Target archery is a very repetitive sport. A competition consists of a set number of ‘ends’ (groups of arrows), shot at a set distance, at a stationary target. There’s other forms of archery, like field archery, that use moving targets, or variable distance targets, but in target archery, you know how far away the target is, and it doesn’t move. The league that I’m in meets once a week, we shoot 10 ends of 3 arrows at a target 15 yards away. It’s a mixed league, so you get some people shooting with sights, some without, a few shooting compound bows, but most shooting recurve. I shoot recurve, and use a sight. Because target archery is static, the secret is to shoot exactly the same way each time. There’s something very relaxing about the repetition, especially given how interrupt driven and variable a typical day can be.
Competitive archers use a multi-step breathing pattern to track the steps in a single shot. I’m not to the point where I can do something so consistent, but I have started to develop a pattern. I wrote it down, as a way to remember it, and to play around with it a bit. As I progress, it will certainly change. Here it is, written long-form. A few definitions will probably help. The feathers on the arrow are called fletches, the notch at the back that you fit to the string is called a nock. A stabilizer is a short pole that sticks out of the front of the bow, adding weight and stability to the bow. The riser is the center handle piece in a take-apart recurve bow, two limbs are attached to the riser and connected with a string to make the bow. The arrow sits on an arrow rest on the riser, and is pressed into a button on the side of the riser. The button and rest combination can move the arrow a tiny bit to the left and right. Getting the button and rest tuned for a straight shot takes some effort. I was using a clicker, a small metal piece that clicks when you’ve drawn an arrow to a consistent length, but recently took it off the bow to simplify my shot. The sight that I use is a long cross bar that sticks nine inches out of the front of the bow. It has fine adjustments for height and windage (left and right movement), and a small red dot that you put on the target. For a good video that shows a full recurve bow in action, check out this competition footage.
First, I pull an arrow from my quiver by the nock, and spin it until the fletches are in the right position. I rest the bow on the stabilizer, and slide the arrow down the rest (this makes more sense when you use a clicker, but I like the sound the carbon arrow makes on the rest). I nock the arrow on the string, and use grip it with one finger over and one under. I line up the arrow with the stabilizer, and the string with two screw holes on the riser. Because the sight doesn’t have a rear sight (like a rifle, or some hunting bows), it’s important to make sure everything is lined up. I lift the bow to a 45 degree angle and recheck the alignment. Then I bring the bow up and level it with the target, then draw the string to my chin and put my nose on the string. I pull my back elbow up, and drop my front shoulder. I open my bow hand, so that the riser is pressing the thick of my hand, and my fingers are loose. I press my shoulder blades together and open my chest. One deep breath, another alignment of the string and sight, then release the arrow, making sure to not grab the riser when I do. I have a thin strap between my index finger and thumb on my bow hand, so the bow pitches forward on a slow pivot, and I grab it as it falls.
A few steps are specific to problems that I’ve had in the past, the elbow and shoulder checks, making sure not to hold on to the bow, multiple checks of the alignment of the string. It’s a short list, but is gradually growing. I spend time visualizing the steps on the train, and sometimes when I’m walking. I’m interested in experimenting with repeating the steps as I breath (breath 1 – nock the arrow, breath 2 – align the string) but that will take some time. The first step towards that kind of discipline is knowing what I’m doing piece by piece, writing this all down helps me do that.