's the superpower.”
But even so, it’s not like Hawkeye is any ordinary archer. With the release of new Disney+ series Hawkeye this week, Gonsalves talks us through why the superhero is way more than just some guy with a bow and arrow…
In archery, bow draw weight is the amount of force needed to pull a bow, which then translates into how powerful the shot is. How much bow draw weight an archer needs depends on what they’re doing.
“60 pounds will blow through Kevlar,” says Gonsalves. “When hunting, I've never really had anything more than a maximum of 70 pounds. I'm trying to hunt an animal, not blow a hole inside of it. If you're doing Olympic archery you’re looking at maybe 40, 45 pounds. War bows from the site of the Mary Rose of England had an estimated draw weight of 180 pounds. The world record, held by Mark Stretton, is over 200 pounds.”
The bow draw weight for Hawkeye, according to the comics, is 250 pounds, which makes Gonsalves burst out laughing: “Oh God, no! To say that is overkill is an understatement. There's absolutely no reason to have that sort of draw weight. I can't think of any circumstance you would want a 250-pound bow. Unless you were trying to take down a tank.”
Details on how many arrows Hawkeye can shoot in a single minute are sketchy, but his DC cousin the Green Arrow – whose abilities are not hugely dissimilar – can shoot 29.
“On average 12 would be the ideal number in a minute,” says Gonsalves. “My own record is 21 in a minute. Danish archer Lars Andersen [who claims he can shoot 10 arrows in 4.9 seconds] shoots quite fast and it looks great but he’s using a really light draw bow. I could probably shoot 30 with a 10-pound bow, because it's offering very little resistance.
"When it comes to shooting quickly, it’s about how fast can get the arrow on the string, not how fast you can let it go. It's not unrealistic to shoot 29 arrows a minute, but sure as hell not on a 250-pounds bow!”
Hawkeye’s accuracy with a bow is legendary, with Jeremy Renner’s MCU version being able to take down moving targets from ludicrous distances, sometimes without even looking. In reality, archers must contend with what Gonsalves calls the ‘archer's paradox’: the fact that when an archer shoots an arrow it is moving in three different directions at once. “It is spinning, it is moving forward and it’s also going through the air like a fish, wriggling back and forth,” she says.
To tame that movement, archers must consider various factors that can influence the direction of an arrow – distance, the wind, what hand they’re shooting from. But most all, says Gonsalves, they must go against their instinct.
“If you're shooting an Olympic target, you want to point your arrow at the middle, right? But the arrow is going to go up or down depending how close or how far away you are.
"Think of a target as a clock. If I'm 20 feet away, I’m not going to aim at the yellow. I'm going to be aiming at around the 5 area, because if I aim at the middle, I'm going to hit the 10 area. The arrow’s going to travel up because I'm so close – it doesn't have time to finish its travel. But if I'm farther away, I have to aim a little bit higher. There's a lot of different factors that go into a shot.”
Gonsalves is able shoot a bow in such a way that the arrow curves around an object and hits her target, but even she balks at some of the trick shots pulled off by Hawkeye. Not least the feat of him shooting three arrows at once and having each one hit their target.
“Physics says no,” she says. “When you have three arrows, instead of the string going into a single point, it's now going into multiple points. The top and the bottom arrows are ahead of the centre one, which means when you shoot, the string is going to push the top one down and the bottom one up.
"You're also taking away momentum from all three of those arrows because if you’re using, say, a 40-pound bow then that is now being dispersed between three projectiles instead of one.”
And finally, a quick note on Jeremy Renner’s overall form, which Gonsalves says “sucks”. This is because, according the Gonslaves, Renner was trained in the Olympic style of archery, which favours slower, more open and less dynamic movements.
“Those are 40- to 45-pound bows,” she says, “the target is 60 metres away. Not that I'm saying it's easy, but they have sights. They have all this assistance. So, trying to take someone who's supposed to be a vigilante and getting them to shoot like an Olympian is completely ridiculous. No offence to Olympians, but what do they know about that sort of [fast, dynamic] movement? What does an Olympian know about being an assassin?”
Instead, she says, Renner should have been trained by an instinctive hunter. “When it comes to archery on film, we need to make it dynamic and exciting with a lot of movement. And that’s instinctive hunting.
"The dynamic movement is the draw… If you're going to hold the bow out like [an Olympian], reach for the arrow slowly, then draw and shoot – well, if you're a deer, you're gone.”
About our expert, Patricia GonsalvesWith over 30 years of experience and training, Patricia specializes in ancient and traditional archery weapons, tools, and techniques. She now teaches these skills to students at her own archery school, Lykopis Archery. In addition to passing along her knowledge to the next generation of traditional archers, Patricia also promotes accurate Hollywood portrayals of archers in her role as archery consultant for the popular television series Arrow, as well as other shows.
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Stephen Kelly is a freelance culture and science journalist. He oversees BBC Science Focus's Popcorn Science feature, where every month we get an expert to weigh in on the plausibility of a newly released TV show or film. Beyond BBC Science Focus, he has written for such publications as The Guardian, The Telegraph, The I, BBC Culture, Wired, Total Film, Radio Times and Entertainment Weekly. He is a big fan of Studio Ghibli movies, the apparent football team Tottenham Hotspur and writing short biographies in the third person.