Most of my experience with bows and arrows has been relegated to watching Olympians expertly fire arrows into bulls-eyes. Or watching on-screen Native Americans sling arrows into human targets while hanging off the side of a horse. They set the bar pretty high.
So hitting a large, stationary paper target from about 40 feet away seemed easy enough.
And that’s what I attempted to do at Travaasa, the adventure-inclined Austin resort where you can hike, mountain bike, swim, get a massage, eat three square meals and learn how to throw a hatchet, all in the same day. Because somewhere between breakfast and lunch, learning how to properly shoot an arrow seemed like the best use of my time. And with multiple lessons per day, instructors at the ready and an open-air, barn-like structure dedicated to such noble pursuits, the opportunity was easy to come by.
By quickly opening your fingers to release your grasp on the string, you’ll send the arrow forward with precision.
We began with a lesson that, with some luck, would turn our band of loveable misfits (read: totally normal resort goers with a lust for aerodynamic projectiles) into proficient archers. Here’s what we learned.
Stand with your feet perpendicular to the target and about shoulder width apart. This will create a steady base for all that comes next.
Grab the handle of the bow with your non-dominant hand, leaving your dominant hand free to loose arrows and accept high fives.
Notching the arrow.
Your typical modern arrow will feature a slot in back, for fitting it onto the bow string. Do that, and then rest the arrow shaft onto the arrow rest, a little piece of protruding plastic or rubber located adjacent to the bow handle. This keeps your arrow steady and your off-hand fingers completely out of the equation to ensure they won’t get in the way.
Using the index and middle fingers of your dominant hand—or your index, middle and ring fingers, if that’s more comfortable—apply light pressure to the bow string and draw it back.
Find a reference point.
Draw the string back slowly toward your ear until you reach a reference point. Touch your cheek bone or nudge your ear lobe with your thumb. Do something that gives you a point to recall the next time you sling an arrow so you can replicate successful attempts or tweak as necessary.
This bit’s important and relatively straightforward. Using your dominant eye, look down the arrow and align it with your target.
Unfurl the string with a light touch. Don’t put too much weight on it or strum it like you’re playing a guitar. That’ll disrupt your release and send the arrow flying askew. By quickly opening your fingers to release your grasp on the string, you’ll send the arrow forward with precision.
Do all that, and you just might impale your target. In this case, while standing completely still, battling zero wind and firing arrows in near perfect conditions, I managed to do just that. Well, more often than not. Credit the competent instructor or a possible past life as a sentinel archer. But those arrows hit the target with relative ease. Honing in on the bull’s-eye and making minor adjustments were more difficult, but using the reference points as noted above really worked.
When you put it all together—grip, draw, aim and release—that arrow whizzes through the air with decent precision and a lot of satisfaction.
By drawing the bow string back to my right cheekbone, I was able to maintain consistent power and accuracy. Drawing back another couple inches to my ear, and my control suffered, with the arrows regularly flying high. Keep your fingers light on the string, and the arrow comes out clean. Release too heavy, and it comes out off kilter, shifting high, low or sideways before righting itself and landing significantly outside your target area. But when you put it all together—grip, draw, aim and release—that arrow whizzes through the air with decent precision and a lot of satisfaction.
Now, I’ve got no plans to pick up bow hunting. But shooting arrows within the relaxed confines of Travaasa, or setting up targets at the lake house I don’t actually have are certainly in the cards. And it’s good to know that, should the worst happen—zombie apocalypse, I get cast in a low-budget remake of Dances with Wolves—I’m now better equipped to handle myself.
Well, provided that someone else willingly gives me a 21st-century bow and a quiver of arrows. And that all my potential food and other targets remain still for as long as it takes for me to hit them.
Long story short: If a six-inch margin of error is acceptable, I’m your guy. But if there’s an apple atop your head, survival at stake or money on the line, choose the Olympian every time.