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.
My local club is a traditional target archery club where arrows are shot at big white, black, blue, red and gold target faces. If I’m honest the colourful target faces really put me off and I seem to shoot a lot better with both my Longbow and field bow when I’m aiming at a smaller target. As ‘Grizzly’ Jim Kent often says ‘aim small, miss small’ and he’s defiantly right about that! From my own experience I’ve found that targets that have a lot going on are difficult to shoot at which is an obvious hindrance when you’re shooting at targets resembling a massive rainbow.
My attempt at getting around this is to shoot at the black and white Worcester faces or the smaller but still colourful Bray targets. Again both are smaller targets and my groupings tend to be tighter but not as tight as what I’d like.
This changed the other night when one of my longbow shooting buddies rocked up at the club with two stuffed teddy bears and promptly whizzed them down the shooting line. To the scorn of the Olympic recurve archers the three longbow archers abandoned shooting at the massive rainbow targets and instead spent the evening raining arrows of death down at our would be cuddly attackers. In short it was a lot of fun as you can see from my happy little face below.
Although shooting toys was a lot of fun I did notice that my grouping were really close and when I did miss it wasn’t by much. Another thing that I noticed was that as I shooting at the teddy at ground level I was unconsciously canting my bow and leaning slightly into the shot which I don’t normally do. It was only after I’d shot and was analysing my shoot sequence that I realised that I was doing this. This position seemed more natural when I was shooting at a teddy on the ground at 30yards away then it does when I’m shooting at a boss face at the same distance.
After a shoot I always try and take a little lesson away from it. I may not have shot great or improved, but if I can point at something and get insight from it then its been a worthwhile shoot. So my main take-a-way from the [teddy] bear hunt is that if you’re frustrated with your archery because you’re not ‘getting’ something then stop flogging the dead horse and do something fun; it may be shooting at softoys – or even doing a real 3D shoot – it may even be shooting some clout. Either way have some fun, smile, relax and maybe the block you’ve had will go away and if it doesn’t you will have at least had some fun.
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.
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.
- Approach the target.
- Get comfortable.
- Look at my target and start to concentrate on my breathing to clear my mind.
- Nock an arrow.
- Stare the shit out of where I want to put the arrow whilst not to braking eye contact.
- Start the draw.
- Once my hand gets to my anchor point release.
- Hold everything in place until a second or so after the arrow hits.
- 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!
They’re moments when you’re told something that is so obvious you wonder why you weren’t doing it in the first place. These moments are eureka moments where something falls into place and your archery level jumps up a notch. At the start of your archery journey these moments happen regularly as you pick up new techniques but as you progress, and develop habits, they happen less frequently but they still do happen.
One of these moments for me happened a few months ago when I was told to concentrate on the end of my shot, on the moments from my arrow leaving my bow until after the arrow hit the target. It’s true that whilst in flight I couldn’t influence the arrow hitting the mark but by not keeping full concentration until after the shot landed I was effectively not concentrating on the full shot.
I’ve discovered that archery is as much a mental activity as it is a physical one. If your head is not where it needs to be you’ll shoot badly. Going back to my shooting, I had incorrectly conditioned myself to see the shot as everything up to the point where the arrow left my bow. As soon as the arrow was released I was beginning to think of the next shot and not concentrate on the arrow in flight. Which meant that even if I made the ‘perfect shot’ I couldn’t rely on my memory to subconsciously store the information about how I achieved that shot as I wasn’t giving myself the time to process the actions and the feelings I’d just experienced.
Muscle memory is a key component in archery as it relies heavily on developing consistency in every element of the shot processes in order for you to put your arrows where you want them. In order to help develop muscle memory, you need to give your mind the time to process the rhythm, movement and feelings of your last shot, whether it is a good shot or a bad one. By losing concentration half way through the shot process, because I’d convinced myself to think that the shot was over after the arrow was released, I’ve been limiting my ability for my subconscious mind to recall the shot I’d just made as my conscious mind had been thinking about the prep for the next shot.
What I’m now trying to do is see the shot process as starting from the moment my eyes focus on the target until a second or so after the arrow has hit. When the arrow leaves the bow I’m staying fully focused on the target and keeping my bow hand and release position in place until after the arrow hits. I’ve found that this approach has really helped with my consistency and my ability to self-evaluate my shots and it’s also made my overall approach to archery a lot more relaxed, which can’t be a bad thing.