Gap Shooting

Gap shooting is one of the simplest and probably most commonly used aiming techniques in archery. All bows with aiming sights (olympic recurves + compounds) operate using this basic principle, and some barebow and traditional archers prefer this method too. Beginners are often told to “point the arrowhead at the target” during the first trainings. Because of its simplicity and reliability it is extremely useful to keep it in the back of one’s head, even if it is not the preferred shooting style, as a backup technique.

The technique works by using the arrowhead as a “pointer” , and the knowledge about the arrow’s flight path along a certain distance. The arrow, as a projectile, will have a trajectory similar to a parabola, influenced by gravity, aerodynamics, the weight of the arrow and the draw weight of the bow. Below a rough sketch:

typical trajectory of arrow fired horizontally.
typical trajectory of arrow fired horizontally.

Notice that even though the archer shoots horizontally, the arrow will initially rise at first due to aerodynamic effects. Therefore it will clear the first target and land somewhere behind (hopefully it wasn’t an outdoor training in the forest >.< ). In order to hit the first target, the archer needs to correct for the gap between the target height and arrow trajectory height. Hence the gap shooting technique.

Knowing the trajectory of our arrow (mostly through experimentation and common sense) we can then determine our “gap”, and apply it between the arrowhead and the target while aiming:

Gap shooting aiming technique from the archer's point of view.
gap shooting aiming technique from the archer’s point of view.

The gap size on the second diagram will vary according to the distance of archer position to target, as also visible on the trajectory diagram. That being said, when shooting from the perfect distance, x=0. Every archer’s perfect distance is different, depending on the bow, arrow weight, draw length… Before that distance is an area I labelled “cozy distance” on the first diagram because the gap required is quite small, and (after some training) comes instinctively. For me with my current bow and lightest arrows this range is ~18-25m. If I take heavier arrows, the perfect distance reduces from 25m to ~20m.

Immediately after the perfect distance, the arrow will experience a steep drop due to gravity of course but even more because of aerodynamic drag. Therefore if the target is outside the perfect distance range, the archer will need to point arrowhead above the target. This means we shoot now a certain angle above the horizontal. Over longer distances the angle must always be increased. If the trajectory would be a parabola, then the maximum arrow range would be at 45˙, however due to the aerodynamic effects the actual angle is slightly less than 45˙. Shooting such arcs becomes necessary at events such as outdoor distance shooting competitions, but also if the archer has a weaker bow and/or heavy arrows. The latter condition will provide in the better case entertainment or in worse cases problems at indoor shooting ranges. (At the range i go to there is a 20lbs draw weight longbow. When shooting with it from 20m, the arrow almost scrapes the low ceiling xD )

Finally, note from the second diagram that there is no horizontal gap! Unless you are shooting outdoors with crosswind any horizontal gap you need to apply in order to hit your target signifies either bad form or bad equipment that needs to be corrected. This applies at any distance. Shooting from longer distances will amplify the mistake’s effect on the arrows flight path, and is thus a great training to eliminate flaws.

Being an archer with TIASS (Traditional Instinctive Archer Snobbery Syndrome), it was rather difficult to drill this into my thick skull because i would load the arrow, draw, and before i noticed the arrow is already at the target. Besides, i don’t need to do what those aiming sights dependant guys do right?

Wrong. With a target shooting competition inbound and the bars set very high, i realised that this simple, “back to the basics” technique helps not only to increase accuracy (and banish the pesky “arrow orbits the yellow centre” phenomenon), but also to concentrate and stay focused during the whole process of shooting an arrow. It is also an (almost) foolproof way of avoiding dropped arrows at unfamiliar distances. After some practice it also combines well with instinctive shooting, yielding a whole new level of precision and accuracy. So, it is an exercise i recommend to all.

kitty hugs to all,


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