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Aiming with the traditional bow

< Figure 1

In order to really hit a target as planned, certain conditions or influencing factors must be satisfied, writes Dietmar Vorderegger, world champion longbow archer and chief-editor of 3-D Bogensport. In his article he writes about aiming with a traditional bow – focusssing on the factors that effect shooting technique.

Especially in traditional archery, aiming is a recurrent hot topic. Hard-core traditionalists even view the concept of aiming as almost sacrilegious.
In the general sense, aiming is understood to mean that a shot or a throw is intended to hit something. So anyone who deliberately shoots at something with a bow has to aim. So it is perfectly clear that traditional archers – no matter what method they use – always have to aim. Aiming is therefore an umbrella term.

Anyone who uses an aiming aid such as a sight, scope, a pin sight or any other type of aid 'aims', even if he uses the tip of the arrow or some part of the bow to align the arrow with the target to hit it.

> Figure 2: System shooting with point of aim. Depending on the distance, the tip of the arrow is set above or below the actual target.

I will use the term 'aim' for all methods of aiming which are discussed below – even if system archers use the arrow or bow window to take aim and instinctive shooters do not use any device at all.

Factors which affect shooting
In order to really hit a target as planned, certain conditions or influencing factors must be satisfied.

< Figure 3: System shooting with the bow window – if the bow window is a parallel cut-out, an imaginary division of the window for different distances can be used. (The distances shown are merely illustrative.)

First there is the speed of the arrow when it is released. This is determined by the strength of the bow, the draw, the characteristics of the arrow and the release method.
The shooting direction is a further point. It is determined in the first place by the aiming technique. If an archer's technique is sound, the arrow will fly in the desired direction.

Lastly, the shooting angle is also important. This angle is determined in the first place by the aiming technique, regardless what that method is.
To hit the target you must therefore always shoot with the same speed, the same shooting technique and at the correct shooting angle. (See Figure 1).

There are several aiming techniques
I will present four aiming methods below. Three of them I regard as true aiming variants: system shooting, instinctive shooting and gap shooting. A fourth variant, split vision, I consider merely as an additional method, which I can combine with another method.

> Figure 4: Instinctive shooting – you simply look at the point you want to hit, point at it with your bow hand and shoot. The angle, ie the height of the bow hand, is adjusted automatically (unconsciously).

System shooting
A system archer is someone who uses the tip of the arrow or a specific point on the bow to aim at a previously determined point.

Point of aim - System shooting using the tip of the arrow
In this method the archer selects a point of aim on, above or below the target, depending on the distance. While the archer is taking aim, the tip of the arrow is positioned at exactly this point, and the actual target moves into the background.

The only problem is to estimate the distance. Firstly, this distance must be estimated correctly, and secondly for this distance the archer must know the exact gap above or below the point to be hit. (See Figure 2).

System shooting with the window
Using the bow window when aiming is a somewhat simpler method. In this method the window is divided into zones. In most cases, four zones should be enough. It is important for the bow window to be a parallel cut-out. (See Figure 3).

Instinctive shooting
An archer who looks only at the point he wants to hit and unconsciously sets the angle of his bow arm to the correct position is shooting instinctively.
First of all, instinctive shooting is a misleading term. It would be more accurate to call it unconscious shooting. And since it is not really about the shooting as such, but about aiming, the right expression would actually be 'unconscious aiming'. But is is not the description, it's the content that matters.

Actually, instinctive shooting means nothing more than leaving all the necessary actions to your subconscious. As far as possible, consciousness should not be involved. Instinctive shooting with a bow and arrow consists of shooting at exactly what you are looking at. You simply look at the point you want to hit, point at it with your bow hand and shoot. Shooting instinctively is nothing more than eye-hand coordination. This means that the eye sees and the brain controls the hand – unconsciously – to assume the right position. (See Figure 4)

Aiming with your brain
We can perform actions consciously or unconsciously. Our consciousness, however, allows us to perform only one action at a time – if we concentrate hard and practise, perhaps two actions simultaneously. That is exactly what instinctive shooting is all about. You have to repeat conscious actions often enough for them to become part of your unconscious. In this way a database is built up in your unconscious in which the right angle of the bow arm for every distance has been stored. A basic condition here is that the equipment, ie the bow and arrow, remain the same.

In instinctive shooting I therefore aim with my brain, or more exactly my subconscious. So the question that arises is: How do I get the data into the subconscious as fast as possible? You can use the trial and error method. But this takes a while. I would guess you would need two or three months, if you practise every day.

< Figure 5

How can one practise instinctive shooting?
A simple, but effective possibility is to shoot as many arrows as possible from all distances. You stand at eight metre, for example, and keep shooting until the height of the bow arm produces a hit. Then you stand back two metres and shoot the same way. You keep doing this until you reach your personal best shooting distance. (See Figure 5).

Gap Shooting
An archer who moves his bow arm up or down deliberately in order to correct the trajectory is a gap shooter. (See Figure 6).
The third way of aiming with a traditional bow is called gap shooting. The gap is the range between the tip of the arrow and the actual target. The focus is on the target, and at the same time on the range between the target and the tip of the arrow. To be precise, this is the trajectory of the arrow; so the intention here is to determine how high the bow arm, and therefore the arrow, must be held for the trajectory to approximately hit the target.

> Figure 6: Gap shooting – the hand is consciously adjusted to the possible trajectory.

Once again, I regularly find that many archers often do not realise that they are using this method of aiming. When asked about their aiming technique, they quite often – almost automatically – answer: "instinctively". When asked more closely, it is then found that they actually mean gap shooting. "I don't aim, I simply intuitively raise or lower my arm" is therefore equated with instinctive shooting.

You see this when they are shooting long shots. "For long shots, I have to aim higher," they generally say. And if I ask what exactly they mean by "aiming higher", I often get the reply that they just feel they have to add a little more height to the intuitive height of the bow arm, in other words raise the arm a bit more.

In most cases, gap shooting is not an unconscious aiming process. Instead, the bow arm is raised to the right height deliberately. The principle followed is: "This way my hand could be right, so now I can let go". So the bow hand is consciously adjusted to the possible trajectory of the arrow.

How can one practise gap shooting?
Basically, the process is the same as for instinctive shooting. You shoot many arrows from one distance until you find the right arm height to score a hit.

Split vision
An archer who corrects direction with the aid of his peripheral vision is using the split vision shooting technique.

< Figure 7: Split vision – while aiming, the arrow is observed as well. This serves mainly to check and correct the direction of flight.

Two major archers who have used or are still using this technique are Howard Hill and Byron Ferguson.

Personally, I do not see this method as one of the real aiming methods; I would call this an auxiliary method. However, after a closer examination of the subject I realised that there are two fundamentally different approaches here.

In this variant, the arrow is regarded with one eye, that is to say indirectly, by peripheral vision, but the archer does not focus on it. In other words, you observe the arrow consciously and it becomes part of the aiming process. Whatever you aiming method, you will see the arrow. But here the point is that you deliberately make it part of the process. The main point is to check, and if necessary correct, the direction of the arrow by peripheral vision.

So if it is only the direction that matters here, then another method has to be found to estimate the distance, in other words the height of the bow arm. This means that I still need an additional method of aiming.

One variant is to combine instinctive aiming with split vision. You then concentrate on the point you want to hit as usual, and the bow hand automatically moves to the right height. And without focusing on the arrow, you try to consciously observe it. Not necessarily the tip of the arrow, but the whole arrow, so that you can control its direction.
Another combination is gap shooting and split vision. As in the previous example, the height of the bow arm is determined by referring to the expected trajectory of the arrow, and the direction is again checked with the aid of peripheral vision. (See Figure 7).

The author with a warthog he hunted.

Updated: Thursday, June 20, 2013 4:20 PM


About the Author

Dietmar Vorderegger

Dietmar Vorderegger

Dietmar Vorderegger who publishes 3-D Bogensport and Compound Magazin in Austria. Dietmar is a keen traditional archer and a world champion with the longbow. He is also a keen bow hunter and has hunted many times in South Africa. Dietmar has written many books on traditional archery skill, which are unfortunately only available in German.


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