It happens to every hunter and every target shooter: A particularly difficult target presents itself, and the stakes are high. Naturally, you make an effort to try harder, to bear down and concentrate — to not fuck it up. But those who know, know that the real way to conquer a tough shot is by doing the exact opposite.
A difficult or complicated shot — be it with a bow, rifle, pistol, or atlatl — puts a magnifying glass on every single little thing you do. You start overanalyzing your grip, your stance, your body position, and before you know it, you feel like some awkward mannequin who can’t remember having ever loosed an arrow or squeezed a trigger before. The solution is counterintuitive. You still have to focus, but what you need to focus on is being relaxed in the shot.
Retired Navy SEAL, author, and podcaster Jocko Willink recently sat down with Black Rifle Coffee Company and expert archery coach John Dudley to talk about the mental trick for making tough shots, specifically with a bow.
“The farther the shot is, the harder the shot is, obviously. You can ramp up mentally and be like, ‘I gotta hold this tight,’ and you can get that tension going,” Willink said. “What you need to actually do is focus on just being like, ‘Okay, relax. Let that thing go when it goes.’”
Dudley agreed and said sometimes you just need someone to tell you to relax until you can tell yourself the same thing when the pressure is on, and that’s what he tries to convey to novice archers.
“The more technical the shot or the harder it is, the more you have to focus on being relaxed in the shot. Because tension is only going to magnify a miss,” he said.
Dudley said this simple mental trick — telling yourself to relax in the shot — can create a lightbulb moment for a lot of archers who are having a difficult time.
“When that works for someone, they will relay it to others they meet who are having a difficult time and be like, ‘Hey, this helped me’ and they relay that same message,” he said.
Of course, the more you practice, the more you can lean on that when the time to make a real shot comes. Your body knows what it needs to do, if you can just manage to get your brain to do its part and not get too involved: Relax in the shot.