Category Archives: Archery Basics

How to Aim Traditional and Compound Bows

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In this short article I’m going to explain the proper way aim a traditional bows and modern compound bow.

Traditional Bows

Traditional bows (recurves and longbows) are aimed in the following sequence of steps:

  1. Pull the string towards your right eye (assuming you’re right-handed).
  2. Find your anchor point. I have found the best anchor points are a) the string touching the side or tip of your nose, and b) a fingertip touching the corner of your mouth.
  3. Look though the string, or just to the side of it, while focusing on the tip of the arrow. Some archers literally look through the string, while others pull the string to the side of their face, with their right eye sighting just to the left of it. It’s really a matter of personal preference. The important thing is that a) the string is close to your eye, and b) you pull the string to the same spot on your face every time.
  4.  Point the tip of the arrow at the target and release. Your draw weight and the distance to the target will dictate where you put the tip of the arrow. As you get farther away from the target, the arrow tip rises to account for the arc. The distance at which the arrow tip is on the bull’s-eye is called “point-on.” Point-on is the best reference for aiming. At distances further than point-on, you’ll hold the arrow tip higher, and vice versa for closer distances.
The distance at which the arrow tip is on the bulls-eye is called "point-on."
The distance at which the arrow tip is on the bulls-eye is called “point-on.”

There are other ways of aiming, such as instinctive shooting. With instinctive shooting your focus is on the target rather than the arrow tip. After dozens and dozens of arrows, you will hopefully fall into a natural shooting rhythm in which aiming is unnecessary, similar to throwing a baseball.

Either aiming technique is fine. In time you’ll figure out which way works best for you.

Modern Compound Bows

Modern compound bows generally use a round front sight and a round, rear peep sight that’s built into the string. As you draw the bowstring to your aiming eye, the small peep sight becomes a large, dark, blurry circle approximately the same size as the round sight on the front of your bow. The bow is aimed by bringing the circles together, similarly to a rifle scope.

Inside the front round sight there are cascading, fiber-optic, glowing pins (anywhere from one to seven). The pins are set at measured distances from top to bottom. The top pin is usually set at 20 yards (and closer), and each lower pin is set at ten yard increments. So at 30 yards you would use the second pin down, and at 40 yards you’d use the third pin, and so on.

It’s important to remember that you are aligning the two circles into one circle, and then placing the sight pin on target. Beginner archers sometimes make the mistake of aligning the rear sight with the pin only, rather than the whole front sight (see examples below).

CORRECT sight picture.
CORRECT sight picture.
INCORRECT sight picture. Align both circles BEFORE placing the pin on target.
INCORRECT sight picture. Align both circles BEFORE placing the pin on target.

For the beginner archer, compound bows can be more difficult to shoot because of all the working parts. At the same time, once you get accustom to the extra steps, compound bows quickly become more accurate. All you have to do is align the front and rear sights, put the pin on the calculated distance, and touch the trigger. The bow really does all the work for you.

The basic fundamentals of archery apply to both traditional and modern bows. The main difference is how they are aimed.

In my beginner classes I always start my students with the older style bows and work my way up to modern compounds. After that, it’s up to the student to decide which weapon feels most comfortable with.

7 Tips for Better Archery

Advanced shooters make archery look effortless, but it’s only because they’ve put in countless hours mastering the basics. Over time, the many components of form become one single subconscious step that simply happens in the background of the mind. Here are some key tips for improving your shot.

#1:  Keep both eyes open

Keeping both eyes open gives you a better sight picture. This is especially important for traditional bows. Because there aren’t any sights on a traditional bow, your focus should be on the target. To acquire a more accurate target, try keeping both eyes open. I still do this on the compound bow, especially if I’m unsure of the exact distance. Keeping both eyes open gives me more dimensionality to the target. Everything you do all day requires you to keep both eyes open, so why would you close one eye when shooting?

Try shooting with both eyes open.
Try shooting with both eyes open.

If you close one eye, you are viewing the world in 2D, not 3D. This is not something your brain is used to doing. Because I don’t view the world in two dimensions, I don’t aim at the target in two dimensions either.

#2: Don’t Aim

Proper archery form begins with feet placement, gripping the bow, and drawing the string to your anchor point. It ends with aiming, releasing, and following through. Of all these fundamentals, aiming is the easiest and least important.

In traditional archery, aiming is accomplished by simply pointing the tip of the arrow at a spot on the target. In the time it takes to master the other fundamentals of form, aiming will have become “instinctive.” Therefore, your main focus should really be on consistent form and follow through. If your form is correct, the arrow will eventually find the bull’s-eye.

Note: Correct aiming happens by aligning the string with your right eye (if you’re right-handed). This can only be done by touching the string to the side or tip of your nose. I won’t even loose an arrow unless I feel the string on the side of my nose. And no, it doesn’t hurt at all.

#3: Touch your ear

What am I talking about, ‘touching your ear?’ After each shot your release hand should brush past your face and end up touching your ear. If you make this a habit on every shot, I guarantee your accuracy will improve immediately. That’s because your release hand needs to continue in a straight line backwards from the string. If you allow your release hand to move outwards, upwards, or downwards, then the string will be pulled, or plucked, out of alignment. This will cause the arrow to wobble or deflect side to side.

Follow through by touching your ear after each shot.
Follow through by touching your ear after each shot.

#4: Don’t flinch

Where the bow goes, the arrow goes. Flinching is a major no-no in proper follow through. Flinching will cause the arrow to miss high or low. The two biggest indicators of flinching are a) you dropping or raising your bow arm at the shot, or b) lifting your head to see where the arrow hits.

Neither your head nor your bow arm should move up or down until the arrow hits the target. It’s normal for the bow to rock forward or back upon release, but your arm should still hold perfectly straight and pointed at the target until the arrow hits. Your head—which is slightly cocked to the side—should remain solid as well.

The best way to avoid flinching is to have a surprise release. A common mistake is anticipating the shot by concentrating on the release hand instead of follow through. All your focus should be on form! As you reach your anchor point, the arrow and string will simply pull free as you relax your release hand. If you concentrate on your release hand, the string will jerk out of your hand and the arrow will miss the target.

#5: Use your back muscles

All the power used to draw the bow comes from your back, not your arms. I often refer to the arms as “deadposts” because they serve one function: holding the bow. The real power comes from your back muscles. This power is simply transferred to the bow and arrow through your arms. Think of you arms as electric power lines which hang loosely in the air. The lines don’t create the tremendous power that surges through them, the power plant does.

The best way to transfer power from your back is to stand as erect as possible and concentrate on squeeze your shoulder blades together. Upon release, your shoulder blades will continue pulling together—almost touching—while your arms pull away from each other in opposite directions. This is the only way to load the bow with the necessary power for proper shot execution.

#6: Don’t pinch the string (Doesn’t apply to compound bows.)

In beginning archery the most common problem is simply keeping the arrow from falling off the shelf/arrow rest. At least 50% of my students have a hard time getting the arrow to stay on the bow long enough to shoot.

Leave a slight gap between your fingers.
Leave a slight gap between your fingers.

This is caused by over-gripping or pinching the string. The string is gripped with three fingers: index, middle, and ring. As you draw the bow, the fingers pinch tighter together. If they pinch too much, it puts pressure on the nock and causes the arrow to pull off the shelf. To keep this from happening, simply leave a slight, eighth-inch gap between your fingers as you draw the bow. This problem will fix itself rather quickly with a little practice. As frustrating as it might be at first, your hand will eventually figure out how to keep the arrow on the shelf.

#7: Missing left and right

Missing left or right is caused by torquing, or over-gripping, the bow with your bow arm. I call it the “death grip.” People death-grip the bow because they feel like they need to control the tremendous energy they’ve loaded into the bow at full draw. Heavy bows have so much power that we think they might fly back into our face if we don’t grasp them tightly. But if you grip the bow too tightly, you’ll force the bow left or right, and where the bow goes, the arrow goes.

Use a loose grip on the bow to avoid torque.
Use a loose grip on the bow to avoid torque.

In reality, all that force you’re holding simply leaves with the arrow and the bow falls limply into your hand. To avoid torquing the bow, you must let the bow sit loosely in your palm while resting your fingertips lightly on the front of the grip. This will allow the bow to settle into its natural alignment.

Conclusion

Over time, anyone can master the art of archery. Remember, hitting the bulls-eye is a long-term goal. The short-term goal should be flawless execution. I promise you, hitting the bullseye will come with time. My best students—the ones I call Naturals—are the ones that implement the basics quickly and move on to the easiest step: aiming.

Archery is a valuable and rewarding skill. Most importantly, it’s a ton of fun! Don’t get discouraged. If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment and I will respond quickly.

Happy Shooting!

 

Step #4: Releasing the Arrow

In this lesson you will learn how to properly release an arrow.

Nocking an Arrow

The end of the arrow has a notch in it called a nock. The nock attaches to the string just below a “nocking point.” The nocking  point is a fixed point on the string that aligns the arrow with the bow for every shot. On most bows, the nocking point is a small brass bead clamped onto the string. The arrow nocks–or locks–onto the string right below the nocking point.

nock

 

With traditional archery (longbows and recurves), the arrow has three feathers, and one of the feathers is a different color. This is called the cock feather. When you nock an arrow, be sure the cock feather always points out. This keeps the arrow from deflecting off the bow.

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Odd-colored feather always points out.

With compound bows, the orientation of the cock “vane” (compound bows have plastic vanes, not feathers) depends on your arrow rest. The most common arrow rest for compound bows is the drop-away rest. With drop-away rests, the cock vane isn’t important as there is no contact with the bow. With other types of rests like the one I use, called the Whisker Biscuit (see photo below), the cock vane must point up. The Whisker Biscuit has stiff bristles on the bottom side which help support the arrow, and the vanes must clear these.

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Compound bow with a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest. Notice how the cock vane points up.

Anchor Point

The last step is to acquire an anchor point. The anchor point is two or more spots on your face where some part of your release hand, arrow, string, or release aid contacts your face. Anchor points are vitally important to consistent shooting and accuracy. Therefore you must establish consistent anchor points from the get-go.

Anchor points are different for everyone, but the most common are:

  • string on the tip of your nose
  • a finger touching the corner of your mouth
  • side of thumb touching your jaw bone
  • arrow fletching touching the face

When shooting any bow, I make sure the string touches the tip of my nose and the side of my thumb touches the back of my jaw.

 

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My compound bow anchor points: tip of nose on string and thumb at back of jaw.
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Traditional recurves bow anchor points: side of nose, back of jaw, and corner of mouth.

Note: In beginning archery, many of my students are afraid to have string contact with their face. This is totally unwarranted. Remember, when you release the arrow, all that energy leaves your face unscathed.

Finally, we’re ready to shoot an arrow!

Here are my quick steps to releasing an arrow:

  1. Nock an arrow on the string below the nocking point. You should hear a soft “click” as it locks onto the string.
  2. Grasp the string with three fingers. Your three fingers will hook onto the string somewhere between your first and second finger joints. If you are shooting a compound, ignore this step and simply attach your release aid to the D-loop.
  3. Pull the string across your chest, not towards it, and align the string with your eye. In essence, you should split the target with the string and look down the arrow to aim, but keeping your focus on the target, not the arrow.
  4. Back tension release: As you draw the bow, your back muscles are doing all the work. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring the string to your face.
  5. Establish your anchor points.
  6. Release the arrow. Release happens as you simply open your hand. With a compound bow, you simply touch the trigger.
  7. Aim with the point of your arrow while looking through the string. With a compound bow, place the appropriate sight pin on the target.
  8. Follow through.  Without proper follow-through, you’re dead in the water. Follow through means that both arms (bow arm and release arm) continue in opposite directions at the shot. This is called “finishing the shot.” Your release hand should continue backwards (not up or out) towards your ear. The last thing you should feel is your release hand brushing past your face and touching your ear. This will reduce oscillation and increase accuracy.
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Anchor, release, and follow through.
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Traditional bow follow-through: Hand brushes face and stops at your ear.

 Final Thought

Archery is a complex skill that cannot be mastered in a day, any more than other muscle-memory skills such as golf or skiing. In the movies they make it look easy, and many of my students have the misconception that they can pick up a bow and start shooting simply by mimicking what they’ve observed. But without spending a lot of  time on the basics, you’ll immediately develop bad habits which take a long time to break.

Accuracy comes from focusing on each step, one at a time. After many hours–maybe even months–these steps will gradually become one subconscious step called FORM. Once proper form is established, your only focus will be on aiming. This is should be your goal.

Step #1: Proper Archery Stance

Step #2: Gripping the Bow

Step #3: The Release

Step #3: The Release Arm

The release arm, (aka the string arm or shooting arm), is the arm/hand that holds the string while drawing the bow. If you are right handed, then it’s your right hand.

In traditional archery you have the option of wearing a shooting glove or finger tab to protect your first three fingers (index, middle, and ring finger). Although it is perfectly fine to shoot with bare fingers on a light-poundage bow, it can be very painful with a heavier-poundage bow.

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Glove-style release aid.
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Finger tab release aid.

 All modern compound bows should be shot with a mechanical release aid.  Unlike traditional bows (longbows and recurves), compound bows are designed to be shot in-line. With traditional bows, the string will oscillate side to side as it rolls off your fingers. This is normal, and the arrow will correct itself in flight. With compound bows, the arrow leaves the bow at a much higher speed and therefore, oscillation will cause the arrow to shed speed and energy as it tries to re-adjust itself in flight. Therefore, the arrow should be shot with minimal or no oscillation. In order to accomplish this, the arrow connects to the string in a D-loop tied onto the string and the release aid attaches to the D-loop. This keeps the shooters arm, release, and the arrow pinch point in perfect line with the arrow and reduces oscillation.

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Compound bow D-Loop.
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Mechanical release aid for compound bows.

As an aside, my person favorite release is the Fletcher .44 Caliper Release. This is the smoothest, most reliable, and least expensive release I’ve used.

With traditional archery, you have two options for grasping the string: a) one finger above/two below the arrow nock, or b) three fingers below the nock. The advantage to having three fingers below is that it brings the arrow closer to your eye which helps with aiming. I’ve personally found that three fingers below dramatically increases my accuracy. Try both and see what works best.

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One finger above and two below.
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Three fingers below. This brings the string closer to your eye.

Click here for the next lesson: Step #4: Releasing an Arrow

Step #2: Gripping the Bow

The bow arm is the arm/hand that holds the bow up. It’s sometimes referred to as a “dead-post” because it doesn’t really do anything special, other than hold the bow. This being said, your bow arm has the greatest effect on accuracy. This applies to both traditional and modern bows.

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Bow arm grip

The steps to proper grip are as follows:

1.  If you are right-handed, grip the bow with your left hand. This is called your bow arm/hand. But you’re not really gripping the bow; you’re simply holding the bow and pushing it forward. If you grip the bow too tightly you’ll torque it side to side, causing you to miss left or right. The best way to avoid torque is to lightly touch the tip  of your thumb and index finger together and allow your other fingers to remain relaxed.

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Relaxed grip

2.  Keep the bow’s grip settled in the “throat” of your hand (between your thumb and index finger.) Keep your wrist straight so that it’s in-line with your forearm bones. If you allow your wrist to bend outward it will cause the bow to settle at the base of your thumb, which causes movement. As you relax your grip on the bow, you will feel the bow settle at a balanced fulcrum point in the throat of your hand.

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Correct wrist position
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Incorrect wrist position

3. The most common mistake for beginner archers is to allow the elbow to bend downward. This increases the chance of slapping your arm with the string. Therefore, you must bend your elbow slightly outward. This might seem a little weird at first, but in time it will become natural.

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Elbow bent outward (CORRECT)
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Elbow bent downward (INCORRECT)

4. As you draw the bow back, your bow arm pushes the bow forward. Remember, your back muscles are doing all the work. As you squeeze your shoulder blades together, your bow arm and your shooting arm apply pressure in opposite directions. At the shot, both arms continue in opposite directions. This is called follow through and will be covered in a future post.

Click here for Step #3: The Release Arm

Step #1: Proper Archery Shooting Stance

Proper form is the foundation for shooting accuracy. Over the next few weeks, we will cover proper archery shooting form, literally from the ground up. Believe it or not, proper form has more impact on accuracy than aiming! Therefore, we will begin with your feet and end with your eyes. Always remember, archery is executed by drawing the bow past your chest, not towards it. Therefore, your body must face 90-degrees away from the target, and this is accomplished with proper foot placement.

Steps:

1. Place an arrow on the ground, pointed at the target.

2. Line up your feet with the arrow so that your toes are almost touching it.

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3.  You will now be facing 90-degrees away from the target.

4.  Space your feet shoulder-width apart.

5.  If you are right-handed, move your left foot (foot closest to the target) back 3 to 4 inches from the arrow and then point it slightly towards the target (about 45-degrees).

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6.  You are now in the proper shooting stance. It’s that easy! Proper foot placement provides the most stable body position for shooting any kind of bow. Remember, any deviation from this stance will put you off balance and adversely affect shot accuracy. In the future, before you even nock an arrow be sure your feet are set. Very quickly this will become habit.

For the next lesson, click here: Step #2: Gripping the Bow

Adverse Conditions = Success

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Adverse Conditions = Success

In teaching advanced archery, one of my lessons revolves around ‘adverse conditions.’ What I mean by adverse conditions is that when you’re shooting arrows in your backyard, you are generally shooting at a large target, on a flat surface, at a known yardage, and in fair weather.

But the inexperienced bowhunter quickly figures out that in the mountains, everything changes. Now you are shooting kneeling down on a steep hill, through some brush and limbs, at an unknown distance, with a fly buzzing around your eye, and aiming into the sun. No wonder so many bowhunters have such poor success! In the real world, whether fighting the mountain or fighting the rat race of life, we are constantly battling adverse—or at least unpleasant—conditions. We must learn to welcome adversity and use it to our advantage.

The secret to successful shooting, then, is to practice in adverse conditions. Place as many mental and physical obstacles between you and the target. Have your shooting partner yell or poke you right before you shoot. Shoot at unknown distances. Shoot with a strong crosswind. Shoot through heavy cover or around obstacles. Do whatever you can do to make practice harder and it will pay off in the woods.

From years of real-life hunting experience, I’ve learned that the biggest obstacle is yourself. Even if you shoot 10,000 arrows in the preseason, you’re never really ready for that buck-of-a-lifetime to step out in front of you. And when it happens, I guarantee you’ll come unglued! My brother, Russell, relates a story of this happening to him many years ago when he was still new to bowhunting. A small, two-point buck stepped out right in front of him at only fifteen yards. Sure enough, the instant pressure caused him to send his arrow plowing into the dirt at the buck’s feet!

So how do you prepare for that kind of pressure? The following are some of the best ways I’ve found to create high-pressure practice:

  1. Don’t shoot square targets; shoot realistic 3D targets. If you don’t have a 3D target, you can always dangle small balloons from a string in front of your target. You’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to hit them as they dance around in the breeze. Not only will this prepare your mind for realistic situations, but it’s a lot more fun.
  2. Compete! At least once or twice a year, sign up for a 3D tournament, even if you aren’t that good. Competitions–especially ones with lots of money on the line–always raise adrenaline levels. If you aren’t up for a formal competition, you can create competitions by practicing with a couple friends. Put a couple bucks on the line and watch the competition soar.
  3. Sprint to and from your target to get your heart rate up, shoot quickly, and repeat. I admit, it’s not a fun way to practice, but it helps.

Remember, overcoming adversity is how we grow stronger in life and bowhunting. Anticipate it–even welcome it–and you’ll be better for it.

What are you doing to make practice more challenging?