Tag Archives: Tuning

A Problem with Right Fliers

We are trying to find helpful ideas for you to pursue “Archery in a Time of Pandemic.” (We will be publishing a number of articles in Archery Focus to this end.) Since I have not been able to meet with archery students I have offered them free remote coaching and one of my newer students has taken me up on this offer. The issue we are dealing with is fairly often right fliers being shot. The archer is right-handed and shoots Olympic Recurve.

We had previously addressed things like centershot issues, form and execution issues, and arrow spine issues and are still exploring those things but I came up with another possible source of such a problem while watching Jake Kaminski’s new YouTube series on tuning Olympic Recurve bows. Here is what I sent my student. (Please realize that I can only see his bow and arrow spreads in pictures.)

* * *

I have been watching Jake Kaminski’s tuning series and he made a point I hadn’t thought of before which could be causing your rightitis—limb alignment . . . or rather, limb misalignment.

Many people do not know why adjustable limb pockets were created, but it was because the only recourse we had before they were available was to send our bows back to the manufacturer, who got tired of adjusting misaligned limbs and replacing malformed risers. So, they made the adjustable limb pockets so people could fix their own damned bows . . . and thereby created a whole new class of misalignments.

Now, almost all take down recurve bows have adjustable limb pockets and one problem this allows is this: the top limb points a little to left and the bottom limb also a bit left. Now the bowstring, which can still be eyeballed to line up with the center of the riser is actually parallel left of where it should be. This means the bowstring is moving toward the left of center of the bow and that throws the arrows off to the right . . . well it predisposes them to do so anyway. A particular kind of poor loose makes for a way right arrow, a loose not so bad results in one that is just slightly right, that is ordinarily correct by a slight windage adjustment of the bow sight. So . . . spot, spot, spot, spot, right flier, spot. Kind of what you have been getting.

Checking whether this is the case is not so easy. It is easiest done if you have a large flat surface, such as a quality ping pong table. If the bow lays flat on that surface, bingo! You lay the bow flat on the surface and then measure how far the string is up from that surface. Then you flip it over and do it again. If the bowstring is in the central plane of the bow, the same tabletop to string measurement should be had (this is the desired state).

Just thought you’d want to know. (I did mention that there is always more than one cause for every effect, did I not? :o)

I do hope you are fairing well.

Steve

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Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows, Part 3

Helping Them with More Advanced Tuning

When your archers have mastered basic tuning, they often are curious about more advanced tuning. Let’s jump to the end of the line to look at the Cadillac, no the Rolls-Royce, of tuning: group tuning.

Preliminaries to Group Tuning
This is something an archer shouldn’t undertake unless they have reached a stage where they are consistently grouping well at all distances they are competing in. Since this process is quite laborious, to attempt it before the preliminaries are in place will be a great waste of time. So, this is not for beginners or even intermediate archers.

What Group Tuning Accomplishes
There is a short list of things that group tuning accomplishes. In the early stages it confirms the quality of the tune at all of the competing distances. Later, it is used to expose very small improvements that can be extracted from an archer’s equipment.

Getting Started—Proportional Group Sizes
If a your or your student’s bow and your arrows are tuned well, then consistent groups should be possible and observed. And because arrows are fairly simple projectiles they should show some consistent behavior, one of which is that the sizes of the groups should be proportional to the distances shot.

For example, if your archer shoots three dozen arrows at 30 meters and the diameter of the group is 20 centimeters. If that process were to be shot at double the distance, 60 meters, the diameter of the group should also double, so the group should be 40 centimeters across/high. At triple the distance, you should get groups three times as large, etc. Of course, this is on a windless day with no other influences upon the archer.

So, other than the archer, why might one not get proportional groups? Two common problems are excessive drag and clearance issues. If the arrows themselves have excessive drag associated with them (often this is attributed to poor fletching but it would have to be really, really poor to be the main cause because the drag associated with the shaft is far, far greater than of the fletches), the excessive drag will slow the arrows rapidly and as their speed is lost, the arrows become less stable and groups expand. If this is the case, the grouping at longer distances will be larger than expected. Clearance issues are issues in which the arrow, as it is leaving the bow, strikes something on its way out. That something can be a fletch or even the arrow itself. The thing it hits can be the riser or the arrow rest. It can even be the string dragging on the archer’s chin as the shot is loosed. These issues cause unstable arrow flight from the beginning, which the fletches can damp out over time. This results in groups at the closer distance being bigger than expected when compared with the sizes of the groups at longer distances.

Testing for Proportional Group Sizes A perfect place to do this is the practice butts of a field range because there are almost always a wide choice of target distances already set up. If you are at a target range, you will have to set up targets at the distances your student will be shooting. You will need three, better four, target distances and it makes things simpler if you choose easy multiples of the smaller distance, e.g. 20, 40, 60, 80 yards/meters or 15, 30, 45, 60 yards/meters. You can do it at any four distances, but then you will have to do some math. It is also easier if you use the same size target face.

The process is to shoot enough arrows to establish a reliable group size (you can disregard obvious mistakes). You can determine the group sizes either from the rings on the target (use decimal scoring) or by wrapping a string around the arrows and measuring the length of the wrapping string (a rough circumference of the group). Obviously if you don’t have many arrows, you will need to shoot a number of ends and the string technique is a bit messy (if you have four groups of six arrows, you will have four circumferences and you can just average those). The circumference or diameter (width/height) of round groups are direct measures of “group size.”

It is best if all of the arrows are shot on the same day so that the same conditions exist as well as the archer being whatever they were on that day (no day-to-day variations in mood or physical ability).

Making the Comparisons If you were able to pick four easy distances (20, 40, 60, 80 yards or meters) then the groups sizes should line up as well. The smallest one should be able to be multiplied by 2X, 3X, and 4X to get the other three (or close enough). Do not expect these to be exact. The 40 group size might be exactly half of the 80 with the 60 exactly half way in between, but the 20 group size is off. If so, this means that either the test was a bit iffy (you can just repeat that distance to confirm the number) or you may have a clearance problem.

You may have to do this a number of times to get a set of group sizes you feel good about and are “believable” as to what they are telling you. But when you have done this, you will feel that you have a good idea of what your expected group sizes are at those distances (you will know what is “normal” for you).

And That Was the Easy Part
The basic group testing is to make sure that there aren’t any glaring problems with your setup or tune. Once that is done we can get into fine tuning.

To fine tune your bow-arrow system by group testing, the procedure is the same for nocking point height adjustments and centershot adjustments, even button pressure adjustments. You establish a repeatable group size at one of the longer distances in your “suite.” Then you make a minute change in one of the variables, for example, a 1/32ʺ (0.5 mm) change in nocking point position, and then you check the group size again. Another little change, another test, and so on. You are looking for the group size to shrink when it hits a sweet spot. Obviously you need to test changes both up and down in the nocking point, testing each change. After, say, making four 1/32ʺ downward changes in your nocking point, you need to go back to normal and try making upward changes. Ideally we would see the group sizes shrink and then go back up in size around the “sweet spot.” But we don’t know exactly where we are in that scenario, so we have to feel our way along. And, “ideally” doesn’t come around very often, so we take the best we can get.

Clearly this is laborious and should only be undertaken when your archer has settled form and a settled draw weight and a settled draw length. If your student is still growing, don’t do it. If they are thinking about changing bows, don’t do it.

There Just Has to Be Something Easier!
There are quite a number of intermediate tests that are substantially easier to perform, but are not as fine. We will cover a couple of these next time: Shooting at Vertical and Horizontal Tapes and French or “Walk-Back” Tuning.

 

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Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows

I have been very busy getting out some new books (more on those later), so I kind of fell behind in my posting, so this is the first of a series of three posts on the same topic, in an effort to catch up. Steve

Of all of the minefields in archery equipment, the absolute worst is arrows. Many archers with decades of experience seem not to know the basics of arrow selection and tuning. This is why you will be called upon, often, to help serious new archers in getting new arrows.

New Arrows
When archers become serious about the sport, they are often improving at a rapid pace. Part of that improvement involves draw weight increases and also draw length changes, even if they are not still growing (developing form generally leads to a different draw length). All of these changes will eventually require a different arrow, how different depends on a great many things, things like the student’s budget for archery gear, the student’s competition venues (indoor and outdoor archery have different requirements as do 3-D and target).

When changing from one type of arrow (say aluminum shafted ones) to another type (all carbon or aluminum-carbon) is basically like starting from scratch. There is a long list of information needed to make any arrow purchase. Here’s a list:

  • What kind of bow do you shoot (recurve, compound, longbow)? If it is a compound, what kind of eccentrics are on the bow (high, medium, or low energy)?
  • What is the draw weight of your bow at your draw length? If it is a compound, they want to know the “peak weight.”
  • What is your draw length?
  • What shaft manufacturer do you want your shafts from?
  • What size shaft?
  • What “cut length” for those shafts (how long do you want them to be)?
  • What kind of arrow points do you want installed?
  • What weight of arrow points do you want?
  • What kind and size of nocks do you want?
  • What color nocks do you want?
  • What manufacturer and kind of fletches do you want?
  • What size and color of fletches do you want?

And, if you order wrong, the sellers are under no obligation to take them back. The error is yours, not theirs. This is not an impossible task, but you will need help. Everyone needs help from time to time, even us.

If you have a high quality archery shop in your neighborhood to send your students to, they can solve most of these things for you. They can show them all of their choices and then can build the arrows you need. Be sure to have them take their bow along because some things need to be measured.

They Will Need Help
Even if there is a quality shop nearby, there are still myriad problems. Have you seen how many arrow shaft makers there are? How familiar are you with them?

We have a base set of manufacturers we recommend as we have experience in working with those shafts and can thereby help more effectively. Of course, if a special deal shows up on another brand, those are always worth considering but caution is always needed in that case.

We have an entire process when fitting students for a new bow (Bowfitting) or new arrows (Arrowfitting) which we have written about before. We use a form and fill in all of the information above as we go (not necessarily the colors). This involves measuring their draw length and draw weight, and determining whether these are going to change in the future and by how much.

We do this and encourage our students to get archery catalogs from online retailers, like Lancaster Archery Supply, so they can look things up and educate themselves. They can also go online and check out the retailers there. If you do have a good local shop, we urge you to recommend them, even if they do not have the best prices your students can find scouring the Internet. They have something to offset the best price and that is personal service. You get very little of that, or none, when buying remotely. And, basically, if enough of you do not support your local shop, it will cease to exist and you will not have that option any more. Of course, if they provide poor service and outrageous pricing, they do not deserve your student’s patronage. As coaches when we refer students to shops, we follow up and ask if they felt they were well-served. If not, we stop making recommendations of that shop. We also suggest you go to the shop, if you haven’t already, and introduce yourself and see what they can offer your students. Some shops specialize in serving bowhunters, many fewer specialize in serving target archers, a few try to do both. Many owners are quite cooperative and will work with you to stock a few things commonly needed or to make things easier to order for your students. Some even have specialist employees that you can direct your students to when they visit the shop.

If they cannot manage to get arrows custom made, someone will have to assemble them. You will probably be called upon to do this many times for many students, if you have the skills involved, but we suggest you also teach them how to do this for themselves. It doesn’t require much equipment or skill, just some practice and a few supplies and tools. And they will be able to do repairs for themselves and possibly make their own “new” arrows in the future.

Tuning Them In
Tuning arrows to an archer and his/her bow is making minute adjustments to the arrows so that they perform as well as can be. This is where being able to assemble arrows, at least in part, is very valuable. The most important tuning parameter for any arrows is shaft length. The basic tuning procedure for new arrows involves buying the arrows or shafts full length and then cutting them in stages until they perform as well as can be. We will address that in the next issue.

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The Bare Shaft Planing Test Had Two Fathers (At Least)

Actually I am guessing more than two, but the modern test seems to have had two.

Max Hamilton (1963) And the Basic Test
A gentleman named Max Hamilton is credited with having invented the basic test. This test is to shoot bare shafts (only) into a target about two paces away. The first thing to look for is are the arrows straight into the target or are the nocks high or low. In the nock high case, one concludes that the nocking point of the arrow on the string is too high; in the nock low result, the nocking point is too low. The nocking point is adjusted and the test repeated until the nocks are level with the shafts.

Then one examines whether the arrows kick left or right (if they do, this is ignored until the nocking point position is corrected). If the nocks of the bare shafts are to the right, this indicates that the arrows are too stiff for the bow, if the nocks are leaning to the left, the arrows are too weak.

Today we have a great many ways of adjusting the bows to make a spine match and get the bare shafts flying straight from the bow. Back then the options were more limited. (I know people who sanded wood arrows to make them less stiff!)

Obviously, if the bare shafts are leaving the bow in a “straight” orientation, there is less for the fletches to correct.

Ed Eliason (1960s?) And the Modern Test
The modern test is attributed to Ed Eliason, one of the U.S.’s most accomplished archers.

This is the test we are all familiar with. At short distance (< five paces) three fletched and two bare shafts are shot. We look to see that the fletched shafts grouped and the bare shafts grouped. If they did not, then that test is scrapped and a “do over” is in order.

The test is interpreted according to the relative positions of the two groups. If the bare shafts are higher or lower than the fletched, the nocking point position needs adjusting. This is always done first. If the bare shafts hit to the right or left of the fletched group, then the arrows are too stiff (left) or too weak (right). (Note These are all for right-handed archers. If your archer is left-handed, you need to switch all lefts and rights.) Shafts that are just a tad too stiff or too weak may be able to be adjusted using cushion button pressure. If they are more than that, almost all modern bows have adjustable limb pockets that allow for draw weight changes (too stiff arrows need more draw weight, etc.). Arrows can adjusted, too. They can be cut shorter to stiffen them, for example.

More Than Two Inventors?
The reason that I think there were more than two people whose fingerprints are on this bow-arrow test is I have read and heard considerable information from trad shooters who describe tuning by shooting arrows into loose piles of dirt or sand. They were looking for the arrows entering the pile straight. If the nocks kicked left, right, high, or low, they made adjustments.

Adjustments to all wood bows involved sanding/scraping the limbs to drop the bow’s draw weight, cutting the limbs off a bit to raise the draw weight, changing the brace height, sanding the arrows to make them less stiff, I even know an archer who added layers of arrow lacquer to his arrows to make them heavier.

Since these “tests” of the bow-arrow system go quite far back in time, and are known today, I suspect they were background knowledge for people like Max and Ed. Before these “modern” tuning tests were invented, what did people do to tune their bows? I have to assume they did something. And that the “something” was informed by what people did in their past.

 

 

 

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Monkey See, Monkey Do, Part ?

There is an American idiom that goes “monkey see, monkey do.” This is a common comment coming from parents trying to protect their children from copying their children’s peers who do stupid/dangerous things. The idiom basically claims that simple copying is what animals do (comical animals in the minds of children) even though humans do it more.

I have used this phrase myself when describing the main approach archers and coaches have when transmitted fundamental knowledge about archery. We basically copy what successful archers have done. I have used this story in the past as an example of this and it bears repeating: an archer attended the Vegas shoot, but having a rash or something on his bow hand, he shot using a glove to protect his skin. He did very well and when he showed up the next year to the same shoot, he saw several people wearing gloves on their bow hands. He, of course, did not have such a glove as his malady had been cured.

Since we do not know what the source of archery success is, we tend to copy what the “winners” do. My question is: can’t we do better?

This topic came up with a question regarding why various string releases were not being used in Olympic Recurve competition. Why does no one use a thumb release, for example? Part of this, I am sure, is because most of us do not like being singled out as being different. The exception, however, is if one does very well being different. The best example I can think of was Dick Fosbury, a world-class high jumper. Fosbury was almost a circus show because while everyone (and I mean everyone) performed the high jump belly down (in what was called the Western Roll), Fosbury went over the bar on his back! What a maroon! What an idiot! And then he started winning and winning and winning, eventually becoming a stirring Olympic champion (1968 Mexico) causing people to chant for him as he performed. Now, everyone (and I mean everyone) uses the Fosbury Flop or some slight variant of that.

In the case of the Fosbury flop, university researchers studied it and showed it to be a superior form (as it caused the elevation of the jumper’s center of gravity to be lower, actually going under the bar as the jumper went over).

This kind of confirmation is what is missing in our sport. And it doesn’t need to continue this way. We have an Olympic governing body (USA Archery) and a number of other very strong archery associations. How hard would it be to have those bodies create a research program? There are colleges and universities galore around this country. Those institutions have psychology departments (to study clicker panic/target panic/gold fever), engineering departments (to study bows, arrows, tunings, etc.), physics departments, physiology departments, even some sport science departments. Each of these departments has graduate students and undergraduates looking for research projects. Could we not approach these departments with these questions we want answered? Could we not offer some form of funding to support that research (the Easton Sports Development Foundation has been very forthcoming there)? I mean how hard could it be?

As just one example of such a question I give you string finger pressures. I have read in quite a number of books what fractions of the pressure the three fingers should have on the bow string. These are usually given as a set of percentages, e.g. 30%, 50%, 20% on top, middle, and bottom fingers. So, I ask you. Have these been measured or are they just guesses? <Jeopardy music plays in the background> They are just guesses. As far as I can tell, they have never been measured. (I have tried three times to come up with a scheme for doing so and have not pulled that off, probably because I do not know what I am doing.)

Wouldn’t this be a lovely project for a college science or engineering student? Come up with a tab that reports finger pressures on the string. Have a number of archers use the device to see what we can see. A second level experiment might be to give an elite archer feedback from the device to see if that will help them be more consistent. Another would . . . well, I think you get the idea.

Being somewhat cynical, I suspect that we will see “monkey see, monkey do” for some time yet . . . until some enterprising country who is heavily invested in, say, Olympic archery (Korea? France?) decides to pursue a research program to discern what works from what doesn’t and why. Then we will see a stampede of other countries following suit . . . but only if the experimenters are successful, because we will still be committed to “monkey see, monkey do.”

 

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Working on “The Real Problem”

I had a fairly full day of lessons yesterday and a couple of things came up that were instructive that I will share with you.

In one case I had a very frustrated Recurve student who has been shooting well of late, but recently has had a problem with fliers, even clusters of fliers. By this I mean while putting most of his arrows in the gold, suddenly putting an arrow in the blue or black. Sometimes as many as three arrows in a six arrow end were such “fliers.”

“What am I doing wrong?” he wanted to know.

We talked a bit to find out how his shots felt and he said they all felt the same. He also said his tune was “good” and that the environments he had been shooting in were not the cause (wind, etc.). So, I asked “What do you think you were doing differently on the ‘bad shots’?” and he said “Nothing.”

I agreed.

So, before I continue, put on your coaching hat and think on what you think was wrong. I’ll wait.

* * *

Got it figured out?

Here are my thoughts. Please note that I am never sure of any diagnosis. I consider each situation a trail I am trying to sniff out, just finding a direction to go in first, all the while looking for confirmation or at least some response to the changes I recommend be made. (As a former college teacher, I used to joke with colleagues that we were being paid to look and sound like we knew what we were talking about. I do not want to give you the impression that I am some sort of tuning guru.)

Part of my diagnosis was due to knowing my student well enough to know that he was a “blame himself first” person. He took responsibility for everything. Taking responsibility is good but with regard to missed shots, there are three potential clusters of reasons: the environment (wind, twigs in the flight path of your arrow (field archery), hummingbirds (it happens), etc.), your equipment, and you. The key point is that if you do not find the right cause of the problem, anything you do will not only not solve the problem, it will probably make it worse. For example, if you have a form problem and you keep buying new equipment to solve it, well you ain’t gonna solve it.

In this case, I felt the most likely cause of the problem was that he had a “critical tune.” This is a bit of jargon that isn’t easy to explain (but I will try). Consider the variable of bow draw weight. For a given arrow, if you start at a “too low” draw weight you will get poor results, indicated by group sizes or positions, say. If you then incrementally increase the draw weight in steps of a pound or two, and continue to test for group size, you will get better results, better results, better results, and eventually poorer results, then even poorer results. If you were to graph these results you would see a line in the profile of a hill. The line would go up, up, up, then flatten out somewhat and then go down, down, down. At the middle of the top of the mesa just described, you will have the optimum draw weight for this combination of bow-arrow-archer. We call that a spine match (changing the power of the bow to match the spine of the arrow). Tune charts suggest that the top of the plateau of the draw weight “hill” is about five pounds wide (approximately!).

A tuning space graph, this one for brace height. In any tuning space variable, you may have more than one “peak” you can tune onto. To get to the highest peak (best performance) it is important to always start tuning from a well set up bow (set everything back to manufacturer’s specifications).

Now there are a lot more variables in the tune of a recurve bow than just draw weight. If you combine all of the variables into one graph (what I call a “tuning space” graph) what we want is a hill with a flat spot on top and we want a tune that is right in the middle of that flat spot. This provides the most “forgiving” tune we can make. The term forgiving refers to your setup’s ability to tolerate variations in your shot and still produce good results. We are not talking about “mistakes” here, mistakes are things done wrong that you could have done right. The variations involved in normal shooting are the quite small differences from shot to shot, simply because we are not robots. Even if you shoot an excellent group, in that group some of the arrows are higher that others, some are more to the left, right, down, etc. If you shot them all the exact same way and the arrows were perfectly matched, each shot would have broken the arrow of the previous shot and archery would be very, very expensive. We all make shots that are almost the same but not quite the same. The range of the variations starts out large when we are beginners and gets smaller as we become more expert, but they never disappear into some form of perfection.

A “critical tune” is a tune where you are not in the middle of the flat spot of the hill in your tuning space graph, but when you are right on the edge of the flat spot. With this tune if you make a variation that pushes you back toward the middle of the flat spot, well, no harm, no foul. But if you make a mistake the other way, a flier is the result. Think of this as walking along the edge of a cliff. If you trip and fall away from the edge, there is no problem, If you trip and fall over the edge … ahhhhhhh!

So, if this student had a critical tune, what does one do?

Well, you could start by cutting arrows shorter or other drastic things, but I prefer to start with adjustments that can be put back and with small adjustments first, large adjustments later. The procedure is to make an adjustment to see if there is an affect.

My recommendation was for this student to shoot a ten arrow group and count the fliers/note the size of the group. Then I asked him to put a full turn onto his plunger/pressure button and test again, then another full turn, etc. What we were looking for was an effect, a change in group size, number of fliers. So, one turn on—no effect, two turns on—no effect, three turns on—no effect. So the button pressure was set back to where it was. (Because you often have to do something like this and then set it back, take notes!) Next he took a full turn off from his original setting and voila, better group, no fliers. He asked “What do we do now? Were we done?” I suggested that that whole turn (a large change, by the way—start with large changes and only go to smaller ones to refine a fairly good setting) that created better test results might be right next to another setting that would create even better results. One more turn and test, one more turn, etc. The idea was to find the flat spot in button pressure tuning space and try to get in the middle of it.

So, we found that spot and I told him he needed to shoot a bit at that setting before doing anything else. My student wanted to know what would be next if more “correction” was need. I suggested brace height tuning. The plunger button is probably the finest tuning adjustment you can make (I did check that the button was neither too weak or too strong, just but pushing on it several times with a finger). I have learned recently that brace height tuning is a great deal more useful than I thought. I was asked how to do that tuning and I told him that it was done the same way as with the button, shoot for a benchmark group and then add 8-10 twists to the bowstring and test again, then repeat. You are looking for a response. If things get worse, go back to where you started (take out all the twists put in) and then take out twists, test, repeat. Again, you are looking for that plateau or range of brace heights that give you the best results and then you want to be close to the middle of that “flat spot.” Once you find that happy middle ground, you can refine your brace height (or whatever) with smaller increments of change.

Happy student, happy coach!

At the core of this problem, though, was that this archer didn’t trust his assessment regarding his shooting. Everything felt well, but since the arrows hit in the wrong place, he must have done something wrong. He was not making mistakes! Just a subset of his normal variations were causing those shots to fall off the cliff of his tuning space hill. This, of course, gets compounded when you think it was because of something you did, so you begin trying slightly different approaches, which makes for greater variation, not less (you haven’t practiced your improvised new shot) and this results in more fliers and more frustration.

Oh, and please note that we are all tinkers and we will, with nary a thought, make adjustments on our bows: we change the plunger button setting, clicker position, we tweak the position of the peep site in our bowstring (compounders), we rotate the nocks on our arrows “by eye.” Often these usually unrecorded “tweaks” accumulate to being a quite different tune from the one you created so carefully during you tuning sessions. People even change arrows, thinking their tune “will hold.” It won’t.

If you need a resource for tuning procedures consider Modern Recurve Tuning, Second Ed.

* * *

Another student reminded me that archer form is a kind of closed system. Any change you make, has consequences elsewhere. In this Recurve student’s case, he had opened his stance a bit to get some of the tension out of his neck. He reported feeling more comfortable while shooting as a consequence.

The problem that comes from such changes is that anything you do with your stance should not have any effect on the arrangement of your shoulders, neck and head. If it does, you changed something else, too. In the case of the stance, when you open your stance, you are rotating your feet in the opposite direction you need to rotate your shoulders to get into good full draw position. The fact that the archer reported less neck strain simply meant that he wasn’t rotating his shoulders as far as he was previously, ergo his line was poorer (and his groups spread left-right accordingly).

If your feet are open and your shoulders need to be closed (10-12 degrees by my reckoning) then everything in between is pulling the shoulders the wrong way. To get a benefit from an open stance, a great deal of flexibility is needed.

Neck strain is a common complaint of Recurve archers. It is caused by having maximum draw force on your body at full draw, which means you benefit from the bracing that standard full draw position provides (which directs the forces involved down the lengths of basically incompressible bones). But this means we must get very close to our bows and therefore we need to turn our head farther than if we were shooting a compound bow, for instance.

The only solution of the neck strain problem is to create more range of motion (in both directions!) for the turning of your head. Since this involves neck vertebrae which are quite delicate, you should seek professional help regarding the stretching routines needed to accomplish this.

* * *

Both of these students are “of an age” and I am very impressed when older folks want to continue in the Olympic Recurve discipline. Of all of the archery disciplines it is the most physically demanding, requiring the greatest strength, stamina, and flexibility. Light weight, stiff carbon arrows really help. Dropping down from the draw weight shot as a youth, helps, but nobody beats Father Time. As we age we get weaker, have less stamina, and are less flexible. That so many older archers are still shooting this way is very impressive to me.

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How to Learn Archery

The standard approach to learning archery, or really any sport, is to establish a pattern of incremental improvement. Basically this is a “do good, then do better” approach. We teach archers good basic form, not elite archer form, and then we encourage them to make minor changes in their shot, checking to see if these are “improvements” or “just changes.”

These is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and I do not see that there is anything inherently wrong with it, but it does seem to be wrong to assume this is the only way to learn. There are basic weaknesses in this usual approach. A good example in archery is tuning. Tuning involves making small changes in how your bow and arrows are setup and then testing to see if the new setup is “better.” The problem with this approach is that you may end up with what is called a “false tune.” The approach of “a little bit, a little bit more, a tiny little bit more, oops, too much … back up a little” will find a local “best tune.” But is that the best tune available? This approach is a little like hiking while always moving uphill. You will eventually find yourself at a hill top, but there may be many taller hills nearby. You just had the misfortune of starting on the slopes of a shorter hill. Since it is very hard to get a wide angle view of the tuning landscape we have to resort to starting from a good starting point. In tuning, this is a well set up bow (as the manufacturer recommends, not as your bow has come to be). Trust me, if you start with a bad setup, you will only find bad tunes.

You can also fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be shooting well to learn (“do good, then do better”). Sometimes when you are shooting quite poorly, it is a good time to break down barriers to better shooting.

A way to get off of the “just a little bit of progress at a time train” is to do something really, really difficult, something you thought you (or your student) could not do. One example comes to mind: the thousand arrow challenge. A colleague, Tyler Benner, actually took this challenge and described it in detail in the book he wrote with Kisik Lee, Total Archery: Inside the Archer. Basically the idea is to start shooting arrows (blank bale) at sunrise and before you get to sunset, have shot 1000 arrows. If you have read his account, it is quite brutal. Even if you were to do it with a very light drawing bow, that is a lot of arrows. Even with volunteer arrow pullers/fetchers and a gallery rooting for you, this is very, very difficult. But … if you pull it off, things change for you. Never again will you feel like there is something in archery you cannot do. This is the big payoff.

How many times have you asked a student to do something and their response was “Oh, I can’t (or couldn’t) do that.” It is our out thoughts that get in our way much too often. Whenever some really difficult task is accomplished, it is often the case that rapid progress occurs thereafter. The “really difficult” task can’t be impossible or something that doesn’t get attained, although there are some people who are energized by simply trying something so hard no one expects them to accomplish it.

Such tasks are “doable” yet very, very difficult. We are most definitely not talking about hitting a target at some really far distance one time in 100 shots. Shoot enough arrows and you will hit something just by chance. For many archers this task is shooting a perfect score on a “gettable” round (one that people have already shot perfect scores on) but could be a round that people have almost shot a perfect score in competition and setting the goal of shooting one in practice. Or it might be a scoring level breakthrough (a score of 1400 on the 1440 FITA Round). This may seem like a small achievement, but for the archer who has never reached that point, it is significant. The key, though, is in the preparation and execution. You don’t just keep shooting that round until you get a perfect score, the goal is to always (almost always) get a perfect score or shoot at that level. When you have accomplished something like that, then you feel as if you can accomplish more and, just like a springboard, the accomplishment can launch your archer to new heights.

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What Letoff is Best for Target Archery?

Often as not these posts are stimulated by questions sent in by my students. In this case part of one question included this:

Remember those 65% cam letoff modules? I didn’t notice any difference so I put the original 75% ones back on after a few months. Since using my trainer with two tensions, I see the higher tension seems to go off easier. In addition, I’ve read the higher tension lets you hold on target better. I have noticed even with my stabilizer with different weights I don’t get as steady as I’d like or should be.

Many coaches not raised in the world of compound bows are a little baffled by the concept of letoff. Simple stated, the letoff is the percent of the peak draw weight of a compound bow that you lose getting to the holding weight. So, if you have a 50# peak draw weight compound, if it is designed with 50% letoff, you are holding 25 of those 50 pounds at full draw. If you have a 60% letoff bow, then you are holding 40% or 20#. If you have a 75% letoff bow you are holding 25% or 12.5 lbs.

So, why not 100% letoff, it sure would be easier holding?

In the early days of compound bows (Hint: the 1970’s) compound bows had 35-40% letoff at best. The archers choosing these bows were shooting 40 and 45 pound recurves, holding 40 and 45 pounds at full draw, so knocking off a third or more of that was quite a deal. Shortly thereafter letoff reached 50%, then 65%. When I got started in archery the Compound-Fingers archers were often shooting 50% letoff bows and the release shooters were shooting mostly 65% letoff bows. The difference between the two groups is understandable if you grasp that the fingers do not leave the bow string in a finger loose, the bow string pushes them out of the way on its path toward the bow. If there is very little tension on a bowstring at full draw, where the loose occurs, then there is little force to move the fingers out of the way, which means the string will move much more than we want it to in response to the force exerted on the fingers by the string (action-reaction). This makes for inconsistent wobbly releases.

Bow manufacturers have raised letoffs up to 75%, even 80% but these are not used much for target applications. They are mostly used by bowhunters who may have to wait at full draw for a deer to present itself, for example.

Target archers still need a bit more string tension for the reasons implied in the question and more. As more and more compound archers switched to using release aids, which make our releases so much cleaner, we tended to give back some of that full draw bowstring tension (high letoff = lower full draw string tension), trading it for comfort. The holding weight at full draw which creates the string tension is a force we exert on the bow that (a) makes the bow easier to hold up (as the draw arm is pulling up, somewhat, as well as back), (b) makes the bow easier to hold steady, and (c) gives a reasonably clean release.

In my student’s case, his bow has replaceable modules that attach to the cams that change the letoff from 65% to 75%. (Letoff is an element of design that varies slightly with draw weight and draw length and since those are adjustable, these numbers are approximate.) He is saying that with the 65% letoff modules installed (giving a slightly greater holding weight/bowstring tension at full draw), that the release goes off more crisply and that he seems to be able to hold steadier. He is quite right.

Many cam modules are adjustable to create a wide range of draw lengths. Some adjust the letoff.

Basically there has to be a happy spot in the middle of the letoff range, somewhere where the amount of resistance at full draw is not taxing yet the tension on the string is enough to facilitate a stable hold and release. For target Compound-Release archers this happy middle ground is currently around 65% letoff. As with all things of this type, this is not a dictum, it is just an indicator that the farther you get away from that number the less easy things get. As the letoff goes down (toward, say 50%) the holding weight goes up and so fatigue becomes a factor on long shooting days. If you are in very good shooting shape, this may actually be desirable. As the letoff goes up, the ability to hold steady goes down a little, but if you are rock solid steady, that may be an acceptable tradeoff. So some archers favor higher and some lower letoffs than what most archers do.

If you hear compound archers arguing over “what amount of letoff is best” realize that the discussion is probably pointless as what is best for one person may be quite different for another. It also depends on the application: bowhunting, target, field, 3-D. But compound archers, shooting more complicated mechanisms (bows), have more of an equipment focus than do recurve and traditional archers. Arguing over “what <fill in the blank> is the best …” seems to be a way to talk about their sport and stay engaged. I never pay those discussions/arguments much attention.

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Barebow, Barebow, Barebow

I just got an email from a viewer who had a boatload of questions about Barebow. (Hooray!) I love it when you send in your questions as it gives me ideas about what I should write about, so if you have them, please feel free to email them to me (ruis.steve@gmail.com).

Here’s Dieter’s questions:
So, the questions are:
• Does one have to close one eye when aiming off the point?
• My kind of split vision string- and face walking does work. However, did you come across someone who managed to combine the more “instinctive” split vision technique with aiming off the point brought right below the target without having to drastically alter button spring tension?
• Of course, I could decide for either technique. The benefit of split vision from 5 – 25 meters is, I do not need to crawl down the string and thus do not imbalance the bow. The other thing is losing accuracy on longer distances. I might also improve the closer distances aiming off the point.
• Maybe, my little problem is confusing. However, I’d be glad if you could share your experienced thoughts with me.
Best wishes, Dieter

* * *

And here are my attempts at answers! (Note I assume Dieter is referring to Barebow Recurve.)

  • Does one have to close one eye when aiming off the point?
    My opinion is that this is only necessary if there is a problem with keeping the off eye open. I, for example, shoot right-handed but am left-eye dominant. If I don’t half shut my off eye, I can end up with some bad misses. There are problems with shutting the eye completely (as with an “eye patch”) as this lowers the total amount of light coming into the eyes and therefore affects iris responses, etc. Eyelids allow some light it and people with glasses often resort to putting a strip of transparent tape over the off eye lens. This allows light in to an open eye but no clear image, so if the off eye “takes over” it will be easily noticed.
    This is the same whether you are aiming off the point and or using a sight.
  • … did you come across someone who managed to combine the more “instinctive” split vision technique with aiming off the point brought right below the target without having to drastically alter button spring tension? This is a very complex question. The “split vision” technique, as recommended by the likes of Howard Hill, is not really split vision as much as it is split attention. I am not a fan because while you are aiming that is the only time you are splitting your attention on what you are doing during an archery shot: you are attending to aiming and attending to completing the shot via swinging the draw elbow around, squeezing back muscles, or whatever. Splitting your aiming attention in two results in a three-way split in attention, something I am not a fan of. But then, I am a fan of whatever works, as long as we know what actually works, so if the “split vision technique really works for you, then go for it. (That you asked the question indicates it is not working well enough or under the circumstances you encounter.)
    Two topics are being addressed here in addition. One can aim off of the point several ways. The two primary ways are gap shooting (basically aiming off, with “gaps” being the amount of high or low aiming) and stringwalking. Since the grip of bow and sting do not vary when gap shooting, no adjustment of plunger tension is needed. However, when string walking, whenever the “crawl” (the distance down from the arrow the string is “gripped”) is changed, you are essentially de-tuning the bow. The draw length changes, the draw weight changes, the tiller changes, everything. These changes are small and successful Barebow Recurve stringwalkers focus heavily in finding a bow tune that represents a “happy medium compromise.” Usually, since the shorter distances are shorter and therefore easier (in field archery) they allow for a poorer tune there and set up for a better tune for the longer, and therefore harder, shots.

    Taking a crawl on a longbow.

    So, elite Barebow Recurve Archers who stringwalk have this unavoidable dilemma. Some use plunger adjustments at the extremes of their distances to help with this problem, so you are not wrong in doing that. The ultimate tune, though, for such an archer is one that doesn’t involve such adjustments, so these archers work on their arrows obsessively and their plungers to find a “no fiddling tune” if they can. If such plunger adjustments are required, you need to adjust your shot sequence to make sure that you add or subtract known numbers of turns on your plunger button and then take them off when no longer needed. Forgetting to do these things are mental mistakes that always lower scores, so eliminating the need to make such adjustments reduces the number of possible mental mistakes, which is a good thing … if you can pull it off.
    Sorry, for being so long winded on this one, but that’s the best I can do. Possibly more expert Barebow archers will chime in in the Comments.

  • Of course, I could decide for either technique. Yes, you can. There are some who insist that this technique is better than that technique. I have never seen a case in which this has been proven, unless you put up some form of standard technique against, say, standing with your back to the target. The entire reason we all shoot much the same way, with only minor differences, is that in the 60,000–70,000 year history of archery, the bow has taught us what works and what doesn’t. So, most of what you can find being currently recommended by archers and coaches works! That’s the good news. The bad news is “so does all of the other stuff.”And the only way you can tell “what works for you” is to try things out. Unfortunately, the things being tested against one another are so similar (they may feel really different, but they are not … to the point that onlookers may not notice that you have changed anything) that it takes many weeks of trying out the new thing to see if there is a real effect or not. There are very many things to try, and not enough time and effort to try them all, so you just have to pick.

    What I do know is this: the key factors are whether an archer has committed to a new/different technique and practiced it in and … in my not so humble opinion … simpler is better. If you try an aiming technique and it only works for shorter distances and you need another for longer distances, I would keep looking. What you want is a technique that is the same for all shots you take on a certain course, e.g. WA Field Unmarked shots are never longer than 50 m, WA target shots used to be longer (30-90 m for men) but now seem to have been shrunk down to just 50 m for target events. I would have separate bows set up for the two kinds of events. If I couldn’t afford two bows, I would have two bowstrings and two sets of bow settings for the two events. I might also, depending on budget, have two sets of arrows tuned for two different events. (Consider archer’s arrow choices for indoor and outdoor events as a model.) The gold standard for FITA Field Barebow archers shooting unmarked targets is a single anchor with a single set of crawls from 50 m on down to the shortest shot (don’t remember this … 5 m?).

    I prefer having a single technique for a single event. When I teach stringwalking, we start at close up, determining the archers point on target distance (POT) and then determining their set of crawls for distances inside that distance. Then we change from a high anchor to a low anchor and determine the new POT for that anchor (much farther out) and a set of crawls there, too. (Often the crawls are amazingly consistent, e.g. the same crawl for five meters closer than POT distance for both anchors, which makes memory mistakes less likely). What we hope is these two ranges overlap, covering all of the distances being shot. If they do not, instead of adding a third technique, we look to changing things like draw weight or slight changes in anchor hand position to get what is desired.

My rule of simplicity would rule out string walking as a tool for tackling a FITA Round, for example. There were/are only four distances. It is far easier to determine four points of aim for the four distances (if they are on target) than employ stringwalking with its detuning characteristics. But for a Field Round in which targets are placed at many different distances, having a different point of aim for each target is too cumbersome, there stringwalking shines. So, there are legitimate reasons for having a “bag of tricks” to employ for aiming at various kinds of events as “one size never fits all!”

I hope this helps more than it hinders!

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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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