Thursday, April 14, 2011

Archery: What was I thinking???

Apparently, the archery gods have a sense of humor, and I am a worthy target for them.

When I got my bow five weeks ago, I had a beautiful goal: Unlike hunting with a gun, which I began after literally one shooting lesson - one day at skeet - I was going to do archery right. I was going to take my time and try to get really good at it before I unleashed myself on the wildlife of Northern California.

Noble, eh? I would've told you it was totally freakin' brilliant, if you'd asked me.

Only problem is I forgot one thing: At least when I started duck hunting, I actually took a shooting lesson.

Mind you, I didn't go into archery blind: I got some basic starting advice from the guy who sold me the bow at Wilderness Archery, looked up some beginning archery instructions with diagrams and got to work in my back yard, paying utmost attention to form.

Me, paying utmost attention to form.

But deep down I knew I was probably developing bad habits.

So the last time I went to the shop to get sights (wow, huge help!), I inquired about lessons and signed up on the spot. And today was the big day.

The good news is that I long ago shed my juvenile dream of being declared a prodigy on occasions like this. (I blame Shirley Temple movies for this former affliction. That's all I can say.)

But as my instructor, Tex, watched me take a shot, and then another, and then another - all while being shown up by an 11-year-old with a compound bow in the next lane - I knew it was coming. Yes, I was going to stop everything, drop everything and go back to zero.

I had hoped - modestly, I thought - that there might be perhaps one thing I was doing right. And maybe there was. I think he said something complimentary about me standing nice and straight. But pretty much everything else required a lot of correction.

In fact, as soon as the 11-year-old left and it was just me and Tex, we moved waaaaaaay down the lane, so I was standing about five feet from the target.

Fingers tucked.

Hand at proper angle.

Elbow out - just a bit.

Shoulder back - no
back, not up.

Fingers on bowstring - no, don't squeeze the arrow!


Finger touching corner of mouth.

Now, wipe that cake you're thinking about eating off the side of your mouth.

Or elbow the person with bad breath behind you. Whichever mental image works best.


OK, do it with your eyes closed.

Strangely enough, that eyes-closed thing was good. Got me thinking about all those body parts and where they needed to be, with no silly target distracting me.

And at the risk of sounding immodest, I have to say I shot AWESOME groups at five feet with my eyes closed. Like seriously, if I could get an elk to stand five feet from me while I'm blindfolded, that mofo is dead.

Now I just need to figure out where I can shoot with my eyes closed around our property for the next few weeks, because the kind of shooting I've been doing is off limits to me for a while. Oh, the mere thought of it fills me with mirth!

Don't get me wrong: Tex was awesome. I just hate being outwitted by my own cleverness.

Oh well. Onward!

©Holly A. Heyser 2011


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I'm laughing because it's true, your experience mirrors my own. Archery is like fly casting in that the very act of being human seems to get in the way of what should be effortless. Frustrating, but my idea of fun. You can at least practice in your back garden.


PS the snotty little tyke in the next lane _ chad summed it up when he pointed out that a compound, with its wheels and pulleys, isn't a bow anymore it's a machine for launching arrows.

Anonymous said...

I did my latest Archery "thing" the other day...stopped by my local Archery Pro-Shop and bought a new Hunting DVD to sit and watch.

Bill C.-Orygun

Shewee woman said...

Love it, I have visions of buying a bow myself, and then I look around and see all the other toys I have to play with and it seems to get pushed back another year. I'm sure you can rig something up in your backyard so you can shoot at 5 feet with your eyes closed. Whenever you start a new sport there is always too much thinking going on. Just relax and have fun with it. Good luck!

SimplyOutdoors said...


As a guy who just recently picked up a longbow for the first time, after many years shooting a compound, I wouldn't beat yourself up too much about how you're shooting at this point.

It is hard. It's the most difficult thing I've ever done related to archery.

I can shoot a compound against pretty much anyone, but shooting a longbow is a much different animal (and way fun to shoot I might add).

So..keep your head up. And keep at it.

And, when you have it figured out, come give me lessons! :)

Mark said...

"Like seriously, if I could get an elk to stand five feet from me while I'm blindfolded, that mofo is dead."

Holly, I literally just spit some coffee out. Thanks for that one!

I have told you this before, but it is worth repeating: I commend you for your approach into bowhunting. Taking it slow. Doing it right. Developing your skills.

Way to go!

Phillip said...

Good deal, Holly. Getting an instructor's help at this stage is definitely a good call.

I did the blindfolded shooting thing too, with a target in front of a hay bale. It really, really helps with form. Since you can't look at the target, all you can do is feel yourself drawing, anchoring, and releasing.

For your home practice, I don't know if I recommended this before, but it's pretty easy to build a very good backstop.

Build a simple wooden A-frame, about 4' wide x 6' high. It doesn't have to be professional carpenter quality, as long as it'll stand by itself.

Not get yourself some carpet remnants, or find someone who's throwing out an old carpet. You'll want to make at least double layer and hang it over the frame. If you can't find one, solid 4x6 piece, you can hang several pieces overlapping.

It should hang loose, not fastened at the sides or bottom. This way it will better absorb the energy of the arrows. A couple of layers of carpet, hung this way, will stop any field-tipped arrow, and most broadheads. It won't wear out either. I shot against mine for a couple of years, leaving it out in the weather, and when I finally took it down it was still stopping solid hits from my 52# bow.

Traditional archery is a real, uphill battle... but it feels so good to shoot that way.

Blessed said...

Oh how I'd love to find an elk, or a deer or turkey... that would stand 5 feet in front of me so that I could have a good shot at it :)

Ah well... everything seems to go better when you have an actual person showing you what to do rather than simply trying to figure things out on your own. Enjoy those lessons!

Bobby Nations said...


But deep down I knew I was probably developing bad habits

Possibly, but I wouldn't sweat it too much as bad habits are pretty easy to break at this stage of your progression. Once you understand how your body is supposed to feel during a well executed shot, the old way will feel decidely clumsy by comparison.

More so than bad habits, what you have been developing in your back yard is the proper muscle strength to pull and hold the bow at full-draw. That's not nothing. Without a good foundation of muscle strength, it's pretty hard to maintain the proper form. So, some grunt work is required in the beginning and you can't avoid that part of the learning process. Archery uses lots of muscles that you don't normally use, so they have to toughen up before your groups can tighten up.

wipe that cake you're thinking about eating off the side of your mouth

That is an outstanding mental image for training yourself to pull through the release. Tex sounds like a very good teacher. So, that's another thing you've done well -- picking a good coach. It can make all the difference in the long run.

Most of all, I hope that you still find it to be a fun way to pass a few minutes ... or a few hours.

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly, a lurker here and a re-curve archer.
Yeah, you learn early on in archery that it's more about your body position than lining up sights. To get consistent groupings you have to build your muscle memory. AND if you're not consistently practicing, your muscles will forget!
I know a guy who's a crack shot with a longbow and he also hunts with it. I asked him once how the hell does he do it. Even though he's a crack shot, a lot of it is still getting really close to his prey. I recall him saying something like 20 feet, but maybe I mis-remember. All I can say is GOOD LUCK!!


NorCal Cazadora said...

SBW: I need to be able to disable my brain. Seriously.

And the kid? He was all right! He was actually very eager to talk about hunting. It's just hard when an 11-year-old is better than you. Reminds me of when I had to bow to 10-year-old black belts when I was a 30-year-old white belt.

Bill C.: Fortunately, there's no shortage of archery on TV. Good lord, you can hardly find anyone hunting with a gun on TV anymore!

Shewee woman: Tex actually recommended my garage, but I'm not sure how I'd get all the arrow-wrecking junk off the walls. I actually have a spot in my backyard that is ideal - a wood fence backed by an 8-foot block wall (something developers put in before their overpriced housing project behind us went belly up).

Simply: When I have figured it out, I will probably just shut up. I know how the hunting gods are about stuff like this.

Mark: I'm sorry I caused you to waste the juice of life!

Phillip: Did you say "build"? Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa. Actually, though, that sounds like a good idea. I think it was you who recommended hay bales too, when I first got the bow, and I finally got them too - but not before I lost another arrow.

Blessed: There are a lot of Canada geese at the lake where I hike that will get well within five feet. Oh, how I thought of grabbing them by the neck and helicoptering them! ("Mommy mommy mommy, what's that mean lady doing to the goose???)

Bobby: Thank you for that! I think it's really important to do what Tex said and NOT go back to just shooting the like I was before - I really need to spend three weeks or so shooting with my eyes closed.

Mary: Getting that close is what Ishi ("the last wild Indian in North America" - there's a link to the book in the Amazon widget above). Ishi said it was harder after white men came because guns changed how animals behaved, but his preferred method was to get within 10 yards, often luring deer with a cheesy deer head on a stick, which got the better of their curiosity. I would totally love that.

Will Jenkins said...

Great Read! I just started shooting a longbow after shooting a compound for a few years. I can relate to everything you just wrote and really enjoyed reading it! Thanks!

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


the only time my archery came together was when I went to the woods with Stickman, hold the bow how it wants to sit in your hand, both eyes open so your brain can perceive distance and space and keep launching them one after another. Everything opposite to the lessons I went to, where the bow had to be vertical and I was squinting at a pin sight, it was a revelation arrows seemed to go where I willed them. Let go - use the force.

David J Blackburn said...

"You've taken your first step into a larger world." 8>

Bible fact: to sin literally means to miss the target; as in an archer shooting and missing what is aimed for.

With discipline sin happens less and less, but no matter how hard you try it never stops.

Pray you don't sin when the shot is important!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Love the post, Holly. It reminds me of how it felt to get back into archery after almost 20 years of being away from it. The eyes-closed approach is a great 5 feet anyway!

I admit to being a very tentative bowhunter and also to having a bit of a split-personality when it comes to archery. I love shooting my longbow, only take my compound to the woods, and have only shot deer with my rifle.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Will: Thank you! I'm hoping that starting with a recurve buys me brownie points with the archery gods ;-)

SBW: I almost always do better when I let go. To quote Morpheus: "Free! Your! Mind!"

David: True on every level, isn't it?

Tovar: I'm a long way from big-game hunting with a bow - I know Ingrid will be watching over my shoulder.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

You and I both know, of course, that it's not really Ingrid watching over your shoulder, or over mine...

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, it is ALWAYS Ingrid, LOL!

Phillip said...

Hay bales are great, and cheap. If you're shooting enough, they'll give up the ghost relatively quickly and your arrows will start squirting out the backside, never to be seen again.

The carpet trick is good when you decide you're really going to stick with it, and you'll be shooting a lot. Honestly, if you hang a few layers over your fence out back, you'll be in good shape unless you start shooting a fast compound with broadheads.

All of this, of course, comes from my own, recent experience.

And Ishi... he was ON IT. No matter how good a shot you are, it ALWAYS pays to get closer!

Ingrid said...

Oh, it is ALWAYS Ingrid, LOL!

Well, I didn't want to say . . . ;)

I had a lovely neighbor years ago when I lived in Berkeley. One day, she flipped, completely. As part of the flip, she started sticking her fingers in her ears, singing "la, la, la, la, la" whenever she saw me on the street, ignoring me completely. After a few of these incidents, I approached her and asked if I'd done something to upset her. She responded: "It's not always ABOUT you, Ingrid!"

(Shortly thereafter, she started an imaginary broadcast/interview show on our shared back porch.)

The upshot is, I'm now glad to learn that it is, in fact, always about me! (lol)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Glad to oblige, Ingrid. I can come talk to your neighbor if you need me to.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Archery, as you have figured out no doubt, is more like shotgunning than rifle shooting.

But because so many people go from rifles to bows, bows are sold with all kinds of sights and junk.

It's simple. Start at age 5, and the first million shots are just for practice!

I was just getting into bowhunting when I started college teaching, and that killed it--the pressure of the semester starting in the middle of the season was just too much for me.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Teaching college - with those long summer and winter breaks - is an awesome job, but when you have to be on, EVERYTHING takes a back seat. I used to work out religiously; teaching is what killed that.

I'm still on the fence about sights. I'd like to be able to shoot without them, but accuracy is the most important thing to me, and if sights make me more accurate, so be it.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

I have often thought that very same thing about barebow archery, Chas. It's like shooting a shotgun, as there are no sights.

In my own shooting, though, I've run across a little trouble with that analogy. A shotgun shoots a spray of pellets (and is typically used on a moving target at relatively close range), which makes sights and pinpoint accuracy less relevant. A rifle shoots a single projectile, which makes sights and pinpoint accuracy very relevant. And a bow shoots a single projectile...

Few hunters I know would consider hunting with a rifle (or slug-loaded shotgun) if there were no sights on the gun. Doing such shooting might be fun in target practice, but most of us wouldn't put a living creature on the line. Yet barebow hunters do it all the time.

I know plenty of barebow hunters, including many I respect. Many clean kills are made by skilled barebow hunters. I suppose I might even take my longbow to the woods again someday. But the analogy does give me pause.

Josh said...

It's always good to have a good teacher, and learn good tips. That said, consistency is all that matters in archery (after knowing how to pull with your back, to avoid injury). I've seen plenty of variety in draws, holds, releases - but all that matters is consistency.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Tex said the exact same thing. He said he'd show me some things that worked for many people, but in the end, as long as I'm consistent, I can and should do what works for me. And I'm almost always willing to try people's suggestions, and in this case, it's a no-brainer.