What comes next is a series of ideas about shooting. I should emphasise here that in no way are they a definitive description of how to shoot: they describe the way I shoot, some of the problems I found cropped up, and some stuff I thought might be helpful. Hopefully most things here will be useful, if only because they make you realise that my way of doing things is completely wrong and your way is better. Feel free to disagree vehemently with anything that I write: but if thereís something that you havenít tried already, why not give it a go?
At the moment (2nd week TT 2001) this is incomplete (finals are looking worryingly closeÖ), but it should be finished in a month or so, when finals are over and archery rules.
When weíre starting to coach novices at OUCofA we have a tendency to overemphasise the importance of the release and follow through, and to neglect the importance of the bow arm. If you think about it, though, the bow arm is clearly vital: if the bow isnít pointing consistently at the target at all stages of the shot, then the arrow isnít going to go in the middle. Common sense really, but less than obvious until itís pointed out to you.
Itís common to talk about archers falling into two broad categories: pushers and pullers. The pullers are the ones who focus on the draw, use of the back muscles, smooth release and follow-through, without worrying too much about the bow arm. Pushers do exactly the opposite. This doesnít mean that each only actually pulls or pushes: good archers will do both, but possibly only think about one. It also doesnít mean that you should view one as more important than the other: generally you have to do both properly to shoot well. If you mostly try to concentrate on the draw etc., try focusing on your bow arm for a few sessions, especially if you have never given it any real attention before. Itís entirely possible that you will shoot better by concentrating mostly on keeping good form in the bow arm, rather than worrying about the draw etc. Even if you find that you do shoot better with a focus on the draw etc., you still need to get your bow arm doing the right thing.
The first thing to sort out is the type of grip you use, as this is very influential in the set of your entire arm. DONíT GRIP THE BOW. Thatís the first thing to get straight. You donít have to keep your fingers around the handle of the bow to stop it from falling from your hands, especially at full draw, when the action and pressure of the draw obviously keeps it in your hand. If youíre using a sling (as you should be!) then the bow wonít fall out of your hands after the shot either. If you do grip the bow then almost inevitably the pressure of your fingers will deflect it by a fraction and it wonít be pointing where you think it is: when you let go of the string the bow will start to turn and point in the direction that the pressure of your hand dictates. This should be at the middle of the target, but it wonít be if your grip is pushing on the bow. So donít grip it. Equally, donít keep your fingers rigidly straight away from the bow: this can cause just as many problems!
The second thing to do is to use a 45 degree angled grip on the bow. This means that the knuckles on your bow hand form a 45 degree angle with the bow, and the handle of the bow goes down the side of the ball of the thumb rather than the palm of the hand. The main point of pressure should be just at the top of the ball of the thumb. This helps keep your fingers out of the way of the bow handle: tuck them into your palm and keep them relaxed. It also helps with the set of the rest of the arm.
Your bow arm should be straight: not rigid (ie tense), but definitely straight rather than bent. There are several reasons for this. If youíre using a clicker then it will prove immensely difficult to achieve a consistent draw length with a bent arm, partly because you will inevitably bend it different amounts on different shots, and partly because the bent arm is not as strong as the straight one, and will probably start to bend more as you come up to full draw and try to come through the clicker. Getting the forward pressure right is also much easier with a straight arm, and it should ensure a more consistent direction of pressure as well (more on this later).
Lots of people, me included, have problems or have had problems with elbows sticking out and getting hit by the string when we release. This hurts lots if you arenít wearing am arm guard, and also sends the arrow off in random directions: this very quickly leads to a pissed off archer, and no one likes that. The solution is simple. If you are successfully keeping your arm straight and using the 45 degree angled grip then your elbow should be pointing sideways, so that if you bent it, it would point towards the wall rather than the floor. This means that it wonít be sticking out into the path of the string. If youíre doing all the above and still have a sticking out elbow then pay extra attention to moving it out of the way by rotating it: most people can do this, even if their elbows stick out a bit. When youíre setting up the shot, make sure that the elbow is in the right position, and try to keep it there. Also make sure that youíre wearing an arm guard so that you donít develop a flinching reaction in an attempt to avoid hitting your arm.
You should also avoid letting the drawing shoulder creep up towards your ear as the shot progresses and you stand at full draw. This will cause an entirely different set to the muscles involved, and bring a change in the feeling of the shot, as well as altering your draw length. If this is a problem (itís something to watch out for when increasing poundage, changing bow, or starting to shoot again after a bit of a break), then focus on bringing the bow arm shoulder blade down and towards the middle of the back. This should be the correct set of the shoulder blade anyway, but lots of people donít pay much attention to it.
This is what your arm should look like: what should it be doing? The straight arm should be pressing forward towards the target as you come up to full draw: the term often used is ďfeeling for the targetĒ. This pressure should be maintained throughout the shot, including the time just after the shot. The pressure needed is not huge, but pressure is needed. Pressing towards the target keeps your arm straight and makes sure that the bow does not deviate from the correct line in the moments after you release the string. It is absolutely vital that there is both a push and a pull involved in the shot, otherwise consistency is near impossible. Think of the arm as a single unit, and push with all of it rather than just with the hand or the wrist: imagine it as a solid piece of wood if that helps. You can practice this by putting your palm flat on a wall, keeping the arm straight, and pushing with different parts of the arm: try to push with the whole thing, and remember how it feels.
So in summary:
1. Donít grip the bow with your fingers. Let it rest in your hand.
2. Use the 45 degree angled grip with the fingers off the bow.
3. Keep the arm straight without a bend in the elbow.
4. Keep the elbow pointing sideways, not down. Donít let it stick out into the path of the string.
5. Push forward with the bow arm towards the target. Imagine the arm as a single unit and push with all of it.
Getting this right takes time, especially if you havenít been paying that much attention to the bow arm previously. Spend a few practice sessions focusing primarily on these techniques, possibly without a target on the boss. Donít expect to get it right in ten minutes, but you should find it easier within the space of a session or two.
This is the other fundamental of good archery technique: if you have a good bow arm and a good draw, youíre well on the way to shooting your best. There are lots of separate issues involved with the draw, so Iíll deal with them differently. I choose to shoot with a certain type of draw, but others may not find this type the best for them. There are lots of different opinions out there: donít be afraid to ask other people what they think about a particular point, and donít be afraid to experiment for a session or so.
Grip on the string. There are two ways of doing this, either a deep grip or a fingertip grip. In the first type you place the string into the first joint of the fingers and keep it there for the duration of the shot. The advantage of this is that having your string in the joints allows you to relax your drawing fingers a lot, and they may come off the string more smoothly. In the second type you grip the string with the tips of your fingers: this causes more tension in the fingers, potentially leading to a less smooth release, but there is less finger to get out of the way of the string. Personally speaking, I found the deep grip very useful when I tried it, producing far better grouping than the fingertip grip, but have recently gone back to the fingertip grip for various reasons, and have found this much more consistent than I originally did. The deep grip takes some getting used to, but can certainly yield very good results. Try both, and see which you prefer.
Use of the back muscles. Not a lot of debate over this one really: you should use your back muscles as the main drawing force. What this means is that the arm and shoulder muscles are as relaxed as possible and the back muscles do most of the work: this causes less tension in the drawing arm, especially the forearm, which leads to a smoother release. It also helps enormously with correct line (more of which later), and is less tiring than using the arm muscles. When youíre drawing the bow, try to move one scapula towards the other, feeling the bone and muscle in the back working to bring the arm, hand and string back towards your face: other muscles should be as relaxed as possible. Practising this is absolutely vital, and luckily you can do a lot towards good technique at home. Stand as if on the shooting line, one arm out as if holding the bow, the other as if holding the string. Move the back muscles and shoulder blade to bring the string arm back towards your face and in towards where it would normally anchor on your face. Keep the pressure up on the back muscles, and imagine yourself letting go of the string with a smooth motion so that your drawing arm follows through directly backwards and the hand ends up by your rear shoulder. At all times try to feel the back muscles working, and keep the other muscles relaxed. This exercise is even better when you use a stretch band: the Cliniband is an old favourite, and Win&Win have just brought out a new version which looks good. Do exactly the same exercise: this time it should be more realistic, and you should be able to feel the muscles working better. Itís very important that you carry on doing this exercise at home even when you think youíve got it right and are shooting well: itís the best substitute for actually shooting and is an important exercise in its own right. Doing this for 15/20 minutes a day should improve technique dramatically, and is useful if youíre not going to be shooting during the vacations.
The T-draw. Most archers prefer to use this draw: itís the classic technique which we all get taught as beginners, and it should work for the majority of people. Having settled the fingers on the string properly, turn to face the target and bring the bow up in front of you. The sight should be slightly above the gold (assuming that this is where you are aiming) as the action of the draw will bring the bow arm and bow down, dropping the sight onto the gold. Using the back muscles pull the string towards your face, continuing to use the sight, but concentrating on technique, and then release. Simple! The alternative is to start the draw with the bow pointing at the ground, with the bow arm straight and in position, and to raise the bow as you draw, sighting and aiming at the same time: some people feel that this gives them better back muscle usage, although I canít say it helped me at all when I tried it. Pointing the bow up in the air at a 45 degree angle and doing the draw like this could produce the same effect, but is sensibly against the rules of shooting, so donít try that one. Try doing the first part of the draw relatively quickly, perhaps until a couple of inches away from your face, and then slow it down a lot. This gives you a chance to make sure that you will be anchoring in the right place, lets you aim as you draw, and generally helps you do a smooth draw rather than a stop-start one.
Aiming. The main point here is that you should do this at all stages of the draw. Donít draw and then aim, as the movement will lack smoothness: aim before you draw, and continue to aim while you draw and at full draw. Having said that, the act of aiming should be as unconscious as possible: if you concentrate on keeping the sight in the gold, you can be sure that itíll wander all over the place, youíll spend lots of time and effort at full draw trying to get it back into the gold, stay at full draw too long, and the eventual shot will be a poor one. Keep your attention focused on the target, on where you want the sight to be, and focus on good technique: with practice the sight will stay more or less where you want it to be, and aiming wonít be a problem. Bear in mind that the sight is bound to move about on the target: donít try to overcorrect for this consciously, subconscious aiming will do it for you.