Improve Your Game – How to aim a Barebow
In the second instalment from Tom Williams and Andrew Barham, we learn how you could aim a Barebow.
Styles of aiming
There are three, maybe four, definitive styles of aiming when shooting Barebow. Each one can be just as effective as the other, but some require more practice than the others and one in particular needs dedication and practice and faith in yourself and your subconscious to make work.
These methods are:
- String walking
- Face walking
- Gap shooting
- Instinctive shooting
String walking and gap shooting go hand in hand and are often combined with another method called face walking to be effective.
Instinctive is a very different story. Instinctive shooting is exactly that. It needs the archer to have faith that the arrow will go where they are aiming. This can only be achieved by shooting arrow after arrow at all distances. You will build muscle memory and develop an instinct for each distance. After time you will learn to feel the wind and atmospherics. You will look at the centre of the gold and try to put an Arrow there. After time you can repeat the shot again and again purely by trusting the feel of each shot.
That said, it is not for everyone.
Many people have been put off shooting instinctively because the results are not visible straight away and need to be refined after many, many hours of practice and frustration. It works for me because I have stubbornly stuck at it, confident that after time it would all begin to fall into place. After time I was able to see the results, this gave me confidence and the results began to perpetuate into greater and greater results.
I would be the first to admit that it takes a few arrows at each distance to find the middle, but shot repetition and muscle memory go a long way. Sadly, it is impossible to teach how to shoot this way. Proper form is vital! Then you know the flight of the arrow is true and the corrections needed to find the middle are purely down to where you are aiming, not down to the imperfections in your shot process! Then you rely on your subconscious to make the corrections while you continue to focus on the centre of the gold.
Sooner or later the two will correlate and you will be able to put the arrow where you are looking. But it takes a long time and a lot of devotion to achieve this. However, the level of satisfaction you get when you are able to do this and hold your own with other archers is second to none!
This leaves the most effective methods left to explain. There’s no denying, especially at closer distances, that string walking and gap shooting, and a combination of the two is nearly as accurate as the use of sights in the hands of an expert practitioner.
I suppose it goes without saying that aiming with Barebow is the aspect that will need the most time and practice. It is important to add that the better your shot process, the better and more effective your aim will be.
As opposed to Recurve, where your sight will get you near where you are aiming and your shot process will get you tighter and tighter groups. Barebow does not allow you to use a clicker to check your draw length, and this leaves your grouping very much depending on your own body and how you feel your way through the shot.
When aiming, you would be using the point of the arrow as your sight reference. Without a facility to check your draw length, although you would be placing the point in the same place each time if you have drawn further than before or not quite as far, could be the difference between gold and blue. Even a centimetre in either direction is enough to destroy your grouping. Finding your fullest draw is the best way to counter this.
You really need to be precise when coming to full draw.
Gap shooting is the simplest version. The gap is the distance above or below the gold. To find your “Gap” you should start pointing directly at the gold and release. If your arrow goes over the target or falls short, you should aim higher or lower until you find the target.
Once you find the target and get near the centre you have found your gap. This might well be on the target, but could well be off the target. If you are aiming underneath the target you will be aiming at the floor at the base of the stand. Maybe by the centre leg. This gives you a good reference to work with. If you find yourself aiming above the target you will probably find you can no longer see the target face. This is where you would introduce face walking to find your gap once again. We’ll get to face walking in a bit.
String walking is the most complex technique which most practitioners of Barebow try to use. In the hands of the best Barebow archers in the world, string walking is almost just as accurate using a sight. In fact, American Archer Grayson Partlowe decided to “have a play” with the UK Portsmouth Round, since they do not shoot anything like it there. They only shoot the WA18 round on the 40cm face. Grayson casually shot a 591 with a Barebow! This really put the skill of a good Barebow archer into perspective, and blew the minds of several great Recurvers!
As a string walker you are looking to get the point of your arrow over the centre of the target. This again is depending on what you prefer to see in your sight picture. Some prefer to see the arrow in the centre, surrounded perfectly all round by a particular colour. Depending on the diameter of your arrow. Others prefer to “Lollypop” the target.
This means having the top edge of the arrow just touching the bottom line of the gold. I wish I could take some photographs to illustrate this, but with the current Lockdown restrictions preventing us from going to our favourite place (the Archery Field) it is sadly impossible to do this. I hope you can understand what I mean from what I have written. It will all become clear when you begin to practice, I promise!
However, I have managed to get some images in order to illustrate the techniques of Stringwalking and face walking which will help to visualise what you need to do.
Fig. 1: This is Andy’s three-under Barebow Tab. You will notice the stitching on the leather and embossed writing on the metal plate. For Stringwalking you would use these markings to find the specific crawl on the string for whichever distance you plan to be shooting at. The best advice I was ever given for shooting in a field competition was to find your 30m mark. From there you can very quickly extrapolate your mark for further or closer targets with considerable accuracy. With practice, over time, you would be able to fine-tune these additional marks to be more precise.
Fig. 2: Here you see Andy finding his mark for 20yds. On this Tab, for Andy, his mark is next to the “B” of Barebow, or in the middle of the seventh stitch down. He would place his thumbnail on the string at the Point-On the tab where his ideal mark is, and slide the tab down so that the top of the tab is lined up with his thumbnail.
Fig. 3: This illustrates what I described in the previous photograph. You can see that Andy has now moved his tab down to his thumb which was indicated to him by the stitching on his tab. You will notice the gap between the tab and the nock of the arrow. This is the “Crawl” we have referred to up to now. In other words, you have “Crawled” down the string. The further down the string you crawl, the closer the target and your “point-on”.
Fig.4: Here you see Andy at anchor. The Nock of the Arrow is positioned directly under his eye, but his focus is on the centre of the target. He would be concentrating on the gold when coming up to anchor and slowly draws the arrow up toward the target. Andy’s technique is to release the arrow as soon as the top edge of the arrow touches the bottom of the gold. Other archers may hold onto the aim for as long as they can until they feel confident to release.
Fig. 5, 6 + 7: These Photos are to illustrate the principle of face walking. Face walking can be very useful for finding your point on at longer distances. Usually from 50 metres and above. Moving your anchor down your face from the corner of your mouth and changing your grip from three under to Mediterranean as you go can give many different options, especially if used in conjunction with Stringwalking. All these techniques need to be fooled around with. Each one works in its own way, but finding the right one takes time. However, once you have found the one that works for you at whichever distance you are aiming at, you will be amazed at the level of accuracy it offers you.
There are many publications and resources online that can give more in-depth information regarding the aspects I have mentioned here. There is so much more to tell, and this article here only barely scratches the surface! But with good basic form and solid, patient practice you will begin to find great satisfaction and joy from Barebow. Not only that, but join one of the friendliest, welcoming and helpful communities in the Archery world today!
Remember that this is an explanation from my point of view. You may speak to another Barebow archer who has a different view. You may find that you discover something else that I haven’t mentioned that would make all the difference to you. This is the great joy of Barebow! It is the single most unique and individual style of archery today, and one that is growing and expanding faster than you could possibly believe!
Welcome to the club!