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Handling of the Bow
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His system of shooting was as follows: Taking his bow from the quiver, he placed the lower end on his partially flexed left thigh. While he held the bow by the center with the left hand—its back was down—his right hand caught the string between forefinger and thumb. The other fingers held the upper end near the nock. Now, depressing the handle and bending the bow, he slipped the loop of the string over the nock. If, perchance, the string were too long, he unstrung the bow and twisted the string till it shortened to the proper length, when he again bent and braced his bow. When strung, the distance between the string and the hand grip was about four and a half inches. He then would place four or five arrows beneath his right arm, points to the front, leaving one in the hand. Holding the bow diagonally across the body, the upper end to the left, he "nocked" his arrow by laying it on the right side of the bow. It crossed the middle of the bow where the first and second fingers of the left hand received it and held it from slipping: it was also a little distance away from the bow. This refinement of technique was necessary to avoid rubbing the feathers, which were longer than the space between the bow and the string. The bow itself he clamped in the notch between the thumb and fingers of the left hand. he did not grip it tightly, even when full drawn. It poised in this notch, and even when the arrow was released it was only retained from springing from the hand by a light touch of his fingers. Some Indians, he said, had a little strap on the handle to prevent the bow jumping out of the hand.

Ishi's Bow Hand

The arrow, when full drawn, rested on the bow, steadied in position by the slight touch of his thumb on one side, the middle finger tip at the other. When the arrow left the string, at the moment of release, the bow revolved, or turned over completely, in his hand, so that the back of the bow was toward him.

The arrow release (the letting fly of the arrow) was a modification of that known as the Mongolian type. That is, he "drew" the bow with the right thumb flexed beneath the string. On the thumb nail he laid the end of the middle finger, to strengthen the hold. The index finger, completely flexed, rested on the arrow to keep it from slipping from the string. The extremities of the feathers, being near the nock, were neatly folded along the shaft in the grip of these fingers, to prevent them from being ruffled.

Ishi's Release

Ishi knew of several releases, saying that certain other tribes used them. The primary type, that where the arrow butt is gripped between the thumb and the flexed forefinger, he said certain Indians used, and it seemed to be a criterion of strength.

There are five known types of arrow release or methods of holding the arrow on the string while the bow is drawn. These were determined and named by E. S. Morse.6

The Primary release is that most naturally used by the novice. He draws the arrow by pinching it between his thumb and flexed forefinger. This is not a strong grip on the arrow, though practice undoubtedly strengthens the hold. No robust archery, according to English standards, has ever been done with this release. Yet it is the only one reported from many primitive peoples, perhaps even the method most commonly followed by uncivilized tribes.

The Secondary release is similar, but the middle finger assists in the pull by pressing on the string.

The Tertiary release holds the arrow between the thumb and straightened forefinger. It may also place other fingers on the string to assist in the pull.

The Mongolian or Asiatic release is chiefly used with the composite bow, and consists of pulling the string with the flexed thumb, more or less supported by the other fingers, while the arrow is merely steadied in position by contact with the forefinger, and by being held in the angle between the thumb and forefinger. This method reaches full effectiveness when a sharp-edged thumb ring is worn to engage the string.

The Mediterranean release was known to the ancients and is that used in English archery and by the Eskimo. The first three fingers, unassisted by the thumb, draw the string, while the engaged arrow rests between the first and second fingers.