In most bowhunting scenarios (as well as archery tournaments), you get one shot at success, and one shot only. All the hours of preparation for the hunt, all the time spent traveling, all the money spent on gear and supplies, and all the weeks and months spent dreaming of the adventure to come, all culminate in that moment of truth when the arrow is released. As the hunter watches the flight of the arrow, almost in slow motion it seems, with the feathers rotating one by one like the blades of a helicopter, accompanied by the distinct sound of the air being sliced by the sharp broadhead, he or she fully realizes what’s at stake. That one arrow is the difference between filling the freezer with fresh organic meat for the year (and maybe a nice hide and some antlers too), or, coming home empty-handed. One arrow is the difference between great memories of a successful hunt, or the haunting dread of a failed attempt. One arrow possesses enormous potential as well as great responsibility. Everything that one has invested in the hunt is riding on that one, single, arrow. And where that arrow goes ultimately depends on how well the archer has developed and diligently practiced his or her skill.
As with all things in life, the motto prior preparation prevents poor performance certainly applies to bow hunting, especially in regard to one’s shooting skills. There is simply no substitute for putting in the time and effort to make every arrow count. However, one does not necessarily need to spend hours and hours at the range to advance one’s level of accuracy and proficiency. Quality is vastly more important than quantity when it comes to time spent practicing the art of archery.
Many years ago I heard a renowned bow hunter talk about how many of the best archers utilize a practice routine of shooting one, single, arrow a day in preparation for an upcoming hunt or tournament. I found this information to be very inspiring, but more so, exceptionally practical. After all, in most cases, that’s all you get out in the field or at a competition: one, single, arrow. The idea of putting 100% of one’s concentration and effort, mentally and physically, into making one, single, perfect shot a day seemed highly logical and practical to me. I quickly adopted the one shot a day method as my own practice routine and I’ve been doing so for many years now with great results.
The one shot a day method is not something to dive right into though, especially for new archers or those who haven’t shot for a while. Repetition is necessary and good, as it’s essential to developing proper shooting form, technique, muscle strength, and memory, as well as the mental processes involved in executing a well-placed shot. However, too much repetition, to the point of mental and physical exhaustion or fatigue, can result in the formation of bad habits. If one continues to shoot when the body and mind have grown tired and dull, one often ends up practicing poor shooting form, which gets ingrained in one’s brain and can actually end up overriding good habits. Also, when one starts shooting poorly due to fatigue, frustration can set in, which can lead to the development of even more bad habits.
When developing archery fundamentals, or getting back in the routine of regular practice after a long layoff, I recommend several weeks of high repetition practice: shooting for 45 minutes to an hour per session, while making sure to take a break when mental or physical fatigue starts to set in. During these first few weeks, primarily focus on proper form and technique in order to develop muscle strength and memory, as well as the powers of concentration. As part of this routine, I also recommend a few rounds of shooting with your eyes closed…in a setting and in a manner where there is no danger of injuring someone, of course! When shooting blind, one can fully focus on the feel of proper shooting form, which is vastly important to overall performance. With your eyes closed, focus intensely on how your muscles feel at each stage of a well-executed shot, how the contact of the bow with your body feels: your relaxed grip, your anchor point, release, follow through, etc. Focus on your breathing, on your foot placement, your draw. Give 100% deep concentration to every element of every arrow you release: before, during, and after the shot. After a few rounds of shooting in this manner, then go back to shooting with your eyes open, while still immersed in the meditative feel of each shot. You’ll be amazed at the improvement in your performance! As a side note, this is also a fantastic routine to implement for archers or bow hunters who have developed bad habits, such as target panic, and who need to retrain both their mind and body to shoot properly once again.
After several weeks or months of this high repetition practice, start scaling back both the time spent and the number of arrows you shoot per practice round. Keep doing less and less…but with more and more concentration. Repeat this process of focusing more on quality instead of quantity until you get down to one, single, as perfectly as possible shot arrow per session. And, before you take that one, single, perfect shot each day or each session, take some time to mentally prepare for that shot. Imagine yourself in a tournament or on a hunt, where that is the only arrow and the only opportunity you will get. Allow yourself to feel the pressure of the moment, but harness and transform that energy into razor-sharp concentration and an overwhelming sense of confidence and positivity. Simply know…without any doubt whatsoever, that the arrow is going to go exactly where you want it to go. As master archer and bow hunter Byron Ferguson teaches, “Become the arrow!” Once you learn to do so, there is simply no failing. Every shot will be a success.