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 Traditional Shooting Clinic

Gap Shooting 

 Part 1. - Gap Shooting

Gap Shooting has been widely considered controversial among many hard core traditional archers. But just what is it and why are so many gap shooters accurate? We asked our visitors who were avid Gap Shooters just what they did.


The Questions we asked were:

1. Give an Overview of your technique.?
2. Explain how you learned the 'gap'?
3. Problems you have/had with this method?
4. Why you think it works best for you rather than other styles?
5. Do you mentally calculate distance and then set the gap?


 Larry Yien

1. Overview of your technique?

I focus on the spot I am shooting at.  In my periphery I see the arrow.  For a given distance I have a gap or distance between the spot and the tip of the arrow.  At 20 yards I have a two inch gap between the spot and the tip of the arrow.  If the distance is less than 20 my gap increases and if it is over 20 I decrease the gap.

2. Explain how you learned the 'gap' ?

A longtime archer Ben Rogers shared his gap technique with me one day. I had developed my own gap shooting system by trial and error, but Ben gave my system some refinement.

3. Problems you have/had with this method?

Gap shooting in it's purest form requires one to know the distance of the shot, then shoot the appropriate gap.  In hunting situations, or just plain unmarked shoots, if range estimation is off, the shot will be off.  Gap shooting also requires a lot of memorization if you are shooting a large range of distances.  Although if your shots center around 20 yards, like most of our hunting shots, then one gap can be memorized and adjusted for a small variety of distances.  Gap shooting is a bit more challenging shot with split finger release, since this finger position makes for larger gaps at any given distance.  When I started shooting IFAA tournaments split finger release was required, and I made the adjustments.  I did not find it to be a severe disadvantage, just took a bit more practice.

4. Why you think it works best for you rather than other styles?

Gap shooting is a fine way to develop a consistent shot.  It works in varied conditions where external reference points may not be available. For example, while stumpshooting, if I shoot a shot with a certain gap, and the shot goes high, I adjust my gap.  The next shot I will take with a larger gap.  Granted most hunting situations do not give me a second shot, by taking a second shot while stumpshooting I can learn and practice for the hunt.  Using a gap method, I can practice in a methodical way to make me more accurate.  Whether shooting at a stump, a mckenzie 3-D critter, or a big brawny bull elk, gaps can be an effective technique to put the arrow in the spot.

5. Do you mentally calculate distance and then set the gap?

I do mentally calculate distance and set the gap.  I pre aim with a pre draw visualizing the gap.  I come to full draw and focus on the spot, while maintaining the gap, then I shoot the shot. My entire system is more a melding of a few systems and not a pure gap style of shooting.  Howard Hill's split vision best describes how I shoot.  Gap shooting is certainly a component of my shooting, and I do shoot pick a point, I shoot trajectory of the arrow, and I sometimes float instinctively while shooting.


 Billy Stewart

1. Overview of your technique?

My style of gap shooting is probably pretty common in the traditional world of archery. I shoot three fingers under the nock and I anchor with my middle finger in the corner of my mouth. In addition, I use a second anchor of the bottom knuckle of my thumb under my jawbone before I release. In my vision I see the arrow when I draw and use it as a reference while aiming. I see a somewhat fuzzy target and a clear picture of my arrow and the gap. When the arrow is lined up vertically and horizontally and under the spot I want to hit (gapped), I count to 3 and then release. My goal after the arrow is gone is to keep the bow arm extended and keep my thumb locked under my jawbone to ensure a proper release. My arrows are all the same lengths of about 27 inches. I draw 26 to 26 ½. I bend my bow arm quite a bit, which explains my short draw. I cant my bow to get a good “sight picture.”

2. Explain how you learned the 'gap' ?

After switching from a compound, I bought a used Groves recurve and pursued traditional archery without sights. I spent the next year or so training myself to shoot “instinctively.” I practiced burning a hole with my mind and watching Paul Brunner’s videos until I had them memorized. I could accurately shoot out to about 15 yards. I was stationed in Arizona at the time so most of your 3D and hunting shots were 25-30 yards. I wasn't confident shooting instinctively. In fact, I practiced more than anybody I knew and shot very poorly.

Being in the Marine Corps for 10 years at the time, I was a rifle expert, a pistol sharpshooter, and a pretty good shot with a shotgun. I thought about why I could shoot these three weapons with ease and not the recurve. Suddenly I realized the key to it all, “sight picture.” Being a Marine, “sight picture” was my creed when shooting any weapon, so why couldn't it work when shooting without sights? I was on a mission to make it work. After that, I remembered that the arrow was always under the spot that I wanted to hit in my secondary vision. I decided then to just notice the arrow and it's relationship to my eye in reference to what I saw before the arrow left. I guess the arrow became a modified “Gun Barrel.” The gap would be determined by the distance of the target.

3. Problems you have/had with this method?

To be perfectly honest, I don't have many problems with my style. The aiming is the easiest part for me. My form is the only thing I fall short on that in turn causes me problems. I have extreme confidence in my style. The only problem I have is that gap shooting is not accepted by many traditionalists and instinctive is considered the only way. In addition, many 3D shoots do not allow 3 under shooters.

4. Why you think it works best for you rather than other styles?

Simply put, gap shooting is consistent, nothing ever changes in my style. Nervousness, target panic, and a big animal doesn't change my methodical shooting style. All other styles can't relieve the pressures that occur during big shoots and hunting situations. The gap doesn't change enough to matter during hunting situations and once I know my equipment, 3D shoots become a battle of good form instead of aiming.

Instinctive shooting is never consistent as far as I'm concerned. Howard Hill’s “Hunting the Hard Way”, he stated that instinctive shooters can never find true consistency. I have found this to be true. Gap shooting has been my key to consistency.

5. Do you mentally calculate distance and then set the gap?

The most important issue I have found when figuring my gap is to know my gear. Mostly all of my bows shoot the same, but there seems to be some variance at times when the bow weight is extremely different. Once I have gotten a feel for how my bow will perform, I can mentally set my gap. This is not a conscious thing and is usually done after 2 or 3 shots. Judging distance has become second nature and is usually based on the how the target or animal looks to me as far as size. After that, my mind calculates the gap. 


Gapping the Shot

  Mentally setting the 'gap'


 Pete Darby

Pete's submission was particularly interesting to me because he has just started shooting a traditional bow and adds a different perspective.

Pete works as a civilian Liaison between the Navy Personnel Command Quality of Life Programs.  He spent ten years in the navy and served on Carriers, Frigates and LSTs. Pete's hobbies include Leathercraft, Whitewater canoeing, hunting, martial arts and medieval recreations.  This last hobby led him to archery.  Pete started shooting in April 98 with a 55# @28" belgium takedown recurve. He uses wooden arrows and homemade quivers.  His back quiver is modeled after the Robin Hood quiver (sewn not laced and carved with celtic dragons and knotwork)  that was featured in Primitive Archer magazine.  My wife's quiver is modeled after a thirteenth century Eastern European quiver.  Pete utilized Byron Ferguson's "Become the Arrow" book as his teacher.  He is a member of the Belvoir Bowhunters and Appalachian Bowhunters.  "I currently have a Chinook on order from Ric Anderson and could be categorized as hooked on archery.  I have set up a fifty yard range in my back yard with 3d and traditional targets.  and I have been known to go out and shoot late at night to work on my instinctive shooting." e-mail Pete

1. Overview of your technique?

I purchased a 55#@28 takedown recurve last April to begin learning traditional archery. Realizing I needed a teacher if I didn't want to waste time learning all the mistakes of beginning archers. I did several things to prepare. I set up an archery range in my back yard and ordered Byron Ferguson’s book "Become the Arrow" In four months I went from never shooting an arrow to being able to shoot five inch groups at twenty yards. I also hit my first arrow within 2" about 95% of the time. The method I use to hit the target is to utilize consistent form , with my eye directly above the arrow resting on a canted bow. I then concentrate on the smallest point-of-aim possible. I start out learning to hit the spot at the closest point possible. I then learn to do the same thing at progressively longer distances. I aim by determining the vertical distance the end of the arrow is below the target. Between thirty and forty yards I will begin to put the arrow spot on and farther out I put the arrow above the target.

2. Explain how you learned the 'gap' ?

As I get more proficient I begin to concentrate less on the "gap" and more on the spot and exactly how the arrow flies to the spot. This method is not exclusively gap shooting nor is it exclusively instinctive shooting. It allows me to learn with an "aiming" system yet progress to the "instinctive" style of shooting as I become proficient.

3. Problems you have/had with this method?

The number one problem I have had with learning to shoot by book, is that no one can critique my style and tell me what mistakes I am making. I have occasionally picked up really good hints from the Leatherwall. For example, to put more pull on my middle finger ( I shoot two under).

4. Why you think it works best for you rather than other styles?

I believe this system works because I can start out with an aiming system, but I can advance to instinctive shooting as I get better. Currently, I can shoot at night from 15yds and hit anything I can see, even if I can't see my own arrow on the bow. However, when I go to thirty or beyond I revert to gap shooting. When I started to practice with broadheads instead of field points I discovered that there is no difference in my shooting between arrow types. I fix my gap, not on the point and the spot but between the arrow shaft and the spot. I really pay no attention to the point at all.

5. Do you mentally calculate distance and then set the gap?

Unlike some of the other systems, this method does not utilize any special range calculation. I shoot with the gap that looks right for how far I am from the target Applying an artificial range calculation does not matter. What does matter is that I have shot from that distance enough that my mind recognizes the gap to use.


 Bob Littlefield

Bob Littlefield, Age -46,  married with 3 kids aged 21, 19, and 17. Bob started shooting a stick when he was 14.  Began tournament shooting with a compound in 1974 and won several state championships shooting Bowhunter Freestyle (thats
peep, pins, and release) Got bored and agravated due to the constant cost and lack of "fun" that was necessary to keep competitive.  "A friend of mine was with me at a garage sale and we bought two used longbows in the 70lb plus weight. (Real dumb) and for the next month we liked to have killed ourselves getting our muscles and fingers broke in becoming decent shots again. Won several State Longbow Championships and many other state 3-D tounaments.  Went to the NFAA Nationals in Kansas City and finished tied for 3rd the second year they "alllowed" Traditional equipment.  I shot a 53lb cedar longbow against 40lb target Olympic Bows but still did okay.

I now shoot nothing over 55lbs.  My hunting bows are 50 and 53lbs 3piece Navaho takedown longbows.  (Getting to old to pull the heavy stuff)  I still get a kick out of competing and have an eternal burr about people using traditional archery as an excuse to be a lousy shot.  I have a son that shoots traditional (same kinds bow I do ) and he took his first deer with a browning recurve when he was 14 years old.  I got to watch it from a tree 50 yards away.  Was something else to be a part of that!!!

I Would like to see more cooperation with bowhunters (no matter what they shoot) with each other and especially an effort to get kids involved.  We are a solitary type of hunter, and sometimes we keep to many secrets to ourselves that we should be sharing with the younger generation.. bl2131@swbell.net

1. Overview of your technique?

I use a modified version of Howard Hills split vision "gap" method. While his point of aim with split fingers was 50 yards, mine with three fingers under and a high anchor is 20 yds. This narrows the gap to the point even a dummy like me can do it quickly.  Simply put the gap is as follows.

0-15 yds - ain't no gap at all put the top of the arrow shaft(point) on what you want to hit.
15-20     - gap is minor if any - middle of the point)
20-25     - gap is the bottom of the shaft
30-         - gap is one arrow shaft above
40          - gap is two arrow shafts above
50         - don't care - this is too far to shoot in the woods I hunt in.


This technique is simple and is a hunting technique.  Most animals around Okla where I hunt are 25 yds and in.  If you are familiar with the surroundings, the yardage is second nature, if the deer is within range - put the point in the
lungs and let go.

2. Explain how you learned the 'gap' ?

I read (several times) Howard Hill's book and modified it to what worked for me.  I put a black 2 inch dot on a pie plate and shot at it from 10 yds with the point on the dot.  Then I shot 10 arrow groups at 15,20,25,30, etc and figured the drop at each yardage.  After that I simply practiced, practiced, practiced, practiced, practiced, etc, etc.  I usually shoot 2-300 arrows every week in my backyard.  At this point it is almost (I hate to use this word) Instinctive.

3. Problems you have/had with this method?

Very few, at tournaments when shots are past 30 yds it can be a problem if you let it get to you. But hunting it is pure simplicity.  Inside 30 yds it is Great. Biggest problem I get is when I beat someone at a tourney and they bellyache. At one state shoot I beat 1/2 of the compound shooters. Of course their excuse was I got to shoot closer.
I hate it when someone thinks shooting trad equipment is an excuse to be a lousy shoot.  I  have shot in the 280's many times on the indoor 300 round.  You have to practice but trad equipment can be deadly.

4. Why you think it works best for you rather than other styles?

This works best for me because I have practiced with it and have confidence in it.  I wanted a system that was good at hunting first.  That is what I come up with.

5. Do you mentally calculate distance and then set the gap?

You bet I know the yardage, either by pacing off, or with a (Heaven help me) laser range finder when in the woods.  I go to many 3-d tourneys and use that as practice for estimating distances.

When I think it "feels" right, it is because I practice, and KNOW what my arrow will do at a given distance. When I shoot it takes about 4 second, 1 to pull, 2 to anchor, 3 to aim and on 4 I release.  When that happens, I am usually
satisfied with the result. (Unless I have a truly instinctive moment and then who knows where the arrow will go)


SHOOTING menu
Gap Shooting
String Walking
Perfecting Your Practice
What's the point to shooting?
Shooting on Target
Tabs and Gloves for shooting
Bridging the gap
Finessing Your Arrows

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