These simple drills will have you drilling the X ring by opening day
Becoming the best archer that you can be is critical to consistent bowhunting success. No matter your skill level, there is always room to improve, and the off-season is a great time to develop your skills and try out new equipment. Below, we’ll break down the fundamentals of archery in a progressive, eight-week shooting program that will help you reset your skills through specific practice sessions and drills. Follow this program, and you’ll be able to recognize and correct bad habits. You’ll also improve on parts of your shot that may already be in decent shape.
Week 1: Get Back into the Bow
To begin, start slinging arrows, but with a purpose. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
The goal for Week 1 is to simply put arrows downrange, get comfortable with your bow again and start building strength in those archery-specific muscle groups. Try to shoot 50 arrows each day without worrying about group size or score.
At a distance of only 5 to 10 feet, draw your bow and ensure your arrow will hit the target, then close your eyes and execute the shot. This is known as blind-bale shooting, and you’ll use it repeatedly throughout this eight-week program. If you’re struggling with target panic or you simply can’t resist the urge to open your eyes and aim, take the sight off your bow for the week.
Week 2: Work on the Form Foundation
If the foundation isn't right, everything else will fall apart. Practice proper posture and stance. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
Proper stance, posture and hand position make up the foundation of a well-executed shot. Bad habits often hide here, especially with longtime archers who’ve never had formal coaching or taken the time to evaluate every aspect of their shot.
Stance plays a big role in overall shooting form. Ideally, the feet are roughly shoulder-width apart with the front foot slightly behind the rear foot. This puts the hips, and in turn the upper body, into proper alignment with the target.
In good shooting posture, the trunk of the body should be straight, standing tall and proud. Bending forward at the waist, so the shooter’s butt sticks out, or deeply arching the back, so the chest puffs out, can both cause major inconsistencies. Leaning the upper body forward into the shot or leaning back out of the shot can also have significant negative impacts. Leaning away from the bow, out of the shot, is a common issue for a lot of bowhunters. If you feel like you can’t comfortably correct your posture, you may be shooting a bow with a draw length that is too long for you, or your release may need to be shortened. Use your cellphone to film yourself shooting from a few different angles. This can help you identify any issues with your shooting posture.
Proper hand position is the third element that should be in place even before you draw. Your two thumbs should mirror each other. For a right-handed archer, the thumb of the front hand should be pointing at 1:30 on an imaginary clock, while the thumb of the rear hand should be pointing at 7:30.
For practice during this week, check your stance, then posture, and finally your hand position before starting each shot. Shoot 50 arrows per day at a spot target, or blind-bale shoot again if you feel as if target panic may be creeping into your execution.
Week 3: Get a Grip
Don't choke the bow grip. Keep a relaxed but safe and secure hold on the bow. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
An archer’s grip can introduce unnecessary torque. Torque can cause tuning issues, inconsistencies in point of impact to both left and right, and erratic flight when you’re shooting broadheads. Proper hand position as covered in Week 2 is the base of a good grip, but there are a few other elements that make up the grip as a whole.
For a proper grip, position the hand so that the thumb is pointing at 1:30 for a right-handed shooter, 10:30 for a left-handed shooter. The back of the bow’s grip should run along the thumb side of the line that crosses the palm of the hand. Pressure along this line should be evenly distributed. Applying more pressure in the top of the grip can create torque, and pressing with only the heel of the hand can cause the bow to feel less steady at full draw and affect the shoulder and elbow position of the bow arm. The thumb and fingers shouldn’t influence the grip; rather, let them fall loosely around the bow’s riser. Some archers will overexaggerate the lack of contact with their fingers and the bow by shooting with an open hand, but doing this can cause muscle strain in the forearm and increase the odds of nicking a finger with a broadhead.
Using good form, shoot 50 arrows a day this week at a target face. Or keep blind-bale shooting, if target panic is a concern.
Week 4: Stay in Position
If the arms and shoulders aren't in line, other aspects of the shot will break down. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
The shoulder and elbow position of the bow arm make up the final static elements of an archer’s form. These two aspects of the shot impact draw length, stability and ultimately group size. The position of the front shoulder can also affect your enjoyment and comfort while shooting. Incorrect positioning can cause pain after repeated use, and even injury. To find proper front-shoulder alignment, simply raise your arm as you would to set something on a shelf. Common issues here include shrugging the shoulder up, causing the muscles of the neck to tighten, or pushing the shoulder forward, making it difficult to hold the bow steady.
Another area where problems often arise is the elbow position of the bow arm. Locking the elbow out is often a sign that you’re shooting a bow with a draw length that is too long. This can cause the bowstring to contact the inside of the forearm or hit the sleeve of a jacket while hunting. A front elbow that is bent too sharply can result from shooting a bow with a draw length that is too short. Or, it could indicate that you’re collapsing your chest and holding the bow weight in your draw shoulder instead of your back. Properly positioned, your front elbow should have a slight, comfortable bend, where the elbow is pointing at 8 o’clock.
Keeping the lessons from previous weeks in mind, shoot 50 arrows a day while focusing on the position of your front shoulder and elbow. If you’re dealing with target panic, don’t fire a shot. Instead, nock an arrow, draw the bow with good form and front arm position, anchor and hold for a five count, then let down.
Week 5: Anchor Consistently
Return to the exact same anchor point each time. Archery isn't about variance. Consistency is king. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
A consistent anchor point and head position is critical to repeatable accuracy. One of the best and most common anchoring methods is seating the knuckle of the thumb or index finger behind the jawbone. Which knuckle you use depends on the type of your release and what you find most comfortable. When you’re shooting a bow with the correct draw length, the arrow vanes should fall in between your bottom lip and your chin, without making contact with your face. Your head should be tilted slightly downward, with the tip of your nose lightly touching the string.
Filming yourself shooting is a good way to evaluate your head and anchor position. If the bowstring is pushing into your face, it can lead to inconsistent shooting. This is a common mistake, often caused by anchoring too deep under the jawbone. Adjusting your anchor position farther away from your face should resolve this problem.
Shoot 50 arrows a day this week in practice, while focusing on proper head and anchor position. Film yourself with your cellphone and evaluate these elements of your shot, tweaking as needed. If you’re working to correct target panic, use blind-bale shooting during these sessions.
Week 6: Embrace the Float
Don't try to hold the pin on the bullseye. You'll fail ... every time. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
In our minds, we naturally want to hold the pin rock solid on the spot where we’re aiming. But it’s impossible. Accepting that your pin will float around the bull’s-eye is the first step to achieving tighter groups and a true surprise release. The best way to develop better aiming is by focusing on that alone — without sending a single arrow downrange.
For your practice sessions, nock an arrow and draw the bow, remembering all the aspects of good form that you’ve been establishing. Once you’re comfortably at full draw, let your pin float over your point of aim until you begin to fatigue and the shot starts to break down. When this happens, let down, take a breath or two and repeat. Do this 50 times a day over the course of the week and never fire an arrow. If you can’t withstand the urge to shoot when your pin floats over the middle, you’re definitely dealing with target panic. In this case, you’ll want to use a “dummy” release that can’t be fired.
Week 7: Engage the Shot
Distinguished shot execution comes with practice. We're getting there. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
By this point your shooting should be coming together, and every aspect of your form should have improved. But if you can’t activate a clean, surprise release, all that work will go only so far. If you aren’t battling target panic, you can keep shooting with whatever style of release you’re most comfortable with, as long as you’re honest with yourself about your shot execution. Should you still have the urge to fire on command, a resistance-style release can help get you moving in the right direction and is a worthwhile investment.
For practice this week, start off using a string bow. You can easily make one of these shooting aids using a piece of thick dowel rod, a section of paracord and a D-loop. Begin each day by firing 25 shots with the string bow, pulling the string tight by holding the weight of its resistance with the rhomboid muscles of the back. To activate the shot, apply pressure to the release or trigger — this is known as the pre-load — then build pressure in the back until the shot breaks as a surprise. Executed properly, the elbow of the release arm should move backward when the bow fires. Video yourself shooting the string bow to evaluate your shot execution and finish. Get in 25 solid reps, then pick up your bow and apply the same activation process while shooting 25 blind-bale shots.
Week 8: Put It All Together
If you aren't happy with performance after week No. 8, start over and repeat the process. (Tyler Ridenour photo)
It’s the final week of this shooting program, and time to put all the pieces together. At 20 yards, shoot a five-spot target face, five arrows per end for 10 ends, totaling 50 arrows. Do so every day, and don’t rush through it. Concentrate on one arrow at a time. Go through each step that you’ve been working on over the past weeks. If it helps, try speaking aloud each step of the shot sequence. And if the shot feels off, let down and start the process over. Don’t dwell on a bad arrow. Instead, focus on executing your next shot perfectly. If you feel target panic starting to creep back in, stop the round and go back to blind-bale shooting or the aiming drill we covered in Week 6.
Eight weeks may seem like a big commitment, but consistent practice will pay off. If you can’t shoot every day each week, get in what you can and remember that archery is a lifelong activity. There’s always more to learn and room to improve. After you shoot your final arrow of Week 8, continue to get in regular reps, evaluate your shots and return to the areas where you’re struggling. By committing to becoming the best archer you can be, you’ll build confidence that is irreplaceable when hunting season comes around again.
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