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The experience of a novice
Part 2 of 2

To take aim with a bow is a very different thing from aiming with a rifle. In the latter case you shoulder your rifle, run your line of sight along the barrel, and take deliberate aim at your target. In doing this, the steadier your nerve the truer your aim; but the "mind intent" has little comparatively to do with it, inasmuch as your effort is the result of a combination of keen sight, steady nerve and straight aim. But with the bow it is altogether different. Here the mental work to be done is everything. In archery the word "aim" in the familiar sense applied to a rifle is inapplicable. Experience teaches the practised archer to aim with his mind, as it were. Like Hamlet's philosophy "it is in my mind's eye, Horatio." The archer intuitively feels that he has his bow in the right position to send the arrow flying to the centre of the target. He looks solely at the "gold" centre of the target, and never at his bow or the arrow, as the arrow lies in position, with bow arched ready for the "loose," which sends it flying through the air to the target. It is this feeling of your aim, rather than seeing it, that is a peculiarity of the art. This feeling is attained only by the familiarity of constant practice. And, by the way, in no field sport does the old saying of "practice makes perfect" apply with such force as in archery. Skill in handling the bow, especially in long range shooting, is only attainable by continuous and persevering practice. There are so many little but important details to be attended to, which habit alone can train one into, that any regular rule is almost inapplicable. It is all very well to read in your book of instructions that the young archer must do this, that and the other thing, but it is practical experience in the field that will alone enable him to overcome the obstacles in his path on his way to the goal of success as an expert. The details which the novice must become familiar with before he can send his first arrow into the target, even, are enough to engage all his attention outside of the attainment of that mental schooling which comes from the practical effort to shoot straight.

Too hold your bow firmly with your left hand. as if it were in the grip of a vise, is the first letter of the archer's alphabet. The second is to bend your bow to the arrow's head properly, and the third is to "loose" the cord from the finger of your right hand at the opportune moment when your mind is bent on the target. This is the A B C of archery. Then comes the placing of the arrow in position, seeing that it is "nocked" in the right place on the string; that the "cock-feather" is uppermost, and that the tips of your fingers are rightly placed on the cord. When the "right form" for all these details has been attained by the familiarity of constant practice, and they have become a regular habit with you in handling your bow, then you will be fully prepared for the mental study of the situation, and then begins the "headwork of archery," so to speak, and just as you are able to excel in this will you become a skilful archer.

How to "stand at ease" while using your bow is quite an important matter; that is, to stand in a position that feels natural and unconstrained. You do not face the target as you are required to do when shooting with a rifle, but with the left side of your body toward the target, and with your face turned so as to look over your left shoulder. To stand firm is the main object, so as to avoid any varying of the steady position of the left arm as it is extended, with your hand grasping the bow. At first the novice will naturally find this fixed position somewhat irksome; but practice and habit will make it familiar. The left arm, when extended and resisting the pull of the right arm in bending the bow, will be apt to shake and be unsteady at first. To train the arm to steadiness practise holding out at arm's-length a weight equaling that of your bow, but no heavier. Any exercise, too, which will strengthen the muscles of your left arm so as to give your hand a firmer grip of the bow, will be found advantageous. This arm, in fact, is the lever on which your main dependence lies for a correct delivery of the arrow. As it is raised or lowered, so will your arrow fly high or low to the target. If the arm is bent at all the power to draw the bow to the arrow's head is lessened, and the aim made inaccurate. All these details must be borne in mind in practice. Not one of them must be forgotten. By this means only can a regular habit—the correct form—be attained. Then comes the next important matter, of a proper use of the right arm. Here, too, unused muscles come into play, especially those which are brought into action in pulling the bowstring back as far as the length of the arrow will admit of. At first it will feel like a very constrained position, and be one somewhat painful; but as your arm becomes trained to the position, all that disappears. To ladies, who are so generally unaccustomed to exercise of the muscles of the chest and arms, and are consequently weak in that respect, the practice in using the bow comes hard upon them; but its advantage in the strength it imparts repays for all the pain of the training. When you have learned to "pull the string" correctly, you will then have to attend to the comparatively simple matter of letting the cord slip from your fingers. Any one practising with a bow and arrow, unless the cuticle of his fingers be as thick as that of a day laborer, will have to wear leather finger-tips to prevent blisters on his fingers; and the face of these tips should be sufficiently soft and pliable to allow of the bowstring slipping from them easily. In holding the cord, too, there is but one right way, and that is to let the arrow, as it lies on the cord, be between your first and second finger, the tips of those fingers being held on the cord. To let slip the cord at the right moment is an important point, as a good "loose," as it is called, is very essential in aiding the correct flight of the arrow. Finally, observe this general rule. Stand steady; hold your left arm out straight and firm; look at the "gold" centre of the target as you bend your bow, and the moment your eye is on the target, and your bow is bent to the arrow's head, loosen your hold on the cord with a quick but easy motion. If your movements have been correct, and in harmony with the thought in your mind that the arrow should go straight to the centre of the target, it is two to one that it will go there.