Robin Hood and his merry men
By Kobus Fourie
Archery is an ancient sport that can be traced for millennia through the thread of human history, and has arguably played as big a role in human evolution as the wheel and fire had. Armed with a bow and arrow, early man could extend his effective killing range to beyond the range of most animals’ flight or fight circle. And if he developed the knowledge and skill to apply poison to the arrow tip, he would be nearly guaranteed a kill. All these factors provide a definite improvement over the methods previously used in the hunting of wild animals for sustenance, which in most cases was little more refined than beating the animal to death with a crude club.
With the increase in the number of the tribes, conflict over resources was bound to occur, and the bow provided a means to defend or attack from a distance, negating any advantage the enemy might have in strength and training. The astute commanders also realized early on a formation could be broken-up and/or manoeuvred into a tactically disadvantaged position with indirect fire from archers. In some ancient armies the bow became the dominant weapon, and in the hands of these skilled archers, the bow forged an eternal place in the annals of military history. In the hands of the Mongols, it helped build an empire, and not even the mighty Roman Empire could do much to stop Attila and his horse archers. In later years the British Isles proved a very tough nut to crack, largely thanks to the legendary English long bow, or more correctly the war bow.
|A Mongolian style bow.|
In the east, the Japanese Samurai, maybe more famous for their swordsmanship, also used the bow to great effect, and the Chinese even had semi automatic crossbows to defend the Great Wall of China. In some eastern countries the bow has reached cult status, and the art of archery is much revered in these countries. In the western world archery is practised more as a sport than as the spiritual discipline practised in the east. These different philosophies are reflected in the kind of equipment generally used by the different cultures. The archery practised in the eastern countries like Japan, Korea, etc. uses predominantly the recurve bow. The western world has to a large extend, apart from Olympic archery, embraced the compound bow and its accompanied technologies.
Today there are basically three types of bows being used, namely the longbow, the recurve and the compound bow. The long bow is mostly used in re-enactments and is being shot by traditionalists. These archers rely on instinctive shooting, a skill that is not all that easy to master. Longbow archers do shoot field target, competition, 3-D and they hunt as well, but they are the minority. That is not to say they use inferior equipment, in fact I have the utmost respect and admiration for them. Mastering the art of instinctive shooting is a great accomplishment.
The recurve bow is the only kind of bow allowed for Olympic archery. Recurve bows originated in the Far East and the eastern countries remains the stronghold of recurve shooting to this day. The Koreans seem to be pretty good with a recurve, as their Olympic record testifies. Recurves differ from a long bow in that the top parts of the limbs curve away from the shooter. This curve allows the bow to store more energy when it is drawn. Unlike a compound bow that can only be drawn back a certain distance – to the ‘wall' it is called. Longbows and recurves don’t have this ‘wall’ and can be drawn back to any safe distance. A wooden bow should never be drawn further than the distance it was designed for. In most cases that means to the corner of the mouth.
|The traditional recurve bow in action|
The compound bow was developed in the USA, and the states remain the mecca for compound bow manufacturers. Bow hunting, the one thing in which a compound bow is unequalled by any other type of bow, is also very popular in the states. The power the pulley or cam system allows a compound bow to develop give the arrow great velocity, and consequently, a compound bow is great for the times when you need a flat trajectory from your arrow. 3-D target shooting is probably tailor made for a compound bow and carbon/carbon composite arrows.
If the tiny bit of history has wetted your appetite to try your hand at archery, here follows a few pointers.
Archery in its most basic for is a very rewarding sport that will empower the archer with many valuable lessons for life, and best of all, anybody can practise archery. From the youngest to the veterans, males and females, all can practise and enjoy the benefits of archery. On the shooting range, everybody is equal, and best of all, archery can be very inexpensive to practise. The epitome of archery is shooting a bare bow ( without any accessories) with your fingers using wood arrows. Typically here in Uruguay a modern longbow, like the Sitting Bull longbow from Bateleur Ltda ( www.bateleurarms.com ) and 6 fibre glass arrows should not cost much more than U$S 200. With a set-up like that, you have everything you need to start having the time of your life with.
|Apart from the stray arrow caused by a lapse in concentration, not to bad a group.|
If you have never held a bow in your hand before, do not fear, we at Bateleur offer introductory courses that will teach you the proper and safe way to handle and enjoy your bow. In the following essay, I will highlight the very basic shooting steps as well, but to get the most out of your bow, it is advisable that you attend one of our courses. Not only will you be able to improve your skill and satisfaction you derive from archery, you will also meet like-minded people you can share some special times with doing the things you love, namely archery. I would say the basic steps comprise 9 points to follow in sequence, and below I will set them out in a way that is easy to follow.
Warning: Never ever fire a bow without an arrow!!!! It is called 'dry firing', and it is guaranteed to destroy your bow, and could very likely seriously hurt you as well.
There are three basic stances used in everyday archery. The open stance is usually taught to beginners, and is perhaps the most easy to learn. If you were to draw a line from the target towards you, and stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and your big toes just touching the line, you are using an open stance.
|This picture shows the open stance. The arrow represents the line to the target.|
Second is the closed stance where your foot closest to the target is on or sometimes over the line and the big toe of your back foot touching the line.
|This is the feet position for a closed stance.|
Third is the oblique stance. This stance is very open, and you stand so that the big toe of your front foot is parallel to the line to the target, but in line with the heel of your back foot, which is still in the big toe touching the line position. Your from foot is also at a 30 degree angle to the line, toes facing towards the target.
Consistency in your stance is the key to accurate shooting.
Grip on bow
A bow should never be griped tightly. Gripping the bow tightly is called choking the bow, and will cause bow torque that makes you shoot erratically. If you watch Olympic archers in action, you will see the bow actually falling out of their hand after the shot. They use a bow sling to prevent the bow from falling to the ground.
|This picture illustrate the hold on the bow, and the bow sling in use.|
The bow handle should rest against the fleshy part below the web of your hand, and the forefinger and thumb should be used to lightly prevent the bow from falling out of your hand if you do not use a bow sling.
You should try to grip the bow exactly the same every time.
Loading the bow
Loading the bow is when you place the arrow on the string in preparation to shoot. Two important things to notice on the arrow is the brightly coloured plastic part at the back of the arrow, and the different coloured feather on the shaft of the arrow. The plastic part at the back is called a knock and holds the arrow on the string of the bow. The arrow will have feathers or vanes on the shaft, one of these vanes will be of a different colour than the rest. The different colour feather is called the cocking vane/feather or index vane/feather. If you are using a right handed bow, the cocking vane should on the left side of the arrow. When the cocking vane is on the left the groove in the knock will also be in line with the string.
|The bow is loaded and the archer is preparing to draw.|
Now, hold the bow in your left hand ( for right handed shooters – opposite for lefties ) at hip height and at an 25 - 40 degree angle to the vertical. Place the arrow on the arrow rest and clip the knock around the string. There are various ways to do that, but the 2 ways I usually use is to (1) place the knock on the left side of the string and keep it in place with my thumb while I place my index finger around the string and on the opposite side of the arrow. Pinch the arrow between forefinger and thumb and move it forward of the string. Align the knocking point with the string, cocking vane to the left, and pull back until the string is secured in the knock. Usually the knock clips on with a audible click, but if the string touches the deepest part of the groove in the knock, it is secured.
|Step one. Holding the arrow in place on the string with you thumb.||
|Step two. grip the arrow with you for finger around the string.|
|Step three. line-up the groove in the knock with the string.||Step four. pull back the arrow onto the string.|
The second method I use is to grip the arrow shaft with my thumb and forefinger on the shaft between the vanes and the knock, and then clipping the knock into position.
|Grip the arrow shaft between the vanes and the knock, and clip onto the string.|
Once your arrow is clipped onto the string and resting on the arrow rest, you are ready for the next step.
Grip on the string
Once your arrow is knocked, tilt the bow back up to vertical, and grip the bowstring with three fingers of your right hand. There are 4 different ways to grip the string, and apart from the mechanical release, the rest is largely a matter of personal choice.
One of the ways to grip the string is with the Mongolian hold. In this hold the thumb is hooked around the string, and the forefinger is in turn hooked around the tip of the thumb to lock it in place. This hold is good for very short bows as the acute angle made by the string cannot pinch the fingers. The drawback from the Mongolian draw is that it hurts when you do a lot of shooting
|The Mongolian hold. Traditionally used with a thumb ring, but can be used without.|
The other hold is the pinch where the arrow is pinched between forefinger and thumb and drawn backwards. The pinch is only suitable for very weak bows.
With the medieval hold you place your forefinger, middle finger and ring finger below the arrow on the string. The medieval hold is excellent for people who have a problem with the arrow falling off the arrow rest if they use the Mediterranean hold incorrectly.
|The medieval hold. Notice there is no contact with the arrow.|
The Mediterranean hold is very popular, and with this hold you place your forefinger above the arrow and the middle and ring fingers below the arrow on the string. It has the advantage that the string is perpendicular to the back of the arrow, but if your forefinger and middle finger touches the arrow to hard, the arrow sometimes fall of the arrow rest.
|The very popular Mediterranean hold|
Again, a consistent grip will give the best results.
Remembering all the things you have learned in steps 1 to 4, raise the bow to shoulder height and draw back the string. I usually keep my right elbow low when drawing the bow, and only lift it when I am at full draw, but you may use whatever works for you. Whatever style you choose, try to draw as much as possible with your back muscles. If you were to place two coloured sticker on the tips of your shoulder blades, they should move towards each other when you draw the bow. If the bow is to powerful for you to draw, rather try a weaker bow to start with. In using a weaker bow to start with, you will gain valuable practise that will enable you to eventually draw a very powerful bow with ease.
|At full draw.|
Our introductory guide is a lot more comprehensive when it comes to explaining the draw. It is also advisable to have somebody who knows how to draw a bow correctly give you a few pointers.
Anchoring refers to the part of your face you touch when at full draw. As you would have noticed thus far, consistency is the key to good archery. By having three or more points of reference that you touch on your face when at full draw, will give you the necessary consistency to become an accomplished archer. The anchor point is different for every person, but whatever reference points you decide to use, make sure they are easy to remember and easy to repeat. These points can be either part of the equipment, like the string or the knock for example, or they can be part of your draw hand, knuckles or finger joints for example.
|Anchored on 3 points. very easy to reproduce consistantly.|
Just be consistent in the anchor point you decide to use.
If you are using a bare bow without any sights, concentrate on the part of the target you want to hit, and release the arrow. With practise you will be able to hit the exact spot you aim for, every time. But you have to practise a lot.
If you are using a bow with modern sighting equipment, look through the peep sight attached to the string. The bow will have an adjustable pin you place on the point of the target you want to hit. The human eye is great in that it always centre concentric circles, and it will automatically centre the pin in then peep sight. Place the pin on the target and release the arrow. If your bow is properly tuned and zeroed you will hit what you aim for with satisfying regularity.
After you have anchored at full draw and aimed at your target, it is time to release the arrow and watch it speed on its way to strike the target. A smooth consistent release will give you the best results, and such a release is no more complicated than just relaxing your fingers. When you are at full draw keep the tension in you muscles and just relaxes the fingers you use to draw the string with. An ideal release will have your arm remaining in the same place and not moving backwards much after you release the string. If the string hurts your fingers, use finger tabs. They are great not only to protect your fingers, but also has a smooth surface for the string to slip over.
As usual, practise to be consistent in your release.
|After release, the archer should maintain the same position for optimum results.|
The follow through is an important part of good archery. In the follow through, you maintain the shooting stance, and let the bow move freely after you released the arrow. If your bow is tuned correctly you will see just a dot as the arrow moves towards the target, if the shot is good, go through it again in your mind. This help to build muscle memory, which in turn will make you a good archer. Remember to enforce the good habits, and not the bad habits. The best way to do this is with an experienced knowledgeable archer watching and helping you.
The above points should help you improve and enjoy the wonderful sport of archery more. We at Bateleur Ltda would like to help you get the most enjoyment out of the wonderful sport we share, and if you have any questions or problems with your equipment, drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to help you get the most from this beautiful sport.