What Is the Instinctive Aiming Method?

What Is the Instinctive Aiming Method?

It is widely believed that a lot of the old timers who relied on their bow and arrow for survival, got around by using the instinctive aiming method.

That’s plain and simple instinct for ya.

Picture yourself on an ambush in the woods and the biggest buck that you’ve seen in ages bolts out of a thicket.

You certainly don’t have the time to gauge the exact gap between the tip of the arrow and the target.

Or to decide how high or how low you should be aiming your hunting bow.

You don’t have the meticulous planning or data needed to execute a shot like this.

No idea of sudden change in wind patterns or barometric pressure.

No peep sight or scope to aim. You position your hands on the string, you raise the bow, draw, anchor and release the arrow into the nether.

If you have the required skill and practice, you hit your quarry.

That sums up the Instinctive aiming method for you. Where you shoot guided by your subconscious.

A lot of skilled archers use the instinctive aiming method to date.

We read somewhere about an archer who could shoot an aspirin thrown in the air from 20 yards, instinctively. Jeez!

But the method is not without its detractors who consider a conscious aiming system as a better bet any day.

The question is, what method do you think holds the edge?

Can you trust your subconscious in an emergency situation? Or when your life is on the line?

Today, we demystify the instinctive aiming method and pit it against a conscious aiming method.

We will even talk about ways in which you can use instinctive aiming when you are holding a gun instead of a bow and yet, maximize your chances of hitting your target.

Instinctive Aiming Explained

Instinctive aiming or target focused aiming is an old, pure form of shooting where the archer shoots without the help of points of reference or aiming aids.

Just like you’d throw a stone at a target.

You just focus on the target and willy-nilly, release the stone.

But that seemingly simple task is performed deeply at a subconscious level.

You are concentrating so intensely at your target with your conscious, that everything else just lines up perfectly at a subconscious level.

That’s one of the keys to success with instinctive aiming.

Use your conscious to blur out everything else around you. Only the target exists. With practice, your subconscious will kick-in and do the rest.

Instinctive aiming works best in real-life scenarios like ambush hunting or when you are trying to defend yourself against an opponent.

Despite getting some flak and a fair share of criticism from some of the best archers and shooters in the world, instinctive aiming is still used a lot.

In fact, many Olympic shooters and archers still shoot instinctively, rarely using their sights.

How to Shoot When Aiming Instinctively

What makes instinctive aiming a completely different ball game is the lack of rules.

Nothing is written in stone. Be it the stance or the hand position, everything has to be mastered with practice.

The Stance

Transitioning from a more theoretical shooting method, like shooting with the compound bow for example, to instinctive shooting, can be more difficult than one imagines.

That’s because the fundamentals of compound shooting have been deeply ingrained in your mind with repeated drills and practice sessions. Your body is trained to react naturally in that way and your mind usually follows suit.

Those fundamentals and techniques might still work mind you, with instinctive shooting.

You can still stand at right angle to the target, your toes perfectly intersected with it and shoot.

But most instinctive shooters rely on their own technique. Some use old, tried and tested methods.

Like a slightly open stance, knees bent, waist leaning forward towards the quarry. Others device their own secret sauce with practice.

Either way, it is important that you practice until you find a stance that works for you.

The Hand Position

Most archery schools will teach you to grab the bow handle firmly with your holding hand, ensuring that the pressure is distributed evenly across the palm.

That usually doesn’t work with instinctive aiming.

Aim A Compound Bow Without A Sight

Instead, most instinctive archers do not use a grip. They just rest the bow comfortably on the edge of the palm in a delicate and balanced fashion.

There’s no untoward pressure that might cause a misfire or deflect the bow at the crucial moment.

You can also close the fingers around the bow provided you do not apply any pressure on it. If anything, the fingers can prevent your $1000 custom bow from crashing fifty feet down into a gorge, on a bad day.

When it comes to the string hand, you can stick to the draw position that works best for you. Or one that you are trained in.

The Mediterranean style, where you position the index finger above the nock to create a hook, or the Apache draw where all three fingers are positioned under the arrow, use whatever comes naturally to you.

Remember, its more about skill than technique.

Anchor Point

High and deep anchor points usually work best with target based aiming.

But consistency is the key. There must be no variation if possible, in the draw length. This is especially true if you use longbows or a custom recurve.

The idea is to anchor as far as you can comfortably.

The moment it starts to get uncomfortable, you start to affect the amount of energy that will be transferred to the bow, which in turn will affect the accuracy.

More on anchor points here.


Start aiming even before you reach your anchor point. Harness all your concentration and keep your eyes locked on the target.

Drawing and Releasing the Bow

The entire process of raising the bow, drawing, anchoring and releasing should occur in a consistent fluid motion.

Some archers release the string even before they reach the anchor point and yet, consistently hit the target.

Others hold the arrow for several seconds before they release it. In instinctive aiming, it’s usually the first one that works.

But if that extra moment of assessment gives you the assurance that everything is lined up to perfection, use it by all means.

In the end, what matters is the result.


Use a big backstop, a small target and a short distance to practice instinctive aiming.

At first, it might seem impossible. But the more time you spend practicing, the easier it becomes.

Here are more tips on instinctively aiming a bow that you can practice.

Instinctive Shooting With a Gun

Another situation, where instinctive aiming really shines is self-defense.

There’s an amazing book by ‘Rex Applegate’ called ‘Kill or get Killed’, which highlights the effectiveness of this method, that’s believed to have originated in China in the early 1900s.

What happens when an intruder breaks down your front door and you are trying to defend your family?

All the skills that you use for sighted shooting at the range just go down the drain.

The light is probably low. Your body is tensed. Nerves frayed. You are squinting to see who’s standing ahead. So much so that you can barely see the sight.

That’s when you train your subconscious to kick-in and rely on pure instincts.

Aiming at the Fuzzy Picture

In the above mentioned situation, you’ll most likely see a fuzzy, blurred image of the target who will most likely be within 20 feet from you. (Research suggests this)

Aim for the smallest detail that you can spot and use a convulsive grip to fire.

The idea is that when you aim for the smallest detail, you amplify the chances of hitting the target.

In other words, even a mishit can actually bring the opponent down. You might not hit a vital organ or deliver a killing hit. But you might inflict enough damage to disable the opponent.

One of the best ways to practice for instinctive firing is to remove the sights on your gun or tape them down while you shoot.

The Position

The classic instinctive shooting method has trickled down from combat fighting.

The shooter must be in combat position (a slight crouch), the gun should be held in a low-ready position, body facing the opponent, shoulders squared.

Bring the gun up, the wrist and arm locked, align your body with the target, aim and fire.

This simple technique is incredibly effective at short ranges.

If there are multiple targets, you pivot using the foot that’s closest to the target to another direction and repeat the same steps.


Start by practicing at a USPSA target at just 3-yards distance.

Follow the same technique mentioned above and shoot.

When you start to get a gist of things and make repeated center hits, move back a step or two and repeat.

Eventually, you will realize that you can make consistent center hits even at 10-12 yards without lining the sight or even using it.

Keep taking backward steps until you are no longer able to make consistent center hits. That’s probably the limit at which your accuracy starts to get questionable.

But keep practicing.

Take an ode from Bill Jordan. The guy was an outlier. Frightening accuracy at extreme distances.

There’s no reason why you cannot develop similar skills with practice or come at least reasonably close to what Billy was able to achieve.


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