By Mark V. Lonsdale
As with any shooting sport that utilizes some form of a bullseye target, it is relatively easy to set goals and track progress. However, with archery, it is important that the novice first focus on form and a repeatable shot process before worrying about scores. In other words, when getting into any archery discipline, it is more important to be able to shoot consistent groups than hit the center of the 10 ring.
Shooting tight groups is indicative of precision shooting and good form, while hitting the gold is indicative of accuracy. This is why many archery disciplines recommend blank bail practice where the archer can focus on developing the correct form, engaging back muscles, and attaining a clean release while not being distracted by the 10 or X ring.
Assuming the bow is tuned and the arrows have the correct spine, the first goal is to be able to group the arrows on the bail. This is indicative of a solid, repeatable, and consistent draw and release with good bio-mechanics. The next step is to get that group into the center of the target. If the bow is equipped with sights, this is a relatively easy process of dialing in the sights. If you are shooting barebow, it will be a process of adjusting the point of aim using your arrow tip (usually on or just under the gold) and string walking if shooting 3 fingers under. The left and right component is adjusted with the string blur in relation to the riser (usually left edge of riser for a right handed shooter) or fine tuning with the spring tension in the plunger.
If, however, you are not shooting consistent groups on the target and throwing arrows into the black scoring rings (3 & 4s), then the first goal is to stay inside the blue (5 & 6s). Once you can stay inside the blue with a good percentage of gold and red, then the goal is to throw no more blues and blacks. Once you are shooting consistent golds and reds, then obviously the goal becomes to increase your number of golds (9, 10, & Xs). Once you are staying within the gold at 15 yards you can move back to 20 yards, 30 yards, etc. If your goal is indoor tournaments such as the Lancaster Classic and Vegas Shoot, then you can focus on training at 20 yards / 18 meters.
How quickly one progresses is directly related to how often you practice. Championship archers shoot 200-260 arrows per day, but the novice needs to start slowly. Daily practice of 60-100 arrows is more beneficial than practicing once a week and shooting 300+ arrows since neuro-muscle memory is developed through frequent practice. Shooting a moderate number of arrows on a regular basis also gives the arm and back muscles and tendons time to adapt to the new stresses. While 30-40 pounds may not seem like a lot of draw weight, you are moving muscles and tendons in directions that they are not used to. Slow steady progress will help prevent a painful sports injury or tendinitis because you tried to too much too quickly.
If you can’t get to the archery range on a daily basis, or set one up in your back yard, then you can replicate the motion of drawing a bow with stretch bands. Time should also be set aside to watch top archers and events on YouTube. There is much to be learned by watching the the men’s and women’s Barebow Finals in the Lancaster Classic. Pay particular attention to their form and not just the 10s and 11s in the gold.
Now get out there and push yourself to the next level.