The Writer’s Guide to Bows: Part 2

Stringing & Shooting

Today is my second part in my five-part series on bows. I will be covering more of the basics of shooting so that you are better equipped to write about them in your fiction.

If you have the chance, I highly encourage you to try archery out for yourself. Experience is really the best teacher and there will be a lot of first-hand detail that you can pour into your writing. If you are specifically looking for information to write medievalesque fantasy or historical fiction, I suggest you stay away from modern compound bows. The experience of shooting one is substantially different from shooting a traditional longbow or recurve.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Stringing a Bow

Before you can shoot a bow, it must be strung. Bows should always be unstrung when not in use. If they are left strung, they will lose their power as the wood permanently takes on the bend. The power of the bow comes from a bent bow trying to be straight or mostly straight.

There are a couple ways of stringing a bow. One is putting one tip against the inside of your foot and pulling up while you slide the string into the notch with your other hand. Another method is to step through the bow, bending one limb forward while you slide the string up with your other hand. There are modern bow-stringers but I have yet to see evidence of anything like them being used in history.

Stringing a bow by putting one tip against the inside of your foot. Photo source.
Stringing by stepping through the bow. Photo source.

How to Shoot a Bow

Most archers are righthanded so the following description is for righthanded shooting. Shooting lefthanded is simply the reverse of this description.

Before shooting, it’s important to make sure none of your clothing will interfere with drawing or releasing the string. Loose, long, or billowy sleeves can get caught up in the string as you’re firing, dissipating all the energy of the shot and causing the arrow to not leave the string or not go far. Sleeves were usually tucked or tied back unless they were slim and fitted. It was common to use an archer’s glove that covers your forearm, protecting from the string if it hits. Finger tabs or gloves were also frequently worn on the right hand to protect the fingers from the abrasion of pulling back and releasing the string repeatedly.

To start, hold the bow by the grip with your left hand, letting it cradle firmly into the webbing between your thumb and index finger. You don’t want to grip the bow but hold it lightly. If the bow has an arrow shelf make sure there is a bit of distance between it and your hand or the feathers on the arrow could slice your hand as its being shot. If the bow does not have a shelf and you’re shooting off your hand, it’s usually a good idea to wear a glove.

Next the arrow is put onto the bow or nocked. The arrow is always on the inside of the bow. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is by canting the bow slightly to the right, gripping the arrow by the end or nock, resting the front part of the arrow against the arrow rest, pulling back the end and nocking it to the string. Modern plastic nocks will snap on to the string, preventing the arrow from coming off. Traditional arrows had a small groove cut in the end of the arrow that would fit over the string but not necessary “snap” on, meaning the archer would usually have to grip it between their fingers. If the bowstring has a bead, the arrow is nocked right below it.

Most arrows have three feathers or fletching. One is usually a different color from the others and is known as the index or cock feather. When nocking, you want to make sure the index feather is facing you. If it’s facing the opposite direction, it will drag against the bow when the arrow is shot, effecting the flight.

You put three fingers on the string, the index finger above the arrow and the other two below it, known as a Mediterranean draw. However, you don’t grip the string but let it rest lightly against the inside of your first knuckle. As I’ve told a number of my archery students, it’s like plucking a harp string. Some archers do prefer to shoot with three fingers below. There is some evidence that European medieval archers shooting heavy war bows would “lock” their fingers down with their thumb. Some cultures in Asia used a thumb draw instead of their fingers and some Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Native American cultures use a pinch draw, squeezing the end of the arrow between the index finger and thumb. [1]

Once your fingers are on the string, you sight down the arrow to aim, lining up the arrowhead with your target. Sometimes you must aim higher than your target to account for the distance and drop of the arrow. Then you pull back to your anchor point. It is essential to keep your elbow up to use all your back muscles. Then steady your body as much as possible, do any last minute aiming and relax your fingers to release.

If you are shooting at a distant target, especially if your bow is a lighter poundage, then you will have to raise the bow, usually to a 90º angle. For longer shots, it is common to overdraw, pulling back to touch the chest instead of the face or passed the ear. You must be careful that the tip of your arrow doesn’t get pulled back past the bow.

Here is a helpful video showing how a traditional longbow is shot.

A photo of me shooting my longbow.
A group of archers shooting at range. Photo source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bow_draw

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