How to Aim Traditional and Compound Bows


How to Aim Traditional & Compound Bows

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

Aiming 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.

Aiming 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.

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