Try This New Off-Season Archery Training Routine
Big game archery seasons are a distant memory for most of us now, so it’s a good time to assess. How did it go for you ? Be honest. Was it a year of good hits and short streaks of blood? Or was it a season marred by misfires or missteps? If it was the latter, you have some serious work to do, first because doing clean kills is serious business and second because, well, what you’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.
I say. I was here. My target panic and resulting field performance got so bad at one point that I almost hung up my bow for good. I was desperate enough to try something a little out of the box, and it made all the difference. For three seasons now I have been using the training program below religiously, and aside from a clean miss on an antelope, I have taken 17 animals cleanly with 17 arrows. I don’t present this as the new target-panic panacea. Every shooter is a little different. But if you’re struggling so badly that it’s affecting your passion for the sport, then you need to try something different – and this might be just the thing for you.
A new twist on an old archery drill
You probably already know what blank-bailing is. Archers have been using the drill for a decade to tame target panic, and it has worked well for many. The process is simple. You stand 5 or 10 yards from a target with no visual aiming point, shoot and let the aiming pin float over the blank block or bag. Then you just let the release fire the bow. (More on this below.) The idea is that with no aiming dots or rings to shoot at, the mind will relax and the shooter will not experience the anxiety that accompanies trying to hit a specific point on the target.
The problem for me, and I suspect many other archers, is that the benefit of this has never really transferred to targets with aiming points, be it a block or a 3d target. I will follow the basic blank ball routine for weeks, shooting hundreds of arrows at 5 and 10 yards, but as soon as I step back to 30 yards, the distance combined with the desire to hit the 3D dot or ring makes me panicked and pulled the trigger. All that work for nothing!
Then one day, after making a shaky first shot on a 3d target at 30, I hit another arrow and instead sent it to my blank bullet target, which is a basic block of foam painted in black. It did. My tree touched the center of the center. I was relaxed and let my release fire the bow.
Step-by-Step Blank Bullet Diet
Eventually, I developed a week-long routine of 10-yard blank bailouts at 120, and found that over time the benefits transferred to targets with aiming points. Here’s exactly how to do it, in five steps.
Step 1: Make a Blank Ball.
The first step is the easiest. Just get a can of black or white spray paint and cover one side with a foam crest, or cover the face with construction paper.
Step 2: Shoot an arrow.
Stand 10 yards away and shoot an arrow at the empty face. Focus on every part of your shooting process. Develop a repeatable routine to get into your grip, address the target, draw your bow, crawl into an anchor, and let your pin float on the target. With no visual reference points to aim towards, relax, breathe and fight for the center of the target. Focus on aiming rather than shooting. As your mind settles, push into the riser with your bow hand while pulling into the bow valley with your release hand. Suddenly, the blow will break, and it will scare you a little because you have given up control and trusted a process. (That’s what I mean by “letting the trigger fire the bow”.) This will also surprise you, because your arrow will be in the center of the target.
Step 3: pull the arrow.
Don’t shoot another arrow, not even one, until you go up and shoot the arrow you just shot from the target. If you leave the arrow in the target, your mind will find the arrow nock, and just like that, you have an aiming point. This is a one arrow at a time process, so wear good shoes when going in and out.
Step 4: step back.
Repeat at 10 yards until you feel comfortable with that distance, then return to 20 yards. The process remains the same. Shoot the same empty target. Track your steps and let your pin float as you fight for the center of the target and finally let the release fire the bow. For now, don’t worry too much about where the arrow hits relative to the exact center of the target. Instead, use walk time for each arrow to run through the shooting process in your mind, breaking down what went right and what went wrong.
Step 5: Film for a full month.
As you become comfortable at the new distance, back off another 10 yards until you finally reach the maximum distance you want to train at. For me it’s 120. But even if yours is half that, keep emptying bullets this way for a full 30 days, and I recommend shooting all of those days. Then you can try a target with an aiming point and enjoy the results.
I start this routine every spring and am always amazed at the difference it makes once I’m done. My shooting confidence increases exponentially, and when I move on to 3D targets and spots on other targets, the anxiety is gone. When the shot breaks, the arrow seems to find its target. It’s a remarkable feeling, and once you experience it, you’ll want to feel it more often, which will inspire you to shoot more. Ultimately, if your results are like mine, you will become a better archer and bowhunter than you ever thought possible.