“Nothing clears a troubled mind like shooting a bow.” ~ Fred Bear, legendary archer and bowhunter
Bows and arrows have been important tools for hunting, warfare, and sport for at least 10,000 years. And although archery equipment has advanced significantly over the last several millennia, the act of shooting a bow — whether it’s a medieval longbow or a modern compound — has remained constant.
Draw back, aim, and release. Watch your arrow fly and smack the target with a satisfying thud.
Aside from the traditional “benefits” of archery — harvesting game meat and killing enemies — there are many skills to be gained through the ancient art of slinging arrows that extend far beyond the target.
From skills that improve your mind-body connection to those that hone your character, here are ten life-improving incentives to practicing archery along with some helpful tips to get started.
1. Develop Intense Focus and Concentration
All the steps involved in shooting a bow — nocking the arrow, raising the bow arm, drawing the string to the anchor point, taking aim, and executing a smooth release — require tremendous focus and concentration to send the arrow where you want it to go. In many ways, the outcome of your shot is a reflection of your level of focus throughout the shot process.
When you first start shooting, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed by all the actions you must perform simultaneously to loose an arrow. And with your focus scattered, you’ll find your arrows sprayed all over the target face. Don’t worry, it’s normal.
But archery is all about learning and improving through doing. The more arrows you shoot, the more comfortable you’ll become with the shot process, and the easier it will be to concentrate on every action. With practice, you’ll develop laser-like focus to hit any mark you choose.
2. Gain Clarity of Mind
When focus and concentration are applied to the act of shooting a bow, archery becomes a moving meditation. The simple goal of hitting a target provides something tangible to focus on, allowing your mind to withdraw from the noise and distractions of everyday life.
Many archers find that going to the range after work to shoot arrows for an hour or two is a great way to mentally detox from the day’s events. And just as with other forms of meditation, the more you practice archery, the quicker you can enter this state of mental clarity.
3. Flex Your Patience Muscle
One of the most common shooting errors new archers make is what’s known as “rushing the shot” or “punching the trigger.” This happens when you’re aiming at the target with an arrow drawn back, then suddenly, a nervous flurry comes over you and you quickly release the shot. The movement caused by this rushed release makes the bow jump and jerk in your hand, altering your aim and the flight of the arrow.
So how do you not freak out and rush the shot?
It comes down to in-the-moment patience. When you draw back and aim, it’s normal to feel a little frantic and force the shot to happen. However, through practice you learn that there’s no rush — you have all the time in the world to take a few beats and slowly, patiently execute a smooth, clean shot. It’s a matter of allowing the shot to happen.
4. Improve Coordination and Balance
Drawing a bow back can feel awkward at first. It requires the coordination of your entire body from the ground up. Your arms and hands must work in harmony, your shoulders, neck, and head must be aligned in a certain way, and your legs and feet must provide a strong foundation while keeping your weight evenly balanced.
Combining all these very specific body movements and positions can be a lot to manage all at once. But as you work to develop proper archery form, your body learns what to do and muscle memory starts kicking in.
5. Build Physical Strength and Stability
Getting your body parts to cooperate and move into the right position is one thing, but having the strength to hold steady during the shot is another. While archery isn’t the most physically demanding sport in the world, there are certain muscle groups that must be developed and strengthened in order to draw and hold back a heavy bow.
It would seem that archery is all arms, but when done properly, it’s actually the large muscles of the back that do the bulk of the work. The core muscles play an important role, too. The problem is we don’t often use our muscles in the unique way archery demands. But as you shoot your bow, these muscles will get stronger and become toned specifically for the task.
6. Boost Your Distance Judging Abilities
Good archers and good golfers have one thing in common: an uncanny ability to judge distances.
This skill might not have practical applications outside of your archery pursuits (unless you also play golf), but as you spend time on the range, you’ll start calling yardage faster and with more accuracy to aim your bow accordingly.
7. Aim Small, Miss Small
You may recall this phrase from the movie, The Patriot. In the movie, Mel Gibson’s character instructs his sons to “aim small, miss small” as they prepare for an encounter with the Red Coats. Moments later, the boys let lead fly, and needless to say, their father’s advice was sound.
Accuracy in archery is when your arrow hits the precise mark you’re aiming at. The goal is to do this over and over again at will. The best archers understand that in order to achieve a consistent level of accuracy, you can’t aim at the full breadth of the target and hope to hit the bullseye. Instead, you have to aim at a single spot on the target — or animal if you’re hunting — and the smaller, the better.
The idea is, then, that if you miss the small spot you’re aiming at, you’re still likely to hit the target. But if you aim at a large area as opposed to a single spot, when you miss, you run the risk of missing the target altogether.
Byron Ferguson, a world-class archer known for his mind-blowing trick shots, takes the “aim small, miss small” concept to a new level. At his exhibitions, he shoots tiny targets — golf balls, dimes, and aspirin tablets — out of the air. What’s more, he does his stunts with a traditional longbow without any sight pins, aiming instead by feel and instinct.
Inevitably, after witnessing these crazy shots, people ask Byron how he manages to hit an aspirin tablet with an arrow. “Because I’m aiming at the center,” he explains. “The center of an aspirin tablet is exactly the same size as the center of a beach ball.”
8. Meet Like-Minded People
In the moment, shooting a bow is a solitary endeavor. But in between shots, archery is a surprisingly social activity. Simply hanging out at your local archery range is a great way to meet people, who like you, find great satisfaction in the fine art of arrow launching.
Depending on where you live, you’ll also find a whole host of archery-related events and meetups. With everything from low-pressure 3D target shoots to tournaments that range from novice-friendly to hardcore Olympic-level showdowns, archery provides a great venue for high-quality socializing.
9. Become a Hunter and Harvest Your Own Meat
Most people who get into archery never leave the range. There’s nothing wrong with that and target shooting is a worthwhile endeavor that anyone can benefit from. But let’s not forget that bows and arrows are and have always been serious weapons.
When you learn how to shoot a bow, you open up the possibility of harvesting your own meat. Bowhunting is extremely challenging, combining all the most difficult aspects of target shooting with the skills of bushcraft, navigation, tracking, stalking, and killing game. But when you’re successful, your efforts yield large amounts of the best meat available — totally free-range and organic.
10. Discipline and Stick-With-It-Ness
Kyudo, which means the way of the bow, is one of the oldest martial arts in Japan. This traditional form of archery is approached more as a serious art form than a sport, requiring years of study and discipline to master.
In the Western world, although much of the tradition and ceremony is absent from modern archery, discipline is still a key component of the practice. You can’t just pick up a bow and expect to excel. Continuous, intentional effort is required to get good at archery. But luckily, shooting arrows is a ton of fun and an easy way to add some discipline to your life.
A Few Tips on How to Start Archery
Archery is a sport you can participate in at any level of engagement. It’s possible to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on archery equipment, but unless your goal is to compete in high-level target archery or get deep into bowhunting, it’s possible to get started with only a small upfront investment.
Regardless of how gung-ho you are, here are a few tips on getting started in archery.
Head to your local archery shop. Archery is a gear-centric sport, and when you’re first starting out, chances are you’ll have no idea what you need. Seek out the advice from the folks at your local archery shop. You’ll quickly learn that there are many different styles of archery, and the pros should be able to help you decide what gear is best for you as well as provide some basic instruction to get started.
Get a bow. There are so many different bows to choose from —compounds, longbows, recurves, and horse bows among many other styles. What’s most important is that you choose a bow you’re excited about shooting. It also needs to fit you, which is something your local archery shop can help with. To start exploring the different kinds of bows that are available, click around on Lancaster Archery Supply, one of the best archery shops on the web, and take note of any bows that catch your eye.
If you only want to try archery and don’t want to spend a bunch of money on a bow, call around and see if any ranges or archery shops in your area offer bows for rent.
Find a range. The entire sport of archery is based around shooting arrows — lots of them! For this, you need access to a good range. Many times, archery shops have onsite bow ranges you can use for an hourly fee.
Some city parks offer outdoor ranges that are open to the public and often free to use. Do some research and find a range that’s as close to home as possible so you can shoot frequently. A great place to start your search is by using the “where to shoot” tool on Archery 360’s website.
Get instruction. It’s possible to figure out how to shoot a bow all by yourself. But if you go the full DIY route, you run the risk of developing poor form and bad habits that could potentially lead to injury. To save yourself significant trouble, seek out some quality archery instruction. You should be able to track down a qualified archery coach through your local archery shop. Even a single lesson will pay dividends for your technique and enjoyment.
Plus, he goes into great detail about the technical side of archery gear, so if you’re interested in building and tuning bows, he’s your guy.