The human side of the archery shot
has two parts: physical and mental. To shoot consistently well, we must master
The archery shot is 90 percent
mental, and this part affects accuracy more than the physical part does. That
said, no matter how well developed we are with the mental game, if the shooting
form we use is not consistent, we will never hit our target consistently. So,
let?s first look at what is involved in physical execution of the archery shot.
The physical part of shooting deals
primarily with the archer’s form. That said, I am not going to advocate one
rigid form you must use. If one form were best, we would probably all know it
by now. Undoubtedly that is not the case, because many outstanding archers use
different forms. Still, all of the best archers follow a few rules concerning
First, top competition archers learn
and use a form they can consistently repeat. We should realize up front the
benefits of being consistent, because with a shooting machine we can shoot
arrows into the same hole from 20 yards with almost any bow and setup. Why can
a shooting machine shoot better than any archer? I can answer that with one
word: consistency. A shooting machine will do exactly the same thing every
time. This must be our goal as well.
The bow hand must be placed on the
grip the same way each shot. The bow elbow and shoulder must be set the same
during each shot. We must raise the drawing elbow the same height every time.
And, of course, the anchor point must be precise. Do not underestimate this
part of shot execution. Evaluate every part of your form and make sure you are
doing everything the same way on each shot.
It will help to have someone watch
you shoot to evaluate your consistency from one shot to the other. However, the
most effective way to evaluate your consistency is with a video camera. Have
someone film you, or place the camera on a tripod and film yourself. You should
record shooting three or four sessions, each about a week apart. As you watch
the playback of your shooting sessions, the primary thing you will be looking
for is variations in your form. Only by knowing which area you are not
consistent in can you improve your consistency.
The next thing that can cause
problems with accuracy is muscle tension. All top archers remove as much muscle
tension as possible from their physical setup and shot execution. We can only
shoot groups as tight as our sight pin is sitting; if it is oscillating five
inches around the target, we cannot expect to shoot 1-inch groups. And, the No.
1 reason our sight picture will not hold still is muscle tension. Thus, we must
remove as much of it from the shot as possible, by using our skeletal alignment
to hold the bow up and draw. Let?s start at the ground and work our way up to
see what we might do to help in this regard.
Of course, our feet should not be
too far apart. About shoulder width or a little closer works well. If the feet
are spread too wide, our leg muscles will get involved in our stance; if they
are too close together, our foundation will not be stable enough. Also, we
should use the foot placement that will open our stance to the target, so the
bow shoulder and arm will be aligning naturally with the body. By
experimenting, you can learn the exact foot placement that is best for your
In most physical activities, we are
taught to bend our knees. However, in archery this will cause muscle use and
consequently, muscle tension. If we have movement in our knees, our bow will
have the same movement. Thus, our knees should be straight.
Scott Goldman shows excellent form.
Now let?s move up to the hips. We
should pull our hips forward, pushing the buttocks and stomach out over the
feet. I realize this is not the best-looking posture; in fact, it is the type
of posture we are told from youth to avoid. However, it will remove tension
from a very large muscle group: the lower back and buttocks. You will be amazed
at how this one change can steady your sight.
Next, let?s look at the release-side
arm. The release wrist must be straight. Let the string?s tension, by way of
the release, pull your wrist straight. This is critical to proper shot
execution, especially if you use a wrist-style release. Also, do not grip the
release strap with your fingers. Your release hand and fingers should be
completely relaxed. Learn to relax and remove all tension from your fingers and
your wrist during the draw, and your wrist will be pulled straight. You must
maintain this relaxation throughout your shot execution.
I have also found that it is hard to
get my wrist straight using a release designed with a solid piece between the
release head and the wrist strap, even though the head will rotate. I prefer a
rope or nylon strap connecting the release head and the wrist strap. You should
try both types to see which works better for you.
Holding the Release side elbow high allows the archer to shoot with proper back tension adn straight wrist. Both important for consistentcy.
The release-side elbow should be
raised high. If it is low, your wrist will for sure be bowed. Also, if it is low
you cannot hold and release the shot with back tension (more on this later). I
do not believe it is possible to hold the release-side elbow too high.
This elbow should be straight behind
the line the arrow is following. If your anchor point is too far forward on
your face, the release elbow will be around too far in front of your body. On
the other hand, if your anchor point is too far back (which is the case with
most archers), your elbow will be too far behind your head. In most situations,
if the index finger?s knuckle is placed in the indention under the ear at the
back of the jawbone, the elbow will be in the correct position.
look at the bow shoulder. This one part of the archer?s form is, in most
coaches? opinion, the most critical physical aspect of the shot ? and I tend to
agree with them. The bow shoulder must always be down and back in the socket.
It should never be raised, rolled in or pushed out of the socket. If it is not
down and back into the socket, we have the big shoulder muscle in use instead
of bone alignment. Also, if it is pushed forward, when the string?s tension is
released at the shot, the bow will sweep to the left (for a right-handed
shooter). This will cause hits to the left.
On the other hand, if the bow
shoulder is back, as it should be, at the release the bow?s energy will be
expanded forward toward the target and not sweep the arrow to the left. The
secret is to learn to pick the bow up to target level without raising the
shoulder, then draw it without rolling the shoulder in or pushing it out toward
I adjust my draw length so that my
bow-side elbow is just slightly bent. This allows me to keep my arm more
relaxed. I have found that I shoot more consistently with my bow-side elbow
slightly bent than with it straight. Also, with my bow arm positioned in this
manner, I get much better bowstring clearance while wearing bulky hunting
While we are on the topic of bow-arm
position, I need to mention something that has been talked about quite a bit but
still needs stressing. If you are shooting downward from an elevated position
(such as a tree stand) or are shooting uphill, you must bend at the waist, so
you will maintain the same body-to-bow arm alignment you had when you were
practicing and setting your sights on level ground. If you do not maintain this
alignment, the arrow?s point of impact will be different than it is when you
shoot on level ground.
Also, if you must move your bow to
the right or left to get your sight onto the target, rotate at the waist to
maintain proper bow-arm alignment. Any-time you are shooting a bow you should
visualize your body and arm as a unit unable to move independently of each
Never raise, roll in or push bow shoulder. Author’s son Clay shows proper shoulder position.
Last, we need to look at the hand
and wrist on the bow side. As stated, I believe most archers today realize the
benefit of a low-wrist grip. If we use a high-wrist grip, or put too much thumb
into the bow?s grip, there will be more movement because of muscle tension. The
pressure point on the bow grip should be on the thumb side, at the end of the
forearm bones. When we place the hand on the grip in this manner, we are
utilizing bone instead of muscle. A lot of coaches teach putting a lot of thumb
onto the grip. Sometimes I believe they carry it too far, even to the point the
pressure is not on the forearm bone but the thumb joint.
One last thing on muscle tension:
After you draw the bow and anchor, try to release all tension from all of your
muscles before you begin to aim; learn to feel the tightness leave. (The only
tensed muscles should be in your back, as they are used to keep the bow drawn.)
Stay relaxed as you aim and release. This will take a little practice, but as
you learn to do it, your sight will settle much better.
I believe that if you take the time
to practice some of these suggestions, you will find that your sight?s
oscillations slow dramatically. The end result will be tighter groups.
a mental game. This part affects accuracy much more than anything else. And, I
guess knowing human nature, this is the hardest fact for us to accept. That is
to say, we are to blame for our misses, not our equipment. Even worse, it is
not some glitch in our physical makeup that causes most of our problems with
accuracy, but the mental side.
Of course, even in a book on
bowhunting there is no way to cover every mental aspect of the archery shot.
All I can do here is hit on a few high points that might start you on the road
to inquiring, thinking and learning.
When working on form, an empty backstop remove your bowsight. This helps train your subconscious mind.
To better understand the mental part
of archery, think of a person who is learning how to drive an automobile. Do
you remember how difficult you found it, as a beginning driver, to stay on your
side of the road while clutching, changing gears, watching for oncoming
traffic, gently braking, using the turn signal, watching road signs and so on?
But a few short weeks later you were going down the road doing everything
correctly, while at the same time carrying on a conversation with someone!
What changed? While learning to
drive, the conscious mind was used. It can only do one thing at precisely the
same time. However, through repetition, your conscious mind trained your
subconscious mind to perform the individual task of driving. As your
subconscious mind took over, your driving greatly improved, because your subconscious
can and does perform hundreds of things at once. If you are talking while
driving, your subconscious mind is doing everything involved in the driving
process, while your conscious mind is carrying on the conversation.
Have you ever been in deep thought
while driving home, and when you arrived you could not even remember driving
there? How did you drive home without thinking about it or remembering the
trip? It is because your subconscious did the driving. After it is trained,
through repetition, it can perform the task of driving without help from your
How does this analogy apply to
archery? Just as in driving an automobile, there are many physical tasks
involved in making an archery shot. They must be done subconsciously, so the
conscious mind can be free to aim. While making the shot, if we consciously
think about any part of it, the subconscious mind is no longer performing that
part of shooting, and the conscious mind is no longer aiming. While aiming, the
conscious mind cannot accomplish even one of the tasks involved in shooting
Have you ever been shooting great
groups when no one else was around, only to have the arrows begin to scatter as
soon as someone walked up? What causes our accuracy to diminish when someone is
watching us? The answer lies in the way our conscious and subconscious minds
work. When we have an audience we want to impress, we no longer trust our
subconscious mind to shoot the bow. Our conscious mind feels the need to take
over the shot and control every step, as if that would help us to be more
precise. This will only hurt our accuracy. Our conscious mind is no longer free
to aim, and our conscious mind can only perform one of the many things involved
in making the shot at the same exact fraction of a second.
making the shot, the conscious mind must be totally immersed in aiming. At the
same time, the subconscious mind must control the many physical steps involved
in the shot, without interruption, just as it has been trained to do. This is
the only way we can shoot with a high level of proficiency. When we interfere
with this process, our accuracy will suffer, not improve.
There are two points to remember
that will help you train the subconscious mind more quickly and effectively.
First, while working on your form, you should not be trying to aim at the same
time. If you are trying to consciously aim and also consciously think about a
part of your form, you will not be able to concentrate on either effectively.
You must remove the need to aim while you are working on a physical part of the
shot. While you are teaching someone to drive, you do not carry on a
conversation with the person. The same principle is true with archery. You
should not be concerned with aiming while training your subconscious mind to do
any one of the many things involved in making the shot.
The most effective way to train is
on a backstop with no target. With no concern for aiming, you can teach your
subconscious mind more quickly and effectively, because your conscious mind
will be free to concentrate on the part of your form you are working on. It
will help if you even remove the bow sight. With no sight on your bow, you
avoid the tendency to pick an arrow hole or something else to aim at. Of
course, if you remove the sight you should move very close to the backstop.
The next thing that will help you
train your subconscious more quickly and effectively is to always have a
specific part of your form to work on when you practice ? preferably your
weakest part. I know you have heard this before; however, I feel it is many
times overlooked. If you shoot without concentrating and working on a specific
part of your form, you will not improve your shooting during that session. The
only thing you will benefit is tuning your muscles. This is why many archers
reach a certain point in their accuracy and never advance beyond that point.
Always have something specific in mind to practice when you shoot, whether it
is bow-shoulder position, the release or another aspect of the shot.
Once your subconscious has learned
to perform each physical part of the shot, through repetition on the empty
backstop, the subconscious mind will take over the shot. Then the conscious
mind will be free to aim without interruption, which is the only way to shoot
with a high level of accuracy.
Understanding the need for the
subconscious mind to perform the shot helps to explain a problem you might have
encountered. Have you ever tried a new technique a competent trainer showed
you, only to find it hurt your shooting? The new technique might have indeed
been better for you. The problem was, while you were trying this new technique,
your conscious mind had to take over the endeavor, because your subconscious
mind had not been trained in it. As a result of the learning process, other
parts of the shot suffered ? particularly the aiming. If you had given your
conscious mind long enough time to teach your subconscious the new technique,
you might have found that indeed it was better. Keep in mind that when you are
trying anything new ? including anything you read in the archery section of
this book ? you will get worse before you get better.
Now let?s look specifically at the
release. This is one of the most critical parts of the archery shot but one of
the most misunderstood.
In my mind, the release is not a
part of the shot sequence. The release must not be anything the shooter does
consciously; to be most effective, it must be a surprise to the shooter. If we
know when the release is going to happen, it will be anticipated. Also, by the
same token, the end of physical effort will be anticipated. This anticipation
can shorten closer and closer to the explosion of the release until physical
effort will sometimes end before the arrow has cleared the bow ? sometimes even
before the release happens. When this takes place, we have the ?flinch.?
When using a trigger release take a deep bite on the trigger. This less sensitive area of the finger helps achieve a surprise release.
A lot of shooters flinch and/or snap
the bow hand shut at the same moment they trigger the shot. This is why a
surprise release is so important. Without the ability to anticipate the shot,
the shooter will not be quick enough to ruin it.
at a few points that might help you execute a surprise release. First, if you
shoot an index finger-triggered release, make sure you take a deep bite on the
trigger, at least to the first knuckle. This part of the finger cannot detect a
small amount of trigger movement, as can the fingertip; therefore, it will give
you a surprise release.
Begin your shot by applying pressure
to the release trigger, but not enough to fire it. Then, while you are
consciously immersed in aiming, start squeezing your shoulder blades together.
The shoulder blades being squeezed together will pull your bow hand back, which
will cause enough trigger-finger movement to fire the release.
Your release should be set light.
Not so light that you are afraid to lay your finger on it, of course, but light
enough that as soon as your hand starts back, the release fires. This should be
practiced over and over on an empty backstop until it becomes second nature
(that is, until your subconscious becomes trained). After your subconscious
learns the process, through repetition, you will be able to start consciously
squeezing your shoulder blades together then begin aiming; your subconscious
will continue to squeeze through the release, while you continue to consciously
aim. The release must be started by the conscious mind, then continued to
completion by the subconscious mind.
If you use a thumb-triggered
release, you must learn the proper thumb placement and hand rotation to fire it
with back tension (squeezing the shoulder blades together), just as you would
while using an index finger-triggered release or a back-tension release. During
practice, you should not move the finger or thumb to cause the release. This
will remove the surprise.
In trying to maintain a surprise
release, practice can be a two-edged sword. The more you practice, the more
familiar you become with your release and the amount of pressure it takes to
fire it. If that proves to be the case, here is a trick to try: During the
off-season, switch to a back-tension release or one of the new spring-triggered
releases. This will help you to avoid getting so familiar with your hunting
release that you remove the surprise when using it.
Now that we have looked at the
correct way to practice and release an archery shot, let me say that I realize
in the real world of deer hunting you might not always be able to slowly tense
your back muscles, as you do in practice, until the shot goes off. Sometimes
the shot must be made quickly, by a controlled squeeze of the release trigger.
However, this trigger squeeze does not have to be practiced. When the shot has
to be made fast, believe me ? you will get the shot off before you even realize
it has happened. The main thing to remember is, never punch the trigger. Doing
so will always lead to some form of target panic.
No matter which type of release aid
you use, you must train your subconscious mind to shoot with back tension
through repetition until it becomes automatic, second nature, subconscious . .
. however you want to say it.
You can train your subconscious to
execute aproper release through
repetition without shooting up your backstop. One approach would be to buy a
shooting device that allows you to practice your release without actually
shooting the bow. However, I do not see any reason to go to this expense. I
have worked out a method that enables me to practice without shooting my bow,
just as a shooting device does.
I tie a length of cord to the upper
and lower limbs of my bow. I then adjust the length of the cord so that when I
am hooked onto it with my release and drawn, the cord will be tight at the same
draw length where I would be getting against the draw curve wall if I were pulling
my bowstring. I can hook my release onto the cord and release it over and over
without having to shoot up my bale. I can even practice at night in my living
room. When I began teaching A.J. and Clay to shoot, I used this method. They
had practiced their release several weeks before they ever released an arrow.
As you begin to practice the
surprise release, you might have to consciously tense the back muscles and
consciously keep squeezing until the release fires. However, after you have
trained your subconscious, through repetition, you will find you can start
squeezing your shoulder blades together, then become immersed in aiming, and
the release will happen properly. At this point your subconscious will be
trained, and if you allow it to, it will perform as trained. Do not
underestimate the importance of this training.
There are a couple of ways to know
when you or another archer is shooting with a surprise release. First, if the
release-side hand does not fly back toward the shoulder on the release, the
person is not shooting with back tension or a surprise release. Second, if he
is not using a bow sling or wrist strap, he is not shooting a surprise release.
If you shoot as you should, with a surprise release using back tension, and you
do not use a sling, you will need to bend over after each shot ? to pick up
your bow. The only alternative is to grip the bow, which also hurts accuracy.
If you are not already using a wrist
sling, purchase one. And, make sure you adjust it to where it is just touching
the back of your bow hand. By doing this, you will let your subconscious know
that your bow will not drop at the shot.
Another aspect of the shot that is
misunderstood by many archers, and one that is responsible for a lot of
accuracy problems, is the ?follow-through.? Forget about ?follow-through? ?
instead, think ?follow-to point.?
Each archer should pick a point at
which to end his shot. This point is something you see, hear, or feel that will
let you know the shot is over. After this point takes place is when you stop
aiming and stop the physical effort of the shot.
follow-to points can the used, and this point can be different from one archer
to the other. What matters is that your follow-to point be something that takes
place after the arrow has clearly passed the bow?s riser. One example would be
to aim until your release hand touches your shoulder. Another would be to not
stop aiming until you either hear or see the arrow hit the target.
Whichever follow-to point you pick,
it is the end of physical and mental effort. Follow-through, on the other hand,
has no defined conclusion. It can be shortened to varying degrees, even to the
point it occurs before the arrow has cleared the bow ? and that, of course,
will negatively affect accuracy.
You must train yourself to keep
aiming until you reach the point you have picked. I can keep the target
somewhere inside my sight guard through the explosion of the shot and until I
see the arrow hit the target, which is when I stop aiming. That is the point I
follow to. Again, train yourself to keep aiming until the shot conclusion you
pick is reached. This training also should be done on an empty bale, to speed
up the learning process.
One thing that ties together the
points discussed in this section is the amount of time it takes you to shoot
each shot. This is called shot rhythm. You should set aside some time during
each practice session to time your shots and work on being consistent from one
shot to the next. Practice this until you consistently get all of your shots
off within one second of each other.
After you have practiced this to the
point you are consistent in your shot timing, occasionally time yourself or
have someone else time you while you execute the shot. If you discover your shot
executions are no longer taking place within one or two seconds of each other,
you are not doing the same thing the same way each time. If it takes you three
seconds to complete the shot with back tension one time and six seconds the
next, your conscious mind has begun to second-guess your subconscious mind and
is taking over the release process. This is evident because the subconscious
can and will perform each step the same each time, which will take the same
amount of time.
One reason the conscious mind might
feel the need to take over the release is because it is concerned about where
the arrow will hit because of the sight picture. Remember, the sight picture
will always have some movement. You should not be concerned about that or the
result of the shot. You should only be concerned about allowing your
subconscious to perform the same way each time while you immerse your conscious
mind in the center of the target.
Do not overlook the importance of
shot rhythm. If it is inconsistent, it is a red flag that you have lost your
confidence in your ability to perform each shot exactly as you have practiced.
In this section, I have covered the
points that are the most misunderstood and most critical to accuracy in
bowhunting. Maybe you have picked up a few ideas which, once learned, will turn
the odds in your favor. After all, we cannot kill a trophy whitetail if we
cannot hit him.
There are several components to a
great archery shot. The first is tuning the bow/arrow setup so the arrow hits
in the same place each time, relative to where the bow is pointing. This is
achieved by proper tuning of the bow/arrow unit, as discussed in Chapter 1.
When you have confidence that your bow is properly tuned, you are free to
concentrate on your ability to execute a perfect shot physically and mentally,
without concern for the end result of the shot.
You should not think about where
your last arrow hit or where the arrow you are about to shoot will hit. The
only thing an archer can control during the shot execution is his ability to
execute a perfect shot. During shot execution, you cannot change anything about
your bow/arrow setup that will influence where the arrow hits in relation to
where the bow is pointing.
Each time you release an arrow,
concentrate on and have confidence in your ability to execute the shot with
perfect form, just as you have done countless times before. Your concern must
be in your performance, not in the result of the performance (whether the arrow
will hit or miss your target). If you are concerned about whether the arrow
will hit or miss, you will put pressure on yourself and lose confidence. If
this happens, you will not function as you practiced. When a buck is standing
before you, if the thought of missing enters your mind, your lack of confidence
will give way to ?buck fever,? which is nothing more than a fear of letting the
buck escape. If buck fever sets in, you will more than likely make a bad shot.
nutshell, when the moment of truth comes, you must have confidence in and
concentrate on your ability to execute a perfect shot, just as you have done so
many times before in practice. If you do that, the end result will be the same
Trophy Whitetails, published by North American Whitetail magazine)