“…an hour’s earnest practice each day for a month will make one begin to feel like a bowman, and three months of such work will make him a fair shot at thirty or forty yards.” — Maurice Thompson, The Witchery of Archery, 1879, p.157
Shaft Shooters was launched in 2000 to document research and findings related to athlete development and high performance training with a focus on archery. It has since grown into a platform to share information of everything from traditional barebow archery to Olympic recurve competition development.
“The history of the bow and arrow is the history of mankind.”
“To compete or not to compete, that is the question…,” to paraphrase Will Shakespeare. But then old Will wasn’t a competitive archer.
I can state categorically that formal competitions will make you an all-round better archer. But in reality, it’s the preparation and coaching for competition where the real heavy lifting takes place.
Once you make the decision to try your hand (and eye) at competition archery, you will be at the beginning of a long and very satisfying journey. Emerging from the humble beginnings of a backyard stump shooter, you will rise to the level of “competitor” beginning by quantifying your skills through a series of metrics.
To aid in this journey, the following is a road map to competition success:
Decide which form of competition you want to shoot. This will often be driven by the types of bows you like shooting, or by the availability of local matches. The choices range from Olympic style target archery to roving 3D matches with either recurve, compound, barebow, longbow, or traditional. With a good bow, recurve or compound, you can compete in both indoor and outdoor target shooting and 3D.
Check your budget because top flight competitive archery is not cheap. First there is the cost of a $1,500 to $3,500 bow, complete with rests, sights, stabilizers, and release, plus another $160 to $450 for arrows. For example, a Hoyt Xceed with Velos limbs for barebow retails for $1,500. Olympic grade sights can run another $400-$500. A Hoyt Invicta is a $1,800 compound bow, but then you can add another $200-$300 for a target arrow rest, $300-$400 for sights, and $200-$280 for a top shelf mechanical release.
Apart from equipment costs, there are also the time and costs involved in traveling to out-of-state matches. Flying across country or driving 1,000 miles to a match, laying down a $200 entry fee, and spending 4-5 nights in a hotel gets expensive, plus the time away from work. Travel, by far, is the biggest recurring expense for a serious competitor.
Do some research on what the top ranked competitors are using in the way of bows, sights, rests, releases, arrows, and related accessories. Take the time to reach out to some of these folks for sage advice. My personal mantra is, “Buy the best and you will seldom be disappointed.”
Study the match format and learn the rules. For example, a Barebow must fit through a 122cm circle gauge and sights and stabilizers are out. Similarly, some matches have velocity limits for compound bows.
Practice the match format, including distances and time limits on your local or home range. You need to become comfortable with the format to be relaxed and shoot well.
If you have the opportunity, go and observe a match without actually shooting so as to become familiar with the format, whistle commands, and procedures. The onus is on the competitor to know the rules and format before entering a major tournament. This will also be an opportunity to talk to top ranked competitors and collect info on their equipment and accessories.
Jump in, but don’t expect to do well in the first match or even first few matches. It usually takes about a year to become a seasoned competitor, so set your sights on doing well the second or third year. But this all depends on how serious you are about training and if you can practice six days a week. Most top archers are shooting 240-300 arrows per day in training.
There are many good books and DVDs on virtually every aspect of archery – so much so that it can become a little overwhelming for the novice archer. Sometimes it is useful to distil it all down to a few motivational training tips.
Focus on the process not on the result. In other words, as you are at full draw, you should not be hoping for a 10, but rather focused on your form and process. This is especially true during the early months of training where you are still working to build the neuro-muscle memory for a relaxed shot process.
Alignment is everything. Most archers will agree that a solid skeletal alignment, from bow-hand to draw-hand elbow, it critical to consistent, injury free archery. The test of this alignment is feeling the draw-hand upper arm and shoulder rotating into the back muscles, and how steady you can hold on target
Don’t let bad shots or a bad group define you. Maintain a positive mindset and continue practicing and applying the basics. The more you practice the more your shots and groups will move into the center of the target.
Don’t underestimate the value of a good coach. Also try to train with other experienced archers who can help you through the rough patches and plateaus. Shooting alongside successful competitors will motivate you to become a better archer.
Use failures to fuel your training. While the athlete doesn’t learn much from wins, he or she will analyze failures to find solutions. How we handle losses and failures, and how we bounce back, is a good marker of personal determination and tenacity.
Keep a training log with scores and daily lessons learned. It’s fun to look back 6 months or a year to see just how much you have improved.
Ensure that training is always fun or at least satisfying. The sheer joy of watching an arrow in flight and then impacting in the 10 ring, should be a positive motivator for continued training.
At the end of the day, remember that you selected archery as your chosen sport. Something inspired you to take up archery, but to truly find enjoyment and satisfaction in this endeavor, you need to practice regularly. Moderate amounts of frequent practice are more beneficial than infrequent day-long training sessions.
The first year of archery training can be a frustrating start to a long journey where novice archers may feel like they are chasing their proverbial tail. This speaks to the issue of working to improve one part of the shot process, only to find another failing. In other words, and for example, while working to improve the anchor and transfer, the bow arm stops reaching or collapses; or, while focused on aiming, the posture and form suffer. These are just some of the separate parts of the archers’ form and shot process that eventually need to meld together.
A competent coach can be invaluable in observing and correcting the externally visible parts of form, to include, stance, skeletal alignment, and release. But there are other physical aspects that the coach cannot observe. These are elements that only the archer can feel to include, the alignment and pressure of the bow hand, sight alignment, string blur, and the subtle feel of the transfer into the back muscles.
As with many sports, a consistent, repeatable shot process requires significant self-awareness of the feel of the process and kinesthetic sense. Kinesthetic sense is defined as, “The ability to know accurately the positions and movements of one’s skeletal joints. Kinesthesis refers to sensory input that occurs within the body. Postural and movement information are communicated via sensory systems by tension and compression of muscles in the body.”
As with the golf swing, the archery shot process requires a keen sense of feel built on an understanding of the fundamentals and thousands of correct repetitions. For example, if the bow hand thumb pad is not centered on the grip, then shots will impact left or right of the aiming point. If the forward pressure increases or decreases then the shots will hit high or low respectively. But this pressure point is only one part of the shot process, so let’s look at what the novice is struggling with.
The easy parts of the shot process are establishing a stable, balanced base for the stance, aligning with the target, setting the hook, and bringing the bow up. But once the archer hits his or her anchor, then several components of the process must come together seamlessly. For the novice, this becomes a mental inventory of all the body parts, skeletal alignment at full draw, and loading of the back muscles, where for the more experienced archer, these become all but subconscious.
Novices will be checking to feel if they have hit the correct anchor point; is the bow hand centered on the grip; is the reach and grip pressure consistent and directed at the target; is the sight or arrow point (for barebow) centered on the target; is the string blur aligned with the riser; is the skeletal alignment solid; and can he or she feel the transfer into the back muscles. Unfortunately, this is where frustration rears its ugly head. As the novice focuses on the string blur or sight alignment, the bow arm may begin to collapse or the string blur may drift right. This is also the danger of over-aiming or aiming too long. The longer the archer struggles for the perfect sight alignment (or point-on for barebow), the greater the probability that the muscles will begin to fatigue and doubt will begin to creep into the process.
Again, as with other precision shooting sports, there are no shortcuts and no substitute for tens of thousands of repetitions and a well-structured, disciplined training program. A good coach is invaluable, but more importantly, the archer must develop the kinesthetic sense to feel all the subtleties of the shot process. Only with time and practice will all the pieces come together into a smooth, relaxed, seamless shot process.
So, in addition to good balance and form, the shot process from draw and transfer to release and follow through, must be strong, relaxed, smooth, and consistent. The archer must also execute the shot with confidence. If the archer lacks mental strength and confidence, then hesitation and doubt will manifest as an excessively long aiming process, plus the inevitable tremors or target panic that come with muscle fatigue. This is also a good reason to begin with a lighter poundage bow to develop the correct muscles and stamina before moving up to heavier poundage.
Don’t be concerned that in the early stages of archery training, the novice archer will be self-inventorying all his or her body parts as he or she seeks good form. When the arrows hit the center of the target, they need to remember what that shot felt like and then work to repeat it. And when a shot goes wild, they should self-analyze and know why that happened. For example, shots going low left (for a right handed archer) is often a collapse or weakening of the bow arm reach and grip pressure; and arrows impacting left can be caused by the string blur drifting right.
To wrap this up, while a coach and the use of video are invaluable training tools, the archer must become self-aware of all their body parts and the feel of correct form and a clean shot process. But the shot process is more than just body mechanics. It’s the melding of relaxed confidence and a finely honed feel for the shot process. Or as they say, “Don’t think, just shoot!”
While the purpose of sports is to make better people, not just champions, there have been many greats in the sporting world. As with any endeavor or sport, there is a simple but difficult road to greatness. Simple because there are only a few things the athlete needs to know, but difficult because of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to truly master these simple truths.
So here is the easy part:
Find inspiration in the achievements of those who have gone before you
Make a commitment to your chosen activity or sport
Set goals that are a series of attainable steps
Study the skill-sets required for your chosen activity
Become brilliant at the basics and work to master the fundamentals
Enjoy your achievements but learn from your losses and mistakes
Work every day to improve your performance, fitness, stamina, and strength
Now the difficult part: Follow the above plan six days a week for at least four years to enter the world of the elite athlete.
Every sport has metrics for improvement, whether it is greater distance as in shotput or javelin, reduced times as in running and swimming, or greater accuracy in shooting sports. For archery, the metric is improved accuracy and score.
Where compound target archery is an almost repetitive series of 10s and Xs, barebow is considerably more challenging and no one is shooting perfect scores.
The first goal for the novice Barebow competitor entering the arena of outdoor competition, is to simply stay on the target bail at 50 meters. From there, a reasonable next goal would be to not throw any blacks (3&4) or whites (2&1).
The goal that takes a little longer to achieve is not throwing any blues (6&5), also known as Smurf shooting. For the novice new to archery, this could take several months, and even top archers occasionally drop an arrow into the 6.
Once you have conquered the blue zone, the next metric is establishing an average score of 8, 8.5, and 9. The goal here is to get to a 9 average or 54 out of 60. This would be a winning score in most Barebow divisions.
In 50 meter Barebow competition, the archer is aiming with the arrow point and string blur. This could place the point at the center of the X, or low or high on the gold, depending on arrow weight and bow poundage. Most serious Barebow shooters will increase bow poundage or reduce arrow weight until they can hold 6 o’clock on the 10 or 9 ring. But keep in mind that from the shooters perspective, the width of the arrow point can cover the entire gold zone, so not exactly the precision aiming afforded by a bow sight.
With a 9 average, the archer can still drop an arrow into the red zone (8s & 7s), so the next goal is to be able to hold the gold (9s & 10s) at 50 meters. I have yet to see a Barebow competitor shoot all 10s so simply holding gold may be good enough to win the day.
Finally, keep a daily training log, either in a journal and/or in your computer. This will keep you honest, track your improvement, and give you goals to shoot for.
What makes a winner, and more importantly, how do you become a winner?
First and foremost, you need to believe in yourself. You have to believe that you have what it takes to succeed at whatever activity you set your mind to. This is the quiet confidence of the professional.
Not everyone can be good at everything, so select an activity that fires your imagination. Keep in mind that you are about to embark on a journey that will consume many hours of each day, six days of every week, and years of your life.
Accept that you will have to sacrifice other activities and personal interests to achieve your goals. Your training will become your passion.
Be prepared to train longer, harder, and smarter than your peers. Every day that you are slacking off, your opponents are training and improving. That said, it is also important to allow time for muscles to rest, recuperate, and adapt to the new demands.
Become a professional student of your chosen sport or activity. Read books and articles from those who have gone before you. Attend training seminars and clinics with national and international champions and coaches. Part of the journey will be testing and experimenting with your equipment and techniques.
Obtain the best equipment that you can afford. When in doubt, look to what the champions are using to win. Select equipment from manufacturers from which you one day hope to win sponsorship.
Set training goals. These should be small incremental steps that can be met and exceeded in a reasonable amount of time. Two months is a reasonable amount of time to expect to see improvement when training five to six days a week. The goals will often be based on improving training scores and then replicating those scores on game day in competition.
Be prepared to travel and to attend every competition you can. There is no substitute for competition experience and having the opportunity to observe and compete against the best. Competition experience also builds the mental toughness essential to becoming a winner.
Have a friend or coach video your performance in competition for post event self-analysis. The objective is not to celebrate your successes but to analyze your failures and flaws. Future training should be designed to turn weakness into strengths.
Even though the turnout was less than 300 competitors, the 2021 Vegas Shoot was still a success under difficult conditions and Covid restrictions. Yes, we all hated wearing masks. But it was actually a pleasure to not have to deal with the 3,000+ crowds and the only times that the practice range was full was one hour before shooting times.
Spending time on the practice range was essential since the overhead indoor lighting definitely affects aiming and impact. Arrow point of impact also changes with the intensity and location of the overhead lighting depending on where an archer stood on the line. From personal experience, where the light was bright, my arrow hit 2″-3″ high, and where it was subdued, 2″-3″ low. This is probably due to the glare coming off the shiny silver arrow points and aluminum shaft. The lighting also causes the string blur to all but disappear compared to outdoor shooting. But since the practice range was open from 0730 to 1900 I was able to practice four or five times a day, averaging 160 arrows per day.
One the the great things about barebow division is just how friendly and helpful all the competitors are. Barebow has a justly earned reputation as being the most social division with a strong sense of comradery. But all are still very dedicated archers and serious competitors.
The 2021 Vegas Shoot had a relatively small turnout directly attributed to Covid and the hesitancy of national and international shooters to travel or fly.
Because of the low number of entrants in barebow, the Vegas Shoot combined several divisions into one — Championship Barebow Open (BCO). This included Recurve barebow (including stabilizers), Compound barebow, Female, Seniors and Masters.
Better late than never! Usually run in February, but because of Covid, the Vegas Shoot was first run virtually, but now the Championship divisions are underway at the South Point.
Wednesday the 14th was late registration, credentialing, and a practice day. Round 1 begins Thursday morning, 15 April. Round 2 is Friday the 16th. Round 3 and Finals on Saturday the 17th.
With few than 300 competitors, this is considerably less than the usual 4,000 from all over the US plus international competitors. There’s also a very small turnout from vendors, but the Shoot is happening and that’s the main thing.
Note – shooting indoors is very different to practicing outdoors. My string blur has all but disappeared in the overhead artificial lighting. The bales also leave fuzz on the arrow points that can be a little distracting if you forget to clean it off after each end.
Can you remember the first time you shot a “33”? You may ask, how can someone shoot a 33 on a target with a 10 ring? Simple, the Vegas Shoot counts the X as 11 so it is possible, but rare, to shoot a 33 end.
These were shot with a Barebow Hoyt Xceed with Velos limbs shooting Easton RX7-23s with TopHat points.