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Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

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Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby Bender » Wed Jul 14, 2010 7:00 pm

Over the years I have accumulated personally witnessed evidence that what is commonly called “instinctive shooting” just doesn’t work worth a darn. However at the CA State Broadhead Tournament I got to witness evidence that it does work. I, a confirmed gap shooter, took third to two confirmed instinctive shooters. Oh the horror!

I have always had a hard time with the idea of instinctive shooting. We’re told “It’s just like throwing a baseball.” A moments reflection though and we realize that that can’t possibly deliver the accuracy necessary for either hunting or target shooting. Or it’s called “proprioception”, the unconscious perception of the relative position of our various body parts. Think about that for a minute. I don’t know it for a fact but I find it doubtful that this sense of proprioception is so precise that it can drive the difference in elevation of the bow arm to accommodate for a 25 yard shot versus a 15 yard shot. But I have seen instinctive shooters do just that. Then of course there is the argument that there is no such thing as instinctive shooting as humans are not born with any instinct for shooting a bow and arrow. It is a learned behavior.

I have run across apocryphal (accounts of uncertain validity) stories of informal studies of instinctive shooting. In these studies the performance of shooters who consciously aim is compared to instinctive shooters. The most common format is to have the shooters shoot at a “target” like a laser dot projected onto a wall in a totally dark room. In some of these “studies” the instinctive shooters perform best, in others the aimers do best, and in yet others there is no measurable difference in performance. So even if we do accept these stories as being valid, it’s still a wash. However let’s just keep these stories in the back of our mind for a bit, OK?

A couple of months ago I read in the 5/2010 issue of Scientific American an article titled “Uncanny Sight in the Blind” by Beatrice de Gelder. She is a professor and the director of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Tilburg University, Netherlands. Turns out that people who have gone blind due to injury to the visual cortex in the brain, yet whose eyes remain basically healthy have a “sense” termed “blind sight”.
People who have demonstrated blind sight are able to distinguish colors, shapes, and even emotions portrayed on other people’s faces, even though they are not conscious of having seen anything! One particularly striking case is that of a blind man who was able to successfully navigate an obstacle strewn hallway. Here is a link to a video of him accomplishing this: ... 2010-04-15 What I found to be important and what has lead me down this long and tortuous path is that upon questioning, the blind man was not consciously aware of having perceived anything or having made any maneuvers to avoid the obstacles!

So, by accepting the stories about the instinctive shooting studies and their equivocal results, (yes I’m going out on a limb here) and combining them with the concept of blind sight I have arrived at a theory of instinctive shooting. For one thing, yes it can work. In order for it to work though, the arrow, or the bow’s shelf, or sight window, or other reference MUST be visible to the eye. These references are actually processed. They are used to drive what the shooter does with his body, much like the blind man in the hallway. However, the instinctive shooter has managed to train himself into a sort of blind sight condition in which this processing is no longer happening consciously. This processing is occurring in the more “primitive” areas of the brain. An oversimplified view of brain functions, but think of it as if this processing is occurring in the “reptile brain” we all have. Perhaps the term “instinctive” isn’t quite such a misnomer after all?

“But wait!” you say, “Who is this Bender joker? What can he possibly know about instinctive shooting? He’s a Gap shooter for cryin’ out loud! An unrepentant Gap shooter no less!” A legitimate observation. Which is why any and all questions, suggestions, comments, and hate mail is gratefully appreciated.
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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby njstykbow » Wed Jul 14, 2010 7:27 pm


Nice post. I have always considered myself an "instinctive shooter"...whatever that is? I never shot any "conscious" method of aiming...meaning gap or poa. I would have always told you I couldn't "see" the arrow when shooting at distances less than around the 60 yard mark. That was until everyone on the internet kept telling me what was happening wasn't possible!

After re-evaluating my shooting somewhat...I believe there is credence to what you are saying. I think I've probably shot enough arrows over the past....years :oops: , that I simply don't pay ANY attention to what is there in front of me. I used to think it was simply tunnel vision due to extreme focus on the intended target, but I've found that even when I'm not really concentrating on my target like I should...I don't have any recollection of the arrow, sight window, shelf, etc.

When shooting longer distances...the arrow comes into play, but it doesn't seem to alter my method of shooting...which now makes me wonder what's going on at closer distances? :o

Are you messing with me like the guy who asked me if I breath at full draw?

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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby lostaro » Wed Jul 14, 2010 7:28 pm

Wow...I need to tap into my "reptile brain" to wrap around all that blind sight business. Really a very interesting concept. I do think your on to something with the idea of "learned" actions being filed into the sub-concious. Instinctive shooters...myself thrown in...often say a shot feels right. Your not actively seeing that everything is lined up just so but you get a message from deep in your head that says.."there, that's it...let 'er rip"...and when you get out of your own way...the arrow goes where it is supposed to. I'm sure this post will get some great responses...I can't wait. Thanks Bender.
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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby rhust » Wed Jul 14, 2010 7:30 pm

In my opinion, shooting instinctive is just sub conscious aiming. To clarify. When you focus your full attention on the spot you want to hit, you can still see the riser, the arrow, and everything else that is in front of your face. A good instinctive shooter must have good repeatable form, and put in the time at the practice range. With good clean form and lots of repetition, the sub conscious mind learns the correct sight picture (gap, bracket, ect). This allows the "instinctive" archer to fully focus the conscious mind on the spot. Some are better at this than others. I have introduced a lot of people to shooting, and some shoot "instinctive" much better than others. With some students I have had to switch them to a more conscious aiming system in order to see results. A lot has to do with how good your hand eye coordination is. My experience has been that most instinctive archers dont put in the time needed to become good shots.
I have been shooting recurves and longbows for 30+ years. In that time I have tried most different forms of aiming. For the last 15-20 years I have used a combination of instinctive, and point on. From 0 to 35 yards I focus all my attention on the spot I want to hit, from 35 and further I start using the tip of the arrow. My point on is 40 yards. It has taken years of doing the same thing to become proficient with this style, but it works very well for me. If you dont have solid consistent form no style will work well. Just my 2 cents worth.
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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby KCummings » Thu Jul 15, 2010 6:07 am

HA!! If you look really close, you will notice that he is using the lines on his shirt as a sight.


Cool video. Amazing what the human brain can do. And I can't even tell the difference between a blue and a black sock in broad daylight.


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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby LBR » Thu Jul 15, 2010 7:22 am

I've only known one person in my life that I would call a truly instinctive shooter--and he passed away a few years ago. He did a sort of swing draw, but the arrow was gone before it could get even into his peripheral vision.

Some days he was off...but the days when he was on, he was a heck of a shot. He could shoot just as accurately in pitch black dark as he could in broad daylight. He did it at Elberton one year when we went--they had the tiny glow sticks shoved into foam targets with only the end showing. I couldn't tell if they were 10 yards or 40--missed most of them. He hit one or two of the sticks!

I have one of the little "whiffle" golf balls he loved to shoot at--it's shot all to pieces. Even after he got sick (pancreatic cancer) and couldn't pull more than 20# or so, he kept a target at the end of his hallway. If I remember correctly, he shot his bow for the last time on Wednesday before he passed away on Saturday.

Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby VoodooSteve » Thu Jul 15, 2010 9:32 am

Dang ,now I wish I hadn't instictively shot up my dictionary,lol!

Well Chad now you know two, man you seem to always forget about me.....

Two years ago at the Rinehart 100 in Wabash Indiana I got into a bit of trouble for shooting the white rhino in the dark... it was midnight....I was using lighted knocks that were turned off after every shot, it was pitch black, and a bit foggy, couldn't see crap except for a faint glow of the rhino, I started shooting it at about 10 yds. every single shot went into the 10 ring...I moved back to about 20yds. same result I moved back twice as far and could barely see the rhino, and I mean barely....most of my shots went into the 10 ring but a couple fell just outside......I moved back again to just across the road, a little more than 50, and I left one of my lighted arrows in the 10 ring for reference as I couldn't see the rhino, none of the 5 arrows shot was more that 2" from the one I had left in.......I did this for more than an hour, I moved to different places, forward ,back, to the sides, all over and none of my arrows were ever out of the kill zone....... then I hear some voices, it was the owner of Bass n Bucks, and the main man from Rinehart, they came over and asked me to stop for safety's sake as a couple of drunks were now wondering around, I did and we talked for a few minutes.. turns out these fellas and a bunch of others had been watching me the whole time, they said they had never seen anything like that, and asked me how many years I had been shooting in the dark, and they couldn't believe it was the first time I ever did it.....the next day I won the longbow division by a handy margin......and at the awards when I went up and got my pin, they stopped me and told everyone there how dedicated I was in practicing and not missing a single time in the dark for over an hour...... serious shit!...hell I shoot better in the dark than I do during the day.........but I have to see my target, but not my bow or arrow..........I've shot instictively with a stickbow since I was a little kid,I taught myself, it's how I learned,(my father who was a target archer tried to teach me different ,but I hated it).. and I'll do it till I can't shoot does work, but your head has to be a recent bout with headupmybuttitis has proven, it garnered me an 80 point score at Cloverdale.....,,,now where is that diktianairy??
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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby Hornseeker » Thu Jul 15, 2010 10:59 am

In my opinion, shooting instinctive is just sub conscious aiming.

Thats my story too...

If you think you are a truly instinctive shooter, and dont use the arrow for a sight...then get yerself setup so you are shooting an arrow just long enough to clear your shelf... Then... get yerself some full length 32+" inch shafts that fly ok, and make sure bother sets of arrows are the same weight.

My $$ say you will have two different groups of arrows on the target... vertically spread out. At least, thats how it works for me, and I used to think I was instinctive... Then I figured out, I was aiming with my Sub Conscious...

Not sure about Voodoo.... he is just a freak of nature! :mrgreen:
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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby BK in TEXAS » Thu Jul 15, 2010 11:34 am

Hornseeker wrote:...then get yerself setup so you are shooting an arrow just long enough to clear your shelf... Then... get yerself some full length 32+" inch shafts that fly ok, and make sure bother sets of arrows are the same weight.

My $$ say you will have two different groups of arrows on the target...

Yup! That's it for me too. My arrows hang over the shelf 1" and I don't consciously look at them, BUT I have to shoot the same length arrow. So ya, I think my mind sees it, even if it isn't acknowledging it.
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Re: Alternatives in Instinctive Shooting

Postby Hornseeker » Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:24 pm

When I first started shooting, all my arrows were cut so that they just cleared the shelf. Then, a couple years down the road I bought some and didn't want to cut them yet, went out and at 15 yards I was hitting real low... I thought, WTF? These arrows are only a 30 grains heavier than my this range the weight diff cannot be that big of a deal....switched back...boom, right on... switched back to long...boom...way low ( Imean like 5 inches)...

Thats when I realized... I was instinctively gapping off that arrow... I almost took my life, then I realized ....bullshit.... I dont give a shit how I shoot, as long as I'm hitting where I want to!!! And now I shoot the same way but actually "see" the arrow a bit more and use it quite a lot on longer shots....
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