Tag Archives: archery form

Advanced Archery Technique: The Relaxed State

The Advanced Archery Technique

All suffering is caused by desire.  -Buddha

Over the past several years I’ve taught hundreds of people basic archery. Of all these students, only a handful are what you might call “naturals.” They follow instructions carefully, excel immediately, and break through to the next level at an astonishing pace.

But even these “naturals” eventually hit a wall: their accuracy plateaus, they fatigue out and eventually falter. At this point they often turn to me and ask, “What now? I’ve mastered the basics, but how can I hit closer to the bullseye?”

As their intrepid instructor, it’s my duty to guide these students to the next level. The problem I had early on–and what my students didn’t know–was that I too was wondering the same thing! When you’ve mastered the basics–that is, when you’re executing the shot sequence flawlessly and still coming up short–how do you increase accuracy?

Eventually I passed this question along to a famous national archer. When he didn’t respond I had no choice but to break down my own shot sequence to see where potential weaknesses could set in. Here’s what I discovered.

The Problem

The thing that gets between the bow and the target isn’t the arrow,  it’s you! Every archer, no matter how advanced, goes through slumps. A few missed shots can quickly erode confidence by allowing negative factors such as fatigue, discouragement, and desperation into the shot sequence. It’s a vicious cycle: the harder you try, the worse you do.

The Fatigue Factor

Physical fatigue is the greatest negative factor, especially for the beginner who hasn’t yet developed his back muscles. Just as he begins hitting close to the bullseye, he fatigues out. But there’s also mental fatigue, caused by trying to over-aim the arrow into the bullseye over and over again. Finally there’s spiritual fatigue, the byproduct of chronic misses. In the end, all this fatigue erodes confidence and creates a downward spiral.

Zen in Archery

From the Zen perspective, all suffering comes from desire. Desire, of course, is healthy and even necessary for any activity. But when desire turns into obsession, that’s when we suffer.

In archery you suffer from your very first shot. You strain physically under the weight of bow while your mind strains to aim the arrow. And when your arrow falls short of the bullseye, your spirit strains from the pangs of failure, resulting in desperation.  In short order, your whole being–mind, body, and spirit–is strained!

I see this all the time. The student grasps another arrow, and another, faster and faster while simultaneously grasping for the bullseye which is rapidly becoming an impossible target. Very quickly he creates the bad habit of high-stress archery, and this can take a long time to fix.

So, what’s the fix? It’s simple.

Instead of drawing the bow to a state of high tension, we need to learn how to draw to a relaxed state. Drawing to a relaxed state removes your self from the shot by eliminating negative influences over the arrow. Hence, your bow shoots itself. In Zen archery, eliminating your “self” removes desire, which in turn removes stress and suffering.

The Relaxed State Exercise

  1. Bring only one arrow with you on this exercise.
  2. Set up five paces from a large, blank target.
  3. Load the arrow.
  4. Stand up straight and spread your weight evenly between your feet.
  5. Grasp the string firmly and draw to your face while taking a deep, deep breath.
  6. At full draw, look up and away from the bow. Look at the sky and the clouds and the trees. Breathe out, and back in again. Feel the strength of your body as it overpowers the scrawny bow. Forget the bullseye; no one cares if you hit it anyway! Say to yourself, “I’m more relaxed than I’ve ever been in my life.”
  7. Now let down the draw smoothly; don’t shoot the arrow.
  8. Catch your breath.
  9. Repeat the process, only this time, when you’ve reached your highest  state of relaxation, release the arrow. Don’t aim at the target. Just relax your shooting hand until the shot goes off. This is what a relaxed arrow feels like.
  10. Maintain this relaxed state as you walk to the target and pull your arrow. Repeat these relaxed shots over and over until it becomes habit.

That’s all there is to it. You are now drawing the bow to a state of high relaxation rather than a state of high stress. You’ve turned a bad habit into a good habit.

Real Life Example

One day I approached a talented young student who was literally drawing a circle around the bullseye with errant arrows. Wide-eyed and desperate, he turned to me and pleaded, “What am I doing wrong?!” I watched him fling yet another arrow just outside of the bullseye. I told him, “You’re trying to hard.” I went on to explain that missing the target wasn’t the end of the world; that his passion for archery–the whole meditative process–was far more important than a single bullseye. I had him breathe deeply and look around at the beautiful mountains. A moment later he calmly drew his bow and sank the next arrow into the bullseye. His face lit up and he hugged me. Years later he still talks about his enlightening experience.

Conclusion

Your bow is designed to shoot a perfect arrow every time. The arrow only misses when you let yourself get in the way.

For every student that asks, How can I shoot more accurately?, there are a few others who comment on how meditative archery is; how it relaxes and focuses the mind. These students typically aren’t the best archers at first, because to them the process outweighs the result. I view these students as the real naturals, and they even prove it when, eventually, their arrow finds the bullseye with seemingly little effort.

Shooting in a relaxed state is the secret to Zen archery. On a grander scale, you might say that living in a relaxed state is the secret to a Zen life!

3 Steps to Better Archery Shooting

Three Steps to Better Archery: Video

My friend Shane Thompson helped shoot this video to demonstrate better archery shooting. These techniques were explained in my last article.

This video examines the three most common mistakes made by both beginner and advanced archers and shows you how to fix them. I hope it helps!

Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Archery NOW!

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Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Archery

Now that spring is here, you’ve probably taken your bow out, dusted it off, and sent some arrows downrange. Maybe some were bulls-eyes while some were errant, but it’s early yet and there’s always room for improvement.

In the last ten years I’ve worked tirelessly at becoming a better hunter. But at the same time, I’ve also developed some bad habits. These habits are common to most archers and include punching the release and lack of follow-through. What you do at the end of your release has the greatest effect on accuracy. So in today’s lesson we’re going to relearn how to shoot.

Bad shooting habits develop because we’re too focused on hitting the bullseye. Everyone knows that humans can only focus on one thing at a time. Ironically, if we focus too hard on the bullseye, we’ll actually miss it!

Here’s the fix

  1. RELAX!:  A famous target archer once said, “A relaxed mind cannot exist in a tense body, and a tense mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.” More than anything else, the bow and arrow fights relaxation. First, there’s the mental stress of hitting the bullseye, especially in a hunting or competition. Second, when you draw your bow, your whole body becomes physically tense as it struggles to crank back and hold all that weight. So, now your mind and body are under duress. Your fight and flight response takes over and all that matters in the world is getting rid of that arrow. Now STOP! Tell yourself you will not release until you calm down. Breathe in and out a couple times. Put your sight pin on the bullseye, then take it off, and put it back on again. Who cares if you miss? Refuse to shoot until you are completely calm. Eventually this will become habit and will have the greatest effect on your accuracy.
  2. The Open Grip:  By now you probably know how to grip your bow, but it’s worth another look. First, your bow’s grip should begin at U-shape between your thumb and index finger. Second, your grip should contact your hand along your life line (the line that separates the fleshy part of your thumb and middle of your palm. Third, the grip should end at the center of your palm where your wrist begins. If you do this correctly, the middle knuckles of your bow hand will form a 45-degree angle slanted away from your grip. NOW, this is only the beginning. When you draw your bow, your fingers should be relaxed and open away from the bow’s grip. Your fingers should remain relaxed throughout the entire shot. The best way to do this is to make an “okay” sign with your index finger and thumb lightly touching. Your hand must remain like this throughout the entire shot.
  3. Follow-Through: Seems simple, right?! It’s not. Again, you can only focus on one thing, so if you’re still aiming at this point, then you’re not following through.  Aiming should go as far as letting the pin float tiny circles around the bullseye. At that point, your only focus should be on pushing the bow forward with your bow arm, and steadily pulling the string back with your release hand. The pin floats almost subconsciously while your focus floats freely and relaxedly between back tension, breathing, and oblivion. Oblivion is where you are free of all anticipation, free of all tension, and free of all distraction. All the technicalities of archery have become one simple action (form) and relegated to your subconscious mind. With nothing left to distract you, you are free; you are in the moment, perfectly centered between the future and the past.

The goal of archery is to relax: relax your grip, relax your body, and relax your mind. At this point, the bow is loosed on its own terms. The bow-and-arrow is accurate every time, subject only to the laws of nature which are fixed. The only variable is the shooter. The greatest obstacle YOU and how you influence the shot. When can master yourself, you will experience perfect archery with every shot.

Note:  I’ve included a video in my next blog post that demonstrates the 3 steps to better archery. Here’s the Video Link.

How to Aim Traditional and Compound Bows

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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.

7 Tips for Better Archery Accuracy

7 Tips for Better Accuracy

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 #3: The Release Arm

Proper Arrow Release

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

Part 1: Overcoming Adversity

Part 1 of a 4 part series on life, hunting, and overcoming adversity.

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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.

Click here for Part 2:  The Steely Claws

Step #2: Gripping the Bow

How to Grip the Bow

The bow arm (or bow hand) is the arm 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 a great effect on accuracy. This applies to both traditional and modern bows.

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Bow arm grip

Steps to Properly Grip the Bow

1.  If you are right-handed, grip the bow with your left hand. This is you bow hand. First off, 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

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 influence 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.

  1. 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).

stance002

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