Friday, July 26, 2013

Shooting Form V.S. Archery Equipment

So I've been absent for a while. 3 week vacation, and then I was setting up an indoor range in my basement (more on this in a different post), but most importantly, I spent about 2 months working on my shooting form (not fun one bit).

Anyway, after my first tournament (and my score on it), I decided that there's only so much the equipment can do for me. I am running a fairly good setup and up to that point I was mostly concerned about having everything tuned properly, bow nicely balanced, perfectly spined and fletched arrows ... and with all of that, I shot a 530 of 600. If you spend 20 minutes on, you'll find that for every 20 posts on "tuning", there's maybe 1 on "form", so it's easy to get misled that a perfectly tuned bow is much of the work to a perfect score.

Not true!

Well, not entirely true. There must be complete "trust" that the equipment will do it's job for the shooter to be able to do his/her job as well. So if you trust your stock bow to do it's job, you're done tuning. In other words, tune until you trust your equipment, and then focus on you as you are the only variable in the whole equation. If you put that bow in a shooting machine, it will put the same arrow in the same hole every time. Consequently, if you were the machine, you'd shoot a 300 every time. So work on becoming the machine and don't worry too much about your bow!

Granted, well tuned equipment is more forgiving, but if you shoot well, you need a lot less forgiveness. The "well tuned equipment" will give you an edge by increasing your X count, but you still have to get to that 300 on your own.

What I did right after that disappointing tournament was research on books that teach proper shooting form. I decided to go with:

Reading them, I figured I need to teach myself how to shoot from scratch. So I spent significant amount of time analyzing every aspect of my shot, from stance, all the way to breathing and the mental game of shooting. Once I had decided on all aspects, next task was embedding them into my subconsciousness, i.e. be able to execute that "perfect" shot without even thinking about it.

To do that I fired about 1500 arrows over a period of 3 weeks in a blank bale, paying attention to EVERYTHING except for aiming. Each shot would take 15 seconds of analysis before it's even attempted. Only now, 2 months (and 4000 arrows later) after the whole "retraining" started I can say I can execute that shot sequence perfectly 9 of 10 times without thinking about it, and still working on making that 10 out of 10.

After the first 3 weeks, I also did a 3 week transitioning program to start shooting at a target. I did this (and I read it in the Idiot Proof Archery book) by starting to shoot at a large target from pretty much point blank range, and walk back while reducing the face size every couple days.

Now, to make sure I'm not doing all this wrong all over again, after 6 weeks of "learning" to shoot I met with coach Bruce Schneller (level 4 NTS coach) to review my shooting technique. There was very little he corrected.  Job well done. *fist pump* However I find working with him keeps me even more focused, so I will be training with him once to twice per month to make sure I'm ready for the next indoor season.

Anyway, the result of all of this - last night I decided to shoot a full game for the first time and I shot a 294 of 300. Not a world record by any stretch of the imagination, but just two months prior I was shooting between 255 and 275. So that's quite the improvement. But more importantly, that's done without touching anything on my equipment and with arrows that are missing feathers and have busted tips.

So, you want to be competitive, get your form right. Correct and repeatable form will allow you to hold steadier longer, to hold steadier under pressure and to hold the same regardless if it's the start of the tournament or the last arrows. Once you do that, tweaking the equipment will just be the icing on the cake.


Monday, April 29, 2013

First Tournament

After a few months of experimenting with equipment and shooting form, it's time for a "baseline shoot"... Not sure where I had left off a decade ago, hence no idea what to expect... I know during practice at 18m, shooting 6 arrow sets, I roughly average a 9... a few 10s, an odd flyer, some 9s. But I have not yet formally measured performance as I have been changing things way too often to find what "feels best" to be able to rely on any score. I'm now fairly confident I know what form I want to shoot (and I probably still don't), what draw length/weight works for me, so I feel a baseline is in order.

So, on Sunday (May 28, 2013) I shot a local tourney at the OCCS. 2x30 arrows, 3-face target, scoring just the inner 10 as a 10 for compound (so, no such thing as an "x" - it's either a 9 or a 10).

OCCS - Archery Indoor Tournament, April 28, 2013
Good news first - I came up first in my category. I also wasn't the only one shooting compound. And, this is where all the good news ends.

Now some of the more "upsetting" news.

There were only 2 compounds of about 40-50 archers. So really, I had to shoot better than just one guy to come on top. I believe competition drives results, so I'll have to find shoots with more shooters in my category. Also, the more shooters, the more knowledge sharing.

Next, not having shot a tourney in a long time, regardless of how unimportant it may be, when there's formal scoring and people shooting next to you, it's a bit of a "nerve game". So I opened with a mediocre 9, 9, 8... followed by a 9, 0, 6... And there went the chase for that 9 average I'm used to. I never shot under an 8 for the rest of the tourney, but it took a while to get back into shooting "well". Lots of "sweaty" 9s (ones that you have to sweat over until you see them close up), not even close to "enough" 10s, at least during the first round. So, finished that first round with a terrible 257/300 score, 2 points below the only guy I was shooting against.

Round 2, after some sugar from Tim Hortons and a 20 minute break, I open with a 10, 9, 9. Everything felt better; I could hold steadier longer, release better...  and continued shooting in similar fashion to the end, for a slightly better, but still far from good score of 273/300. However this time almost no "sweaty" 9s, and many 9's that are deep inside the outer 10 ring... so, closing in on that X :)

Total score, 530/600 --- ouch. I remember numbers around 550-560 even as a teenager, so I need to step up my game.

But this tourney was an overall great experience for a few things. This is what I take from it:
  1. I now have a baseline score that has to improve consistently;
  2. Form is everything - slightest change in any aspect of the shot and it won't go where the previous one went. Note to self - pull hard on that wall, each and every time!
  3. Releasing subconsciously is just as critical - I now know I can get the bow to freeze dead center, but the second I decide "Now is the time to fire!" and switch context to firing, the dot and the target center are no longer in line.
  4. 2 minutes is enough time for 3 arrows, but not enough to be wasted.
Action plan - work on one problem at a time. Now that I know what form I want to shoot, make sure I can get it each and every time without any thought. From foot to grip and release position, and everything in between, it all must be exactly repeated each and every time. Also, work on that subconscious release by "just releasing"... so no aiming until releasing is perfected. Literature suggests 500 to 3000 repetitions to form a habit, so next, short distance blank bale shooting in my basement until these "problems" have been eliminated. Same literature suggests blank bale shooting is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I guess nothing comes free.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Switching from Trigger Release to Back Tension (Hinge) Release

This post isn't intended to persuade you to go one way or another, or even to start a debate on which release type is better. That subject has been tackled so many times and by a lot more reputable "writers", I don't think it's my place to be trying to "sell" any release type to anyone... Instead, I'll just say why I'm switching and how the process went, so if you've already made up your mind to switch but haven't already, this is what you can expect. Everything here is specific to my releases, but is mostly applicable to any of the kind.

First, why would I do this? Well, curiosity for one - I read that most indoor shooters use it, so why not try it?  Second and more important, I noticed I'm "punching" my trigger release. I don't think I have target panic, but I do tend to punch it when on target rather than to gently squeeze it, and this is target panic in the making. I'd rather prevent now than heal later.

So, my release choices.

For trigger release, I have my "old" Carter Insatiable+.

For back tension, I just got a brand new Stan Black Jack. Deciding factor to get this release over any other one - it comes with a trainer lock and it's very obvious how it works; I've heard of way too many stories of people punching themselves in the face trying a back tension release for the first time, so this was mandatory for me.

Stan Black Jack
Carter Insatiable+
Pulling my bow for the first time was a pain in the ass... if you're shooting trigger, rule is, thumb behind the trigger while pulling and pull with all fingers evenly. You do that with hinge, and you won't even get it to hook onto your D-loop. The way things go here, you have to anchor your thumb on the safety, and PRESS HARD while pulling. Also, 80% of the pulling is done by thumb and index finger, and everything else is almost not touching the release. Reason - you're trying to avoid "simulating" back tension by rotating the release while pulling. The release must stay in the same relative position to the string throughout the pull... Change the angle, it fires.

Once I got to pulling my bow without the "clicker" firing on me during the pull consistently, which took about 20-30 attempts, I was ready to take the trainer lock off. Pull, anchor, aim... boom. They say the release should surprise you every time, and boy did it surprise me the first time. That day I dedicated to shooting just to get used to the release. I fired about 100 arrows at a blank target at about 5 meters, no aiming, just shoot. I think this is critical and everyone should do it. This way you only focus on firing the release, not aiming. Hopefully in 100 practice arrows you'll be able to have the release fire when you want it to.

Next, shooting at a target... I have my bow tuned and balanced so that I can hold steady on the X for what feels like 2-3 seconds. With my trigger, this would be the time when I punch my release, and sometimes hit that X, sometimes hit outside the 9 ring (I'm still working on improving in many aspects, so the misses are not just because of my bad release technique, but form in general too). With this release, those huge misses kind of went away almost immediately. Unless I do something really stupid, I'm inside the yellow at 18m. Many times I'm inside the big 10, and more and more often inside the X (so at this point the release can't help me any more - I have to keep practicing).

What will take getting used to is the inability to "fire on command". I can no longer decide that this is the right moment to fire, and do it... What I do now is try to "rip the bow apart" when I want to fire. So I created a "pull/release process" for me, and I'm running it in my head for every arrow (in hopes that it will soon become something I don't think about and just do every time). This is it:
  1. hold release with thumb on safety and index finger only;
  2. hook release on d-loop; after this, release relative position (to the world) doesn't change;
  3. pull bow by applying LOTS of pressure to safety with thumb, holding release with mostly thumb and index finger;
  4. anchor;
  5. remove thumb from safety while transferring holding weight to middle finger;
  6. bring ring finger onto the release without applying any pressure;
  7. aim, commit to a shot;
  8. start pulling some more by bringing shoulder blades together (so very small movement here);
  9. start relaxing holding arm and allow some holding weight to transfer to ring finger from index finger;
And at some point during point 9, the release will fire. 

This works for me, and I think works better than a thumb release, at least for indoor 18m. I still need lots of practice, and I haven't done any significant shooting to say that because of the switch my score improved by ... whatever percent, but I think making the switch was the right decision and I'm sticking to it.

With that said, I'm keeping the trigger release for outdoor shooting and long distances... I'm also working on not punching it, but triggering it by squeezing it using back tension too. So we'll see what happens...


Friday, March 22, 2013

How expensive is archery?

The cliché answer is, as expensive as you make it to be. But what exactly is the dollar value of that?

The most important thing before planning your archery budget is to know that this is something you want to do. Unless you’re sure of it, you’re probably better off visiting a local range, sign up for some classes – use their equipment (package of 6 would run you around $120), talk to a few people that are already doing it, and just sit on it for a few weeks. This will likely save you hundreds, possibly thousands, over the next few months.

Now that you know you want to participate, here’s a few more things to consider. Are you going to be shooting a traditional bow, a recurve/olympic one, or a compound bow? Are you looking for a hobby and shooting in your back yard / local club a few nights per week is enough, or do you want to represent your country at the next Olympics (make that 2 or 3 Olympics from now)? Are you cool with older and used equipment or do you have to have the latest and greatest available? Do you want to get started today, or can you  spend some time shopping around, hunting for deals and sales?

With all those questions answered, you’re now ready to start your budgeting. I do target compound archery so that’s what I’ll focus on, but recurve shooters can expect about the same.

First, a bow – as low as $200 for something old and used that an adult can shoot, or as high as $1200+ for a top end brand new bow. An excellent 2-3 year old used bow can be found online in the range $500 – $750.

Next, the bow must have an arrow rest. If you buy used equipment, your bow may come with one. If not, expect to spend $30 – $60 for used or up to $130 – $150 for a brand new top of the line rest.

You must also have arrows – and these can range from dirt cheap to stupid expensive. And this is something you’ll likely upgrade if you get serious, so don’t go buying the $350 for dozen shafts just yet. 6 used arrows online, fully assembled with points, nocks and fletching will run you about $50, maybe less. You go to a local shop, you’ll pay about $90 for brand new ones.

You also need a sight and a scope (possibly with a lens, that can wait for now). When buying new, these don’t come together. Sight is one purchase. Scope is another. On the low end you’re looking at $50 – $80. This would be the total price for a used, low end sight and scope combo. A used higher-end combo would run you about $300. The same set, only brand new, $500.

Highly recommended for compound shooters, a release aid. Expect to pay about $50 – $80 for a decent used one, or up to $200 for a good new one.

Optional – stabilization. A front/side set with a mounting bracket and some weights, on the low end, $80 – $150. A high end set, used, $250 - $350. A high end brand new set, $500.

Optional – bow case. If you can find a used one, $20 – $50. If you can’t, $120 – $150.

Tuning – you have a “new” bow you’ve never shot before and a bunch accessories that need to be installed correctly. You should have someone who knows what they’re doing do this for you the first few times. About $75.

With this you’re ready to shoot. Next, range fees in GTA.

Unless you’re shooting in your back yard (highly dangerous and probably illegal) or at the free outdoor range in E.T. Seton Park near Ontario Science Center in North York, you’ll need to become a member of a club or pay hourly/daily. Clubs charge about $200 (Peel Archery Club) to $300 (Archers of Caledon) for a single yearly membership (discounts for families), or $15/hour at the Ontario Center for Classical Sports.

So to summarize, to get started with archery and own your equipment, you need at least $700 plus club fees. Once you are serious about the sport and are ready to upgrade your equipment, expect to spend close to $3000 for a good setup. If you want to go over the top you can always spend more, and elite (competing) archers have different setups for different disciplines (indoor, outdoor, 3D), and have two identical setups (in case of a failure during a competition).

Good luck!


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Researching and Buying my Initial Archery Equipment

After visiting Archers of Caledon in July 2012, I knew I want back in... and I want back in right away. However my wife and I were expecting our first one in about 6 weeks, so this was hardly the best time to start anything new. With a newborn on the way, I knew I have at least 4 to 6 months before I'll step foot in a shooting range.

And this wasn't all that bad, as unfortunately, archery isn't hockey. You can't go to the local SportChek, see it all and buy what your budget allows you. Baby or not, if you want the right equipment in this part of the world, you need about 4-6 months to get it.

So, I took archery like a software engineering problem. Research, research, research.

I used to shoot a Hoyt before, so naturally, first website I go to is Hoyt's website. Have things changed over the past decade... My old bow used to look like ... well, a bow. These days everything on the market resembles a weapon from a Sci-Fi movie.
2013 PSE Omen

After 2 months of Googling, following discussions on ArcheryTalk and studying bow specs, my top two contenders:
And with all the online research in the world, you still don't know what you're getting. Unless you go out there and shoot the bow you're buying, you have no idea what it will feel like or whether you'll like it... So for me, this was a leap of faith - I had a Hoyt before that I liked, so I decided to go with the Vantage Elite Plus.   

But picking a bow is only the beginning of it. The Vantage Elite Plus ships with one of two different types of cams, GTX and Spiral cams. The GTX cams I decided to go (the smoother ones with bigger valley and softer wall) with can be used with 6 different modules (#1 through #6) that will control the let-off percentage and draw length, none of which I knew for myself. I approximately measured my draw length at 28", and that was it. So I decided to buy used, fully expecting that some of these things will have to change. 

It was late November before I finally decided to buy one on eBay. With this I'd get no warranty, but that's a risk I was willing to take for getting the bow I want for half retail price. I got a 4 month old pearl white, 2012 Hoyt Vantage Elite Plus with #2 GTX cams. Shipped from the States and got to me mid December, just in time for Christmas.

Christmas Gift Un-boxed
Merry Christmas

As somewhat expected, the maximum draw length the #2 GTX cams would allow wasn't long enough, so I ordered a new set - #3 cams with 65% let-off modules from someone on ArcheryTalk (I later sold the #2 cams on the same website, so this only cost me a week of my time and not a penny). I also ordered a new string/cables set from ABB to match the new cams - bow came with a decent set that I'd change anyway.

Similar research (both in terms of time and effort) went in to buying a sight and scope, arrow rest and a release. In the interest of time, I picked up a front stabilizer and 6 arrows at the Bow Shop in Waterloo without any research as I wanted to get going, and was sure I'll replace these later. So I ended up with:
Carter Insatiable + Release
SureLoc Supreme 550, 9" bar
SureLoc S2 Scope
x7 Falcon Lens
Spot Hogg The Edge

30" Beiter Centralizer
Maxima 250 Carbon Express Shafts
Plano Bone Collector Bow Case

By this point it's 2013 - mid January. I'm a tuning session away from shooting... Finally, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Archery History (January 1983 - July 2012)

Archery is a sport that has been surrounding me, more or less, since I can remember. I have probably tried every other sport over the years, but seems I keep coming back to shooting arrows and I feel this time around it's here to stay.

As a small child I used to watch my father shoot his traditional bow in the mid-to-late 80s. He would compete and bring home some medals, making a young son proud for sure. In the early 90s he "upgraded" to a compound bow and that was the first time I had seen one of those.

By the mid 90s I was old enough to actively participate, so I did. I inherited my very first bow - my father's old PSE Spirit.
PSE Spirit - Image courtesy of ... Google (?).
A few years later, someone in our club (this person later became an archery champion in Australia) was replacing his Hoyt Oasis and gave it to me for free, as long as I kept shooting it. So I got myself a "new" bow.
Hoyt Oasis - Image courtesy of ... ArcheryTalk
At the time I'd mostly shoot for fun - club shoots and the odd tournament. In June of 2000 I had the opportunity to shoot at the Mediterranean Championship in Antalya, Turkey, representing Macedonia. I participated, but didn't finish due to equipment failure, and that was a big blow. I kind of quit archery altogether right after.

About a year later (June 2001) my family and I moved to Toronto. I started university and there were more pressing matters to deal with over archery for a few years. The fact that archery is extremely suppressed by almost all other sports in this part of the world didn't help either. But it would still catch my eye - I visited the Hart House Archery Club a few times, would watch archery during the Olympics, watch the occasional YouTube video... In the back of my mind I knew it existed, which is more than most can say.

Meanwhile I graduated, started working, got married. In passing I had mentioned to my wife that I used to be in archery, but never really looked it up after moving to Toronto and that I didn't even think it "existed" outside people's back yards or bow hunting. She thought it's "cool" and wanted to try it some day... and a few days later, she emailed me a list of clubs in the GTA.

She had already planned a day to go visit Archers of Caledon. This was in July of 2012, and my first more serious brush with archery in years.