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!

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 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!

Session 4

It’s very hard to take a particular lesson away from tonight’s session. I just feel I shot badly from start to finish, with a glimmer of hope in the middle. There was a few good shots where I felt I was starting to progress, but then I’d lose a few arrows past the side of the boss and not really know why. 

I was shooting a target at 30 yards with my eight remaining arrows. I pulled one out of the boss at a bit of an angle and then I had seven arrows. 

At least my stand works nicely. Here it is next to my broken arrow. 

Coach said not to worry too much about if the arrows were too high or low, but concentrate on trying to group them and getting them centred on the horizontal plane (so not too far left or right). I understand the logic, but they were very rarely going where I wanted anyway. 

I started to make a little progress at one point. You can see some horizontal consistency in this end here:

But I guess that was the peak, and not a very impressive peak at that. I probably started getting tired at that point because it all went to pot and then I twanged the string off my upper arm a few times (current bracer only covers lower arm). I’m going to need to get a longer arm guard until I stop making the odd sloppy shot and letting my elbow over-extend. There was a definite bell curve to my shooting tonight. It got better as time went on, then just as I felt I was getting to grips with it, it started slipping again and got worse and worse. Probably I’m still getting used to the 40lb bow. 

Self reflection: I haven’t got a good anchor yet. My release is sometimes poor and I pluck the string. My bow arm is still not always positioned rightly. And my aim ain’t great. That’s what I’m sure of. And I only have 7 arrows left.

However, I’m still enjoying it for all that. Glorious weather tonight and good company.

Session 3

I thought rain might put an end to any hope I had of trying out my new bow on the range tonight, but fortunately it dried up just in time.

I started on the 20 yards target and after a few ends I wasn’t shooting quite as well as with the 26lb recurve I’d been using, but it wasn’t far off.

I tried the 30 yards and I was on a par with how I’d been with the recurve at this distance. I’m already finding it a lot easier pulling the 40lb hybrid longbow now I’ve had a chance to play with it a bit. 

So, I tried the 40 yard target for the first time and, although I missed one or two shots, by and large I hit it regularly. I won’t pretend there was any accuracy or particular grouping. I was just keen to see if I could shoot these farther distances now I had a heavier bow. 

So, I tried the 50 yard target and I missed a few shots, but a lot of them hit. Quite pleased with that. 

So, I tried the 60 yard target and some of them hit and more than 50% of them didn’t. One sailed way past to what must have been 80 yards. 

The picture shows the one end I shot at 60 yards. What you can’t see is all the ones in the ground next to the boss. 

What did I get from this? Confidence that I can draw this weight comfortably. Confidence I can hit the farther-away targets now. Confidence that with practice and improved aim I will hit those targets where I want to.

Comfortably might be pushing it. I can pull it no problem, but with up to 12 arrows an end I’m firing a heck of a lot more arrows than I was previously and in the same amount of time. After practice, I could (and still can) really feel it in my right shoulder muscles, in a way I haven’t before. It’s a familiar feeling to when I used to do a bit of weight lifting, years ago. I can feel the burn. 

Partly this is thanks to the advice of a regular who said near the beginning of the lesson that I have a good T shape, but my drawing hand was withering away to the side after the shot. I suspect I am still using arm strength instead of shoulder strength a lot of the time.

So, he showed me a thing he’d been taught. You grip one set of fingers around your other set of fingers under your chin, each hand pulling against the other. If you do it enough you can feel your shoulders clenching together and this helps you feel which muscles you should be using, but also when you relax the right hand fingers you get a proper release and the hand slides back as a result of the tension in the shoulder muscles. Once I’d tried this a few times, it really helped me identify when I was using my shoulders and,  for the first time, I found myself  doing a proper and automatic follow-through after release.

Weather permitting, I’ve got a field shoot tomorrow. I just hope I don’t wake up with an aching shoulder. Suddenly I wish I knew more stretches and cool down techniques. 

Session 2

OK, so this was my second session in the club and shooting outdoors. Really looking forward to having my own bow and arrows.  Tonight I just had the four remaining club arrows, fat aluminium Eastons, two of which were missing one or two vanes. It took me a while to find my rhythm, for some reason, but after planting a few in the gold at 20 yards I decided to have a go at 30 again. 

30 yards seemed at lot harder against a boss on a flat field than it did on the 3D shoot, but then that had largely involved shooting downhill.

I discussed this with my coach and he explained about face walking – moving the anchor point down the face to raise the arrow tip, whilst still aiming the arrow at the same point on the target, to make the arrow fly farther. This led to some wildly high shots and my first experience using the club’s metal detector. However, by the last end I had the right position with the tip of my index finger about 4mm under my lip and my first arrow in the 30 yard target was dead centre, right on the crosshair, and this happened just as my coach and the club chairman decide to watch! Great stuff. Of course, needs a lot more practice. 

All this was in the same session as I decided to change my anchor point from being the top of my hand lodged into my cheek bone, to a more normal one where I hook my index finger into the corner of my mouth. It took a bit of adjustment but in the end this was working fine.

I’d also read today (in a little book about Archery in the Know the Game series) to push forward with the bow hand as you draw, and I found this quite helpful. It seemed to fit the idea of stepping into the bow. And the more I concentrate on anything but the release, the better I do – although, I still think much of that is to do with the low poundage on the 26lb club bow. I think the club tab is hindering me too. It’s a split tab with a large chunk of metal, meant for shooting recurves split-fingered and under the chin, not with  three fingers and touching the face.

I ordered a Timber Creek tab from Merlin a while back but I’m still waiting! At least the order says it’s been processed and is completed now. I hope to get my slender, leather,three-finger tab through the post tomorrow. 

Along with a Win & Win arrow puller. And… 

…I’m hoping – fingers crossed – to buy a bow tomorrow. With this in mind, I asked my coach about draw lengths. I was afraid I’d buy a 40lb bow, discover I have an abnormally long draw length, and end up trying to pull more than I could handle. Anyway, at a rough estimation, using a measuring tape against an arrow I’d drawn, it seems I’m about 28″ which is convenient since that’s the length at which  many of the bows’ poundages are recorded anyway.

More on the bow if and when I get it. 

I had planned to buy some carbon arrows with bullet tips for outdoor practice and some cheaper wooden ones with field tips for 3D shoots. Coach advised to get wooden arrows with field tips only. He said you need to use the bow for a bit to sort of wear it in, and to wait for that to happen before spending on carbon arrows. And not to bother with bullet tips because the field tips are better anyway, even if they ain’t as pretty. 

Above: field tip. Below: bullet tip

It amazes me how much I’m still learning every session. I’ve read about a lot of these things, but they seem so totally different when taught person-to-person and applied.
One slight disappointment tonight was that the session only lasted two hours. I could have shot all evening. The time had flown. But it does rather require enough people to pack away all the equipment and the right people (key holders) to remain to the end, so it’ll be interesting over the coming months to see how long sessions last and if it varies. Will they be longer and busier when the weather improves? Will they decrease because the better archers will be spending their time at heritage shoots and the like?

I know there’s a club an hour away that has their bosses set up permanently and members can go day or night, but sadly we’re not in that situation and my garden is too small and not secluded enough to contemplate setting up a sack target or something like that. At the moment, I just have an insatiable desire to shoot all the time. Can’t help it. Thrill of a new hobby and a past time I’m finding absorbing, fun and addictive.