Seeing Patterns / Reading Targets

QandA logoAnother letter brings up something that almost never gets touched upon by coaches or archery books.

Dear Coach Ruis,
About two thirds of my practice ends have arrows in two tight groupings (so tight the arrows touch). I practice with four arrows. On some ends, I have a group of two arrows about two inches away from the main group of two. Other times, I will have a group of three arrows, and then a lone arrow two inches to the left from the main group. No matter how much I shoot, two thirds of my ends involve this grouping pattern, and these groups are always two inches apart. Additionally, it is not a draw length issue as the arrows to the left are always in the same horizontal plane.
What’s going on here?


Just for reference, this archer shoots Recurve Barebow and Olympic Recurve; I don’t know which one is being shot during this issue. (It would have been nice to have stated the distance of the target also. I suspect it is 18m.)

Here is the answer to the question: we see patterns when there are none. Our brains are evolved to be pattern recognition machines. (We see pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in grilled cheese sandwiches, for Pete’s sake.) Think about it. If you shoot decent groups and shoot four arrows, what will you see? Either all four will be in the same spot (possible but rare); all four will be in different spots (not a good group by definition) or you will get two groups of two or a group of three with one flier. The only high probability outcomes (once you get to the point of shooting “good groups”) are 2+2 and 3+1.


You need to shoot larger groups of arrows.

This is crucial because if you decide that the two arrows in the center (you decided to call those the “main group”) are the “correct shots” and the two out to the left are the “incorrect shots,” you may be making the mistake of choosing incorrectly. Maybe the ones on the middle are the mistakes and the ones to the left are the correct ones. For example, if your arrows are a tad stiff they will fly to the left normally. To get them to fly into the middle, you either have to aim off or do something “wrong.” So, it is crucial to not judge arrows from where they land.

I assume that you didn’t notice anything that would have “caused” the difference from the way you asked the question. The expectation is that all the arrows should land in the same place if shot the same way. Again, this is a false expectation. Shooting machines don’t shoot that well. Shooting machines shoot groups that show 2+2 and 3+3 patterns. And a 2˝ distance between groups is almost negligible at any reasonable distance.

One thing you could try is to make a list of things you might do “wrong” that would result in arrows flying to the left (or right, you don’t really know which is the “main” group) but neither higher nor lower than the others. In making this list you will at least identify things you might be doing wrong, so that if you eliminate those things and if the “problem” doesn’t disappear, you will know that such groups are natural.

I will share one personal experience, though. Back when I was shooting well, I decided to try shooting the FITA Round. This included the daunting 90m distance. Once I got dialed in I noticed that at one sight setting my groups were centered at 6 O’clock in the 9 with occasional tens. By adding a click of elevation, my groups were centered at 12 O’clock in the 9 with occasional tens. My solution? I bought a kit to convert my sight to a 20 click sight. That was a problem that had a solution. I suspect that yours is not a real problem.

Let me know what happens when you start shooting five and six arrow groups (do keep track of the subgroups so you will know how to answer).

And, if you absolutely, positively must have something to do to check your “issue,” check to see if the same arrows go to the left and to the right each time (number/mark them so you can tell them apart). If certain arrows always go left and others always go right, then you do indeed have an equipment problem (I suspect it would be with the arrows). If they do not, it is not the arrows or, I suspect, the bow. And it may not be you, either. It may just be your mind looking for patterns, always looking for patterns.

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.