What Is a Good Shot?

In a target archer’s post shot analysis the outcome of each shot (the “hit point”) is compared with a short-term memory replay of the shot just made to see if they match up. If, for example, the replay shows you that you had a minor pluck, which would result in an arrow to the left of center, and you check your hit point and it is to the left of center, then voila, you have matched up cause and effect. You can then include whatever move you focus on to avoid plucking in your next shot.

But, if your mental review of a shot comes up with “ordinary” or “normal” and you look at the target and the arrow is not in the center, can you tell if that is a “good shot” or a “poor shot” with an unknown cause?

Just what is a good shot . . . for you (or your students)?

Is that 9 a “poor shot”? The other arrow is in the X.

Consider a hypothetical experiment. You or a student pins up a pristine target face and proceeds to shoot 100 shots at it all of which were considered good. What do you think the pattern of holes in the target face would be? Generally, we would expect there to be more holes closer to the center than farther away, with the pattern centered on target middle. (If the pattern of holes isn’t centered on target middle, your equipment needs adjusting. Maximum score can only be realized through this centering of your groups on the highest scoring zone of the target face. Tight groups in the 3-ring are not good!)

The question devolves, then, into “how spread out are the holes?” What is normal for expert archers is different from what is normal for intermediate archers. The better the archer, the smaller the group. The ultimate goal for group size is “smaller than the highest scoring ring on the target face.” Indoors, compound archers perform this way in major competitions quite often. This even occurs outdoors from time to time in field archery. In target archery, perfect “distances,” e.g. 30 m, have been shot.

So, archers have to be cognizant of what their normal group sizes are and use those as an indicator of whether their hit points are “normal” or indicating a “mistake.”

Younger archers often go wrong because of expectations. They shoot their first arrow (at a 10-point face) and shoot a 6. They had an expectation of shooting really, really well (often based on nothing more than a desire) and the score of 6 is disappointing, so they feel that something must be wrong and so adjust their sight, for example. This is a mistake. If you do not know what the problem is, or whether there is even a problem at all, the probability of choosing the right “fix” for the problem is near zero. Worse, if the next arrow is also classified as “poor,” which is now more likely because of a mis-set sight, another “fix” might be implemented . . . and another, and another. Said archer ends up “chasing his/her tail,” making corrections for things not wrong, getting farther and farther from a good setup. (Starting from a correct setup, even random changes will move away from the good setup to a poorer one because all paths lead away and few lead back, at least initially.)

A seasoned archer shooting a first arrow 6, might shrug and think “Not a good start,” but quickly get back into his/her shot process, making no changes/corrections/adjustments. If a 6 is normal, it is normal. It can also be disappointing, but that disappointment should not be a motivation.

We have all seen rank beginners (heck, we have all been rank beginners) shoot arrows, be disappointed, then shoot another, then another, etc. making no changes in form or equipment. “Shootin’ and hopin’” is typical of beginners. If they become serious about archery, they need to become more analytical, as described above. They can be taught this and they can learn it. The key to learning how to do this correctly is twofold: they need to know their “normal” group sizes on the various targets they shoot and they need to keep a mental list of their typical mistakes.

The list of typical mistakes, helps identify minor slips while shooting. For example, going back to the archer who had a minor pluck. If the archer’s arrows after an end are grouped nicely in the middle, but one arrow, his/her last arrow shot, is out away from the others to the left, that is an indication of that minor pluck. The shot replay might not have identified that cause, but the result may serve instead. Going back to the target, the archer can apply a correction for the minor pluck (plucks are usually caused by poor alignment at full draw, so a bit of additional attention on getting into good full draw position might be a fix) and if the left arrows don’t show up again, then problem solved.

Archery books and archery instruction often focus 99+% on technique. But intermediate archers on up need also to focus on developing archery skills. Arrows that repeatedly hit to the left of center might be defective internally where the defect cannot be seen. This is why we mark our arrows, so as to be able to identify them, and we make mental notes, such as “Arrow #5 was outside-left of the group.” In subsequent ends, if #5 shows up there again, wise archers rotate it out of the shooting set and save it for inspection later. I put them in my quiver upside down so I do not accidentally pull it out and shoot it again. I also have a tube in my quiver set aside for “extras” and “problem arrows,” and I am very careful when drawing arrows from that tube. When I do so, I carefully inspect it and then transfer it to one of the other tubes to shoot it in order. This is just one of myriad skills that serve target archers on their path to better and better scores.

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