Archers are often told to shoot up close at a blank target to work on their form without pressure to perform. Why?
When archers start overanalyzing each shot, they sometimes get paralyzed by fears that the shot they’re about to take doesn’t feel right. In other cases, archers aim too hard and freeze in their shot process because their sight pin isn’t precisely centered on the 10-ring.
Overanalyzing your shot while at full draw can lead to buckets of problems, most of which prevent you from shooting arrows in the 10. One remedy is learning to make your shot a subconscious part of your process, which happens when the shot becomes habit or second nature, much like walking or driving.
Taking away the stimuli of a target reduces your brain’s workload, and lets you focus on executing the shot rather than precisely aiming. By not aiming, you’re free to let the shot flow, which feels much different than when you’re trying to hold your sight pin still.
Moving close to the target butt, such as 5 meters away, also helps you confidently let the shot flow the way it wants, with no risk of missing the target. Some archers also raise the target butt to simulate the feeling of shooting long distances like 70 meters.
When shooting a blank butt at close range, don’t shorten your follow-through, even though your arrow will hit the target in less than a second. In contrast, the average arrow travels 70 meters in 2 to 3 seconds, depending on the bow’s draw weight. Fight the short-distance urge to finish your shot before it’s complete. It’s important to fully follow through after each shot so it becomes second nature no matter the distance.
Eventually, you should be able to shoot a blank butt at distances requiring proficiency. That will ingrain the arm angle and shot timing without the pressure of aiming. Once you’ve ingrained your shot into autopilot mode, you’ll shoot desired scores without worrying about your form.
Short-range shooting is also a great way to warm up your muscles before practice or competition. You can usually find 5-meter targets at competitions as high as the Olympics. Elite archers often use this method to “find” their shot, and warm up faster than if they were shooting long-range targets.
Some archers also practice up close to improve their scores. I’ve used it to improve my indoor game (at the suggestion of Bob Hickey from Next Step Archery in Seattle, Washington) by starting at 10 meters shooting at a standard 40-centimeter 3-spot target. My goal is to shoot a perfect 300 with at least 25 arrows in the X-ring. Once I reach my goal, I move the target to 12 meters, and then 15 meters, and then 18 meters. This exercise helped me get comfortable shooting arrows into the 10-ring and to expect the high scores that result.
Shooting short distances doesn’t have to be tedious; it’s a useful training tool. You can work to improve your form and your scores, and you can use it for specific seasons or competitions. Just be patient with it, and remember: Shooting short distances is a stepping stone to becoming a better archer.