When Jason asked me if I fancied coming up with some hints and tips with a coaching element, I thought “this could be interesting! Would you coach traditional archery any differently from recurve or compound archery? What are the differences? What are the similarities?”
In the end I thought I would start with the basics. I have spent a lot of time over the last few years watching competent longbow and traditional archers shooting both target and field. I have also spent quite a lot of time talking to them. One thing I have noticed is that there can be a degree of reluctance by some coaches to get involved with shooting styles outside of mainstream target archery. They are usually more than competent to coach these styles but often feel that they lack the experience to do so. One of the problems for coaches is that some very successful archers shoot vastly different styles. What parts of technique do you keep, what do you discard? The archer shooting a 120lb war bow is likely to be very different from the target archer shooting Victorian style target longbow or the field archer concerned with hitting a steep uphill mark at 40 metres. So firstly, you have to ask yourself the question – what do you want to achieve in your traditional archery? Being as this is appearing on the Longbow Shop site, we had better start with equipment.
Choosing your bow
Whatever style you go for – Barebow, Traditional or Longbow – please choose a bow that you can shoot consistently all day. If only I had a quid for every archer who’s been ruined by too heavy a bow and insufficient technique to shoot it; I could probably afford one of those nice Yew self bows that I drool over from time to time. If you are starting longbow target archery expect to have to aim well above the target if you want to shoot at targets 100 yards away until you can manage a bow of around 55lbs. Even then, you get what you pay for and you have to have a sufficiently developed technique to get the best out of the bow. Whilst there are undoubtedly bows of less poundage than this that will give a sightmark on the boss at this range, you will often have to pay a lot of money to get there. Be kind to yourself; get a lighter bow and concentrate on shorter distances before moving up to the long stuff. You want a bow that you can control on the last arrow of the day as easily as the first. Flat bows tend to be more efficient, but if you are shooting barebow with a reference on your cheek this will find this will have a big effect on your sightmarks. For field archery, this will be less marked and you should still be able to put point of arrow under the target at everything up to 50 metres. Depending on which style you will be shooting you may have the choice of face walking, string walking or gap shooting. If you are going to be string walking make sure that your bow is suitable – longbows generally aren’t, it puts unequal stress on the limbs.
These are the bits of kit that get you a score. It doesn’t matter how good the rest of your gear is, if you are shooting bent, mismatched shafts they will not impact where they are supposed to. If you are going to make your own for the first time then make sure you get the shafts spine and weight matched. I mean, it does make sense doesn’t it? Having a set of arrows that weigh the same and bend around the bow the same as each other has got to make the whole thing a bit easier, hasn’t it? For advice on fletching I would recommend reading the info found at http://www.trueflightfeathers.com/guide.htm One thing I would recommend is shooting a range of arrows out of your bow to see what works for you. The guides are pretty good and most archery shops will advise you on what SHOULD work, but we are all different. We should be more interested in what does work rather than what should work. An interesting question arises here about what length of arrow to shoot. I always used to shoot arrows 2 inches longer than my draw length. That way, when they broke off at the point, I could get another set out of them and I found that quite lot of spines shot well out of the bow. OK call me a cheapskate, but I shoot a lot of arrows. Whilst trying to get the point of arrow on the target at 100 yards, I reduced the length of my arrows until just the point of my arrow was beyond the bow. It worked, but I found that the spine selection became a lot more critical. Lee Ankers explained that he believed that this was due to the position of nodes of oscillation of the arrow. Thanks Lee, you just reminded me of something else to worry about!
It’s the same old instructions that your club coach offers, I’m afraid. Stand up tall – get both shoulder blades working in an efficient push/pull – get your draw hand into a consistent reference and keep the pressure on throughout the shot. Work on getting your shot sequence the same for EVERY shot and get someone – ideally your club coach – to watch you do it. A useful exercise is to sit down at home and write down what you think your shot sequence is; starting with picking up your bow, describe every step until the arrow hits the target and the whistle has sounded to collect. Then get an observer to check that you are actually following these steps. Work with your coach, but remember, coaches are not mind readers. Explain what you are trying to achieve in your practice sessions and ask them to observe and feed back to you. Oh, I suppose a bit of controversy would be good at this point. I have been shooting long bow for around 15 years and have always had my bow hand positioned in such a way that the pressure point is about an inch below the web between thumb and forefinger. It works for me and I don’t propose to change it but… I recently discussed this with a well know Grand Master Bowman who shoots with a very low wrist position with the knuckles at 45 degrees, similar to recurve technique but with the pressure point about an inch lower down the palm than the above method and the arrow sits on the knuckle of his forefinger. He believes that the line of force obtained with the pressure almost on the heel of the hand is more in line with the forearm bones. I remember a North Wales longbow archer who broke a lot of British records shooting a similar way. I have a Jerry Hill flat bow that has a grip like a razor blade that shoots a lot better with this method. Makes you think doesn’t it? Dave Peters – Bebington Archers Your English Longbow has been made very carefully over a long period of time to draw in an optimum bend and tillered to suit the stated draw length and draw weight. Before using your new bow you need to ‘teach’ it to shoot. This is why we always tell Longbow Archers to never let anyone else draw your bow. It’s been taught to shoot to how you shoot and any variation on this usually has very bad results! To teach your bow, brace it a low brace height and allow the bow to settle for about an hour, then slowly part-draw the bow several times and come down again. When you buy a longbow from The Longbow Shop we set the brace height up as standard so you will need to take a few twists out to lower the brace height. Continue this until you have reached full draw after 10 — 15 part draws. Now brace the bow fully and start to shoot arrows into a close target from a part-drawn position working back to full draw, again after 10-15 shots. NEVER draw a bow back too quickly, to do so is to treat it very badly and you are at a much greater risk of it breaking into firewood. We find that this is a common problem when archers used to shooting compound and recurve bows first pick up a Longbow. Take it easy there’s plenty of time. Another potential problem is temperature: the colder a piece of wood the stiffer and more brittle it becomes. Conversely, as the weather gets hotter, the limper it will get and therefore you can expect less cast and performance. In practice the extremes are not often encountered in this country but are common in other countries. Avoid using a bow in either sub-zero (centigrade) temperatures, or in extreme heat as in the one instance it might break and in the other it will suffer long-term damage and future loss of performance. Once the bow has shot around 24-36 arrows from full draw it will begin to bed in and should start to feel sweeter to draw. If you always warm up the bow before shooting in earnest, you will extend its useful life and performance, and it is much less likely to break. In time all wooden bows will likely ’follow the string’ this varies from one wood to another and one bow to another. Never try to straighten a bow by bending it the ‘wrong’ way as in many cases they can break. The above is a small summary of many little bits of advice which we have come across over many years of Longbow selling and shooting. The more respect that you can give your equipment the better it will serve you. General care of your bow Rubbing a beeswax-based polish into the bow even if varnished will help increase the life of the bow, keep moisture out and also help it look good. Check the bracing height after stringing the bow and before shooting: do not overbrace the bow. A slightly low bracing height is not a worry. ALWAYS keep within the stated draw-limit: never overdraw or dry loose a longbow. NEVER bend the bow the wrong way as this will cause damage, even breakage. Check the string regularly for signs of wear, particularly at the nocks. If the string has got dirty or muddy it may have also got grit into the fibres, which will cause rapid wear. Treat your bow to a new string every 12 months minimum (on it’s birthday!). Keep the string well waxed: this will both improve performance and help to keep out both dirt and moisture. It is always a good idea to «have a second string to your bow»: call us and we can have one made for you. REMEMBER all these CAN and PROBABLY WILL all contribute towards a broken bow: With regular use, over time a wooden bow can lose a little weight and cast: this is normal and should not be ‘rectified’ by increasing the bracing height as this will simply over stress the wood and further shorten the life of the bow, with no benefit. Natural materials deserve to be treated with care and will reward you if you do. We trust that, by following the above advice and by using the recommended method of bracing your bow, you will enjoy shooting your new bow for many years to come. The method that I teach people to shoot is a development of a method I was taught when I first joined an archery club and learned to shoot in the 1960s. This shooting method was used to great effect by one of England’s longest- standing and most consistent members of the international archery squad, Roy Mathews, who by 1974 had represented the country over 21 times. At this time, the standard of archery was generally quite good but Roy observed that people were starting to chase scores at the expense of the quality of their shooting. The slow increase in scores was entirely due to the improvements in equipment, which were starting to mask an underlying poor technique. It is this poor basic technique that is responsible for many people starting to score reasonably well fairly quickly but then struggling to improve. It is unfortunately a frustrating fact that too many people come into archery looking for instant success. If they don’t achieve it, and then go out and buy the very best equipment and do not do any better, they leave the sport. In any martial art, and archery must be one of the oldest, you need to take the time to teach the body how to master the fine movements and muscle control that will enable us to optimise our ability. As archers, we are using muscles in ways that are different to the way these muscles are used in everyday life. So if you are going to master shooting the bow you will need to allow your muscles time to develop. The development of muscles takes time, as does getting used to using the muscle groups in different ways. All of this is best done initially with a relatively light bow, progressively increasing the draw weight of the bow as your muscle tone develops and you gain more experience and control. If you want to become a seriously good archer then you need to start out with a plan. If you plan how you are going to succeed you are likely to do reasonably well, and while your plan might need to be extended a little and developed as you go along, it should work. You should be looking at a five-year timescale. I have customers coming to me who want me to build them a bow that will give them an edge at 100 yards – because they want to achieve something specific. Some of these people are in their first and second year in the sport. We can build bows for this purpose but, in my opinion, their expectations of their ability are well beyond their current shooting level. While they have developed a method of shooting, sometimes with the help of a target archery coach, they have not yet learned how to get the best out of a simple wooden bow, and there is much about their technique that is not yet properly developed. The frustration is that everyone seems to want instant success, but if winning is that easy then it is probably not worth it when you get there. There are always going to be people with more experience, better technique and the patience who have taken the time to hone their skills, and these people are not easily beaten. Roy Mathews commented that the competition was with yourself, “to be the best you that you can be.” In time, and with practice, ‘the best you’ becomes a better archer than the best of the rest. So if your ambition is to achieve great things you have to start at the bottom, and keep it simple. In these articles I will try to give you an overview of the best way to master the English longbow. This method is the one I have developed over 35 years or more of coaching and with an intimate knowledge of how longbows work. These diagrams illustrate a set of exercises that will enable you to exercise the correct muscle groups that will help in drawing the bow. One of the most important aspects is that when you are familiar with an exercise and a set of muscle movements then it will feel right when you are doing it right. Initially when we show people how to draw the bow they are very likely to comment that it ‘feels’ wrong, because it is a new and unfamiliar movement. You do not normally hold your body in that position – because why would you? So once you have accepted that it will not necessarily feel right, then you will need to do the necessary exercises that will help it to feel right. In doing so you will start to develop some muscle tone in the muscles you are going to be using when you shooting the bow. With these diagrams you need to imagine you are seeing a person from vertically above and that the white dots are hinges where the arms and shoulders bend. To get yourself into the starting position stick your arms out to the sides, with your palms vertical and your elbows positioned, as in the diagrams, as if you had vertical hinge pins in the elbows. You can then fold the arms in and across the body bending both elbows and the shoulders. When drawing the bow the shoulder muscle groups are used more than those in your arms, but if you are going to be able to use the shoulders properly you have to do two things. Firstly, the shoulder muscles work best when both shoulders are in use so when drawing the bow you need to use a lot of upper body movement that will use both shoulders. Secondly, you need to make sure the elbows are bent in the way they are shown in the diagram; with the bow arm the elbow needs to start off bent as you start the draw and it needs to be slowly straightened as the shoulder rotates but it should never be allowed to lock straight. If your bow arm does over-straighten three things can happen. Firstly, you are likely to hit your bracer with the string. Secondly even if you do not hit your bracer, the stiff arm will move to the left (for a right-handed archer) as you loose the arrow and your arrow will go left. Some might say your arrows are too stiff, and try to cure a fundamental fault in your technique by changing the equipment. Thirdly, you will not manage to get the best performance from the bow. A slight bend in the elbow will mean that as you loose the arrow your bow arm will extend forwards towards the target at the same time as the string is pushing the arrow towards the target. This means that the energy from the bow and the extension of the arm are in the same direction, so the arrow will fly true and no energy is being wasted for a fast and accurate shot. The shoulders are rotated such that the elbows move in the direction of the arrow. If you repeat the movement at least 10 or 12 times you will find that you have encouraged blood flow in the muscles you will soon be using to draw the bow. This is a good way to warm up the body before you begin shooting. This exercise will also help to develop the ‘feel’ in the muscles that is so important when shooting. In the diagram you can see the start of the draw. The elbows will move back by rotating the shoulders. The bow hand (in this case left hand for a right-handed archer) is pushed forwards towards the target. The string hand is effectively pulled back by the elbow and shoulder movement. There should only be enough tension in the right forearm to enable the fingers to pull the string, with the forearm and wrist acting as simple links in a chain connected to the elbow. As the draw progresses, the string hand will get closer to the anchor point on the face but the bow arm elbow should remain slightly bent, even at full draw. The shoulders are now taking most of the strain and the arms are starting to push and pull towards the line of the shot. As the bow arm slowly straightens, the bow hand is steadily pushing towards the line of the shot and the string hand comes towards the anchor point pulling more into the line of the shot. The line of the shot is also the direction that the bow arm is pushing. It is vital that the elbow does not lock out but remains in tension pushing towards the target. The string hand should be firmly registered on the anchor point and be steadily pulled, by the elbow, into the line of the shot. At full draw, as the diagram shows, the shoulders should be at a slightly angle to the line of the shot. This position gives significantly great control than if the shoulders were completely in line with the shot. It is quite usual for people to be taught to stand with their feet shoulder-width apart in line with the line of the shot. This is actually a very bad idea. If you stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart with your shoulders the same as the line of the shot, then your body will tend to be least stable front-to-back across the line of the shot. This means you can ‘rock’ back and forth across the line of the shot. By angling the feet, the body and the shoulders, you will find you are more stable and less likely to rock back and forth at full draw. You will also find that by not trying to draw the arrow too far, you are much more in control of the shot, and you will find that you can therefore shoot more consistently. You have a natural draw length, so don’t try to draw any further than is comfortable. If you angle the feet slightly more than the shoulders, in a right-handed archer’s case that would mean moving the right foot slightly forward of the right shoulder, this will also give slightly greater stability in your stance. Clearly these are general guidelines to go with the generic basic shooting technique. In target and clout archery it is relatively easy to apply these guidelines. In field archery the stance and shooting position might easily vary from one target to the next and we can look at this in more detail elsewhere. As a general rule, you should always look for a comfortable and stable shooting position as this will help you to shoot consistently whatever situation you might find yourself in. Alex Newnes is a frequent medalist at National events, field, target and 3D. For Improve Your Game this week, Alex breakdowns the different ways to aim with an English Longbow.
How to aim with an English Longbow
The English longbow is one of the most primitive, yet iconic, bows you can see on the shooting line both in clubs and at tournaments. Achieving accuracy with a longbow can be difficult at the best of times and daunting to archers who are new to the style. However, for target archery here in the UK there are three main ways you can aim and shoot an English longbow which allows archers to achieve consistency and accuracy. Â‘Gap Shooting’, the Â»O RingÂ”, and the Â‘Ground Marker’
Gap shooting is often the first aiming method taught when learning to shoot but is still widely used among traditional archers. This is particularly true in field archery where aiming methods that require a sighting aid are not permitted. In gap shooting, we are looking to place our arrow point at a certain distance beneath, on, or above the center of the target in order for our arrow to hit the center when released. Due to the trajectory of the arrow, the Â‘gap’ changes with distance. It gets smaller and smaller until you reach your Â‘point on distance’, (30m for me, with my 40lb Gary Evans with a corner of the mouth anchor), after which you need to Â‘stack’ your gap on top of the center to get your arrow to drop into the target (e.g., 60cm above center at 90m with my 52lb bow). You can manipulate your gaps to some extent by changing the length, weight, fletch size etc. of your arrows — but I will cover this on a post exclusively about gap shooting for field archery! Beth Duthie at the NIC2018. Â
The Â‘O’ Ring
When using this method for aiming, what we are essentially doing is adding a mark to the upper limb to use as a primitive sight. This is almost a throwback to the Victorian target method and the birth of sighted target archery. What we do is use a rubber Â band, loom band, O ring, etc. which we then place at the center of the target (or a particular reference point) when at full draw, in order to hit the gold. Currently, this is arguably the most popular method of target style archery with an English longbow. This enables us to shoot with an under the chin style recurve anchor point as the size of the Â‘gap’ becomes insignificant. When practicing, roll the band up and down the limb until you find a spot that enables you to hit the center at your chosen distance. Once you have found a consistent mark, you should use a ruler or something of that nature to mark down the distance from the top of the handle/arrow pass to the band. I’ve also seen people mark the back of their bows! (Not the belly! Multiple deliberate marks are not allowed). Me! (Alex Newnes) and Edward Pike at the BUCS 2017 indoor finals. Photo: Malcolm Rees
To use a ground marker, we need to think back to gap shooting. If you shoot a fast bow or use an under the chin anchor point, it is quite likely that your Â‘gap’ will be quite a distance underneath the target and in the middle of the sports hall floor (or field) that you’re shooting in. A ground marker is basically an object (6×3Â” max) that you place on the range at the start of the round that you use as a reference for your arrow point. Unlike when using a band, you cannot adjust your ground marker mid-end and must wait until it is safe to collect your arrows to make any alterations. This means that a poorly placed marker can cost you an ends’ worth of arrows, however, this would be my only criticism of this method. It can be very refreshing not focusing on the gold! The O ring method allows you to focus on the gold and keep your eyes on the center of the target while you execute your shot, which suites a lot of people (myself included a lot of the time!), but with the ground marker, you are just focusing on placing the point of your arrow on a particular mark on the range. This can be helpful for archers who struggle with target panic or become Â»gold shyÂ”. Personally, I like to chop and change all the time! Â Rob Twigg at the NIC2018. Photo: Malcolm Rees
Which one works best!?
What method is best!? I don’t think anybody can really say. Generally, the ground marker and O-ring method are producing the highest scores for target archery as the reference of the marker makes for greater consistency when compared to gapping (gap shooting). What I tend to recommend to new-comers is that they try using an elastic band first as it is generally the easiest to get your head around and gives an archer a consistent reference point not too dissimilar to a recurve sight (or at least the way in which you use one). Once comfortable shooting a longbow, shoot all three methods and decide for yourself which method you prefer! In case anybody has noticed — I have deliberately left out Â‘instinctive’ as an aiming method. I am not an instinctive archer and it is not something I regularly practice and therefore cannot give any advice on it.Â All I can say is that when I started, everybody was shooting with one of the above three aiming methods and so that’s what’s I pursued.
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