I’ve been coaching for a while and have seen a lot of shooters both good and bad. These eight topics are the biggest problems I see overall with shooters. This article isn’t meant to fix your shooting problems. It is meant to point out some of the generic issues I have seen and fixed with most archery shooters. Maybe you have one of these problems, maybe not. An experienced coach is the best way to identify which issues you need to correct.

Too Much Draw Weight

I coach a lot of people…probably 40+ people a week. I have seen all kinds come to coaching and thousands of shooters that should get coaching. Without a doubt the number one thing I see archer’s do wrong is that they are drawing back too much draw weight. I’ve seen guys shooting indoor leagues pulling back 60-70+ lbs. compound bows.

This obsession with draw weight has to do with either a belief that speed is important or that they have too much testosterone. Whatever the reason, most archers are shooting a bow with too much draw weight.

Instead of shooting a bow that is comfortable for their shooting style, they are pulling extremely too much draw weight back. To execute great shots, you need to have good form. Unlike other sports, the more relaxed, more comfortable your shooting form, the less muscles you use, the better you are going to shoot and the stronger and more consistent your form will be. An example of this would be our military trained snipers. Their heart rates and breathing are so slow and calm that they are squeezing the trigger between heart beats. They are not fighting an up-hill battle but relaxing to make a perfect squeeze on the trigger.

Instead of turning the bow up for leagues or hunting, I would suggest going in the other direction and turn the bow’s draw weight down. Make the whole process of shooting more pleasant with less effort. If you must go through what I call “shoulder olympics” to draw your bow back, then you really need to consider turning your draw weight down or selecting a recurve or recurve limbs with lower draw weight. Your bow should be easy to pull back using a level bow arm just above your shoulder with a level draw arm. Your shoulders should be relaxed and down in a comfortable position that promotes your arm aligning to your shoulder socket. Not something that causes your shoulders to be stiff and sore.

Typically, after a full day of coaching and probably shooting several hundred arrows through both an Olympic recurve and compound bow, my shoulders are neither sore nor tired. After 30 years of shooting, I still have no shoulder issues.

The Bow Is Not Fitted to Them

Without a doubt your bow needs to fit, and I mean like a glove. As a coach I can’t believe how many shooters I see with bows that are not even close to fitting them. Their draw length is too long. Their peep height is too high or low. Their “D” loop is too small.  Their nock point is in the wrong place. Their “kisser” button is the wrong spot.

Whatever the issue, most shooters don’t spend enough time to tweak their bow to fit them perfectly. That is even more important in hunting scenarios where you are using less than perfect form especially if you are hunting from a tree stand. For target archers, the fit of the bow is a major foundation point that creates the consistency needed to develop the form needed. 

This same philosophy applies to recurve bows whether you are shooting traditional or Olympic recurve. I am often coaching students with recurve bows that are either too long or short for their draw length or their physical height. For recurve bows it is important that bow fits the body size and shape of the shooter.

As well, bow sizes…axle to axle (ATA) for compound bows and overall length for recurve bows should be sized to fit the scenario that shooting will be done in. For example, let’s say you are target/tournament shooter that shoots a compound bow. Using a 30” ATA bow for tournament work is truly counterproductive. While if you are hunter shooting a compound bow from a tree stand, a 40” ATA bow would be as well counterproductive. Again, another issue of fitting the right bow size to the scenario. In addition, there is a balancing act for bow size to body size. If you are 6’-3” with 39” arms and a draw length of 32”, a 30” ATA bow will have such a steep bow string angle it will be difficult to maintain any type of good form and head position.

For the compound shooter having the correct draw length and “D” loop size will increase the stability of the bow and limit the amount of sight float there is. This is not just getting cams set to roughly the right draw length but going to a full-service archery shop and having the draw length adjusted by adding/removing twists in the cables and bow string while maintaining proper bow tune. This type of fine tuning takes time. You adjust the draw length a little. Shoot a dozen arrows, then make a little adjustment and then shoot another dozen arrows. This is time consuming process, but the results will be amazing if you put in the patience to get it exactly right. This is not a one-time deal. This is an on-going process. Over time you will stretch, your shoulder placement and alignment will change which will necessitate you to readjust and further tweak the draw length.

For recurve shooters it is building your bow with the proper overall length to fit your body size. A 72” Olympic recurve bow would be pretty unyielding to hold for a 4’-10” shooter. In the reverse, a 6’-4” shooter would have a difficult time with a 60” Olympic recurve bow. There are exceptions to this…not necessarily good exceptions but exceptions, nonetheless. A number of traditional shooters like to hunter with shorter, older Bear bows. Because hunting scenarios is about only making that single shot, these shooting situations typically work out fine. They are not designed to shoot multiple repeatable shots but making that one shot.

Selecting The Wrong Arrows

The arrow is the most important thing when it comes to shooting. Remember in the end, the arrow is the item that hits the target…not the bow and not the release. These items help get the arrow there, but the arrow is doing all the work in the end. For every situation, there are several arrows’ sizes, types and designs that will work and there are several arrows that are absolute wrong. Selecting and building the proper arrow for the shooting situation is paramount to any success.

Now before we delve into this any deeper, I will honestly say when it comes to arrows there are more exceptions to what works than stars in the sky. So, this section is more of a guidance. The shooter must remember the psychological portion here. If you believe you execute better shots shooting X-10 ProTours at an indoor 5-spot round, then you are going to shoot them better. Living proof of that are shooters like Jesse “Freakshow” Broadwater. He has more than once shot perfect scores at Vegas shooting X-10 ProTours. And I mean perfect scores like 300 points with 30 X’s…not edging X’s but dead center “spider” X’s. But also remember most of us are not Jesse Broadwater with his shooting skills.

With that out of the way, it is important to shoot the right arrow for the right situation. If you are like most shooters that shoot winter indoor leagues, hunt in the fall, shoot outdoor 3D in the warmer months and occasionally shoot either long range (i.e. Total Archery Challenge) or outdoor field/900 rounds, it is almost impossible to shoot a single arrow brand, type, size and spine for all four scenarios. In my opinion, you would need at least four different arrows to be successful at all four shooting situations.

Let’s look at what I would suggest for these four different shooting situations and why. These are my suggestions. Like I said there are many arrow brands, types, sizes, etc. that would work for these situations.

One thing that should be consider no matter what situation you are looking at is using an online program like Archers Advantage (archersadvantageonline.com) to take the guess work out of sizing arrows. When it comes to compound bows there is a certain amount of sizing that is just simple math. I really get the “heebie jeebies” when a person looks at bow with little to no information and says as a matter fact you should be shoot XYZ and 000 spine.

Now I would be remised to not mention some bows, arrow rest and release combinations due to their combined design simply don’t like certain arrow designs/sizes. Everything could be perfect mathematically, but that particular arrow just doesn’t shoot well out of that bow for you. You can tune those arrows to make them fly better, but they will never get the grouping you want no matter how hard you try. That is when it is time to change to a different arrow brand/type. I personally don’t fully understand why but some arrows just don’t fly well out of certain combinations. Except that and change. Don’t try to fight it, it is a losing battle.

I am not going to get into spline tuning, nock tuning, etc., etc. For me some of this is important and some of this is simple voodoo in my opinion. These discussions are better for a few beers around a campfire. As well, Steve might love Goldtip Kinetic Platinum as the best arrow in the world and he only shoots 400 spine arrows with Bohning fletching and 100gr points. It does not mean they are the right arrow for you.

My general bow setup for these comparisons is a Hoyt ProForce. Draw weight – 54# and draw length of 31.5” with a 70% let-off. I’m shooting from a Beiter blade rest. A reminder these are my selections and there are hundreds of other combinations and reasons to make a certain selection of arrows.

Winter Indoor Leagues: Easton X23, 2315, trimmed to 30.5”, 200gr ProPoints, 3” FlexFletch, Easton Super Nock or Beiter Nocks. I like the 23 diameter arrows for indoors because they work for NFAA and USA Archery events. USA Archery limits you 23 diameter shafts. They group well, better than 27 diameter arrows in my opinion. All-in-all this gives me an arrow weighing 602 gr which means I get 234 fps speeds out of the bow. I also shoot smaller vanes and not feathers so that there is minimal correction to the arrow by the vanes.

Hunting In The Fall: Gold Tip Airstrike, 400 spine, trimmed to 30”, Bohning Air Vanes., 125gr mechanical broadhead, “G” nocks. This combination gives me an arrow in the 425gr range that gives me a good combination of speed vs weight to make a great shoot that will get the job done. Air Vanes are not too long to offer any crosswind issues under 40 yards and Airstrike at .254 diameter are small diameter but not too small. When it comes to hunting, you need to find a balance in equipment selection as well as much forgiveness as possible.

Outdoor 3D Shooting: Easton SuperDrive 23, 475 spine, trimmed to 30”, 100gr ProPoints, 1.87” FlexFletch, pin nocks. I like the 23 diameter arrows for 3D because typically you are never shooting further than 45 yards. They group well. Pin nocks protect the arrows from damage, and I have found SuperDrive’s to be a very durable arrow. All-in-all this gives me an arrow weighing 319 gr which means I get fast speeds out of the bow. This fast speed helps to cover up any yardage judging errors on my part. In addition, over the last few years I have been operating under the premise that the quicker the arrow clears the bow, the less chance I have of messing up the shot. I also shoot small vanes so that there is minimal correction to the arrow by the vanes and lower crosswind drift. The minimal correction let me see my form mistakes so I can fix them, I don’t want the arrow to cover up my form mistakes.

Outdoor Field/900 Tournaments: Gold Tip Kinetic Pierce Platinum/Tours, 340 spine, trimmed to 30”, 100 gr points, 1.5 Flex Fletch, pin nocks. These arrows group exceptionally well at up to 60 yards. At a fraction of the price they fly almost as well as my Easton  X10 ProTours. The small vanes and small shafts limit crosswind drift which is great when shooting 50 yards or more. The resulting arrow weights about 375 grains which gives me good speed but also solid flight. Really light arrows can be a little “flighty” and erratic showing the slightest form issues. For example, for Total Archery Challenge (TAC) I shoot Victory VAP V6 600. This arrow comes together at 265 grains which is very light but works great for the 100–150 yard shots that you shoot at TAC. Though they work for the extreme range of TAC, VAP arrow build is flighty, and your form must be “right on” for every shot. Luckily TAC is just a fun shoot so misses or bad shots are just something you and your buddies just laugh about.

Ultimately, the point is that you need to select and build arrows for the job at hand. Just like you wouldn’t go duck hunting with a .22 cal long rifle cartridge, and you probably shouldn’t kill that rodent that is bother you with a 12 gauge. Select the right arrow for the type of shooting you do. It does not have to be a big investment and you’ll get more satisfaction out of your shooting results.

Taking The Wrong Release

This section has to do with mechanical releases on compound bows. Recurve shooters using gloves, tabs or bare fingers have already selected the method that gives them their best release with a particular bow. Mechanical releases for compounds come in one of several different flavors…thumb (or trigger) release, hinge release, true back tension release and wrist (caliper) release. Over the next several minutes, I’ll cover what each release was meant for and where they shine or don’t shine in their ability to improve your arrow shot.

A little background from my perspective…the right release for your kind of shooting makes all the difference. Some releases are used for the wrong reasons. Others used the wrong way. It is important to use every release the right way to get the best from that release and your shot sequence.  I know many will probably disagree with me on my opinion and that is fine. They can write their own articles to explain their philosophies.

The thing that is taught the most is that the release is supposed to be a surprise which is really a lie. No matter what release you use, you are still “command” shooting. You are finishing your shot sequence by either pulling through the shot or relaxing your fingers to make the release go off. Instead of looking for a surprise shot you should instead learn to follow through properly and control your excess movements.

Thumb/Trigger Release:  This release has been around for a very long time. However most people will use it incorrectly. It was never to be a simple trigger like on a gun. Stan always meant for you to pull thru the shoot and the trigger was the mechanism that released the bow string. The advantage of the trigger is that gives you the ability set off the release in very difficult shooting positions or stances, with extreme outside distractions, and a snap shooting situation. Several other points to consider is that a trigger handheld release gives you a solid repeatable anchor and there is a mental component of feeling like you are in control for those who need that feeling.

Hinge Release: From my perspective a hinge release is like joining Alcohol Anonymous before you have a drinking problem. Hinge releases are a great way of resolving pulling through and punching issues. Often referred to as back tension releases, that title is inaccurate. The release works by rotating the release around your index or middle finger. This rotation causes the hinge to release the “D” loop. However, for awkward or steep angled shooting positions they are the worse release available. Hinge releases require good alignment on the shoulders to generate a soft, smooth roll of the release. If your alignment is bad, it can be difficult if not impossible to make the release go off. Also, even though you are commanding the release, there is still a delay in completing your next to the final step of shot sequence and the actual releasing of the arrow. In a hunting scenario that delay can mean the difference between a dead deer and one running away from the stupid hunter.

By the way, the final step of your shot sequence is the follow through/feedback.

Back Tension Release: A true back tension release has no trigger and is not set off by rotating it. The only way to make this release work is by building up back tension in your shoulders. They are a type of differential release. For example, you might set it for 4 lbs. Once you anchor, you might have 12 lbs. of holding weight. When you increase back tension so the holding weight is 16 lbs., the release will let go of the “D” loop. Personally, I think it is a great tool for learning back tension and pulling through the shot.

However, they are not the best solution for a great release. Many people have real uneven anchor holding weights due to form issues. Sometimes they are just up against the back wall and sometimes they are trying to tear the limbs off depending on the situation, how tired they are, heat of the battle, etc., etc., etc. When they are pulling hard into the back wall, they have little strength left to increase a further back tension. Also, most people yank at pulling through the shot instead of slowly building up more back tension. This makes this release real undependable for getting the shot off. It also suffers from the same alignment issues a hinge release has. If your shoulders are not aligned well, it is almost impossible to increase the back tension smoothly. If you yank at the release, your shot with either end up high or left for a right-handed shooter … a lot high or left.

Wrist (caliper) Release: This release is just like a trigger release except instead of using your fingers to hold the release it is attached to your wrist with a strap. Mostly used for hunting, this release has most of the benefits and short comings of a trigger release. The strap keeps the release at your fingertips when hunting and prevents the release from being lost in the woods. The only major difference is that you must work a little harder to get a positive repeatable anchor because of the way your hand is wrap around the strap and release. This can be overcome if the shooter takes the time to learn a repeatable anchor on their face. However, most shooters tend to anchor wrist releases up around the same height as their ear instead of learning to anchor on their jaw line.

Seeing The Avengers or Hunger Games

A lot of my beginning younger students all have seen Hawkeye in the Avengers and Katniss in the Hunger Games. I love both movie series and have seen them both several times. Unfortunately, they have nothing to do with archery.

Archery is a sport of using less muscles, less motion, less everything. The more you move, the more muscles you use, the more your shots are going to be erratic and unpredictable. Let’s take a few minutes to look at this.

There is a machine called a Hooter Shooter for testing bows. It makes every shoot exactly the same with no added motion such bow arm movement, poor releases, “¡Olé!”ing the shots, movement of the head or too much face contact. Because of that, a Hooter Shooter can shoot X’s all day long, one perfect shot after another.

Archery is a form sport. Great form means great shots, bad form means crappy shots. It is as simple as that except for the mental game. As we discussed earlier getting the bow adjusted to you perfectly is part of great form but nonetheless having your shoulders properly aligned, strong bow arm, solid bow grip, good posture, consistent solid anchor, proper release, and proper follow thru all add up to a strong, consistent shoot. None of this requires any motion or movement on your part. If your form is right, your shoulders don’t hurt, your back is not sore, and your muscles don’t get tired. After a long day of coaching and shooting where I might shoot 200+ arrows, the only thing that is tired on me is my feet and my eyes. I’m older so tired eyes just come with the turf.

So, work on your form with a coach. If you are getting tired or sore shoulders, back or arms, you are doing something wrong. The sooner you get that fixed the better your shooting will be and the less likely you will permanently injure your shoulders or back. Also remember, it takes only ten arrows to pick up a bad habit and a thousand arrows to eliminate a bad habit.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Most shooters just don’t practice enough. I don’t mean a few arrows before a hunt. I mean earnestly practice for several weeks before you must shoot for a hunt or tournament.

Practice is the cornerstone of developing great shooting form. I don’t mean just shotting 100 arrows today. I mean you shoot 100 quality arrows while paying attention to using proper form. Like I tell my older, experienced shooters, if you execute 60 perfect shots, I can guarantee you are going to shoot a 300 with 60 X’s. The high score and X’s come free with perfectly executed shots.

First thing first, practice what you are going to shoot. If you are indoor shooting 20 yards, then practice indoor shooting 20 yards. Shooting from indoor to outdoor, from 20 yards to 80 yards are different things that require different shot sequence and mental conditions. As well, there never can be enough practice unless you are currently shoot 200-300 arrows a day. The more quality shots you take, the more second nature the shot sequence becomes. The more second nature the shot sequence gets, the less you think about it and execute the perfect shot.

No matter what you practice or how you practice, it is not that you need to shoot a group of 100 or 50 arrows to be finished. You need to shoot 50 individual single arrows. Each arrow a unique separate event. Not part of a group but a single thing by itself. And when that single shot is done, it is immediately forgotten and removed from your memory, so you are executing 50 or 100 “first shot” arrows. This is important. When you start grouping them, you will get lazy on the later shots and let little form issues slip into your shot sequence.

Finally, be honest. When I practice, an arrow doesn’t count unless I executed my shot sequence as best as I can. If it was a sloppy shot or I was laughing at a joke being told or it got away from me, it does not count. Also score your practices just like you would a regular event. It gives you a baseline to how you are progressing on your practices.

One practice regiment most shooters overlook is blank bale shooting with their eyes closed. Let me explain the setup. You will be shooting into a blank bale at about 5 yards or closer. Something you couldn’t miss no matter what. If you feel uncertain about this, have a friend act as a spotter to warn you when you are aiming off the bale. Now the why part. Your vision tends to overrule everything you do with archery. Now with your eyes closed, your brain can focus on the feel of the release to your face, how the bow feels in your bow hand, where the string contacts your face, how hard it is contacting you, etc., etc. Once your brain knows these feelings, the moment you draw the bow back and anchor, your subconscious will know if this feels “right” or “wrong.” If that little voice in your head says this does not feel right, then let down. That little voice always knows what is “right” and what is “wrong.” Remember that and listen to it.

Not Letting Down

If I had a dime for the number of times, I have seen archers trying to muscle through a bad setup for a shot I would be a millionaire. I mean it. Their grip felt wrong. The anchor isn’t right. A bug is flying in their face. Sweat is falling into their eyes. The list goes on and on. Do they let down, fix the problem, and start over? No, absolutely not. They are God and can make it happen just like Hawkeye. Bullshit, they are feeble humans just like the rest of us. And what do they get for their effort. Nothing. A missed deer. A 4 instead of a 5 on the target. An arrow bouncing off the celling. A lost arrow. And this list goes on as well on how bad it can get.

If for any little reason, the shot does not feel good, not fitting up your face, something is bother you, etc., ect. “let down.” There is no shame in letting down. There is shame in that miss on the target or deer. You see the pros do it all the time and their shooting form is nearly spotless.

No matter the reason, internal or external, if the shot does not feel “right” then let down.

Overestimating Your Ability

We all have had either confidence problems about our shooting from time-to-time or think we are the best shot since Katie Smith (7 times Vegas winner besides a thousand other awards).

It is important to believe in your shooting abilities especially if you are being coached and practicing enough. But don’t overestimate your ability and think you have no room for improvement and practice is a waste of time. We all plateau in our shooting ability and you must realize that you are stuck on this level of shooting until you put in the time, patience, and hard work physically and mentally to move off that level.

In target shooting, overestimating your abilities just means you post a bad score which could hurt you mentally. In a hunting situation, overestimating your abilities can make for a disastrous outcome. The last think you want to do is maim an animal or make a bad kill that takes hours or even days to track the animal.

Realize your limits in terms of accuracy, arrow path, and personal skill before making a long shot or one through heavy cover. Make the safe shot and not the risky one even if you might not get another shot this trip or season. In a target situation, the safe shot does not put other shooters at risk or your equipment at risk of breakage. Don’t let your friends and their stories “goat” you into taking crazy shots that have little chance of success. Besides safety, arrows and bows cost money. Premium ones even more money.

If you want to be more aggressive on your shooting, then work with a coach to improve your physical skills and strengthen your mental game. Archery is much more about the mental game than the actual physical skills. If you don’t have the mental game to make great shots than you are just trusting “dumb” luck.