Tag Archives: Traditional Archery

What is Instinctive Shooting?

If you hang around with traditional archers at all you will hear mention of instinctive shooting or instinctive aiming. Do you know what instinctive shooting is?

Basically, you simply focus on what you want to hit and shoot. It is the same as how you learned to hit free throws if you played basketball. You shot and shot and shot until it was second nature. Or as a baseball pitcher you learned to throw pitches over the plate for strikes.

I think the use of the word “instinctive” is a misnomer. An instinct is “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” If this style of shooting were instinctive it wouldn’t have to be learned,

I prefer to call this “subconscious shooting.” Your conscious mind is engaged in identifying the spot you want to hit and your subconscious mind is doing the rest.

In any case. This is a fun activity for students and experts. Use some target balls out on an open field. Throw them around and then see in your group can hit them. Great fun! Do realize that archery savants, like Howard Hill, could hit those balls every time, shooting one of his longbows, no matter how far you threw them. Now some claim that Mr. Hill actually used an aiming technique but, still, that is impressive.


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Before You Can (String) Walk, You Have to Learn to Crawl

One of the very best aiming techniques when eschewing sights is stringwalking. Basically, stringwalking is just hooking onto the string slightly below the arrow in order to shoot distances inside of your point-on-target distance (using ordinary point-of-aim technique).

So, if your three-finger-under string grip when your tab is touching the bottom of your arrow is, say, 40 m then moving down the string in small increments will allow you to shoot targets inside of 40 m using the same sight picture.

This is in contrast to gap shooting in which you must aim higher or lower than the center of the target on every shot not at the POT distance. In stringwalking, the sight picture is always the same.

Stringwalking works because when you draw and anchor gripping the string below the arrow somewhat, you are just rotating your bow so that the arrow is pointing slightly downward. Doing this de-tunes your bow, of course, so there are limits. As a rough estimate, a crawl past two inches below the arrow is fairly extreme.

The detuning is substantial which is why we “walk” down the string and not up (which is a much worse detune). As an example of the detuning, a recurve bow is usually set with its tiller to be one eighth to one quarter of an inch positive. If you are shooting three-fingers-under, it is more typical to be about 0˝ of tiller. This is difference in string grip has the effect of moving the center of pressure of the string grip down the width of your top finger. A crawl of 2˝ would be 2-3 times as much as that change in the string center of pressure, so tiller is going to be way off at that crawl. (What archery giveth with one hand, it taketh away . . .)

The Point of this Post
The message I want to give to you in this post is that you need to be very precise in setting your crawls. One would hope you would be accurate, too, but here I am talking about being precise.

Here is a series of photos showing me making a crawl. The first photo shows the initial placement of the my tap so that it is touching the arrow and the base of the tab is up against the string itself. This allows me to make sure the tab is in the same position each time.

I use the stitches on the tab to gauge how much of a crawl I am setting up but recent rule changes allow printed scales now (very limited printed scales). Once I have decided how much crawl I am taking, I then insert my thumb nail into the center serving in that location.

And this is where you need to be very careful. I have the bow, bowstring, and my head in the same position each time and I sight along the top of my thumbnail when I am setting that crawl distance. (“Be wery, wery careful . . . he, he, heh.” Elmer Fudd He may be a cartoon careful but that doesn’t make him wrong.)

Then the tab is slid down to the spot my fingernail is at and again, I am sighting along the top of my fingernail to make sure everything is consistently lined up.

From this point onward I have a 2-3˝ draw on the bow to keep my hands from slipping out of position (because if they do, it is “do over” time). You need to be ready to shoot as soon as your crawl is set.

I set my crawls down to the quarter of the length of a single stitch, which is less than a sixteenth of an inch/1 mm. That amount of crawl equates to just under two yards of distance on one of my bows . . . which is why you need to be precise. Consider how carefully sight shooters set their sight apertures. I ended up converting many of my “ten click sights,” sights whose “micro adjustment” made ten clicks per rotation (and a whole rotation wasn’t that much) when I discovered that at 90 meters by groups were centered on the nine-ring above the ten and one click adjustment cause my groups to be centered on the nine-ring below the ten. Those sights are now “twenty click sights.” (Actually the groups were 10-9-ish and I couldn’t get them to center on the ten ring. Gosh, I wish I could shoot that well again . . . truthfully, that period lasted only a little over a year when I was practicing up a storm.) Setting crawls is not as precise as setting a good sight aperture, so if you are at all sloppy, you are throwing away a fair amount of precision.

Addendum I mentioned “walking up the string” in passing, dismissing it somewhat but it isn’t entirely illogical. For example, if you have a young sight archer struggling to make distance, one easy fix is to swap his tab for an opposite handed one and have them shoot “two fingers over.” Yes, you read that right. The slot in the tab for the arrow for an “upside down opposite handed tab” is between the second and third fingers then. This grip moves the arrow down the width of the middle finger which is substantial. When I did this I got around an extra 10% cast (28% better when I shot three fingers over). What your archer will get depends.

This is just a stop gap measure your archer can take until he/she grows taller (longer DL) and/or stronger (higher DW) and it only costs about $10 for an off-handed tab. This is only needed for their longest distance and they can go back to their regular tab for all of the shorter ones.

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Traditional Archery in the N.Y. Times?

It isn’t often that archery makes it into major news organs but there is a lovely story about Turkish (Ottoman) traditional archery in today’s N.Y. Times: Caftans and Quivers: An Archery Competition 500 Years in the Making.

There is a pay wall, but you can also read up to ten articles for free, every month.


Photographs and Text by MONIQUE JAQUES

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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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Coaching Cheap Thrills

I just received a notice of another follower of this blog. (There I’ve told you there aren’t so many followers of this blog (there are 142 of you to date), if there were I would have turned off that notification long ago, otherwise one’s Inbox gets swamped.) The new follower is “rosecityarchery.” (Be still, my beating heart.) For those of you who don’t know Rose City Archery, it is the premier producer of wood target archery shafts and arrows. They may also produce the world’s best hunting shafts, but I cannot attest to that as I have never hunted with wood arrows.

Rose City Archery is located in Oregon and they claim to be the world’s largest wood arrow and shaft manufacturer. I have no way to verify that, so I take them at their word. They have been in business since the early 1930’s.

If you are interested in traditional archery and wood arrows, check out their web site and their blog (https://rosecityarchery.wordpress.com). You will find not only the highest quality products for sale, but also some high quality information about building them.

Also, there are a great many false claims made about wood arrows, such as they can’t be shot from compound bows safely, so that if you decide to “go wood” you will need to educate yourself. Traditional archery icon Dan Quillian wrote a series on such myths for Archery Focus magazine a while back (all back-issues are available for free with a subscription for the next six new issues).


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Should I use a Heavier Bow to Build Archery Strength

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I recall that you previously discussed using heavier limbs during practice and then lighter limbs during competition. How many pounds heavier should my practice limbs be?

* * *

Using a heavier bow to train with has been a practice technique for a long time. I recently read a very old treatise on archery from China which indicated that once an archer learned how to shoot well using a “light-drawing bow” they needed to train to be able to draw much heavier draw weights. Please note that their example of a light-drawing bow was one of roughly 60 pounds of draw. The heavier bows were 80 pounds and higher.

So, advantages of modern technology have changed things and the requirements of target archery have changed them again.

Ordinary archers in ancient historical (means “for which we have written records”) times were in essence artillerymen. These archers lobbed relatively heavy arrows into masses of men and animals in the expectation that they would hit something because there were so many “targets” all clumped together. The actual “marksman” was quite rare. The accounts of extreme marksmanship usually came from martial arts schools (which can be trusted to always tell the truth, right?).

Trad Recurve

Any bow can be used for this kind of training.

So, to address the question of training using a heavier bow.

This is not a regular thing. This is done to increase stamina or to build strength to support a heavier bow during regular shooting. The vast majority of your practice should be at the draw weight you compete in. This is because archery is a “feel” sport and the “feels” of the two bows are quite different.

Consider the example of a baseball player in the “on deck” circle preparing to bat during a game. They often use a heavier bat or add weights to their own bats which gets their muscles warmed up and makes their regular bat feel light in their hands. But before they approach the plate, they swing their normal bat several times, often trying to synchronize their swings with the pitcher’s pitches. Imagine what would happen if the batter took a heavier bat into batting practice and batted with nothing but it. When the game rolled around he would find his timing destroyed and he would be unable to hit at all.

The occasional use of a higher drawing bow to develop stamina and strength is advisable. So, you might do ten minutes of reversals with the heavier bow (always focused on having proper form) every other practice or during a fitness program supporting your archery. Something like that. You could go on a more extensive regimen to prepare for a draw weight increase (which are limited to 2# at a time for recurve archers so as to not destroy the form already learned). The draw weight should be something you can handle but noticeably heavier than you are used to, e.g. 5-10#.

The reason we draw such lighter weights today is that for target archery, we are shooting very small targets (and one designated beforehand), we are shooting a great many more arrows, and our arrows are considerably lighter than those of antiquity, plus our bows are more consistent. All of these factors favor shooting with a lower draw weight over a higher one.



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Tabs or Gloves (for Target Archers)?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
Why do a lot of hunters prefer to use gloves over a finger tab? Wouldn’t everyone benefit from a finger tab due to it creating a smoother release? Also, are there any Olympians who use gloves?

* * *

Many hunters who shoot with “fingers” (as opposed to with a release aid) prefer gloves over tabs as you can’t drop and lose a glove that is Velcroed or strapped to your hand. Shooting without finger protection, especially in cold weather, is not necessarily an option, so losing it is an expensive proposition as it may ruin an entire hunting trip.shooting glove

To reiterate the advantages of a tab over a glove for target archers, the three fingers used in the typical Mediterranean string grip are held together by a tab (so much so that many prefer a rigid metal tab body to shoot with). This encourages the three fingers acting together as a unit, giving a cleaner release of the bowstring. The fingers in a shooting glove are not so connected by the glove. Also, the tab surface, while flexible, is flat, as opposed to the rounded finger stalls of a shooting glove. This promotes a cleaner slide of the string off of the fingers. Well-used gloves also tend to show a deeper indentation where the string sits that creates a larger paradox during the loose of the string.

Regarding Olympians using gloves, the only case I am aware of was Michele Frangilli who used a glove and a tab at the 1996 Olympics, but he was fighting a bad case of target panic at the time, I believe. Other than that, I haven’t heard of any serious Olympian preferring a glove over a tab.


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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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Q&A How does arrow length affect the point on distance? Will a longer arrow increase the point on?

QandA logo

I got this question from “Ken” on the blog.

First Some Background
The “point-on-target distance” or “point on” for a barebow setup is an indicator of the power or “cast” of the bow-arrow combination. Powerful bows have longer point ons than weaker ones and heavier arrows result in closer point ons than lighter ones. Beware! There are a whole host of other factors that are involved. I give you the example of a compound archer who cranked his draw weight down by one whole turn on each limb and got an increase in point on! The reason was that the adjustment in draw weight, while making a less powerful bow, created a better spine match with the arrow, resulting in better energy transfer from bow to arrow (a greater % of the energy stored in the bow ended up in the arrow), offsetting the lower draw weight to create more cast and a farther point on.

So, point-on-target distance is determined by a great many factors: the question is about the effect of arrow length. Any such discussion has to occur assuming all of the other factors stay roughly the same, otherwise we will end up talking about those effects and not just the length of the arrows, so point weight, fletching, spine match with bow, all must be ceteris paribus. (How’s that for classy language? So, you don’t have to look it up, it means “all other things being equal or the same.”)

So, Now the Question
How does arrow length affect the point on distance? Will a longer arrow increase the point on?

Actually the reverse is true; a longer arrow will decrease point on. Here’s the reasoning: since the arrow is slanting upward (arrow nock is near the anchor point which is below the eye line, arrow point is on the eye line, (also called the line of sight), the longer the arrow, the lower one must hold the bow to get the arrow point onto the sight line (the eye is looking at the point of aim). Think about being at full draw with a normal arrow, lined up with a point of aim (POA), and then magically the arrow grows three inches. Since the arrow is slanted upward, the point goes outward from the bow and upward above the line of sight (since the behavior of the arrow is being held constant so it will fly in the same arc as the shorter one, you must lower the bow to bring the point down onto the line of sight. If the bow is held at a lower angle, the distance of trravel is reduced.

So, for an indoor setup, in which most bows have too much cast, one is left with either a POA on the floor or a large crawl if stringwalking. Many archers switch to a much longer, much stiffer arrow (about one spine group stiffer per extra inch of arrow). This gives a shootable arrow (with roughly the same dynamic spine as the shorter one) with a much higher POA (hopefully on the target or very near it) or smaller crawl. Some are so adept at this that they can create a point on equal to the target distance.

Outdoors the situation is the reverse; there is no such thing as “too much cast/bow power.” Since the targets mostly are farther away, you want a shorter arrow, correctly spined, and as light as possible to give a POA down near the target and not up in the trees.

The Short Answer
So, longer arrow, closer point on; shorter arrow, farther point on.


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Still Thinking Trad

In a recent post I wrote about getting into traditional archery, typically with either a longbow or a one piece recurve bow. Today I had a student on my team struggling a little with his bow setup. When you shoot “off the point,” you line your arrow point up with something in your field of view that gets your bow in position to shoot your arrow into target center. I had made the point over and over that: if you have a “good tune” your “point of aim” will be on a 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock line through the center of the target. Unfortunately my student’s POA was to the right of that line. This means that, since he is right-handed (and everything else was okay), that his arrows were a bit too stiff. Either the arrows needed to be made weaker or the bow had to be made stronger. Since he was shooting a compound bow, we put one more turn on each limb bolt (thus making the bow’s draw weight 1-2 pounds higher) and, voila, problem solved.

This is one of the advantages of compound bows, that they have a draw weight that is adjustable typically over a range that is 25-33% of the maximum peak weight. (They are now making ultra-adjustable bows that have mammoth draw weight ranges, like 5-70#!) But then I thought “You can’t do this with a trad bow, so how do you tune up a trad bow?”

Good question: how do you tune a traditional bow?

To change the draw weight of a traditional bow is no small task, although at one time it was common practice. Back when most longbows were “self bows” that is made of a single thickness of wood or possibly with a backing made of linen or leather or a different wood, bows were often shot a while and if the bow started to take a “set,” that is go from being straight when unstrung to being curved (also called “following the string”) they were often reconfigured. Since the bow taking a curved shape when unstrung lowers its draw weight, it needed a draw weight boost and the way this was done was to cut an inch or two off of each limb tip and have new nock grooves filed in. A little filing and sanding and voila, a new bow, shorter by 2-4˝ and more powerful. (The shorter a piece of wood, the harder it is to bend.)

This is almost impossible to do with a recurve as it messes up the shapes of the curves of the limbs.

Another thing that was done was the limbs could be scraped or sanded to make them slimmer which would result in a bow with a lower draw weight (permanently). You can’t do this with a laminated longbow (or recurve), as it will reduce just the outside laminations only, so they sanded the dges only, creating a limb with less material and thus weaker.

So, let me just say that changing the draw weight of a traditional bow is not a first option and sometimes not even an option at all.

So, how does one tune a traditional bow?

You can adjust two things: the bowstring itself and/or the length of the bowstring.

Tuning with Your Bowstring
In general you can change the length of the string you have and it will change the power of the bow. This is how it works. By adding twists to the string (10, 20, 30, more) you can make it shorter. Placing it back on the bow you will see that the bow is now more bent at brace than it was before and that the string is farther from the handle (the “brace height” is greater). What this means is that when the arrow is shot, the string will stop more quickly and the arrow will come off the string sooner. Since the longer the arrow is on the string, the more energy it absorbs from the bow, so:

shortening the string, raises the brace height and makes the bow weaker
lengthen the string, lowers the brace height and makes the bow stronger.

The effects are not huge but they are significant.

The other thing you can do is switch to a different string of the same length but of different composition. A string can be made heavier (making the bow weaker) or lighter (making the bow stronger) by changing the number of strands. An 18-strand string is 50% heavier than a 12-strand string of the same length and materials. The bow’s energy gets wasted moving the heavier string rather than moving the arrow, so a heavier string makes the bow appear weaker, etc.

And string material changes can make substantial (but not huge) differences. Most older bows use Dacron strings. Dacron, as a bowstring material, is quite “springy” and some of the bow’s energy goes into stretching it rather than into the arrow. The stretchiness also protects the bow when the limbs are slammed to a stop when the string stops them at the end of a shot. More modern bowstring materials have very little stretch in them and transmit almost all of that shock to the bow and the archer. Modern bows have been designed to handle this, older bows not so much. (Do not put a modern material bowstring on an older trad bow, you could break the bow. The new materials are also more abrasive and have been known to cut into unreinforced limb tip notches.)

So, if you have a modern bow with a Dacron string, you can make it slightly stronger by putting in a bowstring made of a modern material, such as Fast Flight (a polyethylene material).

Tuning with Your Arrows
Most of bow tuning is really done my adjusting the weight, inherent stiffness, and length of your arrows. This is true for all bows and is the major source of tuning adjustments for traditional bows.

Once you have bought the bow, fiddling with the bowstring only buys you a little variability. The majority of making a good bow-arrow-archer system is going to be made with adjustments to the arrows. So, be very careful about the bow you buy. I have been known to buy bows with specifications that suit the arrow I want to shoot, not the other way around. Your arrows are more important than your bow to you or the students you coach becoming consistently accurate.

If you are interested I will address the processes used to tune a trad bow. Let me know.


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