by Travis “T-Bone” Turner
When we are preparing for the archery season, a buzz phrase you hear a lot is, “practice makes perfect.” I agree with that on some level, but as an archer, I like to modify the phrase to “perfect practice makes perfect.” I’ve found a routine that focuses more on quality, execution and visualization is more helpful to my groups shrinking than flinging as many arrows as I can at the target. It focuses on developing subconscious and conscious approaches for the perfect bowhunting shot.
Shoot with Your Subconscious Mind
Riding a bike, tying my shoes, crop dusting Waddy and Nick on the Bone Collector bus. These are things I never need to think about when I am doing them. I learned them through repetition on the conscious level until they become second nature. An archery shot is the same way. Once you trigger the routine to start, the body goes on autopilot and takes over. So, how do I train to make a subconscious shot?
The subconscious mind is like a child. It learns from experience. I like to break my shot down without worrying about aiming. I will blind-bale shoot at 5-yards and only focus on form and making the perfect shot. (Let me clarify, I’m not really blind-bale shooting because I keep my eyes open, but I place a piece of tape over my sight so I am not focused on aiming.) You want to be careful here, because you are instilling habits into your muscle memory, and habits can be good and bad. Make sure you have a solid understanding of proper archery form.
I go as far as to make sure my stance is shoulder-width apart, so I’m keeping the weight over the top of my hips. Once I come to full draw, I want a slight bend in my elbow and settle into my anchor points. I expand my chest and use back tension to hold the bow at full draw while I aim. This relaxes all the other muscles of the upper body and is more stable. I pretend I am mashing a ball between my shoulder blades. When releasing an arrow, I always pull through the shot. I don’t want to become static on the release or collapse on the shot. I want to always pull through it.
Learn all these little steps on a conscious level, even if it’s the way you nock the arrow, until it becomes subconscious and you don’t have to think about the execution. The only thing I want to consciously think about is aiming.
Aim with Your Conscious Mind
On a conscious level, I want to only be focused on aiming during a shot. This is challenging when I spot browtines and backstaps from the stand. I am flooded with nervous energy that needs to be suppressed so I can concentrate on aiming. It’s me against the target. I do a lot of visualization exercises to help me improve my aim.
I like to stare at the target and let the pin be sort of blurry in the foreground. I stare exactly where I want the arrow to go. I have found that if I focus on the sight pin, I end up chasing my target all over the place. Stare at the target and let the pin appear where you are staring. It will work.
To practice this, take out an old sight while you are watching TV and aim at things around the room, or walk around the backyard with your bow and aim without ever drawing back. Work on focusing on the target with your pin in the foreground. Visualize perfect arrow placement, and before you know it, that perfect sight picture will be in your head and you’re thinking about those positive things that every shot should be.
Don’t just practice this summer. Train your subconscious mind to execute a shot from muscle memory and your conscious mind to aim. Then merge them together, and I’ll bet your groups will get tighter.
THE MIND OF AN ARCHER