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Learning Instinctive Shooting for Archery

Traditional Archery in Scotland
I have been teaching archery for over 3 years now and during that time period I have learned that you cannot teach Instinctive Shooting to archery students.

Now that doesn't mean they can't learn how to shoot instinctively.

And it doesn't mean I cannot set them on the right path to learn how to shoot instinctively.

Which is what I am going to do right now, in this post, is set you on the right path towards becoming an instinctive archer - assuming that is your goal.

But first lets explain the four different types of shooting a person can do.

#1. Traditional Shooting

You aim off the tip of the arrow, learn through experience, trial and error, and determine where your arrows will go. Your goal is to develop tight clusters of arrows and then adjust your aim so that your clusters are lined up with the target.

Learning to shoot traditionally takes time and practice as you have to learn through experience. However traditional shooting is argued to be better because when shooting at targets at different ranges the experienced traditional archer can gauge the distance to the target with their eyes and knows from their experience where to aim.

With traditional shooting your eye should be looking at both the tip of the arrow / the adjusted target, and the center of the target at the same time. This is tricky to learn how to do because it requires teaching your shooting eye to multitask.

The traditional archer also pays attention to wind conditions, obstacles, can adjust their footing to unfamiliar terrain, adjust for a moving target (when hunting), and can shoot despite bad weather conditions based on their previous experience of shooting in such conditions.

#2. Gadget Shooting

Gadget shooting is typically used with olympic archery bows and compound bows. You aim through a gadget located above the arrow rest. In the case of compound bows you also use a peep sight to line up the peep with the primary sight.

With gadget shooting your eye is simply lining up the sights with the target. It is brainlessly easy.

Where gadget shooting fails however is that it is overly reliant on the accuracy of the gadget. The archer becomes too dependent on never changing their form, on the wind/weather conditions they are used to, and they will be completely confused as to how to aim if their sight is ever broken or lost. A person can get really good accuracy with a gadget, but they're so reliant on it that they don't know how to shoot without it.

#3. Zen Shooting

With zen archery you aren't so much aiming as you are meditating and trying to achieve a zenshin moment. Zenshin is a moment in time wherein "you know" you will hit the target. If you've ever played basketball or golf you've probably experienced such moments where everything just seems to go perfectly. The method of aiming is not so much as important as your mental state while shooting.

Zen archery in Japan is traditionally done with a Japanese yumi bow. However zen archery in general can be done with any kind of bow because it is not the equipment or the stance or the way you aim. It is your mental focus.

In a way Zen Shooting is similar to Instinctive Shooting because it isn't really something you can teach. It is something a person has to experience and then once they have experienced it they must then pursue it as a mental discipline. Nobody can teach you mental discipline - but you can be set on the right path so that you can learn it through self-purification, learning to both control and unleash your mind, and improving your mental skills so that you can attain zenshin more easily.

#4. Instinctive Shooting

Learning to shoot instinctively ends up being a bit like both traditional shooting and zen shooting. Except you aren't looking at the tip of the arrow - instead you are ignoring the arrow and looking straight at the target. The idea in instinctive shooting is to advance beyond traditional shooting wherein you are adjusting your aim and instead start shooting without even thinking about it. You just look at the target, pull back the bow-string, and release. In theory you are relying on experience, but instinctive shooting is supposed to be more than that. It is supposed to be about reaching a point of experience wherein you don't even think about it any more.

This is why instinctive shooting is considered to be a desired skill for experienced archers - to shoot without thinking, to hit targets at different ranges without really gauging the target because your mind just does it instinctively.

The problem is you can't teach instinct.

But I can attempt to set you on the right path so that you can eventually teach yourself how to shoot instinctively.


#1. Constant Practice - Practice archery 3 to 5 times per week, shooting for several hours each day. Aim to shoot for 6 to 10 hours per week.

#2. Use the same bow and the same equipment whenever you practice - Make your bow and your arrows like extensions of your own body through constant use.

#3. During a shooting session start off by shooting large numbers of arrows in the early stage of the session and slowly reduce the number of arrows you shoot each round so that by the end of the session you are shooting 3 arrows per round.

#4. Take your time in-between each shot. I cannot stress this enough. TAKE YOUR TIME!

#5. Stare at the target constantly, even when not shooting.

#6. Don't aim off the tip of the arrow. Just stare at the target itself, narrow it down to a specific spot, and then shoot.

#7. Ignore distractions and things that interfere with your shot. Ignore trees, twigs, wind, rocks. Just stare at the target.

#8. Experiment with different ranges, different size targets, moving targets, shooting in different weather conditions. Constantly challenge yourself to shoot in adverse and difficult conditions.

#9. Don't worry about holding the bow the same way every time or angling it a specific way. Just shoot in whatever manner feels comfortable.

#10. Practice, practice, practice. Practice is the alpha and omega of instinctive shooting.


Now you might think "Hey, isn't Instinctive Shooting very similar to Traditional since it is so reliant on experience?" and you would be partially correct. Experience is very important for any archery practice. The difference is that where traditional shooting worries about shooting clusters and adjusting your aim, instinctive shooting focuses on "just hitting the target without really aiming".

Which is a tad confusing, because you are aiming at the target and yet not really aiming at the target. It is very difficult to explain. You are and you are not.

It is one of the reasons why Instinctive Archers are so rare. Most archers, even the really great archers, were not instinctive archers.

Howard Hill (1899 to 1975) for example was not an instinctive archer, he was a traditional archer.

Same goes with Byron Ferguson, also a traditional archer.

Awa Kenzo, the great archery zen master from Japan, started off as a traditional archer and later became a zen archer.


Some people actually claim that Instinctive Shooting is a myth. They say that nobody really shoots instinctively and that it is impossible to learn to do so. They argue that Instinctive Shooting is for people who have advanced beyond Traditional Shooting so that they can shoot faster and with less thought - and argue that it isn't really instinct at all. However some people who identify themselves as Instinctive Shooters say the opposite - that the naysayers of Instinctive Shooting are simply too far behind on the experience curve and have never made "the leap of instinct" (some people describe it as being similar to a leap of faith) and thus such naysayers are dissing something they themselves have been unable to experience. And possibly never will. Trying to explain Instinctive Shooting to a naysayer, especially when Instinctive is so hard to explain in the first place, is a bit like trying to explain evolution to a creationist. It is simply too complicated to explain to someone who refuses to accept it in the first place.

I myself am a Traditional Shooter but I try to do Zen Archery and instinctive shooting on the side. I can see certain benefits to learning to shoot instinctively, but at this point I get more enjoyment out of just challenging myself.

UPDATE, February 2016: Glossary of Terms

There seems to be some confusion about the term "Instinctive Archery" and what makes instinctive archery so different from other styles of archery so I have decide to add a quick glossary for those people who don't understand the differences.

Traditional Archery - Aims off the tip of the arrow, utilizes a high anchor point sometimes referred to as North Anchor, Traditional Anchor or High Anchor. Usually no gadgets, although arrowrests are sometimes used. Sometimes also called "Barebow Archery". Commonly uses many kinds of more traditional styles of bows, longbows, shortbows and traditional recurves, including ethnic varieties like the Turkish horsebow, the Korean horsebow, the Japanese yumi, the English longbow, the Cherokee flatbow, etc.

Gap-Shooting Traditional Archery - This is a sub-type of Traditional Archery, which uses the same techniques as Traditional Archery, with the exception of how to aim. Instead of aiming off the tip of the arrow, Gap Shooting involves using the gap between the target and the side of the bow / shooting window. Gap Shooting is usually used by experienced archers who have been shooting for a very long time.

Olympic Archery - Aims off a sight attached to the bow, utilizes gadgets like a clicker, stabilizer, and arrowrest. Also uses a low anchor point sometimes referred to as South Anchor, Olympic Anchor or Low Anchor. Utilizes Olympic archery equipment designed specifically for shooting at 70 meter targets during competitions.

Compound Bow Archery - Aims through a smaller peep sight and off a sight attached to the bow. utilizes pulley cams to create a let off on draw weight, stabilizer, complex arrowrests (eg. drop away arrowrests, whisker-biscuits, etc) and does not normally use a fixed anchor point because the peep sight is doing most of the work in that respect and worrying about an anchor point is considered unnecessary on a compound bow.

Instinctive Archery - Doesn't aim off anything in particular, does not use any kind of sights or gadgets, does not necessarily have a fixed draw length or a fixed anchor point - this doesn't mean the archer doesn't sometimes use an anchor point, it merely means that most instinctive shooters do not use a fixed anchor point. However it should be noted that if they are looking at the target and using a fixed anchor point, then they might be technically Gap-Shooting without realizing it and they are not doing instinctive archery. eg. Lars Anderson does not use a fixed anchor point. Many people confuse Gap-Shooting with Instinctive Archery, mostly because they don't know what the difference is.

Equestrian Archery - Firing a bow from the back of a horse, usually while the horse is in motion. Often utilizes either Traditional or Instinctive archery techniques, as well as specific techniques designed for equestrian archery, eg. a "live" horseman's release, during which the drawing arm moves backwards away from the bow after releasing the arrow.


  1. Sorry I have to disagree with you on the subject of from, what ever style of archery your form MUST be constant. You say to use the same bow and arrows every time but if your form is not consistent then your draw length will vary at the very least and this will make it impossible to shoot well. I shoot both bare bow and sighted and while a lot of what you have said rings true telling people that they do not need to maintain their form is just wrong.

    1. Hello Tony!

      Sorry, but you seem to be confusing normal styles of shooting with Instinctive Shooting. Instinctive doesn't use consistent form, doesn't use an anchor spot, and doesn't use an aiming methodology. The archer is essentially "shooting from the hip" or "shooting on the fly". Instinctive Shooting ignores form entirely, ignores anchor spots and relies entirely on the archer's intuition in order to hit the target. However we should also note that Instinctive Shooting is really only accurate at point blank range (30 feet or less). Anything further than that and the archer is really just guessing and their degree of accuracy drops dramatically.

      Instinctive archers like Lars Anderson (for example) don't care about consistent draw length or form. Their goals are to shoot targets at point blank range without really aiming in the normal sense. You will note that in any of Lars' videos that he is often shooting at targets that are only 3 to 10 yards away (ridiculously close) and that his degree of accuracy is really due to the fact he is so close he doesn't really need to aim.

  2. Very good article, I will share it on


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