Over the course of this blog's history, I've suggested all sorts of techniques that might be helpful when practicing with longbows and recurves. I've written about tricks that make practice mimic field conditions a little more. I've talked about the mental and physical side of shooting with traditional gear. There have even been a few entries detailing the little things that make your gear work better.
I've somehow ignored the most important thing, however. That being, you've got to keep your practice fun.
I know that shooting or walking in the woods with a longbow or recurve bow is fun in its own right, but sometimes we archers, in a sincere effort to improve our skills, forget this and put too much pressure on ourselves. I find it happens mostly during shoots with others.
I thought of this the other day while on my front lawn tending to rainbow trout in my smoker. It was a beautiful afternoon and, aside from filling a pan with a few more woodchips every now and then, I had nothing to do. So I set up a couple of targets on my lawn and got the longbow out.
I can't tell you how much fun I had just roving around the lawn and shooting arrows at my bag target, plastic pop bottles and even dandelions in the distance. I'm sure you've probably had similar experiences. Suddenly, you are just shooting for shooting's sake and you become that kid with a longbow once again. It's magic really.
Just like that kid of old, I placed no pressure on myself and just decided to enjoy the flight of the arrow, the feel of the bow in hand and the free recreational time. Funny enough, I shot as well as I ever have — at one point placing three arrows in a row into a small plastic bottle at around 30 yards.
But that was not the highlight. The highlight was reigniting the joy this pastime has always brought to me. This is a great thing to do when serious practice starts to feel more like work than fun.
Here are a few fun things you might want to try.
#1. Shoot at plastic pop bottles. Fill them with water the first time if you like. It makes a hit more dramatic.
#2. Tie a few balloons to trees or peg them to the ground. They make for inexpensive, challenging, colorful targets that leave no doubt when you've made a long distance hit. This is particularly fun on a windy day if you give those balloons a long lead.
#3. Throw a small, reactive target such as the Rinehart field target out into the field and play the old "hit the can" game with a friend like you used to play when you were a kid. When your arrow hits it, it will bounce and move, presenting your buddy with a different, perhaps more difficult shot. First miss loses.
#4. Go stump shooting. There's nothing like combining a walk in the woods with archery.
#5. Set up a 3-D target and stalk it from various angles. If you don't have one, cut out cardboard silhouettes or cover your target's face with a photo or drawing of an animal.
No doubt you have a few ideas of your own. We archers are, after all, a creative bunch. So go out there and leave the stress that accompanies serious practice at home for a few hours. The kid in you will be grateful.