By Mark V. Lonsdale
Premise: Full draw with a bow changes as the novice archer gains experience.
The reason for this is that in the early days, beginners tend to draw a bow with their arms without engaging their back muscles or achieving good bone-to-bone alignment or form. In other words, they are somewhat hunched forward and not reaching full extension.
One common reason for this is that all too many rookie archers are “over bowed” – they have purchased a bow with too much poundage for their level of experience. This is often attributed to ego for male archers, or poor advice from well intentioned but ill-informed friends.
The beginning archer should be practicing regularly at 10 to 15 yards which does not require a powerful bow. For adults getting involved in recurve archery, I will generally recommend a longer bow with about 25 to 28 pounds at 28″. This will allow them to work on form without struggling with the draw weight. Children and youths will start at even lower poundage based on age and physical ability.
While hunting recurves often run in the 50# to 60# range, which is fine for an experienced archer shooting one or two arrows, target practice requires hundreds of arrows on a regular basis. As an example, championship barebow archers run a draw weight of 36# to 39# for 18 meter indoor shoots, and 40-42# for 3D or field archery events. Again, this goes back to the fact that they need to be able to comfortably shoot 100 to 200 arrows a day in practice.
Starting off with a high poundage bow in archery is like learning to shoot with a .44 magnum revolver. Both can introduce significant muscle tremors, flinching, jerking, and target panic that only serve to slow progress.
However, watching novice adult archers attempting to shoot my 70″ Hoyt Xceed with 38# Velos long limbs, it is evident that they are still struggling to make full draw. Even strong males, who may be able to draw the bow, still find it difficult to focus on form when they are struggling with holding that poundage. This goes back to starting beginners with a bow that they can easily draw and hold at full draw, which also builds their confidence. It simply takes time to develop the muscles specific to archery and this is best done with an incremental approach to bow poundage.
So once the poundage issue is resolved, full draw for the novice will still increase with time. As he or she comes to understand the mechanics of recurve archery, they will begin learning proper form and technique. The first thing to look for is whether or not they are reaching their anchor point and hitting the same point every time, or are they coming up short. Concurrently, are they keeping the front shoulder low and reaching (pushing) their palm-heel towards the target? There is a tendency for novice archers to carry the front shoulder high allowing the bow arm to compress backwards. At the beginning they must be constantly reminded to keep the bow shoulder down and reach towards the target with a neutral grip (not torqueing the bow). Keep in mind that the pressure on the grip is critical to accuracy since it is the last influence on the arrow as it leaves the bow.
The next step, and the most difficult one to teach or learn, is engaging the back muscles correctly to get the optimal alignment of bone-on-bone from the bow hand all the way through the arm, back and shoulders to the draw arm. A good way to explain this to the novice is to think about the draw as rotational rather than linear and to move the right shoulder-blade forward (for a right handed archer).
The novice archer needs to be able to self analyze which requires consciously reviewing each part of the body from stance and grip through draw, transfer and release. But as with most precision sports, over time, the body mechanics need to become subconscious and repeatable to really enjoy and improve in archery. In other words, “Just shoot – don’t think.”
Safety Note: Since, with time and practice, an individual’s full draw length will increase, it is also recommended to start beginners with arrows that are 2″ to 3″ longer than needed. If the arrows are cut to exactly suit the novice’s draw length, there is a danger that, as their form improves, they will over draw those arrows and end up with the dangerous situation of the arrow point dropping behind the riser. This can be catastrophic! Again, most of the initial practice will be at 10 to 15 yards where arrow speed is not critical, so the added length and weight will not be a problem.
For some excellent examples of good form, go to YouTube and pull up the 2019 and 2020 Lancaster Classic Barebow Finals. There are videos of both the men’s and women’s finals worth studying.
Lastly, repetition is the road to improvement, but while some say “practice makes perfect” it should be “perfect practice makes perfect.” In other words, repetition is only beneficial if the foundational form is correct. This is why self taught archers often carry bad habits for years, at least until they get coaching. To get off on the right foot, and to learn the correct form, it is strongly recommended to get competent coaching as soon as possible. Most coaches can also help with equipment selection suited to the novice archer. One reason to start out with an ILF takedown bow, is that as the beginner progresses, he or she can purchase limbs of progressively increased poundage.
More on this topic in future articles….