A STICK AND A STRING: Learning The Basics

I’ve been so busy learning about archery and how to make this arrow fly straight, that I have forgotten to write it all down for you!

As I have been finding out, there are many elements to archery – more so than you would image, if you were an outsider looking in like I was. Not just the variations in equipment and what each piece does, but also the technique and practice that needs to go into the perfect shot.

Horseback riding was my passion long before I came into this job. I had my own quarter horse gelding, Indigo, and I looked after him, paid for his board and necessities, received lessons each week and went to shows with him in the summer. After a few archery lessons, I liken this sport to horseback riding for many reasons. First and foremost, archery, like horseback riding, doesn’t seem that hard until you decide you want to be good at it. Anyone can pick up a bow and take a shot, just like anyone can hop on a horse. But if you want to be good at it, archery, like horseback riding, takes a lot of practice and lessons to get your technique right.

There are also many, many different pieces of equipment you can get for your bow, from string silencers to stabilizers for the front of your bow, to customized dial pieces, different sights and arrow rests, the list goes on and on. This is also similar to horseback riding. And it has occurred to me that you need to be dedicated to archery and listen to what the more experienced archers around you are saying in order to learn about these pieces and their benefits or disadvantages.

For example, I was out at the archery lanes at Trophy Book Archery recently and I was having such a frustrating time getting my stance right. We’ll talk more about stance in a bit, but I was finding the string from the bow kept smacking my arm, the one holding onto the bow. This is generally a sign that you’re not in the right position, and I had been struggling with my position. (Frustration commences right about here.) One of the staff members with Trophy Book was watching me shoot and said she noticed that my stance was looking great, but also that my arm was developing a nice bruise from my bow string. So she watched me shoot again and said the string wasn’t hitting me when I shot, it was hitting me because the bow is light in weight and was kicking back after the arrow released, smacking my arm. She changed out the silencer on the front of my bow for a piece that is a silencer and stabilizer in one – a bit heavier and longer than the piece I had before. This simple change made all the difference in the world! The bow stopped kicking back right away and I was instantly much happier.

Now, last post I talked about the bow itself and some of the important pieces on it. I have been working with a coach and the staff members at Trophy Book for the last few weeks, getting my stance and position correct, adjusting the bow so it fits me perfectly and then sighting it in for the most accurate shot.

It should be noted here that I am an exceptionally competitive person and although I understand it takes a long time to be good at anything, I always think I should be learning and “doing” better faster than is realistic.

So, with that, I started taking lessons each Tuesday. For a proper archery stance, you need to be a perfect T. Your body needs to be straight, arms perfectly aligned, your head straight and the string should just touch the corner of your mouth and anchor with the knuckle of your index finger just under your ear. You want the anchor to always be in the same place, so your shot is always the same, and if you’re draw hand is anchored than it is much less likely you’ll be moving that arm around and miss your target. I have posted a photo of Western Sportsman writer and avid archer, Kevin Wilson, to better illustrate this point.

Everyone will have trouble at the beginning – this is a given of any new pursuit. For me, I found it very difficult to “unlock” my bow arm (which for me is my left arm, holding the bow up.) I have to lock my arm when pulling the string back, and I wanted to hold the bow as straight as possible and I wanted to feel strong, like the bow wasn’t going anywhere. So I was tense, and with my arm locked my elbow was pointing in towards the bow and I got my arm smacked, a lot, by the string.

It took quite a few shots before it started to feel natural to be in the right stance. Now I am getting better at locking my arm to draw the bow back (a stronger person can probably do it without needing to lock their arm) and then I can relax once the bow is pulled back, get my arm in the right position, get the target in my sight and fire the arrow.

When I had my own horse, I showed in western pleasure classes. And anyone that knows about this class will know that movements on the rider’s part, to signal a change in pace, to change from a walk to a jog, a jog to a lope, whatever it may be, needs to be subtle and soft and careful and deliberate. And the horse should respond in an equal manner. Archery is very much the same. Once I got it in my head that archery is a soft sport – you want to be quiet when hunting, drawing back the bow; you want to be relaxed when holding the bow and soft when you touch the trigger on the release – then I was able to feel like I better understood how my stance and performance needs to be.

The beauty with today’s compound bows is that there are so many elements to them, with the peep hole on the string, the sights on the end to zone in on your target, that you will instantly notice any mistake in your stance. For example, when my hand isn’t anchored in the proper spot behind my ear, I can’t see through the peep hole and to my sights right – everything is off. So I know I need to adjust my stance a little bit, and when I do everything falls into place and my shot is accurate.

The other major component of archery that I am working on is being able to withstand the weight of the bow. I believe my bow only weighs in around three or four pounds, but having to hold that out in front of you, for an extended period of time, can make your arm and shoulder tired and sore when you’re not used to it. To help deal with this I have started to hold a weight each night. I simply stand in the proper archery position, with a two-pound weight in my hand, and hold my arm out like I’m holding my bow. Doing this repeatedly helps to strengthen the muscles I need to hold the bow upright and in the proper position for longer.

I would strongly recommend archery lessons to anyone looking to seriously get into the sport. Having a knowledgeable person show you the ropes can make a world of difference. Maybe you’ll only take a few and then work on your own, maybe you’ll take lessons for years – that part is up to you and your desires as a budding archer.


Until next time!

Michaela Ludwig, assistant editor

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