Tag Archives: Reading Targets

An Archer’s Quandary: Reading Targets and Arrow Scores (Part 1)

This is a quandary all archers face when they are approaching a high level of expertise. It actually occurs all of the time, although when groups are larger it is harder to see and often goes unnoticed. Here is an example:

You are shooting a 300 round indoors (10-0 scoring a la Vegas) and you have shot 10s and 9s only for the first eight ends. Then in the ninth end, you shoot a ten and then two 8s. Is something wrong?”

Well, what do you think?

If you think there is a problem, well, you are wrong.

If you think it is not a problem, you are also wrong.

I did not give you enough information to tell which it was.dual_vegas_fnt

You see, it depends on who is shooting and what is “normal” for them. If that were me, then I could tell you eights are normal … for me … and that seven ends of all 9s and 10s was not normal. But I have known archers for whom this would have indicated a problem of some sort. One of my archery club colleagues in California kept shooting perfect 300 scores on the NFAA five-spot target. (I noticed that because I was trying to shoot my first such score.) I asked him when was the last time he didn’t shoot a 300 score, and he couldn’t remember. It had been years, he said. The 5-ring on that target is equivalent in size to the 9-ring on the 40 cm indoor target, so shooting all 10s and 9s on that target was “normal” for him. (It was not normal for me.)

Also, what your thinking would have been if I had told you one of those 8s came in the fourth end and the other in the eighth end? If you thought the two eights were a problem in the first scenario, are they indicative of a problem when spread out, too? Most would say “no.”

We all seem to think that a string of good shots should continue, but this is an illusion, one of the so-called “gambler’s illusions” which includes winning streaks, basketball players “hot hands,” and many other phenomena.

When Brady Ellison shot his most recent world record for an indoor 600 Round, he shot is lone 9 in an otherwise perfect round (599/600) on his thirtieth arrow (out of 60). How would you feel if he had shot his nine on the first arrow? Or his last arrow? (Oh, he came so close!) The score would be the same, but the feelings are different. In one scenario we think he made a good recovery and a strong comeback. In another, we can tell stories of how the pressure got to him and he crumpled on his last shot. In all three, same score, same WR.

What we have to be aware of is our own propensity to see patterns, whether they do or do not exist. Consider the idea of “streaks.” These go against what we are taught is the “law of averages” which is properly named the “law of large numbers.” We are told that if we are gambling, winning more than a few hands in a row is not normal. We think that wins and loses should be mixed evenly. None of these are true.

We are told and believe that if you flip a coin often enough you will end up with half  of the flips being “heads” and half “tails.” People have actually undertaken experiments in which they flipped coins 10,000 times or more to check this “law.” To the contrary I remember reading an article in Scientific American magazine a very long time ago described an experiment in which a computer was programmed to simulate flipping a coin. They expected the law of large numbers/averages to show a 50:50 distribution of heads and tails in short order and then stay that way forever. Contrary to ordinary thinking, starting with ten heads or ten tails in a row is not at all impossible, but however it began, the totals would rapidly approach a 50:50 distribution and then stay there. But this is not what they saw. They saw a 50:50 distribution of heads and tails in short order and then they had a long streak in which heads flips dominated creating a number of head flips greater than the number of tail flips, then this “streak” was followed by a long stretch of 50:50 flips, but then there was a longish streak of tails creating a number of tail flips greater than the number of head flips, followed by a 50:50 stretch. This continued, as far as they could tell, forever.

The length of the 50:50 stretches was, in total, the vast majority of the tosses. But the long stretches of mostly heads or mostly tails (winning streaks?) resulted in almost no time being spent at exactly 50:50. This behavior is not governed by luck as a computer does not operate via luck, it is the ordinary nature of random events. All of these things are “streaky” by nature and not consistent as we would expect.  (BTW, the 10,000 coin toss experiment came out 5,067 heads, 4,933 tails.)

Now, clusters of archery shots are not random events, but if one were to shoot a long stretch of all 10s and 9s, and then shoot two 8s, would that be a sign of something going wrong or not? We are conditioned to see patterns, especially if they are negative. (I can’t tell you how often I have had the thought “Here we go again” while shooting, but it is not a small number.) The problem is you can’t tell, because the stretches are not predictive.

But wait, “What do we do? You haven’t said!”

Look for my next post.



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Midnight Flyers (Black and Blue)

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I keep having one arrow fly into the blue or black (3 o clock or 9 o clock) almost every single end. It’s not a specific arrow as I’ve tried using different arrows. It’s also not sequence specific. Sometimes it’s my first arrow, sometimes it’s my second arrow, and sometimes it’s my third arrow. The other two arrows are almost always within the red, if not, then in the yellow. But somehow I manage to get one in the blue/black regardless of how well the other arrows do. I think it might be form, but I have no clue what part of my form is flawed. What should I do?


I can’t say for sure. One possible source of this could be a lack of good “line” that is alignment of the string arm with the arrow/string plane. (The Two Pillars of Consistent Archery are: soft hands and good full-draw-position, aka “good line”.) If you are still consistently not having good “alignment” then you will be basing your performance on athleticism more than having structured it into your body. (You are depending on muscles and timing rather than bone structure and posture.) When this happens you will have dramatically different “good days” and “poor days.” What this will manifest as will be: on good days, your groups will be smaller. You said that recently you have been pounding the middle. But on bad days, your groups will be poorer: meaning some blues and blacks will occur normally. Yes, I said “normally.” A shot not based on secure body posture will have quite variable groups sizes and you will normally have arrows in the blue and black.

Having said that, it is quite common for people not getting to full draw to miss left and right, so maybe that is a hint. Either have a shooting partner or use a mirror to check your alignment. One quick way to do this is to draw looking directly into a mirror. If you get into good FD position, you will be able to see your back in the mirror as your shoulders should be 10-12 degrees closed to your aiming line.

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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.

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