Bowhunting World Xtreme 2004
The Secret of Instinctive Shooting ~ By Mike Strandlund

After 10 years of hunting with compounds,
here I was, learning how to shoot a bow.

The slender longbow felt feather light in my
hand, yet mule stubborn as I strained back the
string. And as I gazed through the void normally occupied
by sight pins, I had not a clue how to guide the
arrow into the vicinity of the target.
“Just look hard at your target and shoot,” the old longbow
shooter had told me.

“But how do I aim?” I`d responded, trying to pry from him
the mysterious secret of successful instinctive shooting.
“Just look hard at your target and shoot.”
I pulled back, looked hard, and shot. The arrow glanced off
the sidewalk 2 feet in front of the target, ricocheted off my garage
door, and smashed into a block wall. “Just as I thought,” I thought.
Undaunted, I moved the target to a place where my archery
education might prove less costly. I kept shooting. After a few
weeks, I found I could hit the target quite consistently. It was
interesting, and I kept shooting. Eventually I found I could hit
the target almost at will, with only the occasional mental-lapse
miss that kept it challenging. This was fascinating. But the most
satisfying part was the productive hunting I enjoyed in the following
years, taking whitetails, mule deer, antelope, bears and
caribou with only a stick bow, some arrows and my instincts.
It’s a wondrous thing, this instinctive bow shooting. I’d like
to share with you what I’ve learned.

The first step is to understand that the term “instinctive
shooting” is a misnomer. We have the capacity to shoot a bow
quite accurately without the aid of devices, but it does not come
from instinct. It is achieved through highly trained hand/eye
coordination and concentration learned from hours of practicing
the mechanics of good form.

Some people can’t believe this method of shooting a bow is
practical, or even feasible. “Instinctive shooting can never be
as precise as shooting with sights, so a bowhunter who shoots
that way is always at a disadvantage,” they say. But they`re wrong.
We’re talking bowhunting, not an archery tournament. A
bowhunter is not required to hit a spot the size of a quarter to
be successful. He needs to hit something the size of a dinner
plate—the vital zone of an animal. Precision beyond that is purely
academic. At normal bowhunting ranges of O to 25 yards, a
well practiced traditional shooter should be able to kill deer just
as consistently as an average archer with all the gadgets. And in
cases where he must shoot very quickly the target is moving, the
shooting position is difficult, the weather is horrendous or shooting light is minimal—all quite common conditions in bowhunting—he should be able to do it better. And of course, he will never
miss due to a loose sight pin, a faulty launcher, a jammed release,
or plugged peep-all of which, by the way, have cost me animals.
Beyond that, there are instinctive shooters who are so accurate
they can pick off rabbits, squirrels, even flying gamebirds consistently
Mastering the aft of instinctive shooting to that degree
requires mental concentration and well»practiced fundamentals of
shooting form. But mostly it takes being connected to that mysterious
energy that allows you to just think about
hitting a target with an arrow, and then making it happen.
It’s that last part that baffles most people. How, exactly, do
you achieve that “instinctive” accuracy?

The way instinctive shooting always seems to be described
is picking a spot, concentrating on it, and releasing. I have never
found that description sufficient to do my shooting any good.
I groped, experimented and struggled with bare bow shooting.

But l think I’ve found, and can describe, the secret. Yes, it
does involve concentrating on a spot, but it is much more than
that. lt is not just looking at a spot, but looking at it in a way
that your eyesight is, in a way, projected into it. In preparing
to shoot, imagine your eyesight as the sun’s rays through a magnifying
glass—that you could burn a hole in the target if your
sight is focused and intense enough.

There is a second part to this equation, which is that you must
project with your entire body. You feel (don’t peek!) how your
arrow is pointed, and put everything into a straight line by drawing
with your back muscles, not your arms. You bum a tiny hole
in the precise spot you want to hit, while being subliminally conscious
of how your muscles are directing the arrow, with it all
connected and working in synch. That is the simple secret.
There are several ways to screw this up. It is quite possible
to look at the spot you want to hit without doing it in a way
that promotes accuracy—without really focusing on it. Again,
you have to project your sight feels confusing and you become
conscious there is little likelihood of making the shot.

Do not even dream of consciously looking at your arrow, bow hand, or the gap between your
arrow tip and the target. To do that is to destroy the process,
and if you do hit the target after peeking at how your arrow
is pointed, it will be largely by accident.
What all this amounts to—and why it works—isn’t really
magic. It’s focus. It just feels like magic.

Of course, no degree of perfection in “aiming” is going to help
unless you have a good release and follow-through. It really
doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it consistently. We
just use an “on»target” draw, a solid anchor point, back tension,
finger~slip release, and keeping the bow in place during follow
through for the simple and effective reason that all these things
are much easier to do consistently than their alternatives.
Beyond that, the instinctive release and follow~through
should be an extension of “pointing with your muscles.” It
should be almost unconcious, with no last moment movement of either hand
not even a blink.
When you get the technique down, it is truly amazing. In certain cases it is more
accurate for howhunting than mechanical sighting devices. When you’re in the groove, you
just can’t miss. You can feel that acutely and it feels great.

Describing the perfect instinctive bow shot and how to
achieve it is probably the most difficult concept I’ve ever tried to put on paper.
I’d like to go further and describe it as a flow of energy from the eyes to the
target back to the hands, a circuit of something like electricity that, provided your
form is right, will send an arrow as true as a laser beam. I’d like to say it comes
from the heart, or the soul, or maybe our genes that still carry DNA from the
hundreds of generations of our ancestors who depended on bows and arrows every
day to stay alive. Something spiritual wells up through your hands, arms, brain and eyes, and when everything is right, there’s a spark in the mind that knows with ultimate certainty, the instant of your release, that the arrow will slam into the center of whatever it is in your “sights.”

Sometimes you know it before you even draw the bow, which is one of the
highest highs in bowhunting. But people who have yet to discover and understand the beauty of true
instinctive shooting might scoff at all this as some kind of quasi»Zen weirdness.
So I just tell them to look hard at your target and shoot. >>—>