Portrait of a Champion: HARRY DRAKE


            What does it take to become a champion? There are various answers to this, depending upon the type of archery that may be your particular forte in the case of Harry Drake, the National Flight Shooting champion. It took something like twenty-five years and a heap of practice, experimentation and no small degree of disappointment along the way.

            Drake, who is now forty-eight years old, has concentrated upon this sort of flight shooting almost from the day he attained legal status as a voter. He began in 1937, when he was only twenty-two and has constantly sought new means of driving an arrow across a longer distance.

            But it was not until 1963 that he broke all of the records for the eighty-pound class. He was able to send an arrow some 675 yards during the 1963 NAA championships in California. Earlier, the existing record had been 640 yards and stood for roughly a decade. Then in 1961, this record was broken for the class – but barely – by W.A. Scott of Texas, who shot an arrow 641 yards.

            Drake makes all of his own bows and when he took part in this national contest, he had several of them on hand. All of them measured forty-two inches in length and boasted a maple core. Gordon glass was used on back and face and a variety of woods were utilized in the risers.

                       In keeping with his design for winning, Drake’s bow had a twenty-five-inch draw with a five-inch overdraws from the back of the bow to the usable portion of the arrow rest.

            Like most serious shooters in flight events, Drake makes his own arrows as well as his bows. He feels that the best material for a flight arrow is Port Orfor cedar. These shafts are footed on the end with Purple Heart wood, using plastic nocks. Length of these arrows is twenty inches.

            When questioned to his favoring cedar for his arrow over fiberglass or even aluminum. Drake is quick to explain that one cannot get the aerodynamic shape in these other materials that one can achieve with Oregon cedar. With a flight arrow, there is a good deal more velocity, therefore more critical friction forces caused by the air through which it is launched.

            As for metal arrows, Drake has tried these experimentally, but feels they too are lacking. Although there is no scientific backing for this, it is his theory that an aluminum arrow tends to vibrate while in flight thus cutting down its speed and ultimately the distance.

            Drake, a realist when come to flight shooting, was doubtful that he would break any records – or that anyone else would – during last year’s NAA championship shoot. Reason for this doubt was the fact that the weather was damp and the field where shooting was being done was fogged in during the early morning.

            However, by the time Drake came up to compete in the eighty-pound bow class, the weather had cleared. The sun was shining and there was a helpful breeze. The rest is listed in the official NAA records.

            The heat and sun created thinner air, thus the arrow would travel farther. Drake told BOW & ARROW that in Utah, for example, where altitudes are high and the air thinner, it is possible to break records every time a man shoots. This has been reflected in professional baseball games in that mountain city too. Baseballs are constantly and consistently being batted out of the park, since they tend to travel longer and faster distances in this rarified ozone area.

            Wind, Drake has discovered can be either a hindrance or an aid. With only a light breeze, he has found that when shooting into the wind, this will cut the distance the arrow travels as much as twenty-five yards. However, if there is literally a tail wind working on the cedar shaft, this can add almost as much distance.

            As far as equipment is concerned, Harry Drake uses both a single flipper and a double model in competition. The single flipper is used when he is shooting a sixty-five pound bow, while the double flipper, affording a better grip, he uses when shooting in the eighty-pound class.

            These flippers afford added speed to the arrow, since using this to release results in less friction on the actual bowstring. Also, the incidence of draw is increased since one is cutting on the area of the string that otherwise would be covered by the fingers in the draw.

            With the sharper incidence of draw created by using this half-inch leather strap there also is a sharper release with less friction. All of these thoughts, taken individually, mean little, but over the centuries that flight shooting has been a sport, efficiency has been the key word in this sport. Each of these measures – be it bow design, shaft material or the width of the flipper – has been the subject of ages of experimentation. Each has been instituted as an aid to greater efficiency.

            And this is reflected in the Harry Drake Story, for this champions a painstaking practitioner of the art, checking and double-checking, always certain that efficiency in his shooting is unhampered.

 Bow and Arrow Magazine        March – April 1964