When Do You Feel the Joy of Shooting Arrows?

We all start in the same place. When we began, just launching an arrow and having it hit the butt was a joy. I can say this confidently because if we hadn’t experienced the joy of just shooting, we wouldn’t have continued in the sport, so we did . . . and we did. I was an adult beginner and I can remember the joy of hearing my arrow hit the butt on a long shot . . . and the disappointment when I walked up to the target to see my hit was all straw and no paper. I can still recall that sound and it still sounds “good.”

Fast forward to today and, well, what has happened to that joy? Do you still feel it? When? How often?

I have never advocated emotionless archery. I have always felt that you have to bring some intensity, some emotion into your shooting . . . but just a little because archery is a low arousal sport. And, those joyous moments are, I believe, to be cherished as the finest form of positive reinforcement of your shot and your shooting.

There are things in the way, however, of experiencing those joys. Evolution has primed us to notice the negatives. This provides us a certain evolutionary advantage. If we correct our mistakes, we become better, but it is unlikely that we will do that if we do not notice them.

Second is the nature of target archery itself. In the beginning, we were oh, so happy to hit the target face with a scoring shot. But after we accumulate some expertise, we notice the “good” shots less and less as they become “normal” and we notice the bad shots more and more as they become “not normal.” An arrow scoring 9 out of 10 goes from being a good shot to being a disappointing “non-10.”

Another is the somewhat subtle illusion of being in control. We think we should be in control of our thoughts and emotions. We are not. We can cultivate an air of insouciance . . . think pro golfer Dustin Johnson . . . but thoughts and emotions still come up, albeit possibly less frequently than before. And that is not controlling those thoughts and emotions so much as it is having learned to deal with them in a calm manner.

What I am recommending is that you pay attention to whether you feel that joy and when. Take note that you just did something well. Maybe it was when you shot a good shot after shooting a poor shot. Maybe it is shooting a nice group, where it scores maximally. (A nice group in the four ring is not a nice group, just one you can work with: by adjusting your point of aim or your sight, for example.) Take note of these and feel the joy . . . and then move on.

Don’t let your competitiveness squeeze the joy out of your archery. Many people look at expert archers shooting and say they look effortless. They don’t see the thousands of hours of practice behind those performances, nor do they see the mental grind going on between our ears. But if you overemphasize the negatives and shrug off the positives in a search for a better score, you may just eliminate all of the reasons you have for performing at all.

I think this is especially important because archery is a lifelong sport. No matter who you are, you will reach a peak in your ability to perform and then that will diminish . . . and diminish . . . and, well, you know. Some people can’t accept lesser performances and so quit and take up fishing or poker as a hobby. Some people accept lesser performances and keep trying to establish how well they can shoot . . . now. One of the saddest things I have ever seen in archery was when an elderly archer, one who had been a mainstay in archery, was on the line at the Vegas shoot and couldn’t get off his third arrow in one end. It wasn’t that he couldn’t get off a good shot, he couldn’t pull his bow. Sometimes a physical decline is steep and unavoidable, but modern equipment allows us to pull less weight, hold up less weight, and still shoot for a long time. The gentlemen who couldn’t pull his bow had shot the same bow for many, many years and needed to let it go, but possibly could not.

Find the joy, cherish it, keep shooting by adjusting and enjoying the sport. En-joy the sport.


Filed under For All Coaches

7 responses to “When Do You Feel the Joy of Shooting Arrows?

  1. David Beeton

    I can empathise with your pretty much all of your comments and feel for the elderly archer, mentioned towards the end, who struggled to draw his bow.
    I used to shoot full and small-bore rifle,when I was in the Armed Forces. To be fair, I use to shoot anything that would take a bullet or a cartridge, but the rifles were my favourite, and I was a good shot. I was also one of the few range-practice qualified airmen not a member of the RAF Regiment! As I was coming to the end of my service carreer, and planning to go on to be a teacher, the Dunblane shooting took place and I was forced, due to the changes in the law, together with a lack of suitable ranges around where I lived, to relinquish my weapons. I did not shoot anything again, until I was offered the chance to become an archery instructor for my High School. I could not begin to explain the changes that it made to me as a person! I loved teaching, and I loved teaching archery just as much, if not more. I have now retired from full time teaching but I get the same buzz when I go into my old school to teach the sport that I took up at the age of 65!
    I too have had to re-think my draw weights as I have gone along, but I have been able to accept that I might not be able to reach the longer distances of a York or Hereford round, and, following a recent hip replacement, archery was one of the ways that I got extra walking exercise to help strengthen the new joints and re-firm the muscles. I spend more time coaching and advising than I did, but I can still shoot with my club, and there is much to look forward to!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And you are just the kind of person I want writing for Archery Focus magazine. If you have something to say that you think will help archers and coaches get better (our mission), please consider writing about it and we will share your thoughts with a larger community. We will also pay you, unfortunately in US dollars, not in a currency actually worth much, but we will also malke you famous! Well, not quite famous, but maybe occasionally someone will recognize your name from the magazine.

      If you are interested, we can discuss this further, so just email me at ruis.steve@gmail,com or steve@archeryfocus.com.

      Thanks for the comment!


  2. Tom D.

    This one is outstanding, Steve! The last time I shot competitively was at the Vegas Shoot several years ago (lost count). I had heart surgery back in 1999. Up until that time, I was at the top of my game and had little trouble shooting 299-300 Vegas scores or even 58-60X 300’s on the blue face. Shot well into the 550’s on field and hunter rounds. That all came completely apart after my surgery.I developed an intentional tremor in my left hand. I am left handed but shot all my best scores right handed. Of course the left hand is my bow hand in this situation. The tremor kept getting worse. Maybe some of it was because I kept trying to stop it from happening. Fast forward to that Vegas Shoot. I was not shooting into even the middle 290’s, but the goal was to keep all my shots into the gold. Day one, I only shot one arrow into the red. Day two, I didn’t have any arrows in the red; not a tong of 10’s, but all my shots were in the gold. I was having a lot of tremor shaking and the stabilizer was bouncing around something terrible. BUT the arrows were still hitting gold. Day 3 comes around and I’m shooting decently, and had still managed to keep my arrows all into the gold. On the 8th end, I was struggling on the 3rd arrow, so I let down. I pulled back up to shoot, and a pair of loudmouthed Jacka$$e$ said, loud enough, “Look at that guy shake. They need to take him off the line before he hurts somebody.” I shot that arrow and barely caught gold with it. I was devastated. I finished the round and did shoot two arrows into the red. I have not set foot onto the tournament line since that day.
    I got to the point that even at the ranges I frequented, I would not get on the line if people were around. One day, I was shooting, and a guy walked up to me and said, “Do you know your bow hand is shaking?” Again, I was devastated and frankly quite angry with him. I turned around and screamed at him, “No, I didn’t know that. Do you think I”m brain dead or what? Leave me the he$$ alone”. I sat down and when I stepped back onto the line to shoot again, I was shaking worse than ever. I had t-shirts made up that on the back says, “YES!! I know that my bow hand shakes”. On the front it says, “Let it float and shoot the shot”.
    I managed to shoot some low x-count 300’s on the blue face, but the shake mentally tore me apart. It got so bad that I am forced to go back to left handed shooting, and now the shake is under my jaw and the peep site boun ces up and down. The sight does not settle down, but bounces up and down with the peep site…and likely my release hand as it struggles to stay still.
    I still shoot, but the “joy” of shooting is gone. I am very competitive in nature, but there isn’t a way on God’s green earth that I’ll toe a shooting line in a tournament ever again. Up until those two jerks did that at Vegas all those years ago, I was dealing with it and lived with it. Since then, it has been a situation of “should I or shouldn’t I?” “At my age, is it worth the struggle to go and fling arrows at the target and not know for sure what that end result will be? With this pandemic, I am pretty much on the range by myself. The staff knows my situation, so they leave me alone. So, what is my point?
    If you see a shooter struggling, keep your ever loving trap shut! Don’t offer “help” or comment unless asked.
    Those two idiots are just danged lucky that I didn’t come off that shooting line and slap them up alongside the head with my bow! Totally destroyed any confidence I had, and left me thinking more about what other people thought than taking care of my own place on the shooting line.
    Point #2…there are people out there that will try to destroy your confidence…or “trash talk you”…to get into your head. Be wary, be civil, but do what you can to not let it destroy you. Before that incident, I could handle any and all trash talk…but that one was at the wrong time, wrong place.
    It doesn’t take much at all to go from the top or near the top of the heap to the bottom. It can literally happen in a heartbeat or a stupid comment made by an inconsiderate competitor.


    • Thanks for sharing your story, Tom; maybe it will help others.

      And it is not surprising that you shot your best scores opposite handed. many people have argued that your stronger arm should be your bow arm, because holding steady while being still is more important than operating a release aid or finger tab. This “minor recommendation” (Sarcasm Alert!) has been left out of most coach training courses, for some reason. (Actually I am not sure of that last point as I have lost contact with those courses. maybe some others can chime in on that.)


      • Tom D

        I got the ‘hint’ to changeover from the expert himself, Dean Pridgen. He told me about my form fault that I had and that if I couldn’t correct it to switch over to right handed shooting. I remember him clearly saying, “Your strong arm should be the BOW arm, and you are overpowering your bow arm with your pulling arm. Give it 3 months to correct the issue and if you fail, then switch over.” If I recall correctly, Dean Pridgen shot LEFT handed, but he is right handed! His bow arm was solid as a rock; never saw anything like it.
        So, I gave it 3 months and could stop overpowering my right side, so I switched, and from 1984 until 2000, I never looked back.
        I mentioned that I am now forced to shoot left handed because the left arm shake is too bad to hold the bow out there. Well, guess what? That old black, dirty habit of overpowering is still with me…only now, it has the intentional (why do they call it that…I do NOT do it on purpose!?) to go with it.
        Trust me when I say I’ve tried every drawlength possible from short 25″ to super long 31″ and nothing works…but too short is REALLY BAD with regard to shake, and 31″ is way bad due to my shoulder being too far extended and unable to stop from “creeping”. Tried every style of release aid; thought first finger release would work, and, like anything new, it did work; ONCE. It is by far the worst FOR ME to try to use. I know I must choose ONE and only ONE style of release to use. With all my years in this game you think I would find it quickly…? HA. Remember, anything different works ONCE, or maybe for awhile…So, I am back down to either the “back tension” (misnomer, but people understand what I’m talking about), or the Pinky Finger FailSafe II by Dean Pridgen. The FailSafe and I had a long and prosperous relationship for all those years. That was the one release I chose to shoot when I first switched to right handed. It may come back around to rope around the string and an eliminator button because the FailSafe eats d-loops too rapidly due to the design of the gate.
        1. Always remember, anything new works great…ONCE. Don’t base any decisions upon one use of any piece of equipment. Give that a chance and when you do, take the rest of the crap out of the bowcase and leave it home so you won’t touch it. 10 to 20 full scoring rounds minimum before you make a decision.
        2. Today’s bows are hypersensitive to a lot of things. The high letoff bows and hard stops are TROUBLE in the making. That “to anchor drawlength” must be within 1/8″ or less CONSISTENTLY; the more consistent the better. 1/8″ short or long of the “sweet spot” and you can get 1# or more variance in the poundage that thrusts the arrow! The harder you pull into the stops past the 1/8″, the worse that becomes.
        I did some research on to anchor drawlength consistency by actual measurements of “to anchor” drawlengths of varying levels of shooters. ALL thought that the hard stops meant they were very consistent. WRONG. Beginners and some mid level shooters vary 1/4″ to 1/2″ on their to anchor drawlength over the span of 10 measurements with proper resting between “Shots”. They thought they were consistent because of the hard stops.
        Mid-level shooters were much more consistent, 1/4″ to 3/8″ give or take a bit, but way more consistent.
        Top level shooters, were mostly spot on with their to anchor draw lengths from shot to shot to shot. MOST were 1/16″ to 1/8″ during the 10 draw cycle “shots” and measurements.
        This is a sport of doing exactly the same thing over and over and over again. Even if, in the eyes of the observer it is “wrong”, if it is identical, you will fare far better than looking good, but differing from shot to shot to shot.
        A shot sequence must be consistent; it must be exactly the same as humanly possible. If you know your window of greatest opportunity is 6 seconds from target acquisition, you learn that, and when it isn’t right, you let down and start over from scratch. If at full draw the thought of “miss” enters your mind, you are guaranteed a miss, period. ANY doubts, let down. Become religious about it. Get a sequence that works, write it down, make a placard to mount on your bow limb where you can read off the critical points (3-5, no more than that) before each and every shot and stick to it. Nobody on the line can bother you when you are “reading” your shot sequence.
        When I was shooting my best, I had made a data base and tracked each and every shot for impact point and time elapsed from target acquisition until the break of the shot. FOR ME AT THAT TIME IN MY LIFE, if that shot broke between 5 and 6 seconds, it was 100% X rings on the blue face. I trained for that…and my wife would track it…and at the 6 second point would say out loud, STOP. and I would let down. I got sick and tired of hearing STOP in short order. After learning this and pounding it into my head, I averaged shooting X’rings indoors and 5’s outdoors 98% of the time. No, I didn’t shoot 60X’s for hundreds of rounds in a row, but I knew if I stuck to the shot sequence, I would shoot between 58 and 60 X’s with regularity. Outdoors is a different story, but not by much. I got into the mid 550’s and on a bad day, the high 540’s to the low 550’s. That was all before the bypass surgery and subsequent problems.
        My shot timing has changed drastically. I don’t have someone to work with me to rebuild a shot sequence; my wife cannot do it. I cannot shoot every day of the week; I’m no longer a spring chicken, blah blah blah.
        BUT just because I’m an old fart doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what it took to get there or how to do it. The body just won’t follow directions, hahaha.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The “Reply Button” was missing from Tom’s second comment, so this is a reply to Tom’s second comment. Steve

    Are you possibly trapped by your thinking that a compound bow is your best path forward? Have you tried a recurve bow or longbow with a shorter shot cycle. I am finding Barebow Recurve fun and challenging and I do not worry much anymore about my increasingly shaky hold.

    I am reminded of an old dog who “worries” an old bone because he has had it a long time. (I am susceptible to this as much as anyone and you may be an “old dog,” too! (Arf!)) A “new bone” might just have more meant on it. (And I know you know your way around a recurve bow. :o)


    • Tom D

      Oh, but yes, I have tried shooting recurred bow right handed with fingers on the string. Got into to mid 280’s on the NFAA single spot. I stupidly took a good offer on that high end recurved bow and sold it. I have 4 ancient recuved bows, but 3 are heavy poundage. One is a Swift Wing that belonged to my wife. I have the Reynold’s bowsite she used still on the bow. It is right handed and, yes, tempting, very tempting. I still, in spite of the shake would prefer shooting right handed.
      Another option is shooting one of my spare compounds with fingers on the string. Tempting, very tempting.


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