The best archery advice I ever got came to me in a dream.
No, that’s not right. Maybe it was from a friend? Or was it a guest on my podcast? Honestly I can’t remember where or when or how exactly this nugget of wisdom arrived in my consciousness. But that’s not important. What is important is the message, one that is simple but profound:
You can never get an arrow back.
The Inevitable Momentum The process of shooting a bow, and bowhunting in general, is defined by inevitable downhill momentum. Like a snowball rolling down a slope, each step in your archery and bowhunting process carries you forward with an ever-increasing amount of energy, leading you closer and closer to the final release—an arrow racing toward a target.
The problem is that sometimes this momentum sends us racing toward a cold, hard, unmoving concrete wall that we know will smash our teeth and bug out our eyes. But still we roll on, at full speed (knowing better all the way), and smash right into it anyway.
In this metaphor, those face-smashing walls are the shots we never should have taken. They are shots that can never be rewound and placed back in the quiver.
Take, for example, the simple-but-sometimes-fraught process of shooting your bow in the backyard with friends. You’ve watched your pals drop arrows into the bullseye and now it’s your turn. You take your position, nock an arrow, nervously clip on your release, draw back, press your nose to the string, spot the pin in your peep sight, and see it dance over the target and back again.
For a split second you can tell you’re racing forward out of control. But the process has a mind of its own, the snowball is growing, and you’ve come too far to back out now. The pin bounces again across the target, and before you know it the arrow is off, sailing over the target. You don’t even remember pulling the trigger.
You can never get that arrow back.
You might recognize this next example as well. It begins in February as you scout for trails and beds and later in March as the miles rack up by the dozens as you collect shed antlers. In May, you hang stands or plant plots. Your archery practice becomes daily in June, and in July the trail cameras go up. In August, your evenings are spent watching bean fields with binoculars pressed tight to your eyes. The time and work and investment you’ve put into this pursuit is measured not in hours or days, but in weeks worth of blood and sweat and sacrifice.
Now it’s hunting season. Time for it all to pay off. You miss your sister’s birthday for opening day, squeeze out of your son’s football game to catch that mid-October cold front, and then cash in 10 hard-won vacation days for the rut. You sit through thunderstorms and snow, humid sauna-like evenings and icy cold mornings. Early-morning wake-ups and midnight returns. And finally, mercifully, the big one shows.
He appears out of nowhere and before you know it he’s past your shooting lane and moving away. There’s one more small gap in the distance. You might be able to slip an arrow through there, just maybe. No, not maybe, you have to slip an arrow through there. So many days and nights and sacrifices and struggles have all led to this one opportunity. This is your chance, your only chance, you can’t let it slip through your fingers. Or so your monkey mind says in the chaos of the moment. Your bow is drawn, it’s a pipe dream, you know it, but the string is already released.
You can never get that arrow back.
The Solution Does any of this sound familiar? This uncontrollable forward momentum manifests itself in plenty more ways, but almost all end the same. An errant shot, a miss, a wound, embarrassment, heartache, frustration. An arrow you can never get back.
If you’ve ever wounded an animal and not recovered it, you know this feeling in a visceral, deep-down-in-your-bones kind of way. Think back on that moment, feel it in your gut. Maybe you rushed the shot or forced it in some way. Was it worth it? Don’t you wish you could get that arrow back?
This pain, this frustration, it all stems from a lack of control. We let the power of the moment usurp our authority and run away with our plans. But we don’t need to.
“There’s no one with a gun to your head making you shoot this shot,” archery instructor and Shot IQ founder Joel Turner said.
If we can force ourselves to remember that these arrows and shots are permanent, high stakes, and non-refundable, we can train ourselves to impose the necessary controls. And here lies the solution—a simple, stubborn, easier-said-than-done solution—but a solution nonetheless. Take control.
“It all starts with the determination to make that original decision…to say, I will shoot this shot perfectly or I will not shoot at all,” Turner said.
This means being able to tell yourself to chill the hell out and take a second, that you do not need to take this shot, that it’s not worth it.
Now, keep in mind, asserting this level of self-control is no easy task. It’s hard as hell and I still struggle with it to this day. But it’s the only way to slow the roller-coaster ride that is shooting a bow in a high-stakes environment.
To do this myself I’ve adopted a “controlled shooting process,” a term Turner coined and I’ve explored in-depth in a previous piece. In short, Turner describes this shift in shooting style as, “being in the process of the shot instead of being in the results of the shot.”
A controlled shooting process forces you to immerse yourself in each step of the shot and to place roadblocks and speedbumps along the way to slow your pace, to check yourself as you roll down that slope, and to assert control. Listen to the Wired to Hunt Podcast episode with Turner to learn more about this.
Start Now All of this comes down to a decision to draw a line in the sand, to shake old habits, and to take ownership of your own process. Do it now before it’s too late because you can never get an arrow back.
Feature image via Captured Creative.