Of Bracing and Nocking.
Different Modes of Bracing—Bend of the Bow—Ordinary Mode of Ascertaining its Correctness—Usual Direction as to Nocking—Its Objection—How to be Remedied—Position of Nocking Place—A Word of Warning.
In the previous chapters such plain directions, it is hoped, have been given concerning the various implements of Archery, as will enable each Archer to provide himself with the best of that kind his inclinations and means may lead him to adopt; and to avoid such as are in themselves radically bad, or likely to add to the difficulties he is sure to meet with before arriving at any great or satisfactory proficiency in the art. Having thus enabled him to form a choice as to his weapons, the next step is to endeavour to guide him in their use; and in the first place I shall notice a few minor matters, which, although of lesser importance in themselves, when compared with the more abstruse and difficult points connected with scientific Archery, yet must not on that account be altogether passed over in silence: and the first of these has regard to bracing the bow, which may be considered as the first preliminary operation in actual shooting. This is perhaps better known under the more modern appellation of stringing, and has reference to the act of bending the bow when unstrung, sufficiently to enable the shooter to slip the upper noose of the string into the nock. To effect this, three different modes have been practised. The first and most usual method is to set the lower horn of the bow on the ground (its back being towards the Archer) against the inside of the right foot, this being turned a little inward to prevent its slipping; then firmly grasping the handle with the right hand, and resting the lower part of the inside of the left hand upon the limb, just below the eye of the string, with a strong pull at the handle to bend the bow (the left hand and right foot forming the points d'appui of its two ends), the thumb and second joint of the forefinger of the left hand at the same time carrying the eye of the string into the nock. Novices, in first endeavouring to perform the operation of slipping the string into the nock almost invariably fail in doing so, hut as invariably succeed in getting their fingers beween the bow and string; thus discovering that the string can do something more than discharge the arrow, namely, nearly cut their fingers off. To prevent this untoward result, I have here appended a sketch (from a photograph) of the proper position of the hand and fingers whilst stringing—expressly for their benefit.
The second mode is by identically the same action, excepting that the left hand takes the place of the right, and vice vsrsâ. The third mode is performed by resting the lower horn of the bow upon the ground (the belly instead of the back being turned towards the Archer), and, whilst one hand presses the belly from the person, the inside of the other supports the upper end of the bow, and at the same time slips the string into the nock. Of this last mode of bracing, it may be briefly said that it is somewhat unusual, and seldom practised.
As regards the first two methods, opinions are divided; some, and I think the majority, advocating the grasp of the bow with the right hand, whilst the few maintain the left hand to be the best. It is, however, a matter so totally immaterial as hardly to be worth the slightest controversy; still, as Archers have made it a vexata quaestio, I may as well state the principal argument advanced by both sides in support of either proposition, and leave each to decide for himself afterwards as to which he likes the best to adopt. The advocates of the left-hand grasp, then, maintain that, as the bow when shooting is held with that hand, it should therefore be strung in like manner, as it saves the necessity of changing hands, and the action is more direct; whilst those who maintain the right-hand grasp, though they allow this, assert it is more than counterbalanced by the necessity the archer is under of turning his back upon the mark, or whatever or whoever else he is at the time fronting, if the bow be placed against the left foot instead of the right, which it must be if the grasp be with the left hand. But it may be said to every shooter, male or female,
Utrum horum mavis accipe.
To unbrace the bow the action is the same, with the exception that the string is slipped out of the nock, instead of into it. Either to brace or unbrace gracefully, and without effort, is an affair rather of knack, than of strength or force, and is therefore only to be learnt with a certain amount of practice.
The bow being braced, two things are to be carefully noted; firstly, that the bend be neither too high nor too low; and, secondly, that the string starts from both horns exactly in their centre, neither to the right hand nor to the left, but dividing the bow precisely in half from end to end; if this latter caution be not observed, the grain of the bow runs considerable risk of being unnaturally strained, and the bow itself of being pulled awry, and out of its proper shape, and sooner or later of breaking in consequence; it is even doubtful if the correct cast itself be not also more or less injuriously affected by any carelessness on this point. It is another of those minutiae of Archery which is of more importance than might at first sight appear, and one that should always be attended to before the bow is allowed to discharge a single arrow. During a morning's shooting, too, attention should be occasionally directed to the string, to ascertain that the noose has not slipped a little awry, which it will sometimes unavoidably do. Concerning the first point, it has been already stated, when speaking of the string, that, as regards a man's bow, the distance from the inside of the handle to the string should not be less than six inches. The advantages of a lower or smaller bend than this are that the bow casts quicker and further (owing to the greater length the arrow is acted upon by the string), and that the wood is less strained, and in less consequent danger of breaking; but to be put against this are the facts that the cast is less steady, and the probability of striking the bracer before the extreme point of the string's recoil (already asserted to be fatal to accurate shooting) much greater. Individually, I prefer the high bend, as giving much greater steadiness, tending more to secure the correct flight of the arrow, and making the drawing of the bow easier (the distance to be pulled being less), and have never found the loss of cast or the danger of breaking sufficiently great to induce an alteration of that opinion. I should therefore recommend the bow's being strung up, at the least, six inches.
It has long been the custom, in order to ascertain the amount of bend of the bow, to place the fist perpendicularly upon the interior of the handle (at the centre of the bow), at the same time raising up the thumb as high as it will reach: should the string then just touch the extremity of the thumb, the bracing is probably there or thereabouts correct: if higher or lower than the thumb's extremity, it is probably too great or too little, as the case may be. This is not, however, an infallible test, as the size and length of the hands of different individuals vary materially; but each Archer can once for all ascertain how near his own hand, placed in the above way, marks the distance he prefers, and, bearing this always in mind, brace his bow thereby equally as well as if his hand marked it exactly.
I shall now proceed to the point of nocking, though, strictly speaking, the next in order should be that of standing; but, as this latter is so intimately connected with, as to be almost inseparable from, the subjects of position, method of drawing, aiming, &c., which are decidedly after-matters, it will be included in these, instead of being separately treated of. Nocking is the most simple operation of Archery; the usual directions given for performing it are as follows:—" Holding the bow by the handle with the left hand, and turning it diagonally with the string upwards, with the right hand draw an arrow from the pouch, and grasping it about the middle, pass the point under the string and over the bow; then placing the thumb of the left hand over it, with the thumb and first finger of the right hand fix the arrow firmly on the string, the cock feather being uppermost." There is one objection, however, to that part of them which directs the shooter to "pass the arrow under the string"—an objection, curiously enough, entirely overlooked by all the authors upon Archery—and it is this, that by doing so, and owing to the somewhat intricate passage the arrow is made to traverse, the bow is very apt to become pitted by the point of the arrow, and in most Archers' hands who nock in this way speedily assumes the appearance of having had an attack of some mild species of measles or small-pox, to the great injury of the bow, both as regards beauty and safety, especially when made of yew; this most valuable wood of all being of a soft and tender character. It is true it may be argued that it is the Archer's own fault for not using proper care and attention whilst performing the operation; but during the excitement of matches, or in rapid shooting, this is no easy matter; and thus it will be generally found that the bows of Archers who nock in this way are more or less indented in the manner mentioned. Are the important points of Archery, too, not sufficiently numerous and difficult to bear constantly in mind without adding another to the list, unnecessary and altogether useless? If it had even the recommendation of being more easily, or more quickly performed, it would be something in its favour; but neither of these arguments can be advanced by its advocates, neither does it possess one single advantage to counterbalance its serious objection.
I cannot imagine a plan of nocking more simple and easy than the following:—The bow being held by the handle with the left hand, let the arrow be placed with the right (over the string, not under) upon that part of the bow upon which it is to lie; the thumb of the left hand, being then gently placed over it, will serve to hold it perfectly under command, and the fore-finger and thumb of the right hand can then take hold of the nock end of the arrow, and manipulate it with the most perfect ease in any manner that may be required. Five minutes' practice will be sufficient to render this mode of nocking familiar and easy to any Archer.
The nocking place should be exactly upon that part of the string which is opposite the spot of the bow over which the arrow passes— that is to say, the arrow when nocked must be precisely perpendicular to the bow. If either above or below this point, the arrow will not have a good flight; and should it happen to be above a trifle so either way, the safety of the bow is also compromised, and its cast injured. Care must be taken that the nocking part of the string exactly fills the nock of the arrow— it must be neither too tight nor too loose; if the first, it may, and probably will, split the nock; if the second, the shaft is apt to slip when in the act of drawing, and the correct elevation and its proper flight be lost thereby. The degree of tightness should be such, that the arrow, if nocked and allowed to hang, should just be retained by the string—that is to say, sufficient to support the weight of the arrow.
I must add a word of warning to the young Archer against that objectionable but too common plan of attempting to alter the range of the arrow by changing the nocking-point, making it higher or lower as they wish to increase or diminish it. For the reasons above given, a worse system cannot be adopted.