1 Class Notes for an Introductory Archery Class David O. McReynolds These notes analyze an archery shot, discuss some of the mental challenges of archery, and give some suggestions as to equipment for a beginning archer. For most people who took the class, it was a chance to spend a hopefully pleasant morning trying something new. For a few, it will be the start of a lifetime passion. It is for those people that these notes are intended. But even if you think you're in the first group, you might want to put these notes where you can find them someday, because once archery infects you, it can lie dormant for years before it flares up and you find that you re in the second group after all! This has been written from the perspective of traditional archery: recurves and longbows, as that is what I am most familiar with. However, basic archery form (everything we do behind the bow to get the arrow off) is the same for compounds. During the class, you were shown a few of the fundamentals of archery: stance, grip, drawing the bow, etc. It takes time to learn a new physical movement, and it is counterproductive to introduce more than a few at a time. Actually, in the introductory class you were probably shown more than you could reasonably absorb in one morning, but you needed to be shown enough that you could start shooting arrows. What you didn t remember or comprehend from the brief explanation we gave, you filled in as best you could. Some of what you filled in you will want to re-learn if you decide to progress in archery. In some cultures, a more methodical approach is used, and it is a long time before the student fires his first arrow (see Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel for an example of the Eastern approach to teaching archery). The best way to use these notes is to slow down a bit, pick one component of the shot, and work on it until you feel you ve worked out the solution that works best for you. It could be the last step in the shooting process that you pick first if that s what catches your attention; it really doesn t matter. Just keep shooting and enjoying yourself, filling in the blanks as needed, and over time replacing the blanks with good archery form. If you really want to learn some component of archery form, the best way to do it is to shoot at a blank bale: a big backstop about five feet away from you with no target on it. For example, suppose what you want to work on is the way you grip the bow. You can try out the orthodox grip and all the variations you can think of without worrying about where the arrow goes until you find the one that's right for you. The best explanation of the use of a blank bale that I have found is in the video, Masters of the Bare Bow 3. I m not an expert archer; far from it. But I ve had the good fortune to learn from some of the best, including Rod Jenkins and Rick Welch. One of the ways they helped me the most was to identify things I was doing incorrectly in my shot, and show me what I needed to do to correct it.
2 The problem we face is that if we repeat an incorrect action enough times, it begins to feel more natural than the correct action. When we start doing the action correctly, it feels awkward until we shoot enough arrows correctly that it, in turn, begins to feel natural. It is hard to selfdiagnose a problem when doing it the wrong way feels right, and it really helps to have an expert point it out for you. In order to help you, I have included TIPS for those problems I have learned to self-diagnose. One of the benefits for you of my not being an expert, by the way, is that I think I have made most of the mistakes that an archer can make, not just once but many times. I have had to learn to self-diagnose a lot of problems that I have repeated even after the correct method has been shown to me by an expert. Nine Steps to a Perfect Archery Shot As Rod Jenkins stated in the video Masters of the Bare Bow 3, you should never accept less than a perfect shot. What is a perfect archery shot? A perfect shot is a shot using perfect form, which we are all capable of learning to do, at least some of the time. If you do everything right, but the shot lands outside the bulls-eye because you can t hold your bow as steady as an Olympic archer could, or because the arrow wobbles, that s still a perfect shot for our purposes. Maybe you could learn to hold your bow arm more steady and tune your arrows better, but it s still the best shot you re capable of right now, and it should give you joy when you make it. The first stage of learning is to get to the point that you can recognize what it feels like to shoot a perfect shot, so you re aware of when you shoot one and when you don t. Hopefully, the TIPS will help you to know if you re actually doing what you intended to do. Actually, you should decide if you really even want to shoot a perfect shot. The reason I first started shooting the bow was to relieve the stress of work. After a brief stint with the compound, the reason I switched to the traditional bow was because it was a better stress reliever for me than the compound was. Keeping the arrows in the target so I didn t have to go looking for them very often was enough accuracy for me. I mainly enjoyed the feeling of shooting the arrow and watching it fly through the air. Learning the things I m about to discuss would have just added to my stress at the time. Shooting a perfect shot regularly, rather than just occasionally, requires discipline and a determination not to accept less than a perfect shot. Flinging arrows in the backyard solely to relieve stress not only doesn t help you to shoot a perfect shot, it can actually move you in the other direction. Things change, and now I want to shoot a perfect shot. These are the nine steps to shooting a perfect shot. I m not really sure there should be nine steps, maybe there should be eight or eleven; every source seems to have a different number. But they all end up covering the same form elements in there somewhere, so nine is probably as good a number as any. 2
3 1. Stance and Alignment Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. Your posture should be upright, balanced, and relaxed. Generally, it s a good plan to start off by standing with your feet and shoulders perpendicular to the target. Because of your body structure or preference, you might later decide that it s better for you to stand slightly open to the target, which means that if a line were drawn through your toes, that line would extend slightly to the left of the target. Please note that all my directions in these notes are for a right-handed shooter; along with other inconveniences in the world, a left-handed shooter needs to reverse my directions. If you decide on an open stance, you need to decide if your shoulders should also be open to the target, or if you should rotate them back so they are perpendicular to the target. It s preferable to keep your shoulders perpendicular to the target unless your body structure calls for a more open alignment. However you decide your shoulders should be, they should be in a consistent position from shot to shot. There is a tendency for the shoulders to open up as you draw the bow. If you shoot best with your shoulders perpendicular to the target, you need to hold them perpendicular as you draw the bow, or else bring them back to a perpendicular alignment as you come to full draw. When you hear the expression, push with your bow arm, you might wonder how you could push any more than you re already pushing, but if your shoulders have opened up during the draw, pushing with your bow arm shoulder will bring your shoulders back into alignment. TIP: when you do this, the arrow will end up closer to your left shoulder at full draw, which you can use as a gauge as to whether your shoulders are in alignment. Another way to determine your best alignment is by natural pointing. To determine your natural point, stand about five yards away from the target, perpendicular to the target. Holding the bow with a nocked arrow in your bow hand, close your eyes and drop your bow hand to one side and your other hand to the other side. With your eyes closed, raise the bow, draw the arrow, and point at where you think the center of the target is. Open your eyes and see where you re pointing. If you re pointing dead center, then a perpendicular stance is best for you. If you re pointing to one side or the other, then an open or closed stance that would bring your arrow to dead center would be best for you. While we eventually learn to shoot accurately with our feet in all kinds of different positions for hunting or 3D archery shots, it is best to learn with your feet in the same alignment every shot. TIP: from time to time, bend down and place an arrow on the ground so it touches the tips of your shoes, and then walk around behind and see what direction it is pointing. It should either be pointing toward the target if you want to use a perpendicular alignment or slightly to the left of the target if you intended an open alignment. Your head should be centered on your body and rotated to face the target. If you don t have sufficient range of motion in your neck to rotate your head enough to completely face the target, 3
4 rotate it as far in that direction as you can. Your dominant eye should be directly above the center of your torso. Once you set your head position, it should stay in that position until the conclusion of the shot; you should not move your head at all as you draw the bow, come to anchor, and aim your shot. The ideal head position has been described as aristocratic, where you are looking slightly down your nose at the world, sort of like the avatar guy of The New Yorker magazine. I check that a certain bump on my nose is slightly above the target in my sight picture when I m checking my alignment, because if my head begins to droop and my nose drops out of view, my draw length will shorten and my arrows will impact low. Your bow can be vertical, or slightly canted to the right. Generally, canting the bow will cause arrows to impact in the direction of the cant, i.e. a right cant will move point of impact of the arrows to the right. You may eventually learn to shoot your bow at extreme cants for hunting purposes, or even a backwards cant for your own amusement and to amaze your friends, but most people shoot best with a minimal cant or with the bow in an upright position. 2. Grip and arrow nocking If you extend your bow arm without thinking about it and point at something, the chances are the back of your hand will be at about a 45 angle, which would be a good position to hold it on the bow. The bow hand does nothing during the shot but hold the bow in the fork between your thumb and forefinger. The weight of the bow should rest on the meaty part of your palm between your thumb and lifeline. No part of the bow should touch your palm on the finger side of your lifeline. Your fingers other than your forefinger can lightly rest on the back of the handle and should mainly just stay out of the way. You can curl your forefinger around the bow to keep the bow from flying out of your hand when you shoot it, or you can use a bow sling. If you don t use a bow sling, make sure you keep enough of a grip on the bow so you don t have to grab it in a reflexive movement when you shoot the bow, as that will cause inaccuracies in your shot. Other than that, your bow hand should be relaxed. There are variations of the bow hand grip (high, low, or medium) that you can experiment with using the blank bale until you come up with something that works best for you. Longbow shooters sometimes shoot better with all their fingers gripping the bow handle, and you will have to experiment with this to see what works best for you. There is usually a nock indicator on the bowstring, and the arrow is usually nocked under the nock indicator, although some people prefer to nock their arrows on top of the nock indicator. You should ask how the bow has been set up before you shoot it, because your arrows won t fly right if you nock in the wrong place. The arrow should be just a little higher than square with respect to the bowstring if it is nocked properly, whether nocked under or on top of the nock indicator. This can be further refined by tuning your arrows to your bow, which is beyond the scope of these notes. 4
5 The string is usually held one of two ways: either the index finger is above the arrow and the next two fingers under the arrow, which is called the Mediterranean, or split-finger grip, or all three fingers are held below the arrow, which is called the Apache, or three-under grip. The advantage of the split-finger grip is that you have better control of the arrow, so you don t need as tight a nock, and the apex of the string angle at full draw is closer to the arrow nock. A potential problem with the split-finger grip, which is avoided with the three-under grip, is that the index finger can press down on the arrow at full draw, thus bowing the arrow shaft, which rebounds when shot causing inaccuracies. TIP: if this happens to you, if may indicate that you are holding your elbow too high, and you can correct the problem by getting your string elbow more in-line with the arrow. Often, bows set up to shoot three-under have nock indicators both above and below the arrow, as the string angle at full draw can cause the arrow to slide down the string when shot, causing high misses. TIP: if you use the three-under grip, check each shot that your fingers are close to, but not touching the arrow. If you just grip the string without checking, your fingers may be a considerable distance below the arrow without your being aware of it, causing low misses. Although my discussion might seem to indicate that three-under is a fussier way to shoot than split-fingers, many people feel that it is more accurate, so you need to try both and use the one you like best. You should hold the string in a deep hook. Generally, this means holding the string in the crease of the first joint. Different people have different length fingers, so at least have the string in the crease of the first joint of the middle finger, and make adjustments as needed from there for the index and ring fingers. You should hook your fingers back enough that your fingertips are angled back toward you, so you have a secure hold on the bowstring. Make sure you maintain this hook as you draw the bow. Relaxing your forearm and hand as you draw the bow without relaxing the deep hook is a skill you will need to learn. 3. Pre-draw Not everyone uses a pre-draw, but it is a good way to check your alignment after gripping the bow and bowstring, and to check that your bow hand, string hand, and forearm are relaxed under slight tension but before you draw to anchor. If your hands and arms are tense at full draw, it s difficult to relax them without loss of back tension, loss of deep hook, and creeping; generally the best bet is to let the draw down and start over. In my form of pre-draw, I push my bow arm out in the direction of the target, at about a 45 downward angle, as if I were reaching out for something that was just out of reach of my bow hand. This places my bow arm shoulder in a downward position which I try to maintain during the shot. I begin to draw the bow enough to put some tension on the string. When I am satisfied that my alignment is correct and my hands and arms are relaxed, I begin my draw to anchor. 5
6 4. Excessive pulling to anchor You should start your draw with enough force that you can easily come to full draw without straining. You shouldn t jerk the bow back, but if your draw stalls mid-draw, you will find it difficult to complete your draw. Full draw occurs when your drawing forearm is in line with the arrow, viewed from above. TIP: it is helpful to have someone standing behind and slightly above video you, and you can determine for yourself if you are reaching full draw. There are several ways to draw the bow: you can start the draw with a low drawing elbow and bring your elbow up into alignment as you draw the bow, start the draw level, or start with a high elbow and bring your elbow down into alignment as you draw the bow. Generally, people find that it is easier to engage the back muscles by starting with the drawing elbow a little higher than it ends up at full draw. Some people find it easier to come to full draw if the elbow remains slightly high at full draw (viewed from the side); other people like the elbow in line with the arrow at full draw. Some people with shoulder problems find it less aggravating to the shoulder if they start the draw with a low elbow and raise it up into alignment as they draw the bow. In all cases, the drawing elbow should be in line with the arrow at full draw, viewed from above. You will have to determine what works best for you. Your bow arm can be straight or slightly bent. Some people find that a slight bend in the bow arm improves accuracy and helps avoid left misses. Some people don t. You will have to experiment and decide for yourself. More longbow shooters like to have a slight bend in their bow arms than recurve shooters, because it helps absorb the increased hand shock that some longbows have. Also, longbows are typically braced (braced: the distance between the bow and the string) lower than recurves, and a little elbow bend in the bow arm helps avoid the string hitting the bow forearm when the bow is shot. You should start your draw with most of the weight on your middle finger, and the least amount of weight on your ring finger, whether you are shooting split-fingers or three-under. As you draw the bow, the back of your string hand and forearm should be as completely relaxed as possible. You should feel like the joints in your hand and forearm are stretching out as you draw the bow using your back muscles. The back of your string hand should be flat, and not cupped out with the knuckles showing. TIP: If you have unexplained left misses, one reason could be that your string hand is cupped and not relaxed. Any tension in the bow hand, such as pushing on the riser with the thumb can also result in left misses. The reason we want to draw the bow with a relaxed string arm and hand is because that is the easiest way to avoid torqueing the bowstring. Torqueing the bowstring occurs when we exert a twisting force on the string, which will generally result in left misses. The only way we can draw the bow with a relaxed string arm and hand is to draw the bow primarily using the back muscles rather than the arm and shoulder muscles. Also, it is much easier to hold steady at full 6
7 draw when the weight of the draw is on the back muscles; it requires a lot more effort to hold at full draw using the arm and shoulder muscles. The problem is, most people do not have a very good awareness of the particular back muscles that need to be used. Indications that you are using the right muscles are that you can feel your string shoulder blade move over toward your backbone toward the end of the draw, and the stretching sensation in your forearm and hand mentioned above. If you hold an arrow in front of your chest with one hand on each end and try to pull it apart, you should be able to feel the back muscles that should be used to draw the arrow. There is a device called a Formaster which you can attach to your bow that will help you learn to use your back muscles. This is not just for beginners; Rod Jenkins uses a Formaster as a part of his preparation to compete in archery tournaments. The anchor is the place you hold your drawing hand at full draw. It has to be consistent every time you shoot, because it is your rear sight, whatever aiming method you might use. To anchor, means to draw back the arrow until you touch something attached to the arrow, such as a finger or knuckle on your drawing hand, or perhaps an arrow fletch, to some spot or spots you have selected on your face or head. Your anchor should be a place that corresponds with your reaching full draw. So first you should learn to come to full draw, and then begin looking around for an anchor. You should have at least two anchors: one to lock you in horizontally and another to lock you in vertically. Many people use a finger in the corner of the mouth, but for others that anchor doesn t allow them to come to full draw. Some use a thumb knuckle behind the jaw bone, or on the bottom of the ear lobe. An anchor favored by Rick Welch is to fletch the arrow such that the back of the cock feather will just touch the tip of the nose at full draw. A basic anchor that everyone should use is the feeling that comes when the back muscles are fully engaged and the string arm shoulder blade has moved toward the spine. You should coordinate your breathing with your shot. You will not be accurate if you breathe in on one shot and out on the next. A common method is to breathe in while drawing the bow and hold your breath until conclusion. Another common method is to breathe in while drawing the bow, then partially exhale at full draw, then hold the rest of your breath until conclusion. You may find that something else works better than either of these for you, but whatever it is should be consistent from shot to shot. 5. Balanced pulling at anchor Your accuracy will be improved if you hold for a few seconds at full draw in order to allow your bow arm to stabilize on target. The challenge is to continue pulling with the back muscles during this time. If there is any loss of back tension, the arrow will begin to creep forward, and the shot will be ruined. Two seconds of hold seems about right for most people. Less than two seconds is not enough time for things to stabilize; more than two seconds and muscles begin to tire and eventually quiver. This is the point that really makes or breaks the shot. It is a good idea to have a close-up video of the front of the arrow where it protrudes from the bow at full draw to see if 7
8 there is any creeping at all during this time. If there is, you need to focus more on maintaining your back tension. TIP: if you relax your string hand and bow hand at full draw, and the bow wants to change position, usually to a more upright position, that means that you were either torqueing the bow or the bowstring. Probably a better time to make this evaluation is during the predraw. TIP: Ask someone to hold an arrow on your shoulder blades to check your alignment at full draw. The arrow should ideally point toward the bow hand, unless you need to use a more open alignment because of your body structure, in which case it should point at a consistent angle to the left of the target from shot to shot. 6. Commitment The commitment step is where you ask yourself the question: Is everything right and should I make this shot? Expert archers have stated that they are unable to correct any problems that might be present at this stage of the draw, and if any are detected, they let the draw down and restart the process. It is interesting that expert archers often let a shot down and start over, whereas beginning archers almost never do. It seems like it should be the other way around, doesn t it? 7. Aiming and Expansion Ideally, aiming should be the last archery skill you develop. If you haven t developed good archery form, the arrow isn t going to go where you re aiming very often anyway. When it does hit what you re aiming at, it s great, but frustrating at the same time because you don t know what you did to make it happen. If you spend too much time on aiming before you learn good archery form, it will just slow your progress. Once you have good archery form, your arrows will go pretty much where you re looking whether you consciously aim or not. There are two basic schools of aiming: instinctive and gap. Under either method of aiming, after you have committed to the shot, your attention should remain focused on the point you want to hit until the conclusion of the shot. Instinctive aiming means that you aim the bow without any mental calculation, similar to the way you would throw a baseball to first base or a basketball through the hoop. You just draw the bow, focus on the target, and keep pulling until the arrow goes off. In time, your mind and body will figure it out and the arrows will start hitting the mark. It is a good aiming method to start with, if for no other reason than being able to experience the almost miraculous feeling that occurs when the arrows actually do begin to hit the mark without your having done anything other than focus on it. Also, if you start with instinctive aiming, you can easily switch to gap later on if you want to; it s not so easy to go the other way. 8
9 Within those who aim instinctively, there are two groups: the first group does not see anything other than the target; the second group sees the arrow tip, the bow hand, and some of the bow in their out-of-focus peripheral vision. What the second group sees in their peripheral vision is called the sight picture. The sight picture doesn t vary from shot to shot. Shrubbery, the target, the skyline, etc., all change from shot to shot and are not part of the sight picture. Those who are aware of the sight picture use this information to decide when the shot is right, but do not consciously place the sight picture in any particular reference with respect to the target. The second school of aiming is gap. This aiming technique is similar to using sights on the bow, only instead of an actual bow sight, the tip of the arrow is used. Focus is maintained on the target, with the arrow point out-of-focus in the peripheral vision. The first objective is to find the point-on distance. You shoot arrows at different distances, always placing the arrow tip on the target, until you find the distance at which you can place the point of the arrow on the target and hit the target. Assuming you found that your point-on distance was 40 yards, and you wanted to shoot at a target 30 yards away, you would need to place the point of the arrow below the target. The exact distance below the target could be determined by shooting at a 30 yard target with the arrow point-on, and seeing how far above the target the arrows hit; if they hit a foot above the target, you would hold a foot low. You could then shoot at 50 yards point-on, and would find that the arrows impacted below the target. If the arrows impacted a yard below the target, you would hold the arrow point a yard above the target. You could repeat this at all the distances you wanted to shoot until you knew how far above or below the target you needed to hold the arrow point in order to hit it. At some distance beyond your point-on distance, the gap between the arrow point and the target becomes too great to accurately estimate a distance in feet or yards to hold the arrow point above the target, and other references can be used to accomplish the same result. With experience, gap shooters usually stop trying to estimate the distance and calculate a gap when shooting at unknown distances; they shoot when the gap feels right. However, they are still aware of the gap, and if the first arrow misses, they have a reference to use to correct a second shot, if they get one. This method of aiming was called split-vision by the great traditional archer Howard Hill. This method is very close to the instinctive method used by the second group above. TIP: If you have unexplained high shots when gap aiming, it may be that you were inadvertently focusing on the arrow tip or some intermediate point in space rather than focusing on the target. You would think that the same gap would apply whether you are focused on the target or the arrow tip, but I have found that the perception of the gap is different depending on where you are focused. String walking, face walking, and point of aim are all variations of the basic gap method. While aiming and with your attention focused on the point you want to hit, you increase your back tension. There should be very little backward movement of the arrow during this phase. 9
10 As you began to draw the bow, your arm and the arrow moved backwards. As you near full draw, your string arm shoulder blade begins to move toward your spine as you transfer the weight of the draw from your arm muscles to your back muscles. Toward the end of your draw, your elbow describes an arc around your backbone. TIP: The feeling should be as if you want to shut a door behind you with your elbow. If you were to graph the movement of your drawing elbow, it would describe a J pattern in the course of the draw. The objective is to expand until the arrow goes off, with no conscious release of the arrow, so that the release is a surprise. Most people are able to trigger a subconscious release by continuing to increase back tension until it happens. Some people will just stand there continuing to increase back tension waiting for a release that never happens until their arms start to shake and they turn blue in the face. The advice I ve heard given to those people is to stop holding the arrow, which is probably not as desirable as a subconscious release, since the release is not a surprise. I don t have any personal experience with what stop holding the arrow really means, since my subconscious release has always worked fine. However, I think the idea is that if you consciously try to open your fingers, you will never be able be able to open them fast enough to get them out of the way of the string. If you just relax your fingers, the string will move them aside. 8. Conclusion Also called followthrough. Fred Bear, one of the great men of American archery, felt that this was the most important step in an archery shot. The goal is to hold the same position as during the expansion step until the arrow clears the bow. Generally, people pick a conclusion that guarantees this, such as holding position until the arrow strikes the target, or until their fingers touch their shoulder or neck. TIP: if the arrow strikes more than a little low, it probably means you dropped your bow arm before the arrow cleared the bow. When this happens to me, I generally begin thinking of all the reasons my arrow could have hit low other than the obvious one. TIP: if your string hand recoils backward and your fingers end up touching your neck, that is a good sign. TIP: if your string hand ends up waving to the crowd, that is a bad sign that you plucked the string, and you probably missed right. Generally this is caused by a loss of back tension before conclusion of the shot. TIP: if your bow hand recoils toward the target, that is a good sign. If it recoils to one side or the other, it is a sign that you may have torqued the bow or perhaps didn t come to full draw. 10
11 9. Wait at least 45 seconds before taking the next shot Your brain requires some time to get the image of the last shot filed away, and your muscles need some time to recover before you are ready for another shot. It is interesting that experts expect each other to take at least 45 seconds between shots, while amateurs sometimes become impatient if their friends take that long. Seems like it should be the other way around, doesn t it? Mental Challenges in Archery In order for your next arrow shot to be a perfect shot, you have to make it a perfect shot, and there are mental skills you can learn that will help you to do that. If you just hope that a key shot at an animal or in a tournament will be a perfect shot, or if you just shoot arrows one after the other in your backyard without thinking about it, you won t shoot a perfect shot, no matter how much you have practiced. You may luck out and hit what you re shooting at, but as the Olympic archery coach KiSik Lee said, Even a bulls-eye can sometimes be a mistake. The two mental challenges in archery I would like to discuss are staying focused on the shot, and target panic. When the pressure is on in a tournament and people are going to watch you shoot, or when you have that one shot opportunity you re likely to get at a big-game animal, anxiety can make you feel like the connection between your brain and your body has been cut. On the other hand, when you re just casually shooting at a target in your own backyard or at the range, you might start to daydream or get distracted by other things without really realizing it. Both are examples of loss of focus on the shot, and you can t shoot very well unless you re totally focused on the shot. After you ve been shooting for a while, a strange thing might happen. Your skills are improving, and you feel like you re making progress. Then, for no reason you can figure out, you can t quite make it back to full draw anymore before you release the arrow. Or if you decide that you absolutely won t release the arrow until you come to full draw, you seem to hit a wall where you can t draw any further. It has nothing to do with strength; you can draw to full draw easily so long as you don t intend to shoot the arrow. This is an example of target panic. Focus on the mechanics of the shot This technique will help you to stay focused on the shot, and may also help with target panic. The technique depends on a key difference between other hand-eye coordination sports, like golf or basketball, and archery. It is possible to break the golf shot down into components, and talk about what should happen during each key part of the swing. But if we were to focus our attention on what s going on at the top of the backswing to check on whether everything was happening as it should at that point, we would ruin the swing. So when we want to change something that s going on during the backswing, like where our hands are located at the top of 11
12 the backswing, we have to do that in the context of the total swing. In archery, we can not only conceptualize the components of the shot, we can actually perform the arrow shot as a sequence of nine discrete steps without any adverse effect on the shot itself. Many of the problems that can ruin an archery shot are caused by some key component of the shot being short-cut or overlooked, and that most often happens when the archery shot is viewed as a continuous event that can t be stopped once it is started, like a golf swing. In an archery shot, we want to learn to focus our attention on each step of the shot sequence as we make the shot, without anticipating the next step, and not proceed to the next step unless we are satisfied that the previous step has been performed correctly. How does this help? One of the reasons it s hard to stay focused is that there is a long list of things that have to be done right, every single time, in order to shoot a perfect shot. The list of mechanical things that can go wrong in a shot is probably endless, and includes problems with alignment, drawing the bow without torqueing the string or the bow, coming to full draw and anchor consistently every time, aiming, increasing back tension throughout the shot to get a clean release, and followthrough. While it s hard to shoot a perfect shot under any conditions, it s not hard to adjust our stance and check our alignment. It s not hard to make sure we grip the bow and bowstring correctly. In fact, it s not hard to do any one of the nine steps in the shot sequence, if that step is all we have to accomplish. That s the secret for overcoming the anxiety of a tough shot, or to maintaining our focus during a series of routine shots: break the shot down into a series of steps, and focus our attention only on the completion of the step we re working on. Having a sequence of simple concrete actions to accomplish helps our mind to stay focused in the here-and-now. It is a good technique to overcome our anxiety or distractions and helps to maintain our focus on the shot. Target panic This same technique may also help with target panic. As Dr. Jay Kidwell stated in his book, Instinctive Archery Insights, target panic is a learned response to a stimulus. In a common form of target panic, we are compelled to release the arrow before we come to full draw. For thousands of shots, we have turned the task of releasing the arrow over to our subconscious mind, with the instruction to release the arrow when it is aimed at the target we want to hit. After enough repetitions of this, the subconscious mind begins to anticipate this action and triggers the release as soon as the arrow is aimed at the target, even though we haven t come to full draw. Since we have delegated the task of releasing the arrow to the subconscious mind, and because we have no conscious control of the subconscious mind, we are unable to stop the arrow from being prematurely released. One of the key points Dr. Kidwell raises is that the subconscious seizes on the act of aiming as a trigger to release the arrow. Stated another way, if there is no aiming going on, the subconscious mind won t release the arrow. If we don t focus our attention on aiming until we need to, which is after we are at full draw and have consciously committed to the shot, we may be able to shortcut this whole process and avoid target panic, 12
13 because we will already be at full draw before the subconscious mind is stimulated to react. Instead of focusing on aiming from the moment we decide to take a shot, we instead focus our attention on the mechanics of each step of the shot process, and don t aim until we reach the aiming step. Deciding to focus your attention on the shot steps as they are happening is really a matter of degree. Of course we have to pay some attention to the target from the beginning of the shot to align ourselves to it, and will probably continue to look at it throughout the shot. Of course we have always paid some attention to the mechanical acts that need to be performed too. But drawing the bow eventually becomes a nearly unconscious process, while we are taught to burn a hole in the target from the moment we decide to take a shot. The suggestion is to reverse the priorities here: pay only enough attention to the target to get aligned correctly, and focus the majority of your attention on what you are actually doing, like nocking an arrow or drawing to anchor, until it is time to actually aim the shot. Target panic can take many forms. Dr. Kidwell s book and his section of the video Masters of the Barebow 4 explore this problem and offer solutions to more difficult cases that might not be solved by focusing our attention on the shot process. Breathing The next technique I would like to discuss as a tool for staying focused is breathing. Breathing was mentioned as a part of the shot process. In that context, breathing is a physical activity that needs to be coordinated with drawing the bow in order to steady the shot. Breathing can also be used as a mental activity to regain focus prior to the shot. Breathing is used to focus the attention in many activities that require high levels of concentration. For example, when I was learning to rock climb, we were taught to breathe before each hand or foot movement. The reason was similar to a high pressure archery shot: to focus our attention on the move and away from anxieties such as fear of falling. Merely remembering to breathe before taking a shot is not enough. As Dr. Kidwell stated in Masters of the Barebow 4, we can only focus our attention on one thing at a time. We can DO a lot of things at the same time: for example, we can take a breath and worry about missing the shot at the same time. What we CAN'T do is to FOCUS on our breathing and worry about missing the shot at the same time. It is impossible; we can either focus on our breathing or worry about missing the shot. We can't do both at the same time. Focusing on breathing rather than just taking a breath is something we don t normally do. The difference between focusing on our breathing and just taking a breath is kind of like the difference between a wine tasting and taking a swig of beer while watching a football game. Try focusing on your breathing in between shots in a tournament, or while watching that big game animal mince around while you hope it will come within range of a shot. 13
14 Equipment Selection For your first bow, pick a bow that you can draw easily to full-draw and hold for a slow count of ten, and be able to repeat this several times without quivering. Consider that the average draw weight used by Olympic archers is 38 pounds. Does it make sense to select a first bow with a higher draw weight than the bow used by an Olympic archer in competition? To be honest, my first bow was 57 pounds, but I really never learned to shoot very well until I got a bow that I could hold comfortably at full draw for many shots. One of the elementary skills of archery is learning to pull straight back on the bowstring, and push straight toward the target on the bow grip, without exerting any force in any direction other than straight forward on the grip and straight back on the string. You need to learn to feel the sideways or up-down torqueing forces that your hand exerts on the grip and your fingers exert on the bowstring that could throw your arrow off course. The forces are subtle, and very difficult to feel when you re trying to muscle back a heavy bow. Your arrows just go off to one side or the other or high or low and you don't know why. This is so much easier to learn on a lightweight bow, and will probably do more to improve your shooting than any other single skill you could learn. Should you be shooting a right-handed or a left-handed bow? Most experts believe you will shoot better if the eye that is closest to being above the arrow is your dominant eye, regardless of whether you are right-handed or left-handed. There are various ways to determine your dominant eye. One is to hold your hands out in front of you at arm s length with fingers pointing up so you are looking at the backs of your hands. Overlap your hands so there is a peephole between your thumbs and forefingers. Look at something through the peephole and bring your hands back to your face without thinking about it. You should naturally bring your hands back to your dominant eye. Some people don t have a strong dominant eye, and will find that their eyes sometimes switch dominance. If you re doing everything else right, and find that sometimes your arrows group right and other times left, you might have to close, or at least squint, your (usually) non-dominant eye to eliminate that problem. On the other hand, some people find that they can learn to shoot equally well right and left handed, which can help to keep the shoulder and back muscles on each side of the body in balance. Pick a bow that fits your draw length. To measure your draw length, draw an arrow to full draw and have someone make a mark on the arrow where it crosses the back of the bow (the back of the bow is the side away from you when you shoot). Your draw length is the distance between the bottom (valley) of the nock to the mark. A bow that is too short will pinch your fingers when you draw the bow, and make it harder for you to get a clean release. If you have a 28" draw length, a 62" recurve or a 64" longbow would be a good choice, with adjustments up or down if your draw length is more or less than 28". As a convention, the draw weight of most bows is specified at a draw length of 28". If your 14
15 draw length is longer or shorter add or subtract 2-3 pounds for each inch, or better yet, just get the actual draw weight measured at your draw length before you buy it. Later, after you learn to shoot, you may decide to get a heavier or shorter bow to hunt with, if your hunting conditions warrant it. Properly tuned arrows can make a substantial difference in the accuracy and enjoyment of your bow. Ken Beck of Black Widow does an excellent job in Masters of the Bare Bow 2 of explaining how to tune arrows for your bow. In fact, since I ve mentioned all the volumes of this series except volume 1, you might as well get the whole set. I don t get any commission out of this, but I probably should as much as I promote this series of videos. Try gloves and tabs, and use whatever you like best. If you use a glove, make sure the fit is snug; a sloppy fit will cause inaccuracies. Don t settle on the first tab you try; they are very individual also, and it doesn t cost that much to experiment. One advantage of a tab is that it can be easily trimmed to fit your fingers. One advantage of a glove is that you re probably going to leave it on while you re shooting or hunting. You may tend to either take a tab off or move it around behind your hand a lot so you can use your fingers, which can add one more thing that needs to be done between the time you see an animal and the time you re ready for a shot. Clearly, recurves shot with well-tuned carbon or aluminum arrows will outperform longbows shot with wood arrows. Why then do so many people prefer longbows with wood arrows? Same reason we all aren t shooting 7 mm magnum rifles, I guess. There are, of course, many important aspects of traditional archery equipment that I haven t touched on, but my goal is solely to get a beginner started off in the right direction. Shoot straight! 15
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