Informal Shooting

My compound-shooting friends have a wicked time on my archery range–an informal setup in my one-acre backyard, complete with hill and rocks. You see, it wasn’t designed with them in mind. Only a couple of targets allow the “straight-up” stance correct for the compound with sights–or any bow with sights, really. Often the bowbender on my range is forced to stoop, bend or get down on one knee in order to see the target at all, let alone hit it. I intended for it to be that way, because the beauty of instinctive/reflexive shooting is its flowing natural form. You don’t line up anything. You look at the aim point, draw your bow, anchor, concentrate hard on the spot you want to hit and (hopefully) turn the arrow loose without plucking the string or any other silly maneuver. If the release is smooth, odds are the dart is headed hot, straight and true.

My range has three types of targets: ordinary straw bales, as found in any feed store; natural inanimates, from hunks of wood to bits of blown-in debris that need picking up anyway; to 3-D targets. Straw bales work best as they come, with nothing tacked on to shoot at. Okay, I do stick balloons, paper plates and other stuff on bales from time to time, especially when my amigos show up for a little shooting. But the best practice on bales is visually painting an aiming point on their sides. That’s what I try to do with straw bales–pick a spot where there is none, and drill it with an arrow exactly as it’s done when shooting at the rib cage of a big game animal, or for that matter, a small game or upland bird edible. The beauty of shooting at a no-target bale is the wake-up call that rings in your ears: “Hey, buddy, you didn’t pick a spot. You aimed at the whole bale–and guess what? You missed the vitals. Close, but no cigar.”

The incidental bits of stuff that either pre-existed on my range, or just somehow got there, are important because they vary so much. I’ve hit the range in the morning only to find a target or two that blew in during the night, literally. Normally, it’s a bit of paper, and it’s always situated as randomly as any bowshooter could wish for. Nonetheless, my favorite targets are the 3-Ds. They represent game, and mine are set up as naturally as possible. And while they didn’t budge, all archers on my range do, each new shooting point representing a different challenge with changed angles and varying distances. That’s important to traditional bowmen, who get great transfer value from the practice range to the hunting field. Barebow (no sights) shooting means turning on your PC-no, not your personal computer, but the PC in your head: the brain.

Instinctive/reflexive shooting demands what I call unconcentrated concentration, burning a hole in the target with the eye, while never consciously aiming. When I was a carefree kid, my partner Ted Walter and I played roving games almost daily, wandering around looking for interesting targets to throw arrows at. We eventually reached a level of range pinpointing, the natural way; and few lying-around beverage cans stood a chance from 10 to 30 yards or so, while cardboard boxes, the kind apples and oranges come in, were ventilated with at least tolerable regularity much farther. We never shot at game as far as we practiced on debris, but I know the level of practice made us better bowshots. So when it came to placing a few 3-D targets at the range, I made it a point to set them up with little regard for the shooter. None were placed, in other words, to improve chances of a hit, such as out in the open instead of in a brush pocket.

Maybe it’s overly obvious, but bows and arrows are the same as used in the field, although there’s nothing wrong with having a special range bow, if that’s appealing. I try to alternate equipment because it gives me broader writing experience, so I practice with the bow that’s next in line for hunting big game, small game or birds-firing, most of the time, the standard wooden arrow, most of mine being cedar or Sitka spruce.

It’s no problem to switch broad-heads for target points, requiring nothing more than a little alcohol burner, a can of denatured alcohol to run it and a pair of pliers to handle hot heads, along with a stick of hot melt cement. Heads can be swapped out in minutes.

Final practice with broadheads is useful, but not always practical. Straw bales are wrong, because they hang onto heads without mercy. Incidental targets lying on the ground are okay to shoot at with broadheads, providing the landing site isn’t rocky, while 3-Ds will absorb a number of hits before they go belly-up.

I would never go hunting with an untested broadhead. I practice with field points, exchanging them for sharp points before hitting the trail, but never before firing broadheads into safe landing places to see how compatible they are with shafts. Not long ago, I read that two-blade broadheads readily windplane. I might have believed that bit of pap, except for one fact: I tested too ma

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