Instinctive Shooting Traditional Bows

Instinctive shooting a longbow at a water bottle

During this period, I don’t recall specifically, there wasn’t really great improvement. My groups, while acceptable, weren’t improving dramatically. I started to build in form and recommendations on release. This helped a bit, but it wasn’t something I wanted. My ultimate goal was to shoot at any unmarked distance within acceptable ranges. My goal was to hunt and I wanted two shooting distances; close enough, and too far. 

I stopped shooting at targets. 

Bear longbow with beaver ball silencers over an instinctive shooting arrow grouping
My Bear Archery Longbow sporting Beaver Ball silencers over an instinctive shooting arrow grouping

Something amazing happened after I stopped shooting at targets: my first arrow started going where I wanted it to. 

In a hunting scenario, only the first arrow counts. 

Somehow, amidst all this shooting and racking up arrow-mileage, my brain started making arch connections and muscle memory was developed. While I wasn’t, and still am not, able to place 10/10 arrows in to a “thing,” I can definitely get it in to the ballpark. Reducing my available surface area that I deemed acceptable to hit, I was forced to just try to hit an object. 

My brain and body were able to make connections to relatable objects that I’ve held many times in my own hands. I knew, intimately, how big those things are. My first arrows were hitting things I was looking at. Half of my arrows were landing in a water bottle at 30-yards. 

I’m still steadily growing more efficient with my methods by adding practice exercises that follow the theme. Walk-backs at unmarked yardages are tidying up my gauging of distances. Going to ranges with target-backs at varying distances allows me to take shots with 5-10 yard variances quickly and naturally.

Let’s call that a win for trad guys! 

Other Instinctive Shooting Methods:

Something that helped further develop the “natural” feeling of instinctive shooting was my purchase of an old vintage Bear longbow. Something comparable today would be the reflex deflex Bear offering: the Bear Montana 64″. To me, the longbow was lighter in the hand and felt more like an extension than a tool. Adding cant to my shooting method and the direct response of thick limbs enhanced my instinctive shooting experience. 

Cant: Tilting the top limb of the bow away from you to get a better sight picture

Canting the bow helped increase the visibility of my arrow in flight and felt more natural to me when drawing a bow back. Its kind of like sidearm throwing a ball – it won’t work for everyone but for me, it did. 

Another method that some guys use for instinctive shooting practice is the ‘cup’ method. Here you place a paper cup (because styrofoam is bad) on the target surface and shoot into it, gradually moving back between sets. 

  • Place paper cup on target
  • Shoot from 3-arrows at 3-yards into the cup
  • Step Back
  • Shoot 3-arrows at 6-yards into the cup
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat 
  • Shoot 3-arrows at 20-yards … 30-yards .. 40-yards

I can also attest to this working well as a practice drill. 

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