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As we head into yet another week of self-isolation and lock down, I’ve decided to take up a new challenge, and improve my archery skills. I’ve never been bad with the bow, but I was never particularly good either, so instead of sitting inside for another day, I’ve got my compound bow down from the shelf, and it’s all strung and ready to go.

Reaching out to a buddy who has been hunting with just bows for as long as I can remember, I asked him for advice on mastering the sport (or at least just improving a little) over the next few weeks. Here’s the advice he shared, and I’m posting it here too for all of you who are looking for a productive way to spend your time in self-isolation. Because all the ranges around me are shut for the foreseeable future, and there’s better things to do than watch Tiger King on Netflix.

Find a space to practice

You will need an area to shoot that doesn’t put your family, pets or any livestock at risk if they happen to wander into your firing zone. Luckily, we’ve got plenty of room at our place, and I’ve setup a range of targets at 10, 15, 20 and 25 meters. It’s nothing fancy, just a few bales of hay we have for the goats, stacked up in a deserted area behind one of our sheds. I’ve pinned an old shirt on each, with a spray-painted set of circles for my targets. Easy. I have a wide field of vision on my “range” so no one can approach unseen, and the dogs aren’t particularly interested in me anyway while I’m shooting so there’s no trouble there.

Watch instructional videos

The problem most people face is they just kind of pick up a bow and think they can figure this out. “How hard can it be,” right? Wrong. Everything from your stance to how you nock an arrow, to how you breathe as you pull and aim before the release will impact your accuracy once you start shooting – not to mention risk doing damage to your back, arms or fingers if you’re doing it wrong. Take a little time to see how the professionals do it, watching everything they do so you can replicate it yourself. It’s not as good as a trainer correcting you in person, but it’s a great way to get started in self-isolation.

Lower your draw weight

While you’re practicing your goal is accuracy. You shouldn’t be aiming for distance and you shouldn’t be trying to show off in front of anyone. You’re at home, practicing your archery by yourself. The key you should be focused on is consistency, taking the same fluid actions each time you nock an arrow and draw your bow, to fire again and again. Mastering your form will give you a distinct advantage in staying accurate from day to day.

Drop all the fancy aids

You can’t skip steps in archery. The more you practice the better you will get, and if you’re relying on things like release aids to save your fingers, or sights to improve your accuracy, all you’re really giving yourself is a crutch. Yes, it will help you in the short term and you will feel like you’re progressing faster, but right now you need to master the basics. So focus on the basics, drop all the fancy aids, and practice shooting your bow without anything else.

Record and compare

Without an instructor you are going to have to critically evaluate yourself to improve your form. I’d recommend setting up a small stand and recording yourself on your phone as you take your stance and fire. If you’ve got a family member willing to help this is very easy, but you could always just prop your phone up as well. The goal here is to record your form, and then compare it to the instructional videos. You may notice your feet aren’t spaced correctly, or you’re positioning your hands wrong as you draw, or any of a thousand other things. Use this as feedback to improve for your next set of shots, and ensure you’re gradually remembering and burning into your brain the elements of good form.

Change up your targets

Once you’ve developed some consistency in your aim, try staggering your shots at different distances. That’s why I recommended setting up a range of different targets, so you can learn how to adjust and aim in a variety of different conditions. I also like to practice both kneeling and at a full standing shot, as in a real situation you may not have the option to get into the perfect stance before you shoot. Many hunters learn to fire while kneeling, so as to avoid spooking their prey before they can get a shot off.

Make it a family event

The key to improving is practice, and while the professionals will shoot many hundreds of shots a day, if you can spend 15 to 20 minutes on your archery you will see a remarkable improvement over the days to come. But don’t think you’ve got to go it alone. Make it a family event, get your kids involved in the practice too, and you’ll find it’s much easier to get excited to go shoot a few quivers in your makeshift range when you’ve got your kids begging you to go with them and supervise.

When it comes to survival the more skills you’ve developed in the time before the better prepared you will be no matter what comes your way. Archery is like that too, and while I still prefer my rifle when I’m heading out for a hunt, I’m slowly gaining confidence that if I had to resort to my bow in a true SHTF event, I’d stand a pretty good chance of still bringing home some dinner. And that’s very reassuring to me.

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