Instinctive bow shooting is defined as shooting without aid of aiming
devices or points of reference. In its pure form, instinctive shooting is
performed just as you'd throw a stone or a ball -- by looking at what you want
to hit, and letting her fly.
The key to accurate instinctive shooting is intense concentration with both
your eyes and the muscles that direct your arrow.
For this key to work, you must have established the fundamentals of bow
shooting -- a consistent and workable stance, hold, draw, release, and
follow-through, as well as the right mental approach. It's much more effective
to begin with good habits than to break bad ones and start over.
In the first part of this series, I will cover the basics of preparing for
instinctive shooting, and will cover shooting techniques in the next article.
Start With Good Stance, Hold
Mastering the fundamentals of instinctive shooting starts with a good stance
and hold. After years of practice you may be able to shoot accurately from
almost any position and even with your bow only partially drawn. But while
learning, use a consistent form that promotes accuracy.
Among the most crucial elements of instinctive accuracy is
"aiming" with your dominant eye. To determine which of your eyes is
dominant, pick an object in the distance, point at it with your finger, and
close each eye alternately. With one of your eyes open, your finger will appear
to move to the side -- that's your subordinate eye. With the other open, your
finger will remain pointed at the object -- that's your dominant eye.
Hopefully, if you are right-handed, your right eye will be dominant, and
vice-versa for lefties. If it doesn't work out that way, you should seriously
consider shooting from the opposite side so that you would pull the string with
the hand on the same side as your dominant eye. Otherwise, you'll have great difficulty
with instinctive shooting.
There are two basic stances to choose from. If you've been shooting
compounds, you probably stand at right angles to the target so that a line
projected across the tips of your toes would intersect the bull's-eye.
This can work with instinctive shooting. But many instinctive shooters have
better results with a more open stance -- with their bodies turned a bit more
toward the target. This makes it easier to bend the knees, bend the waist, and
lean a bit forward in the traditional instinctive shooting form, which aligns
the arrow directly below the dominant eye. The right-angle stance has a couple
advantages in that it promotes a bit longer draw length, which will extract
more performance from your bow, and it promotes better use of the back muscles,
which leads to cleaner, more consistent releases, which are all-important.
Experiment with stances before settling on one to see which works best for you.
One of the most crucial factors is how you hold your bow hand, and the
proper way to hold it is not the way you'd naturally hold it. The natural
tendency is to grab a big piece of the bow handle and distribute the pressure
across your palm. The most accurate way is to hold it delicately, balanced, and
without a grip, so that there is no uneven pressure that might twist the bow at
the release and misdirect the arrow or bump it into wobbly flight. Simply,
rotate your wrist outward, away from the bow, almost to the point of
discomfort, so the bow touches only the bottom of your thumb. Apply no pressure
with your fingers. Some people take this "delicate grip" to the
extreme and shoot with a fully open bow hand, fingers extended. But that's not
necessary, and a little risky. I can guarantee you'll never catch me holding my
$750 custom recurve in a way that could send it
clattering down a rocky hillside. I close my fingers on the grip without
Two Methods To Hold String
The position of your other hand, your string hand, is more complicated. Most
archers use the split-finger, or Mediterranean draw, with their index finger
above the nock of the arrow and the next two fingers below it. Other people, myself included, prefer to shoot with all three fingers
under the nock -- the so-called the Apache draw. It's largely a matter of personal
preferences -- each method has advantages and disadvantages.
Most people use split-finger because they've been taught that way, and
because it feels more secure -- it's easy to keep the arrow on the string. It
also more evenly distributes pressure on a bow's limbs, because the bowstring
is pulled closer to the center of the bow than with three-fingers-under. But
there are problems that can arise from the split-finger. The biggest is arrow
pinch. When the arrow is drawn, the fingers pinch the nock and can actually
bend the arrow against the bow. This leads to poor arrow flight, especially
when the degree of this bending varies from shot to shot.
Shooting three fingers under the nock, you won't torque the arrow shaft. But
you tend to put more pressure than normal on the bow's bottom limb. This can be
a problem -- it can make your bow noisier and reduce its efficiency. But you
can avoid this problem if your bow is specially tillered
for this style of shooting. And drawing with three fingers under the nock gets
the arrow a little closer to your eye, which seems to make shooting more
I started out shooting split-finger, and did so for many years, until a
traditional-archer friend of mine recommended I try three-fingers-under. I did,
and noticed immediately that I seemed to be more "in touch" with my
arrow and that my shooting improved. I always recommend to people that they at
least try this method.
In Part 2, I will cover shooting. Plan on many, many
sessions on the practice range before hunting. Start shooting from close
range with a very small target and a very large backstop, which will save
arrows and help you gain the most important elements
in instinctive shooting -- concentration and
Please read more in Part 2.
For a fine selection of Archery gear, click here.
Mike Strandlund is editor of Bowhunting World Magazine and
bowhuntingworld.com, and is a member of the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame.