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Shooting for perfection

4/1/2009

As any hunter should know, you should always pick a spot on the animal you want to shoot to increase accuracy. So, to practice picking a spot I had placed a quarter-sized orange round stick-on label in the center of the black bulls-eye on the target.

Sights have not been on any bow I have owned for decades. I am a barebow instinctive shooter. "Zen In The Art of Archery" is my holy book.

I remember the shot very well. I was about 35 yards from the target.

As I have done hundreds of thousands of times before, I steadied myself, focused on the spot. An imaginary line from my eye to the bulls-eye appeared in my mind's eye. I took in a breath, and as I did I drew my 55' laminated recurve, made for me by master bowyer Don Adams, some 35 years ago.

My glove hand reached my anchor point, the third finger touching the corner of my mouth. Almost immediately I let go of the shaft. Why I released at that moment I do not know. It felt right. It just happened, like a drop of snow falling off a leaf in the morning sunshine a Japanese, as in Eugen Herrigel's book.

Searching for that feeling of rightness of when to shoot, that's what kyudo or Zen-style archery is all about. They say in Zen archery the target does not matter. I guess I am only neo-Zen. I care where my arrow goes.

I tracked the Port Orford cedar shaft from Rose City Archery, fletched with wing feathers from a turkey I bagged a couple years ago. The shot looked really good. No wobble. Good release.

"Thunk," it hit home.

I stood and looked. Man, that arrow seemed to really be on the money.

Now I have hit that orange spot before. Not as often as I would like to have pierced it, but I have hit it. That in itself is an accomplishment. This one looked special. Even from 35 yards away.

Rather than shooting the other arrows in my quiver, I decided to walk to the target to have a look.

When I got to the bale, I could not help but to exclaim, "Wow."

The black bulls-eye was 3 inches across. Not only had I hit that, but also I had hit the orange dot exactly in the middle. 35 yards. No sights. Instinctive shot. What else can you call it, but "perfection"?

Man did it feel good.

If you are an instinctive shooter, you analyze the shot after it's made.

In sports, what makes for a perfect shot? You can get lucky, but whether it's Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Kim Rhode, or you, for consistency your mind and body have to be united to hit the bulls-eye at whatever sport you choose.

Discipline and concentration are big factors for consistency, and controlled breathing helps both. Breath is what unites mind and body into a unity.

But there's also something else. Knowing.

You see players who make desperation half court or more shots to win a basketball game. When this happens, the shot is automatic. What's important to making that perfect shot is not thinking — just doing. That's why they call barebow archery "instinctive shooting." You shoot from a feeling, not a sight.

Shooting aluminum arrows, which are hollow, I have had some "Robin Hoods," when you hit an arrow already in the target dead on and the second arrow does not break the plastic knock and glance off, but instead it buries right into the shaft of the first arrow. Never done that with a perfect bulls-eye. That would be two perfect shots in a row. Closest "Robin Hood" I have ever shot was about two inches to the left of the orange spot.

And, of course, after you make a perfect shot, what's your goal?

Do it again, of course.

Perfection is addictive, but being a perfectionist can be a pain. A few years ago when I was in Japan, I had a chance to shoot at a kyudo dojo in Nara, at Tenri University. I asked the sensei (master) about perfection. He replied, "If you can learn the art of effortlessness, then perfection is a joy, for there is no worry."

I am working on that one.

Incidentally, I practice shooting that perfect shot every day, even when I don't have my bow. I find a spot, concentrate on it, take in a breath and raise my left arm as if it's holding my bow. And then when it feels right, in my mind's eye I release. Never miss. (It's not the same feeling, though.)

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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