By Patrick Meitin
Quality practice means shooting with a purpose. This starts by setting goals, determining what areas of your shooting are holding you back and prioritizing aspects that most need work. Though, I would caution to avoid attempting to break several bad habits at once, working out issues one at a time before moving on.
Healthy self-analysis is a huge part of improving your shooting, being brutally honest with yourself and being willing to take the bull by the horns. Shooting with purpose is all about working to eliminate bad habits and this starts with admitting there is a problem to begin with. Eliminating any bad habit, be that target panic, trigger punching, inconsistent anchoring, “creeping,” or “peeking,” then requires fortitude and discipline.
This is where laying a solid foundation really pays huge dividends. By this point in the game you should have a solid idea of what the perfect shot feels like. Practicing to win includes learning what feels right and what feels wrong during shooting practice and heading off problems before they develop.
Part of this is striving to meet goals and better yourself for increased consistency. Laying down a schedule and following it religiously is the beginning. You know yourself better than most, understanding if you’re a morning or an evening person, for instance. Most of us must also maneuver around work and family obligations. Making time to shoot—sometimes selfishly taking time—is important to better shooting. This may also coincide with comfort. During summer months, in particular, searing heat and humidity, even biting insects, can make after-work shooting downright distracting. Dragging yourself out of bed during the dim hours of morning, well before most people are awake, allows you to shoot when it’s cool and quiet. Mentally, I shoot my best during the last couple hours of evening until well after sunset.
When striving to shake bad habits or working to break through a plateau, finding peaceful hours with minimal distractions is vital. Crowded urbane indoor ranges can complicate matters. It is sometimes necessary to find the quiet times when lanes are least crowded, or a safe, quiet corner of a park (where legal) or a drainage ditch at the edge of town. Smart practice requires a calm, distraction-free atmosphere, even if that means being antisocial.
I’ve generally found membership in a local archery club money well spent, especially when they maintain a shooting range. Range facilities normally prove abandoned on weekdays, allowing distraction-free shooting practice. Don’t discount public archery ranges, as many are underutilized.
Knowing yourself also means understanding when you’re on and when your mental focus simply isn’t there. Use the days when you’re “In The Zone” to make progress and build confidence. You know the feeling: You believe you can’t miss, your bow is shooting itself and you’re in complete control. On the flip side, there are those days when you really should avoid shooting. Perhaps you’re mentally drained following a frustrating day at work. You may have had a nasty fight with your spouse. Maybe one of the kids got in trouble at school, or an unexpected expense popped up without funds to cover it. Whatever it is, your mind simply isn’t in the moment, or your temper flares at the smallest mistakes. This causes further stress through anger borne of an inability to accept anything short of perfection. If it becomes obvious your mind is too conflicted to make every shot count, put your bow away. To push on is to invite bad habits.
Though, a temporary lack of focus shouldn’t be used as an excuse to postpone needed practice. Shifting concentration from everyday life to something that hopefully brings you great satisfaction is what archery is all about. Sometimes it helps to take a moment to sit quietly and settle yourself through calming breathing exercises (inhale through your nose, hold that breath momentarily, and then slow exhale through your mouth with just enough force to bend a candle flame) and meditation (mentally visualizing perfect shot execution).
Now work on a very specific part of your shooting, that one part of shooting form that has become sloppy, your anchor perhaps, or creating a surprise release, thorough follow-through, whatever your current nemesis or handicap might be. Work through that one thing before moving on to the next. Work on shots that regularly trip you up, be that a particular range that causes a mental hiccup, shooting while sitting or kneeling (shots that might arise during 3-D tournaments) or to extend your maximum effective range. In fact, extended range accentuates shooting deficiencies, so I often spend much of my practice sessions shooting well beyond any expected yardage, so when I move closer those shots seem almost child’s play.
It’s all about setting goals and striving to meet them, whatever they may be. Archery is never truly mastered, as there are so many working parts. But quality practice—practicing with purpose instead of mindlessly flinging arrows—helps you move closer to mastering the particular situations that are currently holding you back.