The Bridge Method
This article first appeared in Stick and String magazine in the fall of 2012.
The Bridge Method
Two years ago, I had the privilege of attending a Rod Jenkins’ shooting seminar. A small group of traditional shooters spent two days being schooled by the IBO World Champion on shooting form. Toward the end of the intense seminar, Rod talked us through a practice method he called “bridging”. I have since incorporated this bridge method into my practice routine. The results showed in my 3D scores jumping dramatically. I’m not an IBO World Champion but my shooting continues to improve because I use this method. It simply works.
Form practice for archery shooting uses a blank bale at very short range, no more than seven to ten feet from the bale. That way the shooter does not have to worry about whether the arrow will hit the bale. All concentration focuses on form and not on aiming. The purpose of the form practice is to create muscle memory and to create a perfect shot sequence the subconscious mind can repeat every time.
At some point, when you have perfect form, you will want to start shooting at targets and shoot at distances greater than 10 feet. Immediately moving back to maximum effective range and snapping off two dozen arrows can rapidly undo all the work you put into your form practice.
Often, when aiming comes into the shot sequence, the shooter will split their concentration between form elements and aiming. This break in concentration can cause errant shots, poor groupings, and create bad habits. The conscious mind can only concentrate on ONE thing at a time.
What we want to achieve is a bridge between form practice and hitting a spot on a target/animal at your chosen maximum effective range. Remember that form practice creates a “perfect shot sequence that the subconscious mind can repeat every time.” In other words, we want the subconscious mind to handle shot sequence so our conscious mind can concentrate on aiming at our chosen target. It’s simple, but not easy.
First, you need a target. The size is your choice. However, as you will soon see, going too small can be problematic and frustrating. I use a nine-inch paper plate and mark a small aiming dot in the center. Paper plates are cheap, “green”, and the size replicates the vital size of most animals I choose to hunt.
The second thing you need is a timer. I use an inexpensive kitchen timer that can be set up to one hour. It also gives off a loud ding when my shooting time is up.
Now, set the timer for the length of time you want to shoot. This is entirely up to you. It could be five minutes or it could be two hours or any time in between. Step back to the five-yard mark and start your shot sequence. Only this time, instead of concentrating on each step of your shot sequence, put all of your concentration on your target. Pick the smallest point possible, the exact spot the arrow will hit.
Here is the hard part. Let your subconscious mind handle the shot. Don’t think about anything other than the point on the target where the arrow will hit! After the arrow hits the target, ask yourself, “How did the shot feel? Did it feel perfect?” If it felt perfect, shoot another arrow.
Archery consists of one perfect shot, period. Once you make one perfect shot. Then you try to make another perfect shot. Each is completely separate from the previous shot. Continue to shoot one perfect arrow at a time until you have shot forty perfect shots at five yards. You do not have to shoot all forty shots during the same session. However, they should be shot consecutively if possible. This helps to ingrain the perfect shot into the subconscious.
If however, you missed the target or the shot did not feel perfect, even though you may have hit the target, stop! Remove the target, and go back to shooting blank bale for the duration of the time remaining on your timer. This takes dedication and will power. If you cheat here, you will only hurt yourself and waste the hours of form practice you have already put in. Therefore, if you decided to shoot for an hour and on the third shot, you drop your bow arm, the remaining fifty-six minutes will be spent shooting blank bale. You are building concentration habits as well as ingraining the shot sequence.
The next time you go out to shoot, after you have warmed up, set the timer and start again. This time you make it to perfect shot number 23 before you collapse your anchor. Go back to blank bale for the remaining time. This will happen to you enough times that soon, you will grow to despise the blank bale. However, your concentration will improve. Always remember, you want one perfect shot that can be repeated.
Finally, you see your fortieth consecutive arrow sticking in the target and the answer to your question, “Did the shot feel perfect?” is “yes”. Congratulations stop shooting and go have a cold one.
For your next shooting session, you can step back to seven or ten yards but no further. Repeat the same process that you did at five yards. You must shoot one perfect shot, forty times consecutively. If you drop a shot or something doesn’t feel right, go back to the blank bale for the remaining time. Then next session start again at seven or ten yards. You do not need to repeat the bridge at five yards.
Once you have completed the bridge at ten yards, move back another two to five yards and repeat the process. You should continue this process at increasingly longer distances. When you can no longer shoot one perfect shot, on target, forty times consecutively at a given range, you have determined your maximum effective range.
The bridge method can and should be used anytime you make a change to your form, make a major change to your equipment, change bow weight, are recovering from an injury or surgery, or whenever it has been a prolonged time since you last shot your equipment.
The Bridge is a tool that can greatly improve your confidence, accuracy, and enjoyment of your chosen sport. Whether you are a target shooter or a diehard bowhunter, the bridge simply works. Give it a try.