So we come to lesson three. In the last lesson, we were handed a sheet with these steps on it, which I memorised:
2. Nock arrow
3. Set hands
5. Raise bow
7. Anchor and aim
8. Release and follow through
It seems clear, but then you start to wonder what is involved in the ‘prepare’ part, and shouldn’t you be aiming from when you raise the bow? I know the steps though and having had a little practice and got to grips with using my shoulders, I feel confident going into this lesson, although partly just confident that I’ll realise how little I actually know in no time at all.
We start by shooting with the recurves, which have sights again. I adjust the sight a bit and eventually get into the swing of things. I start to hit gold (the bull’s eye colour on the target) about once per end (an end is a round of arrows, so by end I mean shooting three arrows and then collecting them from the target).
Then we have a competition. We draw straws and each archer is randomly assigned a colour from the target. I get red, so I’m shooting only at the red circle. We’re to do twelve ends. We get one point for each arrow that hits the right colour.
Long story short: I won.
I only got 18 points though, out of a possible 36, but then I think I scored twice what some people did (we are absolute beginners, after all). Arguably, the colour makes a difference. Black has more surface area than blue or red, but white is going to make you lose half your arrows as they fly past the boss. Best not to over think it though, it’s just a game.
What did I learn? I had learnt at the shop not to pinch the arrow and quite a few times this happened and I twanged the bow and the arrow went askew. We’re shooting with one finger above the arrow and two below, and using a tab. I made keeping my fingers split wide part during the Set Hands element of the routine described above. I still think my release is wrong though and I don’t have any real follow through. I let go of the bow string and just hope I don’t twang it. I guess I need to listen out for some advice about that. I have heard a few things that have really improved my skills these last few weeks and it’s remembering them and applying them that’s tricky. For example, being told to draw the elbow back hard like you’re trying to hit someone behind you in the face is a good way to engage the shoulder muscles and draw the bow like you mean it. Keep the fingers apart on the string. The other things was holding the bow. Coach had shown me on week one that I could fire without holding the bow with my fingers on my left hand. By this, I mean, hold the bow, then let your fingers out. You don’t need to grip. By pulling the string you are pulling the bow against the fleshy bit of the part of your palm under the thumb. No need to grip with fingers, which just add variables and wobbles. That said, I found circling the first finger was a tad helpful just to iron out a new wobble or two, so that’s something I need to play with to work out what actually does work best. The point is: the looser I held the bow, the less wobbly it was and the easier it was to aim.
Another important thing which I only remembered halfway through the session was to keep the string behind the bow, not the sight. This involves me moving the string a centimetre to the right before shooting while I aim, which I’m sure isn’t the right way to achieve this. I discovered from reading Bow International magazine that where you see the string behind the bow is called the string picture, and if it’s got a name, it’s probably important.
Adjusting the aim was very much about tiny movements. Follow the arrow is the trick. Arrow too far down? Move the sight down. Too far left? Move the sight left. It works.
I got laughed at by coach, who said to someone else I couldn’t see behind me, “That 25 pound bow is too light for him. Ever seen anyone take ten minutes to aim at full draw before?” I wasn’t quite taking that long, but I was spending a good long time aiming. I look forward to trying a heavier bow at some point.
Things to remember: keep fingers apart, don’t pluck the bow, hold the bow loose, keep shoulders relaxed or at least down, string behind bow not sight, and don’t hold the draw for so long it starts to shrink and you don’t realise.
Draw length needs to be the same each time. I’m anchoring the string under my jaw, with the string touching my nose, lips and chin in the same place each time – or as close as I can remember.
Anyway, I won a chocolate bar for my efforts this week, and it’s a boost to morale and enthusiasm.
Still agonising what to buy when the time comes. Coach saying to me that recurves are not as accurate as flat bows because the limbs can twist. He recommends I get a hybrid longbow (and this is like the American type of longbow, which in the UK we call a flatbow) because it is essentially a flatbow for barebow shooting purposes, sticking with the traditional archery theme which I had expressed as my interest, but they’re a bit shorter, faster, more accurate, and have a shelf and are made from more than a single piece of wood. Previously, he’d also recommended carbon arrows, although obviously wood would be more traditional. The thing is, I’m starting to like shooting the club’s recurve bow with the sight and thinking what it would be like to shoot a decent recurve with a good sight and a draw length and arrows tailored to me (and, yes, a stabiliser, pulleys and wheels, and all the mod cons). Of course, my style isn’t settled enough to even think about that, but I think once I’ve done traditional for a while I might want to try other things too. Archery has a lot to offer. I’ve been reading a copy of Bow International magazine and I like the look of the competitions. I don’t expect to ever complete at a high level, but perhaps county or regional might be in the long term possibilities with enough hard work.