YouTube channel Smarter Every Day has posted a video of Alabama archer Byron Ferguson demonstrating his skills. In contrast to some other archers, he doesn’t spend any time making grandiose claims about his own skills or offering insulting assertions about modern target archers; he just steps up and shows what good instinctive archery looks like.
Instinctive archery is a particular discipline, one in which the archer does not use any sights or other shooting aids. The name is something of a misnomer, because it’s really more a function of habit than instinct; instinctive archers train themselves to shoot accurately at any distance through a lot of good old-fashioned practice. The technique is often compared to throwing a ball; one doesn’t aim when throwing a ball, nobody marks off the distance or calculates angles, there is no scope or sight to peek through; pitchers just practice over and over for hours at a time until they know how to throw the ball so that it goes wherever they want it to. The same principle applies to archery. After years of practice with a bare bow, an archer learns to gauge distance and put the arrow where it belongs.
As the host explains, the human brain is an incredible targeting computer, far more accurate than any sight or shooting aid could be. It’s very good at quickly calculating distances, angles, weight, balance and other forces, which are then converted into the flawless execution of the shot.
But aiming is not the only skill involved (which is why Hawkeye’s laser sight is pretty much useless); the major factors that determine a hit or miss all occur in the fraction of a second between when the string is released and when the arrow leaves it. Any uncontrolled movement by the archer after loosing the shot can affect the arrow’s flight; plucking the fingers when releasing, moving the bow or shifting the weight on the feet can all cause an arrow to miss the target. In this regard, archery is more like tai-chi or yoga than other martial arts; it’s all about body awareness and precise control of movement. This also makes it a very calming activity, excellent for teaching children and adults with ADHD to calm down, slow down and focus.
Mr. Ferguson here demonstrates his ability by striking a series of targets, each smaller than the last, starting with a wooden disk about 6″ in diameter and working his way down to an aspirin tablet. In slow-motion, it’s pretty amazing. He’s also careful to refer to what he does as “exhibition shooting.” He’s making very impressive shots under highly controlled conditions; this is somewhat different from tournament or recreational shooting on a range or in the wild, though based on his collection of hunting trophies, he obviously has excellent skills when he’s not putting on a show.