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Chapter XX
Practical instructions in shooting
Part 3 of 5

In taking up the position on the shooting-mark, it will be remembered that the body was supposed to be erect, with the weight evenly distributed on both feet. While the arrow is nocked, and the fingers placed on the string, the archer usually bends slightly over the arrow to see that all is correct; the erect position being assumed afterwards, and the head turned round towards the point of aim as far as conveniently may be. Before commencing to draw, let the pile of the arrow, which will probably be sloping slightly downwards, point directly beneath the point of aim, so that when the hands and arms are raised and extended during the draw, they may come up as truly as possible under the axis of vision --we may call this 'Motion No. 1.' Motion No. 2 will consist of a slight alteration in the distribution of the weight upon the feet. The tendency of the resistance of the bow when drawn will be to pull the archer on to the left foot, and also forwards, either or both failings being fatal to good shooting. To counteract this, the weight must rest more on the right foot than the left, and to assist this change the majority of archers bring the body somewhat beyond the perpendicular in the direction of the right elbow. Inhere is no necessity for carrying these alterations of the original position to extremes, as long as the tendency to rest the weight on the left foot is overcome. When the bow is fully drawn, the pressure on the feet, which was uneven at the beginning of the draw, will be found to be nearly equalised.

In guarding against the Scylla of leaning in the direction of the point of aim, care must be taken of the Charybdis of tipping forward towards the toes (fig. 179). This is, perhaps, the most insidious fault which besets archers, for it is one which cannot be seen for oneself, cannot be felt, and is so gradual as to be unnoticeable by the casual spectator; and yet it undermines the whole structure built up on the position, spoils the loose, increases as the archer tires, and causes many a good man and true to give up archery as hopeless. There is not much left to us of the 'Book of Jasher,' probably the first book of instructions in archery; still, the marginal reference tells us that the author's name sums up in one word all that has been written here on the necessity of the erect position, and a good deal that will follow with a view to maintain it. Jasher, or the upright man-- commentators may quibble on the meaning of 'upright,' but from an archery point of view we cannot do better than adopt the above interpretation, and when we take up our position say to ourselves 'Jasher' (fig. 180).

179. Tipping over, with elbow down.
179. Tipping over,
with elbow down.
180. Jasher.
180. Jasher.

If we exclude those archers who purposely lean forward in order that the string may clear the chest--they seem to have an idea that this is the only remedy--the root of the evil may be found in the part of the feet upon which the weight of the body rests, viz. the broad part, or tread. This elastic part of the foot comes so much into play in all outdoor exercise and sports, that it is but natural to use it in the footing in archery. A simple experiment will show how this fatal tipping forward originates, and how it may be counteracted. Assume the position described above, with the heels and feet duly placed, and the weight thrown rather more on the right foot than the left, but using the tread of the feet to afford the necessary foothold. If the arms are now raised into something like the position which they would take when a bow is drawn up, it will be noticed that there is a strong inclination on the part of the body to tip forward, even without the weight and resistance of the bow.

Resume the original position, and brace the muscles at or about the small of the back, and a great change will take place. First of all, it will be noticed that not only do the heels take their full share of the weight, but that a very strong outward pressure comes upon each, giving a firm grip of the ground; and when the arms are raised as before there is no inclination to tip forward in the slightest degree, neither any tendency to tip backwards, even without the bow.

Some archers, who are perfectly aware of this, complain that they cannot always carry out the plan, the reason being that, unless the weight is on the heels, the muscles of the back cannot be satisfactorily braced. The 'elasticity and ease' will not be interfered with, and the ' firmness ' upon which the loose so much depends will be increased fifty per cent. or more.

The 'third motion' includes the actual drawing of the arrow, which is already lying in the direction of the point of aim, the left hand holding the bow a little above the left hip, the right hand with fingers on the string, and wrist slightly turned out, at the left front. The grasp of the bow is tightened gradually, the lower three fingers especially increasing their pressure on what is the centre of the bow. It is best to try to gradually tighten the grasp till the arrow is loosed, and so avoid slackening the hold on the bow when the arrow is released by the other hand, which is apt to be the case if the full pressure is put on at first. Both hands are separated and raised at the same time, the left hand coming up, directly beneath the point of aim; the right hand, right arm and elbow being raised in as true a line as possible beneath the axis of vision, till the upper part of the forefinger of the drawing hand comes to the jawbone directly beneath the right eye.

Fig. 181

There is some little variation here, of course, in the exact position of the right hand; the danger of bringing it. higher is the liability to get the arrow outside the axis of vision; if it is lower than the chin, there is a possibility that it may lie inside the line of sight, but much depends on the conformation of the archer's face (fig. 181). A good rule by which the truth of the line of the arrow may be tested is, that when it is drawn, a glance down the cheek shows the nock directly under the eye. The hand, let it be noted, must be brought to the face, not the face to the hand, the head being kept as immovable as possible. It is a common fault in archery that, if the arrow is not brought up in a true line, the head is leant over to meet it; ladies especially are very apt to do this. If the head is moved over to one side, the original focus of the sight is altered, and the right eye 'overlooks,' or looks outside the arrow. The head should be held erect and quite still, so that there may be a fixed point to which to bring the hand. If it is felt that the arrow is not coming up true, put it down, and begin again. It requires some determination, but when accomplished is far better than saying--as a sort of apology for a badly shot arrow--'I knew that arrow was wrong.' It is certainly important to have one fixed spot to which to bring the right hand, making all allowance for elevation by raising or depressing the left. It is true that some archers are able to aim upon the target at all distances by shifting the position of the right hand at different lengths; but when the hand has to be lowered till it touches nothing, and has no guide, the method is uncertain and unsatisfactory, it being difficult enough to bring the hand to the shame place each time, even with some guide in the shape of touch. At the shortest range, in order hand has to be raised so high upon the cheek that it becomes very difficult to keep the nock of the arrow from coming outside the line of vision. The change of position of the right hand, in fact, rarely pays for the trouble of overcoming the difficulties it creates. On no account should the nock of the arrow be drawn behind the eye; the whole length should be in front. Poets, painters, and sculptors talk of or represent the arrow drawn to the ear; but possibly this was the long war arrow, which may have been so drawn in order to secure a farther flight, the direction being left to chance. If the axis of vision is to be taken as the true line in which the arrow should lie in its entire length, to draw it behind the eye and outside the face to the ear would plainly cause it to point to the left. When the position of the right hand has been decided by touch against the face, it will be evidently important that it should be brought directly to this spot, so that when the draw is nearly completed any change in the direction in which the right hand is moving may be unnecessary. The right elbow is a powerful factor here; in order to draw with it, it is raised somewhat above the level of the hand, and as the draw proceeds it describes a part of a circle round the shoulder, which at the same time is kept down. When the arrow is drawn there should be a true line from the pile of the arrow to the point of the elbow (see figs. 182 and 185). When the aim is high it is not so difficult to retain this line as when the aim is low. If, for instance, the arrow is pointing to a spot between the archer and the target, the elbow has to be raised a little above the shoulder in order to preserve the line, a position requiring some care' end practice to attain. The left arm has, in the meantime, become straight; that is, as straight as an arm can be that is not braced at the elbow. This does not mean that the arm is bent at the elbow, but simply naturally straight without rigidity. It might be supposed that bracing the elbow would give firmness to the left hand; but practically the recoil of the bow will cause a rigid arm to jerk in the direction of the braced muscles, viz. to the left. With a proper grasp of the bow by the hand, a slight upward pressure--a sensation that the hand is carrying the arm--and a firm but elastic arm itself, the recoil of the bow causes little or no ill effect.

182. True line.
182. True line.

If any beginner will take the trouble to go through these various details before a mirror, a great many points will become self-evident. It is not necessary to draw up a bow; it may simply be held in position, with the arrow resting on the hand, held the nock between the fingers, as it would be on the string. The right elbow can then be observed, which, of course, cannot be the case in actual practice. When the hands and elbow are level, the sensation will probably be that the latter is as high as the top of the head, and that sensation should be remembered. It is not to be supposed that this suggestion is equal in its results to actually drawing up a bow, but it gives an idea of what the proper position 'feels like.' Especial care should be taken that the shoulders are kept down and quite still during the raising of the arms. There are two details which have been omitted hitherto for the sake of clearness; first, the length of arrow to be drawn; second, the angle at which the bow should be held.

The usual length of arrow is twenty-eight inches for men and twenty-five inches for ladies; and these lengths suffice for the majority of archers. When the right hand is in its proper place, with the arrow drawn, the base of the pile should just come upon the bow. If the arms are so long that the right hand cannot reach the desired place without drawing the arrow inside the bow, the arrows used should be made longer, or fireworks of a terrifying nature are likely to be provided gratis; that is, the pile of the arrow is apt to jam against the belly of the bow, and fly into any amount of splinters, endangering the hand and eyes, and scattering the nerves broadcast. If, on the other hand, it is found that the left arm is too short to admit of the arrow being drawn up when the right hand has reached its proper position, the question arises, is it better to leave more arrow outside the bow, or to use a shorter arrow? Archers differ considerably in their opinions here. Undoubtedly, a long arrow flies better than a short one, and is also steadier, from the fact that its steering powers, or feathers, are further aft. If the right hand is the guide for the length of the draw, there is no apparent reason why the superfluous inch or so should not project beyond the bow. If the archer looks at the pile of the arrow each time to see if it is properly drawn--and there is no accounting for taste, though the practice is not a good one-- then a short arrow should be used. The second point--viz. the angle at which the bow should be held, upright, or sloping to the right--is perhaps best decided by the natural formation of the hand and arm. If the left arm is extended firmly without either the elbow or wrist being rigid, it will not be quite straight, but shaped with a small curve; a stick or anything grasped in the hand will not be truly perpendicular, but the upper part will slope towards the right. That is, perhaps, the firmest and most elastic position in which the wrist can be held, because it is the most natural.

To produce the perpendicular with anything held in the hand, the wrist must be turned on its ball-and-socket joint; directly, however, the muscles which have been exerted to twist the wrist are relaxed, the original position will be resumed. If this is the case when no strain is on the wrist, it will naturally be more so when the arm is resisting 50 lbs. Or so. There is no particular object to be attained by holding the bow perpendicularly, unless it be to enable the string to clear the chest; but this can be usually done by the position of the body, while the clearing of the arm by the string, which is sometimes assigned as a reason, is provided for by the proper grasp on the bow. The natural position of the hand--which will cause the bow to slope a little to the right--is the best, as it avoids any reaction of the wrist from the recoil of the bow. The rapidity with which the bow should be drawn is the last point to be considered under 'Drawing.' It may be safely said that the action should be sufficiently rapid to avoid exhausting the powers unduly, and slow enough to preclude any snatch or jerk. Two strokes of the pendulum of the ordinary 'grandfather' clock will furnish a very good idea of the time to be occupied; but, of course, there is no arbitrary rule. As the arrow is being raised all the while to a close proximity to the point of aim, there is no time lost over a moderately slow draw, as it will be saved in finding the aim itself. The action should be as smooth as possible, so that the tension, which will eventually produce the loose, may be kept evenly on.

If the arrow is drawn up very quickly, in nine cases out of ten it will be released as quickly, probably before the aim is more than approximate. When the draw is completed, the left hand will not have reached the point of aim, and will still have to be raised. During this action the pressure on the string will be apt to be relaxed outing to the abrupt cessation of the draw, and the arrow will either creep imperceptibly forward, or 'have to go.' When it comes to a matter of nerve, the smooth and steady style will see the other out. A little over-anxiety is certain to increase all the weak points, so that when it becomes a question as to whether the archer or the bow is to be 'boss,' it is well to keep cool and take time.

The aim is undoubtedly the most abstruse and scientific point connected with the practice of archery. It is at the same time most difficult to teach, and the most difficult to learn, and yet of all points it is the most necessary to be taught.

Before, however, the reader takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and ties a wet towel round his head, in order to grapple with so stupendous an antagonist; before he runs up the signal 'England expects,' and solemnly determines on either 'Victory or Westminster Abbey,' let him be sure that with the exception of 'necessary to be taught ' the remainder is not somewhat overstated. The fact is that aiming is simple enough to learn, the difficulty lies in holding and loosing the arrow on the aim. There is no necessity to go beyond the most elementary theory of optics, any more than there is to describe the irritable stamp of some archers over a 'good arrow gone wrong' by dynamics, or the metaphorical tears of disappointment by hydrostatics. The aim taken with an arrow is analogous to the aim taken with a gun--not a ride but a gun, when the object is a 'sitter.'

The mechanical surroundings differ, for in one case there is the stock of the gun against the shoulder, which tends to keep the weapon beneath the eye and in the same place each time; in the other, this being wanting, it has to be supplied by the position already described. The aim, pure and simple, is the same; either the upper part of the circumference of the gunbarrel, or the upper part of the circumference of the pile of the arrow, is brought upon the object aimed at.

Already it has been necessary to allude to the simple fact that the sights of the two eyes meet in a point upon the object directly looked at; but that close to the eyes the lines of sight are separated by the distance between the eyes. The drawing of an arrow from the commencement has been treated entirely with reference to the necessity of the arrow being kept under the line of vision of the eye nearest to it (fig. 178), the right hand, fore-arm, and elbow representing the stock of the gun, to keep this line true.

183. A, B, The two eyes; C, The point of aim.
183. A, B, The two eyes;
C, The point of aim.

Mr. Ford made a discovery, though probably the fact he brought to light was known to most gunmakers in the United Kingdom. He shot with a friend, who, in order to hit the target, found himself obliged to aim considerably to one side of it. It appears that, though the arrow was underlying the right eye, the left being much stronger 'took charge,' and regulated the aim (fig. 183). This being a very common state of things should be guarded against. The method is very simple. Hold an arrow in the position described when the proper height of the elbow was to be noted in a mirror, carefully adjusting it beneath the right eye; keep both eyes open, and bring the pile on any object of aim you please; if the left eye is now closed, and the aim remains unaltered, it may be taken for granted that all is well, and the power of sight either even or stronger in the right eye. If, however, the aim is found to be altered when the left eye is closed, so that the arrow points to one side of the original mark, then the left eye is the stronger and must be closed when the aim is taken, or the archer must shoot left-handed. If the sight is even, or the right eye the stronger, both eyes should be kept open. So much for the pure and simple aiming of an arrow.

The question of direct or indirect aim then arises. This, again, is not nearly as alarming as it sounds. Most people are aware that when the eyes are fixed on an object numerous other objects are included in the field of vision at the same time; the one object being seen directly, the others indirectly The question of direct or indirect aim is, then, whether the pile of the arrow or the point of aim should be the object directly looked at. Sportsmen know well enough that in shooting with a gun at a moving object, fur or feather, to look directly at the gun only would be fatal to success. The gun is seen plainly enough indirectly, but the creeping thing or fowl of the air is the recipient of the direct vision, if not of the shot.