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Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 4 of 17

In holding the bow horizontally the release-hand is held with the palm uppermost, the arrow, of course, resting on the bow. In the Zuni and Ottawa practice, the bow being held vertically or nearly so, the arrow is placed at the left of the bow. It is possible that originally the bow was held horizontally, but necessities arising, as in shooting in a forest, or shooting side by side with others closely appressed, the bow was required to be held vertically. In thus turning the bow-hand in the only way it could be turned conveniently, the arrow would be brought to the left of the bow vertical.

As will be shown further on, the position of the arrow either to the right or to the left of the bow vertical is determined in most cases by the method of release.

In the primary and secondary releases, however it makes but little difference on which side the arrow is placed; and some tribes, using the bow vertical, place the arrow to the right, and this is probably a quicker way of adjusting the arrow when shooting rapidly. Col. James Stevenson informs me that Navajo Indians practice three methods of release, namely, the primary release already alluded to, the tertiary release, and a variety of the Mediteranean release, which will be described further on.

During the recent visit of the Siamese embassy to this country, I obtained from its members through the courtesy of Mr. Wilberforce Wyke, interpreter, some interesting facts concerning the use of the bow in Siam. It was curious to find that the Siamese practiced the tertiary release; with this difference, however, that one finger only is used on the string instead of two. Mr. Nai Tuan illustrated the method to me, and explained that little use was made of the bow and arrow, its practice being confined to the shooting of small birds and fishes.

Major Snayh of the embassy told me that poisoned arrows were also used, in which case the bow was held horizontally, and the bow-hand grasped not only the bow, but a grooved board in which the arrow rested. In the last century, it was customary for the Turkish archer to use a grooved piece of horn which was held in the bow-hand directed towards the string. In this grooved piece the arrow ran, and by this contrivance the bow could be drawn much further back, even to the extent of bringing the head of the arrow four or five inches within the bow. According to Wilkinson, the ancient Egyptians were familiar with this curious adjunct to the bow.

E. H. Man, Esq., in his work on the Andaman Islanders[1], p. 141, says that the inhabitants of Great Andaman "place the arrow in position between the thumb and top joint of the forefinger, and draw the string to the mouth with the middle and third finger." As Mr. Man in this description does not speak of the forefinger as bent and pressed against the arrow, the release practiced by these people must be the tertiary release.

We have thus far considered three methods of release, of which the thumb and bent forefinger appressed forms the simplest and probably one of the earliest forms; and this we have called the primary release. The secondary release differs only in the application of the tips of the second finger, or second and third fingers, to the string, and must be regarded as a development of the primary release, though forming a distinct method. The third release differs in the position of the forefinger, which, instead of being bent and pressed against the arrow, is nearly straight, its tip, as well as the tips of the second and sometimes that of the third finger, engaging the string. This constitutes the tertiary release.

We come now to consider a release which by documentary evidence has been in vogue among the northern Mediterranean nations for centuries and among the southern Mediterranean nations for tens of centuries. It is the oldest release of which we have any knowledge. It is practiced to-day by all modern English, French, and American archers, and is the release practiced by European archers of the Middle Ages. This release consists in drawing the string back with the tips of the first, second, and third fingers, the balls of the fingers clinging to the string, with the terminal joints of the fingers slightly flexed. The arrow is lightly held between the first and second fingers, the thumb straight and inactive.

Since this release has been practiced by the Mediterranean nations from early historic times, it may with propriety be called the Mediterranean release. The following figures (Figs. 8 and 9) illustrate this form of release.

In the practice of this release, the attrition of the string on the fingers is so severe that a leather glove or leather finger-tips are worn, though some archers are enabled by long service to shoot with their fingers unprotected. Roger Ascham, in his "Toxophilus," written in 1544, says: "A shootinge glove is chieflye for to save a man's fingers from hurtinge, that he may be able to beare the sharpe stringe to the uttermoste of his strengthe. And when a man shooteth, the might of his shoote lyeth on the foremost finger, and on the ringman; for the middle finger Which is longest, like a lubber, starteth back, and beareth no weight of the stringe in a manner at all; therefore the two fingers must have thicker leather, and that must have thickest of all whereon a man lowseth most, and for sure lowsinge the foremost finger is most apt, because it holdeth best, and for that purpose nature hath, as a man would say, yocked it with the thoumbe."