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"Blind Baling" – the traditional archer's friend

Mac Muller explains the use of the "blind baling" technique in perfecting one's shooting form with the traditional bow.

>> When it all comes together: a passion for traditional shooting.

Developing your form in traditional archery is very important if you want to become a good, consistent archer. Reading endlessly on the topic leads to experimenting and a point of discovery if you like. It is something that really changed the way I shoot and produced results I never thought possible. This is what I want to share with readers who may, like me, be seeking more perfection and consistency.

The basics
Before you do anything else, look at the basics. For me personally, basics can be grouped into your equipment and your shooting form. So we'll first look at the equipment: setting up you bow and tuning it for consistency and accuracy.

The equipment
Firstly, make sure your bow and arrow are properly matched. This is like a marriage: the two must be made for each other. Do not underestimate the importance of this. Your choice of arrow weight and spine in relation to your bow's draw weight is crucial. As a basic rule, add one inch to your draw length, measured to the front of the riser, for proper arrow length. Investing in a handheld draw scale to measure actual draw weight, and in arrow selection charts, will get you going quickly. Bows with arrow shelves cut to centre of the riser are more forgiving and allow for a wider selection of arrows to be shot. This almost becomes a mysterious science and can be intimidating. Tuning with bare shafts is my preference, but it is a topic on its own and something that can be explored in a follow-up article. Note: avoid light arrows. Select arrows that have a grains-per-inch (GPI) figure of 9 and higher. Your bow will be noisy with a light arrow. It will vibrate and kick and it actually takes something away from the bow's performance or enjoyment of shooting it. It could also lead to injury, damage and de-lamination. Remember that if you are going to hunt, a heavier arrow has more momentum and penetrates better than a light arrow.

>> "Blind baling" at a distance of two to three metres.

Secondly, insure that the bow is set at the correct brace height (BH) and that the nock point is perfect. This you will normally find in the manual or the bowyer will provide the specs. If your bow is specified 7 inches to 7,5 inches start at the lowest setting and work your way up until it works for you. Remember tail low or high on your arrow flight will indicate whether you need to raise or lower the nock point. Experiment with a piece of dental floss that you can move up and down on your string until you find the "sweet spot". As a rule you can start as per a bow square on 1/8 of an inch above the centre of the arrow shelf. Increasing the number twists in your string will increase the brace height and decreasing the twists in your string will lower the it. Have a bow square with you always for this purpose and get into the habit of checking the brace height and nock point every time you string the bow. For example: in Johannesburg the brace height on my bow is 7,25 inches, but when I am in Thabazimbi the same bow measures 7 inches BH due to the climate. By playing around with these two aspects you will discover your bow's "sweet spot". When you hear the arrow "slap" against the riser, or the arrow dovetails etc, check these settings. Write down these settings if you own more than one bow so that you do not to forget them. A personal preference for added accuracy is to add a nock point below the arrow nock as well with a piece of serving. This eliminates arrow movement down the string – a problem which could lead to inconsistent groupings.

<<  Make sure the pressure is on the thumb pad of your bow hand and not on the centre of your palm, as this will result in unwanted torque.

Thirdly, look after your string as well and make sure that the silencers are placed evenly on it. I prefer 14 inches from the loop on each side. Yes, I measure and mark the position on the string. Wax the string regularly. Also inspect the serving and nock loops for wear in the string grooves.
Fourthly, slightly open your nocks or file them if they are too tight. As a measure, your arrow should release with a slight tap on the string with your finger. A nock that is too tight will cause the arrow to impact to the left to the point of aim. But be careful – if it is too loose it could actually lead to a dry fire and injure you or your prized possession.
Fifthly, practise with one model arrow. Some guys have a bucket full of old arrows. When you practise, stick to one type – same spine, point weight, fletching etc. It is not about quantity but quality. Twelve proper arrows impacting perfectly count more than 200 that are all over the target.

Your shooting form
What is "blind bale"? This is a term used for standing close to a large target butt and literally practising different aspects of your form to bring it all together. The aim is not to be target orientated, and closing your eyes or blindfolding yourself helps. Scary, but you will get used to it! Focus on alignment, grip, draw, anchor point, release, back tension etc. The idea is to experiment and find what works for you as an individual.

How does one do it? Stand two to five metres from a "field butt" on your shooting level – your shoulder height. Do not attempt "blind bale" by shooting up or down. Preferably, an imaginary straight line should be drawn from the release point to the target. Always make sure you have a proper backstop in a safe environment, as you will literally need to close your eyes or blindfold yourself. You are not trying to hit a point of aim. You will be practising form and nothing else. That is why you stand close – to ensure that the arrow ends up in the butt and not in the neighbour's dog. The shooting principles discussed below are normally practised on the "blind bale".

Alignment to the target and canting of the bow. For me a slightly open stance is best for comfort and string clearance on the bow arm. A closed stance can result in an arrow to the right of the point of aim (including a nice string slap on the forearm). A too open stance will mean the opposite, ie an arrow to the left of the point of aim. Experiment until your body dynamics show you how to hit the straight line. Arrow impact too high or too low is fine – this you can practise in how you aim. What you don't want is left or right shots. Drawing a "cross" on your butt with insulation tape will assist in this. Start your bow in the upright position and experiment with canting the bow until you find the best position with your feet alignment. The more upright the bow, the more to the left of the target the arrow will impact. The more you cant the bow the more the arrow should impact to the right. Remember to keep everything in line with regard to your hands, your head and the bow.

A consistent grip on the bow and one you can repeat every time is key. Like the anchor point, it is personal and different from person to person. Just make sure the pressure is on the thumb pad of your bow hand and not on the centre of your palm, as this will result in unwanted torque. The torque will cause shots to impact to the left or right as well. Do not choke down or white-knuckle the grip on the bow. Relax and allow the bow to follow its natural energy line through the arrow! This will feel as though the bottom limb kicks lightly forward towards the target, with the bow tilting backwards in your hand. Experiment until you find what works and stick to it. The secret lies in repeating it over and over for consistency.

<< Back-tension practice with an assistant applying resistance to the elbow.

The draw hand. Decide whether you are going to shoot split-finger or "three fingers under the nock". Both styles have advantages and disadvantages. Also insure that the tillering on your bow accommodates your preference in this regard. Shooting "three fingers under" will also require you to raise the nock. I prefer split-finger as I find it more consistent when making longer shots. If this is your choice, ensure that you initially pick up tension with your middle finger. Your ring and index fingers will find a more natural position on the string as you will note that, if you extend your fingers, the first joints on the various fingers do not align. Do not raise your elbow at full draw as it will lead to a very painful and strained ring finger. Do not twist the string, as this will create torque as well. A straight line again should be drawn from the bow hand – arrow – release hand to elbow.

The draw. This should be smooth and consistent. While focusing on the target and with the bow raised to a level with the target, draw the bow back with an easy push-pull approach. Personally I prefer this to any "swing" draw method. Never draw pointing the arrow skyward. The shoulder and draw hand should rotate fluently in line with your target when you draw back. If you are drawing with the raw power of the arm and shoulder muscles only, you could suffer injury and long-term shoulder problems – especially if you shoot a heavy bow. It tires you quickly as well. You should be able to manage a smooth draw as described and hold the draw for at least 10 seconds if you choose. If you can't, you are possibly shooting too high a poundage. As a measure, downscale 25 per cent from what you are able to shoot on a compound. You should not feel rushed into a release at any point.

Anchor point: Very personal, and again it should be consistent. The beauty is that you are not target-orientated when practising this on the "blind bale", as you can focus on your anchor without worrying where the arrow hits. I personally have my middle finger touching the corner of my mouth. As a second anchor, my thumb is tucked under my jaw. This is consistent and repeatable time and again. Of course, facial features differ. Find what works for you on your face. The rule of thumb is to have the arrow below your eye where possible, as this is crucial for aiming and for being aware of the arrow point in your peripheral vision
Release: For me it comes down to simply relaxing the muscles in the forearm. Simply stop holding the string and do not let your hand fall away as though you were waving a fly away from your face. With proper back tension your hand should follow a natural path from the anchor/release point across your face to your shoulder area.
Back tension: Again you need to spend enough time on the blind bale to focus on this until you understand it. This is the key for me. Understanding back tension first to do it properly. Basically you draw to anchor – ie reaching full draw. Back-tension by moving your elbow horizontally towards your back. Let an assistant stand behind you, then come to an imaginary full draw. The person behind you then places a hand of "resistance" on your elbow to simulate the draw weight you are holding. Push the hand back with your elbow. You will reach a point where you cannot go any further. Almost as if the hand locks in position. This will also be the natural point in the back-tension motion for a proper release to follow. In other words, the release should almost surprise you. Apply this technique in front of the blind bale as well, just so you can grasp the principle. The person standing behind you will feel immediately if you are not pushing against his or her hand after reaching full draw. In the end it should feel like you almost "continue" drawing after you have anchored. This makes me focus on what I want to hit – and what a feeling, relishing a proper release and watching the beauty of proper arrow flight!

The "Blind Bale"
Set up as discussed, following all the above-mentioned principles. Here follows my routine as an indication to assist you in establishing your own shot routine. Do this on every shot to build your consistency.

I align to the target, ensuring proper feet placement to the straight line as discussed above.
I settle my bow hand into the grip, lightly picking up tension to ensure the pressure is on the thumb pad of the bow hand and I have the string tension on my middle finger on my draw hand.
I lift the bow to target with the required cant. Now the fun part. I close my eyes, draw to anchor and hold approximately five seconds.

I back-tension to the release point (eyes still closed) by really focusing and feeling the tension in my shoulder blades. Relish it as such. Do not release if you don't feel it!

I follow through by keeping my bow on target and finishing up with proper form on the release. You need a "trigger" of sorts for proper form on the follow-through. I for example relax once I hear the arrow hit. Video yourself and identify your mistakes. Write them down to evaluate and learn more. Be sure to keep the bow still on the follow-through, pointing your bow to target. Do not move anything out of line or try peeking where the arrow went.

That brings me to the most important point of all. To blind-bale doesn't mean ten arrows and off you go shooting arrows at a target again. No – set aside at least a week or longer where you do nothing else. You will be surprised how much you discover about your form and what you can fine-tune and adjust. Run through hundreds of arrows in this manner. Be disciplined and focused. Take it one step a time. Do not for example work on your grip and anchor together. Experiment above all and find your own sweet spot in each dimension of your form.

I finish off every blind-bale session with "power draws", as I like calling them. This entails a full draw, to anchor, and holding it for ten seconds or longer. Anything from 10 to 20 repetitions. Do not release the arrow. Let down and repeat. Silly, you may think, but it definitely strengthens your "archery specific" muscles. The stronger they are the better you will shoot.

Back to target
The only adjustment you will need to make from blind bale to actual target shooting is to aim once you reach full draw and nothing else as you back-tension to release. Burn a hole with your eyes through what you want to hit. This is the power of "blind baling", because the other principles of your shooting form have been practised to where they become second nature. When they don't make sense or you lose rhythm, then return to the blind bale immediately. I personally will first choose a spot on the blind bale like an arrow mark and try to hit that before I move on to a proper target. In other words, build your confidence levels. You will find yourself returning more than once. This is the natural cycle of the whole process and it cured me of target panic and premature release of an arrow. Do not be scared to set up trick shots for yourself once you have ironed out your form. Just stay safe, please. If you are interested, check out Byron Ferguson's amazing archery shots on "You Tube". Replicate it and test yourself. There is really a lot of satisfaction when making a difficult shot and getting your confidence on a high. The mind is stronger than the arm that draws the bow. Get a friend to shoot with you and challenge each other to hit something really small or see who can get the closest arrow. Learn how to handle pressure when making that big shot. When it all comes together, prepare yourself for the sweetest feeling of accomplishment in watching an arrow fly from a perfect release and hitting the point of aim again and again.

Updated: Monday, January 23, 2012 12:11 PM



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