As I peeked over the ridge, I saw the buck standing in a patch of alpine willows. With the setting sun in his face and the purple mountains of the Colorado high country surrounding us, it was a majestic sight! He was sharply downhill, but my rangefinder confirmed he was still in bow range. Once I set my sight, I nocked an arrow and reached full draw. The sight hovered on the high side of his vitals to account for the steep downward angle. When the shot broke, I already knew the outcome. I knew the outcome because I had executed that same shot countless times at the range and had built trust in my shot process. The buck barely made it over the hill before expiring. The low exit hole left a trail that Stevie Wonder could have followed with no issues. As I knelt next to the buck in the fading light the emotions washed over me. I knew I had accomplished my long held goal of harvesting a buck above timberline. The shot was difficult, but countless arrows shot in practice had given me the confidence in my shot process necessary to make the shot when it counted.
YouTube is filled with videos of the team building exercise that has one participant falling backwards into the arms of his coworkers. This illustrates this person’s total and complete trust in those who "have his back". What I see is someone who has spent enough time building a foundation of trust with those folks behind him, that he KNOWS they will catch him. This is similar to the trust we display when we send a broadhead tipped arrow toward our quarry. Having enough trust in the process that is required to place that arrow precisely where you need it, is a powerful feeling. Whether it's doing blank bale drills at close range or aiming drills at long range, you must be committed to eliminating variables. It has been said that amateurs practice until they get it right and professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.
The foundation of your shot can be broken down in to just a few key points; grip, anchor, aiming, committing to the shot, applying tension to fire the release and follow through. All of these things need to happen while your mind is focused on aiming.
The bow grip is one of the cornerstones in the foundation of your shot. It is one of the only points where you actually have direct contact with the bow. The grip should be placed on the thumb pad, with all of the grip being located on the thumb side of your lifeline. Your grip should be relaxed and easily repeated. You will find that not all bow grips are conducive to being easily repeated. If my bow came equipped with a wood grip, we will spend a little quality time together with a power sander. It is a long process that I have come to enjoy, because I see the value in a good
bow grip. Some like them very round, but most top level archers prefer a thin grip with a somewhat squared edge. This squared edge helps them to easily identify if it is in the right spot. I also use a light grip tape available at your local skate board shop. This helps to assure that my hand stays in place even when my hands are sweaty.
The anchor is another cornerstone in your shot process. This is where shots can go wrong before they even start. Your anchor, much like your grip should be easily repeatable. For wrist strap releases the preferred anchors are the back of your jawline or the bottom of your ear. Whatever you choose make sure you can still find it easily while wearing a thin glove. Keep in mind the lower your anchor is on your face, the higher your peep sight will be, allowing you to practice at longer distances without sight interference. Additional anchors can be, touching your nose to the string, this helps with head alignment and keeping your head in a consistent position. Add ons such as peep sights, a necessity for top level accuracy, and a kisser button can also lead to more consistent anchor points.
Aiming is something that should be practiced often. It is more than simply lining your pin up with the target. It is about making sure your bow fits your properly and is balanced well enough in your hand to stay in the middle with minimal effort on your part. Slight differences in draw length can have a dramatic effect on how a bow "holds". Finding the right stabilizer combination to allow your bow to balance can also help your bow to stay in the middle easier. Side bars have become popular over the last few years because they help to ease some of the torque that is put in place by adding a bow quiver. They add little weight, but can have a dramatic effect. It is also during aiming drills that you can find how a bows cam timing can have a huge influence on a bows ability to hold in the middle. After you have put these pieces in place you should draw back and aim at the center of the center of your target. Hold at full draw for roughly ten seconds, this helps to establish confidence that you can hold in the middle while the next part is taking place. Let down and repeat the process.
Committing to the shot is somewhat difficult at first. Not all shots are destined for success. Some shots will find your pin dancing all over the target, it is best to let down and start over. Do not force a bad shot! Letting down is a very hard thing for most of us to do. Sometimes our inner manly man tells us it's admitting failure. I prefer to think of the words of my friend Tipton Cook a professional shooter for Mathews Inc. He told me that he just refuses to make a bad shot. This was his approach when learning how to properly shoot a release. I knew I had overcome this hurdle personally when I was at full draw on a Pope and Young mule deer with my sight sitting solid on his vitals and after sitting there for what I knew was too long, I let down. Fortunately the setting sun was at my back and the buck simply stood there. I took a very quick breath and reached full draw again, this time when the pin settled on the buck the shot broke and he was mine after a 25 yard trot. That was my second Pope and Young buck, but it my first that had come as a result of a perfectly executed shot. The reason for the letdown was a hitch in my shot execution. I went back to work on it after the season by spending a lot of time with the blank bale in my basement. The next year I was able to take a buck and my first bull, both with nice smooth shots.
The mechanism used to fire your release is a major source of frustration for so many archers. Most archers shoot a command release, meaning their eyes tell their mind that the sight picture is right and their mind says “now” and their finger hits the trigger. Not many people have the mental strength to do this long term. Most of us are familiar with the term back tension, it is used to describe the process of using your larger, more stable back muscles to fire the shot, rather than your arms and shoulders. Once you reach full draw the holding weight is transferred to your rhomboids which pull to rotate your release or pull your finger through the trigger, firing the shot. This can also result in a more stable sight picture if your bow is properly fit to the archer.
Your follow through should be a natural reaction to the shot breaking loose. Your bow arm will go toward the target and to the left, for a right handed archer, with your release hand gliding back along your shoulder and toward your spine. One thing to watch out for is the location of your release hand. If it is coming out and away from your face, you are probably not pulling through the shot with your back muscles. These shots will almost always end up going wide of your aiming spot.
These steps need to be practiced enough that they become part of your subconscious. The best way to do that is at close range with your eyes closed. Blank bail shooting is best done with a large target at eye level allowing you to draw and shoot with no fear of missing. This should be done for at least two weeks. Shooting every day is vitally important as you are trying to build a habit. You don’t have to shoot hundreds of arrows each session, quality shots are the goal. I shot an average of 20 arrows per night when I went through this process. It is important to feel your back muscles contracting and your finger making contact with the trigger. Make sure you give yourself enough time to build the habit. Once you are comfortable with the process, go outside and shoot at a large target at close range. At this point your focus should be on the target. As you are staring at the target your sight pin will be floating around the target, before you know it, the release has fired. A surprise release is your goal. When you do make that perfect shot, take a moment and analyze what made it great. Try to repeat that same feeling shot after shot.
There are not many guarantees in life, but I can guarantee this, the time you spend developing your shot process will pay dividends in the field and on the tournament line. Those archers who are consistently successful are so for a reason. They have put in their time and built confidence in their process. That confidence is what allows them to perform when it matters most.