Once you've established how to hold the bow, it's time to shoot! The shot always starts with putting the arrow on the string and drawing. Some people aren't aware these are crucial parts of the shot, but they are.
Successful instinctive shooting depends on how well you can concentrate on what you want to hit, and the earlier this concentration starts, the better. Once you've decided to shoot something, you should start concentrating on the spot you want to hit, and should not be distracted by anything including placement of the arrow and drawing. You should learn to do it without looking at it.
To do this, always place the shaft on the shelf (or arrow rest) first, then place it on the string by feel, as you continue to concentrate on the spot you want to hit. This normally requires that you use index nocks, which have a small bump on one side so you always get it on right by feel, unless your fletching configuration will allow the arrow to be nocked either way.
The way you draw the bow should be consistent and enhance accuracy. There are several methods. You may start with your bow arm straight and pointed toward the target, in about the right shooting position as you pull back with your string hand. Or you can use the push-pull method, in which your arms are held in front of the body and move in opposite directions into shooting position.
Favors Straight-Arm Draw
I use the straight-arm method, for two reasons. There is much less motion for an animal to see (in fact, an extended bow and bow arm will hide most of the movement of the drawing arm), and it allows me to start aiming even before I begin to draw.
There are a couple other ways of drawing; it's best to try different methods and find which works best for you. About the only truly unacceptable method is what I call the contortion draw, in which the archer holds the bow skyward and goes through all sorts of motions to get it drawn and positioned. This is an all-too-common method, usually seen among compound shooters who are using a bow that is too heavy. It is a draw that does nothing to prepare for an accurate shot, and which will scare away animals. Whatever method of drawing you use, minimize movement.
As you draw, everything should seem to line up naturally. The bow should seem to naturally cant so that the arrow lines up under your eye. You may bend forward a bit, maybe bend at the knees. You can lean your head forward, but should avoid leaning too far ahead because it'll shorten your draw and make it harder to line everything up.
Any experienced archer knows that a firm and consistent anchor point is important. It's especially so with recurves and longbows, compared to compounds, because any variation in draw length will cause a greater variation in the energy transferred to the arrow, which translates to poor accuracy.
Most instinctive shooters have better luck with a fairly high and deep anchor point. Anchoring so the nock is just under the cheekbone is a good method. If you anchor as far back as you can while still being comfortable, you'll get the most energy out of your bow without affecting accuracy.
Even before you reach your anchor point, you should be aiming. It consists of focusing both your eyesight and your bow muscles on a pinpoint that you want to hit. You aim the same way you aim to throw a baseball. Don't try to guess yardage, and don't try to cheat by looking at your bow or arrow.
How quickly should you draw and release? Some archers snap-shoot, releasing, it seems, even before they've reached their anchor. Others draw and hold for several seconds, the way sight-shooters do. But most get best results by getting into a shooting rhythm in which they draw, hesitate for a consistent amount of time (usually a second or two) and then release. The hesitation gives you a moment to be sure you are focused on the target and everything feels right. Hesitating too long can get you thinking too much about the shot, second-guessing yourself, which tends to hurt accuracy.
Related to the anchor point is the release. A good release is basically one that does not change your anchor just as you shoot. You do not let the string creep forward, you don't pluck it, move it down or pull it away from your face.
Use Back Tension For The Release
A good release is best accomplished by back tension. Both hands and arms should be fairly relaxed; the work should be done by the back muscles. This keeps everything in line and consistent.
The actual release should be accomplished by just a slight, subconscious relaxing of the fingers on the string, while maintaining finger and back tension. Do not consciously open the hand.
Done properly, your string hand should jerk back a few inches upon the release. If it doesn't, it means you aren't using proper back tension, or that you are trying to change your muscle tension at the release, which will lead to inconsistency.
As your string hand jerks back, everything else should stay the same. Try to keep your bow and bow hand in the same position as it was before the shot. Don't move your body. Don't blink, and keep looking at the spot you want to hit until the arrow gets there. This is called follow-through, and a good follow-through is all-important. It can even counteract minor mistakes.
As you practice these fundamentals, remember that instinctive shooting is much more mental than it is physical. That's one of my favorite facets of the game that boldness, confidence and determination play such major roles in success; that your attitude can actually make arrows fly true. Go in with the resolve that you will become a skillful instinctive shooter, that you will make the shot, and you will.
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Mike Strandlund is editor of Bowhunting World Magazine and bowhuntingworld.com, and is a member of the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame.