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Aiming Tactics

Four Elements of Aiming Your Bow

by Randy Ulmer   |  October 19th, 2011 5

Aiming the bow is a complex process involving the integration of many body systems. You must experiment and practice to determine which methods work best for you. Once you've established your system, you must be consistent for the best results.

Should you shoot with the non-dominant eye open, closed or squinted? Aiming your bow with both eyes open produces the greatest possible field of view, which is an advantage while hunting. But unless your aiming eye is clearly dominant, this may produce visual conflict. It is very common for the non-aiming eye to try to seize control of the sight picture, especially when low-light conditions make it difficult to see through the peep clearly. If your non-dominant eye takes over the aiming process, you’ll miss by a mile.

I prefer to keep one eye closed (or blocked, more specifically) while competing. I actually use a small blinder that prevents my non-dominant eye from seeing the target at full draw. However, while hunting, I prefer to shoot with both eyes open. If I feel my non-dominant eye taking over (which, as I’ve said, often happens in low-light conditions), I squint my left eye to allow my right eye to re-establish control. This technique is not ideal, because it can create inconsistencies. However, when hunting, you sometimes have to compromise pinpoint accuracy for practicality.

Properly controlling your breathing during the shot is crucial to aiming well. This aspect of aiming your bow is very important!

I prefer to take a very deep breath before I draw the bow, another breath as I pull the string back and then another as I settle in. I then let one quarter to one half of the last breath out. I am trying to fully oxygenate my red blood cells to give me a longer time to shoot the shot before hypoxia sets in. I leave three quarters or so of the breath in for two reasons. First, it keeps the lungs relatively full of air so oxygen exchange can continue as I hold my breath. Second, it splints my ribcage and creates additional core stability. This is important because we want our entire body to be rigid — as long as the rigidity is passive (without muscular involvement).

You can shoot very well with your pin moving. Everyone’s pin moves as they aim — no matter what they may tell you. You do not need to become a shooting machine with a rock steady hold in order to shoot well. Many bowhunters never grasp this truth and fight target panic as a result.

You will produce smaller groups if you forget about shot timing and simply focus on your technique. Use proper body positions during the shot (I’ll touch on this in future columns), relax fully and squeeze off a surprise release. Though your pin may be floating around the aiming point, if you learn to stay truly relaxed and centered, the arrow will often hit closer to the center than you were aiming when the shot broke.

Some archers try to scribe a tiny figure-eight pattern with their pin — the center of the eight being the aiming point. Others try to circle the aiming point very slowly with the pin. Still others (myself included) do not use a specific system; they just let the pin float through its own pattern as they fully relax and focus on technique. I believe you should not try to control the specific movement of the pin; just relax and let the pin float as you simply attempt to keep it as close to the aiming point as possible throughout the shot. There is a natural centering tendency that occurs within the shot if you simply let the pin float. I believe this centering tendency allows you to subconsciously move the pin toward the middle as the shot breaks and the tension is released.

One system that will not work well in the long term is the one most archers naturally choose: consciously trying to hold the pin rock steady and pulling the trigger when the pin is on the spot. This method can lead to tension and target panic.

I focus primarily on the pin and let the target blur, but I know many great archers and handgun shooters who focus on the target and let the aiming device (pin) blur out. Rather than telling you which method to use, I will only say one method will produce better accuracy for you than the other. Experiment until you determine which point of focus produces the smallest group. Only a couple sessions on the range using this simple test will let you know which technique is best for you.

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