While I was in Maine on vacation, my sisters and I decided to take a course from L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Schools, and we chose archery.
I personally had one singular motivation for choosing archery, and I’m not about to hide it. Come on now, who wouldn’t want a chance to develop some awesome bow skills just like our favorite Girl on Fire? Katniss’ Archery skills are crazy good, and she makes it look pretty easy:
Not that I thought that archery would be a breeze, but I still have a good deal of arm muscle from Varsity Tennis last Spring. So ya know, I thought maybe I’d have a leg up.
Eh, not exactly.
The first thing we had to do was put on all of our protective gear: sunglasses, an arm guard (so the bowstring doesn’t painfully whip your arm, not that it ever came close), and gloves (that only cover the three bow fingers). Take a good look y’all: this is the only time you’ll ever see me wearing camo. I hope.
Then we had to take a simple test to determine whether we were Right or Left-eyed, a.k.a. with which eye are we dominant. Curiously, this does not necessarily coordinate with your hand dominancy — and for Archery, you will end up shooting with whichever hand is one the same side of your body as your dominant eye. This means that a right-handed person may have to shoot with their left hand (!) if they are left-eye dominant, if they hope to get the best results. Luckily I tested as right-eye dominant (though I have my doubts, I felt myself using my left eye a little during shooting).
So after I received my right-handed bow and chose the length of arrows that fit my (admittedly) short stature, we headed to the range. We rested our arrows in an ground holder, and the instructor began to tell us how to shoot. Here is an abbreviated version of what I remember:
- While holding the bow in a proper grip (see above photo) in the left hand, grab and arrow with your right hand and bring it over the bow to the left side.
- Insert the nock of the arrow into the arrow nock on the bowstring of the bow, and let the arrow shaft rest on the arrow guide, near the grip (a rubber part only used by beginners, I suspect).
- While keeping the thumb of your right hand curled in, place your fingers splayed on the bowstring on either side of the nocked arrow: pointer finger above, middle and remaining finger below (Ignore the pinky finger. Sorry, pinky!).
- Draw the bowstring back with your right arm. You must bring your elbow pretty far up; you can measure this by trying to align the fingers of your right hand, and continuing to draw back the bowstring at this height. Your bowstring should rest against your nose. (Again, see my photo above).
- With your dominant (right) eye, seek out a spot significantly below the center of the bull’s eye to aim your arrow. (You can barely see it in my photo, but it’s the black spot below the target). When shot, the arrow will go higher than where you aimed.
- Trying to keep the bow as steady as possible, let go of the bowstring. *Thunk* And you’ve just shot, yessss! (That was the sound of the arrow burying into the target, by the way.) Remember to keep the pose a little after the arrow leaves the bow; this is kind of like “following through” with the shot and will ensure that the arrow goes ahead straight, not off to the left or right.
Whew. That was a lot of steps, I know, and we received even more instruction. We learned that there are two techniques for shooting: traditional and instinctive. He showed us both, but we used mainly traditional. Instinctive is a more relaxed and advanced stance, basically just drawing the bow naturally and shooting. I suspect this is Katniss’ style, especially while hunting in the woods.
But I did gradually progress over the course of the class. I even ended up getting one arrow in the yellow center of the target! (The second arrow in the yellow is one the instructor shot. But it makes my shots look better, doesn’t it?)
Of course, there was also that arrow I shot that hit the bottom side of the board and ricocheted off into the woods. But let’s not focus on that one, hmm?
Overall, archery was waaay tougher than it looked. My arms were sore and shaking, and every once and a while I felt the need to take a break. Of course, this might have been because I was having trouble keeping my grip as loose as instructed — my instinct was to use all my strength to grip it. And afterwards, I could see how A LOT of practice was needed to get good at shooting.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you archery is not a sport!
And no wonder Katniss won the Hunger Games! Bow skills like hers don’t develop over night, or even relatively quickly for that matter. She is absolutely deadly with a bow. Katniss, you have earned earned my utmost respect, if you didn’t already have it. You rock.