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5 Effective Archery Aiming Drills


Those who are unfamiliar with archery may assume that the sport is made up of drills to practice aiming a bow and arrow at a target. Yet both traditional and modern archers often practice forms, techniques, and skills that don’t relate directly to aim at all.

However, the aim is certainly a large part of archery, and there are effective drills to practice as methods to improve it. 

So, what are some effective archery aiming drills?

There are many effective archery aiming that utilize different theories and approaches to success. Primarily, these aiming drills are designed to improve and refine an archer’s accuracy and precision in hitting a target.

Individual archers may benefit more from some aiming drills than others but should be open to trying new strategies to enhance performance. These 5 drills are effective in strengthening archery aim.

An essential part of developing any skill or improving in any sport is practice. For many athletes, practice includes drills—systematic repetition of certain exercises.

In archery, practice drills are not just about muscle memory or strengthening, especially when it comes to aiming. These 5 effective archery aiming drills will improve an archer’s physical ability and mental focus.

Beginning Archery

Archery as a pastime, sport, and the industry is growing more popular each year. This is due in part to the cultural impact of such series as The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings and the continued re-imagining of Robin Hood. Much of the focus in these archer portrayals is on the archer’s aim with bow and arrow.

Aim is definitely a large part of an archer’s skill and strategy arsenal. Yet contrary to what Hollywood depicts, there is far more to it than drawing an arrow against a bow, taking a look, and letting it fly.

Before archers even begin to shoot at a target, they must decide between modern and traditional archery, type of bow, and even arrow material.

Beginning archery is an exciting step towards a long-term pastime.

It takes patience, focus, skill, and above all practice. However, the reward of seeing improved performance due to aiming drills and other exercises is quite great. Archery is developed across time and generally results in devotion to the sport.

Steps Before Aiming

Before archers begin to understand and practice aim, there are several steps to go through. These steps address form and technique that must be learned before aiming or shooting a bow and arrow. Beginning archers can learn these steps by taking a class, through private lessons, or through online tutorials if necessary.

These are the steps to take before practicing any aiming drills:

  • Learn correct stance—learning a proper archery stance is crucial for effective and consistent shooting posture
  • Learn to nock the arrow—nocking the arrow stabilizes it against the bow for drawing and shooting, which improves form and accuracy
  • Bow string grasp—proper bow string grasp is important for shooting arrows, and requires protective gear, worn correctly, to avoid injuries to hand or fingers
  • Readying bow hand and arm—learning a relaxed grip for the bow is an important technique, as is proper arm and shoulder alignment for steadiness
  • Drawing the bow—learning proper form and technique for drawing the bow is essential to effective archery performance

It requires patience to learn the fundamentals of archery when shooting an arrow looks much more fun. However, these steps are essential for acquiring the proper forms and techniques that will enhance an archer’s aim and shooting skills for the long-term.

They are as important to practice in the beginning as effective aiming drills are once archers are ready to shoot.

Basics of Archery Aiming

Aim is important to archery because it is the fundamental action that results in an arrow successfully hitting a target. Many external and internal factors influence the aim of an archer. These include stance, bow grasp and grip, drawing technique, mental focus, and the distance to the target.

Archers can choose to use sights for aiming at targets or aim without using sights. Archers who wish to use such a device to refine their aim and achieve greater precision would attach an adjustable sight to the front of the bow. This sight gives the archer a specific reference point for aiming.

Most Traditional archers prefer to aim without a sight.

Instinctive archery is when archers rely on their senses and training to hit a target. They do aim by pointing the bow so the tip of the arrow lines up with the target. However instinctive aiming is done more through feeling than sight precision.

The experience of aim practice and drilling helps instinctive archers understand where the arrow will fly when released, just like a baseball pitcher would get to know where a ball would land when thrown.

Whether archers choose to use a sight device or their instincts, aim is the skill that determines whether an arrow hits a target and how accurately it does so. Therefore, it’s essential for archers at all levels to practice and enhance their aim. There are many exercises that archers can use, however there are 5 basic aiming drills that are very effective.

1. Holding Aim

Holding aim is an effective aiming drill to improve accuracy and precision, without actually shooting an arrow. To practice this drill, archers should position themselves in front of the target at a reasonable distance, prepare their stance for shooting and nock an arrow.

The drill is to draw the bow and aim directly at the center of the target while holding the aiming position for as long as possible. Archers should repeat simulating a shot in this way several times, and then use the same drill at further distances away from the target.

The holding aim drill is effective in two ways:

  • Mindfulness—without the actual pressure of shooting an arrow into a target, by holding aim, an archer can be mindful of the relationship between the body, bow, and arrow. This enhances concentration, proper stance, bow string grasp, and bow grip.
  • Muscle memory—by holding aim rather than shooting an arrow, archers develop the muscle memory of proper stance and preparation to shoot. This drill “trains” and strengthens the muscles to automatically adopt proper form and technique during actual archery shooting.

Holding aim may seem like a boring or somewhat pointless aiming drill. However, archers at all levels routinely hold aim to develop and improve their skills.

2. Mirror Drawing

Mirror drawing is a similar aiming drill to holding aim. One benefit is that it can be practiced anywhere there is a full-length mirror and doesn’t require an arrow.

The greatest benefit of the mirror drawing drill is that it gives archers a chance to see themselves and whether they are using proper archery form and technique.

Archers can “mirror draw” by taking their stance in front of the full-length mirror, drawing their bow, and looking at their reflection by moving their eyes (not heads).

This allows archers to see their form and technique and self-correct any improper postures as they aim. Archers should allow themselves to step away and relax and then repeat the drill until they no longer see any corrections to make.

Mirror drawing is an excellent aiming drill in that it allows an archer to see themselves as they draw their bow. If they understand the proper form and technique, they can adjust their stance, postures, and movements until they see no further corrections needed. This allows them to create muscle memory and “check” themselves when they are aiming and shooting without a mirror.

3. Shooting Blind

Shooting blind is an aiming drill that is related to holding aim and mirror drawing.

The purpose of shooting blind as an archery drill is to develop an archer’s aim through the “mind’s eye.”

This helps archers understand their physical orientation and relationship with the bow, arrow, and target. In turn, this aiming drill is effective in focusing an archer’s attention on the feeling of drawing the bow and releasing the arrow.

The drill is to stand close to a very large target (perhaps a couple of yards away). This close proximity to a large target allows the best chance for an archer to hit it with closed eyes. Archers should begin with proper stance, close their eyes, carefully draw the bow, and anchor the string on consistent anchor points.

With eyes closed, archers can feel how to squeeze the release of the arrow rather than “punching” it. A smoother release enhances aim and consistent shooting because the shot isn’t rushed.

In addition, the archer can feel the natural flow of draw, aim, and release with eyes closed. Drilling these motions will connect the mind’s eye and physical actions when the archer is not shooting blind.

4. Changing Shooting Distance

Archers who compete at a consistent shooting distance want to perfect their skills for that range. However, recreational and non-competitive archers can benefit by shooting at different distances in order to enhance their technical archery skills such as aim and accuracy.

Changing shooting distance is a drill that particularly benefits those who shoot 3D targets, bowhunters, and traditional archers. Often archers in these groups shoot at targets at, distances. Therefore, mixing up a shooting range with distance drills can give these archers an advantage.

Technical archery is based on positive and negative forces. Archers create positive potential energy from drawing the arrow with the bow, which is converted to positive kinetic energy upon release.

The negative forces that influence the arrow are a drag (wind resistance) and gravity. By practicing varying distance drills, archers can gain awareness of how these forces affect an arrow’s trajectory and the importance of aim.

Therefore, drills based on changing distance will develop instinctual archery skills. These drills can be practiced safely and with supervision at professional archery ranges.

In addition to improving aim, drills that incorporate distance changes can encourage all archers to set different archery goals for their performance and add new challenges.

5. Changing Shooting Angle

One occasionally overlooked archery aiming drill is a change of shooting angle. This drill is particularly helpful for bowhunters who rarely shoot at a target on level terrain. True hunting conditions generally take place where the archer is at a higher or lower angle than the target. By replicating these changing shooting angles with drills, bowhunters and other archers can practice different aiming techniques that mimic field experience.

Archers often practice their aim at a stationary target in which the center “bullseye” is level with the vertical center of the bow. However, this doesn’t represent realistic circumstances when it comes to field archery or bowhunting. Targets are often at a higher or lower angle, which changes the way an archer approaches stance, draw, and above all, aim.

Even archers who don’t plan to practice in the field or as bowhunters can benefit from changing angle drills. Changing the angle of a target causes an archer to adjust stance, form, and technique. This encourages physical flexibility and different mental approaches to concentration and in using mind’s-eye for aim.

It also causes archers to strategize their aim in order to compensate for the different visual angle of the target. Arrows aimed and shot towards targets at higher or lower angles are impacted differently by forces of drag and gravity compared to arrows aimed and shot towards targets on level terrain with the archer.

Practicing angle changing drills can improve an archer’s instinct for aim and shooting. Experts agree these drills can prepare archers for “situational” archery as well, when the shooting conditions are unlike typical range practice. This can help archers refine their form, techniques, and aim in addition to developing their versatility when it comes to archery as a sport.

The necessity of Archery Practice

Most sports, whether recreational or competitive, require practice in order to improve. This can be achieved for both an individual and team situation. Archery is a unique blend of individual performance and team-like communal support. The archery community is one of comradery and sharing skillsets.

Archery itself is rather solitary in that individual archers shooting a bow and arrow are dependent solely on their own performance when hitting a target (although there are teams and competitions available for those who choose). Most archers pursue the sport recreationally rather than professionally. As a result, practicing the sport of archery is pretty much the way it is played.

A better comparison for archery rather than a team sport, such as baseball or hockey, might be taking up a musical instrument. Most people who play instruments don’t pursue it at a professional or competitive level. Instead, their individual practice is their play—and the more practice they undertake, the better their technique and skill.

Another benefit of practicing effective archery aiming drills is that it develops an archer’s instinct for the physics and movements involved in bow and arrow shooting. Archers can understand the effects of distance, angles, negative forces, stance, form, and technique and how they impact the nature of aim and arrow shooting altogether. This generates and improves natural archery skill.

Archery is distinctive in that it is considered both a pastime and a sport. Yet regardless of how individual archers categorize their participation, practice is a necessity for taking part in archery.

The aim is one of the principles that archers must continually practice and refine, and there are many different aiming drills to accommodate all archers at all levels.

Practice Safety

The most important consideration when practicing archery and aim, whether using targets at home or under the supervision of a formal range, is safety. Archery, statistically, is one of the safest sports available. In fact, most injuries due to bows and/or arrows result from hunting rather than target bow and arrow shooting or aiming drills.

However, improper and unsafe bow and arrow shooting can cause injury or damage to persons and property. This includes the archer, archery equipment, any observers nearby, and both interior and exterior property.

Though practicing aim is a necessity for archers, safety should never be compromised. Therefore, it is necessary for archers when practicing aiming drills to take every precaution and use the highest of safety measures. This applies especially to young and beginning archers who may not have the experience of properly using bows and arrows, and should, therefore, do so under supervision.

Mental Aiming Drills

People who are anxious to improve their aim in archery focus on mastering many things related to shooting the bow and arrow. This includes form, technique, accuracy, and physical aiming drills. However, archery is not just about practicing physical movements.

Traditional and modern archers state that concentration, focus, and mental acuity are as important as physical strength, agility, and aim when it comes to archery. Therefore, it’s helpful for archers to remember that these additional mental aiming drills can be as important as physical ones.

Here are some mental drills to practice as ways to improve aim that are also important to archery:

Archers can devote as much time as they wish for practicing these mental drills to enhance their enjoyment, aim, and performance of the sport. These skills will develop concentration, focus, and a deeper connection to the mental aspect of archery.

Practicing these mental drills will give archers an edge when it comes to competition or even self-satisfaction with individual improvement in aim. The best part is that this mental training does not require any kind of range or equipment, and can be done nearly anywhere at any time, with no cost.

Additional Physical and Aiming Exercises

Archers improve their performance not only through aiming drills and shooting practice, but through practicing mind and body health.

Therefore, another way to practice archery and aiming drills are to incorporate additional physical exercises for overall health.

Archers aren’t necessarily the type of athlete that most people expect to find on muscle magazines. However, archery is definitely an athletic skill and requires physical strength and stamina. Archers must utilize their arm muscles for aiming and shooting, their core muscles for balance, and their leg muscles for stance.

As a result, it’s important for archers to take care of their bodies through an exercise to strengthen their muscles, build stamina, and steady their form for aiming. Physical exercise can also mitigate the risk of physical injury for archers.

Many of the 5 archery aiming drills are effective for improving an archer’s aim and successful shooting. They also provide opportunities for archers to increase their physical health. As always, no matter what exercises archers choose to do, they should consult their physician about safety and undergo supervised training beforehand. 

Other additional physical aiming exercises should include:

In addition to exercise, it’s important for archery enthusiasts to treat their inner bodies well. For example, though archery doesn’t appear to require much cardio work, hydration is key in this sport. Proper hydration not only enhances physical health, but also assists with concentration and focus.

The same is true for nutrition. Archers should consider their diet the same way athletes from any other sport would and ensure that they are receiving the best nutrients for their bodies.

Some eager new archers or seasoned advanced ones might overlook these additional physical options for practicing archery in favor of repeated bow and arrow shooting. However, physical health is an important aspect of archery performance and aiming. In addition, archers can practice these additional physical and aiming exercises nearly anywhere, at any time, with little cost.

Conclusion

Archery is a sport and pastime that connects its participants through history and tradition. Most archers are involved for recreation and some for competition. No matter the archery level, practice is fundamental to learning, refining, and playing the sport.

This practice is especially crucial for the way archers aim their bows and arrows at targets.

Aiming drills are effective in building accuracy and precision at almost any archery level.

Archers may find some of them tedious, particularly the drills that don’t involve actual arrow shooting. However, like any sport, archery is a combination of athleticism and mental focus which aiming drills can greatly improve.

Aiming drills allow archers to be aware of their stance, form, and technique in order to make corrections so that they have the best shooting advantage. These drills also provide a sense of orientation and relationship between the archer, equipment, and target. These exercises can dramatically improve an archer’s aim, accuracy, and precision.

Another important aspect of aiming drills is the way they can influence archers’ instinctive skills for where to “point” an arrow and how to loose it from the bow to reach a target and hit it with accuracy. This instinctive archery encourages natural abilities in archers and less reliance on devices such as sights for better enjoyment of the sport.

Practicing aiming drills, no matter how effective they might be, can seem either boring or unproductive. However, incorporating archery drills that change distance and angles for aiming and shooting can reinvent an archer’s enthusiasm and pursuit of the activity.

Like any sport or pastime that demands practice, archers need to ensure safety during aiming drills and consider a holistic approach with additional mental and physical exercises as well. This will give archers every advantage in skill and performance, whether they participate in recreational or competitive archery.

Peter Sontrop

I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy field archery and target shooting with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.

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