One of the most crowded seminars we ever attended at a previous ATA Trade Show was titled “Release Aid Execution from the Pros,” with a panel made up of some of the top names in archery. If you weren’t able to attend, or have since forgotten the good advice, don’t worry — we have you covered. Keep reading for some of the top “how to shoot like a pro” tips we gleaned from this informative seminar.
1. Don’t Set Your Release Too Light
Eric Griggs knows a thing or two (or a million) about release aids. He believes that a heavier release promotes better accuracy. Light releases, he feels, can make an archer “tentative.”
“When I say ‘tentative,’ you’re scared of the release,” he said. “Your whole mental state goes from being offensive in trying to hit what you’re aiming at to being defensive and trying to not miss.
“You set the release heavy so you know you’re going to have to pull. Because in any sort of pressure situation — and pressure can be shooting with your buddies for a soda, the one-arrow shoot-off for the Vegas Tournament and $50,000, the first time you’ve ever draw back on a deer — you’re going to be uncomfortable. And when you’re uncomfortable, the last thing you want to be thinking about is having that release really, really light.”
2. Don’t Rely on Muscles to “Hold Your Bones in Place”
This tip comes from Nathan Brooks, and, yes, he knows exactly how strange it sounds. “I have to elaborate because you’re thinking, ‘What? Muscles always hold your bones in place,’” he said.
“If you look across the spectrum of professional shooters, you’ll see tons of different form. Very seldom does it look the same [from shooter to shooter]. So that means you need to be able to repeat whatever you do.
“I see a lot of wrist-bending going on [at anchor]. In order to be able to repeat that every time, you have to be reliant on the muscles to hold the hand in that position.
“I get people saying, ‘I feel like I’m inconsistent with my release.’ It has to do with the form. We’re trying to straighten that out where it looks more like this: wrist flat, where when the release actually pulls against the bow when you’re drawing the bow back, all the muscles and everything basically just stretch out. It’s straight. And it should hold the hand in place.”
3. Trust What You’ve Practiced
For Darrin Christenberry, success in archery is largely a mental game. The first thing shooters need to do is trust in their shot.
“Learning a new shot is tough,” he said. “I’ve been shooting a long time, and I know what I want [my shot] to feel like. It’s not so much it has to be perfect; I have to learn how to repeat my shot. I don’t want to change what I do. I want to build and perfect what I do through repetition.
“The thing that separates the success from everybody up here from everybody in the world is the mental part of it. And I’m guilty. I can stand in the backyard and I’m pretty darn hard to beat. But when I get on the line at Vegas, I don’t trust what I practiced thousands of times.
“Recently I’ve learned to trust it. I know what that great shot feels like, and instead of thinking about the final result, I’m searching for that perfect feel. I know what perfect feels like in practice. I want to search for that feel when the pressure’s on.
4. Mix Blank-Bale and Scoring Shots
Want to know how Chance Beaubouef improves his shooting consistency? The answer: combining blank-bale shooting with scoring shots.
“Something I work on a lot on a daily basis is blank bale. I’ll shoot an arrow into a scoring target and then I’ll shoot an arrow blank bale.
“I do that to try to blend the two feels. Transitioning from blank baling to actually aiming and getting the sight picture is really difficult.
“It really helps me when I get under pressure situations. I want the report of when the bow fires and the feel and my follow-through to feel good between a shot where the sight picture may not be exactly perfect. Nine times out of ten, the pin doesn’t have to be exactly where you want to hit and it will hit the middle if you trust it.”
5. Blank Bale on a Target Face
Beaubouef isn’t the only archer who uses blank bale to achieve consistency. Braden Gellenthien, however, does blank-bale shooting a little differently.
“I like to think about shooting and my release hand a lot like a golf stroke,” he said. “You can’t just focus on hitting the ball really hard, getting your speed down, aiming. It needs to be everything all together. And having an apprehension about aiming or anything like that is going to really inhibit your ability to hit the middle.
“I do a blank-bale session on a target face. I’ll draw back and let my pin do whatever it wants to do. I’m just focusing on my rhythm and my shot.
“It’s really important to have that ability to shoot your shot no matter what your pin’s doing. Because a lot of times if you just shoot blank bale and then you go to a target face, it’s an extra stimulus. So you may have that anxiety. You need to have that confidence to do it on a target face too.”
6. Get Comfortable With Aiming
One thing that Griggs noted about Beauboef’s shot was how inconsistent he was with his shot timing. “One time you may draw back and aim, aim, boom, and the next time you may hold there for eons,” he said. “What goes through your head?”
“Believe it or not, it stems from when I had target panic,” Chance explained. “I had a really, really bad case.
“I took a hinge-style release and turned the moon upside-down where it wouldn’t fire. I shot that way for probably around six months. I’d draw back and I’d aim and eventually I’d just let down. I went a long time without firing a shot. The whole mental aspect of aiming completely changed for me. Most of the times when people draw back, they’re in a hurry to get rid of it.
“I tried to get to where whenever my pin got to where I wanted it, instead of anxiety starting to build, it became more of a relaxation thing. I’d draw back, my pin would get where I wanted it. That’s what I got comfortable seeing. I did a lot of that at 10 yards. On a scoring face, I’d draw back, and I was training myself mentally, getting that sight picture back to what I wanted to see. I wanted that pin to be in the middle and I wanted to be mentally comfortable with that. After doing it for so many months, it really instilled in me that as long as the pin’s sitting still, sooner or later it’s going to go off. It’s just being comfortable with it.”
7. Target Panic Is an Aiming Issue
Many people believe that target panic can be traced back to the release. Not so, said Griggs.
“The root of target panic really comes back to aiming,” he said. “Target panic is not a release-activation issue. It’s an aiming issue.
“If a beginning archer was told right off the bat, ‘Listen, you’re just going to squeeze the trigger. And whatever that pin does, be comfortable with it. It doesn’t matter if it sits perfectly still, it doesn’t matter if it’s bouncing all over the place. Just go ahead and execute that release.’
“Aiming is anxiety. Because you sit there and one time you hold still, the next time you’re all over the place. There are times where you’re going to aim better than others. There are times you’re going to be uncomfortable. And it’s about observing. Here it is, it is what it is, and I’m comfortable with that.”
8. Make Archery Easy
Sometimes archery can seem so hard. There are so many components to the perfect shot that archers can be overwhelmed. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I train every day to make archery as easy as I can,” Gellenthien said. “Archery doesn’t need to be difficult. I found the most comfortable release for me, and then I draw back and find my comfortable anchor, my bow arm’s nice and relaxed. And then I let the pin settle down. Same thing with my release. I let it keep going and I keep cranking and I stay aggressive. All of that worry and apprehension, it’s gone away because I’m relaxed. I let the pin do what it does. And when the shot breaks, I have confidence because I’ve done it so many times in practice. I’m in control.”
9. Control the Controllables
There are a number of components to archery that you can control. There are other components you cannot. The important thing, the panel stressed, is to know — and control — what you’re capable of controlling. Brooks called it “controlling the controllables.”
“If I can control my aim, there are certain things that are in control,” Brooks said. “But there’s a fine line there. Once you try to manipulate that aim, make it too perfect, that’s where we usually wind up having problems in our shot. I’ve missed enough to know when I’m getting ready to miss. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times when I think I can still hit and I’ll miss because I should have bailed.
“It’s better to not shoot a shot and start over than it is to go ahead and shoot that shot. Because every time you shoot a shot, your body and your mind know exactly what that felt like, and unfortunately, it knows how to repeat that. Which is how people get into target panic. You’re imprinting in your mind how that felt. And it wasn’t good, so now you have to fix it.
“Control the controllables for me is almost getting out of my own way when it comes to the shot sequence and, as Braden said, making everything easy, making everything comfortable, making it so you can repeat that shot over and over again. I want to be able to aim, and that’s all I want to do. I want the rest of the shot process to just happen. I shouldn’t have to think, ‘Now I need to pull.’ It should just happen.”
Top photo: To achieve consistency, Chance Beaubouef alternates between blank-bale and scoring shooting. This forces him to focus on the shot and not on what his pin is doing.