To master the simple art of instinctive shooting, this master says simply to keep it simple.
To shoot accurately, an instinctive archer must take a stance that ensures stability and a good view of the target."No snap shooting," Mike Fedora admonishes.
Pennsylvania's legendary bowyer and one-time trick shot Mike Fedora has been a professional archery instructor for more than a half century. Fedora continues to conduct barebow shooting seminars and one-on-one clinics at his shop based in Richland, PA, where he renders this thing called "instinctive shooting" down to the basics. Over the decades he has helped countless archers master instinctive shooting.
"It's like throwing horseshoes," Fedora said. "Or bowling. It's a very simple thing to do -- a very rewarding and challenging way to shoot."
Fedora says many longbow and recurve shooters have good days and bad -- they suffer from inconsistency -- but they have no idea why. According to Fedora, the root of the trouble usually lies in plain view. Through his shooting clinics, Fedora has found that most people don't even hold the bow correctly. Any one of a handful of problems can hamper improvement.
"In archery, the chief words are repetition and control. It's about playing the instrument the way it was meant to be played," Fedora said. He points out that none of his methods are new. Rather, they were hammered out in bowhunting's "good old days," the 1950s and '60s, when Howard Hill was "hunting the hard way" and target and field archery were the rage.
According to Fedora, the most reliable way to execute the shot -- from stance to grip -- has been forgotten or, worse, inexplicably ignored by the majority of barebow shooters today.
"Some of the best-known instinctive shooters even teach and unwittingly encourage improper form in their books and videos," Fedora said. "If an archer is not practicing good form -- or has never learned what that means -- he can only get so good and will never shoot to his potential."
Get a Grip
More than 50 years ago, when Fedora first began crafting custom longbows and recurves, he watched and studied the best -- Ben Pearson, Fred Bear, and Howard Hill. Looking to create the most accurate and forgiving bows, he took a major design tip from the master, Howard Hill, to craft the distinct grip and riser section that are now trademarks of Fedora bows.
According to Fedora, Hill was known for bows that measured as much as three inches across the back of the riser. Hill was a big man, but in the age before the "wrist sling," target archers understood that a larger grip helped negate one of the biggest detriments to arrow accuracy -- bow torque.
While Fedora will make any grip style a customer requests, he favors his custom-designed, meaty-looking risers with meticulously carved thumb rests because they encourage perfect -- and consistent -- hand position on every shot.
"The fingers of the bow hand should be pressed evenly against the center line along the back of the riser so that when pressure is applied, the handle rests firmly in line with the palm," Fedora said.
Pressure on the palm assures a firm hold on the bow while keeping everything aligned with the target during the draw and release. And it nearly eliminates erratic arrow flight caused by torque.
A larger grip also allows your hand and fingers to fall around the bow naturally. When you draw a bow with a larger grip, the bow pivots naturally in your hand to ensure the perfect degree of cant and elbow bend, shot after shot. This improves accuracy and maximizes clearance between the string and your bow arm and body.
Is your forearm taking a beating? Could be your grip. Taking a strangle-hold on the bow's grip not only causes bow torque upon the release but, as seen here, also puts the string closer to the forearm, which results in wrist slap.
Curiously, many longbows and re-curves these days have small, almost dainty grips that encourage torque. Clutching the bow grip with anything other than what Fedora calls "relaxed tension" not only produces bow torque but also forces you to consciously think about the proper degree of cant and elbow bend when you should be focused on the target.
Think of the perfect grip as one that fits your hand, not one on which your hand must be made to fit the grip. With a grip that doesn't nearly fill your hand, you must do a quick "custom fitting" every time you draw the bow.
"It's easy to make minor compensations for an ill-fitting grip on the range but much harder in the confusing seconds before a shot on a big game animal. When the tension comes, you want everything about your equipment -- and specifically the grip -- to function naturally," Fedora said.
Take a Stance
The rifleman's upright stance has no place in barebow shooting. As Fedora points out, a stalking hunter moves slowly, both eyes forward and body more or less facing the quarry. To demonstrate, he has his students "stalk" backyard targets. When they're in range, he suddenly tells them to stop. In this way, they achieve the correct stance naturally.
In this "power" or "boxer's" stance, your feet are roughly parallel, spaced shoulder-width apart, and evenly supporting your body weight. Also, your head faces forward, toward the target, so you can accurately gauge depth and distance.
This stance maximizes range of motion, especially when you're shooting down from a treestand or stalking under or around tree limbs and other obstacles.
"Any other stance diminishes a barebow shooter's accuracy because no other position is as inherently comfortable and stable," Fedora said.
To illustrate the point, Fedora has students stand with feet perpendicular to the target -- as if they're sighting in a rifle -- and then knocks them off balance with the gentle push of a finger to the chest.
In the end, it's about balance and comfort. You cannot concentrate fully on the target if you're worried about staying on your feet.
"None of that snap-shooting stuff," is an admonishment Fedora utters often.
"In the beginning, the goal should not be to see how quickly you can get off the shot -- or even to see where the arrow hits," Fedora said. "The goal should be to slow down and concentrate on controlling and executing each shot correctly and consistently."
Many of Fedora's students are shocked at how quickly their accuracy improves when they simply slow down. By going through the motions deliberately, you can detect flaws in form during the drawing process. Is your grip solid? Is your bow arm stable but not too stiff? Are you sticking the anchor point? Are you taking the necessary seconds to settle on the exact spot you intend to hit?
Anchors This Way
Fedora prefers a high anchor that places the arrow right under the aiming eye. Regardless of how you anchor, he recommends incorporating the extra check of touching the shoulder of your bow arm to your lower jaw, just beside your chin.
Fedora admits this technique requires experimentation, and for many it will feel awkward at first. But it remains one of his go-to tidbits of advice for longbow and recurve shooters who experience mysterious and chronic "flyers" on the range.
"Why do most right-handed archers shoot to the left?" he asked rhetorically. "They overdraw the bow."
Likewise, short-drawing the bow or dropping the bow arm (see below) will cause an arrow to fly low. Assuming that you've selected the right arrow and point combination for your bow, the best way to eliminate "flyers" is to add a second reference point to ensure that your head position -- and sight picture -- are the same every time.
"Back tension" has long been the buzz phrase in bow shooting, but Fedora believes back tension is overrated.
"Archers would be better served if they paid more attention to maintaining the bow arm during and after the shot," he said. "A strong bow arm is one that does not collapse, or drop, until the arrow has hit the target.
"Follow-through also applies to the string hand," he continued. "After the release, bring your string hand back to rest on your shoulder. It's a small tip that pays off big by helping you maintain proper alignment with the target during and after the shot. This also helps you to keep consistent back tension without thinking about it."
For more information on personalized shooting classes and clinics with Mike Fedora, contact: Fedora's Archery Shop, (717) 933-8862, fedorabows.com .
The author is a traditionalist from Lake Ann, Michigan.