Instinctive shooting, really?

Posted: 2014/07/04 in From the perspective of an Archery Coach.


There is no such animal.

Now, before you jump off the warf and start splashing around like a wounded fish because you’ve been shooting instinctively for years, hear me out.

To begin…

After having trained (some) in Olympic style shooting, I currently shoot a compound while working on bettering my game for 20 yard indoor competition. However, my first love has always been the art, the dance and the romance, of this thing called Trad.

It doesn’t seem to matter which bow I have in my hands I will shoot it well, perhaps not with any amount of greatness but nonetheless well enough to draw some attention to what I’m doing. This is not intended to be the statement of a braggart but rather the recognition of the fact that I have a passion for doing some things well and archery is one of them. That said, within our local archery community what I may be best known for is the skills I seem to demonstrate when shooting a traditional bow and that might be because it’s where I feel at my best, you could say it’s… home.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people, and of those mostly newbies, using the phrase, “I shoot instinctive.” I have a big problem with the idea behind why they might be saying what they’re saying. Could it be because they don’t know any better? I cringe even more when I hear a seasoned archer making the same proclamation.

Again, there is no such animal.

When I shoot a traditional bow, I never consciously aim or estimate distance. I simply look at where I want the arrow to hit and it will usually find its mark out to about 35 yards.

BUT, this is NOT instinct.

This ability has taken many hours of practice, years really, to learn exactly what my bow will do in a multitude of circumstances, up hill, down hill, in the wind… etc.

Fundamentally, what some are calling “instinct” is being confused with the ability of the subconscious mind to process external variables at an incredible rate of speed as taught by the conscious and continuous repetition of action. Look at it like this, the subconscious mind is like a child, it learns through experience. However, it cannot discern between past, present or future. It cannot distinguish between real or not real, so maybe I should have said, “perceived experience.” But, once sufficiently practiced, it has the ability to control spontaneous reaction without conscious thought from the brain-stem’s primal core. This is the same area of the brain that control’s the instinct to survive, fight or flight responses and breathing.

In the beginning a punch is just a punch and in the end to a master a punch is just a punch. It is somewhere in between we will make it far more complicated than it needs to be. The same thought process can be applied to the archery shot.

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So, if any of this supposed rhetoric is true then what is really going on?

Is it possible that what’s really happening is a subconsciously controlled form of, or combination of, point of aim and gap shooting?


In the end, “instinctive shooters” are aiming but the real trick to the method is the ability to allow an instantaneous physical performance or reaction to the subconsciously controlled processing of visually obtained variables.

A little long-winded. So, let’s call this method of “aiming”… Instinctive.
If, for no other reason than it sounds mysterious.

So, I guess I am an “Instinctive Shooter,” after all.

Thoughts and comments are welcome.

  1. The big key here is the “ive”, those three letters changes things. Here is what the dictionary shows as the definition of Instinctive:
    relating to or prompted by instinct; apparently unconscious or automatic.
    “an instinctive distaste for conflict”
    (of a person) doing or being a specified thing apparently naturally or automatically.
    “an instinctive writer”
    Most people take the first line, but look at the second. Writing is not an instinct, so how can you be an Instinctive writer? Walking is not an instinct, yet we do not think about how to walk we just do it.
    I know what your trying to say, but I believe that many do not understand the word.
    Also it is not your subconscious mind, it is your unconscious mind.
    I did enjoy your article too!

  2. Shawn E. Rees says:

    Intuition may be defined as understanding or knowing without conscious recourse to thought, observation or reason.

    Instinct is not a feeling, but an innate, “hardwired” tendency toward a particular behavior. Instincts are automatic reactions to environmental stimuli that cannot be repressed.

  3. Shawn E. Rees says:

    Unconscious is the term usually used in Psychology to refer to the thoughts we have that are ‘out of reach’ of our consciousness. A traumatic childhood event that we repress is an example, but it doesn’t have to be so serious as this. It could be something very distant like a memory that we can’t ‘pull out’ at our choosing. It’s there, but we can’t remember it no matter how hard we try. Certain psychoanalytical methods can bring back these memories (such as hypnosis) and can also be triggered by an event (a scent, a familiar place etc).

    The important point to remember here, is that we cannot, by choice, remember anything in our unconscious without some special event or technique. This is the unconscious.

    The sub-conscious is almost the same, but the very major difference is, we *can* choose to remember. Sub-conscious is used far too often (erroneously) to mean unconscious. It’s simply not the case, and you’ll find that in Psychology the topic of the unconscious of *far* more prevalent (and important for study) than that of the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is for example the part of your mind that let’s you remember your phone number. Before reading this, you were not conscious (thinking right now) of your phone number, but should I ask you for it, you’re able to bring it to the conscious level by pulling it from your sub-conscious. The person who told you your phone number for the first time has perhaps faded from memory. It may still be in there somewhere, but it’s something you can’t remember (maybe), and if so, this is in your unconscious mind.

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