Traditional Field Archery Round Guidelines

By Nico Gallegos

The standard Field Archery course layout with 50% of the shooting positions at 40 yards and beyond is unrealistic for the rapidly growing segment of archers who:

  • Have newly chosen to shoot traditional or technical barebow archery without a sight; they have no idea yet how to “gap shoot” or are new to string walking, etc.
  • Are shooting a bow with 25 LBS or less of draw weight
  • Have a short draw length; they may be shooting a bow with 25-30 LBS of draw weight, but for each inch of draw length less than 28″, the bow loses 2 LBS of draw weight
  • Have only recently developed the skill to shoot at 20 yards
  • Are traditional or primitive archery enthusiasts shooting heavy wood arrows off the shelf

I decided to create guidelines for a Traditional Field Archery Round that makes more sense for the short distance practitioner and establishes a standardized round for friendly competition and skill progress tracking.

Sure, you can just go out and wing it, but if you want to score it with a reasonable semblance of how it all works normally, this is good training. If you are an experienced Field Archer, this can be a walking course workout where you focus on form (that’s how I use it!).

General Guidelines

The basic idea is to match distance to target size:

  • 65 CM targets are shot from 30 yards
  • 50 CM targets are shot from 25 yards
  • 35 CM targets are shot from 20 yards (often as marked)
  • 20 CM targets are shot as marked

In order to do this, one needs to start from the farthest stake for a given target and walk forward if necessary until the target size can be identified and see if there is a stake (of any color) at the required distance for that target. If not, one needs to walk a number of “paces” in front of or behind that stake to get to the required distance. For example, you get to a 65 CM target and the nearest stake to it is 20 yards, but there is also one at 40 yards – simply stand as close to the middle of those two stakes as you can estimate. It would be a good idea to practice how many “paces” you need to walk for marking off 5 yards and 10 yards, etc.

Target size identification is only potentially difficult for the 50 CM and 65 CM targets; the 35 CM target is almost always one of four targets on a bale, and the 20 CM “birdie” targets are always in four vertical columns of four targets.

Specific Guidelines

To make sense of the downloadable conversion charts, remember that the Hunter Targets are the black targets with white spots meant to be shot from the red stakes. The Field targets are the white targets with a black 3 ring and a black spot meant to be shot from the white and/or blue stakes.

Target scoring is as follows – four arrows per target, 14 Hunter targets and 14 Field targets for a total possible 560 points.

Downloadable Conversion Chart with guidelines

Traditional Field Round Guidelines.full

Downloadable abbreviated Conversion Chart (for those who already know a Field Course layout)

Traditional Field Round Guidelines.abbrev

My hope is that this will catch on more broadly – I would ultimately like to maintain an ongoing digital leader board where people nation wide can submit or upload scores themselves.

3 Mental Management Tips for Archery Performance

By Nico Gallegos

I got through a shooting slump over the past year by working on my mental game more than anything else. I thought it would be fun to summarize what I learned with a little pop culture wisdom from my favorite movie characters. Sure, I always work on my form and shot process, but in the end, managing these thoughts was what helped me improve.

1. There is no Spoon

A quote from The Matrix, spoken by Neo in reference to a bit of wisdom he learned from a child bending spoons with his mind. It signifies that we cannot truly manipulate reality, we can only manipulate ourselves. Only when we change ourselves can we change reality.

What “spoon” do you need to see past? For me it was a few things that made me tense; tension is bad for archers, it causes us to shoot badly and often spirals out of control.

  • I had a bad flinching problem.
  • I was self conscious.
  • I was (am still) easily distracted when shooting.

Flinching is often associated with a phenomenon called target panic which I now believe does not exist (I’ll write more about that in another post). For those of us who flinch, no target panic remedies help – it is an uncontrollable physical thing that happens, and, to my knowledge (I’ve looked pretty hard) there is no research sufficiently explaining it. Our reaction to the flinching is the problem (see no. 2 below). When I flinch now (which isn’t often), I treat it like swatting an annoying fly, let it pass, disregard it, and finish my shot. I DO NOT let down and start over which is the recommended solution; in my mind (which is the whole point of this post) I refuse to give the flinch the power to make me start my shot over. It is actually part of my shot cycle when it happens – THERE IS NO FLINCH.

Being self conscious about what others think of you when you shoot is the epitome of performance anxiety. Performance anxiety IS very well researched – non-commercial solutions and strategies abound – Google it. I suggest you refine the search by specifying “sports” performance anxiety – if you don’t, you’ll get LOTS of results for sexual performance anxiety, and well . . .  Anyhoo, what I came to realize is: no one else really cares about what I’m doing when I shoot, they are too busy worried about their own shooting! If they ARE paying attention to me, so what?! THERE IS NO PEANUT GALLERY.

I see this all the time in my shop. New archers get really good shooting at 10 yards. They are hesitant to venture beyond that, not wanting others to see them try, and in their minds fail. They also over-fixate on the extra distance when going from 10 to 15 or 20 yards – their bodies tense up and the form they’ve worked so hard to master vanishes when they tell themselves things like, “that extra distance is SOOOO different or SOOOO much harder.” THERE IS NO EXTRA DISTANCE.

This next one is half real and half mental: going from a standard indoor field target (dark blue face, white spot) to a FITA target (multi colored target with yellow spot). There is a reason you can buy color adjusting glasses for FITA target shooting – those glasses dull the color contrast and help many archers. There is a reason you can set your phone to grey scale before going to bed at night – research has shown that staring at a blue screen with vibrant colors before going to bed triggers something in the brain and makes it hard to fall asleep. In short, those colors mess with your eyes and brain. That said, you CAN train yourself to keep those colors from making you tense. THERE IS NO COLOR.

My very good friend and mentor Paul Fender and I have gone to a LOT of shoots together. When Paul & I shoot together, it takes a lot to shut us up. One of our favorite moments happened at the Maya Archers Stickbow Classic one year. We were crossing the bridge over a very full and flowing creek to get to the next target, talking up a storm and laughing, when we both stopped dead in our tracks because we saw these HUGE salmon swimming in the stream – it was stunning!  From that moment on for the rest of the shoot, every time we got distracted (we both seem to have that problem), one of us would say “Salmon!” like that cartoon dog that gets distracted and yells “Squirrel!” when it sees one. My point is, for whatever reason, I am very easily distracted when I shoot. A stray thought pops in my head during my shot cycle and everything goes to hell. I suffer from what some Eastern philosophies call monkey mind. When shooting in my shop, I notice a dirty spot on the floor, wonder if I should spin the fletching jig on those arrows I’m building, you name it. I have to work really hard to stay in my shot, not get distracted! THERE IS NO SALMON.

2. Despair is a Useless Emotion

In Terminator 3, Rise of the Machines, poor John Conner is the future but reluctant savior of a world heading towards apocalypse. When he encounters real mortal danger for the first time he freaks out. His guardian protector, the good terminator, grabs him by the throat, lifts him off the ground, and flatly admonishes: “Despair is a useless emotion.”

As previously mentioned, tension is bad for archers. Getting bummed out or freaked out about shooting badly when you shoot makes matters worse.

The most important skill to develop is to be able to identify why you miss when you do. A high right miss means you did X. A low left miss means you didn’t do Y. When you know which form or shot sequence failures cause specific misses, you can correct them and shoot better. Sometimes you can do this in the moment, sometimes you have to note it and commit to fixing it during future practice.

My personal struggle with this was to “shoot angry.” I had convinced myself that I could just muscle through it, that next shot or the next end would be better if I just “tried harder.” This was a vague, unfocused, tense mental state. It was an unproductive mental loop. I was tricking myself into believing I was in control and could fix this with vague notions of “will power” and “positive self talk” – these mental strategies can be helpful, but usually aren’t without the proper foundation.

3. A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations

I’m a male Baby Boomer and Clint Eastwood is my childhood hero. I mean no disrespect to anyone when I use the word “man” – this is the line from the character in the movie Dirty Harry.

I discovered two major limitations in my effort to improve:

  1. Draw weight.
  2. Shooting frequency.

Draw Weight

If you’re going to shoot with control, you need to shoot a draw weight you can handle. If you are fighting the bow, if you tremble when you draw it back, if you hurt in the wrong places – you are “over-bowed.” Swallow your pride, reduce the draw weight and start shooting with control.

I went from shooting 45 LBS of draw weight to 30 LBS in less than 5 years. Part of that is me aging and losing strength. The other part: I’m not sure I was ever shooting 45 LBS with control. I think I talked myself into believing I should and could shoot 45 LBS. I’m not sure I ever had the muscle mass or proper training to shoot that much draw weight with control. Things got better for me with each reduction in draw weight. CAUTION – too little draw weight does not enable a clean release. Each person has their own perfect draw weight that will allow control AND a clean release; take the time to find yours.

Shooting Frequency

Archery is a plateau endeavor. You will get better and hit plateaus of performance. The ONLY way to get past a plateau is to shoot a LOT. You need to practice properly, not just empty your quiver and fling lots of arrows. A trite but true archery dogma is: Perfect practice makes perfect. THIS is where most of us need a coach – a coach can help you make a plan and practice the right stuff.

My coach’s time & effort would have gone to waste if I had not gone from 4 hours a month of unfocused practice to 3-5 hours a week of focused, structured practice.

The bottom line: you have the time you have. Set realistic expectations for yourself based on the quality practice time you are going to put into this. That quality practice time is best guided by a good coach, at least initially. If you are unable or unwilling to work with a coach, and you are unable or unwilling to “perfect practice”, your plateaus will simply last longer.

And, this is not part of MY story, but it is a third limitation:

Equipment Choice

I don’t want to assume everyone knows this: you must have a matched set of arrows properly matched to you and your bow. Your arrow rest and nock locators must be properly installed. The nock fit of your arrows on your string must be right. Your arrow rest must be the right one for your bow and in good condition.

For traditional archery, the fork in the road is metal ILF bow or wood bow. Very few people can shoot a basic wood bow competitively. Metal ILF bows have more mass weight for stability and can be as technically complex as a compound bow.

In short, your ability to shoot accurately at variable distances will be hindered or helped by your equipment choice; lower your expectations if you choose to shoot a wood bow.

If you choose to shoot an ILF bow you should prepare yourself to get up to speed on how to adjust all that stuff. You NEED to know what each little tweak does to your shot. A coach or pro shop can realistically only get you half the way there – they can’t see or feel what you see and feel when you shoot. The other half of well adjusted ILF stuff is YOU knowing what that stuff is and isn’t doing. If you are not mechanically inclined and are unwilling to learn how to adjust rests and plungers and tiller and brace height, etc. you probably should not shoot an ILF bow and expect it to help you shoot better – improperly tuned technical equipment can become a limitation.

10 Rules for Shooting at an Outdoor Archery Range

If you are new to using an outdoor archery range, please read this. Here is a link to ALL of the outdoor ranges available to you here in Northern California:

Northern California Ranges and Shops

I took the pictures at my “home” outdoor range, the Redwood Bowmen Club in Oakland, CA. If you would like an expert personal coaching session at this range, contact Stephen Williams:

steve@icarus.com
(510) 686-3392

1. Donate the requested range use fee

All outdoor ranges whether public or private have very limited income streams. They survive on member dues, income from “novelty” tournaments, and day use donations. All have some form of “honor system” donation receptacle like the one pictured below.

Please think ahead and make sure you bring at least $5.00 cash with you when you come to use the range.

2. Read and follow the rules

Rules keep people safe and establish etiquette that promotes an enjoyable experience for all. Regardless of how fun and easy social media and Hollywood make archery appear, bows and arrows are weapons that can hurt people. Read the rules. Follow them. If you don’t know what they mean, ASK SOMEONE. Please keep archery safe and enjoyable for all of us for a long time to come.

ALWAYS follow the directional markers on the course; NEVER walk backward. Depending on the range, you will probably need to walk about 1 to 2 miles up and down hills before a safe exit presents itself. Plan accordingly – plan on it taking about an hour to safely get through the course (as much as twice that if it is crowded). My advice: make your first pass at the course exploratory – maybe only shoot one arrow at each target. This way you’ll know better how to plan your trip the next time you return, and how courses are laid out in general. And to repeat: ALWAYS follow these markers and NEVER walk backward:

3. Prepare for what you are about to do

Most outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot a bow at targets in a variety of conditions. How cool is that?! But think about it before you go: Hiking. Outdoors. Temperature. Bugs (mosquitoes & tics!). Poison Oak. A short prep list before you go is: hiking boots or shoes; appropriate cold or hot weather clothing; sunscreen; water; snacks; bug repellent; how to identify and avoid poison oak.

4. Exercise a back packers garbage code – pack it in, pack it out

On the day that I roved the course and took these photos I was hoping I would not find anything to show you, but here they are:

Yep, two people apparently thought it was OK to leave plastic drink bottles laying about, even though there are trash receptacles within 10 feet of each of these bottles. C’MON MAN – seriously!? OK maybe it’s asking too much to ask you to pack your own garbage out, I get that, but please at least put it in the trash buckets that the volunteer members empty as part of their volunteer donated hours to maintain the range. Please show some respect. Oh, and by the way:

Please pack out your own damaged arrows. Clubs, ranges, and archery shops do not have a super secret recycling program for damaged arrows; they are just as much of a pain for us to dispose of as they are for you – so be responsible for your own arrows.

5. Found arrows are not subject to the “finders keepers” rule

There is an unspoken rule among the members of the archery community: when you find an arrow, take it to the club house or shack or whatever. All outdoor ranges have a “lost arrow” bucket that you can look through when you come to the range. We all know when you look for your own lost arrow, you’ll never find it, but you WILL find someone else’s. If the club house or shack is not open, if there are no club members about, lay the arrow on the alter, er, doorstep, and they’ll know what to do with it. Find out when members will be around if you want to retrieve your own lost arrow.

6. Appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to use the range

As already mentioned, outdoor archery ranges are run and maintained by people just like you with full time jobs and families and obligations. They donate time to making the range available for public use. Maybe you donate your time elsewhere – cool. Maybe you don’t have time to donate to causes – that’s cool too. There are people at these ranges who take time-consuming positions of leadership, and people who simply do stuff that needs to be done. Every aspect of the range is attended to by a giving human being – every single detail. So please, think twice before you complain about the targets being shot up, the foliage not being trimmed to your liking, or the target butts being in bad condition. If it matters to you, join the club and make a difference. Otherwise, simply appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot your bow at a place that other people donate their time to maintain.

7. Shoot only a distance that you can handle; avoid the temptation to do stupid stuff

With one local exception, outdoor ranges have a “static” practice range where everyone stands on the same shooting line but shoots targets at varying distances to that line. This makes it easy for you to learn how to hit targets at increasingly longer distances as you build your skills, which is something you should do. The outdoor range walking courses are set up like golf courses – you hike on trail and shoot at targets uphill, downhill, across ravines, between trees, etc. VERY FUN AND COOL. These courses are set up according to a structured international scoring system, click HERE if you want to know about that. To learn about it first hand, ask to be a “guest” at your local range’s “Club Shoot” on the 2nd Sunday of every month. If you are in the Oakland, CA area, contact Stephen Williams for a personal introduction (see intro paragraph above).

The courses are set up with “shooting stakes” (positions) at distances from 10 yards to 80 yards. Here is a picture of what you will typically see when you walk the course:

This is target no. 1 on the “Upper Course” of the Redwood Bowmen range. You’ll notice different colored markers (red, yellow, blue, white) they all mean something different – but you don’t care about these. Keep walking toward the target and you will always find a marker like these:

These are obviously 15 and 20 yard stakes. These are called “Cub Stakes”, meaning they are the stakes that young folks shoot from when they formally compete. It’s an unfortunate name – I like to call them beginner or recreational stakes. They will never be more than 30 yards from the target. Shoot these and only these if you want to avoid losing and breaking arrows, and if you want to build your confidence. Remember, an arrow sailing over the top of the target butt on an outdoor range will end up in the bushes or under the loose top layer of ground foliage, and, very likely in a poison oak bush that you might not recognize. Shoot only the distance at which you can get your arrow to hit a 4′ x 4′ square. Enjoy the hike and the joy of shooting your bow while doing so, but be smart about it – you don’t HAVE to shoot the longer stakes. It’s super duper tempting to “see if I can hit the 50 yard target” – so be it, just be prepared for the consequences.

Which leads us to “don’t do stupid stuff.” I’m grateful that Hollywood keeps stoking the archery fire by depicting archers in just about every single super hero film and many action films. I REALLY do. But, the stuff that those archers do in those movies is HOLLYWOOD, it’s NOT real life and it’s not anything you could ever do or would be allowed to do for example in MY range. And you shouldn’t try any of those stunts at an outdoor range simply because you’re alone out there and no one is watching. Here’s why. Trying to do stunt archery ALWAYS results in stray arrows. Stray arrows leave the safe haven area that has been established for you to shoot in. Most if not all ranges are on park land, and some are within an arrow’s flight of the general public. DO NOT JEOPARDIZE OUR ABILITY TO ENJOY THIS WONDERFUL PAST TIME BY DOING STUPID STUFF. Arrows stuck high in trees, in telephone poles, on hiking trails in close proximity is NOT FUNNY. IT’S NOT. If you want to do that stuff do so on private property – find someone with a ranch in a rural area and make friends with them and go do it there, but DON’T MESS AROUND ON PUBLIC ARCHERY RANGES.

8. Put something in front of the target butt if looking for stray arrows

It’s really hard not to try and hit those far away targets. It’s just too tempting. So knowing that you can’t stop yourself, come prepared to keep yourself safe when you end up searching for arrows behind or around the 4′ X 4′ target butt. Bring a brightly colored jacket with you. Drape it over the front of the target butt while you rummage in the poison oak, and most importantly, NEVER DO THIS IF YOU ARE OUT THERE ALONE. LET THAT ARROW GO. In addition to having a brightly colored jacket draped over the target, there should always be ANOTHER PERSON standing there watching and ready in a heart beat to yell “NOT CLEAR!” to anyone who might walk up TO the shooting stake for the target that you missed. If you go out on the course alone, let that arrow go. Hopefully the person who finds it 2 months later read this blog post and gets the “no finders keepers” rule.

9. Respect other archers desire for focus and meditation

Archery is meditative for many people. For others, outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to more seriously practice and prepare for upcoming tournaments. And of course it can be very social too. Many folks new to archery are excited and can’t wait to talk with others about it, ask questions and learn. However, be mindful about approaching people at outdoor ranges; those people may be there to do their zen thing or want to really focus on something. A good rule of thumb: if you see someone and they don’t make eye contact or immediately jump at the chance to start a conversation, leave them be.

10. Properly Supervise Children

Archery programs for kids are few and far between – it takes a special kind of person to teach kids, and the student/teacher ratio needs to be very high (like 1:1) to keep kids (and others!) safe while learning or participating in archery. If you go buy a bow from Big 5 and haul your kids to an outdoor range without you or them having first had a lesson, you are creating some bad circumstances. Archery is not something you should just turn kids loose to do. If you bring young ones to an outdoor range, follow the 1:1 student/teacher ratio rule – that means you should not expect to shoot while a young one is getting up to speed, ESPECIALLY if you bring more than one little person. As kids get older and develop the proper focus and maturity less supervision is required.

An Alternative Indoor Barebow Setup

We are deep into “Indoor Season” and all the compound archers have re-tuned their bows for fat shafts, or are shooting their 2nd “indoor bow.” Some Barebow archers do the same with a slightly different twist: they tune for fat, heavy shafts that will not only “cut lines” but also lowers their point of aim if gapping or reduces the crawl length if string walking.

So let’s review the Barebow strategy. Slow the arrow speed down for a better aiming reference, and improve the chances of catching a line with a fat shaft. Restated: overcome the force curve of a 30-50 pound bow by shooting a big heavy shaft and increase chances for cutting a line on shots with less than perfect execution. Great strategy!

Here’s an alternative though; one that I stumbled upon in my journey to control target panic.

For me, getting control over target panic meant starting with mastering indoor 20 yard archery. I narrowed my target panic down to three controllable issues. One, I flinch when I have to get too precise with aiming. Two, I freeze/lock when I have to make elevation adjustments. Three, too much (for me) draw weight leads to control issues that trigger target panic. I won’t get into all the target panic “cures” I have tried, but I can tell you that the breadth of it’s manifestations was far greater than these three issues, so I’m in a good place!

With three “variables” to control for in solving my problem I did these three things:

  1. I lowered the draw weight to something that would allow me to shoot COMFORTABLY and WITH CONTROL, but that had enough tension to promote a good release. If the draw weight/tension is too low for an archer’s particular strength, a good release is thwarted.
  2. I shot thousands of arrows at a blank bale and a target at 20 yards to establish what was a natural, comfortable posture; I established THE posture that my body naturally settles into, THE posture that would be compromised if I had to make an elevation adjustment.
  3. I meticulously and tediously shot dozens of different shaft types, spines, and lengths at 20 yards with both feathers and vanes and different lengths and point weights to figure out WHICH COMBINATION would hit the gold while in that natural comfortable posture. I of course had to fiddle with draw weight/tiller adjustments, center shot, and plunger tension on my ILF bow to get the windage right once the elevation variable was established. In the end, it LITERALLY came down to increasing the arrow speed on my chosen shaft by using low profile vanes instead of feathers – it got THAT precise.

Important side note: for me, establishing a 20 yard “point on” is NOT a good thing considering one of my target panic variables. Everything described in no. 3 above was done in service to “lolipopping” the arrow point below the spot: I aim “peripherally” on the line between the black and the blue ring – my brain can do this without triggering the flinch response.

So, let’s bracket the target panic aspect of this discussion for a moment and look at this as an alternative indoor Barebow strategy.

Existing/Common Strategy

  • Slow down the arrow speed of a 30-50 bow for a better gap/string crawl at 20 yards.
  • Shoot fat shafts for optimal line cutting benefits.

Alternative Strategy

  • Slow down the BOW speed (draw weight) for a better gap/string crawl at 20 yards.
  • Shoot standard diameter (v. skinny) carbon or aluminum shafts (e.g. shafts that fit a 9/32, 5/16, or 19/64 point) for sufficient line cutting benefits.

Many seasoned archers will tell you that a “fast, flat trajectory” enables top scores. I believe that is true for field archery where one needs to hit targets from 10 – 80 yards. It’s also true for unmarked 3D field shoots. I’m not so sure that it’s true for the fixed indoor distance of 20 yards.

An archer who can shoot comfortably and with control is an archer who is going to be happy with their results. This alternative strategy admittedly won’t work for outdoor field archery where one must physically adjust to countless variables. In fact I don’t suggest going down this path if your ultimate goal is outdoor Field Archery. But it could work for fixed distance long range shooting.

Practice Like a Pro

By Nico Gallegos, Owner & Chief Fletching Officer, Ohlone Archery

There is a very small percentage of people in any endeavor who are naturally gifted and able to excel at that endeavor without much practice. For the rest of us, how good we want to be will depend on how much we practice and how we perform that practice.

Archery looks easy but anyone who takes it up seriously enough to try and improve learns quickly that it is not. There is a learning curve and practitioners experience plateaus of competence.

Practicing once per week is barely enough to develop subconscious familiarity of basic motor skills. Once per week means you will not practice for 3 or 4 weeks when you go on vacation, get sick, get bogged down at work, or go through a period of intense competing obligations. If you shoot any less than once per week you should consider yourself a recreational archer should expect improvement to come very slowly if at all.

In mid-April of 2017 I posted a video on Facebook that someone shared with me titled “How to Practice Effectively.”

This is a very straightforward and informative video, so I am summarizing the key points here and embellishing on them a bit for archery.

One of the technical points made at the outset is that “muscles don’t have memory.” I can’t confirm or dispute that statement but, here is a link to a Wikipedia post defining muscle memory – you should read it and decide for yourself. The video authors instead explain that there is a brain/muscle connection resulting in the myelination of axons. It is very compelling. I’m not qualified to verify this either, but it establishes the basis for what follows.

Effective practice is:

  1. Consistent
  2. Intensely focused
  3. Targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities

When you cross that threshold to practicing twice or more per week you are making a commitment to improve and excel. You open space for more thoughtful and deliberate practice – you have a plan. Archery can still be fun and recreational for you, but there is a serious side too. Your practice has become consistent and intensely focused.

In  order to target content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of your current abilities, you need to know what your weaknesses are. When you make a bad shot you need to know why. You’ll notice I did not say, “when you do poorly at a tournament.” Unless a qualified professional has identified a problem with your “mental game,” doing poorly at a tournament is simply the result of a whole bunch of bad shots. You need to be able to know when you’ve made a bad shot and how not to repeat that bad shot in a tournament. Self assessment is one of the most important skills to develop. The bridge to self assessment is coaching. Get enough coaching from a qualified person to help you identify your weaknesses and then learn how to notice what kinds of bad shots those weaknesses create and what to do to correct them.

In fact I want to clarify something. You’ll see here references to shooting at a blank bale. I’m not saying shooting at a target face is bad. What I AM saying is that if the majority of your practice time is done shooting at a target face, it is imperative to know why you shot a bad shot when you miss. If you miss and don’t know why, you can’t make any progress. Shoot at a target face to practice your aiming skills and to familiarize yourself with a specific face that you will shoot at an upcoming tournament. In fact, you may be at a level when shooting at a target face is the ONLY thing that gives you the shot feedback you need – people at this level know why they shot a bad shot and more often than not don’t shoot a bad one on the next arrow.

To practice effectively one should:

  1. Focus on a specific task
  2. Minimize distractions
  3. Start out slowly or in slow motion; gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions
  4. Perform frequent repetitions with allotted time breaks
  5. Divide time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration
  6. Practice in your mind in vivid detail

The why and reasoning behind these suggestions are given in the video – watch it if you want that background. Here are my archery-specific embellishments.

Focus on a specific task

You or your coach have identified one or more things you need to work on. Maybe your follow through is bad; maybe you pluck; maybe you don’t have a consistent anchor. FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME. Focus on form components shooting at a blank bale from close range – 15 – 30 feet. Most of us have that in our garage. Buy a bag or block target, set it up on a table high enough to allow you to shoot straight ahead without making much elevation adjustment, and fire away without any concern for aiming beyond making sure you hit the bag/block. Set a goal; for example commit to shooting “100 arrows with perfect follow through.” That’s ALL you focus on is the follow through.

For those of us with Target Panic, our goal might be to train ourselves to aim at a spot without flinching or freezing. AIMING WITH CONTROL might be your specific task. So be it – do that. This might mean leaving the garage and practicing your ability to shoot good shots at the distance that starts to mess with you. Be one with the target panic. React to it like you would a sore muscle or a cold: “Well that’s annoying, but I’m gonna push through it.”

A top archer and coach inspired me to track my shot counts with a mechanical “tally counter.” I like this one available from most sporting goods stores:

The one pictured here allows me to tally what I consider “good shots” on one side (home!), and “bad shots” on the other (road!), allowing me to track percentages, etc. When you set a practice session process goal of “50 shots with a good release”, that doesn’t mean each shot will be with a good release – it might take 75 shots to get the 50 you want!

It’s especially helpful for me as sometimes I try to work on my weekly shot count (min. 500 arrows) during slow periods at the shop. Sometimes I’ll start shooting and it suddenly gets busy – Yay! – not to worry – I’ve logged my shots on the tally counter and get back to it when I can. This is in alignment with no. 5 above – dividing time into multiple daily practice sessions. Picture yourself doing this at home in your garage: you shoot 20 arrows, then start laundry; shoot 30 more arrows, then make a few phone calls; shoot 15 arrows then get interrupted by something. This “broken up” practice is actually good for you according to the video. And here’s a helpful perspective. When you shoot tournaments you NEED to learn how to “shoot cold.” At tournaments you NEVER sit there and shoot arrow after arrow. You shoot a 3-arrow end, wait for other archers to shoot if shooting multiple lines, walk to the target, record your score and retrieve arrows, walk back to the shooting line, wait for everyone slower than you for whatever reason to do the same. If you are at a Field Archery tournament, you might have 10-20 minutes between ends. I’ve waited as long as an hour to shoot a target at a big tournament!

Minimize distractions

This might be hard for a lot of us. The fact that most places you can shoot a bow are public, it’s kind of hard to minimize distractions. If you can set up a short range bale in your garage, or even your home, do it – just make sure the people you live with are cool with it, that you establish safety protocols, and that you know how to protect against property damage. It is illegal to shoot your bow in your back yard in most if not all urban areas. However, if your neighbors are cool with it and won’t call the police when they see you do it, you’re fine. If your only option is to shoot at a public range (indoor or out) you could wear head phones. Or, get into a day/time routine at the range where you practice, get to know people, and for lack of a better term, “set boundaries” – “When I’m here on Tuesdays I’m really focusing, so probably won’t be too chatty.” The bottom line is, you can’t control the environment at a public range, so do the best you can. And, here’s the rub: one thing all competitive archers NEED to become skilled at is shooting with distractions!

One top archer friend of mine was working through some things in preparation for a big tournament and actually considered isolating himself for a period of time and shooting ONLY by himself at home – for something like 3-6 months. He deliberated on the pros and cons of this and came to the conclusion that it was not the right move – he enjoyed shooting with friends and other archers in general way too much and decided he needed to come up with another way to focus when he needed to.

Start out slowly . . .

This is probably THE most important aspect of this whole thing. SLOW. THE HECK. DOWN. Most people shoot way too fast, at a target, and sometimes get annoyed when others don’t shoot as fast as them. This is not practice as we are describing here. I would liken this to weight lifting or running; it’s exercise repetitions with a little bit of focus sprinkled in. Watch any archery competition video and you’ll notice that there is a time limit of 2 to 2-1/2 minutes per round of 1-3 arrows. What does this tell you? These archers are struggling to get their shots off in that amount of time; if there was not a time limit, the tournament would probably never end. This doesn’t mean that YOU have to always shoot this slow or that you intend to compete – but there is clearly much to be gained by taking your time and focusing on each and every shot – at least when you set out to practice with intention and focus as described here. In fact I want to clarify something here.

As the video explains, when trying something new there will always be a period of awkwardness, so you will naturally be slower. Watch any beginner archery class and you’ll see newbies struggle mightily with things as simple as nocking the arrow. After 15-20 minutes of practice most do it subconsciously with ease. So this is another reason to start out slowly. Slow repetitions help you get familiar and more comfortable with the task – at some point you will naturally be quicker at it, and because of the speed will do more repetitions. As described in the paragraph above though, don’t speed up too much at the cost of quality. I also see many people overreact to the awkwardness of a new task and give up on it too quickly, and/or give up on it when they don’t see IMMEDIATE results. Their expectations for results are very unrealistic. They can’t for example consistently group at a distance of 10 yards, but get disappointed when the suggested grip change does not result in 5 bulls eyes. It is important to establish a performance baseline from which to assess the helpfulness of a change. If you or a coach has decided a change in your form or shot process is worth doing, STICK WITH IT until you can confirm it does not help. And, be very clear about what it is you are basing that conclusion on – what is your “baseline” performance that you are judging it against?

One final note: we are talking about form and shot process here, we are not talking about equipment changes. I see way too many people who can’t yet group buy new stuff and fiddle with their setup constantly. Try not to fall into this trap.

Perform frequent repetitions with allotted time breaks

If you are serious about improving your archery this is something you can do at home without your bow. Doing work at home with something like this will advance your archery skill better than doing noting at all:

The third and fourth photos show people using a simple resistance stretch band you can get at any drug store or sporting goods store. The person in the 4th photo is shown observing herself in the mirror – A+!

You can create a regimen for yourself using these devices at home, at the office, in the hotel room when you travel, etc. You can achieve numbers 4 and 5 on the list even if you can’t get to an archery range.

Practice in your mind in vivid detail

The video cites some great research stats on the effectiveness of this. It is referred to as visualization, imagery, guided imagery, hypnosis, and self-hypnosis. I worked with a hypnotherapist to learn this skill; we did just a few sessions that concluded with me learning self-hypnosis. I’ve found this very valuable in my own training and highly recommend it.

If getting trained by a professional is not in the cards for you, I like this particular “how to” article because it acknowledges that not all people are “visual” and discusses how to benefit from this even if you are not:

https://www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com/visualization-techniques-for-sports

There is a lot on the Internet about this, you could also use the above article as a “breadcrumb” for further exploration.

So there you have it. Practice with a plan and intention and you’ll make quicker progress. If you practice like a pro, you’ll get closer to being able to shoot like one!