Session 9

Little bit late writing this up, but it’s been a busy week. 

Terrible session, really. Stuck to 30 yards target the whole time. Had a couple of good ends, but mostly the evening was a disaster. No two shots were the same. Endless arrows sailed past the boss. Smashed an arrow on the boss’s feet. 

I also had an aching bow arm elbow, possibly from pulling so many deeply embedded field tips out of the boss.
It would be nice to offer some redeeming element or lesson taken away, but there is none. It was a dispiriting session. And the field shoot I was meant to go on the day after? I had to cancel. And I missed another session because it was just too damn hot and after a day at work in the heat I’d had enough.

I also think I’m going to have to reduce how many session I attend. The initial impetus has been exciting but as real life gets in the way, there’s other priorities that can’t be left ignored.

Hopefully the next post will be a bit more positive!

Field shoot

Went to a private field shoot this morning. Just 18 targets and finished by lunch. Weather had been wet but dried up nicely as we started, although remained boggy underfoot.

Here was one of the shots, between tree branches… 

Which resulted in this kind of thing…

A lot of the targets were fun to shoot. 

On this one, whatever was scored on the picture of the fox was doubled by hitting the dangling roundel with a fourth arrow. 

It was a fun morning out, but I was also pleased with my progress. I scored more highly than last time I did this shoot, missed an awful lot less, didn’t lose any arrows, and, wonderfully, didn’t smash any. More than anything recently, this has shown me that I am making progress, and having that confirmation is very encouraging.

I was also advised that the brace length of my newish bow had decreased, so by winding the string a few times this was fixed and, in theory, will make it easier to shoot. Presumably this narrowing of the distance between the bow and the string has been happening for some time, hopefully it’s one less thing going wrong from now on. Another lesson learned.

I also had an archer talk me through his method of making arrows. I can’t remember it all, but it didn’t seem too difficult. I’m definitely going to give this a go at some point.

Session 8

Decided to try the 252 challenge at 30 yards this time. 

It took me 49 of the possible 72 shots, which isn’t particularly impressive, and slightly worse than it could have been due to some blustery wind during a couple of ends, but I’m pleased to have done it. 

I should have stopped there. I thought I’d practice on the 40 yard, but after a couple of late nights (last night watching the election), I was shattered and a twinge in my back muscle was telling me to give it up. I fired off a few ends of terrible shots and shattered two arrows. Fortunately,  that was the sign it took to tell me I’d had enough and I stopped.

Two more arrows bite the dust.

Session 7

Tonight I decided to score my shots and see if I could get the necessary score of 252 on the 20 yard target to qualify for the first badge available.

I had not shot for a week due to a holiday, although I’ve come back to find the session I missed was cancelled due to rain anyway. In fact, tonight’s session was quite short because rain eventually stopped play, but fortunately not before I had a chance to do my scoring. 

I’d made myself a little scoresheet knowing that each end was 6 arrows. Potentially I could shoot 12 ends like this. That’s 72 arrows to score 252 points. Shooting at the target, gold is 9 points, red is 7, blue is 5, etc. 

I adopted my stance. I tried to emulate the relaxed technique from last week. Bow arm not too stretched, fingers somewhere just short of a deep hook on the string, anchor point being my index finger at side of mouth, and I shot off my first few practice rounds. It all went well, but the arrows were all a bit high, hitting the black and white above the gold. I realised my anchor point, when connected with me aiming the arrow point at the gold, works at 30 yards not 20. I was going to do the 252 challenge at 20 yards because it’s the first of the badges and I didn’t want to attempt something too much in advance of my abilities at this stage. So, I briefly considered facewalking but it seemed unnecessary and too risky a strategy, so I just aimed for the black ring below the gold. Sure enough, this got me 3 straight golds at one point. And it worked. On the whole, it worked. But I still had the odd wonky end, and the odd errant arrow. I felt something was developing this week, though, and it was a sense of knowing what I was doing wrong. A lot of arrows died on the shooting line and I let the string down gently and then set my position a second time before shooting. I still occasionally twisted the string, or overextended my bow arm, but it was the odd shot where I had no idea what I’d done wrong that was really annoying. On the other hand, there were times when the bow felt like air and the string just disappeared and I knew the shot would be true as I released.

First end, I scored 9, 7, 7, 7, 7, 5. Looking at the scores for each end, this is typical for me. First shot is great, then they get worse over time. (Obviously it looks like this when I score, because I score from the inside of the target face outward, but genuinely this is the pattern for what happens unless I really pull it together somehow near the end.) I think either my conviction or my energy or my confidence flags. Not sure which, or why. I’m hoping practice and more practice is the solution to this. 

Anyway, I got to 252 in 40 shots, so well clear of the potential 72 available. Not a stunning achievement, of course, but another small step in the right direction for me. And it was fun doing it. Next time, I might try 30 yards.

All this didn’t actually take very long. It was only 7 ends, after all. So, I took myself off to join a couple of the guys who were shooting at 80 yards for a bit of fun. One of them was shooting compound, one same as me: barebow –  hybrid longbow. I watched him shoot at the sky and decided I was going to try facewalking again, since I would need to shoot above the target anyway, but felt shooting as high as he was was unnecessary. I held the anchor under my chin which is what worked for 50 yards (I think) a while back, then went above the target, using a nearby rugby goal post in the distance to measure how high I was going and whether this had a positive result on where the arrows landed. Basically, I missed completely with ten arrows on the first end, then got one in the blue on the second, one in the red on the third, then three in the white/black on my last end. Then rain stopped play.

I actually felt like, given time, I could just as easily get good at 80 yards as at any other distance. It was just a bit of fun, though, and although some people say it’s a bad idea to try this (“don’t go home on a low”) I actually really enjoyed it and, also, how can one fear 30 or 40 yards when you know you can hit 80 yards on your first ever attempt roughly as well as at least one person who has been shooting for years and makes their own arrows?

Here’s my three at 80 yards. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that the one in the leg is also mine!

Session 6

Fortunately this felt like a continuation of the progress made in session 5.

Relaxing into a stance where I’m lined up with the boss, pressing forward with the bow while drawing to my anchor point and, particularly, concentrating on not twisting the string – this made a huge difference and I can see it is a mistake that has accounted for a lot of my errant arrows. Release seems naturally a bit better because of it. 

I shot quite well on the 30 yard boss, so because it was busy moved to 40 yards. Quite a lot of arrows were going under, so adjusting for distance is still an issue and I plan to go back to shorter distances next week.

40 yards. Starting to get some sort of control over what’s happening using my hybrid and the wooden arrows.

What’s amazing is the feeling that you’ve got it just right. It’s true that you can sense it the moment you release. You just know everything came together correctly on that shot and you witness the arrow strike the middle of the gold. 

40 yards.

The trouble is replicating those shots. It’s nigh on impossible to remember every little choice made during the set up. I guess that’s why I’m trying to find a way to make each part of the process work for me, then I can adjust as necessary. The problem is being such a beginner that some things don’t work at all and I watch an arrow sail off in some unpredictable way over, under or to the side of the boss.

When it doesn’t go to plan.

After a while the 40 yard boss started to get busy so I moved to 50 yards, which was more a miss than hit affair at times, but usually looked a bit like this. 

50 yards (45.72 metres). Note that both colours of fletching are my arrows.

I just need more practice. Again, 2 hour club session seemed too short. I’m missing a session but back again next week. Also got a field shoot or two coming up.

What was of interest tonight was meeting a new member of the club’s committee and being told about the 252 scheme. This is basically a badge scheme where you get a coloured badge if you score 252 within a set amount of shots. For barebow, if you shoot 252 in under 72 (six dozen) arrows at 20 yards you get a badge. You get a different coloured badge if you do 30 yards, etc. And for recurve there’s less shots and for compound less again. Scoring is done with gold being 9, red 7, blue 5, black 3, white 1.

Some quick calculations: 252/7=36 or 252/5=50.4

So, if I just hit red 36 times out of 72, I’d get the badge. Or, blue 51 times. Surely this can’t be too hard at 20 or 30 yards? (Famous last words?) 

Apparently getting this score is a good indicator that you are ready to move to the next distance up. No idea if I can do this or not, but it’ll be fun finding out.

Comedy set back

So, a while back I found a stick that looked like it would make a promising bow rest. 

I shaved off the bark.

Drilled a hole in the bottom.

Found a suitable bit of metal for the ground spike. 

Inserted the ground spike with some 2-part epoxy resin. Waited for it to harden. 

Painted the stick with wood sealant to make it waterproof. And ta-da! 

One beautiful new bow rest sticking in the nice soft lawn…
…which snapped the first time I stuck it in the harder soil at the club range.

Rotten at the core, see? So, lesson learnt. Back to the drawing board.

Session 5

Gorgeous weather this evening, great for outdoor shooting, and I had a much, much better night’s shooting. 

I had my long arm guard on to prevent the bow string hitting my arm. Tonight, I didn’t need it. The string didn’t slap me once.

I also had a glove instead of my tab. This left my fingers numb for about an hour afterward, but I could feel much more while shooting and it definitely made me shoot better, just as shooting with bare fingers seemed to work for me on my first 3D shoot. 

As a note to myself, I think having a bottle of water with me made a difference. Last week I was flagging terribly by the two hour mark. Today, despite the heat, I felt I could happily have kept going. 

I realised,  though, that the club takes about ten minutes per end on average. By the time all the archers are done, and usually the compound shooters take longest, and we all collect arrows, and hunt for missing ones, it’s about ten minutes. In a two hour session, with 20 minutes for set up, that’s only  10 ends. On that basis, you’re doing a lot more shooting if you have ten arrows with you, than just three the club gave you.

On the whole, I shot much better today. That said, there were a few dodgy shots, like the one pictured, and a lot of misses. And one more broken arrow. But…

I started shooting on the 30 yard boss. My very first shot was in the gold and that set me off on the right foot. But then I started to struggle a bit, like last week. So, I decided to start from scratch and reassess each stage of what I was doing.

I’d been leaning forward as part of my stance because my coach does it and because KiSik Lee described 70 per cent weight on the front of the foot in his book. But he also said sink your weight like a martial artist. I used to do karate, so I adopted a neutral stance and sank my weight. I could feel myself anchor to the ground. And I shot better. My bow arm was fine, I decided, because it just wasn’t in the way or causing a problem tonight. My grip was relaxed, and that was fine. 

I can’t explain it, but something I read in Bow International magazine earlier today struck home. I can’t remember what article it was, but it mentioned relaxing. I suddenly decided that relaxing was key. And here I had relaxed into my stance, relaxed my bow arm, my grip, but also relaxed mentally. I’d decided my stance and those things were right. They weren’t the problem.  I was doing them right. I relaxed mentally. I’d been over analysing. And then I realised I needed to relax everything. 

I  had been trying to put all the weight in my shoulders, then ‘load’ more weight. This just made me not shoot straight. So, I relaxed my draw. I just drew it, to the anchor point, and I decided that was right. The anchor point, I decided was right. And I’ve been worrying about it a lot, but now, after a few golds, I’m realising it’s not the problem. 

I shot some good arrows. Can’t say grouping was great, but took the advice of those who’ve commented on my blog here and just tried to enjoy it and find what worked for me, but moreover try to accept that this is OK, and to relax about it. 

So, having filled up the 30 yards boss with arrows, I made a joke about it being too close and moved to 40 yards. Believing this was being a bit daft for a total beginner, I relaxed even more. About half my arrows hit the boss, but the more I relaxed, the more I hit. 

There was a lad who I hadn’t spoken to before and he was shooting the 40 yards with me, but using a recurve with accessories. He missed slightly less than me, but not by much, and he hit the gold the same amount of times. He’d been shooting for a year. I told him I’d been shooting two weeks and he did a double-take, “That’s good. Wow. That’s very good.” I don’t have a lot of other people to compare my beginner state to, but, hey, that made me feel good. 

Shooting at 40 yards, I realised that my release was still messing up a lot of shots. I didn’t let myself get stressed about it. Instead, I relaxed it. And it improved. 

Not too bad at 40 yards, especially compared to last session’s disaster.

Sure, I didn’t hit with every arrow, but I was getting there. 9 out of 10 on some ends. 

So, for fun, I moved up to 50 yards. I hit about half. 

50 yards

But I enjoyed it, and each shot I expected to hit.

Only landed one arrow on the 60 yards, but partly that was pressure as I was the only one still shooting, and partly it was because the facewalking wasn’t working. (Still trying facewalking just because that’s what I’ve been taught.)

This is what did and didn’t work:

30 yards – corner of mouth. 

40 yards – slide it down to top of chin. 

50 yards – slide it down to under jaw.

60 yards – I’ve run out of face. 

At some future point, I’ll figure out what do do at 60. Perhaps a split finger draw will provide the answer. Dunno. 

I feel that I’ve got it now. As long as I do what I did tonight then I can hit the bosses and it becomes just a matter of aiming. Currently,  I find coming up from beneath the gold, pointing with the arrow tip, and releasing as it gets to center, works best.

The biggest problem tonight was arrows falling short or just missing. But tonight that was a facewalking and aiming problem, not a cack-handed archer problem.

And I just feel the love for it all over again.

Edit: I’ve just looked back at Traditional Jester’s and Steve Ruis’s comments on my last session and realised I’ve basically not discovered anything by myself here but just done what they suggested. Clearly their advice had sunk into my subconscious (or whatever) and had just been waiting for the next session to make itself known. Thanks guys!