Most of us taught ourselves how to shoot a bow and feel we have it down, more or less. We could do better, sure, but that’s a matter of refining our technique, not changing it. Right?
Probably not. In many years of hanging with hundreds of bowhunters, I’ve seen very few who draw, aim and shoot a bow properly. They either don’t know how or do know but physically or mentally can’t do it.
Here’s how most bowhunters shoot: They draw and acquire a general sight picture of the pin on the spot. Their focus — both sight and mind — shifts between the target, the sight and the trigger. Some squeeze, some wait for the pin to drift across the bull’s-eye — or worse, force it there — then hammer home the trigger. They try to shoot tighter groups at longer ranges but can’t really keep shots in the vitals consistently much beyond 35 yards, whether they’ll admit it to themselves or not.
This drifting focus and intentional pulling of the trigger results in a terrible struggle between the conscious and subconscious minds. The subconscious is a very powerful, hard-to-contain force that can dominate the conscious mind in operating the body. If you are physically or psychologically uncomfortable in performing a shot, the subconscious will take over and prevent you from making your conscious shot.
This affliction, commonly called target panic, is a sick thing that rears its ugly head in many forms. I recall practicing for a hunt with a well-known TV celebrity hunter. I shot an arrow and stood aside to watch him. He drew, keeping his finger behind his trigger as he aimed. I knew I was looking at trouble. Sure enough, his index finger slowly left its position and began to creep ahead, stalking the trigger! It slowly swept around the trigger tip, then suddenly slammed home. I choked back a chuckle. It looked funny, but I knew it wasn’t. He was deep in a hole that’s hard to climb out of. I know — I’ve been there.
Getting It Right
It’s far easier to start right and reinforce that good technique with practice. But most people don’t have access to proper training, and the right way to shoot is, strangely, not the natural way.
Here’s the right way to shoot: Start with a close-range target with a small bull’s-eye, bow with draw weight low enough to be very comfortable to shoot, and draw length set properly — not too long like most of us use! Get hold of a release with a large trigger on a short extension you can position more at the middle or base of your finger rather than the tip.
The objective in proper shooting is twofold — to focus your conscious mind, stopping it from bouncing back and forth from the target to the sight to the trigger, and to occupy your subconscious mind with putting it in charge of the trigger so the bow’s discharge is not deliberate, but a surprise.
Here’s how it works: Your conscious mind is in charge of aiming. That’s all. All you think about is aiming. In fact, I often say soundlessly to myself, “That’s all you’re here for, aiming. Aim, ’cause that’s all you’re good for. Think maybe you could just aim for once …?” Chiding myself actually helps. Hey, I’ll use any tool that works!
This conscious act of aiming is focusing on the objective, the target, burning a hole where you want to hit. This focuses all positive energy on your objective, while training you to “pick a spot” — that all-crucial step in shooting at game. Think, “Aim small, miss small.” It’s true.
In aiming, your pin will naturally try to align with the objective. You are intent on aligning the pin with the bull’s-eye, but through increasing steadiness, not deliberately moving the pin, and focusing on the target with the pin in secondary view — not shifting focus between your target and your pin. That is what your conscious mind is doing — no more, no less.
And your subconscious mind? It is busy bearing down on the trigger like a runaway train. I’ll explain:
You have trained your trigger hand to take a deep grip on the trigger, rather than a fingertip grip. This allows for a slow, steady squeeze and discourages “punching,” which the subconscious mind often tells a fingertip to do.
With this deep grip, you can shoot by hardly moving your finger at all, but with a combination of squeezing your fist and extending your draw by stretching your arms apart and your shoulder blades together. This closely simulates the action of a back-tension release, the type of triggering device preferred by target champs. The advantages are that it is smooth, slow and linear compared to jerky, capricious fingertip triggering. It is also conducive to the technique of unleashing the runaway train, or as Master Instructor Bernie Pellerite calls it, “starting the motor.” The idea is you get your trigger squeeze going, smoothly and slowly, then turn it over to your subconscious mind to see through to completion, while you do all you’re really there for — aiming.
Step By Step
So your shot sequence goes like this:
* Set a big target with a small bull’s-eye close, maybe 10 yards, so no subconscious fear of making a bad shot will enter the picture.
* Take a moment to stare at the bull’s-eye while reminding yourself you ain’t good for nuthin’ but aiming, so let’s see if you can do it right.
* Draw the bow, moving your trigger finger to the trigger as soon as the sight is on target. You will have learned with experience the best deep grip on the trigger, with a little preload of pressure, but not enough to risk premature release.
* When the sight becomes aligned, level and steady, stretching your arms apart with your trigger hand rigid, start your motor. Your subconscious motor is now squeezing the trigger and won’t stop till it trips in a few seconds.
* Now you have nothing to do but aim, so do it right! Keep focusing on the bull’s-eye and keep steady. Your pin will drift off, and back on, then across, none of which matters. Do not try to consciously move your pin back to the bull’s-eye. Did I mention all you’re there for is aiming?
* Concentrate harder and harder on aiming — TWANG! — Hey, did anybody say you could stop aiming? You keep aiming until the bull’s-eye you are burning a hole in with your laser vision contains your arrow.
Of course, all of this takes practicing and tweaking to get the optimum grip on the trigger, rate of squeeze, attitude toward the target, etc.
If you are a typical archer who has felt the insipid anxiety of trying to both aim and trigger with conscious thought, you will find this new technique joyous. Your mind feels free to just aim. You will find the thrill of discovering your pin doesn’t even have to be on the bull’s-eye to shoot tighter groups than ever. With unrelenting focus and intensity, you’ll experience the thrill of “willing” your arrows into the target. You are free to enjoy shooting your bow more than ever.