In any sport, the best way to ensure you will perform well under pressure is by developing and maintaining excellent form.
Whether it’s kicking a field goal to win the Super Bowl or making a 30-yard shot on a monster muley, good form will help carry you through times of duress.
You shouldn’t have to think about the step-by-step mechanics of the process as you are performing it. If you have developed good form, muscle memory will help you complete the task without significant involvement of your conscious mind.
As you become attuned to how an ideal shot feels, every part of your body will learn what it is supposed to do and how it is supposed to feel during all aspects of the shot. You will begin to sense the proper feel before, during and after the release. The feel of a perfect shot will become a large part of the pleasure you derive from archery and bowhunting. If any aspect of the shot isn’t right, your body will instantly signal your brain, allowing you to either correct the problem or let down and restart the process.
When you can reproduce the feel of a perfect shot consistently, without conscious thought, shooting well under pressure will become much easier.
What You Should Feel
As you develop and practice good form, focus on the feel of every aspect of your body and the shot. One of the most important steps in this process is to recognize the feel of a torque-free grip. Initially, you must take great pains to place your hand on the grip in exactly the right way every time. Soon, you won’t have to look at or think about your hand to know when it is perfectly placed and completely relaxed.
Your bow hand should be completely relaxed. You should feel the force of the bow’s grip against your hand in exact alignment with the center of the long bones of the forearm. Imagine that a metal rod ran lengthwise through the exact center of your forearm and exited through your palm. The pressure point of the bow’s handle on your palm should be exactly where this theoretical rod would exit.
Now, imagine your bow hand is merely a padded cradle at the end of a post extending horizontally from your shoulder. Imagine you have no control over this post; when aiming, the only way to move the bow left, right, up or down is with your torso, not your bow arm or bow hand. Most errant shots are due to the archer interfering with the bow. Let the bow shoot without interference and it will do so flawlessly.
Next, focus on your anchor point. Feel the light touch of the release hand nestled into position. There should be one point of contact that is extremely consistent; once you feel it, you know you are properly anchored. Learn the feel of your bow arm and release arm when they are in perfect alignment. In the beginning, you may need to get a friend or shooting coach to tell you when your alignment is exactly right. Once perfect alignment is ingrained into your subconscious, your body will naturally seek this position when you come to full draw.
Feeling the Release
Rather than me trying to explain what the perfect release feels like, try this simple exercise that will quickly and profoundly demonstrate the feeling I want you to experience. Have a friend stand behind you with their finger on the release aid’s trigger while you aim at the target as you normally would. Have them trigger the release aid, but only after you have come to full draw, settled into the shot and aimed for three to seven seconds. The shot will completely surprise you. It will feel like a sudden explosion — as though the bowstring was cut.
During this exercise, hold your bow straight at the target while using your back muscles to pull the elbow of your release arm straight back. Focus on keeping all parts of your body completely relaxed as the bow fires. This is a critical feeling to ingrain into your subconscious mind. When you get used to this new feeling, you will come to enjoy it.
All of your muscles that aren’t necessary to hold the bow up and back should already feel relaxed during the aiming process; keep them that way during the follow-through. You shouldn’t feel like you’re trying to hold the bow up or keep the pin on the target after release because the effort will create instant tension at the time of the explosion and requires perfect timing — two things you should be working hard to eliminate. Repeat this exercise until the release no longer startles you.
Now that you know how the perfect shot should feel, you need to learn how to achieve the same sensation without any help. Step close to the backstop and close your eyes as you draw, settle in and shoot the bow. Take the time necessary to feel every aspect of the shot: the grip, dead bow arm and bow hand, anchor point, alignment, aiming, sweet sensation of a completely surprise release and continuation of relaxation into the follow-through. Do this drill for at least part of every practice session until the feel of the entire sequence becomes second nature and comfortable. It may take a thousand shots, but after you have mastered the muscle memory, your technique will be much more pressure-proof.
For the rest of your bowhunting life, focus on the feel of the shot while you’re practicing. When the pressure is on, you won’t have to worry nearly as much about your ability to pull off the shot. The proper mechanics will be programmed into your psyche and your muscles, leaving you free to watch the arrow fly true and hit exactly where you’re aiming.