Aaron Buchanan

Aaron Buchanan, USA Archery L1 Certified Instructor

AAron enjoys the fun and relaxation of archery when he is not making things, breaking things, or fixing things at his engineering job. Occasionally he shoots well enough to win ribbons and plaques, but has fun even on bad archery days. Though AAron is a Level 1 archery instructor who likes to help Nico with beginner classes, he doesn’t usually give private lessons.  But he is always willing to answer questions or give tips and advice, so say Hi to him at the Ohlone Archery range.

A Perspective on Instinctive Aiming

By Paul Fender

For those new to archery the term “Instinctive” describes both a general way of not precisely or consciously aiming and a specific style of archery developed and written about most notably by G. Fred Asbell.

It is briefly described in a document attached to my 2015 post, “Aiming Without a Sight”:

World Champion Paul Fender goes into greater depth about it in this new post:

A Perspective on Instinctive Aiming by Paul Fender

Over the years I have accumulated personally witnessed evidence that what is commonly called “instinctive shooting” just doesn’t work worth a darn. However, at the CA State Broadhead Tournament I got to witness evidence that it does work. I, a confirmed gap shooter (reference to this also in my above mentioned post), took third to two confirmed instinctive shooters. Oh, the horror!

I have always had a hard time with the idea of instinctive shooting. We’re told “It’s just like throwing a baseball.” A moments reflection though and we realize that that can’t possibly deliver the accuracy necessary for either hunting or target shooting. Sometimes it’s called “proprioception”, the unconscious perception of the relative position of our various body parts. Think about that for a minute. I don’t know it for a fact but I find it doubtful that this sense of proprioception is so precise that it can drive the difference in elevation of the bow arm to accommodate for a 25 yard shot versus a 15 yard shot. But I have seen instinctive shooters do just that. Then of course there is the argument that there is no such thing as instinctive shooting as humans are not born with any instinct for shooting a bow and arrow. It is a learned behavior.

I have run across apocryphal (accounts of uncertain validity) stories of informal studies of instinctive shooting. In these studies, the performance of shooters who consciously aim is compared to instinctive shooters. The most common format is to have the shooters shoot at a “target” like a laser dot projected onto a wall in a totally dark room. In some of these “studies” the instinctive shooters perform best, in others the aimers do best, and in yet others there is no measurable difference in performance. So even if we do accept these stories as being valid, it’s still a wash. However, let’s just keep these stories in the back of our mind for a bit, OK?

Some time ago I read in the 5/2010 issue of Scientific American an article titled “Uncanny Sight in the Blind” by Beatrice de Gelder. She is a professor and the director of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Tilburg University, Netherlands. Turns out that people who have gone blind due to injury to the visual cortex in the brain, yet whose eyes remain basically healthy have a “sense” termed “blind sight”.

People who have demonstrated blind sight are able to distinguish colors, shapes, and even emotions portrayed on other people’s faces, even though they are not conscious of having seen anything! One particularly striking case is that of a blind man who was able to successfully navigate an obstacle strewn hallway. Here is a link to a video of him accomplishing this:

What I found to be important and what has lead me down this long and tortuous path is that upon questioning, the blind man was not consciously aware of having perceived anything or having made any maneuvers to avoid the obstacles!

So, by accepting the stories about the instinctive shooting studies and their equivocal results, (yes I’m going out on a limb here) and combining them with the concept of blind sight I have arrived at a theory of instinctive shooting. For one thing, yes it can work. In order for it to work though, the arrow, or the bow’s shelf, or sight window, or other reference MUST be visible to the eye. These references are actually processed. They are used to drive what the shooter does with his body, much like the blind man in the hallway. However, the instinctive shooter has managed to train himself into a sort of blind sight condition in which this processing is no longer happening consciously. This processing is occurring in the more “primitive” areas of the brain. An oversimplified view of brain functions, but think of it as if this processing is occurring in the “reptile brain” we all have. Perhaps the term “instinctive” isn’t quite such a misnomer after all?

Archery isn’t popular, it’s an Archetype!

In a 2013 press release, USA Archery cited a 105% membership increase from 2011 – 2013. In that same period, they also noted huge increases in tournament participation, and demand for instructor certification. USA Archery and other organizations are quick to suggest the increase is a direct result of the prevalance of archery heroines and heros in movies and television. This is only part of the reason; archery isn’t just popular, it’s an Archetype!

The term “archetype” has its origins in ancient Greek. The root words are archein, which means original or old, and typos, which means pattern, model or type. The combined meaning is an “original pattern.” A synonym is prototype.

mother & child

The psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, used the concept of archetype in his theory of the human psyche. He believed that universal models, archetypes, reside within the collective unconscious (as opposed to the personal unconscious) of people the world over. Archetypes are universal; everyone inherits the same basic archetypal images. Common examples include birth, rebirth, death, power, magic, the hero, the child, the trickster, God, the demon, the wise old man, the earth mother, the giant, many natural objects like trees, the sun, the moon, wind, rivers, fire, animals, and many human-made objects such as rings and weapons. There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life. Endless repetion has engraved these experiences into our psyches (Hall and Nordby).

cave painting 2

Representations or versions of these common archetypes appear in cave drawings, myths, legends, literature and other forms of recorded history. Every infant throughout the world inherits a mother archetype. This preformed image is then developed into a definite image by the actual mother’s appearance, behavior and experiences the baby has with her. Archetypes are not fully developed pictures in the mind like memory experiences. Instead, think of them more like a (photographic) negative that has to be devloped by experience (Hall and Nordby).

We can have no idea of how, or indeed why the principle of shooting with a bow was first discovered and then used. There are plenty of speculations and assumptions untouched by either fact or, indeed, artifact, for little survives to provide us with concrete evidence. Much of the controversy over the Lars Andersen videos has to do with his unsupported assertions about archery history based on his assumptions about what a few paintings “prove.” However, evidence for bow usage is suggested in early rock drawings. These show animals driven toward a group of archers who are busily engaged in their culling; and what seems plausible is that by the late Stone Age, a simple bow for this purpose had emerged in common use around the globe (Soar). It shouldn’t be hard to hypothesize that many of our archetypes were established by our human ancestors’ experiences in the Prehistoric & Stone Age times.

vintage photo 1

Archery experienced a “golden age” in the United States that started sometime in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Archery returned as an Olympic event in 1972. You can trace the beginning of many of the outdoor archery clubs and ranges to about this time (Camera). Many if not all of the archers I know who were involved in the sport during the 50’s through the 70’s liken archery’s current popularity to what they call “bubbles” of interest throughout the years that coincided with specific media events during that time; during that period you can count the number of such events on one hand, maybe two. They talk about it as if they’ve seen it before, as if this too is a bubble that will pass.


So yes, the prevalance of archery heroes and heroines in the popular media has a lot to do with the popularity of archery. It seems like every action movie that comes out has an archer. There are numerous TV shows that feature archers. Archery is promininent in video games. The Summer Olympics are approaching. But it’s not just the popular media that is helping the archetypal image to develop. Social media is also playing a big part. Popular hunters, recreational archers, and Olympic archers update their followers daily (sometimes hourly!) about their activities. For better or worse, you can look up anything you want to know about archery on YouTube and other video media channels. Just multiply the handful of media events that sparked “bubbles of interest” during the Golden Age times a million and you’ll understand why Archery isn’t just popular; the archery archetype is being brought to the forefront of our psyches like it never has before – it is here to stay.

Cited References

A Primer of Jungian Psychology. Calvin S. Hall and Vernon J. Nordby (1999)

The Crooked Stick; A History of the Longbow. Hugh D. H. Soar (2004)

Shooting the Stickbow; A Practical Approach to Classical Archery. Anthony Camera (2008)


A World Champion Talks About Winning

By Paul Fender

Paul Awards

OK, right off the bat here, I need to dispense with any false modesty for a minute. I win. Not every time. But let’s just say I win… A lot. At least for the sake of argument, OK?

A while back Nico shared some ideas with me from a book titled Why You Suck at Archery by Steve Ruis. From that book came the idea that one of the reasons why a shooter may suck at archery is because they just don’t know HOW to score well. This really bothered me. You see, I am able to shoot top scores. How I was doing it was a mystery to me though. Well, just a few weeks ago I had something of an epiphany, and came to understand what I was doing and how it enabled me to set myself up to win, to even occasionally shoot record scores.


First off I’m going to go a little mystical here, but it is important to me. I don’t pretend to be some sort of Zen master or anything, but many years ago I was introduced to the concept of the Dao. One possible definition of the Dao is that it means the path, or flow of life.

In Western cultures, when seeking to achieve a goal or a state of being, our Dao runs something like this:

Have – We have the things that make us what we want to be. In archery that would of course mean having the latest, greatest, bestest, equipment that we can afford.

Do – Once we have the stuff we think we need, then we do what we think we need to do. For us that means practicing, and getting a coach, and going to tournaments, and most importantly, becoming stressed and worrying about working harder when we don’t do well.

Be – Finally, after we have bought the stuff, and done the things that Archers do, then, and only then do we get to BE Archers.

Actually following the Dao in the pursuit of a goal was explained differently to me, from an Eastern perspective. It runs rather more like this:

Be – Simply be that which we want to BE. Would you like to be an Archer? Fine! BE one! Its OK!

Do – What do Archers do? Well silly, they shoot bows and arrows! Why don’t we just work on that for a while at first, OK? Take some matched arrows, a shootable bow, look at some plain basic form, and go shoot some arrows.

Have – Now, after a while we get have that which Archers have. Maybe it’s a sense of accomplishment, or recognition from others, or a successful hunt, or just plain fun from a cool hobby. It can be whatever you were seeking to begin with.

So how is this concept relevant to me and to scoring well? It’s just that for me, I knew years ago, before I ever even picked up my first bow, that shooting Archery was something that I wanted to try. Somehow I just knew that I would like it. When I picked up that first bow, I knew that I was an Archer, finally, at last, shooting bows and arrows. I was lucky, I happened to follow the Dao, without even thinking about it. Be – Do – Have.

OK, enough of the airy-fairy, mind in the clouds stuff. Sure, it’s nice and warm and fuzzy, and makes us feel good about ourselves, but it will take a person only so far. I think now it’s time for something a little more practical.

One thing that I had realized about myself is that when I shoot a tournament, once I get into the swing of things, I pretty much just tromp along. I work hard at just shooting my own game. Good shots, bad shots, good weather or bad, stiff competition or weak, distractions from other people, whatever. I just trudge along. It doesn’t sound particularly glamorous does it? Of course I am not always successful at it. Sometimes things get to me.

What does this rather boring approach amount to though? It means that actually I am relentless in my pursuit of a goal. At a tournament that goal is simple, just come out on the other side with the best score I can shoot that day.

There is more to it than just that, though. (I hope nobody is particularly surprised to hear that.) I am relentless in another important aspect. I am relentless in how I seek to be prepared. Some may consider me to be a little nuts in this respect. For example, for me take an IFAA world record, it took over two years of preparation, and even included building my own bow. (OK, so I’m a LOT nuts.) For each of us, the details of what it takes to be prepared will vary. It may include being certain of our aiming points, or having lots of extra arrows, or spare equipment like an extra rest, or bowstring, etc. etc. The list may be kind of long. One thing is certain though. Be relentless in ensuring that you are prepared. It just can’t be blown off. It’s important because it serves two purposes. For one thing it keeps you prepared. Perhaps even more important than that though is what it does to boost your confidence to know that what ever comes your way, you can handle it.

OK, after all that, can we just cut to the meat of the matter? Sure. Would you like to score well, or have a successful hunt? First off, know that you can go ahead and BE that shooter. Once you have your head around that, move forward relentlessly. I know that there may be no one single cookie cutter answer, but I do now know that this has worked very well for me.

The Magic 7 Relaxation Points

Over the years I have seen more than a few archers with the word “Relax” plastered on their bow, obviously intended to help them do so. Those I have spoken to about it share impressive techniques for managing what’s referred to as “the mental game” in archery; managing the things that one thinks about while shooting. Experts and other authors often write about the mental game as if it’s the only thing one needs to work on.


Many people who take my beginner class express surprise that archery is relaxing – “It’s like yoga with a weapon!” Some make the connection to how often I coach them on how to relax in specific aspects of their form and technique, others just ackowledge the phenomenon. In this post I’m going to get specific and practical about relaxation – I will share with you what I call “The Magic 7 Relaxation Points.” Mental game relaxation and other skills like visualization will be addressed in future posts.

The Magic 7 Relaxation Points

Target Orientation

As you approach your shooting position (the shooting line, a stake on a field course, etc.), approach it as if you are walking up to a friend you’re really happy to see. Your step should be light, and there should be a playful eagerness to your stride. Stand on your mark as if you belong there and there is no place you would rather be at that moment. Calm the pace of your breathing, and “center” yourself, as you get ready to start your shot sequence. Now here is the important part: get in your T-shape with the bow arm extended, mock anchor on your face, and let your posture losely “drop” or settle into place – square up at the target. Are you “pointing” directly at the target in a “loose as a goose” manner? If not, you will use muscles in your arms and/or possibly your hips to aim yourself at the target at some stage in your shot setup. Great. However, upon release your body will “snap back” to the direction it is naturally aimed at, and this will most likely happen before the arrow has completely left the bow, resulting in a right or left miss. If you watch professional baseball or football you often hear the analysts comment about an athlete “throwing across his body” – this is the same thing.


Moving your bow arm independently up, down, left, or right to achieve your aiming goal or desired sight picture is a bad thing to do. It is the equivalent of collapsing your shot. Collapsing your shot means not pulling through the shot or achieving a consistent draw length; it also results in a poor release. Because you reduce your draw length a bit, sometimes a lot, the result is a major change in your equipment tune; your arrows are now too stiff. So, any aiming adjustments you need to make left or right are best achieved with proper target orientation as mentioned above. Small left/right adjustments can be made by slightly swivelling from your hips, but not too much. Adjustments for shooting at an uphill or downhill target, or targets closer/farther than your “point on” distance should also be made from the hips: you should maintain your T-shape and simply allow yourself to “tip” forward or backward from the hips as if your upper and lower body were on a “hinge.” These proper adjustments require a relaxed  hip/waist.

Bow Grip

Every “how to” book that I’ve ever read about archery, whether Olympic, Barebow, Compound, etc. emphasizes the importance of a relaxed grip on the bow (we won’t get into “high” v. “low” grip in this post). Olympic and Compound archers strive for the heaviest possible bow mass weight they can handle and they essentially let the bow “float” in their hand. Most of these archers also use some sort of wrist or finger sling. In addition to sometimes literally keeping the bow from falling out of their hands, the sling sends a subconscious message to the brain that the bow will not fall out of their hand, even if the actual potential for that does not exist. Most people who shoot a lighter mass weight bow (e.g. 2LBS or less) find they need to grip the bow a little tighter. I have personally found that a non-modern “stick” style longbow requires a rather firm grip. In the end, you want the most relaxed grip your equipment choice will allow – a “death grip” or “choking” the bow results in undesired bow arm tension and bow torque, and travels all the way “down the line” or through your entire draw/aim/release unit (wrist-forearm-elbow-triceps-shoulder, etc., etc.).


For some reason tensing the shoulders is one of the first bad habits an archer develops and one of the most pervasive needing focus and attention throughout an archers participation in the sport. To the observer, the shoulders “rise” toward the ears – I’ve seen some archers whose draw side ear actually touches their shoulder! The best way to avoid this is to consciously confirm that your shoulders are relaxed as you start your shot sequence. There are too many shot sequence systems around to suggest exactly when one should do this (during the draw, before you anchor, etc.). But you absolutely should focus on this if it is a problem for you. Tense shoulders have direct a cause and effect realtionship to just about every possible form flaw – bow torque, plucking, collapsing, etc.


Your neck is the part of your body from which you achieve consistent and proper head position. I’ve found most archers have a problem with this aspect of body awareness, beginning or advanced. You need a coach or other outside oberver to video tape you so you can see what you are doing. Shooting in front of a mirror can work too. Where you settle your head in order to establish your desired sight picture is very personal. I do not believe there is any one right or wrong position. It simply must be effective, easily & subconsciously achieved and consistent from one shot to the next. Think of it this way. Your anchor and head position are equivalent to the rear sight on a rifle. If that sight was loose, not attached properly, and flopping around you’d never hit anything – at least not consistently. Your neck needs to be relaxed thus enabling you to settle into your consistent and effective head position. Think of that scary wobbly neck that newborn children have – I’ve always referred to that as a melon on a rubber band. Well maybe your neck shouldn’t be that loose, but almost.


This is where archery gets comical. There are all sorts of opinions out there about shooting with both eyes open or with one eye closed. It depends on the archer, the style of shooting, and eye dominance. How one processes the visual information presented by the target is very personal from a neurological, psychological, and physical perspective. I’ll leave it at that. My only rule with people I teach and coach is this. If you decide to close an eye to help you aim, great. But, if closing that eye causes you to tense your face up, that facial tension is going to travel from your face to, you guessed it, your neck, your shoulders, etc. etc. It’s really fun to see how distorted people’s faces get when they decide they must close an eye to aim best. It’s also a funny moment when people forget about eye dominance and close the wrong eye – and shoot a perfect bull’s eye, on the target in the lane next to them!


I recently read that a steady (not tense) bow arm is more important than a good release, and will actually help minimize the negative effects of a bad release. I don’t know if that’s true, but I DO know that I have observed lots of bad shots that were a direct result of a pluck or other bad release. I’ve also seen LOTS of people manufacture a release follow through because they (think they) know their release hand should dramatically fly backward with an impressive looking flourish. They have improperly convinced themselves that the felt backward motion of that draw arm is “good feedback” about their release. I get it – it’s something concrete that you can feel and others can observe telling you and the world that you are doing it right, and, it looks cool. I’ve also seen archers manufacture forward bow roll – they use muscles in their hand/wrist to make the bow roll forward upon release. To recap so far on this point: archers sometimes use muscles to force a dynamic follow through or forward bow roll – using muscles creates tension, the opposite of relaxation, and this is bad. I like the Zen teaching for a proper release the best. Imagine a branch on a tree collecting snow. At some point the weight of the snow becomes too substantial and the tree branch “gives way” to the weight and the snow falls off. This is a great analogy for an archery release. The bow arm is extended and steady, pushing forward in many systems, and you continue to pull through the shot (using back muscles and upper body chest expansion). As you continue this slow steady push/pull you relax your string fingers and allow the string to pull through your now loose fingers; you do not use muscles to open your fingers (that’s plucking), you relax them and let all that stored energy in the string from the drawn bow do the work. Depending on the amount of draw weight in your bow, your release hand, if relaxed, will most likely experience a bit of recoil or backward motion across your face; it may also have very little or no backward motion, what some call a “dead release.” In my opinion there is nothing wrong whatsoever with a dead release; it is certainly preferable to a pluck! Going back to my earlier comment about a manufactured release follow through: I’ve done video analysis on many archers which shows that the manufactured release follow through results in a bow arm that significantly pushes to the left (for a right handed archer). The release looks cool and impressive, but the shot misses left. Then the archer adjusts the windage on her or his sight, and the cycle begins . . .

Oh no, how do I fix this?!!!

Two terms: Blank Bale Practice and Process Goals.

If you are serious about improving your archery skills how and how often you practice becomes really important. You need to do more than shoot lots of arrows at a target trying to hit bull’s eyes once a week (or less) – very few of us are naturally skilled enough to get away with that. Most of the best archers I know shoot “1,000 arrows a week” or “6 hours a week,” etc. But what they do when they shoot that much is what matters.

Shooting at a blank bale from close distance (10-20 feet) allows you to focus on form and technique. 10 – 20 feet eliminates as much as possible the compulsion to try and hit something specific. I say “as much as possible” because trying to aim at and hit something seems to be hard to resist – most archers I talk to say it’s really hard not to try and hit that little spot on the bale, or create a pattern (like a 4 point cross). Something happens to the brain when we put a projectile in our hands – when we try to trick the brain by taking away that target with a bull’s eye that is begging to be hit, the brain seems to create one for us. Do your best. Shoot arrows that you don’t care about because you’ll most likely break nocks, tear fletching, even robin hood a shaft or too (cool, but expensive). Shoot no more than 3 arrows at a time and really FOCUS on one aspect of your form relaxation at a time.

This is where process goals come in. Process goals are different than results goals. We’re all familar with results goals – “I’m going to win the tournament,” I’m going to beat 250 points,” I’m going to shoot 10 bull’s eyes.” Process goals are focused on the things that ultimately allow you to get results. Example process goals include: “I’m going to shoot 50 arrows with a perfect release” (at a blank bale of course), “I’m going to work on my grip for 1 hour this week,” or, “I’m going to practice relaxing my hips for close distance shots today.”