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Barebow Arrow Considerations

There is an upsurge in interest in Barebow, both Recurve and Compound. (Yeah!) This is accompanied by increased levels of confusion regarding the role the arrow plays in the ability to shoot consistently.

Since there are many Barebow aiming variations (gap shooting, “instinctive” shooting, string walking, face walking, etc.) I am going to hop over these variations (all of which create tuning issues) and move to the heart of the matter: aiming off of the point.

Aiming Off of the Point
Using the arrow point as an aiming support brings many advantages and a few disadvantages. One disadvantage is it makes draw length even more crucial. For example, consider that the nock end of the arrow is below the aiming eye and the sightline. The line of sight being even with the arrow point means that the arrow is slanting upward (as it is with other styles, of course). Now, if you draw your bow a bit too far, the arrow slides back and downward lowering the arrow point, causing you to raise your bow up to get the point back to the sightline. Drawing your bow a bit long results in high arrow hit points in that you’ve made the bow a tad stronger, but raising the bow also contributes to high arrow hit points, so this “positive feedback” results in larger errors. Similarly, a short drawn bow, results in the arrow sticking out and up farther, which results in you lowering the bow, another double whammy! (This effect is prominent for longbow and recurve archers, less so for compound archers.)

Aiming off of the point makes draw length control particularly crucial. On the plus side it provides amplified feedback in that regard and so may contribute to better draw length control. There are many other aspects of aiming off the point we leave to your further investigation.

The Effect of Arrow Length
The effects of variations in draw length can be made permanent by choosing a shorter or longer arrow. A longer arrow will result in a lower hold of the bow. A shorter arrow will result in a higher hold. So, for indoor targets, a longer arrow can be an advantage. Indoors, the distances are so short that most bows are over-powered. This results in points of aim (POA) being very low, off of the target face and maybe on the floor where there are few visual clues as to where the POA is. We would like to have a POA on the target face as a face provides many visual cues as to the POA’s location (e.g. a POA at 12 o’clock in the 5-ring). So, for indoors, most people favor a longer arrow. This cause the hold to be lower and the POA higher. Since the length of the arrow is one of the largest aspects affecting the tune, a stiffer shaft has to be chosen to compensate for the extra length.

Outdoors, the distances are much larger, and bows tend to be under-powered. Here a shorter shaft provides a higher hold, a lower POA, and more cast, but we need a weaker shaft so we can cut it as short as we can.

We accept as a given that one’s form will be more consistent when the arrow is near level than when the bow is held with the arrow slanted way up or way down. So, the closer you can create a setup, for you or your student, that is near that situation, the better.

Arrow selection is not a simple matter of just checking a manufacturer’s spine chart and selecting the shaft closest to the characteristics your archer possesses (DW and DL and bow type). In most spine charts, the entire row of choices determined by the DW are available to you. Limited only by arrows that are too short (as they are dangerous). Here is a row from a simplified spine chart:

Compound Bow

21˝ 22˝ 23˝ 24˝ 25˝ 26˝ 27˝ 28˝ 29˝ 30˝ 31˝ 32˝ Recurve Bow
29-35 lb 1214 1214 1413 1416 1516 1713 1716 1813/
1816
1913 2013/
1916
2013/
1916

17-23 lb

Assuming this is the correct DW row, if the archer’s draw length is 24˝ AMO, a 1413 aluminum arrow is recommended. Shorter shafts are possible, but remember the arrow point is typically only about 1.75˝ ahead of the arrow rest at full draw, so a 1214 shaft could be used, cut to 23˝ but I wouldn’t go shorter. Other choices are: the entire rest of the row:
a 1416 shaft, cut to 25˝
a 1516 shaft, cut to 26˝
a 1713 shaft, cut to 27˝
a 1716 shaft, cut to 28˝
a 1813/1816 shaft, cut to 29˝
a 1913 shaft, cut to 30˝
a 2013/1916 shaft, cut to 31˝
a 2013/1916, cut to 32˝

All of these shafts and cut lengths should produce arrows of comparable performance. Keep in mind this is not this simple. As we move across this table row, the arrow shafts are getting heavier and we are losing cast thereby. (There are other issues, but this post is too long already.) All parameters in a spine chart, therefore, need to be taken with a grain of salt and if you desire to experiment with different length arrows, always (Always!) start with a longer shaft and cut it down in stages, testing for tune as you go (a bare shaft test is all that is necessary).

A Note Regarding Young Archers
Archers who haven’t achieved full growth probably should not play around with these ideas. For one, they are still growing and as their height increases, so does their draw length. Ordinarily I like to have at least 1˝–2˝ of extra length on their arrows just for safety (and the ability to shorten the shaft to get a better tune as they grow). These youngsters are better off working on their fitness and shooting form and execution than fiddling with equipment to get a slight advantage.

If a youngster, however, is having trouble “making distance,” the problem may be exacerbated by an arrow that is too long. I have seen some sticking out more than 5˝ past the back of the bow. In this case, a better fitting, resulting in a shorter arrow should help.

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Beyond Barebow Basics

I have been working with one of my Barebow Recurve students on his full-draw-position in order to assure he could get “in line,” that is have a good full-draw-position, one that exhibits the Archer’s Triangle. This has necessitated a different anchor position (hand on face). Here is a report he sent me yesterday:

Dear Coach Ruis,
With my new anchor point, I have had several problems I am unsure how to address. First, my arrows are flying much more to the right because my new anchor is farther to the left on my face. I now have to aim in the black, left of the yellow, to get the arrows to land in the yellow. Second, my string is now so far from my riser that it is impossible to align the string up to the riser. Third, my new anchor point isn’t as unique as my old one. Sometimes, I get arrows that fly high because I overdraw and I’m unsure exactly where to place my hand.
Thanks

***

Obviously your new anchor point is different and will feel “funny” but maybe some further experimentation is necessary. Maybe you haven’t found your “new” anchor point yet.

A couple of additional things:

Nobody every cut their nose with tied-on anchor points. (He was using brass nock locators that rubbed against his nose and which had burrs on them from the use of inexpensive nocking point pliers. SR)

You might benefit from moving your nocking point locators up higher than we discussed. (The 0.5˝ above square is the starting point for non-stringwalkers.) Brent Harmon and I did a preliminary study (note the “preliminary,” this is not gospel) which shows that instead of walking your fingers down the string from a “normal” nocking point, if you walk the arrow up the string (by moving the nocking point), you need less of a crawl. Obviously this would be problematic for outdoors as so many different crawls are used, but indoors there is basically only one crawl.

While I wouldn’t do anything to your arrows just yet, your comment “I now have to aim in the black, left of the yellow, to get the arrows to land in the yellow.” indicates your arrows are behaving as if they were too stiff. (The archer is left-handed. SR) A change in anchor and full-draw positions is also often a change in draw length which can affect the relationship of bow with arrow (vis-a-vis dynamic arrow spine). So, find your new anchor, one that is repeatable and “findable” (“comfortable” will come with repetition) then retune. (One way to deal with too stiff arrows, if they stay “too stiff,” is to increase bow weight—it may only require a turn or two on your limb bolts since you were tuned fairly well before.)

Regarding your “string picture,” this is a consequence of your head position also, not just your anchor position alone. At full draw, focus on your string position and then reposition your head slightly until you get a decent string picture. Your head should end up straight up and down, just turned on your neck to see the target. Very, very slight movements of your head (typically rotations, not tilts) will change your string picture significantly. Find a good one. String picture is a way of ensuring head position (in particular, of the aiming eye) and can be used to adjust for side winds, so people can and do adjust it on the fly.

A “unique” anchor position for your string hand is of no value if it doesn’t allow for all of the other aspects needed for strong shots. A unique anchor position for a tilted head (which negatively affects binocular vision and depth perception) is not a good trade-off.

Let me know what is working.

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Barebow: How to Aim?

QandA logoI got an email from Mr Benedick Visser (from Africa?), to wit:

“Thank you for sending me information on Archery. It is so helpful. I used to shoot Compound bows, but I love shooting bare bow. More challenging and fun. But I struggle to aim correctly. Please can you help me with it?”

***

Hooboy! A controversial question! (I am trying to be funny.) There are some strong feelings about how to aim without using a bow sight in the U.S. Some archers are very traditional and insist that aiming be only done “instinctively.” Others are thoroughly modern and use every part of the bow itself to aim with. I assume you just want to get started.

When I teach beginners, the first question they ask is: “How do I aim?” Our response is “Just look at and focus on the spot you want to hit.” This is a form of “instinctive” aiming. The word “instinctive,” though is a misnomer. We are not talking about an instinct for aiming. This is a thoroughly learned process, learned through the process called “trial and error” or “trial and test.” It is fascinating to those beginners that the desire they have to hit the center of the target will result in them hitting the center of the target if … and it is a big IF … if they are willing to follow instructions and not try to aim. Trying to aim is taking over a process which is subconscious and replacing it with one that is conscious, one you really have no idea how to do, consciously that is. (Almost all beginners try looking down the shaft of the arrow, a technique that works out to maybe five meters or so, but then is defeated by gravity.)

Just wanting your arrows to hit what you are looking at does work, although it takes a great deal of practice over a long period of time. It has the advantage that you can change arrows and even bows and still shoot well. It has the disadvantage of not being the most precise way to shoot a great many arrows from the same position. Anyway, this is Option #1.

If you want to have a system for aiming, most people progress to “shooting off of the point.” The problem of archery is to execute shots consistently with the bow held in a position such that when arrows are loosed, they hit the desired target. Bows need to be held higher for farther targets and lower for near ones. Bows need to be held “off line” to adjust for wind and other factors. The question of aiming is “where do I hold the bow?” The answer (at least in the Western Tradition) was found by a British gentleman of the name Horace Ford in the mid 1800’s. His scores immediately rocketed past anyone else’s and, I am sure, he was accused by some of cheating. He solved the task of where to put the bow in space by lining up a part of the bow (he was shooting English longbows) with some fixed part of the background. It turned out to be very effective to use the arrow point for this purpose (there not being as many parts as our modern bows). So, an archer would watch his arrow point and when a shot hit the gold, he would note where his arrow point was vis-à-vis the background. On his next shot, he would again place his arrow point on that “point of aim” to ensure consistency and success. (Another name for this approach is “Point of Aim” archery.) There are many variations and extensions of this approach but this is the starting point.

Longbow archers were used to looking at their arrow points as a gauge of whether they had fully drawn their bows (the arrow point sitting on the top of the bow hand made a particular shape when drawn “full compass”), so this was not at all a huge departure for some. And, immediately people devised ways to make this more productive. They introduced artificial points of aim. When their POA was not on the target face, they placed an object on the ground to aim with. If their POA was on the target face, they invented the target clock to identify POAs (e.g. 10 O’clock in the Blue).

This technique has been used by target archers from then until now. If you want to know more about the extensions of this technique, key terms for an Internet search are “string walking” and “face walking.”

To get started, shoot comfortably at a large target face up quite close to you (8-10 meters). When you are hitting the center comfortably, notice where your arrow point is with relation to the background (by starting up close, we are trying to make sure it is on the target face). On subsequent shots, line up your arrow point with the point you identified and shoot several arrows. Did your group get smaller (indicating you were more consistent)? Also, if your arrows are still not where you want them (and your POA is on the target), you need only move your POA the same direction and distance you want your arrows to be. So, if your arrows are four cm too far to the right, move your POA four cm to the left and your arrows will also move four cm to the left. This should get you started and learning.

PS You can shoot compound bows Barebow, I still compete this way.

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How to . . . Teach Stringwalking

We teach aiming before we teach sighting so once beginning archers can group their shots we teach them the “point-of-aim” system as a first aiming system. If they do not want to move on to a physical bow sight, we next teach them stringwalking. To help you help you help them learn this, we provide an excerpt from the book “Archery Coaching How To’s.”

General Background Information
Stringwalking was invented less than a century ago, but since archery’s history hasn’t been codified, that is debatable. Basically stringwalking is gripping the string below the arrow, the farther below the arrow the string is gripped, the less far the arrow will fly (in effect the bow is being tilted down). Target distances can be mapped onto the bowstring quite exactly. Since only a small range of distances is covered by these “crawls” down the string, various anchors are used for ranges of distances. Long distances require low anchors while short distances require high anchors. Some archers also switch between using the arrow point to aim with to using other parts of the bow (typically the sight window shelf).

Crawl MontageThe main advantage of stringwalking over other versions of shooting off of the point is that the same sight picture is used for most shots.

Since no shooting rules allow marks to be put upon bow string, bow, or tab, most archers use either the ordinary marks available on some tabs, for example a line of stitches (see photos), or use a center serving material like monofilament serving that will allow them to count down “wraps” of serving. This is typically done by running one’s thumbnail down from the nock locator, counting each click or bump along the way. Each distance that corresponds to a shooting distance is called a “crawl.” Some organizations allow these to be written down, others require them to be memorized. Beginners are urged to take notes so as to minimize mistakes. If their crawls need to be memorized, they can do that later.

Stringwalking is usually only seen in field archery because target archery involves only a few quite long distances (the exception being indoors target archery). Field archery involves shots at many different distances, quite a few of which are at shorter distances.

How Do I Know My Athlete Is Ready Learn Stringwalking?
This is an option for any student wanting to shoot barebow. Stringwalking is only allowed in a few shooting styles so check to see if your student’s “style” is allowed in the competitions they are interested in. The only preliminary skill needed is the ability to shoot off of the point

How to Get Started (Stringwalking)
Basic Setup If the archer knows his “point on target” distance (in the vernacular “point on”) that is the best place to start. Have her warm up until she is grouping nicely. Then take five paces closer to the target and have her shoot using the same crawl (zero because of the three-fingers under string grip). The arrow should hit high. Then ask her to stick the tip of her draw hand thumbnail into the string about a quarter inch down from where the tab is touching the arrow and then slide her tab down until the upper edge of the tab is lined up with the point her thumbnail is touching the string. Then the bow is drawn and the shot taken with the same point of aim. The arrow should hit lower.

If the arrow didn’t hit in target center, if it needs to hit lower a larger crawl is in order; if higher, a smaller crawl. Once a crawl that works is found, the distance and a description of the crawl are written in the student’s notebook. The crawl is described either as a number of wraps of center serving or number of stitches (and fractions thereof) on the archer’s tab.

This process is repeated until a number of crawls are discovered.

Advanced Setup Once a number of crawls are determined work with your archer so they can see that the crawls are linear, for example if one stitch crawl equates to four yards closer than the archer’s point on, a two-stitch crawl will be eight yards, a three stitch crawl 12 yards, etc. Since the crawls are linear, the archer can interpolated between them, for example, in the previous example a one-stitch crawl was 4 yards inside of the archers point on and a two stitch crawl was 8 yards inside her point on, a one and a half stitch crawl (halfway between the one stitch and two-stitch crawls) should be 6 yards inside of their point on.

Crawls are limited to about two to three inches down the string as drawing the string this way detunes the bow.

Going Farther Go back to your archer’s point on distance, this time walk back five paces and shoot the same crawl (zero). This time the arrow will hit low. It should be obvious that crawling will not solve this problem as a crawl will cause the arrow to hit the target even lower. One can combine other aspects of shooting off the point by choosing to “aim off” here. If the arrow landed at 6 o’clock in the blue, your archer could aim at 12 o’clock in the blue to compensate, but soon your archer would be off of the target so a better solution is needed.

What the archer needs is a lower anchor. Most string walkers get by with a high anchor (index finger in the corner of the mouth) and a low anchor (Olympic-style anchor) but some use other variants (middle finger in the corner of the mouth for very short shots, etc.). Each anchor has it’s own “point on” target distance and a set of crawls for distances down from that distance.

Training (Stringwalking)
Initial Stages New anchors have to be trained in. All are best addressed blank bale. Coaches need to give feedback so a good start can be had.

Be aware that clickers can be used to train with, even though they are often not allowed in competition or are just impractical (when stringwalking the distance the arrow is drawn varies with the crawl). New anchors are best trained in with a zero crawl.

Later Stages After some practice with a new anchor has occurred, the archer’s point on target distance with this anchor has to be found, along with all of the crawls inside that “point on.” Notes are taken so each set of crawls and their distances can be compared.

Fine Points When a complete set of crawls (five or so, from which the others can be figured) for both anchors is available, check to see if the two sets of distances overlap. If they do, your archer has all distances covered from her low anchor point on to her high anchor biggest crawl. If there is a small gap between the two sets of distances, then the aiming off technique discuss prior using the high anchor no crawl setup may fill that gap.

Advanced Training (Stringwalking)
Archers are oriented to target center but at farther distances with smaller aiming rings, the arrow point can cover the entire aiming dot. Consequently string walkers have adopted a slightly different target picture. They line up the top of the arrow point with the bottom of the central aiming ring creating a kind of “figure eight.” This creates a very fine position for aiming. Additional rings below the center can also be used as alignment points as can rings above the center but, since the curved lines go the same way, it is harder to get an exact positioning of the arrow point.

An Alternative to the Low Anchor Some archers struggle with the low anchor or the low anchor doesn’t give enough distance. In this case an option is to “shoot off of the shelf.” This involves positioning the target’s central scoring ring so that it touches the outside of the arrow and the top of the bow’s arrow shelf. This creates a great deal more distance as it raises the bow a great deal, but it also aims the arrow off to the right of the target (the target center used to be right on top of the arrow now it is to the left). This is compensated for by either aiming off or moving the string in the archer’s string picture quite a bit to the right (how much so must be determined by experiment). See the sidebar “String Picture and Windage.”

All variations must be trained in with repetition.

Potential Pitfalls (Stringwalking)
1.   Available Crawls Do Not Cover Competitive Distances
Sometimes archers can’t seem to cover all of the distances they need to shoot with the anchors and crawls they can master. Consequently different equipment parameters are needed. Typically these involve more draw weight (which gives higher arrows speeds and more “cast” or distance) and/or lighter arrows (which does the same).

Sidebar – String Picture and Windage
Most beginning archers are unaware that their bow string can be seen at full draw through their aiming eye. Careful positioning of the image of the bow string against the background of the shot can add consistency to an archer’s shot. (Compound archers using a peep sight do not have to bother with this as they can look through a peep hole straight through the string.)

To help your archers explore their “string pictures” and the effects of “string alignment,” have them play with it using a very light drawing bow at very short distances. Some archers line up the string with their arrow point (not a good idea if you are using the point to aim with). Others use the inside edge of the riser, or the outside edge, etc. What someone uses depends on the shape of their face and the kind of anchor they employ. A different string alignment may be needed for each anchor. When “shooting of the shelf” a right-handed archer may have to move his string in his sight picture a couple of inches to the right.

 

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