“…an hour’s earnest practice each day for a month will make one begin to feel like a bowman, and three months of such work will make him a fair shot at thirty or forty yards.” — Maurice Thompson, The Witchery of Archery, 1879, p.157
Shaft Shooters was launched in 2000 to document research and findings related to athlete development and high performance training with a focus on archery. It has since grown into a platform to share information of everything from traditional barebow archery to Olympic recurve competition development.
“The history of the bow and arrow is the history of mankind.”
When we discuss form in archery, it is not about the scores on the target, but your body alignment and bio-mechanics in relation to the bow.
One point worth considering is that in precision shooting, the shooter or archer can have poor form, but if they do it incorrectly exactly the same every time, then they can still group and score well. Accuracy is the product of uniformity so even uniformly poor form can be accurate. This is a common problem with self taught shooters who have never had professional coaching.
This problem becomes more apparent the more one progresses in competition. Eventually those bad habits will become a road block, that then must be unlearned to progress.
Even if you do not have a coach, there are numerous coaches online who will happily critique your form.
Both still images and video are useful training tools, but video can be analyzed frame by frame to find any weaknesses in form or technique.
“No matter how long it takes, no matter where we have to look, our United States military will patiently and surely hunt down the murderers and killers and terrorists, and bring them, one by one, to justice.” President George W. Bush – Commander in Chief
Monday, September 10, 2001 had been a crisp, clear day at the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC). It was sunset as 5th Platoon, 1st Force Recon Marines, their faces ominously obscured under layers of green camouflage paint, went through last minute equipment checks, preparing to be inserted into the mountains for a five-day recon-patrol exercise. MBITRs (multi-band inter/intra-team radios) frequencies had been set and tested; sat-com radios were safely stowed in already bulging rucksacks; PVS-17 night sights were clamped to M-4 carbines and SAWS (squad automatic weapons); and all loose straps were neatly taped and stowed.
Captain Fiscus and Gunny Blakey moved amongst the group checking equipment, quietly asking questions and giving encouragement. It was essential that every man understood the mission and knew his specific tasks.
The planned airborne parachute insertion had been aborted an hour earlier when the CH-53 troop-carrying helicopters could not make the pre-sunset time-line. With the flexibility typical of any spec-ops unit, the platoon commander opted for a vehicle insertion to the pre-planned DZ at 7,500 feet elevation.
As the Sierra Nevadas turned purple and faded into total darkness, and before the moon could break through, the Gunny signaled the teams to saddle up and silently move out. It was impressive to see and yet not hear twenty Marines, each burdened with a hundred pounds of weapons, radios and equipment, move off into the inky blackness without so much as a single sound.
So by midnight I found myself with two choices. The first was to link up with the “opposition force” and try to find these phantoms – but since they had already proven themselves adept at night movement and had the advantage of Gen III night vision devices, there was little to no hope of finding them that night. So I opted for the second choice – to drive back to Los Angeles with the plan of returning to MWTC for their extract in five days.
Arriving home at five-thirty in the morning, and after two days without sleep, I showered and hit the rack. Sleep came quickly but not for long. Sometime before zero seven the phone began an incessant ringing. It was my neighbor babbling something about watching my place while I was away. “While I’m a way?” I asked groggily, “I just got home!”
She then blurted out that terrorists had attacked New York and the Pentagon and I needed to turn on the television. Flipping to CNN I was just in time to see a passenger airliner hit the World Trade Center. Then there was footage from the Pentagon; then back to New York as the second tower was hit. Confused and half asleep I felt like I was watching a Schwarznegger movie. Was this really the news? I quickly flipped through the local morning news line up – ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox – but all coverage was focused on New York and the Pentagon.
By mid-morning I had a passing thought about the Marine Force Recon platoon that had just disappeared into the mountains the night before and would be emerging in five days to a very different United States. Having worked in counter terrorism and training for over 20 years, I knew that what we were seeing was a whole new level of terrorist violence and destruction. The news media was already speculating on the potential casualties in New York and it was in the thousands, many times more than Pearl Harbor.
But now the proverbial “gloves were coming off.” The US military was going to be given the teeth to hunt and kill those who meant us harm.
Why Competition Can Impede Novice Athlete Development & Learning from Other Sports
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development, National Coach
Let me preface this article by saying that I love competition as much as the next man or woman and also believe that it benefits children, but only when they show an aptitude, are willing and enthusiastic, and have been adequately prepared by their coaches.
We often hear the maxim that, “it is not important whether you win or lose, only that you play the game.” But unfortunately modern society, and even the school system, places tremendous pressure on kids to win in sports and score high on exams. Another sports maxim gives credit to, “the man in the arena…,” but what of the child or athlete who does not want to compete – who simply enjoys sports for fun and exercise?
This begs the questions, how important is competition in sports, and is it better to simply perform well or must we score high? The Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin on the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894. This indicates that the purpose of sport is to run faster, jump higher, and become stronger, but is this true? Isn’t the purpose of sport to provide an active and healthy lifestyle that builds character and improves one’s quality of life?
Coubertin went on to state, “These three words represent a program of moral beauty. The aesthetics of sport are intangible.” But this is very different to the competitive nature of the three words, since now he is talking about the moral beauty and aesthetics of sport. The other less formal, but equally well known motto introduced by Coubertin was, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!” So now we are back to the concept that simply participating in a particular sport or the Olympics is more important than winning, but try telling that to an Olympic coach or athlete whose income is dependent on producing medals.
To better appreciate the relationship between enjoying a sport, for the sheer beauty of that sport, and competing, we will start with a sport such as archery and then look at judo. As with judo, archery is both a martial art and an Olympic sport. It is not a conventional Asian martial art as most people see martial arts, but as with fencing, the javelin, and discus throwing, it is most definitely a sport derived from early military training. As with the bow and arrow, archery possesses a style and beauty all its own, so is therefore an art form and a sport.
To teach or learn archery, it is imperative to first master good form which is no easy task. Unlike shooting a gun, the challenge in archery is to achieve a high degree of precision while handling the heavy poundage of the bow. Where an Olympic pistol shooter is dealing with a trigger pull of less than 2 pounds and shooting at 25 meters, the Olympic archer must contend with a 40 to 46-pound draw weight and still hit a very small target at 70 meters. It is equivalent to a golfer trying to sink a hole-in-one from 80 yards out. The only way to do this is through years of practice, a detailed understanding of body mechanics, and developing a solid, repeatable form.
For a novice, trying to hit the 10 ring can detract from focusing on good form and body mechanics, and developing the necessary feel for the sport.
Teaching the basic form for archery and the bio-mechanics that will be the foundation of all future training and development begins at a relatively short range with a bow of low poundage and shooting at a blank bale. This means there is no target on the 3-foot wide stand, just a blank surface. Why no target, you may ask? Isn’t the objective of archery to hit the target?
Archery coaches have long understood that as soon as you place a target on the stand, everyone will shoot for the gold ten ring or bullseye. It is human nature. The reason this is detrimental for the novice archer is that it takes the archer’s mind off of developing good form and makes them focus on hitting the 10 or X ring. Similarly, if there are other students on the line and one of them shoots a bullseye, then anyone not shooting bulls-eyes will either feel inadequate or try harder to hit the bull. The result is a downward spiral with all conscious effort that should be directed to improving form and gaining a “feel” for archery, lost to the competitive nature of the sport.
If this was a group of high school students participating in an entry level Olympic Archery in Schools (OAS) program, permitted to shoot targets right from the start, some would feel immediate gratification by luckily hitting the bullseye, while others would be discouraged by missing the target altogether. But the entire group will have suffered by not learning or focusing on good form. It is therefore up to the coach to get the students learning good form before distracting them with scoring on targets.
This does not apply only to beginners. Quite often, national level champions will begin a training session by shooting at a blank bale so that they can focus on their form and develop the correct neuro-muscle memory and feel before moving on to shooting for score.
So how does this apply to other sports and in particular judo? After covering basic dojo etiquette and breakfalling, the primary role of the judo instructor is to teach the new students basic judo techniques. With this, the emphasis is on teaching good form, posture, balance, and execution. A student lacking in good posture and balance will have trouble doing throws, often evidenced by falling over or not being able to execute the throw cleanly.
Now, take this new judo student who has been coming to judo for a few weeks and has learned four or five throws, and you throw them into a hard randori session or local tournament. What is the result? The student is fearful of being thrown, stiffens up, stiff-arms their opponent, tries to use strength instead of technique, and achieves nothing. Even worse, if this is the first competition for a little kid, and he or she gets thrown hard, they may end up crying, hating judo, and quitting.
We have all been at junior judo tournaments where all too many little kids end up in tears, and all too often they were pushed into competing by their peers, parents or coaches. We have also seen parents and coaches cheering them on to “beat the other kid” like this was the most important thing in their world. What happened to holding off for a year or two until the kid really knows and understands judo, has been trained for competition (if he or she so wishes), and is then permitted to compete just for the fun of competing? What happened to the parents and coaches who should be quietly supportive of their kids and not pushing them to “beat other kids?”
I was recently coaching one of my judoka at a junior tournament where the other coach spent three solid minutes yelling instructions to his player, while I sat quietly watching my student. As all certified judo coaches should know, it is not permitted to yell to your competitor during play, only during the matte-hajime breaks. It is also required that coaches stay in the chair and not address the referee, and yet here was this coach bouncing up and down and yelling incessantly. At the end of the match his player came off the mat crying because she had lost, and mine came off content with her performance. But even when my players lose they do not cry, they are taught just to learn from the experience. They are also not coached to “beat the other player,” only to do their best, attack relentlessly, and try for the big Ippon win. The challenge is to execute a clean technique on an unwilling opponent, not to “beat the other kid.” Winning is just a byproduct of doing good judo.
So a word of advice for coaches and parents – let your kids enjoy judo, archery, or any sport without putting undue pressure on them to compete. Judo instructors should place importance on teaching kids good Kodokan judo, not competition grip fighting and tactics. Youngsters will gravitate to competition in their own time, often when they see their friends and other club members having fun and winning medals. Yes, winning medals is important in sports, but as a reward for training and effort, not for beating some other kid. It is up to the parents and coaches to keep things in perspective and to ensure that their junior judoka grow into healthy, happy, well rounded athletes with an elevated sense of respect and sportsmanship.
Finally, even though Professor Kano promoted sports and was the first Asian member of the Olympic organizing committee, he was quite concerned about the effect competitive sport would have on judo. He had developed judo as a form of physical fitness, recreation, self defense, as an art and as a lifestyle. The competitive side of judo was only a small and relatively unimportant part of his grand plan. Unfortunately, human nature and society drive people to compete in all things including school, work, games, sports, and even how we drive. But it is okay to just enjoy an activity or sport for the sheer pleasure of participation. It is not essential that everything becomes a competition, and in some respects, competition can actually detract from the joy and beauty of sport. There is nothing uglier than a red-faced coach or parent screaming at a 6- or 7- year old who is just trying to have fun.
There are many tools for tracking progress in training, not the least of which is competition scores at the club, state , or national levels. But one simple, useful tool in day-to-day training is averaging.
Rather than simply recording a possible out of 300, 600, or 900, the archer totals up the score for each arrow shot in a training session. For example, if the archer shoots 60 arrows with a possible score of 600 and scores 420, his or her average arrow value is a 7 (420 divided by 60 arrows). The goal over time is to improve that average.
Last week I was on a rifle range watching a group shooting at 100-200 yards. While a few were taking carefully aimed shots from a stable position, others were shooting standing off-hand, pulling the trigger as fast as they could. They were slapping the triggers, not controlling recoil, and jerking the semi-automatic rifles, while completely missing the targets. This is a type of undisciplined shooting I call “ammunition disposal.”
While they may have been having fun, they were actually reinforcing bad habits and poor shooting techniques. The goal of any precision shooting sport is to first build a foundation of solid fundamental marksmanship and then, with time, develop a degree of speed without sacrificing accuracy. These shooters seemed to have no grasp of precision marksmanship.
The problem with undisciplined rapid fire shooting is that the shooter is developing poor neuro-muscle memory. The brain, communicating with the the stance, grip, sight alignment, and trigger control, does not get the opportunity to become programmed correctly.
Applying this to archery shooting, if the goal is simply to launch a specific number of arrows at each training session, rather than score a high percentage of 10s and Xs, then the individual may be sacrificing quality for quantity. Similarly, continuing to launch arrows when fatigued, distracted, losing concentration, of feeling arm tremors then, again, he or she risks negative neuro-muscle programming. It is better to finish strong with a set of solid 10s and Xs and call it a day.
As many of you may know, the zen of shooting is not to think in terms of shooting 6 shots, but to shoot 1 shot six times. In other words, each arrow should be seen as an individual perfect shot. Where a novice will draw satisfaction from hitting a single 10 when the other arrows are spread all over the target, the veteran will question why one arrow hit red or blue when all the others were in the gold.
To aid in this process, archery training should not be seen as a chore where one must simply launch 100-200 arrows in each session. While training for national level competitions is definitely work, requiring a high number of arrows in training, it should still be enjoyable if for no other reason than knowing you are improving. While finding time for training with a busy work schedule and family commitments can be challenging, time for training should be planned and scheduled. This is like hitting the gym. All too many people say they don’t have time to workout, but this is usually a motivation issue not a time management issue. You don’t find time for training – you have to make time for training. It must be given a higher priority if you want to see progress and stand on the podium one day.
To conclude, training should not become a chore. Quality is more important than quantity. It is better to shoot 60 to 100 good arrows than 200+ poor arrows. As little as 30 minutes to 1 hour of training 4 to 5 days a week is more beneficial than 2 to 3 hours training once a week. That said, you still need to develop the physical ability and stamina to be able to compete in various matches that could run 90 to 200 arrows over a one or two day period.
There is a dichotomy in many precision sports. To shoot well one must be relaxed, relying sub-consciously on neuro-muscle memory. In other words, after months or years of practice and several thousand arrows, the archer’s form and technique should be smooth and repeatable. On the other hand, learning and mastering precision shooting requires an in-depth understanding and awareness of correct form, body mechanics, and consistency. This requires constant self-analysis and body awareness, especially in the formative years. But this self analysis can also interfere with a smooth and relaxed form.
Ideally, the proficient shooter should only need to self analyze when shots are going astray on target. With time and experience, the archer should know exactly what mistake he or she made based on where the arrow impacts.
For novice archers, at least for the first year or two, practice sessions are a constant process of self analysis, body awareness, in search of a relaxed repeatable form. This begins with addressing the bow, all the way through set-up and draw, to hold, aim and release. The archer will move his or her conscious thought process from grip, bow hand and bow arm position, keeping the bow shoulder down, correct draw hand position, keeping the elbow high, drawing to anchor, transfer to the back muscles, and a smooth release and follow-through.
In the beginning, it will be difficult to analyze which part of the form is causing the arrows to go astray. But with time and coaching the archer will learn which potential flaws in body mechanics produce which impacts on target – high, low, left, right, etc. The archer will be running a mental inventory of personal body mechanics each time he or she shoots. This is also where competent coaching can greatly shorten the learning process. In the absence of a coach, videoing yourself can be very useful. There are also coaches specializing in distance learning who will accept videos on line and will respond with a critique.
Through all this, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to be able to stay relaxed and just focus on the target and shooting 10s. Vexing over the many aspects of body mechanics and overly self analyzing on the line can and will interfere with that process. Your best shooting will come when you have put in the requisite training and can enter a competition with a relaxed confidence. As most elite athletes will attest, competitions are won or lost in the mental game.
Four scant yards below me an honest-to-goodness Boone and Crockett mule deer browsed on bitterbrush. He was all of 32 inches wide outside, with rear forks big and deep enough to swallow a Navy destroyer. I’m still unsure how one gets that close to a buck that big without getting a shot opportunity, but I’m the guy who pulled it off. An hour later, though, the big buck’s buddy stopped by, offering me a 12-yard shot. After an easy blood-trailing job, my biggest-ever archery buck laid converted to meat by way of my longbow and feathered arrow.
Trailing Fred Bear Bowhunting has a strong historic presence in North America’s hunting world; dominated now by sophisticated compound bows, laser rangefinders and mechanical broadheads. They are impressively lethal tools, capable of making accurate killing shots at ranges pushing 100 yards, in the right hands. But they can’t make a deer or elk any more dead—or any better tasting—than the equipment used by the pioneers of our bow hunting era; Fred Bear, Howard Hill and so on. Indeed, to my way of thinking, meat harvested by simple stick and string has just slightly better flavor than meat harvested with carbon and cable.
During my years as a western public-land guide and outfitter, I catered to traditional bow hunters. Many of them had hunted with a compound for years and craved the new challenge of going traditional. I was happy to oblige, for while I have killed deer and elk with compound bows, my heart has always belonged to the simplicity of traditional equipment. And, as I’ll detail later, within certain parameters, I consider traditional gear more capable than modern equipment.
Should You Switch to Traditional? If you thirst for added challenge, long for simplicity and durability, and have a penchant for history-rich adventure, then yes, you should. Traditional archery gear has its advantages and disadvantages, but one thing is certain: It will make you become a better hunter and woodsman. Up for a challenge? Here’s how to get started.
Get the Gear • Bow: I recommend starting with something inexpensive like a takedown Samick recurve, or a good used Bear recurve. You’ll want a bow that draws about 15 pounds less than your compound bow, because traditional bows don’t feature any let-off at full draw. After you’ve made the transition, developed some skill and are ready for a hunting bow, that’s the time to order a custom bow from Fox Archery or Stalker Stickbows. They build breathtakingly beautiful, high-performance bows to your specifications.
• Arrows: Get some feather-fletched Easton Axis carbon arrows. Yes, wood is more traditional and cooler, but it’s also more challenging to tune and less durable. Axis arrows are the toughest arrows I’ve used, and they’re relatively heavy. Where traditional arrows are concerned tough and heavy is good. You can transition to wood later, when you’re up for a bit of additional challenge.Photo credit: Wayne van Zwoll
• Glove or Tab: Your preference. I like a glove, but I know lots of great shooters who prefer tabs. A glove will protect your hand a bit better, and is—at least for me—slightly faster when loading an arrow and grasping the string. A tab will give you 2 to 3 more fps of arrow speed, and, some claim, a cleaner release. They also get lost easily. My advice is to try both and settle on whichever you like better.
• Quiver: I love the historic look and feel of a back quiver, but for bowhunting, I prefer a bow quiver. They hold your arrows secure and ready to hand, protect your broadheads, dampen string noise and vibration, and snake their way through brush far better than a back quiver ever could. Selway Archery makes my favorite bow quivers. You can get a quiver to fit any bow, and they’ll customize the rawhide hood with a laser-engraved image, logo, or whatever you want. Most importantly, they’re very high quality.
• Broadheads: Tighten your belt or snug up your suspenders; this one will be a real departure from your favorite compound equipment. Completely opposite your standard 80- to 100-grain modern mechanical heads, for traditional bowhunting, you want a heavy, fixed-blade, cut-on-contact broadhead that is re-sharpenable. Why? Well, that’s a subject of its own; essentially this type broadhead penetrates far better than its modern counterpart when shot from a traditional bow. My favorite broadhead? The 250-grain, 3-blade Woodsman available from 3Rivers Archery.
• Strings, Rests, Points and More: I prefer Flemish twist strings for their looks, durability and tune-ability. Make sure your arrow nocks clip onto the string, but just lightly. Tight nocks cause a lot of arrow flight problems. You can install a flipper-style rest above your bow’s shelf if you like, but personally I prefer to shoot directly off the shelf. It gets the arrow closer to my bow hand—a good thing for my style of shooting. I use contact cement to glue sealskin to the shelf and strike plate on my bow. Get an assortment of heavyweight field points for your arrows (available from 3riversarchery.com) ranging from 125 grains up to 300 grains. You’ll need them when you tune your arrows.
Adjust Your Shooting Style In a world where you are used to dropping an arrow into your rest, snapping on a release, drawing the string through let-off, checking your level and settling a sight pin, and then squeezing off the shot, shooting a traditional bow is magically simple. You just knock an arrow, draw to solid anchor, and when the arrow looks right, you drop the string. It’s that simple.
In truth, though, it can be pretty hard to build great form and become consistently accurate. Here are a few do’s and don’ts that’ll help you along the way:
• DO: Tilt, or “cant” your bow. For a right-handed shooter, that means the bow will be in your left hand, and you’ll cant the bow toward the right. This’ll help the arrow stay on the shelf, and will get the upper limb a bit out of your sight window.
• DON’T: Try to shoot a traditional bow vertically. If you do, your arrow will tend to fall off the shelf, and arrow flight may not be as good.
• DO: Use just the ends of your fingers to draw the string. As you begin your draw, lay the string in the crease inside the last knuckles of your pointer, middle and ring fingers. Lock your pinky finger down to your palm with your thumb. At full draw, your pointer finger should fit against an upper tooth in the corner of your mouth, and the big knuckle at the base of your thumb should fit just behind the back of your jawbone.
• DON’T: Take a “deep hook” with your drawing fingers. If the string is too far up your fingers, you can’t release the string cleanly.
• DO: Use a full draw and a solid anchor. Find a tooth to anchor your pointer finger against, so your anchor point is the same every time. Once at full draw, make sure your arm forms a straight line from the arrow back through your drawing wrist and elbow.
• DON’T: Snap shoot. This is by far the most common affliction among traditional shooters, and involves releasing before you reach a firm anchor. That’s just like having the rear sight on your rifle loose and flopping around, and will NOT support good accuracy. You must reach a solid anchor, and release when you’re ready—not before.
• DO: Shoot only two arrows per round. That way, your focus will stay sharp and your hands steady. I shoot two arrows at an 8-inch circle from 5 yards, then 10 yards, then 15 yards. If I miss the circle, I re-shoot that distance until I get both arrows in, then I move forward. I continue until I reach 50 yards or so, or until I loose focus or get tired.
• DON’T: Shoot lots of arrows per round. Your muscles, tendons and sinews will fatigue, and so will your focus.
• DO: Make like a statue as you release. A clean release is the single most important element to accurate shooting. The only thing that should move is your string hand, which should pull rear-ward as it releases the string, ending relaxed just above the drawing shoulder.
• DON’T: Make like a fish as you release. Any flopping, jerking, lunging or convulsing will adversely effect your shot. Keep your bow arm, head and everything else steady through the shot.
• DO: Follow through. A steady follow though is second in importance behind good form and release. Keep your eye on the target and your bow hand up until the arrow strikes.
• DON’T: Drop your bow arm or raise your head at the shot to see where the arrow goes. It’ll throw your shot.
• DO: Use good arrows that are matched to your bow. Get the right spine arrows, and then tune them by adjusting arrow length, point weight, brace height and nocking point height until they fly straight as, well, an arrow. This is a subject all its own. Check out The Traditional Bowhunters Handbook by T.J. Conrads for good info about tuning.
• DON’T: Use a hodge-podge of arrows. Miss-matched arrows will fly differently, confusing your subconscious (which is your aiming mechanism), rendering you incapable of consistent, accurate shooting.
Traditional Advantage Comparatively handicapped at long distance, traditional equipment possesses certain advantages in close-up hunting scenarios. The main three, in my opinion, are handling speed, light weight and durability.
• Handling Speed: One year, I’d been guiding for weeks and the season was almost spent. I had just a few days left to try and fill my own spike or cow elk tag. I took my compound hunting. Three cow elk trotted rapidly through a small opening 11 yards to my fore, and I was unable to get a shot off on any of them. Smirking to myself afterward, I knew I would have killed one of those cows had my longbow been in my hand instead of my compound. It’s simply much faster to chamber an arrow, draw and shoot than any compound will ever be. In my opinion, out to 20 or 25 yards, traditional gear is superior in 95 percent of elk hunting scenarios. The same goes for deer, though I’d reduce that “superior” distance to 12 to 15 yards. Beyond that, the advantage goes to the compound bow.
•Light Weight: Pretty self-explanatory; lightweight simply means that a traditional bow is far easier to carry up steep mountains, maneuver through thick brush or to carry on a challenging stalk than any compound bow can ever be.
•Problem-Free Durability: While guiding, I’ve seen compound bows blow up, rests fail, quivers fall off, sights become nocked off, knocking loops and points move, and more. Most of those problems are not even possible on traditional gear. Sure, you can cut your string with a careless broadhead or break your bow using it to lever a log out of the trail, but by and large, traditional bowhunting gear is pretty impervious. Toss it off a ledge, climb down after it, and it’ll still shoot where you’re looking. The only spare parts you’ll need to carry are a spare string (pre-tuned) and a spare glove or tab.
Conclusion Pick up a longbow or recurve, select some arrows and tune up your shooting for the fall season. The first time you climb a mountain, zip an arrow through a deer or elk’s lungs, or pin a grouse for dinner, you’re going to smile. No need to thank me, I’m smiling too.
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 pushing their palm-heel towards the target? There is a tendency for novice archers to carry the front shoulder high and allow the bow arm to compress backwards. At the beginning they must be constantly reminded to keep the bow shoulder down and push towards the target with a neutral grip (not torquing 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. The way it was explained to me when I first received coaching, was to think about bringing the shoulder-blades together.
The novice archer needs to be able to self analyze which requires consciously reviewing each part of the body from the grip through to the release. But as with most precision sports, over time, all the body mechanics need to become sub-conscious and repeatable to really enjoy and improve in archery.
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 in 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 good. 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 beginner. One reason to start out with an ILF takedown bow, is that as the beginner progresses, he or she can purchase limbs of progressively higher poundage.