Triple-A Advice for Aiming Your Bow

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Proper archery aiming actually requires
several steps: Align, acquire, aim.

By Patrick Meitin

Ask most bowhunters how many steps are involved in aiming and they’ll normally say something like, “One. Put the pin on a target and release.” This simplistic approach to aiming with sights — in some respects, while aiming instinctively with traditional gear — is the root cause of many common shooting problems, including trigger punching, target panic and scattergun arrow groups.

In reality, there are many steps to proper aiming, which I break into three defined steps: align, acquire and aim.

Align Yourself

To begin each shot, extend the bow toward your target, placing the pin where you want to hit, and powering the bow string straight back smoothly and evenly (if you cannot accomplish this, you’re over-bowed). This assures engaging the target more quickly and produces far less movement that can alert sharp-eyed deer. But before you begin actual aiming, there are a few things to be accomplished.

Your anchor must be rock solid, perfectly comfortable, anatomically natural and 100 percent repeatable. Without this, you’ll never shoot your best. The best anchor points are based on unmovable physical features — namely bone or teeth. To make my anchor even more bulletproof, I use a double-reference system, pulling my index finger into the corner of my mouth (beneath a specific incisor) and hooking my thumb behind my jaw.

In traditional archery, your anchor point provides the rear “sight” in the system.

With bow sights, you must align the peep with the sights. I prefer circling a round pin guard inside a larger peep (¼ to 3/16 inch, depending on axle-to-axle length and how far the peep sits from your eye at full draw), providing better low-light visibility, instant torque detection and zero anchor shifting between various ranges. At this point, it’s fine to close or squint one eye for more positive alignment.

Acquire the Target

Only after every part’s aligned solidly should you worry about consciously getting pins on target. (You should already be in the neighborhood after hitting full draw.) But understand, you aren’t actually aiming just yet. You’re placing pins on the target but not engaged in active aiming. The difference might seem a matter of semantics, but acquiring involves all the pins while those pins remain in focus. Aiming involves a single pin, which quickly fades into your peripherals.

At this point, you should be operating with both eyes open. There are a few reasons for this: Two eyes gather more light than one (important in low-light scenarios), two eyes judge range much more accurately than one (important when shooting instinctively or faced with a fleeting opportunity with no time to deploy a laser range-finder), and just as important, because closing or squinting an eye is effort subtracting from concentration that will be needed for true aiming.

Aim

Now the actual aiming process begins. This means picking a spot and mentally burning a hole through it or placing a mental image of something small and familiar to you (a coin or laser point) and concentrating only on that.

Here’s the tricky part and where most archers go astray: Forget your pin, forget the peep. The pin you’re aiming with should now have become part of your peripherals. Just concentrate on that finite spot, aiming small, allowing pins to float or even create small clover leaves. Don’t force that pin where you want it or believe you can hold it stock still on that point. Concentrate on that spot, and let the pin find its own center.

By now, you should have begun squeezing the shot, pulling into the draw stops of a compound, pulling your strong rhomboid (shoulder) muscles together (especially with traditional bows because of the lack of let-off and draw stops), allowing the increased pressure of this back tension to trigger the release (or allowing the string to slip away like snow from a leaf).

There’s no need to force the pin into the spot or really aim at all. Just concentrate on the spot, let your subconscious find center and let the shot happen, following through after the cut-away.

This is the best way to avoid debilitating target panic, avoid rushing the shot and remain abreast of developments during tense bowhunting encounters. It might sound involved, even anal, but with enough practice, it becomes so fluid as to be hardly noticed, though I can assure you, with the smallest amount of practice, you’ll feel much more relaxed while shooting — and you’ll automatically assemble tighter groups.

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