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Chapter XX
Practical instructions in shooting
Part 5 of 5

In a short time, when the archers have passed over to the other end of the ground, we have the opportunity of again observing the style and position of the same ladies, with this difference--that we are further from them and their backs are towards us. And here it may be noted that in attempting to assist a friend out of an archery difficulty, it is often of great advantage to obtain a more general view of the shooter from a little distance, or from the opposite end of the ground, as the whole action is more easily taken in. We shall probably see then that the one lady carefully takes up her footing before the arrow is nocked, and that when it is drawn a perpendicular line let fall from the right shoulder would come beyond the right foot, while the right elbow--which at a little distance we can gauge on some point beyond--retains its position when the arrow is loosed. In the other case footing is evidently little thought of, and such position as there is is shifted every time an arrow is shot, and sometimes when the arrow is nocked --in fact, it is never the same. The left hand drops more perceptibly than it appeared to do when observed. close at hand, and the right elbow describes a part of a circle downwards at the loose. Then we cry 'Eureka !' and are eyed suspiciously by a policeman, who ought to be preventing spectators from passing behind the targets, but rarely performs that duty; no matter! we have learnt something. Some may say now 'it's all nonsense,' but the fact remains notwithstanding that the lady whose shooting is so true, so easy, and so neat is loosing as much with her feet as she is with her hands. This will account for the state of things which occurs to most archers, viz. that one day arrow after arrow will be shot with the greatest ease and regularity, while the next day perhaps tile whole thing is a fight and a struggle.

187. A presentation copy.
187. A presentation copy.

It must not be supposed that in saying this the being physically 'off' is ignored that state belongs occasionally to gunners, cricketers, billiard players, and all sorts and conditions of men who undertake anything which requires the conjoint use of hand and eye but the fight and struggle business in archery may occur when the archer feels like shooting a good round, and we may depend upon it then that something in the position has gone wrong. Nothing is so easy as to get out of position, unless it be to keep on with it without finding it out. Those muscles of the back depend on the feet, as has been shown; and that additional pressure on the string, to bring off the fingers smoothly and evenly, depends on the elbow and forearm at one end, and the firm grasp of the bow and steady, but unbraced, left arm at the other; these again depend on the muscles of the back, and so the loose may be said to belong to the feet as much as to the hands.

With regard to the additional pressure over and above that required to actually draw the arrow up, to counteract the giving or stretching of muscles, and to bring the fingers off the string when required, an archer of considerable note once defined the feeling is that of ' drawing the arrow about one-eighth of an inch further '; as he remarked, ' it `sill not really come back, but then it won't go forward, which it otherwise would.'

To show how bringing the fingers off the string in a continuance of the true line of the arrow tends to the latter's straight flight, the style of shooting on what is called the 'continuous draw ' may be noticed, but for that purpose only. By a 'continuous draw' is meant a steady movement from first to last, the loose taking place upon the draw without any pause. It must not be confounded with the before-mentioned fault of not being able to hold, for where the style is adopted there is a good deal of steadiness about it Some ladies have made and do make very creditable scores in this way, the elevation at their short ranges being more easily attained. The flight of the arrow is nearly always straight, but the uncertainty of elevation, especially at the longer ranges, outweighs that advantage. The pile of the arrow is always receding from the point of aim up to the moment of loosing, and this has to be rectified by the continual raising of the left hand. In some cases the arrow is drawn more or less each time, according as the point of aim is reached quickly or slowly; in others, where the right hand becomes the guide for the length of arrow to be drawn, the irregularity of elevation is owing to the left hand being raised unevenly. The direct flight of an arrow shot in this way is, however, a proof of the necessity of the pressure which enables the loose to be carried out being applied in a direct line with the arrow, and in an opposite direction to its flight.

When the fingers were placed on the string, it will be remembered that they were adjusted with reference to their coming off again evenly. The first finger is the one which is most likely to loose its hold during drawing, and therefore to come off the string first, leaving an unnecessary strain on the second and third, and causing an uneven loose, tending to send the arrow to the left. The importance of the first finger may especially be noted in shooting at sixty yards; here, owing to the low aim, the draw, and so the loose, is somewhat higher--that is to say, it has to be in continuance of the line in which the arrow is lying. To carry this out well the first finger should bear the principal weight of the bow. Of course it must be understood that this only refers to special care being given to the adjustment of the first finger; the wrist, arm, elbow, body, and feet, as has been stated, really doing the work.

There is, however, a little more yet--we have got to be prepared for the recoil of the bow, which is simultaneous with tile loose. So simultaneous is it that in many cases tile effect is marred by-the result of the loose affecting the loose itself. The tension is suddenly removed from one set of muscles, and has to be retained by others. For instance, the right hand and arm are suddenly freed from the weight previously sustained, while the left hand and arm have to retain the grasp on the bow, and withstand its recoil. It requires considerable patience and practice to tighten the left hand while we slacken the right--in fact, we want to form the habit of doing it, for it is fatal to good shooting to have to think of these things at the time.

To endeavour to retain the position exactly as it was just previous to the loose for a second or so afterwards will be found of great assistance, as it will serve to guard against three things, which otherwise are apt to become part of the action of loosing--viz. the dropping of the point of the right elbow, the dropping of the right hand from the face, and the dropping of the bow hand (we might add as a probable result the 'dropping' of the arrow) (fig. 184). To carry this out with ease and comfort we need only remember not to loose the muscles of the back at the time the arrow is released; those being retained in statu the remainder will be comparatively easy. If those muscles are firm, the right elbow can be kept up; if the elbow is kept up when tile fingers come off the string, the right hand will remain in its proper position. If those muscles are slacked, the elbow will come down, bringing the hand away from the face either outwards or downwards, causing the loose to be anywhere rather than 'in the direct line of the arrow, and in the opposite direction to its flight.'

It is but natural that when a person has been holding out a considerable weight in the position of an animated signpost that he or she should resume, as soon as possible, a normal position; it is, however, almost incredible how soon the trick may be learnt of doing this just half a second too soon.

It is a very beneficial practice for any archer, old or young, if the loose becomes 'hard,' or wrong in some way or another, to stand at any distance from a target at which an arrow aimed at the gold cannot possibly hit it, and then, careful of position, to shoot successive arrows with one fixed purpose, viz. to loose them well upon tile point of aim. As the arrow can be seen to fly true or otherwise it will be a sufficient guide to direction, and there will be nothing to take the mind off. As every archer knows, a good hit more or less condones a bad arrow, a miss causes disgust; therefore, always try to remedy faults where you cannot do the one and must do the other.

The second style of loose, viz. that which follows the placing of the fingers on the string in a slanting direction, is extremely pretty in appearance, and effectual in its results, if carried out well; the quickness and keenness are undeniable, and yet, for some reason or other, it finds few practical admirers in the archery, world. Major Hawkins Fisher--whose name is so well known amongst archers, both from the success he has achieved and the manner in which he has achieved it-- is the exponent of this method of release, insomuch that by many it is known as the 'Fisher loose.' It is remarkable that with the amount of dodges and fads to be found in the variety of styles extant this attainment--for it is nothing less--should be so conspicuous by its absence. In itself this mode of release presents no great difficulty--that is to say, as far as quitting the string in this manner goes; most archers who try it can do it after a fashion, but as a rule they find they fail in sufficient regularity to allow of its adoption.

In placing the fingers on the string it was remarked that if the first finger is much shorter than the third this release is almost impracticable. It is often the case that the second and third fingers of the drawing hand are rather longer than those of the bow hand, and this is no doubt the result of shooting; these, again, are the fingers which too often go amiss. In Major Fisher's case it is exactly the reverse; the first finger of the right hand is very little shorter than the third, while in the left hand the third is the longer to a considerable extent. From this it would appear that the tension of the bow has elongated the first finger after constant use; and so we are let into the secret of 'the proper way to do it.'

Many archers are under the impression that too much first finger causes the hitches and jumps which sometimes beset their loose, whereas it is the weak third finger which is apt to come late off the string. Major Fisher's finger 'tips,' which have seen many a 'tented field,' bear the indelible marks of the bowstring, and as no one possesses a smoother, quicker, and keener loose than he, may be taken as conclusive evidence. The ' stops' have all been removed, and the groove made by the bowstring in the first finger tip begins at the inner edge of the leather, and slopes till at the opposite side it is not more than midway; the second finger tip has a groove commencing about midway, and continuing the same slope as shown on No. I; No. 3 is grooved near the end of the finger.

If we consider what has to be done we can easily see why this should be so. The back of the hand, as has been noticed already, is turned somewhat upwards during the draw and while the arrow is held, everything else being as described before. When the release takes place, the right hand not only comes a little back, but is turned sharply upwards without losing its touch of the face; in fact, it pivots on the first finger, so that the fingers which are inclined to hang are cleared from the string at tile same instant that the first finger leaves it. To do this well, the hold of the string by the first finger must evidently be much greater than is usually the case in archery and probably the reason why there have been so many failures in trying to copy this method is that this hold has been too slight to allow of the hand being turned upon it. Another difficulty is in keeping the hand against the face when it is turned upwards; it is so apt to come away in the direction in which it is turned.

An advantage in this method of release is that there is a certain little decisive action to be taken at the moment when the arrow should go, which tends to keep on the necessary pressure till that moment arrives.

It would be easier for a beginner to learn to loose in this manner at first, as there would be no danger of that common result, viz. falling between two stools, which sometimes follows the attempt to tack a new style on to an old one.

These details of some of the practical points of archery may be suitably concluded by an allusion to the very common failing of dropping, or lowering the left hand when the arrow is released. It arises partly from the recoil of the bow, and partly from a desire to get rid of the obstruction caused by the hand when the point of aim is. high. Of course, if it takes place when the arrow is gone it can make no difference; but if the movement is made at the time the arrow is released, it not only spoils the loose, but is apt to make the arrow drop short, because it is not loosed on the point of aim but below It. It is a very insidious fault, alla the archer is frequently unaware of it. It may, however, be readily detected by observing the position of the left hand when the aim is taken, and after the arrow has been released. If the determination is made to try to keep the hand on the same spot after the release of the arrow that it occupied before, the habit of doing so may be easily formed without the necessity of thinking of it at the time; the difficulty is when the archer is unaware of tile failing.

There are one or two points beyond the actual manipulation of a bow which are worthy of consideration as tending to good shooting, or the reverse. One of these is being over-bowed-- that is, endeavouring to shoot with bows which are beyond the archer's proper command. It is one thing to be able to draw a bow up, but quite another to release it properly.

The endeavour to get a lower point of aim at a hundred yards is frequently the inducement to attempt to shoot with too strong tackle. Archery is just as much a matter of training the muscles as any other sport, pastime, or work requiring their use; and we add to this tile point already noticed, that in archery the muscles of the hands and arms especially are used in a manner to which they are unaccustomed. At a public meeting some years ago a young archer, who had every intention of 'setting the Thames on fire,' was holding forth on the absurdity attempting to shoot at a hundred yards with a bow under 56 lbs. in weight, being evidently under the impression that all men were constituted alike. Mr. Ford, who happened to overhear this lecture on archery, patiently awaited its conclusion, and then remarked to Mr. Coulson, 'Tom, if these young men had brains equal to their biceps, where would old fellows like you and I be?'

All archers of any experience are aware that they cannot commence the season with the bows they handled so easily just before they put them aside for the winter. The beginner is, however, not aware of this; he sees someone making good shooting, and at once inquires about the strength of the bow used, taking it as a matter of course that the bow is the secret of the shooting. It is a good rule to use a bow which can be handled with ease, and at the same time will offer sufficient resistance to enable a good cast to be got out of it. The cast of a bow--that is to say, if it is a good one--depends very much on its being adapted to the muscular power of the archer at the time. At the beginning of the season, for instance, a light bow will be found to meet requirements which it will not fulfil later on when the muscular power becomes more developed; and, vice versâ, a stronger bow, surrounded by the halo of its successes at the back end of the previous year, if taken in hand too soon brings disappointment. Too often the bows are condemned as having 'lost their cast ' the truth being that ill one case there is not sufficient resistance to enable a good release to be effected; in the other, either the bow is not properly drawn up, or is too strong for the muscular power possessed by the archer at the time.

Few men need use a bow of more than from 48 lbs. to 52 lbs. The wisdom of adapting the bow to the muscular power seems to be shown by the fact that a man cannot get the same cast out of a lady's bow of, say, 30 lbs. that the lady herself can: what is wanting is sufficient resistance. Archers who change their bows at the various distances--and the custom is a very usual one--often find a difficulty in releasing a weaker bow after using a stronger one, the variation of resistance having to be overcome. As, however, bows vary considerably in their cast, owing to the quality of the material of which they are made, even though the 'pull' or weight is very similar, it is well, when practicable, to use the duller bows at the shorter lengths, and so obtain, as nearly as possible, the same resistance for the release.

Too much shooting that is, either shooting for too great a length of time or too frequently--is another drawback to the beginner, and seasoned archers sometimes suffer from the same cause.

It is a very pardonable mistake to make, especially on the beginner's part, for it usually springs from a desire to escape from the bonds of mediocrity and to climb the ladder which leads to success.

Archery possesses an indescribable attraction, which is, unfortunately, not felt by all those who handle a bow and it is possibly for this reason that so small a legacy of archers has been left us by the general popularity of archery which was to be found thirty or forty years ago. Hundreds of archers in those days never emerged from the first stages of muffdom; and if we look at the records of existing societies in the present day we shall find that the same thing obtains When, however, the attraction is felt, the disease is apt to be deep-seated. The kind assistance of some friend in giving practical hints throws a new light on archery; and the marked improvement which takes place gives such an additional interest that a beginner is very apt to overdo the shooting with the object of progressing more rapidly. No crew can 'row the course' every day without going to pieces; and no archer can shoot a York Round daily with benefit. Two or three times a week is ample work to keep the muscles in play, especially if the precaution is taken of shooting two rounds on consecutive days at the height of the season. If there is some special fault to be eradicated it is better to shoot for half an hour, at any distance, with that fault in view, than to shoot a whole round, when probably from fatigue, or some other cause, little or no progress will be made.

Never shoot in rough weather if you can help it. Never shoot against time. A round, to be shot satisfactorily, should take from two hours to two hours and a quarter. If there is not plenty of time, shoot half of each distance. Archers who hurry through a round are nearly sure to be 'bothered' by having to wait when three or four shoot at the same target. Ladies will find from forty-five minutes to one hour ample time for the practice of their round. A round with a break between the distances, when practicable, is of more value as a test than one shot right away.

Analysis of the foregoing

The Standing or Footing--Take up the footing with reference to the object to be aimed at feet eight or nine inches apart, firm and comfortable, at such an angle as may be natural to the individual, the direct line to point of aim passing through the heels; the shoulders as nearly as possible in the same line; the body erect and easy, legs straight at the knees, but the knees not braced back.

Nocking.--The bow to be adjusted in the hand between the second knuckle of first finger and ball of thumb, and perpendicular through the hand. The arrow to be always brought over the string, never passed underneath, for fear of damaging the bow with the pile, and carefully adjusted on the nocking place. Fingers to be placed evenly on the string, with special care that there is enough first finger close to the nock of the arrow, but not close enough to pinch it later. The right wrist bent a little outwards; on the left front the left wrist straight, in its natural position, just above the left hip; the pile of the arrow pointing in the direction of the object to be aimed at.

Drawing.--Body erect, and head turned towards the point of aim. Weight of body transferred more on to the right foot than left' and more on the heels than the tread of tile feet. Muscles of the back braced, and the grasp tightened on the bow. Both hands raised and separated evenly, and under the axis of vision of the right eye, the right forearm and elbow coming up as much as possible under this line, the pull being effected by this part of the arm, the shoulders to be kept well down. Draw till the pile of the arrow comes on to the bow, and the right hand touches the lower part of tile face near the chin, directly beneath the eye. The hand to be brought to the face, not the face to the hand. Get as nearly on to the point of aim as possible by raising the left hand steadily but quickly while the foregoing direction is being carried out. Be sure to keep the right elbow up and back, so as to preserve the true line.

Aiming and Holding.-- Complete the aim by bringing the pile of tile arrow on to the point of aim, and steady it for a second, keeping the pull on all the time. Be careful to keep the body erect, so as not to tip forward, by keeping the muscles of the back braced, and the weight as much on the heels as possible. Take all care not to let the arrow 'creep.'

Loosing.-- Tighten the grip of the left hand on the bow, so that both it and the muscles of the back may not give when the arrow is released. Keep the right hand tight to its place against the jaw or chin, and endeavour to bring it just sufficiently back when the actual release takes place to compensate the momentary extension of the fingers. In doing this be careful to keep the wrist straight and elbow tip, so that the hand may not leave the face and the true line, nor drop down, nor follow the string, be it ever so little. When the release is accomplished keep up the bow-hand for a second after the arrow is gone; retain the right hand in its place, anti so the arm and elbow, then ease up preparatory to nocking the next arrow.

N.B.--Don't dive the right hand for this in a hurry, or the result will be a continual change of position and taking it up afresh. It is an ugly, though prevalent, trick at the best.