Tag Archives: Recurve Bows

Parallel Shafts and Barreled Shafts: Same Centershot or Different?

I was recently asked by a Recurve student about whether barreled shafts should be set up the same as parallel shafts with regard to centershot. He commented that some expert archers are saying barreled shafts should be lined up with the string (actually the string plane) but parallel shafts should be lined up with the point peeked out from behind the string (the “standard” recommendation for “fingers” shooters). So which way should barreled shafts be set up?

I answered “yes.”

Having the arrow point peeking out from behind the string is the traditional setup position. Let’s look at this. The reason that the arrow point is set up outboard from the string plane is because when a finger shooter releases the string, the string slides off of the fingers (actually the string pushes the fingers out of the way, but “action-reaction” applies: as the string pushes the fingers away, the fingers push the string away). Since the fingers curl in toward the archer’s head, the string slides toward the archer slightly as it slides toward the bow. The bow pulls the string back toward the string plane as it pulls the string back toward the bow and the string slides over to be inside the plane of the bow and then back outside. The nock separates from the string when the string is at a peak in this sideways oscillation (away from the bow, similar to where it started), at least if it is properly tuned it does. The force on the arrow from the string is directed mostly down the shaft and by having the arrow point slightly outboard of the theoretical string plane, then the point end and nock end of the arrow are aligned when the arrow separates from the string. This results in the force being more down the line of the shaft (in which direction the shaft is very strong) and not sideways (in which it is weaker). Force that goes into the arrow oscillation/flexing doesn’t move it toward the target. If you want to see this in action, there is a YouTube video in which a bloke shot a weak arrow with ever stronger bows and the amount of side-to-side bending gets extreme, almost bizarre, before on the final shot (weak arrow-strong bow) the arrow shatters from the side force. (Note: this is why a spine match is so important for “fingers” archers.)

The traditional arrow rest/centershot position for a “fingers” archer. The string has to be visually centered on the riser to get this view.

The argument goes that a barreled shaft is thinner toward the point and when it slides forward to the central thicker section, it moves the arrow point out to the left (for a RHed archer) anyway, so starting from that position gives you twice as much offset and a misaligned force going down the string.

So, is this right?
Yes, sort of … the arrow at brace is sitting fairly close to the thicker center section and so this position is built in, it doesn’t sit with the thinner part on the arrow rest in the position the centershot is set in. When the arrow is drawn, the thinner part slides in toward the bow.

Does it make any difference?
Probably not … for most archers … here’s why.

The position of the arrow rest, which determines the position of the arrow when it is sitting on the arrow rest (the so-called centershot position), is a setup position. When a bow is initially set up, you put things as close to where they will be when the bow is tuned as you can. Why start with wild setup positions which will make tuning that much harder? But since those final positions are determined a great deal by your technique, there is no way to specify exactly what they will be without you participating. So, the described positions are positions that seem to be closefor most archers.

The final position of the arrow rest … and the nocking point, and the brace height, and myriad other settings on a recurve bow should all be determined by tuning tests. If your arrow rest is set so the arrow point peeks out from behind the string (when viewed properly: from behind with the string and limbs free) and you think you might benefit from having the arrow lined up in the string plane because you shoot barreled shafts, then by all means test this out.

Be sure to document your bow before you make any changes. Then measure something that determines the quality of your shots (group size, practice round scores, etc.) and then change the centershot and test again. If these metrics improve, keep the change. If they do not or things get worse, set it back to the position you began with.

Realize that elite archers know their equipment better than most archers. They may have starting positions they use for their bows that are very, very close to what they will be when tuned in. Most archers need to learn more before they will know what to expect, so minute information gathered from the elites is probably of not much value.

Also realize that there are many, many variables involved in tuning a recurve bow to a high level: nocking point, string material, string diameter, serving diameter, nock size, the archer’s tab, the brace height, the limb alignment, the stabilizers, nock size, … <pant, pant, pant> … , the quality of the limbs/riser, the button position, the button pressure, … , as I said, myriad things affect the tune. Interestingly, a good basic set up of a recurve bow gets you 90-95% of the way to where you will be at the end. Tuning takes a great deal of time and a great deal of effort for that last 5-10% of performance. We are saved because of a basic rule which is: you can’t tune any better than you shoot, so for most archers, little tuning is needed. Since the elites shoot so well, they have to tune the heck out of their bows. They are, after all, looking for the last fraction of a percent of the performance they can get from their equipment and the law of diminishing returns applies.

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Apertures: Pin or No Pin?

I got a question from Carole, who asked: “What are your thoughts on using a sight with a pin in the center (recurve sight) compared to one without a pin, just a tunnel? I have read that the human brain is excellent at centering a circle and wondered if it would be more ‘natural’ to allow the brain to center the sight on the gold and therefore more relaxed on the eye?  I have used both and (think) I prefer without the pin, but am interested in your opinion.”

* * *

Okay, here’s my opinion. I think the jury is still out on this one, so I would call it a matter of personal preference at this point. By all means, do try both types, noting how each affects your sighting (mentally as well as physically).

The same question comes up on the compound side in the form of having a central pin (usually fiber optic) or just an applied ring on one’s scope lens. (There are commercial sets of decals for application to the scope surface with various thickness and colors of loops.)

The orange ring is to make the scope housing more visible (it is centered in the peep hole to collimate the aim). My preference is for a thicker loop a bit larger than the decal shown here and bright green in color (see text).

My thinking at this point (remember this is premature as we have almost no real information on this topic, just opinions) is it depends on the kind of person you are. Using me as an example: I am a bit easily distracted, a bit shaky, and a bit nervous. I find the loops preferable for the following reasons: a small pin looks more jittery than a larger loop, which leads me to press to try to be more steady, which makes my steadiness worse, not better. One must relax into a clam state of steadiness, not “try.”

I use a bright green, thick, fairly large loop decal on my compound scopes. Green is not a color that shows up on target faces much so a good deal of contrast is there. The thicker loop makes it easier to see, the larger loop avoids a problem with small loops, namely that as target sizes change with distance, if you have a small loop, you can be floating around in the middle not knowing where you are. Take a Metric of American 900 Round. At 30 yards/meters, a small loop may only show you gold on the 122 cm multi-color target. So, where in the gold are you? Do you look for the dividing line between the 10-and 9-rings? Do you move around, looking for the edge? Similarly, if the entire gold, or center spot whatever the color, barely fits inside the loop, there is a tendency to try to fit it exactly which leads to over focusing on aiming too precise to sustain.

A large loop allows several rings or a smaller central spot to float in the middle of the loop using the brain’s automatic centering function to your benefit. (This function is hardwired into our brains. It is used for distance estimation and other functions and it is normal for most all people.)

Here’s a scope with a fiber optic dot in the middle.

On the recurve size, I prefer a larger loop than the commercially available ones that seem a bit small to me. (They are easy enough to make and I also paint the front edge bright green.)

So, when you try these options, in the back of your mind (that’s a metaphor, not literal suggestion) keep track of whether your aperture helps you to feel calm. In my case, the thick green ring helps me locate the loop in my visual field easily, in all lighting conditions, shows little perceived motion when aiming which provides a perception of steadiness, which then leads to relaxing a somewhat jumpy archer. If you, on the other hand, are rock steady, mentally calm person, you may find a pin easiest to line up with your point of aim.

The famous Beiter Sight Tunnel offers a square housing (to supply visual cues as to whether the recurve bow is being held vertically, and a plethora of “pins” inside the housing … or you can just use no insert for a circular opening.

It doesn’t hurt to try a number of variations to see what works best for you. Pin, no pin. Small loop, big loop. Different colors of loops. This doesn’t all have to happen at once (unless you are hyper-competitive), but over time, these are things to “give a try” at.

PS This is also wrapped up in another discussion: should you be looking at the bow sights aperture or the target. Both will not be in focus at the same time. That question is for another time.

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A Recurve Dead Release Spotted!

Video of the 2017 Shoot Up Finals for the Barebow division at the Lancaster Archery Classic in Lancaster, PA has been posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ppQpTQcz4). Recurve Barebow is more popular around the world than it has been in the U.S. (driven, I suspect, by the popularity of compound archery in the U.S.) but Barebow is on a rebound now and more and more people are attracted to it. Featured in these final matches are: Dewayne Martin, Scott Bills, Bobby Worthington, and John Demmer III.

Interestingly, DeWayne Martin shoots with a dead release, something very few recurve archers can pull off. (More and more I am coming to the conclusion that there are no absolutes in archery (e.g. You must use a “live” release in Recurve.), just some things make shooting “more or less difficult.”

View the video! Flinches! Creeping! Tape on the nose! Tournament nerves! Stringwalking! (Although the announcers were somewhat clueless about the advantages of a crawl.) At 29:18 a close-up of John Demmer III’s quiver (current WA world field champion) shows arrows with two different fletching patterns. This would not be allowed in a WA shoot. The Lancaster Archery Classic uses a mixture of NFAA rules and their own. (It is a private shoot, they can do as they wish. If they apply for a sanction from one of the governing bodies they would have to conform to that association’s rules. Note Many people do not know that the Vegas Shoot, while owned by the NFAA, is a private shoot with its own rules.)

John Demmer III, the eventual winner, and an elite Barebow archer, shoots with a tilted head. You don’t have to do it right, you just have to do it over.

If you shoot Barebow or your students do, watch this video. This gives you a good idea of what is possible, at least indoors. It gives you an idea of what “the best” can shoot under pressure and then you can determine how you stack up or how close your students are.

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Personalizing Recurve Limbs

Recurve limbs tend to confuse beginners, intermediate archers, some accomplished archers, and even some coaches!

Sources of the Confusion
This will be about three-piece takedown recurve bows as they are the most common choice of target archers. The riser has a top limb and a bottom limb attached. These limbs come in three lengths (short, medium, long) which combined with various length risers, you can make the following bows:

Riser ► 23˝ 25˝ 27˝
w/short limbs 64˝ 66˝ 68˝
w/medium limbs 66˝ 68˝ 70˝
w/long limbs 68˝ 70˝ 72˝

Confused yet? (There are risers of other lengths!) Did you note you can make a 68˝ bow three different ways? (Generally, the shorter the limbs, the faster the bow, all other things being equal.)

The limbs then come in typically two pound (2#) increments over a fairly wide range of draw weights: e.g. 14#–48#. So, if you get “long limbs” and put them on a 25˝ riser, to make a 70˝ bow, and those limbs are listed at 32#, will you have a 32# bow?

Maybe.

Recurve limbs have their draw forces measured at 28˝ of draw. (Unless the bow is a youth bow for which it is common to measure the DW at 24˝ or a traditional bow, which are often measured at 26˝). Confused yet? But how many archers have a draw length of exactly 28˝? My guess is not too many. My guess is that most archers will have either longer or shorter draws. If their draw length is longer than 28˝, the draw force “in hand” will be higher than the weight listed on the limbs. If their draw length is less than 28˝, the draw force “in hand” will be lower than the weight listed on the limbs.

Well, if their draw length is exactly 28˝ will that be a 32# bow? Uh, maybe. Making limbs is not a perfect science. If a manufacturer makes a limb that is 31.5# do they discard it? No, they do not. It is “close enough” to 32# to warrant a 32# sticker and it goes in the pile with the rest. Now, don’t go all ballistic on the manufacturers about their sloppy manufacturing tolerances. These are quite reasonable numbers. If they do go “out of tolerance,” the limb is scrapped. And, if we insisted on perfect limb poundages, the price of limbs would skyrocket as so many would have to be rejected as not being “perfect.” (Since they can’t be recycled, so “Make another one, Bill, that one didn’t pass muster.” And if you have to make three to get one perfect one, do not expect them to be cheaper.)

FYI The manufacturers do not measure draw force like you do, they have a machine that clamps the butt of the limbs, fixing those in space. Then they place a force, in the old days this was a weight, on the limb tip and measure how much it bends. These “limb tip deflections” correspond to draw weights of assembled bows (the lower the LTD, the higher the DW).

What You Can Do to Lessen the Confusion?
As a coach, you can help get archers into a proper-sized bow. Youths need to avoid bows with too much mass as their bow shoulders aren’t very strong yet. Shorter archers need shorter bows, etc. Once an archer is fitted with one size of bow then you need to be able to address changes.

If they grow much taller, they may be ready to move up from, say, a 23˝ riser to a 25˝ riser. (Shorter risers have smaller sight windows and if the bow has a low draw weight, too, there may not be enough room in the sight window for all of the aperture positions needed. Longer risers are better for many reasons, but they are also longer and heavier than shorter ones.)

An Aside Bowhunters often use risers that are 20˝ or even 19˝ long. They can get away with such short bows, because their bows have to have a minimum draw weight of 40# (typically) and the shots they are taking are from fairly short range (20-30 yards).

Confused yet?

Changing riser lengths is a rare event (buying a new riser of the same length doesn’t pose fitting problems). Changing limbs is much more frequent. Enter the adjustable limb pocket! The first mass produced adjustable limb pocket was introduced by Hoyt archery, and which was so popular, the design was stolen worldwide; we now call it the International Limb Fitting, or ILF. This design was for a limb that pressed into the pocket, with a click stop, and a pocket that allowed the angle the limb made with the bow to be varied a little. Prior to the invention, you screwed the limb bolts in and out to attach and detach the limbs and if you wanted to make a limb angle change, you had to make (saw, carve, whatever) small wedges to slip between the limb and the riser and then screw down the limb bolts trapping them in between. This was more than a little bit of a hit or miss procedure.

An ILF Limb Pocket on a modern recurve riser.

With the new ILF design, the limb bolts were locked in place with a lock screw and the limb had a notch in it so it rode up to the bottom of the limb bolt (the butt having a “rocker” designed into it).

Note the rocker built into the limb butt. This allows an ILF limb to rock toward and away from the archer, restricted only by the position of the limb bolt.

When the limb bolt is “backed out,” the limb angles back toward the archer. This increase the brace height a little and lessens how much the limb gets bent at the archer’s full draw. Both of these lessen the amount of energy transferred to the arrows. But you can only do this so much before it becomes dangerous, so typically the draw force can be only reduced about 10% from the printed maximum on the bow. This amount of limb lean is so small that it is hard to see whether a bow’s limbs are “cranked down” or “cranked out” visually while they are being shot.

So, here is our quandary: recurve limbs (once a length is settled on) have their draw weights rated at 28˝ of draw (which your archer doesn’t have), may be slightly less or more due to manufacturer’s tolerances, and can be anywhere from the highest value of draw weight for those limbs to about 10% less than that depending on the limb pocket settings.

Got that?

If your head is spinning, you are not alone.

Try This Here’s a system that can simplify the situation for you and your archer. To use it you need a reliable draw weight scale (all measures must be made on the same scale). Here’s how to do it:
1. With your archer’s current bow, crank the limb bolts all the way down counting how many turns are being made in the wrench. The reference point for “turns” is the limb bolts all of the way down, so when we get there that will become the new reference point. If it takes three (3) full turns to get them all of the way in, then the limbs were “at” three full turns out from bottom.
2. Measure the draw weight of the bow at your archer’s draw weight. If they use a clicker, put one of their arrows on the bow and pull until the clicker falls off. Easy peasy. Write this number on the limbs with a Sharpie/permanent marker.
3. take 10% off of that full draw weight measure and write that number down next to the first one. That is the draw weight range for your archer’s limbs at that draw length. (Set your archer’s bow back to its original state when done.)

Moving On Up
If they want to increase their draw weight once they are “bottomed out” on their current limbs, they need to buy limbs of the same length, four pounds (4#) heavier. The previous limbs were bottomed out, the new limbs will be backed out, typically maximally. So, if moving from 30# limbs, you move up to 34# limbs and back them off fully (10% of 34 is 3.4 pounds) which gives your archer a net 0.6 pound draw weight increase, which is easily doable and he/she can crank it up from there.

No matter what their “personal draw weight” is, use the ratings on the limbs to make purchases. So, if the limbs were marked 28#, you move up to limbs marked 32#. Whatever their personal draw weight max is, it also will be increased 4# (approximately).

Their personal draw weight, the “weight in hand” is what you need for fitting arrows, etc. The marked draw weight is only used to identify limbs for purchase.

But, Wait, There is More!
Here are two sets of limbs and their maxes (in hand) for that archer:
26# limbs        29.5# max
28# limbs        31.5# max
He also has a pair of 30# limbs, can you estimate what they would measure maxxed out for this archer?
I came up with 33.5#. In each case the difference was about 3.5# and since all of these numbers are fairly close together, that pattern should continue. When the limbs get up over 40# I expect slight differences.

Now, just for fun, take off 10% from each of those max DWs to give a range for each set of limbs.
I get:

26# limbs 29.5# max 26.6# min
28# limbs 31.5# max 28.4# min
30# limbs 33.5# max 30.4# min

Can you see that the 26# and 30# limbs cover the same range (26.6#–33.5#) as these three do? There is a small gap from 29.5# to 30.4# when the swap from the 26# limbs to the 30# limbs is made but that is a reasonable “jump.” This is why it is recommended that you buy limbs in 4# increments (another blessing from the ILF system).

Note Realize that often more that 10% can be removed from a set of limbs so that gap is often much smaller.

Safety Note Never exceed the number of turns allowed in the manufacturer’s instructions!

If you try this system, let me know how it works for you or your students.

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Breaking News! Archery is Counterintuitive!

I got the following email from my best student this morning:
“Okay coach, explain this one to me. Increasing my bow weight seems to make my arrows shoot more to the left. Compounding my confusion is that tonight I got the groups to move back to the right by tightening my plunger. Count me confused and dazed!
Cheers

If this has never happened to you, you haven’t been in archery very long. The student in question shoots Olympic Recurve, so you have that as background. Here is what I answered, expanded for this post).

* * *

A bow is a closed system, when you change one part, many others are affected. (Memorize this!)

You got two counterintuitive responses to things you did. The problem is that ceteras parabus was nowhere to be seen. (Ceteras parabus is the principle that “everything else was the same.”) When you make a single change to a bow, you make other changes, too … always! There is no such thing as “everything else was the same” when working with bows.

For example, you increased your draw weight. I do not know how much but it was not a fraction of a pound is my guess. When you screw in the limb bolts, you change the angle of the limbs to the bow (making the limbs more upright as it were). This results in a lower brace height. (Plus more tension on the string at brace, plus …) The brace height is one of the determinants of the point in space at which your arrow’s nocks separate from your string at the end of the power stroke. Since the string’s path toward the riser is a flattish “S curve,” the change in the point of separation of the string and nock is complex. If the nock comes off more to the right from where it did previously, the arrow ends up pointed more to the left (the point has enough inertia that it doesn’t move as much as the nock end). If the nock comes off more to the left, the arrow will be pointed more to the right. (Think about it.) I have also to point out that when the arrow separates from the string it is no longer touching the arrow rest.

“Coaches need to expect counterintuitive responses to equipment changes.”

When you change the bow’s draw weight, you are also changing the efficiency of the bow due to a spine match or mismatch. I think I told you about the compound archer who lowered his draw weight (just a half turn on each limb) only to have his arrows hit higher on the target. What happened when he lowered the draw weight,  he created a better spine match (arrow to bow), which created a more efficient transfer of energy from bow to arrow which made up for the energy loss from the change in draw weight and more. These are the kinds of counterintuitive things that can happen.

If we had created a perfect spine match for your bow before (unlikely, such things take a great deal of time and effort), we no longer have that spine match. When you finish your draw weight changes, a complete re-tune is necessary because so many things have changed.

If you think the string goes straight toward the riser, think again. (Yeah, this is a stringwalking Barebow archer, but I get to exaggerate for emphasis, don’t I?)

A general consequence of this situation (reality actually) is coaches need to expect counterintuitive responses to equipment changes. This is because of the reasons stated and because what you were taught were often oversimplified rules of thumb. For example, “weak arrows fly to the right, stiff arrows fly to the left.” and “If you lower the nocking point, you will raise the hit point of the arrow on the target.” (All of these are for right-handed archers.)

These equipment aphorisms were intended to get you down the road until you could think through such problems without needing them. From a perfectly tuned bow, if the nocking point is lowered a slight amount, the arrow will hit on the target lower than it did previously. But if you lower the nocking point enough, the rear of the arrow will start hitting the rest or arrow shelf and where those arrows land is anybodies guess.

All of those pithy little rules need to be taken with a grain of salt. And, they need to be thought through as they are all true … up to a point. By thinking them through they provide an entry to better understanding of archery equipment. If you do not, they become unreliable crutches. (I am speaking from experience here. If I had a nickel for every mistake I made, I could have retired earlier.)

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What are the Advantages of Having a Heavier Bow, Like 50lb Compared to 30lb?

The question in the title comprised the entire question asked. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these considerations and such considerations also depend upon application. You didn’t say what your particular application is, so that makes any answer I provide longer. (If you want short, pithy answers, ask detailed questions. ;o)

For example, if you are a bowhunter, most hunting regulations specify a minimum draw weight for hunting, typically 40# or so. Thus, a 30 pound bow would be illegal to use, a major disadvantage.

In general, hunters prefer higher draw weights and target archers lower draw weights. (As with all such broad statements there are many exceptions.) The reason for this difference is that a target archer may have to shoot one hundred or more shots in a single day but a hunter merely a handful. For some reason, a compound bow peak weight of 70# has proved popular for deer hunters. This is excessive as these bows will drive an arrow through the body of a deer, the most common large game animal in the U.S., and out the other side (still traveling at high speed). Possibly this very high draw weight is due to manhood issues amongst the bow purchasers or is possibly just a manifestation of hunters buying whatever everyone else has.

Whew, 53#! Just whew!

Olympic Recurve archer Brady Ellison shoots a very high 53# bow setup and is doing very well for himself. Most everyone else is shooting a lower draw weight, the women being typically about 10# lower.

In general and for target archers:

Positives of a Higher Draw Weight for Target Archers
A higher draw weight produces a crisper release of the string. (The string supplies the force to move the string out of the way and the more force available, the straighter the path of the string.)
A higher draw weight produces a flatter arrow trajectory. (This allows an archer to stay closer to perfect form for longer shots, not requiring as much bow elevation.)

Negatives of a Higher Draw Weight for Target Archers
A higher draw weight produces more fatigue. (Drawing a 70# bow is the equivalent to exercising with a 70# weight. How many repetitions can you do and execute with the same form on your last shot as you had on your first?)
A higher draw weight produces more tension at full draw. (Even compound bows suffer from this effect: a 70# bow with 65% letoff still has 25# in hand at full draw. A higher “holding weight” shortens the amount of time an archer has available at full draw and stresses the full-draw form of the archer. Obviously a recurve or longbow archers has an even higher load at full draw.)

In the past, high draw weights were the only option to increase the power and cast of a bow. Many of the English bowmen of the past were shooting bows of 100#-125# of draw. But that was then and this is now. Now, lightweight and extremely stiff carbon arrows allow high arrow speeds to be produced at much, much lower draw weights.

So, unless you have aspirations of being a very, very serious target archer (one who trains many days a week) my recommendation is to consider the goal of finding the lowest draw weight bow that will allow you to shoot your last arrow in any set with the same form and execution as you had on your first. Higher draw weights than that require serious physical training to be successful (which can be achieved by shooting, but that means many days per week of shooting).

“My recommendation is to consider the goal of finding the lowest draw weight bow that will allow you to shoot your last arrow in any set with the same form and execution as you had on your first.”

The overwhelming popularity of compound bows in the U.S. is driven by the difference in peak weight and holding weight of those bows. Low holding weights lower strain on the archer at full draw and increase the time available to aim while providing high arrow speeds because of he high peak weights. But too high of a peak weight will wear a compound archer down in a longer competition, resulting in mistakes that cause point losses no one likes. The same is true for recurve and longbow archers.

Choose wisely. The worst thing that can happen to an archer is to be overbowed (too much draw weight) because it distorts form and literally sucks the fun out of shooting.

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Should Coaches Necessarily Be Good Archers, Too?

I was watching a golf instruction video and the coach giving the lesson demonstrated what he was talking about by hitting the shots as described. All of these coaches, even when quite old, still play very good golf. When the PGA certifies its coaches, there is a score requirement, that is coaches need to be able to shoot a very good score on a course whose difficulty has been determined (no cherry picking of a really easy course to set your mark, the easier the course, the lower the score required!).

“If you are a coach what should be expected as to level of your expertise with bow and arrow?”

In contrast to that requirement, in all of my coach certifications, and there are a good half dozen of those, I have never been asked to demonstrate my skill as an archer (or as a coach for that matter). I have only been asked to demonstrate my knowledge by passing a paper and pencil test.

And even further extreme is the professed belief of many compound archers that if a coach is not a current or former champion, they have nothing to teach them.

So, if you are a coach what should be expected as to level of your expertise with bow and arrow?

In golf, there are specialists who deal with the equipment: fitters, club makers, technicians. In archery, not so much, so coaches need to know enough about their equipment, its repair and replacement, set up, etc., to be able to help their students. Archery coaches also need to know about form and execution, competition preparation and strategies, and a lot more (training, nutrition, the mental game, etc.).

And, archery is a sport in which “feel” is important, so experience is necessary. An archery coach who has never shot a bow and arrow is at a distinct disadvantage in being able to communicate regarding how a shot feels. So, my opinion is coaches need to be able to shoot, or needed to have shot enough in their lives to address all of these issues. Further, if you want to coach, say, traditional archers, you need to have some experience shooting traditional longbows and recurves in traditional manners. Do you need to have tried every technique you might want to communicate to a student? Well, in a word, yes. Tried certainly, mastered, no. Mastery only comes from years of practice. Most coaches have a major discipline (recurve, Barebow, compound-release, traditional, etc.) and in that discipline they need to have developed a fairly high level of skill. Do, they need to be “championship level?” I do not know what that means, or rather, it means something different to different people. I have taken medals in tournaments with the word “championships” in their name, but I was hardly an elite archer, ever.

Some times the best coaches come from the cadre of those who were “less successful” but tried everything to become more successful and, hence, are more knowledgeable. I consider myself one of those.

Nobody “knows it all.” So, if you find yourself in the position I found myself, where there were many students seeking help in a discipline that was not your forté, then take some lessons in that discipline, acquire (borrow, buy, rent, whatever) the required equipment and give it a try. Sign up for a tournament in your new style to put some pressure on the pace of your learning. My specialty is compound but I have had more fun competing in recurve and longbow events (possibly because there was no pressure to try to win) and I certainly learned a great deal from those experiences. I got such a baptism, from a bloke who was encouraging me to learn traditional styles by him getting me to sign up to participate in USA Archer’s Traditional Nationals. He even made me a longbow to compete with. I was not in good physical shooting shape at the time and it was a long two days (York, American, and Clout Rounds) so I got very tired, but I had a blast … and I learned a great deal.

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How Does Remote Coaching Work?

I thought you might benefit from seeing a few exchanges between a student-archer/colleague and a coach (me) showing you how “remote coaching” goes. I did not include all of the photos/videos of the student for reasons of privacy and to keep the length of this post down to something reasonable. Note The student is working with a local coach and learning NTS Recurve and consulting me on the side (because he/she can). This discussion took place over several days.
Steve

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Student
My coach has me working on basically bringing my draw hand down (on the draw) and then back up and under my chin once I was about to anchor. I was kind of hunting around for my anchor. I still am! I was also working on not moving my head around to try and find my anchor too. In trying to make this change to drawing under my chin, I started holding my bow hand too long. Chaos…

Coach
I can’t remember, were you shooting with a “corner of the mouth” anchor before? If so, learning to get to a “low anchor” aka “under chin” or Olympic anchor can sometimes be a struggle. A key point people tend to leave out is that if you are going for a low anchor, your chin needs to be higher than with the side of the face anchor. Ideally we would like to have the jaw line horizontal but not everybody is shaped that way. To give you an idea as to how much the chin has to come up I urge female archers to “channel their inner haughty princess” to get about the right angle.

Also KiSik Lee, or his co-author, confused a lot of people with his first book which had photos and words indicating that one needed to draw 2-3 inches below the chin and then come up. In his second book he corrected that to 1˝ or a tad more … in other words, just under the chin. The key points are you want to get to full draw quickly, into a position you can feel in your back and shoulders, then find your anchor position quickly. Often students, in an attempt to be exacting, work too slowly (trying to be oh, so correct) and as a consequence run out of energy on each shot, hence the feeling of struggling. The draw needs to be smooth and strong and quick but not rushed. Honestly, most men tend to draw too fast (at first) and most women tend to draw too slow (at first).

If you look at YouTube videos of some of the Korean women, you will see smooth, strong, confident draws that are quite quick but there is no rushing involved. Of course, that is what many tens of thousands of practice shots will get you, so don’t expect that level of performance. (They are, in effect, professional archers who train and compete six days a week.) But you can see in their form what the idea is that you are striving for.

Once you have practiced this a lot, you will find it is easier to relax unneeded muscles while executing your draw which will make it even easier.

For some reason, many coaches do not point out that you should do the bulk of your practice on a new form element with a stretch band or a very light drawing bow. (I use a 10# bow a lot in my coaching.) Once the student (You!) gets the hang of the move, then you can move up from 10# to 14 # to 20# to full draw weight quite quickly. It is much harder to try to learn a new move at whatever your full draw weight is.

Student
Yes, when I first started writing to you I was using a high anchor and started having string slap issues when I switched to a low anchor. Soon after I started corresponding with you, I found a coach. I believe I asked if you had heard of him, but I guess the archery world is big (even though it can seem extremely small at the same time). Ah, one thing that is bugging me is that I can’t seem to get my hand snug along my jaw. I do use a stretch band and I’m having success there. But once I put on my finger tab and pull my bow my hand seems to be nowhere near my jaw. I’m getting nice contact between my lips and the string though. I’m not sure if I’m putting too much emphasis where it’s not needed.

I have been watching Khatuna Lorig and Mackenzie Brown. My coach wanted me to especially watch Mackenzie because her coach uses the NTS. You’re totally right about drawing too slowly. I am guilty of this and it does make me tired. When I see pros shoot, they come to full draw so fluidly that it’s hard to see the “steps.”

I still have the 19# recurve bow I borrowed from my summer archery club. I’ll try and work with that after I work with my stretch band more.

Coach
Many people have a steep jaw line and the NTS “recommendation” of a lot of hand contact along the jaw is just not possible. (You need a bit of a square jaw for that to happen—see the photo of Coach Kim Hannah, her jaw line is more vertical, so she can’t do the full NTS anchor position.) Have your daughter take a still picture of your head and shoulders at anchor to see what you have going. A video isn’t necessary (unless you would like that).

Regarding the string slap, did your coach talk to you about rotating your elbow so the crease is near vertical?

And if you are using a ledge on your tab I would suggest you reconsider that. The only use for a ledge is if you are having trouble reaching the target. If not, take it off, put it in a Baggie, label it and set it aside for experimentation later. A ledge really interferes with the NTS “hand along jaw line” position.

Also, these tabs that are providing places to put your thumb and little finger are just providing leverage for digits you do not want involved at all! (IMHO, of course! ;o) We teach beginners to make a Girl Scout salute (same as the Cub Scout salute but I like to tweak the boys). From there, they are to curl their fingers and slide them up under the arrow. This makes a classic three-fingers-under string grip. Once they reach anchor, they are allowed to break the contact between their thumb and little finger (by relaxing them) and voila (see photo—see pad of thumb and little finger nail touching). Once they get used to these positions they can adopt them with little effort and attention. The little finger is loose and is just in a relaxed (curled) position. The thumb is slightly extended but it ends up below your jaw line, out of the way. If the thumb is up anywhere else, it blocks getting into a good anchor position.

Looking at your photo at anchor, you chin is up nicely, maybe a bit too far! If you were to lower your head a tad, you would get a “nose touch” that is the string would touch your nose. As long as this doesn’t affect your release it gives you feedback as to whether your head is in the right position.

Note, also, in the second photo that the string and arrow are gone and your hand has not had time to move much, so who cares what it does thereafter? By observing the movement of your body parts after the release, though, you can infer the conditions during the release. We would like to see the string hand move straight back away from the target and stop with your fingertips just under your ear. This is not something you do, this is something that happens determined by using the correct muscles to pull the bowstring directly away from the target and then your fingers giving way when your back muscles are still flexing. Since you can only move so far in that position (range of motion) your fingers end up under your ear and stop because your shoulders cannot move any farther.

You look good in this photo.

Student
Thank you very much for the feedback. I have been concerned about the nose touch too. I will try to angle my head a bit and see what that does. My coach said it sometime almost looks like I’m moving my head away from the string. I’ve been trying to think about the release too; not plucking the string. I’ll continue to work. 🙂

Coach
If you can pluck, you are either out of line or not pulling with the right muscles. The release is something you shouldn’t think about. Observe it (take videos, whatever) and then adjust things. If your hand moves in any direction other than straight back, it is not your release that needs fixing, its your line or the muscles you have chosen to use.

The nose touch is not an essential. Play with a light weight bow . Get to full draw and move your head around. The key elements are that you have to have your head turned far enough (so your nose doesn’t block your vision), your eyes need to be level (for optimal vision), and your chin needs to be up (just a little bit, as we discussed before). Everything else is nonessential. So, if you can get all of that and a nose touch, it is gravy! Enjoy!

PS One of the joys of archery is you can do some rather hard work and see a benefit in short order. Often in work or family matters, projects go on and on and on (teenagers!).

Student
I picked up my 19# bow to work on this. So luxurious to have more than one to choose from. I find that when I work with the stretch band and I release it, my hand does go back to my shoulder. When I release with my bow my hand ends up somewhere around the right side of my chest. I’m working on it in a relaxed way.

Coach
The key is your draw elbow. If you maintain the arc of your draw elbow through the shot, it stays high and your hand will slide back until your fingertips are no farther back than under your ear (end of the range of that motion). This is the true end of the shot, for your body. We wait until the bow finishes its “bow” as a bit of overkill because that bow’s “bow” has information in it that tells us about the forces acting on the bow at the time of release, and … well … enquiring minds want to know such things. In order for your hand to go back farther, touch your shoulder, etc. your elbow must drop downward, which is a movement unassociated with the shot itself and so does not affect the shot and is, at best, an affectation, but one that misleads because how well you do that movement doesn’t tell you anything about the shot.

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Principles-Based Archery and Coaching

I work with a few coaches who are trying to expand their archery knowledge so as to be able to work with more students. (Mentoring coaches is important. If you aren’t doing it—either as a mentor or being mentored—think about it.) In one case I am teaching a recurve archer/coach about compound archery. Some coaches are more comfortable sticking to what they know best and that is fine. You do not have to learn about multiple styles, you can specialize. I do think, however, that a principles-based approach can help coaches apply what they know to different styles of archery (for those interested) as well as different variables within their chosen style and my intent for this post is to give an example of this.

This comment is based upon a very good archery instructional video: “How to Find a Recurve Anchor Point” hosted by Archery 360 (a site of the Archery Trade Association) and this video was made in conjunction with World Archery. It is available on YouTube here.

This video is wonderfully made, with excellent production values and high quality presentations. The archers shooting demonstrated excellent form (this is not always the case). And, of course, I had a quibble.

In discussing the characteristics of a high quality recurve anchor position they made the claim that the nose touch by the sting is intended as a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position. This is debatable at best, actually I think this is wrong. Rather than a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position, it is a mechanism to make consistent one’s head position. In the video, a illustration was drafted of how the bow being placed off vertical somehow changes the position of the string on the nose as a “tell” and this allows the archer to straighten his/her bow up so that it contacts the nose correctly. This might be true if the archer were struggling with holding his/her bow anywhere near vertical. It also might be true if archers didn’t put such a premium on the nose touch that they will tilt their head to make the nose touch the string no matter what. (Have you seen this? I have.) I think this concept of what the nose touch is for is misleading. For one, the nose touch is not calibrated such that one could detect a canted bow at all well. For example, could you determine a 3 degree bow cant at the tip of your nose? Our sense of touch is limited in the first place and the tip of our nose is not anywhere near as sensitive to touch as, say, our fingertips or lips. In other words, the tips of our noses are not up to this task. In fact, without our eyes, we are very limited in determining plumb or level positions of our own body parts.

A "nose touch" can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlinghead position, primarily head tilt.

A “nose touch” can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlling head position, primarily head tilt.

The actual context for the nose touch, I believe, is that the bow is raised into a vertical position after we set our heads to be level (we hope)—a level head is needed because the eyes need to be level to function optimally. The nose touch occurs at anchor, confirming that both head and bow are vertical and the head is not tilted up or down. One can keep one’s eyes level and tilt ones head up and down (do it now and you will be agreeing with me, aka nodding). But tilting one’s head up and down changes the distance from the nock to the pupil of the aiming eye, which changes one’s sight marks. One does not, I believe, adjust the verticality of the bow based upon the touch of the nose. The nose touch is almost all about head position, not bow position.

These things are not minor quibbles because they can mislead archers as to the procedures they are to follow. When should the bow be made vertical? I think this needs to be done at the end of the raise. (Keeping the bow vertical as long as possible locks in the feel of the bow being vertical when shooting. Compare this with, say, trying to make the bow vertical just before the loose.) When should the head be made vertical? I think this is just before the raise. After that point, there are many other things to do and we do not need to add to that list. Since we want to “bring the bow to us and not move our bodies to our bows,” we need to establish where we want the bow to go.

Note The entire shot sequence is based upon a “set and move on” basis, that if done quickly enough, the things done earliest stay where they were set.

So, the sequence for recurve archers is: set head erect, eyes level (establish line of sight to target), raise bow to be vertical, draw and anchor, establishing nose touch which confirms verticality and sets head tilt to be consistent shot after shot. Having to wait for “nose touch” to check bow verticality and adjustments if necessary is inherently imprecise and also wasteful of time and energy at full draw.

Compound archers, on the other hand, check whether their bow is plumb after they hit anchor. This is facilitated by letoff, creating a draw weight at full draw that is a small fraction of the peak weight passed getting to full draw (a 60# bow can have a holding weight as low as 12#), thus allowing more time at full draw to check things, plus the fact that their sight apertures have bubble levels set in them that allow bows to be set perfectly plumb (if the bubble level is correctly set up).

As you can see, I think there are sound physical reasons for doing these things at these times. It may be a small point, but an archer mislead leads to difficulties later when sequences need to be shifted around and a “new shot sequence” learned.

 

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When Is It Time to Move Up to a Better Bow?

QandA logoI got an email from a Olympic Recurve student regarding what kind of bow to move up to. He is a serious student who has a good beginner/intermediate bow, an SF Premium Plus. He had tried a couple of other bows but went on to say “Not that it will make me a better archer, but if I feel more comfortable, maybe it will help me improve. What do you think?” Often these requests are just fishing for recommendations of brands and models for them to go check out but this request is more level-headed and needed to be taken seriously. Specifically, it is important to not pooh-pooh the effect of a new bow on keeping interest in the sport up. One does not, though, want to encourage students to be constantly buying new gear because that is what they like best about archery.:. playing with new gear. If the archer’s goal is to shoot competitive scores, the equipment’s role is secondary and if you let it become primary, don’t expect to meet high goals.

Here’s my response to this student’s question (slightly modified):

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Let me quote former Olympian, Simon Needham of England:
When an archer starts out a reasonable ‘beginner bow’ is a good bow to start with. Then when moving on to the point of to getting their own bow, a mid-priced bow will be a good choice with ILF limbs. Then, as they get better and stronger, they may well need to get higher poundage limbs. As they pass the 500 point and perhaps are looking for a better bow, I suggest that they get a top level riser, either new if they can afford it or a good second hand one. At this stage of shooting, a new or good second hand bow will have the same benefit. Any of the manufacturers best risers will take the archer up to the 650 level. It is really only scoring at that level that one manufacturer’s riser will suit an archer better than another.

The “500 point” he is referring to is a score in the Olympic Ranking Round (72 arrows shot at 70 m at a 122 cm target face, 720 points possible). The 650 level is an internationally competitive level and he is saying that only when you are that good can you tell the difference between one high quality bow and another.

So, basically, you can go a couple of routes. You can stick with what you have and make adjustments (see below) or you can upgrade to a near top-tier bow (used high quality risers are much cheaper than new). You don’t really need to worry about nuances until you are shooting very, very well. I also add that the very top-tier bows require elite expertise to shoot them well and are to be avoided until you reach that level. (Some students get carried away with a credit card.)

If you decide to keep going with what you have, the same basic considerations are involved: how does the bow feel and how does it shoot? The feel is determined by the weight of the bow (which can be adjusted by adding stabilizer weights or weights screwed directly to the riser, and the grip section. Grips can be purchased to replace the grip on your bow or, if that is not possible, the grip that is on your bow now can be modified (using polyester auto body fillers, tape, etc.—see photos). You may want to experiment with adjustments to both of these to get a better idea in your mind what you want from your bow—some prefer heavier bows, some lighter. If you prefer lighter, don’t buy a heavy riser, etc. I spend a great deal of time sanding and taping grips so they feel right in my hand.taped-grip

Also, if you are shooting with others and someone has a bow with a draw weight you can handle, it is acceptable to ask them to try their bow. It is also acceptable for them to say “no” to your request and you must not take this personally. If you do get a chance to try other bows, be sure to use your sling! Dropping someone’s bow on the floor or ground is not a good way to make friends.

jager-grips-high-med-lowSome bows fit me like a glove. Others are uncomfortable no matter what I do (too heavy, too front heavy, etc.). Trying a selection of bows will educate you as to what you like and do not like.

Evaluating whether you can shoot a bow well can only happen after you buy one because you have to tune it in, shoot it until you are comfortable, and then shoot some practice rounds to see if it at least scores as well as your old bow. (If it doesn’t, no matter how hard you try, it goes up on eBay to get enough money to buy another.)

I suspect you wanted me to say “Buy a Hoyt” or some such, but it is not the case. I heard Coach Kim of Korea ask in a seminar at the Olympic Training Center in California “Who make best bow?” When we were confused as to what he was asking, he followed with “Hoyt make best bow” which we were a little shocked at. Then he chuckled and pointed to himself and said “Hoyt dealer for all of Korea! Ha, ha!” He went on to say, “bow doesn’t really matter.” An archer who shot a 1340 FITA Round, would be given a new bow and when tuned in and comfortable, he would be shooting 1340 FITA rounds with it. “It is archer, not bow,” emphasized Coach Kim.

Having said that, there are personal preferences and Coach Kim was comparing top drawer bows from elite manufacturers. There are differences between bows but the best bows made by the major manufacturers are all capable of supporting world record scores, if the archer is capable. And as Simon mentioned above, you are not going to be able to even notice the differences between one high-end bow and another until you have reach quite a high level of expertise.

Also, you can go piecemeal on this. Buy limbs first or riser first, then the other later. (Buying better limbs will affect performance much more than buying a better riser.)

Buying a new bow is something I recommend to archers who a) have settled on a draw weight (have you?) and have reached a plateau in their performance (have you?). The only “need” of a new bow is when the bow you have is limiting your performance somehow. Buying good limbs is quite expensive and after you do if you decide you need a different weight limb, you have just spend a wad of money on a short-term use of the first limbs you bought. If you are still trying out different draw weights, I recommend you stick with limbs like those available for the SF Premium risers.

 

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