3 High-Stress Archery Exercises to Prepare for the Moment of Truth

3 High-Stress Archery Exercises to Prepare for the Moment of Truth

I boarded the plane from Michigan to Washington State with my bow case in the cargo bay and a battered ego in tow. I was coming off one of my toughest hunting seasons to date, one in which I’d put a bad hit on a doe and missed a giant buck a month later. Now I was in search of solutions.

My destination was a day-long boot camp with noted archery instructor and Shot IQ founder, Joel Turner. Turner has become well-known in the archery and hunting world for his popularization of the controlled process shooting approach to tackling target panic. In short, he preaches a science-backed system for regaining conscious control of your shot process. My two podcasts with Joel, episodes #206 and #535, cover this approach in detail, but that’s a topic for another day.

Outside of the mastery of this shooting process, the message from Turner that resonated the most with me that day and in the months since was his insistence on stress testing your shot and your mind.

“You can never take the same body with you to the line (or tree stand),” he said. “You don't have control over the physiological changes that happen when you realize ‘Oh my god this is gonna happen.’ That’s when you get the microburst of adrenaline and all these other things happen. And that’s when you need to stay cognitive.”

How do you stay cognitive and in control of your shot during those high-pressure moments? Stress tests.

By that I mean rigorous and sometimes extreme shooting drills that specifically challenge your shooting process, during practice sessions, in ways that simulate the high-pressure stresses that come with a shot on a live animal. Below I’ve laid out three such drills, including one that Turner introduced me to during boot camp, specifically designed to stress test your shot now so that you’re ready for the real deal in a few months.

The Flamingo Drill

“The skill is not hitting the target. The skill is putting your mind where it needs to be,” Turner reminded me.

When shooting at home on the backyard range, it’s easy to fall into the temptation of doing nothing but shooting consistent, easy targets at consistent, easy distances in consistent, easy circumstances. This in no way replicates the stress of a real hunt and does nothing to train your mind to experience chaos and then put it back where it needs to be.

To replicate this loss of control and the steadying of the mind, Turner guided me to try something I’ve now dubbed the Flamingo drill. It’s a simple exercise to explain, but much harder to pull off. It simply entails drawing back on a target, lifting one foot so that you are now balancing on only one leg, and then trying to shoot.

“Now your mind is focused on aiming, with the range of your pin movement being huge, and then it goes to balance, and then you have to snatch it back from that and go to your movement, and then it leaves that movement and goes back to your aim, and then to your balance, and then you snatch it back,” Turner said. “So you get massive reps in bringing your mind back when you stand on one foot and shoot.”

Lose control, regain control, lose control, regain control. Sound familiar?

Not only does this drill force you to maintain focus, it also forces you to learn to accept a floating or moving pin and the necessity of a slow controlled release. If you try to hammer the release the moment the pin swings over the bullseye, you’re sure to punch the trigger and blow the shot. Only by accepting the exaggerated float of your one-footed aim, slowly pulling through, and continuously pulling your mind back into focus can you successfully execute this drill. These multi-pronged stresses are exactly the kind of thing you’ll experience in the real heat of the moment.

The 100-Yard Shot

Another way to stress test your shot is to significantly extend the range at which you’re shooting. At longer ranges, all possible challenges to an accurate shot are exaggerated. Any movement of the pin, punch of the trigger, heave of the chest, or loss of focus is multiplied exponentially a hundred yards down range.

This turning up of the volume on all challenges induces even further stress simply as your mind and body realize and try to account for the increased difficulty of maintaining control. To ramp things up even further, add some level of exercise. Run sprints back and forth from the target or do squats or pushups before each shot. All of this combined provides a quick way to a snowball effect of strain that in many ways mirrors the struggle to maintain composure during a real-world shot.

Finally, the more comfortable you can become at long ranges, the more confident you’ll be at close and mid ranges that are more realistic for actual hunting scenarios.

The Steel Target Challenge

If you want to really ramp up the stress during your practice, consider adding some financial ramifications. The Lancaster Archery Supply Steel Target Challenge and Total Archery Challenge events have both popularized the use of steel or iron targets with a small opening for the vital region. When shooting at these targets if you miss the vitals, you explode your arrow. You better pull yourself together on each and every shot, because, if you miss, there goes something like $17 out the window. Miss six times and you’re out a cool $100. Talk about pressure.

When there is a real consequence at the other end of your shot, your body and mind react differently. Whether that’s a deer at twenty yards, a crowd watching you at the 3D range, or the threat of exploding an arrow into a steel target. Replicate this pressure and your practice is worth 10X more than any normal backyard carbon slinging.

To pull this specific challenge off, you either need to have a local metalworking friend who can custom make you a steel target or you can shell out $470 for a Rinehart Iron Buck Target. If that’s not in your budget, a close approximation can be fudged together with some creative thinking. Move, stack, or position some kind of metal or rock barrier in front of a regular foam target, ideally on both sides of the vitals, leaving just a small opening in the middle. It might not look as cool, but the premise here is the same. Lose your focus and pull the shot one way or the other and your arrow is toast.

High-pressure practice equals high-pressure results.

Want to keep reading on how to hone in your archery practice? Check out these articles: How to Fix Target Panic in Three Steps, The Best Archery Advice I’ve Ever Gotten, and The Archery Routine That Will Help You Kill More Deer.

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