Stay on Target, Stay on Target!

When I approach any target it’s reminiscent of the Rebel Alliance’s attack on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope. In the film a small band of seasoned veterans, accompanied by one green rookie, make a suicidal attack on the most feared battle station in the galaxy whose only weakness is a thermal exhaust port the size of a “womp rat” (whatever the hell one of those is!).

So the veteran guys get the first crack at the exhaust port. They’re in pioliting heavy Y-wing bombers, they have their targeting computers turned on, they follow the mantra of “stay on target”, they make their shot only for it to just miss and then to add insult to injury they’re shot down unceremoniously by Darth Vader as he mutters ‘all too easy’. In my archery life I’m these guys. I’m constantly checking and trying to improve my form, when I approach the target I break my shot sequence down and go through each element from the ground up. When i’m at full draw my mind is saying “stay on target” over and over then I release and it’s not the perfect shot, the arrow hasn’t hit the pro kill, it’s scored but it’s not perfect. After a while of being shot down it can start to get disheartening.

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Then I occasionally have a moment of brilliance, my Luke Skywalker moment, where I turn off my targeting computer, I draw and aim without the “stay on target” mantra playing in my mind, I trust in the force, everything is calm, the shot just feels right as the arrow leaves the bow and it goes exactly where I want it to. Perfection.

I wish I could trust in the force all the time but unfortunately archery isn’t like Star Wars, there’s no force that can make you instantly successful. Sure, some people will have a natural talent for archery but that’s just a good base to build off. I’m a firm believer that for those “Luke Skywalker moments” to become the norm you have to put the arrows and hours in. Those arrows however, have to be quality arrows. I see so many people moving to nock their next arrow before their first arrow has even hit the target. It’s hard but I always try and let my body and mind remember the shot before I move onto the next one. I believe this is as important for the shots you mess up as it is for those perfect shots. If you can remember the bad shots you’ll, hopefully, not make the same mistakes again and if you can remember the good shots you can replicate that again and again.

Like all worthwhile things in life, it takes time, and a lot of bad shots, for your mind and body to learn how to make the good ones. This is at least what I tell myself when I’m a few hours into shooting badly and it’s starting to get to me but then it’s all worthwhile as it all comes together and I bullseye a womp rat right in the exhaust port.

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Muddy Paths and Bow Grip

After a weekend of sunny weather I decided that I was well overdue a visit to the woods.  I sent my buddy a message and we arranged an evening of shooting. Unfortunately, on the day of the shoot it rained all day which led to the track that leads up to the wood becoming a challenge in itself to navigate. I didn’t get the car stuck – much – but it definitely needed a wash before I took it home.

After successfully navigating the mud track of death I met my buddy at the edge of the wood, we got our kit ready – including wellies – and started our shoot. I really love just wandering around the forest and having a chat about life and archery, I don’t even have to shoot well (but I’d lie if I said that didn’t help), there’s just something about being outside with a bow that instantly recharges the batteries.

In terms of the shoot, I felt that I shot okay, all my arrows hit the target but I need to pull my groupings together. I’m still getting used to the recurve and shooting from a shelf that is so central – the bow however, feels amazing. Whilst shooting I took a few pictures and my buddy took a few of me whilst at full draw. It’s not often that I get to see a picture of myself shooting but I did notice, when I went through the pictures at home, that my bow hand is in totally the wrong position.

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As you can see I’m holding the weight of my bow in the gap between my thumb and finger which means that the weight of the bow is held in my wrist. I need to push my palm into the bow which will help me engage my back tension which in turn will make my release smoother (hopefully). In my minds eye I was already doing this so it came as a bit of a shock seeing the evidence that I wasn’t. It’s something I’ll start working on correcting the next time I pick up my bow but it goes to show how easy bad form can creep up on you.

 

Picking up the tab

Archery is never far from my mind. In those moments of the day where I have a spare few seconds I often imagine how I’d make a shot hit something I’ve seen or go through my shoot routine in my mind. I probably do more archery in my head then I physically get to do.

In one of these “archery ponders” I was thinking of the advantages of using a glove and why I use one. Here’s my list.

  • I can select and nock my arrows easier.
  • Once I’ve shot I don’t need to remove my glove when I collect my arrows.

And that is pretty much the list, I can’t think of anything else…. can you?

When I initially saw my short list of advantages I was surprised that none of the advantages actually impact on the shot itself. Once the arrow is nocked and on the string then that’s, as far as I can see, all the advantages of shooting with a glove over with.

Then I started thinking about how much time I put into selecting the right string, the right shelf material, the right arrows, the right bow and the constant reassessment of my form, all in an attempt to get my arrows to go where I want them to go.

At this point it seemed like madness that I’m knowingly adding something into the mix that could detract from all the work and pain I’ve done just to give me some advantages that don’t impact on the actual shot.

With this in mind I thought I’d pick up a tab in the hope that it has a noticeable impact on the end result of my shot and to see if I can live with or adapt to the lack of instant mobility in my shooting hand.

It may make no difference, it may make a negligible difference that isn’t worth the mobility sacrifice or it may make a world of difference. Either way it surely has be worth a go! I’ll report back after a few weeks to see if I’m a convert……or not.

Target Panic?

Over the last few weeks I’ve felt that my accuracy has taken a massive nose dive. I’ll have some good shots followed by some truly awful ones. If I’m honest it’s starting to frustrate me.

In an attempt to rectify this I’ve asked the club coach to look at my form and shoot routine. The only thing he could see was that I need to relax my grip on the bow. I’ve even asked the coach to go through the basics of aiming with me just in case I’m missing something obvious (this request received a raised eye brow).

I suspect that I’m doing something small that’s wrong which has thrown me off ever so slightly, this will, I suspect, have caused me to unconsciously expect to be off which just amplifies the issue, but how do I break the cycle?!

Tips, hints and tricks will be greatly received.

Anchor Away

Last week I changed my anchor point from the corner of my mouth to behind my ear. You often see medieval depictions of archers drawing their bow behind their ear and it is these depictions that the modern warbow archer has looked at for guidancance.

Luttrell Psalter f.147v – British Library

At the moment I am no where near a warbow draw weight but it is something that I aspire to.  So whilst I save up for a heavier bow, at 80# @31, I thought I’d try and nail down the drawing technique with my lighter 55# bow.

Now, I don’t know anybody in person who shoots from behind the ear or for that matter shoots a heavy bow so I’ve been watching videos of warbow archers on youtube and bothering @keoghnick on instagram.

From my online observations it looks like the archer has a much narrower stance than the modern stance, to the point where the front leg is placed slight further forward than the back. As you place your arrow on the bow you learn forwards at the hips and as you move back into an up right position you stretch your back, push with your bow arm and pull with the draw arm and then slightly lean into the draw. This allows you to use your back muscles and not just rely on those in our arms. No movement is wasted in the draw process as it all helps get the bow back. Leaning into the shot also seems to allow your back to bear more of the weight much like a weight lifter would have an arch in their back as they do a deadlift.

I decided to try and video myself drawing this way so that I could see what my form was like. I didn’t knock am arrow as I don’t have the space to loose in my garden but it did give me a good guide to what I was or wasn’t doing. The video can be found here, I tired embedding the video but I gave up after a few attempts.

One of the things I found strange was the feel of the bow when I drew without an arrow nocked, it was probably physiological, as I was concentrating on the draw, but the bow felt really heavy. Another thing I noticed was that I was bringing my draw arm up and over leading to a rotation of my shoulder. This is something I’ve never consciously done before so I need to stop doing it before I overload my shoulder.

I’ve now been shooting from the ear for a few sessions and I can honestly say that it’s really comfortable. It does take a while to get used to the motion and the anchor but after a while it started to feel really natural. As an added bonus that extra inch or so added to my draw is leading to the arrows traveling quicker and faster. All in all I’m happy with my progress and as the weeks go on I’m hoping my technique will become more refined.

 

 

Shooting Gloves and Releasing the Pain

One of the things I’ve found whilst shooting with a glove is that my fingers, especially the tendons that connect my finger tips to the rest of my hand, the ones that go over the interphalangael joints, become tender. The longer I shoot the more painful it becomes.

This happens because I have a habit of cradling the string as I draw in the corner of the joint which leads to the string cutting into the tendons. As an added bonus because I’m cradling the string in my joint as I release the string rolls across the tendon and then across my full finger tip which adds to further discomfort.

To try and remove this discomfort I’ve done a few things. The first is to fit a thicker string on my bow. My orginal string was 10 strands and I’ve added a few more so it’s now at 12. As the string is now thicker it’s less likely, I hope, to cause finger pinch. This however, comes at a cost as a thicker string leads to a slower bow which in turn will effect the flight of the arrow, this isn’t ideal. 

The second thing that I’ve done is purchase a thicker shooting glove so that my fingers are better protected. The issue I found with this is that with a thicker glove you loose dexterity in your fingers. Now for me the main reason why I shoot with a glove and not a tab is that I like the added agility a glove gives me, it brings me closer to a more intimate shooting experience and I don’t want to loose this by shooting with a thicker clumsy glove. I tried a number of different gloves that weren’t quite right but eventually I found the Bodnik Speed Glove that gave me an ideal balance between protection and dexterity. The speed glove does this by placing a fine layer of canvas material over the fingers. This canvas layer is soft enough that you can bend your fingers easily yet thick enough to protect you fingers from the string pinch. It’s a really excellent glove and seems to have helped eliminate the pain I was experiencing. As an added bonus it’s also very smooth so my release seems to be a little more consistent.

The third, and last thing, that I’m trying to do is change the area of my fingers that I’m using to draw the string. So instead of the string resting on my joint and tendons I’m now trying to rest it just above them on the bottom of my fingertip pads. This, like all technique changes, is a work in progress as thinking about where my hand holds the string when I draw puts a conscious thought into my shoot sequence that can and has thrown everything else out. This will go eventually as it just a matter of making that conscious action a subconscious one.

A combination of a thicker string, new glove and a change of technique has removed all of the discomfort I had when drawing and shooting for a prolonged period. This in turn has allowed me to get more out of my shooting as I can easily lose myself in the moment of the shot and not be “pulled back” to reality with a physical discomfort. Losing myself in the shot where everything else just drops away is the heart of archery and hopefully, one day I’ll be able to achieve that state everytime I shoot.

Holding On

The last two times that I’ve picked up my bow and gone shooting I’ve come away feeling great. My groupings are getting tighter and I’m more or less placing the arrows where I want them to go. All in all I feel like I’m progressing.

I have a problem though and it’s that I’ll shoot a few good arrows and then I’ll shoot a truly awful one that will hit an area where I never expected it to. This happens fairly regularly, as well, which means that it dramatically affects my scoring. What makes it even more frustrating is that I know that when everything is right I can string togeather some really good shots, so in my mind I have the ability but I just need to nail the consistency. 

As you can see below the first two arrows were all of the place and the third and last of end was perfect.

Last night after shooting a Portsmouth and being afflicted by the same issue I decided that I needed go back to basics and look at my shoot sequence to find the problem. My shoot sequence is as follows.

  1. Approach the target.
  2. Get comfortable.
  3. Look at my target and start to concentrate on my breathing to clear my mind.
  4. Nock an arrow.
  5. Stare the shit out of where I want to put the arrow whilst not to braking eye contact.
  6. Start the draw.
  7. Once my hand gets to my anchor point release.
  8. Hold everything in place until a second or so after the arrow hits.
  9. Reflect.
  10. Go back to step one.

When I started analysing the shoot sequence I realised that as soon as my hand got to the anchor point – step 7 – I was holding at full draw for a second or so longer than what I should be. This I feel was adding a few seconds where my hand could unconsciously move or more worryingly give my conscious mind the opportunity to take over my aiming. 

My shoot sequence is the way it is so that I can give my mind the time and space needed to work the aiming out before I draw, but by holding at full draw for a prolonged period I was effectively robbing myself of the preperation that had taken place before that point. On top of that I was tiring myself needlessly as I was holding the bow for too long at full draw which made the shots taken at the end of the shoot shoddy.

With this in my mind I made the conscious decision to release as soon as I’d settled at my anchor point. Adding a conscious motion and thought back into my shoot sequence wasn’t ideal as it gave my conscious mind time to try and take over the aiming. This wasn’t something I wanted but until the anchor and release section of my sequence is nailed and becomes routine it will have to be something I put up with.

By eliminating the hold I ended up shooting some really tight arrow groups. They were slightly off target but I think that’s down to putting the conscious thought of ‘anchor and relase’ into my sequence. So for the next few shoots I’ll be concentrating on this which will hopefully improve my groups and arrow placement. Time will tell if it works!