High-Pressure Shooting (Part 2)
Posted on October 16, 2011
An inside look at what plagues us when shots really count
By Denny Sturgis Jr.
One of the archers we feature in “Masters of the Barebow 4? is Joel Turner. Joel is a police officer, sniper SWAT team leader and lead firearms instructor for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. He’s also worked in an archery pro shop since he was 16 and is a world champion elk-caller. He has developed a system of shot psychology he teaches daily to people who find themselves in extremely stressful situations. The system Joes teaches for firearms is similar to the system for archery, with just a few differences.
This column doesn’t allow enough space for all of Joel’s thoughts. However, I’m going to attempt to condense his teachings. A process called Neurolinguistic Programming (NP) is the focus of his training (see July 2011 issue for more information). There is a direct connection between the conscious mind and words (spoken or thought).
Using Speech to Shoot
For example, if you say the word, “kick,” and do the first thing that comes to mind, you should feel the muscles required to perform the action respond. Joel’s method uses NP to focus the conscious mind on the shot activation by use of a mantra after you have committed to taking the shot. The mantra must contain words associated with the proper muscle groups to activate the shot.
Joel’s mantra is, “Keep pulling, keep pulling, keep pulling … .” The word, “pull,” makes the rhomboid muscles in his back respond. “Keep” is used as a continuation word and allows the mantra to flow. If you just used the word, “Pull, pull, pull… ,” the muscle action could be jumpy. The mantra should be said in a smooth, revolving rhythm.
Joel encourages his students to speak the mantra out loud at first. If the shot breaks too soon, slow the mantra down; speed up if it takes too long. Once you have perfected your mantra, you can say it internally. Remember to use the mantra religiously, because the conscious mind will wander, especially when you add stress and adrenaline to the equation.
You don’t have to use Joel’s personal mantra, although it is excellent. I ended up saying, “Keep it tight, keep it tight, keep it tight … ,” for my personal mantra. I have a habit of relaxing at release. Even with Joel’s mantra, it seemed as if I could outthink myself and anticipate. By associating my mantra of “Keep it tight” with my back muscles, my rhomboids are still contracting when the arrow strikes the target—much like the drill of using a Form Master training aid.
Creating a Psycho Trigger
Joel also believes in having a psychological shot trigger, meaning something that tells you when to stop holding the string. A limb-mounted clicker works great if set up correctly. The shot sequence is draw, anchor, aim and commit to “Keep pulling, keep pulling… ,” until the clicker clicks and the shot breaks.
If you don’t want a clicker on your bow, there are other options. Joel sets up some of his arrows so a feather or vane is about an 1/8 inch from the tip of his nose at anchor. He keeps pulling until the fletch touches his nose and then triggers the shot.
One of my hunting buddies, Randy Cooling, wanted to give Joel’s tactics a try but didn’t want a limb-mounted clicker; in addition, his anchor didn’t have the fletching anywhere near his nose. Nevertheless, we noticed that his bowstring was very near to his eyebrow at anchor.
Randy purchased some different sized kisser buttons and tested until he found the right size and location on the string. He would anchor and pull until the kisser touched his eyebrow and then trigger the shot. Two weeks after changing his setup, Randy traveled to New Zealand and drilled a dandy red stag and a feral billy goat.
Joel likes these triggers because you can’t see them coming. I messed around with several things but ended up staying with the “clicker” in my back. I expand after commitment until my draw elbow can’t rotate back around anymore. The rhomboid is fully compressed, and this maxed-out feeling triggers the shot: String fingers relax, while the back muscles stay tight. I made some great limited-time hunting shots with this system last season, and I think it works well for my mental makeup.
Best Ways to Aim
I also found Joel’s thoughts on aiming interesting. He says to look at an object, extend your arm and point at it with your index finger. The finger will move around a little. It might get a little off target, but the next movement will be back to center—without any conscious muscle manipulation on your part. Once you set your arrow tip, gap, pin or sight picture, he feels the subconscious can take care of it.
This is an area in which I’ve encountered different philosophies during my quest for knowledge. Some archers believe aiming should be conscious, leaving everything else to the subconscious. Others believe aiming should be subconscious and that form should be controlled by the conscious mind.
I think both camps are right. Your eyes have to be looking at what you want to hit, regardless of whether you think it is conscious or subconscious. I think the smaller the area you are looking at, the better the shot will be.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a bunch of bowhunters from around the world. I found it interesting that two of the most-successful shared similar thoughts with me. One was a bowhunting PH in Africa; the other was a noted “whitetailer.” They both basically said they hate the animal they are shooting at. I laughed both times when I heard this statement, but it makes you wonder. I can remember blowing a shot at a game animal, thinking unkind thoughts while nocking another arrow, and drilling it with the second shot.
The PH told me, “You have to hate the animal with every fiber of your being!” That is pretty intense thinking, but it seems to work for them. Don’t get the wrong impression; they both respect the game they hunt and the habitat they live in, but they are able to conjure up pure hate and use it when the pressure is on. I’ve tried it, but I guess I’m just too easy-going.