By C.R. Learn

Bow and Arrow Magazine  Sept. – Oct 1968

Cutting capers with a keyhole bow proved to be a joy.  I am some slouch as a target shooter and this revolutionary bow made me feel tem feet tall on the range.  But let me explain how this bow came about.

The idea of shooting through a keyhole or center-hole in the bow isn’t new.  Flight archers have been doing it for years.  This isn’t a center-shot with the shaft resting right or left-handed on the side of the bow.  It is a keyhole bow designed to have the shaft fit through the center of the bow, with an overdraw shelf behind and nothing for the arrow to bend against. It gaves a clean uninterrupted flight.

8,9,10, KEYHOLE

Harry Drake has made more archery flight records in his lifetime than there is space to enumerate.  He also sold his own bows for years.  Finally he stopped making anything but flight bows, for himself and his customers.  He is the only flight bow manufacturer in the country that I know of.

During his experimenting years he decided to see how a target bow would perform utilizing the flight principle.  He took twenty-inch limbs and elongated the riser or handle section.  To follow through with the idea used in flight, he made a full center-shot bow with a seven-inch sight window.  This is longer than the usual small round keyhole found in flight bows, but the principle is the same.  He placed the handle for the bow the keyhole.

His first bow drew twenty-nine pounds.  This is light for some target archers, but the bow had much to say for itself.  Drake finished the bow using a walnut riser, the usual glass facing and backing.  He used a tapered lamination in the hardwood limb core as will as tapered limbs.

Length of the bow came to sixty-four inches completed, still using the same short twenty-inch flight limbs, adding the remaining twenty-four inches in the riser section.

This bow is like none you ever have seen.  It looks like a conventional bow when held by the archer, but the giveaway comes when you reach for a shaft.  In shooting a conventional bow, the arrow is placed on the shelf. It rests against the side of the bow, is drawn and released.  With this bow the arrow sits dead center on a section of nylon toothbrush Drake has cut down for an arrow rest.  To make it more distinctive, it has an overdraw shelf.  This gives an archer the advantage of being able to soot a shorter shaft.  I use a twenty-eight-inch shaft in target, and this bow allows me to shoot a twenty-six-inch shaft, one spine weight lighter than recommended.  This gives a faster arrow, flatter trajectory and lighter shaft.


Drake mounted a Merrill sight on the back of the bow with the markings for the different distances.  In the string itself he uses a peep.  When I first saw the bow, my reaction was, “How do you soot it?”  This could be a problem, as there is no archer’s paradox.

With this keyhole system there is nothing for the shaft to bend around.  If you use the right-hand finger release, the arrow will fly off the nylon rest and into the side of the bow, with poor results if it ever does get airborne.  If you use the three-finger release, the shaft usually will bang against the side of the keyhole and drop out a few yards in front.  This is not conducive to good scores.  A bowlock won’t work.  The new Six Gold release might work with patience.

12, 13, 14, KEYHOLE

How can you get an arrow to fly our of this bow?  Back to the flight principle and the double flipper, a leather strap doubled around, with one end longer than the other and a rivet at the back. The loop fits around the little finger with the long side of the flipper laying against the palm of the hand.  When you use this release, place the short end of the strap around the bow string below the nocking point.  Bend the longer inside end around the string and short end.  Then hold the loose end of the flipper, which will be on the outside facing your thumb, by pressing the two pieces together and holding them with the thumb and first finger.

To draw the bow, pull back with the flipper in place, come to draw and anchor and relax the thumb-finger pressure.  The double flipper unwraps first with the long side flying out, then the short side moves away from the string, and the shaft is long gone on a straight, true flight to the target.


Well, it’s not quite that simple.  The leather of the flipper must be hard enough not to soften under string and thumb pressures and soft enough not to take a hard or permanent set.  It shouldn’t stretch, as this would make the flipper gain in length and cause erratic groups.  Trial and error with different types of leather will give the desired action.

The nocking point on the string is identical to other bows except Drake uses a double nock, one below the shaft and one above.  The one above gives the proper nocking height, critical but not difficult to determine.  The lower nocking point prevents the flipper from riding up and putting pressure on the shaft and nocking point.  A piece of dental floss or serving thread on the ten-strand string between the nocking point s allows the shaft to sit on the string with no aid or pressure.

With this double flipper system there is no actual contact with the shaft in any way.  When you shoot three fingered you hold the shaft, or at least have contact with it between the first and second finger.  With the bowlock you can use the thumb for contact point and with the Six Gold or new Little John release, there is no contact with the shaft.

When Harry Drake first showed me the bow, I tried to keep an open mind.  We went to Drake’s range, where he loosed a few shafts.  Eventually I managed to get the bow.

My usual style of shooting is canted bow, leaning into the bow, bowlock release and snap shooting.  I do have an anchor point, but when I touch it, the shaft is released using instinctive technique.  At one time I tried sticking some colored pins in a piece of tape, but I never had tried a true commercial sight.

Just getting strapped onto the bow seemed a chore.  First the hand goes through the loose-fitting bow sling, then the shaft is placed through the keyhole and the small nocks are pressed around the built-up serving between the nocks on the string.  The arrow is held to the string by the nock. The bow is lifted to position and the double flipper is attached to the string below the bottom mock.

This was a two-handed job at first.  It must have been a sight to see a man holding a weird looking bow between his legs, while the bow’s upper section  dangled by the now sling from the left wrist, with both hands madly wrapping the short left side of the flipper and the long right side around the string.

When this was done, I raised the bow and tried to get that little 1516 Easton aluminum on that small nylon rest in the middle of the overdraw shelf.

The shaft remained in place.  I lifted the bow and the shaft fell off.  I had canted the bow.  This bow will not perform with technique but a straight up and down grip.  Keeping this in mind I lifted the bow, flipped the flipper between the thumb and the side of the first finger and started to draw.

My usual anchor point is the corner of the mouth, but with this sight-peep system it is under the chin.  I came to a comfortable position, aligned the peep in the string with the round ball-centered Merrill front sight, and lined up on the gold center of the target forty yards away.  A slight relaxation of the pressure on the flipper and the little 1516 zipped down the range, plopping into the red seven ring.

Not bad, but what was that lying on the ground in front of me?  I failed to notice and Drake failed to mention that the fletch on these shafts is different.  Drake uses three Plastifletch 2-3/8-inch P-26 vanes on his 1516 shafts.  They are fletched in the usual manner, but what he neglected to mention was that they go on the string in a different manner.  Usually the cock feather is mounted on the left for right-handed shooting.  This allows the feather to clear the side of the bow.  On the keyhole now the shafts are fletcher with the nock is moved so the cock feather is in the bale-minus one fletch.  This time I mounted the cock-feather vertically.  As I started to draw, Drake mentioned that the bow would perform better if I didn’t strangle it.  Now I stood with an open stance, the bow held loosely in the left hand, whipped the flipper around the string one-handed this time, came to draw, managed to keep the left hand from closing on the handle, aligned the peep pin and target and struck gold!  

I am the first to admit my target shooting won’t panic the PAA, but I still enjoy a round once in a while.  My first impression was that, in the hands of a truly serious target archer, this bow might just set some new mark.  It was an effortless one-point release.  The shafts are shorter, lighter and fast in flight.  Drake said for this twenty-nine-pound bow he determined a point on distance of 125 yards, using the under-chin anchor, full draw and sighting over the tip of the shaft to the center of the target.

“I believe this is the most accurate system ever been devised for shooting a bow by hand and still officially sanctioned by the NAA,” Drake said


For curiosity we decided to see if other archers would have any trouble with the flipper.  The shooting technique is the same – loose grip, under the chin anchor and pin, but the flipper might flip some archers.  We called on Vione Miller, who spends more time hunting rabbits and rounding the broadhead range than target shooting.  I thought she would make a good test for the flipper.

We met at the archery range located near the football field at Calwestern University on the ocean side of Point Loma in San Diego.

Miss Miller had no problem with the flipper or the keyhole technique.  After a bit of fumbling, she could one-hand the double flipper with dexterity.

I had to find out how the keyhole Drake would perform under target competition. The Chula Vista Archery Club has a monthly round and a congenial group to shoot with. 

The day was hot and they shot the 900 round using the American face and yardages with ten-ring scoring.  It has been some time since I shot with target people, and when I saw the groups some of them put in the bale, I felt it wasn’t long enough.

I wondered if the flipper release would slow me down or hold up the other archers in any way.  When I shoot target I shoot barebow and usually have my six shafts in the bale before the rest have shot their fourth.  This is not conducive to good scores, as snapshooting will wipe one out in target. 

I took the keyholer out for several practice sessions to get the sight zeroed in.  At sixty yards I was just about halfway down the scale on the pin.  I tried a few at eighty and sill had over two inches on the scale to move the pin down.  It is fast.

We all lined up for the practice rounds, then got down to the serious part of the game.  I sent a few bad shafts wobbling down to the bale but even with bad release they still scored.  As the shoot progressed I became more impressed with the bow.  The flipper offered no problem, and by moving the flipper one-quarter of an inch below the Nockset, I could get consistently clean releases.  If I put the flipper against the Nockset it seemed to bind, and I got a few wobblers off.  This could be overcome by using the standard tied nock, but I have become addicted to the Nockset.  They are fast and have yet to move after I pinch them in place. 

After shooting the required ninety shafts to complete the round, I had a score of 609 from a possible 900; not impressive against some of the other scores, but good for me.  The afternoon showed improvement with a 620.  it proved to me the bow had the stuff, provided the right man was behind it.

The bow brought mixed reaction from the archers present.  Some looked, others came over to ask questions.  I took special notice of the trajaectory of my 1516’s against the other shafts being shot.  They were arcing high at sixty yards and the little keyhole was drilling them in flat.

I even retraced my shooting technique back to Zen to get the breathing system again.  Don’t knock it till you try it.  There is a little book called Zen in Archery that has a few points to ponder.  The breathing technique they use has helped me in the past in my target shooting, where holding and concentration are important.  A little here and a little there makes a well rounded archer.  I may not be the best on the range, but I read a lot.

The only irritant at the all-day meet was the flipper.  It came sapping over the first finger and whanged the knuckle on my second finger.  I had to put on a Band Aid to absorb the flipping flipper, but had no sore fingers at the end of the day as did some three fingered shooters.

Drake is planning to make a few keyhole bows if archers are interested in them.  They will market at around $250.  They are unusual and accurate.  Some shooters aren’t. But this bow gave me more confidence for target shooting than I ever have had.

Drake is contemplating a heavier now for hunting.  This would have to be a minimum of forty pounds to meet most state laws.  It would work from a blind or stand were one knew his distances and could hold the bow vertically.  You certainly can’t, can’t this bow or you’ll lose your shaft.

It is different, deadly and a true pleasure to shoot.

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