Photos by Phil Milligan
I wish I could say I’ve always been a cool handed archer with machine-like precision, but that would make me a liar. There was a time not too long ago that I’d beat myself up over inconsistent shooting. Typically, it would begin in July and rear its ugly head every so often during deer season, particularly when I would shoot in the backyard to prep for a hunt. I had resigned myself to thinking that I was just a ham-fisted bowhunter. I could kill deer, but ask me to stack arrows at thirty yards and I’d fold.
Thankfully, those days are in the past. If you consider yourself a ham-fisted archer right now, there’s hope. That hope comes in the form of rethinking your relationship with your bow. (Yes, you have a relationship with your equipment. It may not be a good one, but there’s something there.) Think of your bow as someone you’re dating. There’s no ring involved at this point and only an implied commitment, so things are a little tentative. It wonders if you’ve found someone new since you haven’t been in contact in over three weeks. You don’t seem interested in spending quality time together at the range anymore. It’s only when there’s a hunting trip or a 3D shoot approaching that you come around. And you wonder why the time you do spend together is so unproductive and erratic. I did.
Here’s how the relationship typically begins: The bow smells new. You can’t keep from holding her and maybe even coming to full draw on an imaginary elk in your kitchen. (Draw as his head passes behind the refrigerator so you’re in position once his vitals clear the microwave.) As soon as you’re off work, you’re at the range learning her distinct characteristics. You marvel at her solid backwall and the smoothness of her cam rolling over. You pick up extra vibration dampeners at the shop, just because. The bow, in turn, responds by lovingly stacking arrows wherever you float her sight pin. It’s a beautiful time. A bluebird lands on your shoulder and whistles the opening lick to Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold. You’re solidly in the honeymoon phase.
Ah, but it wouldn’t be called a phase if it didn’t end at some point, and like most endings, it happens gradually. Your schedule gets busy. You tell yourself, “Ours is the kind of relationship that’s so strong, we don’t need to be in contact every day.” The days and weeks go by. Out of a mixture of guilt and duty, you sliver out fifteen minutes to shoot a few arrows after work and are frustrated because the once fantastic partner of a bow is now being extremely temperamental. She must be out of tune because she used to shoot just fine. Who wants to spend time with an out of tune bow? Your brief sessions in the backyard end, and the honeymoon is officially over.
At this point, you’re happy to puncture a paper plate at thirty yards. “It’s good enough to kill a deer,” you think to yourself and in doing so, turn your back on what could be a fulfilling and effective relationship. This is the fork in the road. This is where treating your bow like someone you’re dating comes in. Sure, the relationship is easy at first, but eventually the novelty wears off and your commitment has to kick in, otherwise things fall apart. Here are four keys to the healthy relationship you’ve always wanted with your bow:
1. Quality Time: Time together must be frequent and intentional. You can’t just fling a few arrows and call it a date. You have to think about and make each shot count. You have to do this on at least a weekly basis to maintain performance, more if you need to improve. The more time that goes by without meaningful contact, the more effort you’ll have to expend to get back to the peak you were at previously. Without regular, intentional sessions, you’ll get sloppy with an anchor point or forget to really follow through. There are hundreds of variables in your shot sequence that can change. Staying in close contact with the bow ingrains habits that allow you to recreate the positive results you want.
2. Mix it Up: Keep it interesting for both of you. It can get boring doing the same thing over and over again. Same restaurant again? Same movie theater? Same old backyard shooting configuration? Engage your bow in different ways by shooting from varied scenarios, like an elevated position from your deck. If you always shoot paper targets at the range, really surprise your bow by taking her out to a 3D range. Tired of the predictability of shooting at even ten yard increments? Shoot odd yardages to learn how your bow does at in-between distances. Have you avoided shooting on windy days in the past? Go out regardless. You’ll find that these little changes will open up new levels of shooting ability.
3. Take Breaks: Sometimes, despite doing all the right things, you just can’t seem to achieve harmony. You’ve been diligent in spending frequent time together and your sessions incorporate different shooting situations, but your patterns look more like that of a shotgun than of a bow. It’s frustrating and there’s a temptation to cash in and move on to a new partner.
It may be wise at this point to simply take a breather and step away for a few days. Maybe you’re spending too much time with your bow and need a little space. Or maybe the first 15 arrows a night you shoot are fine, but fatigue after that is sending the remainder all over the place. It’s better to stop there to take some time off than to force it and grow so frustrated that you give up, or are blinded to the basics of your shot sequence. Remember, this is a relationship that’s to be enjoyed and nurtured, not labored and fretted over.
4. Never Done: Guys are more prone to this way of thinking than women because we often see the world as a series of tasks to be completed. It’s also a dynamic that’s probably caused consternation in our personal relationships. Just know this: You will never get to a point of finality in your shooting. It’d be like your spouse asking for a back rub and you respond by saying, “Hey, I married you ten years ago. Wasn’t that enough?” Try it. See what happens. The same is true with your bow. You can’t expect to put in a strong summer of practice together then coast on that all through deer season. You have to keep at it. The relationship and performance fade without constant tending. It’s a dynamic connection that you can’t maintain without real effort.
Are you feeling a twinge of commitment anxiety right now? I get it, and I did my time being frustrated by inconsistent shooting. But now that I intentionally attend to the relationship with my bow, time spent shooting is much more enjoyable. I feel ready to take on deer season, and my targets are chewed up nearer the center than ever before. Want to see me stack a few arrows? No sweat.
Just like a relationship, archery is a commitment that requires input in order to get results. Good shooting is a process to be maintained. Once you recognize and nurture the relationship between you and your bow, you’ll be on the path to more accurate and fulfilling shooting performances.