This is a reply to a post on /r/archery. I am posting it here because formatting comments on reddit is hard work, and because I might hit the character limit. If you’re not into archery, you can skip this post.
Let me preface this by saying that I’ve had every one of the problems you are having now. Unfortunately, they are impossible to identify on your own, even when filming yourself. I managed to fix some of them, and I’m still trying to fix some others, but I was lucky to have someone with a lot of experience to guide me. I want to tell you that, from observing myself and other archers, I’ve come to the conclusion that where you are now is a normal stage in an archer’s life. This stage follows a plateau which you’ve also noticed, and can cause a lot of frustration, especially since you cannot identify the problems. I remember a lot of shooting sessions when I’ve gone home feeling depressed and worthless as an archer. Hang in there, it gets better.
I am a traditional archer too, but I openly admit, us traditional guys have a lot to learn from our olympic recurve friends when it comes to proper form. While some form techniques must be adapted in order to suit a traditional/instinctive shooting style, there are few principles which are common to all styles, because they have their origins in human anatomy and the way our muscles and bones work most efficiently.
As I write this, I feel I should point something out. I may suggest you try a lot of things, and you are free to try them or not, as you see fit. However, please, please don’t try to change more than one thing at a time in your technique. Trust me on this one thing at least, I’ve made this mistake, nothing but frustration can come of it. As you internalize a particular change and give yourself time to develop the required muscle memory, it’s easier to identify what you’ve done wrong and how some new technique is working for you if you only have one additional thing to focus on.
This being said, I’ve watched your whole video, and have come to the following conclusions:
9:20 – Creeping forward
Creeping doesn’t have as much to do with fatigue (more on fatigue later), as with the failure to maintain proper back tension throughout the shot. When you come to your anchor, you (wrongly) relax your back muscles as you rest the string hand on your face. This causes the weight of the bow to pull your anchor forward. This problem is accentuated when you are tired because the arm muscles (which then have to pick up the slack) cannot compensate enough to hold the bow. Keep in mind that, even though you can and should pause your draw on anchor, the back muscles have to keep pulling, as if you would want to pull the string even further. At no point during your shot should the back muscles relax.
There is another factor that adds to this problem, and you’ve touched on this at 10:10. When you pull, you go a little behind your anchor point, and then have to come back to anchor. This is a huge no no, because it forces your back muscles to relax in order for your hand to go forward toward your anchor point, and the required back tension is lost, and there is no way to get it back. I know you said there is no need to point it out, but I feel there is, because it’s a symptom of the much bigger problem of lost back tension.
Once you solve the back tension problem you will be amazed on how many of the other problems are simply effects of this, including your release.
12:35 – First round
You are definitely creeping forward. You have visibly crept forward on every shot, and you are also doing it with your head.
14:40 – Second round
You should have also filmed yourself from behind and from above, because there are things that are hard to notice from the front alone. Anyway, it appears you are drawing the string too far from your body, and then come to anchor.
This is hard to explain, so I’ve made an crude diagram:
Imagine you are being viewed from above. The black line is your bow hand, and the blue line is the arrow’s trajectory since you start pulling the string until you reach your anchor.
The first part of the diagram is a normal trajectory. The arrow is pulled in a straight line back toward your anchor point. For an instinctive archer, this also helps aiming, because the arrow is always between both eyes in the peripheral vision. Even if you don’t consciously look at the arrow, the subconscious is still aware of it. The second part is your trajectory. You come in wide, reach the desired draw length, and then stick your hand to your anchor point. I used to do this too. I think it’s because your right shoulder blade doesn’t go far back enough, again due to lack of proper back tension, because you’re using your arm muscles to pull back the string instead of your back.
The way I fixed this was to force myself to brush my nose with the top part of my thumb (right where the thumb connects to the hand) as I pull back. This makes sure you draw close to your face at all times. Try doing this for a while, perhaps it will work for you too.
15:15 – Third round
Same as above, with another observation. Because you are drawing too far from your body and face, you have developed a habit where your head goes out to meet the hand at anchor point. Your head should be static at all times during the shot. Not surprisingly, I’ve had this problem too. Mine was even worse, since I have a bad habit of standing a bit hunched, so my head was even more forward (relative to the front of my body, not the target) than yours is. I’ve fixed this by forcing myself to stand properly upright for a time, and to keep my head absolutely fixed as I draw to anchor. My routine was this: stand straight, look straight forward, turn head toward the target, draw. Remember to brush your nose while you draw.
16:38 – “That one was good”
The arrow might have gone right where you wanted it, but unfortunately your form had the same problems as before. I know, everybody says not to focus on the target when you are shooting for form, and everybody is right, but it’s so damn hard, right? I have not yet been able to disconnect my brain from the target. Even when practicing my technique, I still used to get upset when I missed and happy when I hit the spot. Even when I haven’t placed a face on the target, I still aim for small imperfections, holes, etc., even when forcing myself not to.
32:30 – Long range practice works better
You noticed that sometimes you shoot better at a longer range, and this improves your short range shots as well. Here is why this happened to me too. I’ve noticed that when shooting longer ranges, because of the arrow trajectory, I somehow felt that the arrows were slow. This caused me to subconsciously try to compensate and give the arrows more speed by “snatching” the string back with more force upon release. This basically simulates a proper back tension release, and this is why you appear to be shooting better. It’s because you are “faking it”, and even fake back tension is better than no back tension.
The rest of it
I’ve watched the rest of the video too, but since you only filmed yourself from a single angle, there isn’t much else that I can observe, as technique goes.
However, and this is where the important stuff really comes in, let me tell you something else I’ve noticed, which felt like I was like watching my former self. The “fatigue” you mentioned. Are you sure you aren’t mentally causing it to yourself? I know it sounds crazy, but you seem to be having exactly the same problems I had. Having trouble drawing the bow after a lot of shooting is normal (and probably a sign to pack up and go home), but you appear to be weak all-around, not energetic at all. This can be seen in your mannerisms, the way you move, the way you draw the arrow from the ground, etc.
I’ve seen all these signs before, in myself, and they were caused by a general feeling of frustration and defeat related to archery, when nothing seemed to be going the way I wanted it. Not saying this is your case too, for all I know there could be a physical reason for fatigue, but please keep an open mind, the brain is a lot more powerful that we think, and mental stress can manifest itself physically in a lot of ways.
Keep in mind that archery in general, and instinctive archery in particular, is ultimately a sport with a considerably large mental component. Proper form is only a part of what makes an archer successful. The single most important advice I would give to anyone (and one that I give myself constantly) is to go out and have fun. The best traditional archers shoot like they don’t care if they hit or miss, and I’ve had my best competitional performances when I treated the whole contest like a fun day out in the woods with friends.
Trust me, I know how it feels to become frustrated with archery, and I’ve seen it in others too, so rest easy that you are not alone. Form is important, but don’t fall into the trap where each of your training sessions only revolves around form and what you are doing wrong. I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty.
The next times you go out shooting, try saying “fuck it”, and only shoot for fun. Move around a lot, shoot one arrow from each possible angle. Imagine you are hunting, and shoot from behind cover. Shoot while standing, shoot while kneeling, shoot while sitting on your ass. I’ve even shot lying face down on my belly. It’s hard as hell, but I was laughing the whole time. Also, if you could find someone to shoot with, it would help you a lot, mentally.
In conclusion, so what if you’re a crappy archer at the moment? I’m one too, there are tons of archers better than me. A lot of them have not even been shooting for as long as I have. Who gives a shit anymore? You don’t rely on your bow for food, you don’t have to impress anyone, not even yourself dude, really. You mentioned your goals at the end of your video, including hunting. Having goals is good. Letting them intrude on your shooting and occupy your mind is not.
Remember why you picked up this sport in the first place? Remember those days in the beginning, when everything was new, you had fun, and didn’t give a rat’s ass where the arrows landed? That’s the single most important thing you lost, that enthusiasm for the sport itself, and not for the results, or goals. Well, I am here to tell you that you can get that back, man. I’m living proof of it. I may not shoot as well as I want to, but I sure as hell am having fun while missing.
Have a nice day, man!