Michael Abell

Embracing Pressure

Michael Abell
Embracing Pressure

Rare things are expensive, maybe even priceless. When something is rare, it is likely that it’s components are rare. It is also likely, that the conditions required to turn the components into the finished product are also rare. An equation for such things might look like this:

(rare substrate A + rare substrates B/C) x (condition 1 + condition 2) = Rare Finished Product

Simply put, something that is already good, must be changed by the right conditions until it becomes great. Diamonds are an example. You must have a good carbon rock substrate, being compressed 150 miles below the Earth’s surface at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for a very long time. You get the right stuff under that much heat and pressure over time and you’ll get a diamond. A great archer is a similarly rare thing. They possess the raw talent to hit whatever they shoot at of course, but more importantly, great archers can hit whatever they shoot at under pressure. It is the ability to consistently hit the mark under pressure that sets great archers apart from the rest.

Certainly, great archers train all the time. They shoot their bows in a myriad of drills daily. But there is no way they can add real pressure in training. That pressure can only come from competition. You cannot replicate the feeling, when you hear the words, “Archers to the line” coming over the loudspeaker at a tournament. Still, there is more to it. You must have the intestinal fortitude and competitive spirit to put yourself into pressure filled competitions over and over again for years. This tempering process, this heat and pressure, is how you learn to hit your mark when there is a lot riding on the shot. Average archers can hit their mark regularly on their home range in practice, but they will not be able to regularly hit their mark under pressure. Great archers hit their mark when thousands of fans are watching, their heart is racing, and thousands of dollars of prize money is on the line. Great archers hit their mark at 9,000ft elevation, with their blood pumping and sweat rolling down their back as a 380” bull elk clears the timber and stands broadside at 40 yards.

I started shooting national level 3D tournaments in an amateur class in 2017. I’d shot local tournaments for many years, but after I retired from the Army it was time to step up my game. I had no real intentions of becoming a tournament archer. I simply wanted to become a better archer, to be a better hunter. In 3D Tournament archery, you shoot 40 arrows at 40 distinctly different targets, at different unknown ranges and in different scenarios. Usually, it takes two days to finish a tournament. Your goal is to hit the 10 ring on every shot. If you do that you’ll score a 400 or a perfect round. However, it is possible to hit the bullseye on every target, which is a smaller ring inside the 10 ring, that is worth 11 or 12 points, depending on the tournament. Thus, you can score greater than 400 or have an “up” round. After shooting that first national level tournament, something unexpected happened. I got a letter in the mail that said, “Congratulations, you qualified for the world championships in your class.” I couldn’t believe it. I had simply taken my primary hunting bow and arrows to the tournament and shot. I took the letter to my wife and said, “Oh my God Honey, look at this.” She said, “Well you have to do it.” I really didn’t need any encouragement, but her words found fertile soil and grew. I decided to shoot every tournament I could. By the end of the year, I had placed as high as fourth in a tournament and won some money. I also shot my first “up” round.

As last year ended, I started planning my tournament schedule for this year. I quickly realized I needed a long-range plan. I am 46 now and when I am 50, I can compete in the master’s open class. So, it will be a four-year plan. Now, what class should I shoot? Because of how well I shot in 2017 it would be proper to move up in class. I considered long and hard, before deciding to move all the way up to the top – professional open class. Most folks work their way up the class rankings and try to get sponsored along the way, so that when they turn pro they are paid to compete at that level. I suppose they also believe they need the experience before they get there. I think it will be better to jump right in and shoot against the best in the world. Four years of shooting at that level, under that pressure, cannot be replicated. I also have the money to sponsor myself, which is no small caveat. I have never met a pro who is not willing to talk to another competitor. If they don’t think you’re a threat to beat them, they will even give you advice! The best advice in the world for four years is priceless. There’s also a great deal of gamesmanship that you need to learn about how to shoot at that level in such competitions. Over time, I believe I will not just become a better archer, but I will learn all the details about tournament form and function that worry new archers. In four years, I will have time to settle in and the routine things will become routine. That way, I can concentrate that much more on hitting my mark. Regularly winning after the age of 50 in the master’s classes is my long-range goal. My short-range goals are: (1) learn everything I can about archery, shooting, travel and tournaments (2) get better at hitting the mark under pressure and (3) beat at least one other “pro” archer in each tournament.

As part of the plan, I decided I needed to shoot a “spot” tournament in addition to the other 3D tournaments. Spot tournaments are much different. You know the distance, it never changes, and the pressure comes from the precision required to win. In spot tournaments, your bow is set up to hit the bullseye or “X ring,” which is a circle the size of a nickel at 20 yards. The goal is to hit the X ring, but when you miss, you hit nothing less than the 10 ring. The 10 ring is the next largest ring and it’s the size of a silver dollar. A perfect score is made by scoring 10 points with each arrow. Absolute repeatable precision is required if you’re going to win a spot tournament. After a little research I decided to shoot the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) Vegas Tournament. It is the largest tournament in the world, with an international field of archers and the richest total prize purse in the world. I also decided to compete in the hardest class – championship compound open. To win in that class, an archer must shoot 90 arrows over 3 days and hit the 10 ring every time, for a score of 900. All archers who score a 900, move on to the “shootdown”, where they shoot against each other in sudden death, until only one remains. This year, 264 archers from all over the world competed and only 8 made it to the shootdown – they were all great archers. Now, I’m on the way home from the Vegas Shoot. I believe I succeeded in my first spot tournament. I learned a lot, my shooting got better each round and I beat 13 archers in the Championship Compound Class. Not bad for my first spot tournament. But, I have a long way to go – 250 archers beat me.

In the end, I am a hunter. It is my ultimate goal to kill game with the quickest most ethical shot possible. Precision shooting is required to make quick ethical kills in all types of circumstances, in different environments and in every weather condition imaginable. That kind of precision requires not just practice, but the right kind of practice. You must add pressure, so that in the moment of truth, when an animal’s life hangs in the balance, you can hit your mark. I don’t think every hunter needs to shoot national or international level tournaments, but they do need to compete to make themselves better under pressure. If they only bet a few bucks against their friends at the local range once a month, they will be better for it. If you want to be a great archer, pressure is required, find it and embrace it.

Recipe –

Here’s what you need, “soup to nuts” to serve up your own archery pressure cooker meal -


____ A willing soul – priceless

____ Time Off – (# of days) x (what you get paid daily) until you get it done = ?

____ Registration for the Vegas Shoot, most inexpensive class is $175 + NFAA membership = $225

____ Flight (KY to Vegas and Back) $330

____ Archery equipment –  you should already own it, just work to perfect your 20yd shot

____ Hotel - you could get away with 4 nights for $420

____ Clothes –  you should already own it

____ Food – is very inexpensive because they want to keep people in the casino, 6 days I spent - $280

Total Cost:  $1,255



There’s no need to jump into the deep end of the pool like I did to have this adventure. I bought and set up a new bow, arrows and release ($2,500). Of course, I can use that bow for years to come, but nevertheless it is a spot tournament specific rig. I competed in Compound Championship Open ($500). You can simply take your regular hunting bow and shoot in the Compound Flights Division ($175). Many people did that, sincerely, you won’t look foolish. I took 6 days to do the trip. You could do it in 4, but you risk getting there right before the tournament starts. That means if the airline loses your bow you might not have it. Or more probable, they knock your bow around and you won’t have much time to fix it and practice. The hotel is very inexpensive as is the food. They want to keep gamblers in the casino, so they keep costs down there. I didn’t take in a show or gamble, not my thing. You could bring the family and do some fun stuff, but that’s all up to you, because if you chose to go – it’s your adventure.