Archery: We Love It Most When We Earn It and other thoughts

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Archery, Articles, Unfocused Rambling

I’ve been shooting my bows quite a bit of late, and have some broad-spectrum thoughts to share. I’ll be staggering from one point to another like a drunken sailor, though, so hold on and hope I get to the point somewhere during the following blather.

As seen in a recent video, I sometimes shoot really fancy bows. I like ’em a lot. I admire their engineering, their efficiency, their ability to impart so much power into an arrow. That said, there’s an element of shooting compound bows that approaches traditional, firearm-based marksmanship in terms of predictability and ease. Sure, you’re always the engine behind a bow, no matter how technically complex, but if you can hold steady with the sight pin on the target at a known distance, you’ll hit it. It’s science.

A modern compound bow is perhaps the deadliest implement you can purchase without any interference from the government (in the USA, anyhow). It seems that masked bowmen have not recently held up the mini-mart, and thus we are not perceived as a threat. I’m glad of that, and hope it continues to be so. It’s nice that, unlike firearms, people can approach bows without the associated fear response. It’s kind of wonderful that you can stand next to your friend’s sister-in-law, who’s never shot anything before, and zip a few arrows into the target without any sense of nervousness. Yes, it’s possible to underestimate the danger of a bow, but only up until you’ve seen the arrow blast right through a phone book or other stout object. They’re quiet, not loud enough to bother a soul, and that allows us to stand at the shooting line and chat back and forth as we shoot. It allows us to shoot in our basements, if we’ve got a proper backstop (no, that old footstool isn’t a good option).

All this from a weapon (and yes, they are a weapon, in the final analysis) which is capable of harvesting any game animal on the planet. Yes, with a bow set up in the correct manner, a hunter can go after animals as large as moose, or even the large African plains animals. Is this necessary for the enjoyment of a bow? No. Not at all. I know many people who shoot but have no direct interest in hunting. I am one of those people. If the situation arose that I needed to procure food with a bow, I imagine that all the practice I do versus milk bottles and tin cans would stand me in decent stead.

What I am trying to say is this: a serious, powerful tool that can perform on par with many firearms can be enjoyed without all the distancing aspects such as painful recoil, noisy report, or that sense of fear that gun violence has instilled in our psyche. Bows are, by their nature, understandable and somewhat safe. When you pick up a bow, you don’t have to wonder if it is loaded or not. Shooting your eye out is nearly impossible. Of course, any dangerous implement can cause injury in the case of a lapse of judgement, but because WE supply the energy for a bow to operate, we are somehow cautioned by that input process.

All the standard safety protocols are still important, of course.

  • Never point a bow anywhere near a person.
  • Make sure that you know where your arrow will go, even if you should release it prematurely.
  • Have a safe backstop. This means one that is solid, will stop the arrow in no uncertain terms, and is big enough that even a severe miss will still be stopped. With a traditional bow you’re just getting used to, or with a compound bow that has some unforeseen misalignment, the arrow may actually diverge from your aim point by FEET. Better to have too much backstop than not enough. Consider putting the backstop in front of an even larger obstacle, like a barn or a grassy hill. If I somehow miss my backstop, I hit my garage, which will probably ruin an arrow. That’s a small price to pay to make sure you always feel secure about the arrows remaining within the shooting venue.
  • Never use a bow when your judgement has been impaired. This includes being tired or having taken some prescription medication that could dull your senses or inhibitions.
  • Never underestimate the deadliness of a bow, even one of light or “youth” draw weight. I can attest to the fact that, even with my little Snake bow, the arrows could still cause a serious, possibly deadly wound.
  • If in doubt, always aim low.
  • Avoid the old “aim at the sky” draw, as seen in archery movies. If you lose grip on the string and shoot from this position, the arrow might travel a hundred yards or more. That may be further than you’ve scouted, and put the arrow into a populace locale. Yes, that’s as bad as it sounds.
  • Try to avoid shooting on a surface that will be conducive to arrows skipping along the ground for an unknown distance (hardpan, gravel, concrete). Not only will these types of surfaces ruin your arrows on a miss, they’ll also allow arrows to escape to parts unknown. Anyone who has ever had an arrow disappear altogether can attest to how scary that phenomenon is. In most cases, the arrow simply buries itself in dirt or weeds, but you just don’t know.

If we’re smart and proactive about being safe with our bows, it’s an activity we can share with almost anyone. I will forever encourage anyone who likes shooting to have some sort of bow handy for visitors. To me, the ideal is to have a low draw weight, flexible draw length bow. Ideally, it will be ambidextrous, because some people prefer to shoot lefty. My vote is the PSE Snake, but there are other bows out there that will serve the same purpose.


Okay, on to what I was actually going to talk about, which is my love for traditional archery. Unlike the “science” of compound bows, it’s more of an art. An exacting art, one that asks us to do just exactly what we did last time…every time, but an art nonetheless. Just because we “have it” on one day, doesn’t mean that it’ll still work just-so the next time. It’s a continual process, like shooting pool, throwing darts, or writing poetry. You learn, you grow, but you have to pull it off each time, with no guarantee that you’ll be able to.

It can be infuriating, sure. On a bad day, I can be heard making bear-like noises in the back yard, possibly cursing. If there’s one bow I’m most likely to be cursing at, it’s the Sequoia, my longbow. Now, I’ve heard it said that a longbow is more forgiving of small form issues than a recurve. I believe that may be so for many examples of the longbow. Not mine. Comparatively, my recurves are much more forgiving. Once I get warmed up a bit, I usually more or less hit where I want to. At my current level of skill, and from the modest range I’m shooting, I can usually get most of my arrows into a dinner plate size area. There are days with the Snake when I can have a long string of successes. With the Blackhawk, I will often have quite good outings, where I’m consistently hitting.

With my recurves, it’s all about getting the right amount of cant in the bow to get the arrow on target, and then using the right “gap” between the arrow shaft and the objective. Especially when I’m jumping from bow to bow, it takes a little mental resetting, and it’s easy to start shooting as if you’re holding a different bow, which causes some issues.

Then there’s the Sequoia. It is my most accurate traditional bow. No questions asked. It is also my most frustrating, as it is super sensitive to small deviations in my form. If I do it JUST right, the arrow goes exactly where I’m looking. Even the smallest deviation can create a big miss, though. Whenever I’m sure that I’ve gotten over my difficulties with inconsistency, they’ll come back again. There have been days when I couldn’t seem to do anything right. There have been a few days when I felt like it was as easy as standing there and poking arrows into the target by hand.

And then there are days like yesterday, where I printed the best groups I’ve ever shot, as well as some real crappy ones. Even within a stand of arrows, I shot a few abysmal shots, swore the air blue, then proceeded to stack four or five arrows so close that the feathers were in danger, only then to have a shot fly poorly, then resume peppering the center of the target. That sort of all or nothing shooting just isn’t my experience with any other bow. If it’s a bad day, it’s a uniformly bad day. If I’m hitting, I may miss by a little, but there’s no radical disparity from shot to shot.  I have been so peeved with the Sequoia that I actually tossed it in the grass when it came time to retrieve a group of arrows that appeared to have no cohesive aiming point at all. It’s been the only bow I’ve actually “grounded”, not shooting it for weeks because I was so angry with its performance.

It may be that there’s some oddity of tuning that makes the bow so touchy, but I don’t know how to fix it. It’s shooting smoothly, and is dead-on when conditions are perfect. It has a Flemish Twist string that seems to work great. It has ample brace height, which is right about where the manufacturer says it should be. It is properly spined with the superb Easton Legacy arrows my mom bought me for my birthday. I’ve tried both split finger and three-under draw. Three-under is in all ways superior for this bow. Yesterday, in response to flat-bad performance, I just started trying things. Elbow position. Drawing harder with my ring finger. Whenever I feel like I’ve overcome this “no, I’ll put the arrow somewhere over there” syndrome, either with technique or with differing equipment, it comes back. I’ve worked hard trying to make it easy.

Yesterday, drawing “over the top”, with elbow as high as I could make it go, seemed to help. Even more, drawing to my cheek, just below the eye, helped a lot (I normally draw to the corner of my mouth). With this technique, I was hitting point of aim, actually putting arrows in danger. Most of the time. If I didn’t do it just right, though…boom, really bad shot.

Sometimes, we just want a fun, relaxing experience. We want to have a casual time shooting, and have some success. Nothing perfect, but predictable. The Sequoia hasn’t given me that, but I’m fascinated by it nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because it has that potential, that ability to be deadly accurate, if I’m clever enough to coax the performance out of the bow. If I hit, even if it looked as easy as breathing, it wasn’t. Any one of a hundred things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. That makes each bull’s eye terribly rewarding, and each big miss hurt like a yardstick across my knuckles. And that’s what keeps me coming back. If it were too easy, I’d move on to a bigger challenge. I’d take it for granted. Thus far, there’s not much chance of that. Even if I’m shooting damn near perfect, it could go all pear shaped on the very next round. When you decide to leave is often the difference between being the hero or the goat.

Hope you enjoyed my ramble for the day.

Happy Shooting!

  1. Bobby-T says:

    I was just outside shooting the Primal set up with the Gamegetters. I was spot on at 25 yards. The Primal seems to like the Gamegetters just as the Speed Zone seems to like the XX78 2216s. I was just reading a comment in thearchery section of North American Hunter about haw the Sequoia is particularly sensitive to how the bow is canted. The pro writing the article was saying that the Sequoia needs to be canted to the right for right-handed shooters or the arrows will fly left, but I’m sure you are aware of this. Perhaps the cant of the bow has to be drop-dead perfect as well as all the other variables. Keep shootin’ and enjoy life. Tell Chris & Cregg I said hi.

  2. Bob, my experience with the Sequoia is that it likes a very small amount of lean to the right, maybe eight or ten degrees at most. It is very sensitive to form changes. If you can get a “groove” going, it can really shoot great, but it’s easy to fall out of that groove.

    As to the arrow preference, there’s no question as to the fact that some bows just shoot better with certain spine/shaft size/weight combos. I would not be surprised to find that putting a heavier tip on the 2315s didn’t improve their flight with the Speed Zone. Over and above this is my greater fondness for the Primal, anyway. It does, after all, go with those black arrows with the G-Fade paint job…

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