The diagrams (figs. 174 and 175) show the right and the wrong method of holding a bow, and, as the right method is very important, should be carefully studied by all beginners in archery. The object is not only to hold the bow firmly, but also to allow the string when at rest, drawn up or released, to divide the bow longitudinally. If the top of the first finger and thumb of the left hand are joined together, it will be seen that they form --roughly speaking-- a four-sided figure; the centre of the belly of the bow, and consequently of the string, should lie on a diagonal line between the angle formed by the second knuckle of the first finger and that of the lowest joint of the thumb (fig. 176). If the palm of the hand is now observed --with the finger and thumb as before-- the perpendicular position of the bow should be straight across the palm of the hand at the base of the fingers, and not in a slanting direction against the ball of the thumb (fig. 177).
If a bow is taken in hand in the manner described, it will be seen that, first, the string is clear of the arm, with no danger of hitting it; and, secondly, that it lies in such a direction that, if the left arm is extended and an arrow drawn up, the latter will readily underlie the axis of vision of the right eye --a necessity to be described later on. Unfortunately, the wrong position (fig. 175) is the natural way of holding a bow if it is taken up without any reference to the work it has to do; but w hen that important matter does come under consideration, a few experiments made with a strung bow, merely held in the hand, will demonstrate the evil results likely to occur. In the first place, the course of the string as it returns to a state of rest will be through a part of the left arm. lichen the string is drawn and released, it will strike on this part of the arm, and the course of the arrow will be deflected to the left. A clear and free passage of the string from one end of its course to the other should be reckoned of the first importance, for most archers know how detrimental to good shooting is the slightest touch of the string, even on a wrinkle of the coat sleeve. Another result from this mode of holding a bow is a continual struggle between the bow when drawn and the bow hand; the centre line of the bow lies in a direction nearly Central to the left arm, while the string is drawn in another line beneath the right eye; if the bow is grasped tightly, there is considerable risk of twisting the fibres of the wood, and rendering the weapon useless; a result tolerably certain if the method is persisted in. Again, supposing by some stratagem the striking of the arm is avoided, the effort made by the string when released to regain its central position will cause the arrow to strike against the bow with a 'click', and commence its flight with what is called a 'kick' or unsteady wriggle the desideratum being a steady and silent arrow.
That this striking of the arrow on the bow takes place more frequently than archers are aware of may be seen by a glance at the arrows in use. If the hold of the bow is correct, an arrow which has seen much service --and ladies' arrows especially get through a good deal of work-- will have the paint and polish on the side next the bow, and in the region of the feathers, unscratched; if, however, the bow and the string have been struggling in different directions, not only will the paint be scored, but very often the arrow itself Will be worn for some inches till one side is almost flat. The loose is commonly blamed for this work of spoliation: ' when in doubt blame the loose 'is rather a common failing amongst archers. If the fingers quit the string unevenly, the third finger, for instance, remaining on the string after the first and second are clear; or if the arrow is pinched so tightly between the fingers that it bends while being drawn, the result is something similar, but bears no comparison in its effect to that produced by drawing the string out of its natural line on the centre of the bow. Some archers attach a pad, or lump of gutta-percha moulded to fit the hand, to the handle of the bow on one side, to fill up the hollow between the bow and the ball of the thumb; if fitted properly, and not too large, it makes a very comfortable handle, and prevents the bow from twisting in the hand.
When the bow has been properly grasped in the hand the wrist should be quite straight, neither turned in nor out; this will be found to give both power and elasticity, and is the position the wrist should retain during both drawing and loosing.
The process of necking an arrow needs very few words of description. The arrow is drawn from the arrow pocket by the right hand, and laid above the string and across the bow, which is held in a slanting position, so that it rests against the left hand on the bow; the nock can then be pressed home on the nocking place without any change of position of the right hand on the arrow, or movement of the left hand on the bow. If it is found more convenient, the first finger and thumb of the right hand on each side of the string can be used to adjust the nock to the nocking place. That, at least, is one way, and it is probably the simplest and the best, because it avoids any movement of the left hand on the bow.
Some archers use the thumb and forefinger of the left hand to steady the arrow while it is nocked; but it is not necessary to do this, and certainly not expedient if the bow has been properly taken in hand previously, as the hand has either to be readjusted or, as frequently happens, remains in the wrong position which it may have assumed. On no account should the arrow be passed between the string and the bow, as the habit is certain to lead to the disfigurement of the bow, by reason of the pile of the arrow coming in occasional contact with it and leaving numerous 'pits ' as mementos.
Some modes of nocking an arrow are ungainly and awkward; for instance, when the arrow is nocked at the back of the string, and then turned over till it rests in its proper place; if the arrow fits tight, it is natural that the string will twist also.
Some ladies seem fond of this method, while others 'load ' during the interval preceding their turn to shoot, and walk to the shooting-mark at the 'ready'; but as these exponents of the art rarely stoop to such sublunary things as position, and generally stoop to extract their arrows from the ground, their plan does not commend itself for imitation.
It is remarkable how many ladies go out of their way to exhibit ' how not to do it,' even with the advantage they frequently have of shooting with those who display a near approach to perfection of style which few men ever attain to. The simplest action, with the fewest movements, is the best, and, no matter what the original style of the archer may have been, if it is shown to be bad, it may be broken through and a new one adopted so readily as to become quite natural and easy, if a little practice and perseverance is expended on the matter at any odd time. Just do the thing a few times in the right way, and recollect to do the same with the first few arrows when shooting, and after that it will often be found more difficult to go back to the old way than to continue in the new. In taking up the footing, holding the bow, and nocking the arrow, this especially holds good; but when the strain comes on the muscles, or fatigue is felt towards the conclusion of a 'round,' the difficulty of maintaining correctly a change from a bad style to a good one is naturally much greater.
The arrow is usually correctly nocked with the left hand close to the body, a few inches above the hip, on the left front, and in that position the fingers of the right hand are placed on the string, the first finger above and the second and third fingers below the nook of the arrow, close to it, but not pressing against it. It sounds very easy, looks very easy, and would be very easy to do if we only had to consider the drawing up of an ordinary twenty eight inch arrow; but unfortunately we have to let it go again, or release it, and whether the arrow flies keenly and smoothly, or whether it 'wobbles' with a sluggish flight, depends very considerably on the way in which the fingers are placed on the string; that is, with reference to their coming off it again.
If hands and fingers were all alike, no doubt a fixed rule could be given --what was 'sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander'-- but, speaking generally, the goose far excels the gander in loosing an arrow, which seems to point to the idea that, though ladies' bows are in proportion to their muscular powers, their fingers, being naturally smaller, offer less surface for the string to pass over, and it is more easily got rid of.
There are two ways of placing the fingers on the string, either of which has its exponents amongst good archers. The more generally adopted method of the two is to put the fingers on in such a manner that the string lies straight across them, with sufficient bend in them to bring the tips level. In the other plan the string is in a slanting position, the finger-tips slanting to match. As the fingers are put on the string with especial reference to coming off again or loosing, it will be noticed later on that both the position and action of the right hand will differ considerably in each case.
Whether we adopt the straight or slanting string and fingers is not altogether a matter of choice, but depends very much on the fingers themselves. If the hand is held up with the fingers extended, and the palm flat, it will be seen that either the first and third fingers are of nearly equal length, or that the first finger is considerably shorter than the third. If the former is the case, either method of holding the string may be adopted; but if the latter, the chances of an even loose are far greater with the string straight. The first finger is the strongest of the three in use; but it is more difficult than would be supposed to get as much work out of it as out of either of the other two.
Unless care is taken, an undue strain will come on the second and third fingers, and one or other of these too frequently breaks down. Very few archers suffer from blisters on the first finger; very many suffer in the second or third, especially at the commencement of the archery season. The ligaments of the first finger rarely, if ever, give way; but many an archer has to lay the bow aside temporarily, or altogether, on account of damage to the second and third.
In placing the fingers on the string, then, due allowance should be made for the shortcomings of the first finger, and if the string is to be straight across the finger-tips the amount of hold of the first finger should exceed that of the other two. When the arrow is drawn up, it will be found that the weight of the bow is evenly distributed on all three fingers; but, unless this precaution is taken before commencing to draw, it will be impossible to rectify it when once the strain is on the fingers.
The ordinary leather 'finger-tips ' are provided with stops beyond which, of course, the string cannot be placed; but, as a general rule, it may be taken that half-way between the tips of the fingers and the first joints is the right spot. It is a mistake to suppose that holding the string as close to the tips of the fingers as possible gives a better loose. It stands to reason that the strain on the ligaments is greater, and also that the fingers must be more bent in order to retain a hold on the string; the loose may be sharper, but the old rule will obtain, 'what you gain in speed you lose in accuracy.' The string is apt to ' jump ' over the curved finger-tips, especially on the weaker third finger; whereas, if the hold on the string is further on the fingers, they may be held much straighter. When the fingers are on the string, the back of the hand will correspond with the bowstring, perpendicular, or slightly slanting, according as the bow is held. If the slanting position of the fingers on the string is adopted, then the back of the hand must be turned more upwards in order to obtain a sufficient hold with the first finger. In both instances the right wrist must be bent slightly outwards --it will be straight enough when the weight of the bow comes upon it in drawing both to avoid drawing-- both to avoid drawing with the fingers and to give greater facility to the loose later on. To speak of drawing with the fingers as a fault in archery may seem to be absurd, but it is really not so. The fingers, as used in archery, are practically hooks, more or less bent, attached to the forearm and elbow, the muscles of which (supplemented by a certain distribution of the weight of the body) furnish the power. If the wrist is turned inwards, the full power of the forearm and elbow is lost, and the fingers are comparatively unassisted; if the wrist is bent outwards, with the view of coming straight when tension is put on it, the fingers merely furnish the grip on the bowstring, while much more powerful muscles come into play to draw the bow.
If anyone will make the experiment of pulling at anything upon which the three fingers can be placed, first with the wrist turned in, and then with it straight, the difference of power will be felt in a moment. In the case of an archer who draws with an inturned wrist, it will be noticed at once that the hand shakes as though the effort was considerable; whereas, if the wrist is straight, the arrow is drawn up without any outward evidence of strain. There is another drawback also: when the hand comes to a certain place in drawing, it can go no further, and becomes what is sometimes called 'nailed on,' or fixed, losing, in fact, its elasticity; the only possible loose being a forward one, which is fatal to success.
Having now considered the position or footing, grasp of the bow, nocking the arrow, and placing the fingers on the string, we come to the drawing up of the arrow. Drawing aiming, holding, loosing, being (as was said above) parts of one process, and having reference to one another, can only really be separated for the purpose of description, and it is necessary to bear this in mind, so as not to be misled by their apparent separation. The object to be aimed at, or 'point of aim,' as it is called, is the first thing to be decided on, as it governs the greater part of the proceedings which follow.
This point of aim varies with the distance at which the target is placed. It may be well to remark here that there is no such thing in archery as a 'point-blank' aim. Archers sometimes imagine that when their point of aim coincides with the gold of the target they are aiming directly at it. The eye never looks along the arrow, but the pile of the arrow intersects the line of vision, pointing upwards in proportion to the distance between the eye and the nock of the arrow when fully drawn.
In the York Round a certain number of arrows are shot at 100, 80, and 60 yards; in the National Round for ladies the distance is 60 and 50 yards. Very few archers can get a point of aim upon the target at more than one of the three distances included in the York Round, unless they adopt the perilous course of regulating the elevation by shifting the position of the right hand; but this will be noted later on. Some are unable to aim upon the target at either distance. Two archers shooting almost identically, as far as the position of the right hand goes, and using bows of similar strength, will often vary considerably in the point of aim; the reason possibly being the difference in measurement from the eye to the chin. At zo yards the aim upon the target will be most probable; ladies more commonly finding a point on the target at 60 yards than 50 yards. Every archer soon learns from experience the approximate spot which is the point of aim at each distance. The diagram (fig. 178) shows the axis of vision of each eye when directed on any given object. The arrow, when drawn so that the aim may be perfected, should correctly underlie, in its whole length, the axis of vision of the eye nearest to it, either right or left, de- pending of course on the archer shooting right or left handed. To bring about this result with the least strain on the muscles, it is best always to bear this in mind, and to keep the arrow as nearly as possible beneath this line of vision, from the very commencement of the draw. Ascham said that 'drawing well was the best part of good shooting'; some irreverent persons may say that 'hitting the target well makes better shooting.' But, however that may be, it is undoubtedly the fact that the more truly the arrow is raised and drawn beneath the line of sight of the aiming eye, the more easy it will be found to preserve the correct line in which the left hand, right hand, and point of the right elbow should be. Many archers, from neglecting this method, begin to draw with the arrow pointing some yards to one side of the point of aim, usually to the right; the consequence being that the arrow has to be brought round to the proper direction, either by moving the left arm or body, or both; in addition to this, the muscles, having been brought into play in one direction, have to be suddenly exerted in another just as the full weight of the bow is coming upon them: this tends to both loss of power and unnecessary stress upon muscles which will be required in their full vigour during the brief period of holding and in the subsequent loose.