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Chapter XX
Practical instructions in shooting
Part 4 of 5

If in archery the aim could always be taken on the target, as is the case in rifle shooting with modern appliances, the eyes could be concentrated upon the pile of the arrow till it and the target were seen as one object; but the aim necessarily varies, and the point selected to give the elevation proper to each distance may be above, below, or upon the target. These points of aim are, however, selected with due reference to the target itself; consequently it is well to see as much of that as possible at the same time that the point of aim is decided on. At one hundred yards, when the aim is usually above the target, the left hand frequently hides the latter when the arrow is drawn. In that case it is decidedly best to look directly at the point of aim before commencing to draw; the target will be seen indirectly while the point is fixed on, and if the target is hidden by the hand as the arrow is brought up, it will make little or no difference. If the pile of the arrow is the object directly looked at, it will be found that the point of aim indirectly selected will often be lost when the target, hidden by the hand, ceases to be a guide. This especially holds good when there is what is called a 'sky background,' with no object to select as a point of aim. Fortunately this undesirable state of things is rare, probably for the reason that no sane archer adjourns to the summit of a bare mountain for the purposes of archery; still it does occasionally occur.

If the eye is accustomed to calculate the necessary height above the target for the point of aim, the spot-may be approximately determined, even with no object as a guide; but if sought indirectly it will be lost when the hand covers the target. The pile of the arrow will be plainly seen indirectly as it comes up, and the hand will naturally follow the eye. From this it would appear that the best method is to look directly at the point of aim, and indirectly at the target and pile of the arrow, at all events when the aim is above the target. The same will be found to hold good when the target and point of aim are identical, usually at eighty yards. When the point of aim is below the target at the shorter ranges of sixty yards and fifty yards for ladies, a rather different mode of aiming is frequently adopted; the archer looks directly at the gold of the target, and indirectly at the spot which is judged to be the right distance in front upon which the pile of the arrow is to be brought. Much, however, depends upon the keenness of sight and the distance at which the point of aim lies in front of the target. If, for instance, the point is half way between the archer and the target, owing to the absence of any definite spot on a well-mown plot of grass it is not easy to measure the exact distance each time indirectly, unless there should happen to be some small object by which the point of aim may be fixed. It is the better plan, in this case, to look directly at the point of aim, and indirectly at the target, taking care that the one coincides with the centre of the other. If the point of aim is close beneath the target, the opposite may be adopted without difficulty, the advantage being that the aim will naturally be straight.

'The fewer changes made, the fewer things to be remembere' is a good motto here and elsewhere in archery; consequently it is safest to treat all distances alike in the method of aiming; look directly at the point of aim and raise the pile of the arrow on to it, recollecting to bring the arrow up true, and to keep the right elbow at such a height as will coincide with the straight line of the arrow when aimed--that is, lower when the aim is above the target, higher when the aim is below it. The actual difference in the height of the elbow may be very slight at the various distances, but the change is very important, in order that the right arm, which is doing the work, may be exerting its power along the direct line in which the arrow is lying. To have the elbow too high is a lesser fault than to keep it too low; in the former case, at all events, the right hand will keep close to the face; in the latter it is certain to come away from the face at the loose (fig. 184).

Holding is the short pause during which the aim is perfected and preparation made for loosing or releasing the arrow. Naturally, when the point of aim is above the target the pile of the arrow has to travel a longer distance before it rests on the desired spot than at shorter ranges, consequently in the case of many archers the arrow is fully drawn while still below the point of aim; it has to be held whilst the remaining distance is made good, and then just for a moment when the upward motion of the left hand ceases. The actual pause should be as brief as is consistent with steadiness, but it is impossible to lay down any fixed rule, because individuals vary so much in 'quickness.' This variation is, of course, equally observable with the gun. No doubt, practice in either case makes up a good deal of the deficiency in quickness, but it will not do away with it entirely, because it arises from constitutional causes. The longer or shorter time occupied in holding depends a great deal upon this quickness, or the want of it; but whatever may be the cause it is well to endeavour to get as nearly of the point of aim as possible when the draw is just completed, so that the pause may be very brief. It is at or about this time that troubles begin to arise, and the nerves, already alluded to, commence to try to have it their own way; we are, in fact, on the threshold of the loose, the moment when the arrow is to go for weal or woe. It must not be supposed that this nervousness has anything to do with the importance of the occasion, for when it affects an archer at all it will be found to beset him as much in his own private practice as in a more public competition. There are two phases of the disease, each diametrically opposed to the other; in the one case the archer cannot hold at all--when the arrow is drawn it is bound to go, whether on the aim, or only near it--in the other he cannot loose it when he wants to. That either case may be attributed to a nervous affection of the muscles seems to be proved by the fact that the same person may, in curing one form of the complaint, fall a victim to the other. Let us, however, take courage-- both are perfectly curable; in fact, all tricks and bad habits in archery are curable, whether of long standing or not, provided the archer will take the trouble to get rid of them. the reason why is the first thing to try to find out. While the arrow is being raised and drawn there has been a gradually increasing tension on the various muscles, assisted by the movement of the hands and arms, and the distribution of the weight of the body; when this tension is at its highest point that is, when the arrow is drawn to its proper place--the movement ceases, while at the same time the tension has to be kept up for the brief space of time while the aim is steadied and corrected. Brief though it be, that space of time is enough to upset the coach. Unperceived by the archer, the muscles have a tendency to relax tile moment the movement ceases; those in the back go first, unless they are kept braced, the body tips forward directly the sustaining power is lost, and away goes the whole thing like upsetting a tray of crockery down the back stairs. l he cause and effect are much the same:

184. A bad loose.
184. A bad loose.

it is the first slip of the 'things' on the tray in one direction which causes them to be 'righted' too much and leads to their destruction in the other, and it is the futile endeavour to 'right ' the arrow, with nothing to do it with, which makes such a mess of it. The archer, in fact, loses command of the bow just at the very moment it is most needed. The reason, then, for not being able to hold is that there is nothing to hold with the middle piece of the structure ceasing to be the firm connecting link between the feet and the arms, and so both power and confidence are lost. It takes considerable patience and practice to keep the muscles of the back braced, especially when other muscles are merely passive, or are relaxed suddenly as in the loose, but the attempt must be made if any satisfaction is to be got out of archery.

It may be asked, 'If this loss of command of the bow is owing to laxity of muscular power at the wrong time, where do the nerves come in?' Most people are aware that if any person suffers from some muscular contraction, such as a twitching of the face, for instance, the affection is aggravated by certain conditions of the nerves; and it is just the same with a trick or fault in archery.

Supposing we set about overcoming an inability to hold, or, as it is sometimes called, 'target shyness' we shall find that carefully attending to the proper firmness of position will not be sufficient at first; there will be a horrible nervous feeling still that the arrow must go directly it is drawn up. Some archers who have got into this state declare 'there is no remedy, they must go on now' and so on; and yet half an hour will lay the foundation of a happier state of things and effectually break the nervous loss of command of the bow.

If the archer can obtain the good offices of a friend who has no difficulty in holding, the proceedings are very much simplified. Both archers--the 'holder' and 'bolter,' as we may call them--take up their position side by side, and are careful to draw together, the 'bolter's' object being to hold till he hears the 'holder's' bow string released. He will probably hold the first arrow half the time, the second longer, and the third will possibly be worse than the first; but after a little practice the 'bolter' will find that he is in danger of losing his title, and the nervous feeling will be rapidly disappearing.

The 'holder' will soon begin to dodge him by purposely holding longer, and at first will derive much satisfaction from the success of his ruse; but the joy will be shortlived, for before the lesson is finished the 'bolter' will overstay his comrade's longest dwell, and will quietly wipe him out with the remark, 'I beg your pardon, weren't you rather quick that time?' If the cure is to be permanent care will have to be taken for some time when beginning to shoot, and if there is any tendency to revert to the old habit some other expedients may be needed. These may be necessary in the case of some archer who cannot obtain the companionship of another bowman. Here is one expedient. Be careful to take up the proper position, draw up the arrow, aim it, but don't loose it, let it gently back and take it down; try the same thing once or twice more, then, when the action becomes easy, endeavour to shoot one arrow after holding Intersperse the shooting with this mode of procedure till you feel that you can do pretty much as you like; only fix the mind on the one object in hand, taking no heed of the result of the shot. Another plan, if shooting alone, is to take a point of aim to one side of the aim proper (when the arrow is known to be pointing wrong there is not so much difficulty in holding), and bring it gradually to the right spot while it is held. This has the disadvantage of the cross movement, but will serve its purpose when the archer feels during shooting that he is gradually getting back to the habit he wants to break; an occasional arrow aimed off in this way will serve to steady the others. Of course these things really require a trial to prove their efficiency, but the reader may take them as the result of experience, and will readily understand how much must have to do with anything which can be rectified by such means.

The second phase of what may be called a nervous affection is an inability to release the arrow.

It has already been said that holding and loosing are really parts of one another; quite half the purpose of holding is to get the sufficient steady pressure which effects the release of the arrow. This pressure has not been hitherto mentioned beyond the statement that when the bow is fully drawn a certain amount of tension of the muscles is required to keep it so while the aim is made good. We will revert to this when considering the loose, in order to avoid repetition. It will be, perhaps, best to take this holding of an arrow without being able to release it, when required, under the head of ' Holding,' because it is sometimes the outcome of a determined struggle to overcome the difficulty of not being able to hold at all. To take that case first; the determination to hold at any price causes a firmer grip of the string with the fingers than before, with the result that the draw is principally effected by the fingers with the wrist turned in to assist them. When the hand reaches its place against the lower part of the face, owing to the inturned wrist, it becomes fixed, and the necessary pressure to get rid of the string cannot be brought to bear on it. If the arrow is brought down, and the wrist turned outwards, the elbow and -arm will come into play, and the wrist becoming straight by the time the hand reaches the face the difficulty will be removed. If the archer has not had to contend with any adversity in holding, but yet gets 'stuck up,' in nine cases out of ten it will be that inturned wrist which is doing the mischief; and probably in every case the root of the evil will be found in loss of command of the bow from precisely the same want of firmness of position which causes inability to hold at all. Indecision either way may usually be traced to that, for want of firmness means want of confidence.

One other evil sometimes creeps insidiously in, and helps to cause this nervous indecision, and that is a relaxation of the grasp on the handle of the bow when the movement of the arms in drawing the arrow ceases; it is not a very common occurrence just then, though it is later, but at any rate it should be borne in mind and guarded against.

185. The Right Way: Before
185. The Right Way: Before
From an instantaneous
Photograph of Miss Legh
186. The Right Way: After.
186. The Right Way: After.
From an instantaneous
Photograph of Miss Legh

If the indecision still continues after the remedies recommended are applied where needed, it is a serviceable plan to get some kindly disposed person who can count up to, say, three, and get him or her to display this attainment steadily when the archer has the arrow drawn up; when the number agreed upon is reached, the arrow must be loosed somehow. A very short practice will overcome the nervous 'hitch,' and if the counting is steady and even, it will impress itself on the mind even after the coadjutor has departed. When the normal state has been recovered, the archer will probably wonder why he or she had any difficulty on the point. After all this wandering about it may be well to state again that 'holding ' should be as brief as is consistent with steadiness; that in order to produce this result the muscles of the back should be kept braced, the grasp of the bow firm, and the right hand, wrist, and elbow in a true line with the arrow, while the pressure on the string should be slightly increasing, in order that it may not be decreasing. Unless this latter precaution is taken the result will inevitably be creeping-- that is to say, owing to the stretching and straightening of the fingers, or relaxing of the muscles, the pile of the arrow will slip slowly but surely forward and will not be loosed from the proper spot to which it was originally drawn. This is, perhaps, the most common fault of all in archery, and one which the archer, looking, as he does, at the arrow foreshortened, cannot easily see for himself. One reason, then--though not the only one--for the additional pressure on the string while the arrow is held is to retain it in the identical place to which it was originally drawn.

In 'loosing' or 'releasing,' we have the real jam at the bottom of the pudding. 'A beautiful loose,' 'a good loose,' 'a keen loose," a dull loose," a bad loose," a wooden loose,' 'a forward loose,' are all terms with which archers are acquainted. All are to be seen on archery fields; but, though they are mostly recognised, and have awarded to them approbation or otherwise, it is quite another thing to diagnose the reasons which make them differ so widely. A forward loose, for instance, has the palpable give from the heels of the boots to the tips of the fingers which renders it plain to the most unobservant spectator; but when we come to the borderland between a good loose and an indifferent one, then the puzzle begins. What, for instance, is the exact movement of the fingers which releases the string? If the action is good, it is so instantaneous that all that really can be seen is the after effect.

To go once more to our old friend the gun. What did you do when one October day that snipe got up before you in that turnip-field--where no one ever saw a snipe before or since-- and gave you a snap shot between two low trees in the hedge? 'Missed him, of course; why he----' 'Yes, yes, that's only a matter of detail; what was the exact action of your finger on the trigger when you fired the shot? ' 'Well, I don't know; I suppose, &c.'

Ask any good gunner who, on account of his skill, has been having 'front seats' all day, 'what he does to get his gun off.' Having first looked at you to see whether 'coming along with the beaters' has impaired your intellect, and then having pondered on some possible 'sell' in the query, and finally coming to the conclusion that you are only hoping to catch his good shooting off him, he will reply, 'Oh ! I --well, I suppose-- 'pon my word I haven't the least idea!'

In fact, the action is so instantaneous that the exponent is utterly unaware of it until something unusual occurs--such as the gun being at safety, or half-cock--when the resistance of the trigger reduces the rapidity to a full stop, and he finds he is pulling. There is something very like this in the loose in archery--something that the archer is unconscious of till something else goes wrong. Suppose we try to take it to pieces and look at its works, as we might a watch--only in that case, as a noted archer once said, 'there is always one wheel too many to go back again'--we may find that, or we may not. When the fingers were placed on the string, one of two methods had to be adopted--either the string was to lie straight across the finger-tips, or it was to lie in a slanting direction; in the latter case the back of the hand had to be turned upwards in effecting the release, so that the fingers might all leave the string at the same moment. The action naturally differs in the two cases. The first of the two is the more common, so we will consider it in that order. The fingers are bent at the tips, so as to obtain a hold of the string. Some archers will tell you that their fingers are almost straight, but as they do not see them themselves this is excusable; no doubt some can draw a bow with less crook to the fingers than others, but still we e may safely set it down that some curve is necessary to hold the string. When it is desired to release the string that curve must be momentarily got rid of; but it must be done in such a manner that all the fingers clear tile string at the same instant, and do not go a hair's breadth beyond the place they occupied when curved. Now how can this be done best? If we bend the fingers as they would be upon the string, and then extend them, we find they project considerably beyond their original position. The friction, as the string passes over them, would preclude the sharp, clean loose which it is the object of all good archers to attain. Clearly, then, the string must not come off the fingers, but the fingers off the string. There are to be found, especially amongst our lady archers, some excellent examples of this, though it must not be supposed that there are none amongst those of the male persuasion. What we see, when tile arrow is drawn--and it is very pretty to look at (fig. 185) --is a perfectly true line from the pile of tile arrow to the point of the right elbow, the upper part of the right hand just upon or just beneath, the jawbone close to the chin, with the fingertips, just sufficiently curved to retain the string, immediately beneath and in front of the right eye; the pile of the arrow quite steady, with no sign of 'creep' or effort while it is held; and then like a flash it is gone, and we hear the thud as it strikes the target. But we don't look to see where it is, for we have noticed something else; the position is still the same when the arrow has sped, the left hand holds the bow just where it did when it Noms drawn, the right elbow and arm retain the line, the right hand is close to the face, but it is further back by about the difference between the curved and straight fingers, and those fingers are in some cases closed on the palm of the hand; in fact, they have come back off the string, which accounted for the peculiar 'thup' that we heard when the arrow was loosed (fig. 186). We look at the lady's next-door neighbour perhaps--if it is at an archery meeting--and we notice at once the right elbow below the shoulder, the body stooping over the bow, the arrow creeping all the while it is held, and when it is released the left hand drops like a pointer to a shot (only he didn't use to till 'down charge' had driven every bird out of the field), the right elbow comes forward, and the right hand with outspread fingers reminds one of the well-known picture beneath which is written, 'Dr. Livingstone, I believe!' (fig. 187). Then we go metaphorically to tile refreshment tent to ponder on 'what has caused this great difference, especially at the crucial point of the "loose," between these two individuals who apparently were equally capable of handling a bow?'