December 01, 2022
If archery had a theme word, it would be ‘repetition!’ The entire methodology involved in shooting a bow accurately can be summed up in that word. If you repeat everything about your shot process in exactly the same way every time, you will never miss.
It does not matter how you grip the bow, how you clutch the string or how you aim. The bow will shoot the arrow in exactly the same way each time, if the inputs from you are exactly the same from shot to shot.
Unfortunately, humans are not robots and cannot repeat perfectly on every single shot. So, what coaches do is teach you how to interface with the bow in ways that have been proven over time to be the most repeatable for the vast majority of archers. This is what has come to be regarded as good shooting form.
Each sport has advanced its particular ‘good form’ along the same lines of progression. It’s not necessary to have good form to be great at your sport, but it definitely helps. In every sport, there are incredibly talented people who get away with using poor form to perform incredibly well. Think golf’s Jim Furyk or John Daly; they are successful in spite of their golf swings. However, they are the exceptions rather than the rule. Most great golfers have great golf swings. You have a better chance to become a great golfer if you strive to develop a swing that has proven to be the most repeatable. The same holds true for archery.
‘Repeatability’ is the Key
Throughout the history of my Petersen’s BOWHUNTING column, the ‘repetition’ theme has been a common thread. However, I’ve never addressed ‘repeatability’ as a separate entity — a distinct mindset and goal — as it were.
For more than 50 years, I have been competing and hunting with a bow and arrow. In analyzing my progression as an archer from a novice hack to a seasoned pro, I’d have to say that any persistent improvement achieved has always come from adjusting everything about my shooting form and equipment to minimize the possibility of anything changing from one shot to the next.
For example, I weigh my hunting arrows with the broadheads attached and make sure they all weigh within .1 grain of each other. I use the same jig to fletch every arrow. I make sure each nock is aligned exactly the same on every arrow. I make sure each arrow has its stiffest side aligned with the nock. I make certain each broadhead is aligned perfectly with the shaft so that it spins true. In other words, I do my best to make each arrow an exact replica of every other arrow.
Just as your arrows must be absolutely consistent, your shooting form must be consistent as well. I realized early on that the fewer muscles I involved in any part of the shooting process, the more repeatable that process was. Bone to bone support for my legs, my shoulder girdle as well as my bow arm proved to be much more reliable and repeatable than when I used my muscles for support. The more muscular involvement, the more likely I was to vary slightly from shot to shot, especially as I grew tired.
To hold the bow at full draw, I found that using the large muscles of my back — the ones closest to and stabilized by the spine — proved to be much more repeatable than holding the bow back using the smaller and less stable muscles of my arms. The smaller and longer the muscle, and the farther that muscle is away from the stabilizing influence of the spine, the more difficult it is to hold it steady.
Keeping my head in a natural upright position at full draw by always adjusting the bow to my body and face, rather than contorting my body to fit the bow, proved much more repeatable than adjusting my body and face to fit the bow. Keeping my draw arm elbow, forearm and hand in alignment with the plane of the arrow has proven more repeatable than having my elbow to the left or to the right of that plane.
Keeping my torso straight above my hips rather than leaning back eliminated muscular involvement of my core (torso). Instead, by standing upright I use the spine, pelvis and leg bones for support. Again, this leads to more repeatability.
Paying Off in the Field
You should be getting the point by now. From the setup of your bow, to the addition of your accessories, to the building of your arrows, you must always ask yourself one thing: is my equipment designed and tuned to make each shot as repeatable as possible?
More importantly, when building your shooting form, ask yourself this: is the form I'm using the most easily repeatable? And if you constantly keep repeatability in the back of your mind, you will find your practice sessions reinforce doing things in the exact same way every time.
If everything about your shooting form is repeatable and you have practiced this repetition endlessly, when you do finally get a shot at a big buck, though your brain may go blank, you will revert to auto-pilot mode. Your muscle memory and lizard brain will kick in, forcing you to repeat everything just as you have practiced. This makes it much less likely that you will blow the shot of a lifetime!