Anyone who has been involved in traditional archery and bowhunting can tell you there are deep emotions and feelings surrounding every stage in the whole process. It may be possible that you saw someone sling some arrows, and you saw those arrows arch to a target or animal and maybe thought, “Oh, that is so awesome.” And then you got your hands on a wooden bow and arrows and noticed how beautiful and simple these artifacts were. If you ever saw movies or cartoons of Robin Hood, or maybe read some of the literature or history books that talk about archery prowess and how it has influenced mankind for centuries and millennia gone by, you may also wonder how it is that all of this stuff is still alive and well today. How and why has the romanticism and love affair with the bow and arrow survived with the present Internet and electronic jargon? What makes it so special? How has it transcended time and space for so long?
The answer to all of these questions lies in the heart of each and every individual involved in real archery and bowhunting. The one thing that I can tell you is that archery draws you to it like a strong magnet you cannot break away from, no matter what you do. In fact, its magic spell upon you is so strong that you are pretty much stuck with it for the rest of your life, whether you want it or not!
When you see pictures of bows, arrows, quivers, and all the leather goods that go with archery in magazines, on the Internet and in books and archery catalogues, it is hard to stop looking at all of them. We never get tired of browsing the Internet for beautifully handcrafted bows, beautifully decorated arrows or quivers of all types. New artistic designs are always coming out for all archery gear. The thing that makes it even more appealing is that all this utilitarian art also has a purpose in bowhunting and archery. To be able to get out in the woods with an art masterpiece made out of wood, and arrows with unbelievable decorations and beauty, gives the archer a feeling of wholeness and pride. Consider the several ancient cave paintings around the world of archers hunting or chasing animals with bow in hand, shooting arrows at game. Is archery an art or not? Was it considered beautiful; an art form and sacred by our ancestors?
Let’s look at archery technique–the draw, the anchor and the release–it’s very simple. If you are reading this essay, you know by now that as simple as it seems, it can get extremely complicated very quickly! It takes years upon years of practice, shooting tens of thousands of arrows, to master it! Well kind of, because you really never fully master archery! There will always be new places to go, improvements to make, fine tuning and more challenges to pursue. Once you have achieved a certain proficiency, you can sort of feel the arrow coming out of your core every once in a while, and then you fail to duplicate that feeling during the next 30 shots! Wow! Why? In true instinctive archery, I have to wonder if anyone has ever shot a perfect round? Not meaning perfect scores on the ringed target, but the feeling of perfection one shot after another and yet another. Every now and then I get in the zone on my archery range and start really hitting my targets. Perfect? Not a chance. I will let a few awesome arrows fly, and then my concentration or focus falters for a millisecond and fzzzz goes the arrow, nowhere near the intended target! “What was that? The release? The anchor? My bow hand? Was my wooden shaft not straight? Did an invisible twig deflect my arrow’s path?” That is right, I can always blame the equipment and outside interference. We will never be short of excuses!
The situation is that we want to enjoy archery, and the more we shoot the more we seem to enjoy it. Or do we? It is so hard to slow down and be fully engaged in each and every single shot we take! When things are not going well, we rush to figure it out, and we end up making things worse! Sometimes, the more we shoot the worse we perform! Many times I have had to stop, super frustrated in the middle of my practice session, because I failed to re-group and slow down! And yes, it is better to stop if you are shooting worse and worse because, if you are like me, you may end up throwing your arrows into the fireplace or snapping them across your lap!
Then there is the Archer’s Paradox. What do you mean the arrow is pointed in the wrong direction as you reach full draw, but it ends up going into the center of the target anyway? Okay, okay, sometimes. It wiggles its way across the side of our bow and into the air for the next several feet, then it magically stabilizes in mid air and starts flying straight as a missile?
There are so many contingencies and variables that we can’t agree on which is the best technique. Anything goes, especially if someone seems to be having success doing the exact opposite of what you believed and practiced the whole time. Should we anchor or not? Which is better, index or middle finger? Drawing with three fingers under the arrow? And don’t even get me started on the release. That has been a topic of heated discussion among archers for centuries, and it’s still going strong today. Are we pushing and pulling or just holding at full draw? Newton’s Laws of Physics are at play every step of the way, and you cannot break those laws according to Isaac! But can’t we? Some great archers seem to do it every time they shoot. They anchor in such a way that their anchoring hand does not move at all as they release the arrow!
How about equipment variables? Is there an absolute best? The answer to that is absolutely not! Is the longbow more challenging than the recurve? There have been legends, such as Howard Hill, who said that the longbow is more forgiving to form and shooting mishaps. What is really a longbow, or for that matter, an English style longbow? Very few of our present day longbows would qualify, since they don’t bend at the grip as the English longbows did. Is a hybrid bow a longbow? To this author, a longbow is pretty much a straight proposition, and it’s length should be approximately the archer’s height, or within a few inches! To you, a longbow might follow a whole different set of criteria.
In traditional archery and bowhunting, we need a reference book that defines what is what. Maybe we need to hire Mr. Webster to do it for us since there is no way on earth we would ever be able to finish it. There are several points where there would be such discordance amongst ourselves that fights would break out all the time!
In archery and bowhunting there are too many variables and interrogatives that don’t have an absolute right and wrong to them, and there lies some of the mystery of it all. No one has the right to say they are right about something if it can be proved wrong by someone else. The principle of “the exception confirms the rule” definitely applies in archery and bowhunting.
While bowhunting with bows and arrows made out of wood, I have had the feeling that I must be the dumbest hunter on the planet. If I really want to hunt I should be using a gun! Here I go, walking in these lung-busting, heavily forested mountains all morning. As I get to the top of a tall hill, after what seemed like an eternity, I come upon this beautiful open meadow and spot some deer way across the tall grass 200 yards away. At this point, the game would be over for someone with a gun, but to me, the game may be just starting. I try to close the deal within 30 yards, or less! Nine times out of ten, or more like 99 times out of 100, I may fail! And then what? I just have to keep on trying, and going, and walking with my wooden weapons held firmly. Sometimes I think that my intended prey just laughs at me when it discovers that I am only armed with an old recurve–specially squirrels! Yet I keep going, and the feeling of having this bow in my hand is exhilarating. Somehow it gives me power, and I can really feel a vibration coming up my arm and into my entire body and soul. It is the coolest thing ever! We would not change it for all the gold in the world, because there is such ecstasy in true archery and bowhunting that money cannot buy!
Others who have never been exposed to archery may ask themselves, “What are all these grown men and women doing with those toys?” Really? Shooting bows and arrows seems like it should be kids play, and in many ways it is. But how many of the things that you did as a kid are you still interested in, fully involved in, and still doing today? Even some really old men still love archery and bowhunting with a passion after more than 50 years doing the same thing! Is there witchery in archery or not? Archery casts as spell on you, and no magician or sorcerer in this world could free you of the disease.
A few years back, I went to the Black Widow plant in Nixa, Missouri to see if I would muster the valor to order a custom made bow. As I was walking in the door, an older fellow met me and said, “What is going on here? Are you suffering from this disease, too?” I just laughed and said yes. Later, I was looking at some arm guards and he walked by again and said, “You already have 20 of those, why do you want another one?” Then he added, “You are just a junkie, and no detoxification method will fix you. In this place you will just get sicker.” The man was Ken Beck!
About the author: Manuel S. Cervantes has bowhunted for 30 years. He is originally from Mexico, and is a former Tennis Professional. He makes his living as a high performance coach and lives in NW Arkansas with his wife Carmen, daughter Anasazi, and Stellaluna, Anasazi’s Great Pyrenees/Labrador cross.