Going Instinctual

Saturday was a disaster…

Shooting instinctively means using a barebow with no sights. It also means having the confidence and trust in your subconscious to make the necessary adjustments that will lead your arrow to its target.

One of the big differences between instinctive shooting and using a bow with sights is yardage estimation. When using a sight it is imperative that you know the yardage you are shooting. With that information in hand you then use a predetermined sight pin position to hit your target.

For example in the sight below, a popular type of archery sight, often used with modern compound bows, each pin is set to a pre-determined distance, you just pick the pin you need for the distance you are shooting, then use that pin to aim at your target. I have marked yardage in red so you get the idea.

Multi-pin sight, you pick the pin you need depending on distance and use it to aim with.

When shooting instinctively you allow your mind to naturally make the yardage adjustments, just like  throwing a baseball. When you throw a baseball you don’t say to yourself, the yardage is 28 yards, therefore I will have to correct my aim, raise my elevation, apply more or less strength…. etc. Rather you just throw it, your mind subconsciously makes the calculations for you, the more you practice the more information your mind has stored to draw from and know how much strength and or elevation you’ll need to put it in the catcher’s mitt.

Saturday morning I woke excited to try my hand at instinctual shooting. I’d spent time on  various archery websites reading up on it and Youtube watching archers doing their instinctual thing.

What I took away as the basic premise of it is that you found your target and consciously focused on the exact center of it, from the second you got in your stance and started lifting your bow to when the arrow hit the target, never letting go of the spot you were aiming at. Your mind making the necessary body adjustments to lead your arrow to your target.

There were other differences, the traditional guys more often that not anchored (an anchor is a definite spot on the archers body, normally the face, on which string and hand come to rest at full draw) their draw hand higher on their faces, usually with their index or middle finger on the corner of their mouth. I had been schooled in the Olympic style of anchoring under your chin, but in for a penny in for a pound.

They also often canted their bows to the side, had what seemed like a more relaxed stance and kept both eyes open. All new.

Off I went into the backyard, I had even purchased a traditionalist three finger glove for the purpose. I was ready. I set up at 8 yards started shooting end after end of arrows, I wasn’t grouping any really well but I was hitting the target and for the time being that was ok.

Then I made the mistake.

In my newbie excitement I rushed straight from the safe 8 yards to the untested land of 20 yards. I hit some, but sent more into the grass and woods. Next thing I knew I had broken one of my dad’s vintage cedar shafts, I felt pretty bad about that as these were the arrows that my cousin John had just sent me after fifty years of storage!

I switched to aluminum arrows as I was determined to not break any more of my father’s wooden arrows, although the aluminum arrows were not matched  to this bow and then to make it worse I broke one of those, the whole day was one lost arrow after another, crashed arrows, broken nocks, even my new glove didn’t help. My traditionalist intuition definitely wasn’t flowing. At one point the subconscious instinctive me heard the outer me mutter something about what the hell!?

It can get easy to lose these in the grass, often they will bury themselves completely, frustrating!

Another broken arrow

A little discouraged and bummed about breaking and losing arrows, and having to use arrows that were not really made for the bow I called the LL Bean archery department to see if they stocked the arrows I needed in a  traditional style, and did they have them fletched and ready to go. They did! They had carbon arrows all faux’ed up as wood arrows, right up my alley, love carbon, a little tougher for my wayward newbie intuition and enough in the modern world to toss me a lifeline when I needed one.

Sunday, I awoke with new purpose, this time I set up at 8 yards until I started to group them, then moved to 9 yards, then 10, then 11 and so on.  I took my time and it all went far better. Alistair my son got involved so we took the sight off his bow as he wanted in on the instinctual action, then Dakota, my older son, joined the crowd. It was great for me as a father to do it with them and see them have a great time.

A family of archers, we just need to get Laurel into the action

We practiced intently, having fun with different approaches like kneeling and shooting walking side to side, and then finally feeling more confident in our new skills we decided to go “roving”.

Having fun, trying different things

Roving is walking through the woods and stump shooting. It is fun and enjoyable to walk through nature and great instinctual practice as you get to shoot at many different unknown distances and each shot presents its challenges, like threading an arrow between trees to reach your stump, etc. Dakota and Alistair really loved this and I really loved having their company.

Stump shot

Alistair retrieving arrows

After digging out a couple of arrows with a pocketknife from trees I switched to Judo heads which are perfect for roving. Easy to remove from rotten stumps and easy to find as the wires trip the arrow up instead of burying into the ground.

Zwickey Judo points

All in all I would say that there is still plenty of work to do but I am finally feeling that its possible after feeling defeated on Saturday. It really helped to have my kids join in and keep it fun and lighthearted.  It is really wonderful to loose an arrow to some far unknown distance and be rewarded with it going exactly where you intended. I think the satisfaction comes from letting go enough to trust yourself and see it work. It is a greater thing than archery, archery just provides a means to experience it.


4 thoughts on “Going Instinctual

  1. It is like a metaphor for life. Going instinctual is trusting that that what you feel is the right thing worthy of action or investigation. Like you with the bow and arrow, the more you practice, the more you get good at anticipating situations or events. It is good you had so much fun with the boys and got to do something different. Love you.

  2. Hi Charles,
    Just wondering what kind of poundage you are pulling on your bow. I have a longbow and my current arrows Easton XX75 1816 aluminiums are too stiff, and they get bent all the time. I shoot 40#, but think it’s more like 38#. Do you think the Gold Tip 1535 would fit me? Thanks.
    Best regards,

  3. Hello Pung,
    The Hoyt ILF bow that I am shooting a lot now is 31 lbs, the wooden Hoyt that was my father’s is 35 lbs. I don’t know what your draw length is but at 38 – 40 lbs your are pretty close to being into the next spine which is a Gold Tip 3555. Here is a link to Gold Tip’s arrow selection chart which will be helpful in making a decision.


    Thanks for your comment, Charles

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