Overcoming Target Think

By Aaron Buchanan

For the past couple of years I’ve had the privilege of helping Nico teach some beginning archery classes, and I’ve watched many of those students pursue it ardently as a hobby.  In some of those archers, including myself, I’ve noticed some things.

All beginners start at 7 yards on the blue 40cm targets.  Those that come back, and I’m happy to say that many do, shoot the same blue targets at 10 yards.  Many become pretty good at 10 yards, with tight groups and good scores.  I’ve seen several of these archers post record scores and earn 1st place ribbons.  However, a small percentage of those skilled archers do terribly at 15 or 20 yards, and never seem to do as well at longer distance.  More than one person has given up archery completely because 20 yards was too far out of their comfort zone they had built for themselves at 10 yards.

I had issues myself when I first started shooting on the 40cm colored FITA target.  It felt like the colors were messing with my head, making it difficult to group, and I’ve had conversations with other archers who had similar problems during their transition to the color target.  My first practices for the Flint round were difficult because of the changes from black-on-white field target to the almost completely black hunter target.

I have seen archers who are very good at paper targets, but can’t seem to do well at all on a 3D target.  Many persevere and get better, while some stop shooting 3D.

I’ve seen indoor archers who don’t do well outdoors, either at the practice range or on field courses.  The longer distances, uneven terrain, uneven lighting, uneven footing, and the general exertion of field archery can be invigorating to some folks, and just too much for others to deal with. If I’m practicing intently for a specific match like the State Indoor, I notice that my ability to shoot any other kind of target diminishes significantly.

This unwillingness or inability to adapt to other types of targets is a kind of rigid mental mindset that I’ve been calling Target Think.

Overcoming Target Think is an individual journey for each archer, but I’ve suggested a few exercises to some students depending on their needs:

An indoor shooter that hasn’t moved beyond 10 yards can be encouraged to try 15 yards.  Nico’s Group Therapy is a great way to transition to 15 and 20 yards.  A 9 inch cardboard disk is pinned to a bale at the upper position 15 yards away.  The goal is group consistently in a smaller, and smaller group, without the added pressure of scoring.  Once an archer is able to group all five arrows on the disk several times, the disk is moved to the lower position.  After that is mastered, the exercise is repeated with a 6 inch disk.  After confidence is built at 15 yards, the same Group Therapy can be done at 20 yards.  Transitioning from Group Therapy to a scoring target at 20 yards is much easier than going directly from 10 yards to 20 yards.

Group Therapy is also useful for an indoor shooter who has fixated on scoring targets and is uncomfortable shooting anything else.  An archer who hasn’t tried the Ohlone 3D League, or is frustrated by their 3D scores, can benefit from some Group Therapy work.

An intensification of Group Therapy is using the gold replacement stickers (for FITA targets) on the cardboard disks.  This adds a “aim small, miss small” element to help tighten shooting form and group even tighter.

After the different distances are confidently achieved, varying the distance between arrows is something I like to do when the shop isn’t crowded.  I place the small cardboard disks at 10, 15, and 20 yards and ‘string walk’ between stations, placing an arrow on each disk.  The changing distances help keep my mental targeting computer from becoming rigidly set on a specific setting.

For outdoor shooting I use the Redwood Bowmen range as an excellent example.

The practice area has target bales at 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35 yards in the regular area.  This is an outstanding place to overcome any uneasiness about shooting longer than 10 yards, learn the proper aim points for those distances, and gain confidence.  Longer distances of 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 yards can be shot at the other practice range right next to it.

After gaining experience at longer ranges, archers should try the 14 target Open Course, and the 14 target Lower Course.  Distances can vary from 10 yards to 101 yards, with different distance stakes for different tastes and abilities.  Nico has a terrific write up about them in his post 10 Rules For Shooting At An Outdoor Archery Range.  Shooting these courses will give an archer experience in varying distances, terrain, and footing.  Shooting the Hill Course adds more challenges: shooting uphill, downhill, and between trees.

For added challenge, and to avoid Target Think, some of the targets on these courses have a “fan” or a “walkup” set of stakes.  A “fan” has three or four red stakes at the same distance from the target.  The goal is to shoot one arrow from each stake, yet still group your arrows on the target.  A “walkup” has several red stakes, each at a different distance from the target.  The goal is the same, shoot one arrow from each stake.

The Western Roundup, a 3D match put on by Redwood Bowmen every June, uses the same courses but with 3D foam animals in front of the target bales.  This is a great introduction to outdoor 3D shooting.

The Winter Hunt, a 3D match put on by Diablo Bowmen, is much more challenging.  The 3D targets can be obscured by trees, rocks, or bushes, and the shooting stakes are often placed in a way that causes the archer to kneel or stretch a bit to shoot around an obstacle.  This year the weather added even more challenge.

I’ve listed all of these matches and exercises as ways to overcome Target Think, but they can also be used increase an archers skill set, and even more importantly to add variety.  Shooting the same paper target at the same distance all the time can get a little boring.​

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.