PSE’s Michael Braden on Teaching Shooters
Editor’s Note: Michael Braden of Houston, Texas, started shooting with PSE in the early 1990s, turned pro, shooting a PSE bow, in 1996, and won the ASA Rookie of the Year. Then in 2009, he came back to be a part of the PSE Pro Staff and has been shooting for PSE ever since, besides coaching shooters.
Michael, when a bowhunter comes to you and says, “I’ve been bowhunting for several years, and I want you to check me and my bow out to help me learn to shoot better this year,” how do you coach this person?
Braden: Each piece of the puzzle on how to shoot better is just as important as any other piece of the puzzle. Shooting better is not only about your equipment, but your form and all the elements that go into shooting accurately. I always start with the archer first. I want the archer to understand his or her shot sequence, his form and the execution of a good shot. Next, I want to help strengthen his ability to hold the bow at full draw and aim correctly. Archery is an individual sport, so you have to make sure that the individual is married to a bow that fits his or her individual needs. For me, the first considerations are draw weight and draw length. I start out by making sure that the archer can pull the bow easily and comfortably, and that the draw length is matched perfectly to the individual. The archer is the core part of shooting accurately. Therefore, the equipment has to fit that individual as perfectly as possible. If the archer feels good about his form, shot sequence, bow mechanics and execution, he’ll feel much better about releasing the arrow when an animal presents a shot. Once the archer is in good shape for bow season, then we start considering different equipment and why the archer may shoot better with certain types of equipment rather than other kinds of equipment. We match the arrow and the broadhead to each bow and each archer.
We’re seeing a lot of women coming into the sport of archery, and especially into the sport of bowhunting. One of the most limiting factors seems to be the ladies’ concern about the strength required to pull bows. How do you usually start a lady in the sports of archery and bowhunting and convince her that she can become proficient enough to be a bowhunter?
Braden: Women, like men, come in different shapes, sizes and strength levels. I feel that the most important consideration when teaching a lady to shoot a bow is to start out shooting very light poundage, so she instantly sees that she can draw and hold a bow. She doesn’t have to be a super strong athlete. We have to make sure that the bow is not intimidating to a lady interested in the sport of archery. I want a lady to be able to draw the bow really comfortably, even if I need to start her out on a very low draw weight. As new archers begin to shoot their bows, they will build muscle strength very quickly. If they shoot and practice regularly, they will build muscles they don’t use every day. Through practice and repetition, they will strengthen and hone those muscles, so they can move up in poundage relatively quickly. I think their shooting enough arrows in practice sessions to learn something new every time they practice is very important. If they only can draw the bow back five times before they’re fatigued, they won’t be able to shoot enough arrows to progress quickly as archers. A beginner who only can get off 3-5 shots in a practice session will be very intimidated.
If you had a lady come to you and say, “I want you to teach me to shoot the bow,” and you didn’t know her already or know how strong she is, what weight of bow will you start her with, and how many arrows will you want her to shoot in a practice session?
Braden: I’d start her pulling a bow weight in the mid to the upper 20 pound range and know that the lady make sure she could draw this weight comfortably. Hypothetically, I’d like to have a lady shooting 25-30 pounds and possibly shooting 30-40 arrows in a practice session, if she can shoot that poundage and that many arrows comfortably. From that baseline, we’ll begin to build her skill, muscle memory and the amount of weight she pulls.
How fast can you take this new lady, who never has shot a bow before, and have her hitting the target at 20 yards?
Braden: Within hours. Learning to shoot accurately, even for a beginner who’s never shot before, doesn’t take nearly as long now as it did several years ago. Today we have better equipment, better targets and better teaching methods. One of the big improvements in the speed at which a beginner learns is our ability to get the newcomer fitted correctly with the right bow. In past years, many newcomers would just buy a bow and try to learn to shoot it. Today, we teach, “Let’s see which bow you can shoot most comfortably and enjoy shooting, and then make the buying decision.” If the student is fitted properly with the right bow, he or she can be proficient enough to hunt in an extremely short time.
How many coaching sessions do you think would be required to take a person who’s never shot a bow before to a level of proficiency that allows that person to bowhunt?
Braden: I think 2-4 months of consistent practice and building up strength, understanding and knowledge of the sport, is enough time for anyone who really wanted to learn to bowhunt to become proficient enough to go into the field and take game when bow season arrives.