In life there are no shortcuts to success. None. Success is a combination of hard work, smart work, and luck. Bowhunting is no exception. We hear a lot about hard work. There are bowhunters like Cameron Hanes who epitomize hard work, and live by the phrase “Train Hard. Hunt Easy.” I get that, I really do. But, what often gets neglected in our minds isn’t hard work, it is smart work.
What do I mean by smart work? Well, it boils down to this – not all hard work is beneficial. If you want a become a more accurate archer, and therefore a better bowhunter, you will most likely come to the conclusion that you need to shoot more, and you are probably right…to an extent. However, simply increasing the number of shots we take isn’t going to make us better, and in fact, it may hurt us in the long run.
You have no doubt heard the phrase, “Practice makes perfect.” Many of you may have even heard the clarification of that phrase, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” Becoming a more accurate archer isn’t about how many shots you take in a practice session, it is about how many perfect shots you take in a practice session. Each and every lazy, wasted, bad shot is a step backwards. The key to becoming a better archer is to make each and every shot count, and the best way that I have found to do that is to shoot with a shot sequence.
Developing and using a shot sequence is the number one thing that I have done to become a better bowhunter. Yes, training is important. Yes, scouting is important. Yes, gear is important. But, what if you train your butt off, find the perfect animal, and have the best bow, but you blow the shot? When it comes down to it, our success as bowhunters comes down to one moment – the shot.
“Preparation is made up of a million little moments; success is made up of one.”
What is a Shot Sequence?
So, what is a shot sequence? I like to think of it as a “mental checklist” that I run through for each and every shot that I take.
My shot sequence is not only critical for making good shots, but it is also critical for diagnosing bad shots. When I utilize my shot sequence, I can immediately identify what went wrong when I make a bad shot – whether it was my grip or a flinch, or my aim – I will know for sure.
So the big question is: What is a good shot sequence, and how can I begin using one? Obviously, not everyone will want to use the exact same shot sequence, but there are common elements of a shot sequence that everyone should employ.
Below, I will outline the elements of my shot sequence, and how I put my shot sequence into practice.
Now that we discussed why a shot sequence is important, I want to discuss what my shot sequence is, and explain how I use it. This is to show you in detail how I use a shot sequence, not so that you will copy it outright, but so that you can get an idea of how to make your own shot sequence that works well for you.
Shot Sequence – Make it your Own
As I said earlier, I don’t want to waste any shots. Each and every bad or lazy shot is a step in the wrong direction; so for each and every shot, here is what I think through…
Yes, AGLAS. That is my shot sequence:
Anchor, Grip, Level, Aim, Squeeze
It all starts with your anchor. Your anchor point is truly the foundation of a successfully executed shot. Your anchor point needs to be three things – identifiable, comfortable, and repeatable. First, you need to be able to identify certain points at which your hand and face should make contact, as well as nose to string contact if possible. Secondly, your anchor point also needs to be comfortable. You shouldn’t have to stretch or otherwise move into position, your anchor position should come naturally if you have your bow fitted well. Lastly, your anchor point needs to be repeatable. Each and every time your draw your bow back, your anchor needs to be exactly the same. The goal of your anchor point is to ensure that you are setting up in proper form and putting your sights inline the same way for each and every shot. If your anchor point is moving from shot to shot or floating during your shot, there is no way that you can be consistently on target. Before you get any further with your shot, check your anchor!
I know several guys who put grip as the first item in their shot sequence, and in fact, I used to do that as well. The reason that I have moved grip to the second item in my “checklist” is that I have often found that some people change their grip over the course of their draw cycle. You may have a proper grip before you draw, but what does your grip look like after you have settled into to your anchor? You may be surprised at how it has changed; what started off as a nice relaxed grip may have turned into a “death grip” while you were pulling back 60 or 70 pounds. This isn’t an article on proper grip, although that is a very important subject, but I will quickly mention this, keep it light! You aren’t really looking to hold the bow, you are looking to let it rest in your hand.
As a new bowhunter, I completely ignored the level on my sight, and it wasn’t until months later that I realized what a tragic mistake I was making. If you don’t have a level on your sight, get one! If you have one, but are ignoring it, you better start looking! As my grip has improved, the need to make adjustments to the level of my bow at full draw has diminished, but I still check my level as a part of every shot sequence for one big reason – What may “feel” level isn’t always level. It is amazing just how a little change in elevation or terrain can throw off our internal “feeling” of level. There are countless times that I could have sworn I was level at full draw, but that little bubble was telling me otherwise. This happens most often when I am shooting across a hill, shooting at an elevated target, or shooting from an elevated position. Most treestand hunters know that you should bend at the waist when aiming down, but have you ever noticed how easy it is to torque the bow out of level when doing so? You may be surprised! The same logic applies to guys hunting those mountain slopes. Check your level!
This is the “Duh!” moment of my shot sequence, right? I can hear you now, telling me in a sarcastic tone, “Don’t forget to aim!” Yeah, yeah, I hear you. The reason that I included aiming as a part of my shot sequence is directly related to a bad habit that I had previously developed. Instead of letting the pins settle on the target, I would try to punch the trigger at the exact moment that my pin wandered over my intended point of impact. You can imagine how well that worked. (Not very well!) To correct my bad habit, I started practicing with the goal of only releasing the shot after I had settled my pin on the intended spot of impact, and held my pin there for a good two seconds. It is amazing how easy it is to hold your pin on target if you just give yourself a moment to settle and breathe. Having “aim” in my shot sequence reminds me to settle the pin, hold steady, breathe, and…
Up until this point I have made sure that my form is in order, and that I am on target correctly, now I just have one thing left to do…don’t jerk the shot! For me the “squeeze” step is all about putting pressure on the trigger while continuing to breathe and aim. Squeeze is also about letting the shot surprise you, and holding form and aim until the arrow reaches the target (follow through).
“AGLAS” – That is my shot sequence, and it has helped me tremendously! For every shot that I take, I am consciously running through my shot sequence: Anchor, Grip, Level, Aim, Squeeze.
I don’t think you have to copy my shot sequence, but I do think you should work creating one for yourself. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you go about creating your own shot sequence.
Your shot sequence needs to be easy to remember. Try and come up with an acronym, or catchy way of remembering each step. Combine steps if necessary. You can see that in my last two steps, Aim and Squeeze, there is more going on than just those two things (breathing, settling, follow through, etc.), but if I tried to remember each one individually I would probably forget them all.
Your shot sequences need to be easy to work through, and as short as possible, while still including what is necessary. Don’t have a 10-point checklist to run through, it won’t work! Remember, the goal is to use this sequence for each and every shot! Think of items that you need help with, and be sure to include them in your checklist.
Ultimately, the goal is to so ingrain the steps of your shot sequence in your head and muscle memory, that they become automatic.
Bringing it all together
In the first section of this article, I talked about what a shot sequence is, and why it is a good idea to use one. In section II explained in detail what my shot sequence is, and how I put it into practice; in hopes of helping you develop your own shot sequence.
Now it’s time to bring all of the parts together and quickly talk about the end goal of using a shot sequence.
“Amateurs practice until they can get it right; professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” – Unknown
Even though I like to think of a shot sequence as a “mental checklist” for each and every shot that I take, the entire point of my shot sequence is to train my body to shoot without thinking. As many of you know, when you get in the moment – when you finally get the animal you have been pursuing into bow range, adrenaline takes over. I don’t know about you, but at that moment, I am not always able to settle down and run through my shot sequence. It could be because I am too excited, which I do have some control over, or it could be because this animal is giving me a limited opportunity to make the shot and I have to get right down to business. In these moments our shooting should be automatic, and while we may not have time to run through our shot sequence, it should be so ingrained in our minds and muscle memory that we shoot with our shot sequence without consciously deciding to do so. Again, the goal with a shot sequence is to use it so much during practice, and during the off-season, that we can’t get it wrong.
The more that I shoot with my shot sequence, the less I should need it; or rather, the less of an impact that it should have on my shooting. If I practice perfect, then I should be coming to perfect anchor at full draw, and therefore as I run through the first step of my shot sequence, my anchor, it should already be perfect. As I get better and better, using my shot sequence, when I check my level (step 3), it should already be level because I have trained myself to have the proper anchor (step 1) and grip (step 2). Do you see how all of this begins to fit together?
The question could be raised then, why continue to use a shot sequence for each and every shot? The answer is simple – bad habits die hard, and they have a creepy way of sneaking back up on you when you least expect them. By continuing to be intentional and running through your shot sequence for each and every shot, you will immediately be able to recognize and diagnose bad habits if they begin to come back at any time. I know that when my groups start getting consistently bigger in practice, it is because I am rushing through a step in my shot sequence, and not executing that task perfectly. The more we get comfortable, the less attention we give to proper form and shot execution. By using a shot sequence I force myself to slow down and make sure that I am “practicing perfectly.”
I hope you will take the time to put some of what you have learned in this article into practice. I know that I have, and it has helped me tremendously.