My Recent Primitive Bow Archery Experiment

It all began with the club deciding to organise a bare-bow competition recently and we also decided to include this fast growing category, the primitive bow a.k.a. traditional-historical bow category. I agreed to liaise with the clubs that we knew had large numbers of such archers that we planned to invite.

Then I decided……. “why not take part too and enjoy a new experience?” So I got myself a what I suppose, is an Arabian Bow (it had some Arabic words inscribed on it). It is a small, light bow, so it’s probably a horse-bow, too.

This category of bow does/must not have a shelf or a window so the arrow is rested on the bow and the hand acts as an arrow rest. As a result, the arrow goes to the left when released if you are a right handed archer and are placing the arrow to the left side of the bow, like I do.

Canting the bow to the right
Canting the bow to the right

I found that I had to cant the bow to the right, in order to compensate for the tendency for the arrow to go left as well as to ensure that the arrow does not slip off the bow and the bow hand. I also found that the amount of canting needed, differed at different distances from the target. I found that I had to cant more the further the distance to the target. This was made worse for my learning curve as we were having an ‘unknown distance’ shoot.

I found out that the way to shoot the bow was to go instinctive or at least semi-instinctive, rather than to try to draw, hold and aim and to ensure ‘everything is right’ then release, like one would do with a regular recurve bow or a modern bare-bow.

But as I was practising, the one thing that I could not get or feel ‘instinctive’, was the tension on the string when using a glove. Even changing to a more thinly padded glove didn’t give sufficient ‘feel’.

Drawing the bowstring with Bare Fingers
Drawing the bowstring with Bare Fingers

So one day, I decided to shoot with bare fingers and found an immediate improvement. Now everything is instinctive, the gap, the cant and the feel of the string (which helps determine how much to draw).

I read up a bit on shooting with bare fingers and there were comments about how the string could twist less when released with bare fingers. I would add that the extra feel also allowed me to place the string more to the tip of the fingers (I shoot split fingers) so that the release is more instant and smoother. With a glove or a finger tab, I tend to place the string a little inwards (being afraid that it would slip) so that there tended to be a bit of finger hooking.

I had slightly more than three weeks to get familiar with this new form of archery. I seem to be shooting almost as well (or badly) as with a modern traditional bow after a while and was enjoying it. It was almost like back in the kampong (malay term for village) days shooting a catapult. Everything instinctive. That was the fun. And I did pretty OK on the day of the competition too.

I hope this ranting is of some use to my fellow traditional bow archers and those who wish to take it up.

– contributed by Don Quixote

…… the way, Don Quixote landed 2nd Prize in the Traditional-Historical Bow category at our 24th September 2016 Invitational Competition. A rather good result!!! We are waiting for him to go on a fully primitive bare-skinned shoot sometime 😛 – Editor


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