Tag Archives: archery improvement

Advanced Archery Technique: The Relaxed State

The Advanced Archery Technique

All suffering is caused by desire.  -Buddha

Over the past several years I’ve taught hundreds of people basic archery. Of all these students, only a handful are what you might call “naturals.” They follow instructions carefully, excel immediately, and break through to the next level at an astonishing pace.

But even these “naturals” eventually hit a wall: their accuracy plateaus, they fatigue out and eventually falter. At this point they often turn to me and ask, “What now? I’ve mastered the basics, but how can I hit closer to the bullseye?”

As their intrepid instructor, it’s my duty to guide these students to the next level. The problem I had early on–and what my students didn’t know–was that I too was wondering the same thing! When you’ve mastered the basics–that is, when you’re executing the shot sequence flawlessly and still coming up short–how do you increase accuracy?

Eventually I passed this question along to a famous national archer. When he didn’t respond I had no choice but to break down my own shot sequence to see where potential weaknesses could set in. Here’s what I discovered.

The Problem

The thing that gets between the bow and the target isn’t the arrow,  it’s you! Every archer, no matter how advanced, goes through slumps. A few missed shots can quickly erode confidence by allowing negative factors such as fatigue, discouragement, and desperation into the shot sequence. It’s a vicious cycle: the harder you try, the worse you do.

The Fatigue Factor

Physical fatigue is the greatest negative factor, especially for the beginner who hasn’t yet developed his back muscles. Just as he begins hitting close to the bullseye, he fatigues out. But there’s also mental fatigue, caused by trying to over-aim the arrow into the bullseye over and over again. Finally there’s spiritual fatigue, the byproduct of chronic misses. In the end, all this fatigue erodes confidence and creates a downward spiral.

Zen in Archery

From the Zen perspective, all suffering comes from desire. Desire, of course, is healthy and even necessary for any activity. But when desire turns into obsession, that’s when we suffer.

In archery you suffer from your very first shot. You strain physically under the weight of bow while your mind strains to aim the arrow. And when your arrow falls short of the bullseye, your spirit strains from the pangs of failure, resulting in desperation.  In short order, your whole being–mind, body, and spirit–is strained!

I see this all the time. The student grasps another arrow, and another, faster and faster while simultaneously grasping for the bullseye which is rapidly becoming an impossible target. Very quickly he creates the bad habit of high-stress archery, and this can take a long time to fix.

So, what’s the fix? It’s simple.

Instead of drawing the bow to a state of high tension, we need to learn how to draw to a relaxed state. Drawing to a relaxed state removes your self from the shot by eliminating negative influences over the arrow. Hence, your bow shoots itself. In Zen archery, eliminating your “self” removes desire, which in turn removes stress and suffering.

The Relaxed State Exercise

  1. Bring only one arrow with you on this exercise.
  2. Set up five paces from a large, blank target.
  3. Load the arrow.
  4. Stand up straight and spread your weight evenly between your feet.
  5. Grasp the string firmly and draw to your face while taking a deep, deep breath.
  6. At full draw, look up and away from the bow. Look at the sky and the clouds and the trees. Breathe out, and back in again. Feel the strength of your body as it overpowers the scrawny bow. Forget the bullseye; no one cares if you hit it anyway! Say to yourself, “I’m more relaxed than I’ve ever been in my life.”
  7. Now let down the draw smoothly; don’t shoot the arrow.
  8. Catch your breath.
  9. Repeat the process, only this time, when you’ve reached your highest  state of relaxation, release the arrow. Don’t aim at the target. Just relax your shooting hand until the shot goes off. This is what a relaxed arrow feels like.
  10. Maintain this relaxed state as you walk to the target and pull your arrow. Repeat these relaxed shots over and over until it becomes habit.

That’s all there is to it. You are now drawing the bow to a state of high relaxation rather than a state of high stress. You’ve turned a bad habit into a good habit.

Real Life Example

One day I approached a talented young student who was literally drawing a circle around the bullseye with errant arrows. Wide-eyed and desperate, he turned to me and pleaded, “What am I doing wrong?!” I watched him fling yet another arrow just outside of the bullseye. I told him, “You’re trying to hard.” I went on to explain that missing the target wasn’t the end of the world; that his passion for archery–the whole meditative process–was far more important than a single bullseye. I had him breathe deeply and look around at the beautiful mountains. A moment later he calmly drew his bow and sank the next arrow into the bullseye. His face lit up and he hugged me. Years later he still talks about his enlightening experience.


Your bow is designed to shoot a perfect arrow every time. The arrow only misses when you let yourself get in the way.

For every student that asks, How can I shoot more accurately?, there are a few others who comment on how meditative archery is; how it relaxes and focuses the mind. These students typically aren’t the best archers at first, because to them the process outweighs the result. I view these students as the real naturals, and they even prove it when, eventually, their arrow finds the bullseye with seemingly little effort.

Shooting in a relaxed state is the secret to Zen archery. On a grander scale, you might say that living in a relaxed state is the secret to a Zen life!

Bow Accessories: Moving Parts vs. Fixed

Bow Accessories: Fixed vs. Moving Parts

When it comes to modern bow accessories, your options are unlimited. Some parts move–like slider sights and drop-away rests–and some are fixed–like stabilizers and quivers. Today we’re going look at the potential drawbacks of having moving parts on your bow setup.

I’ve tried a myriad of accessories in my time, but last season really forced me to reconsider some of my choices. Here’s what happened:

In 2017 I got a brand new, high-performance speed bow to replace my old single cam bow. This new “speed” bow shot field points wonderfully. Then, about a week before the hunt, I screwed on my time-proven broadheads and they flew all over the place! After many fruitless hours of trying to re-tune the bow, I gave up and switched to mechanicals. And all was well…until…

Half-way through my deer hunt–and 300 miles from home–I was taking some practice shots at camp when my slider sight stripped out and no longer functioned. Try as I might, I couldn’t fix it. Fortunately I had an old multi-pin sight on my backup bow. I bolted it on and all was fine.

But this got me thinking…

Since its invention in 1966, the compound bow–and every accessory that can be attached to it–has been reinvented or re-engineered over and over again. The old “stick-and-string” has become an extremely complicated, finely tuned instrument of death…which is good…but maybe too good. Why? Because the more complicated something is, the more that can go wrong.

Bow Accessories to Consider

In this article I’m going concentrate on the four major moving parts of your bow setup that you may want to reconsider before heading into the backcountry:

  1. The Arrow Rest:  There was a time when the arrow rest was just a shelf cut into the bow. Before that, it was your knuckle. Now it’s up-and-down-swinging tuning fork contraption tied to a buss cable. Almost every bowhunter I know uses one. But not me; I use a Whisker Biscuit. The Whisker Biscuit is a shoot-through containment rest (aka capture rest). It bolts into position and holds your arrow securely in place. Unlike the popular drop-away rest, the Biscuit has no moving parts. The arrow just shoots right through it. The only drawback is an infinitesimal reduction of arrow speed. I use the Whisker Biscuit because it’s reliable and simple. It’s also inexpensive; about half the cost of a decent drop-away rest.

    The time-proven Whisker Biscuit.
  2. The Bow Sight: You have two options: Fixed pins or movable pins (aka slider sights). I used a fixed pins for twenty years, and then one day I fell in love with the slider sight. The slider sight was simple: one movable pin that doesn’t block your target. You just dial up the yardage and shoot. Then one day my slider broke right in the middle of my hunt! Now I’m back to fixed pins. I sure like the idea of a slider sight–and may go back to it someday–but for now I’m sticking with the multi-pin.
  3. Bow Cams: Almost every modern bow is powered by either single cams or dual cams. Cams are the power engine of your bow, so this is a major consideration when choosing a bow. Basically, single cam bows are more simple and easier to tune than dual cams. The major drawback to single cams is that they produce a slower arrow speed than dual cams. Dual cam bows (aka speed bows) are faster, but harder to tune because, a) both cams must roll over in perfect synchronization, and b) the extreme velocity of the arrow accentuates slight imperfections in bow tuning, broadhead design, arrow design, and shooting form. These days bow manufacturers claim to have conquered tuning issues by tethering the dual cams, but in my experience dual cam bows are still more difficult to tune than single cams. I’m sure it has a lot more to with blistering arrow speed than tuning, but just remember, accuracy suffers by adding extra speed. This leads us to broadhead selection.
  4. Broadheads:  Almost all broadheads fall into two categories: Fixed blade or mechanical (aka expandable). Simply put, mechanical blades fold into the tip during flight, and then expand on impact. Because the blades are hidden, they are less affected by wind resistance and planing. Thus, mechanicals are more accurate than fixed broadheads, especially on speed bows. The major drawback of mechanicals are twofold: a) more moving parts make it susceptible to breakage or blade loss on impact, and b) less penetrating power due to energy loss during blade deployment.
    Mechanical vs. Fixed broadheads

    Fixed blades are inherently stronger and have better penetration than mechanicals. However, they can be nearly impossible to tune with modern speed bows. The most important factor in choosing a broadhead is how well it shoots through your bow. Personally, I prefer fixed blades with my single cam bow and mechanicals with my dual cam bow. FYI, the most accurate  fixed-blade broadhead I’ve ever used is the Trophy Taker Shuttle T, and my favorite mechanical is the Rocky Mountain Warhead. Note: the Warhead is extremely reliable and very inexpensive (only $12.99 per 3 on Amazon).


Compound bows are much more complicated than they used to be, which is good and bad. Bow manufacturers tout speed as their primary selling point, but faster bows aren’t necessarily more accurate. The same concept applies to arrow rests, bow sights, and other accessories. Newer isn’t always better.

When it comes to equipment selection, I recommend keeping it simple. And when it comes to moving parts, less is more.

Consistent success afield comes from skill and woodscraft, not gear. As always, I recommend focusing more time and energy on the process and less on equipment.

Good luck!

Best Pre-Hunt Preparation: The 3D Archery Range

Preparing for the Hunt at the 3D Archery Range

With the Utah archery hunt only a few weeks away, it’s time to get serious about pre-hunt preparation. Over the years we’ve discussed several ways to prepare for the hunt; things like exercise, scouting, mediation, and shot execution. But I would argue that nothing gets you ready like hitting the 3D archery range.

What is a 3D range?

A 3D range is simply a series of life-size, foam animal targets set up in a natural environment. The targets are roughly the same size and color as the real animal. Just like regular square targets, 3D targets have a series of concentric circles overlaying the vitals, but are nearly impossible to see at any distance. This aids in proper shot placement, yet allows for scoring your shot.

Fun for the whole family:
Russell and his son harvest some foam.

How is a 3D range beneficial?

How is it NOT!? A good outdoor range is set up in a life-like manner so that some shots are uphill/downhill, often through brush and trees, and at various random yardages. Add to that odd angles, wind, bugs buzzing around your head, uneven terrain, sun in your eyes, back lit targets, and sweltering heat…well it’s a recipe for a real-life hunting experience! And that’s why it’s so crucial to try it at least once before the season starts. Besides, it’s a ton of fun for everyone.

Jerry missed high and right…

What can I expect to learn at the 3D range?

A lot! Right away you’ll be disappointed at your lack of skills; and that’s the point. Most people start the summer by shooting in their backyard on flat ground, all while shooting square targets with brightly colored bullseyes. That might be great for sighting in your bow, but over time it does more harm than good because you’re training your mind to shoot under very predictable circumstances. The 3D range–on the other hand–mimics the adverse conditions you’ll certainly find in the woods, and really trains the mind to expect the unexpected, a skill that’ll prove invaluable afield.

Esther nails a 55 yard bison bullseye.

How can I maximize my 3D experience?

I’m glad you asked. The most effective way to practice is to shoot two arrows per target: the first arrow is shot without using a rangefinder, and the second is shot after ranging the target. This really helps to train your eye to judge distances for situations where there’s no time to range the animal before the shot.

Next, you’ll want to shoot in various body positions: standing, kneeling, or even squatting to keep your arrow from hitting an overhanging branch.

For the best possible experience, hit the range with a buddy or two, and be sure to keep score. After teaching archery for four years, I’ve found the best way to tighten up an arrow grouping is to engage in a little competition. Pride is usually enough, but toss in a few bucks and watch the competition soar.

Splitting arrows on a wolf target.


No matter what state you live in there’s likely a 3D range nearby. (Just google it). If you don’t have a range, you can always purchase 3D targets from any outdoor retailer. Unfortunately 3D targets are quite expensive, but having one or two will prove invaluable if you apply the aforementioned regimen.

I suggest visiting a few different ranges, and then concentrate on the most challenging one. For best results bring some friends and really push yourself. Shooting the 3D range is the most effective way I’ve found to improve your shooting skills before entering the woods. And believe me, golf will never be the same.

Three Pillars of Bow Hunting Success

Three Pillars of Bow Hunting Success

While bow hunting last year, it occurred to me that success can be divided into three equally important pillars. To put it in perspective, I created the diagram below:

Think back to your last hunt. Were you successful? If not, which pillar did you fall short on? Since each step is equally important, it should be easy to pinpoint where you need improvement.

Let’s break it down:

The first step, locating a buck, is something you can start doing right now. The best way to locate more bucks is to study their behavior, habitat, and ecology. You can also research harvest data and biologist’s reports on the unit you are planning to hunt. Then later, the scouting begins.

The second step, stalking a buck, is not always intuitive. Getting close to big bucks is the hardest step to master because, unlike shooting, it’s something we rarely get to practice. What it really boils down to patience: knowing when and how fast to move depending on conditions such as wind and cover.

Finally, shot execution. Almost everyone I talk to is pro-class shooter…until their arrow flies wide of an unsuspecting buck. Bowhunters are lucky just to get one or two shot opportunities in a season, so it’s very important to prepare for real-life hunting scenarios in advance. The best way to do this is to practice shooting in different positions, unknown yardages, around objects, and in adverse conditions such as wind.

I’ll certainly keep this “wheel of success” in mind when going into the next hunting season. I call it a ‘wheel’ because it just keeps on turning, year after year. After completing all three steps in a season, it begins again the following year. The goal is to keep the wheel from going in REVERSE, which only happens when you blow a stalk or botch a shot.

Good luck on a great buck this year!

Why I Switched to a Single-Pin Slider Bow Sight

Montana Black Gold Ascent single-pin “slider” sight.

Why I Switched to a Single-Pin Slider Bow Sight

Watching my arrow sail harmlessly over a world-class buck at 50 yards wasn’t heartbreaking; it was traumatizing! After replaying the shot over and over for a year, I concluded it was either an error in ranging, or more likely I settled the wrong pin (60-yard?) due to buck fever. Consequently I made some drastic changes to my bow setup last year, starting with my bow sight.

Standard multi-pin bow sight.

For years I used a standard multi-pin, fiber-optic bow sight. When the single-pin (slider) sight came out, I wrote it off as just another unnecessary gadget which would likely introduce more problems than anything. But after carefully weighing the pros and cons, I decided to try it–and I’ll NEVER go back.
Here’s why:

Single Pin Pros

1) It’s far easier to focus a single pin on a small target than to wade through multiple-pins–or worse yet, shooting between the pins–especially under high stress.

2) Multiple pins–whether 5 or 7–take up way too much space in the sight picture. A long row of pins is not only distracting, but blocks too much of the target or animal’s vitals.

3) If you’re shooting heavy arrows and/or pulling a light draw weight, the pins on a multi-pin sight will be spaced widely apart. This adversely affects accuracy. A single-pin sight that can be dialed to the exact yardage has proven to be far more accurate in my experience.

Single Pin Cons

1) The most obvious drawback to a single-pin sight is that every time the animal moves, you have to re-adjust the sight. If the animal moves a lot, or is walking towards you, it can be very frustrating. But after actually using it in the field (and arrowing three animals in 2016), I realized just how rare these scenarios occur. In most cases you’ll have plenty of time to range the animal and move the slider; it only takes a second.

2) Moving a single-pin sight creates extra movement. Again, this proved to be a nonfactor. When hunting thick timber, I leave my pin set at 20 yards and don’t worry about it. If an animal busts out at 25-30 yards, I just have to hold a little higher. When I’m hunting more open terrain I leave the pin at 30 or 40 yards, but it really doesn’t matter because animals that far out are usually calm and won’t notice the slight movement of my hand. After all, just drawing your bow creates far more movement than scrolling a slider wheel.

Final Note

Just about every archery manufacturer makes a single-pin sight now. My only recommendation is buy a sturdy, all-aluminum model that can stand up to the rigors of hunting.

If you’re not yet ready to commit to a single-pin sight, then you should consider a hybrid sight. In a hybrid sight the top few pins are fixed, but the bottom pin is movable. This solves most issues listed above, but again, you still have multiple pins blocking the target. My advice is to keep it simple: one pin, one man, one giant buck.

Passing the Buck

Knowing How and When to Pass Up an Archery Buck


The bowhunt is a only a few days away and the anticipation is making me crazy! How bout you?

The question that continually haunts me is how big-a-buck should I pass up? My goal is always a 200-inch buck, but what if a 195″ walks by? What about a great 170″ drop-tine?

Most bowhunters are just happy with any mature buck. Novice hunters might be happy with a spike or forked-horn. Others would be fine just putting meat in the freezer, horns be damned.


In order to make the decision to pass easier, I’ve compiled a short list of things to consider before you loose an arrow:

  1. Are you more concerned with meat or horns? Maybe both? After all, meat comes with horns–it’s an added bonus. I don’t believe in killing deer simply for horns. To me, the meat is sacred. That being said, the bigger the buck, the more meat. A big, mature buck can weigh twice as much as a yearling, making trophy hunting a meat-wise prospect.

  2. How many days are available for your hunt? If you’re seriously limited–like just the weekend–then any buck is a great buck! But if you really don’t need the meat, then holding out and eating the tag is quite okay. There will be more deer next year.

When I first started bowhunting, I only had four days to get it done. My system was easy: First day 4-point, second day 3 or 4 point, third day 3 point, fourth day anything!

  1. Are you hunting a quality area? If so, you can expect multiple opportunities. So it just makes sense to hold out for a quality buck. If your area sucks, then any buck would be great.

  2. If the buck in front of you is good, but not great, ask yourself, “Will I be happy with this buck once it’s down? Is this buck worth blowing my entire season on?”

These are important questions, especially for the seasoned hunter. You’re not getting any younger. If the buck doesn’t meet your goals, you may have serious regets for the next 12 months.

Many years ago, I would be tickled pink with any mature buck. For the longest time, I would pull an arrow at the slightest hint of a buck. Now, in order avoid year-long regret, I refuse to pull an arrow until I’ve summed up the buck and am absolutely sure it’s the one I’d be happy with. Once my arrow is nocked I’m in killing mode and it’s a lot harder to let the buck walk.

In the end, the decision to shoot is completely yours and should be based solely on your own personal goals. Pressure to succeed should come from one’s own desire to progress as a hunter, and not from your ego or desire to impress other people.

Good luck on a fine buck this year!

Whatever it Takes Bowhunting


Doing Whatever it Takes to Succeed

During last year’s bowhunt I missed a 50-yard shot at a pretty decent buck. Since then, I’ve pondered the miss hundreds of times in effort to pin-point exactly what went wrong.

There were many factors to consider: steepness of angle, a crappy rangefinder, holding the wrong pin, buck fever, etc.

By the time I patterned the buck, the season was over and the buck had disappeared. In order to avoid making the same mistake(s), I’ve addressed every possible variable:

  1. I replaced my old rangefinder with one that calculates angles AND can actually see through brush to avoid false readings.

  2. I switched to a single pin sight in order to eliminate wrong pin selection and pin-gapping issues under pressure.

  3. I dialed up my bow poundage in order to get a flatter arrow trajectory.

  4. I began shooting steeper angles.

My summer schedule is a consummate nightmare, so rarely can I go to the mountains and shoot angles. So I found the highest point in my yard (my rooftop) and began shooting from there.

There’s an old saying: “What a fool does in the end, the wise man does in the beginning.” At this point, I implore you to anticipate the worst possible shot scenario and practice for it. Do whatever it takes, because big bucks rarely give you a second chance.

100th Blog Post Celebration


My 100th Blog Post

Hello Zen-bowhunter blog readers. Today marks my 100th blog post. A year and a half in the making, my little archery/hunting blog is still going strong thanks to you, my loyal readers. My sincere hope is that everyone has enjoyed at least some of my content. I truly believe there’s something here for everyone, not just hunters.

One of my greatest passions in life is seeking self-improvement through archery. Archery is an individual sport, which means each person learns and grows at his own pace. There is no competition or pressure to succeed, except from yourself. Most people find archery (and bowhunting) to be a wonderful, meditative way to achieve clarity and peace and even Zen. After all, Zen-through-archery has been taught in Japan for a thousand years. My goal in this blog is to help you succeed in both Zen-archery and in life. Once a person achieves Zen, he realizes he can do anything he puts his mind to.

On a personal note, we are entering the peak of the mule deer rut in Utah. This means the biggest bucks will be climbing down from the high country to participate in their annual mating ritual. For those of you that still have an unused archery tag, it’s going to be an exciting (and COLD) month. Maybe I’ll see you in the hills.

Best of luck in your own endeavors, and may the Zen-force be with you!

3 Steps to Better Archery Shooting

Three Steps to Better Archery: Video

My friend Shane Thompson helped shoot this video to demonstrate better archery shooting. These techniques were explained in my last article.

This video examines the three most common mistakes made by both beginner and advanced archers and shows you how to fix them. I hope it helps!

Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Archery NOW!


Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Archery

Now that spring is here, you’ve probably taken your bow out, dusted it off, and sent some arrows downrange. Maybe some were bulls-eyes while some were errant, but it’s early yet and there’s always room for improvement.

In the last ten years I’ve worked tirelessly at becoming a better hunter. But at the same time, I’ve also developed some bad habits. These habits are common to most archers and include punching the release and lack of follow-through. What you do at the end of your release has the greatest effect on accuracy. So in today’s lesson we’re going to relearn how to shoot.

Bad shooting habits develop because we’re too focused on hitting the bullseye. Everyone knows that humans can only focus on one thing at a time. Ironically, if we focus too hard on the bullseye, we’ll actually miss it!

Here’s the fix

  1. RELAX!:  A famous target archer once said, “A relaxed mind cannot exist in a tense body, and a tense mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.” More than anything else, the bow and arrow fights relaxation. First, there’s the mental stress of hitting the bullseye, especially in a hunting or competition. Second, when you draw your bow, your whole body becomes physically tense as it struggles to crank back and hold all that weight. So, now your mind and body are under duress. Your fight and flight response takes over and all that matters in the world is getting rid of that arrow. Now STOP! Tell yourself you will not release until you calm down. Breathe in and out a couple times. Put your sight pin on the bullseye, then take it off, and put it back on again. Who cares if you miss? Refuse to shoot until you are completely calm. Eventually this will become habit and will have the greatest effect on your accuracy.
  2. The Open Grip:  By now you probably know how to grip your bow, but it’s worth another look. First, your bow’s grip should begin at U-shape between your thumb and index finger. Second, your grip should contact your hand along your life line (the line that separates the fleshy part of your thumb and middle of your palm. Third, the grip should end at the center of your palm where your wrist begins. If you do this correctly, the middle knuckles of your bow hand will form a 45-degree angle slanted away from your grip. NOW, this is only the beginning. When you draw your bow, your fingers should be relaxed and open away from the bow’s grip. Your fingers should remain relaxed throughout the entire shot. The best way to do this is to make an “okay” sign with your index finger and thumb lightly touching. Your hand must remain like this throughout the entire shot.
  3. Follow-Through: Seems simple, right?! It’s not. Again, you can only focus on one thing, so if you’re still aiming at this point, then you’re not following through.  Aiming should go as far as letting the pin float tiny circles around the bullseye. At that point, your only focus should be on pushing the bow forward with your bow arm, and steadily pulling the string back with your release hand. The pin floats almost subconsciously while your focus floats freely and relaxedly between back tension, breathing, and oblivion. Oblivion is where you are free of all anticipation, free of all tension, and free of all distraction. All the technicalities of archery have become one simple action (form) and relegated to your subconscious mind. With nothing left to distract you, you are free; you are in the moment, perfectly centered between the future and the past.

The goal of archery is to relax: relax your grip, relax your body, and relax your mind. At this point, the bow is loosed on its own terms. The bow-and-arrow is accurate every time, subject only to the laws of nature which are fixed. The only variable is the shooter. The greatest obstacle YOU and how you influence the shot. When can master yourself, you will experience perfect archery with every shot.

Note:  I’ve included a video in my next blog post that demonstrates the 3 steps to better archery. Here’s the Video Link.