We’ve all seen Katniss Everdeen’s archery skills on the big screen. But there’s something about her that seldom gets mentioned: She’s shooting barebow.
“Barebow” is a stripped-down form of modern archery that features no sights, no stabilizer, no clicker and no markings on the bow to help you aim. It’s usually done with a recurve bow, but some archers shoot compound bows barebow-style, too. Either way, barebow takes archery to martial arts levels.
Why barebow? We hear a lot about getting back to basics, but the opposite seems more common for competitive target shooters. The more you’re involved in the sport, the more things end up in the bow case, and the longer the list of things you can change, forget, set up wrong, or have fail at the worst time.
You sometimes see top shooters going barebow for a break, or just for fun, as Brady Ellison, Juan-Rene Serrano and Jean-Charles Valladont did for the cameras at the first World Cup, in Shanghai this year.
But shooting barebow isn’t just leaving some gear in the case. You must master new anchor techniques and learn to “stringwalk,” which means aiming the arrow at different distances.
One of the United Kingdom’s top barebow shooters is UK national record-holder Ewa J. Lind, southern England’s indoor champion. What’s her secret to barebow success?
“You have to trust yourself,” Lind said. “It’s less about equipment and setups and more about trusting your own abilities as a person.”
Shooting barebow isn’t necessarily traditional archery, either. With longbows, for example, you’re doing something that’s at least partly historical. You also must worry about the wood and atmospheric conditions. Barebow archery includes modern equipment, quality limbs and quality arrows, and success still comes down to you and your abilities.
Shooting barebow also requires a little bit more Zen than other forms of archery, and you must bring a strong mental game to the range. “You have to find a form that suits you; a little like in martial arts,” Lind said. “And that will always be a challenge. It’s not something you can ever totally master. I think you can get very, very good at it, but if you’re not in the right mood or you’re not focused enough, you won’t succeed. You’ll get away with a lot more if you’re shooting a compound.”
The barebow discipline is often associated with field archery, which often includes a barebow class. The finely honed instinct for shooting different distances means that top barebow archers post scores similar to those using sight-equipped recurve bows.
In fact, barebow archers are slightly a class apart. “There’s certainly a kind of romantic side to them,” Lind said. “There’s a little of that adventurous, Robin Hood aspect. Maybe it’s something from childhood, wanting to have archery closer to its original form. With barebow, you don’t re-enact history, but you feel like you’re part of history. It’s about pride, feeling really good about yourself with that bow, and not worrying about little bolts or adjustments.”
Is barebow a purer form of archery? “Not really purer, but it’s definitely more challenging,” Lind said. “It’s a different kind of shooting. It’s a smaller pool (of shooters), too, so if you get good and start shooting tournaments, you can go further quicker, and it’s less tough at the top. It’s better for shooters with bad eyesight, too. And you meet a lot of really interesting people!”
So, if your shooting is feeling stale, it might be time to take things back to basics.