You pack all your gear for a day of shooting at the only local range, and when you arrive, you see a sign stating, “Closed for the month for renovations.”
Or you find out that every lane is booked. Now what? What can you do to stay in archery shape when your range is closed or overcrowded, or you’re out of town and just can’t get there?
Archery is one of those sports where, to stay sharp, most of us have to practice regularly. Sure, there are some archers who can be away from their bows for a couple of weeks and then pick them up and shoot just as well as they did when they stopped. But that’s not normal. Most of us need to practice.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep your archery game in good form when you can’t get to the range.
1. Practice With Shot Trainers
Shot trainers are tools that let you practice shooting without releasing an arrow. The act of drawing a bow is a movement that really isn’t imitated in anything else we do. The coordination of muscles in the arms, chest and shoulders during the draw cycle is unique. That’s why you’ll see a diminutive but experienced archer easily drawing a bow that a more muscular but inexperienced archer struggles to pull back. It’s not strength that matters. It’s the coordination.
So there are shot trainers designed for recurve archers. And there are shot trainers intended for compound archers. These devices allow you to at least practice the coordination needed to draw a bow. You can use shot trainers anywhere, and most are small enough to fit into a backpack.
Stan Releases makes a series of compound bow releases with a feature called “trainer lock.” This is a unique practice tool in the archery world. With the training lock properly installed in a Stan release, an archer can practice drawing, aiming and releasing the string, without actually “firing” the bow.
How does it work? You hook up your release to the D-loop on your compound bow without an arrow nocked. You draw back, aim and activate the release just as you would if you were shooting an arrow. The training lock prevents the release from firing. You hear a click that tells you the release has properly “fired,” but the string remains locked in the release. It’s an excellent way to practice every aspect of the shot process except actually shooting and scoring arrows.
2. Find a Small Space
Shooting up close is better than not shooting at all. Often, it’s possible to find small spaces where you can safely shoot, although they’re not comparable to the space in which you will compete — 20 yards for an indoor round, 50 meters for outdoor target archery, etc.
Randy Morocco is an accomplished indoor and 3D archer who has won many national, professional tournaments. In 2023, he was the ASA Senior Known Pro Shooter of the Year — a prestigious title that rewards the top-scoring archer through the full ASA season.
To prepare for the 2023 ASA season, Morocco set up a target in his basement, where he had only about 10 yards to shoot. He lives in the Northeast, where the winters are cold and nasty, and so he couldn’t go to a range every day to practice with 3D targets at typical ASA distances out to 50 yards.
Morocco said he wanted to perfect his shot process, and shooting at 10 yards in his basement let him do that. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than not shooting at all.
Archery coaches often have their students do drills called blank-baling, which requires archers to remove the sights from their bows and shoot arrows at targets from a distance of just a few feet. The goal of these drills is to practice everything about shooting a bow, except aiming. What you need to blank-bale is a target to shoot at that’s set up against a safe backstop. Essentially, you need something safe to fire the arrow into and a backstop behind it so you don’t injure yourself or anyone else.
Visualization is a valuable practice tool that arguably is the most underutilized by all but the most elite archers. Rest assured, the best archers in the world regularly visualize themselves competing. And again, this is something you can do anywhere, anytime.
What you want to do is picture yourself in the setting where you plan to compete or hunt. The more detail you can imagine, the better the practice. Imagine yourself drawing and aiming your bow amid the elements you create in your mind. And then visualize yourself executing a perfect shot that hits precisely where you want.
It might be hard to understand the value of visualization. Yet it’s something the best of the best archers all do. Casey Kaufhold is the top-ranked female Olympic recurve archer in the world, according to the World Archery rankings. Visualization is a regular part of her practice routines as she prepares for the 2024 Olympics. Kaufhold said her goal with visualization is to train her mind for the big moments in competition. The more she thinks about shooting a perfect shot in competition, the more she feels comfortable when it comes time to actually take that shot in competition.
Professional bowhunter John Dudley has mentioned the same benefits for bowhunters. Anyone who has taken aim at a game animal with a bow and arrow knows the rush of adrenaline that comes with that moment. And the bigger the animal, the bigger the rush. Adrenaline makes us shake, which is bad for accuracy. Dudley preaches that visualizing yourself making a perfect shot on a giant deer, elk, moose or whatever can help calm you down when you’re in a real bowhunting situation.
In a perfect world, the archery range is open and uncrowded whenever we want to shoot. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If you can’t get to the range, however, there are other ways to keep your archery skills — including your archery mind — razor sharp.