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Chapter XI
On Aiming.
Part 1 of 2

Prevailing Ignorance on this Point—Absence of Scientific Instruction upon it in all Existing Works — Curious Expedients Resorted to— Their objections—Directions for its Full and Proper Attainment, and its Theory clearly Elucidated—The Point of Aim—A Curious Example—Aiming at Lengths Beyond the Target Distances—Shutting One Eye.

The following observations, be it understood, are intended to apply to those distances only which are fairly within the cast of the bows in use at the present day, and at which accuracy in hitting can reasonably be expected. Beyond 120 or 130 yards, the necessary but excessive arch of the arrow, the unavoidable concealment of the target by the required elevation of the left hand and arm, and the vastly increased effect of wind and weather, all conspire to render hitting the mark a matter much more of chance and guess-work than of skill and scientific practice. Not but what in any case the good Archer will always be superior as against the bad one, even in chance shooting, as he still possesses the advantages that superior judgment and knowledge of his weapon will be sure to give him, and which, to a certain extent, will enable him to control the adverse influences that militate against the correctness and accuracy of his shooting; but the more chance enters into the elements of success, and the more the efforts of skill are baffled by matters out of the power of science to control, the less satisfactory will the pursuit become; and that this is the generally received opinion, as regards distance shooting, amongst Archers of the present day, may be inferred from the fact, that all the numerous Archery societies now existing in the kingdom, with the exception of two or three, limit their distances to 100 yards, as docs the Grand National Archery Society itself. I shall now proceed to the discussion of my immediate subject, namely, the method of aiming at what may be called the target distances.

The "aim" is undoubtedly the most abstruse and scientific point connected with the practice of Archery; the most difficult to teach, yet the most necessary to be taught; upon which all successful practice depends, yet respecting which the most sublime ignorance generally prevails; the want of a due understanding of which is all but universal, yet without which understanding an impassable barrier is presented to the progressing a single step beyond the commonest mediocrity. Ignorance of this fundamental principle it is that causes so many Archers endowed with every quality required to make great and accurate shots—health, strength, correctness of eye, be.— to stand still, as it were, at a certain point, immoveable, and, if I may coin a word, unimproveable—year after year hammering away in the despairing pursuit of bulls' eyes, without any perceptible improvement or increase of skill, until at last, as I have known in some instances, the whole matter has been given up in sheer hopelessness and disgust at continued ill-success. As if to add to the difficulty of obtaining the command of this most necessary principle of aiming, many of the authors that have treated on Archery have (to judge from their silence) appeared to think such a principle unneeded; whilst others who have noticed it have combined to lead the unfortunate aspirant in the wrong direction. In vain will he search the standard works on the subject through, to find a common-sense or scientific principle laid down to assist him on this point. Ascham will tell him that, "to look at the shaft-head at the loose is the greatest help in keeping a length that can be, but that it hinders excellent shooting;" and afterwards, that, "to have the eye always on the mark is the only way to shoot straight." Now, as keeping a length and shooting straight at the same time, are just the two things necessary to hit the mark, and the best modus operandi for the one is, according to Ascham, the worst for the other, I do not think much practical benefit is here to be derived from him. He docs not even hint at any principle that might by possibility combine the two requisites, neither does he give his readers any further practical assistance, as to getting the straight line and elevation, than is contained in the two above quotations. If he then turn to Roberts, (who, by-the-by, on practical points mostly confines himself to quoting Ascham) he will find from what can be gathered from his (Roberts's) own observations, that the eye is conceived to be an organ of such wonderful power as to be able to accomplish all the Archer may require in the way of elevation, &c. And he is indeed right so far; but whilst he asserts that as the eye is taught, so it will continue to exercise its functions, he totally omits to say how or in what manner it is to be trained so as to arrive at the required powers and capabilities. The author of "The Modern Book of Archery" asserts "that the best, and indeed the only, expedient for attaining perfection in shooting straight, is to shoot in the evening at lights;" and herein, indeed, as so many others have done, he but follows in the wake of Roger Ascham, but improves upon it in favour of the "town resident," by substituting the street gas-lamp opposite his sitting-room, for the paper lantern—policeman A 1, it is presumed, officiating as marker. Waring confines his instruction simply to observing that, "when taking aim, the arrow is to be brought up towards the ear, not to the eye, as many suppose," and that "the Archer must not look along the arrow, but direct at the mark;" and that "the mark is to be visible a little to the left of the knuckles." There are other and smaller works, but they are cither plagiarisms from those already named, or ignore instruction upon this part of shooting altogether.

Now, just let my readers imagine such desultory instruction upon aiming as the specimens quoted, given as regards rifle-shooting, for instance, and it will be instantly perceived how wanting it would be, and how utterly insufficient to enable a man to arrive at anything like excellence in this pursuit. Imagine a man, desirous of hitting a mark at 100 or 200 yards with this weapon, being told to keep his knuckles to the right of the bull's eye, or to keep his eye on it, and trust to his hand following it so accurately as to make his shot all right in the end, without further assistance of any kind. How different are the means actually employed to obtain accuracy here! to what a nicety is the sight regulated! How beautifully calculated to a hair's breadth. A small telescope is even sometimes fixed upon the barrel to insure greater certainty of aim; and even with all these concomitants, the rest is needed by many to make assurance doubly sure. No hand and eye, or lantern and gas-light theories are considered sufficient here. Yet for the bow—an infinitely more difficult weapon to shoot with—such things are gravely set forth as all that are needed, or, at any rate, all that there are to work upon. Hand and eye will do a good deal, no doubt—it will enable a man to throw a stone or howl a cricket-ball a short distance with tolerable accuracy, or to bring down a partridge or pheasant with a projectile that spreads and covers a space of perhaps two feet in diameter. These and other things of the like nature it may do; but it is comparatively useless when depended on as the only means to enable the Archer to strike with anything like certainty, and with a projectile analogous to a small bullet, a mark much beyond his own nose. The powers of hand and eye are, as with the rifle shot, too limited for him. The truth of this observation may be corroborated by the fact that so many curious devices have been originated by different Archers to obtain some surer means of acquiring certainty. Some will endeavour to find some object to the right or left., above or below the target, which they can apparently cover with the arrow, and which shall yet be about the spot to aim at, so as to cause the shaft to drop into the mark. One I knew of, for sixty yards shooting, used actually to fix a bit of stick into the ground for that purpose. A nice sort of system this to depend upon, on strange grounds and in matches, where no well-placed tree or happily-located stick may happen to be at hand just in the right place. Some have covered the glove of the bow hand with a series of lines of different colours, carrying the eye along one or the other, according as their notion of the line or elevation required, whilst others have improved upon this plan, by making a pincushion of their left hand, by inserting a number of pins in a piece of leather fastened thereon for the purpose, each individual pin serving as a guide for the particular line or elevation wanted at the time. Others, again, have contented themselves with making their left hand their guide, varying its position in conjunction with the mark according to circumstances, high or low, to the right or left hand, as the case might be.

Now these things, and all others like them, are "dodges"-—or, as Ascham would call them, shifts—and will never lead to a successful result, or to certainty and accuracy of practice; they may, perhaps, occasionally prove of assistance to those who have no more scientific knowledge of shooting in quiet private practice, where the mind is unexcited and undisturbed, and no distracting influences are likely to arise; but woe to the Archer (in a target-hitting sense) who depends upon them on strange grounds or in matches, or upon any occasion where he may be more than usually desirous of shooting well, for fail him at his need they infallibly will. Strange it is that any such shifts and inventions should ever have been found necessary. Let a gun for the first time be put into a man's hands, and tell him to aim with it, and up it goes at once under the eye, and intuitively he looks at his mark and takes his sight along the barrel. Now the arrow represents precisely an analagous object to this latter; there it is, ready at hand, straight and true, and like as the rifle bullet flies accurately in the direction in which the barrel is held at the moment of discharge, so the arrow will equally, and with the same correctness, fly in the line in which its length lies, and in the direction indicated by itself, when drawn up for the loose—taking for granted, of course, that the shot in all other respects be correctly delivered, that the arrow be a good one, and that no counteracting influence of side wind interfere. The object then to be attained is such a mode of aiming as shall enable the Archer not only to keep his eye upon the point of aim (for this is absolutely necessary for all successful shooting, whether with the gun or with the bow), but at the same time to have a sufficient vision of his mark, and of the length as well as the point of the arrow.

The cause of the great difficulty experienced by the generality of Archers in attaining a satisfactory system of aiming, and the consequent singular devices in vogue for that purpose already mentioned, have appeared to me to arise from a too rigid and mistaken adherence to the supposed old English style of shooting—" pulling to the ear." This may have been the method adopted by our forefathers, in the days when great strength and force of shooting was the one thing most sought after, as this method enables the Archer undoubtedly to pull a longer arrow; and thus, the string having a longer distance to net upon the shaft, a quicker and stronger flight is obtained thereby; but I question very much if by this means greater actual power is obtained, but only that the same amount of power is applied in a different manner. This prolonged action of the string, then, upon the arrow, is the whole and sole advantage gained by pulling to the ear; but, in carrying out this method, all scientific principles of aiming must at once be cast aside, because it is impossible when the arrow is once drawn past, and consequently on one side of the eyes, that its true direction can be any longer accurately seen; since, pulled in this way when to the eye it appears to be pointing to the mark, it is in reality held in a direction far away to the left of it. Hence the reason why some who have written upon the subject of the aim in Archery (assuming at once that pulling to the ear can be the only correct method) direct the learner to keep his bow-hand to the right of the mark; and so many Archers aim with one or other of their knuckles, or a particular pin out of their pincushion! I fear I shall be at once anathematised as a heretic for daring to impugn the dear old dogmatic legend of the "pull to the ear;" but I must nevertheless maintain that, with the exception of the advantage above-named, it possesses no recommendation; and if Robin Hood himself adopted this method, and trusted to his hand and eye only, or dodged about with knuckles or pins to obtain an aim, I for one cannot bring myself to believe in his skill, whatever the force of his shot may have been—it may be safely depended on that very few willow wands are to be split in this way. Imagine a man being expected to hit accurately with a rifle with a trigger at his car, and his eye looking sideways at the barrel: its absurdity at once becomes evident. Yet this is exactly a similar case. I will now, however, proceed to demonstrate what appears to me to be the only true and scientific mode of aiming, and for this purpose it will be necessary, in the first place, to say a few words on those laws of optics which apply to the point in question.