For a while there in 2018-19 I got completely obsessed with putting vintage lenses on the front of a modern digital camera, and everything was fair game to be photographed. At that time my Falco Storm flatbow was getting a lot less attention than it deserved, and consequently I was getting a bit less archery/meditation than I needed.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic, and as I’ve written about here before, archery was back on the agenda, and I took on a brand new archery project in early 2020. I decided to give eastern thumb-draw traditional archery a try, after shooting the more familiar (in the west) 3 finger draw for decades.
Cutting a long story short, in typical western trad archery (and for a right hander), the arrow goes on the left side of the bow and one uses 3 fingers to draw the string back to a fixed anchor point – often the corner of one’s mouth. For me being a short chap, that meant I was drawing about 26″ (yes, everything in archery is in Imperial units) and never realising the full power of the bow, typically rated for a 28″ draw. Typical modern trad bows (there’s an oxymoron for you) have a shelf cut into the handle area where the arrow rests, and also giving a bit of a sight window. I’d being doing it this way since childhood, and that’s a while ago.
In eastern styles the string is typically drawn with the thumb, and depending on the style and the circumstances it can be drawn back to a similar anchor to the western style around the mouth, or to a point further back such as the ear lobe, or in some West Asian styles back over the shoulder. There is usually not an arrow shelf cut into the bow – one shoots off the hand. And the arrow is on the right hand side of the bow (for a right hander).
So switching automatically gets me from around 26″ draw length to a shade over 29″. For once I get more than the advertised bow power!
After the initial learning process for a completely new way of drawing a completely different kind of bow, it quickly became apparent that this style suits me biomechanically much better. It feels stronger, more powerful and controlled, and on a good day more accurate. So rather than being a flirtation with another style, I shifted over completely, and now I only really thumb shoot.
There are a few other advantages of shooting this way, for me. There’s a lot less paraphernalia, and that appeals to my minimalist tendencies. I no longer need an arm protection bracer on my bow arm, because the string doesn’t get over there during release. The thumb rings (zihgir in Ottoman Turkish) are quite small compared to the gloves and tabs of western trad archers, and also a bit on the attractive bling side in many cases. The bows are small and light, so carrying them around for hours in the field is really easy.
In a kind of cross-pollination exercise, I have recently started thumb shooting a Viking style longbow. Most people these days would shoot it the modern way, with a split finger Mediterranean draw – but Vikings may have used thumb draw, and also possibly so-called Slavic or Sassanid draw. So I’m not really being so radical, but folks still see it as a rather odd. I get most of the technical benefits I mentioned above of thumb versus fingers, for me.
One thing has not changed though. Archery roving or stump shooting is still my favourite form of archery. Shooting informal, inanimate targets at varying distance and elevation, out in the forest. I do shoot formal targets sometimes though, and even though they are a bit more predictable, it can still be challenging.
For more bite-sized chunks about eastern style archery with Asiatic reflex bows, I do post a lot on Instagram as @flatcap_archery …
And so to close the loop. Archery and archers are really photogenic, and great cinematographic subjects … so cameras are back in hand but without displacing bows and arrows …