Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf, West
O. L., O.P., R.C.A., R.C.Y.
It is often difficult for archers to find a place to practice their archery skills at home since many of us do not have fields, large back yards or driveways to use or we can not go outside to shoot because of inclement weather. However, there is a way to practice, improve your skills and stay in condition even if you live in a small apartment in town.
In the past and even today, handbow archers in the Near to Far East, as well as the West have made use of tightly packed straw and other materials as a backstop for their arrows while practicing their form. In Arabic countries this was called a torba and in Japan it was called a makiwara. This is done up close and without a target at which to aim. In some Eastern countries beginning archers might spend months just practicing their, stance, bow grip, nocking, drawing, holding and release before ever shooting at a target. This practice was often done only five or six feet from the surface that was stopping their arrows.
One of the major keys to accurate shooting is consistency. If your grip, draw, anchor or release vary from shot to shot, then where your arrows strikes will also vary. To obtain consistency you must learn correct form and practice it. You should try to practice at least three times per week and if possible once a day. You should try for a hour a day, either in a straight hour or in two or three shorter segments that add up to at least an hour. However, if you only have a chance to practice once or twice a month, you will be a long time in achieving consistency and thereby accuracy. Archery is so much more fun if you can hit what you are aiming at, at least part of the time.
One of the methods used in Eastern countries was a barrel filled with tightly packed straw. This was placed on a stand so the center of the open front of the barrel was at the shoulder lever of the archer's shoulder, then the arrows were shot into this, pulled and shot again and again. Current Western practice of the same technique sometimes makes use of a target mat or a bag or cardboard box packed firmly with old plastic trash or grocery bags. These can stop target or hunting arrows from even heavy bows and you can easily remove the arrows from the material. However, setting something like this up in your hallway or front room takes up space and might look rather strange to your friends or landlord.
There is a way to do this that is easy to set up and takes little space and little explanation to visitors. You will need: An old blanket, a pole or narrow board to hang it over, a doorway or hall and some soft plastic small game blunts or combat blunts. The basic idea is that you hang a old blanket, with no holes in it, over a horizontal pole, so that there is a double layer. You hang the pole in a door or hall way. You then remove the target point from one arrow and replace it with a blunt, step back about six feet from the blanket, nock and draw your arrow, loose and watch the arrow strike the blanket and fall to the floor at your feet.
First the blanket. Any blanket with a close weave will do. I would not recommend one of the thermal blankets with a loose weave. And it should not be too heavy, the arrow should be able to lose energy gradually by moving the blanket backward.
Next you need a means to suspend the blanket. One way to do this is to use one of the expanding shower curtain rods. Just be sure that it will fit in your door or hall way. This can also be set up in a garage or outdoors if convenient. If your door or hallway is too narrow for the shower rod, you can get two small screw hooks and place them in the top of your doorway and hang a length of plastic pipe, a wooden 1 by 2 inch board or whatever is convenient, which is a little more narrow than your doorway from cord. You should hang the support pole as high as possible so that your arrow will hit nearer the center of the fabric. This is because if your arrow strikes too near the top there is not enough movement to absorb the energy of the arrow. You should fold the fabric over the pole so that it hangs about equally on both sides. This provides more weight for the arrow to move and affords protection if you should wear a hole in the front layer. To prevent wearing a hole in the blanket you should change sides each time you hang it up.
You will need to purchase some blunt tips. The 3/4 inch diameter HTM small game blunts can be found at most bows shops or on line. They are close in weight to a field tip and will cause only little change to the feel and balance of your arrow as you nock it. If you have an arrow in your set that does not group well with the others, you may use it by removing the metal point. If the shaft was tapered under the point you will need to cut it flat. This will cause a shorting of the shaft by about a half inch. If you want to keep the exact length you may need to purchase a new arrow without a point and then measure and cut it to the correct length. Glue and/or tape the blunt on so that there is no chance of it coming off. You can use an arrow that is not closely matched in spine or weight to your target set for this, but it should match in length and nock type so that the feel of handling it will remain the same.
I shall not go into what is correct form, for that is not the purpose of this article. If you want information on form there are many available books and videos on the subject as well as experienced archers that can assist you.
If you want to practice your form for combat archery you can just use an existing combat arrow. But, you should wear a minimum of your helmet and hand protection while practicing so you will be able to have your anchor in the appropriate place and so that the handling the bow and the arrow will be the same as in combat. You should also shoot from the different stances that you would use in combat after you have settled your basic form.
Before you start shooting you should make sure that the top limb of your bow will not strike your ceiling.
You should shoot no more than three arrows in a row so that you take the time to think about how you are shooting and do not get into a rut where you are not analyzing what you are doing. You can make up a full set of arrows with the blunts and they can be used to practice speed shooting for timed ends such as are used in the R. R. or I.K.A.C. .
In this style of practice you are not trying to hit a specific point, you are trying to improve and practice good form. You should concentrate on your: Stance, draw, anchor, release and follow through. You should not think about hitting a particular point. In fact you may find that it works best for you to close your eyes and just use your mind's eye for part of the practice.
The main point of this is, that you have no distraction of trying to hit the target. You concentrate only on improving your form and its consistency. You need to go through your own mental check off list point by point from stance to follow through. Just as often happens in target shooting on the field, you will learn to know by the feel when you have put everything together correctly and know the arrow would be going into the gold as soon as you release. After each shot, you should stop and review what you have done before picking up the arrow and shooting again.
This works best for archers that already have the basics of shooting learned correctly. If you are just beginning to learn to shoot you need a knowledgeable archer to observe your shooting and correct any errors in form or technique. For you do not want to practice and ingrain poor form or technique.
If possible, place the blanket so that when you are in front of it, you can see yourself in a mirror on the string hand side and observe your form. This will be most helpful for part of the practice. What is also very useful, if you have one, is a video camera. You can place it on a tripod to tape your entire practice from the string hand side. You can then play back the entire practice and observe your form and learn where it may need improvement.
This also has the side benefit of keeping your shooting muscles in condition so that you will not get out of shape over the winter or tire when shooting in long competitions.
However, if you have the space inside your dwelling so that you can get further from the blanket so that your arrow will stabilize in flight, you can shoot at a very small target object, about the size of a quarter, placed on the blanket. This should be done after you have put in your full time with the target-less practice. This is a practice technique mentioned in some Chinese archery manuals.
For questions related to this article please contact the author: Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf