Spring is in the air and that means one thing: archery! It’s time to dust off that old bow and drag your pasty, out-of-shape, winterized carcass outside and do some shooting. Today we’re going to talk about effective range.
What is your “effective range”?
In this post we’ll answer the following questions: At what range are you an effective bowhunter? How do you find out? And why does it matter?
Question #1: What is effective range?
Effective range–or effective distance–is the distance at which you can get all your arrows within a “kill-zone” size area of a target every time.
Question #2: How Do I Figure it Out?
The kill-zone on an average big game animal–like a deer or elk–is a circle 8-10 inches in diameter. This circle encompasses the heart/lungs area known as the vitals. The easiest way to learn your effective range is to shoot four arrows at a paper plate. A standard size paper plate is nine inches, so it makes a perfect kill-zone target. Starting at close range (say 20 yards), shoot four arrows. If all arrows hit within the paper plate, move back ten yards and repeat. Continue doing this until you miss one arrow. WHEN you finally miss a shot, you will know your effective range: It’s the last place you shot where you didn’t miss! So if you miss at 40 yards, then your effective range is 30 yards. At this point, you should begin working on your form and follow-through until you can consistently get every single arrow in the plate at farther distances. Until then, you should never take shots at game over 30 yards.
Question #3: Why is it important?
When you don’t know your effective range, you will end up shooting beyond your abilities and either missing or injuring an animal. This will be a horrible experience for you and the animal, I guarantee it!
Shooting at animals is a lot harder than shooting at a paper plate. There are many psychological factors involved–primarily buck fever–which will cause you to miss. For this reason, you should also practice shooting in adverse conditions such as wind and steep elevation, as well as different body positions like kneeling and crouching–anything that will simulate an actual hunting scenario.
Knowing and sticking to your effective range is the most important first step you should take before going bowhunting. Not only is this a fun exercise, but a valuable measure of your skills. Expanding your effective range will force you to set goals and hone your skills.
Oh, the all important armguard. With so many exciting archery accessories to choose from, the armguard is often overlooked. In fact some advanced archers don’t even wear one. But for the beginner archer, the armguard is absolutely necessary.
Why? Because it’s just a matter of time before you hit your forearm with the string and break all the blood vessels in a three-inch swathe. It’ll take a couple days for the swelling to go down, but the bruise will linger for a week.
What is an Armguard?
An armguards is a stiff piece of material worn on the inside of your bow arm, somewhere between your elbow and wrist. It should be worn snug enough to not slip around.
Armguards come in all shapes, sizes, and materials and attach around your arm with straps, buckles, Velcro, or string. In ancient times they were fashioned out of leather. Nowadays, it’s mostly stiff plastics, fabric, and cushioned material. You could even fashion one out of duct tape if you were so inclined. What’s important is you have something to protect your arm.
The main reason is to protect your forearm and wrist from the bowstring. Perhaps just as importantly, it keeps bulky clothing out of string’s path, something to remember while hunting in cold weather. If the string contacts anything during the shot, the arrow will be thrown way off trajectory.
Another good reason to wear an armguard is to avoid developing target panic. “Target panic” is simply flinching during the shot. A very painful slap will often cause newbie archers to flinch at future shots, thus losing focus on the target. (The goal of archery is to shoot with a “surprise release,” while maintaining focus on the target, not the bow). Consequently, he’ll jerk the string loose instead of releasing smoothly. Releasing the arrow should be the result of your back muscles squeezing together, rather than punching the release or “plucking the string.” A bad case of target panic can take months to cure!
What Causes String Slap?
Hitting your arm with the string is easily avoided by holding the bow correctly. Remember to hold the bow with your elbow bent slightly outward. Don’t lock your elbow inward– a common newbie mistake. At the same time, don’t bend your elbow too much or your arm will fatigue out. A slight bend outward is all you need.
If you still have problems with string slap, it’s likely caused by two other factors:
Short brace height. Brace height is the distance between the bowstring and the bow grip when the bow is at rest. Most bows are somewhere between six and eight inches. If the string is too long for your bow (traditional bows only), then you’ll have a short brace height. Upon release, the bow will pull the string into your wrist. You can easily remedy this by getting a slightly shorter string.
Over-gripping your bow. This happens when you rotate your wrist too far around the bow grip, allowing bow settle in the center of your hand rather than your palm. Remember, the bow should settle at the base of your palm and in-line with your forearm. Over-gripping pulls your wrist into the bowstring’s path.
So much for the basics! I’ve touched on a lot of information here, but in the end just remember to wear an armguard. With enough practice and use of proper form, you won’t even have to wear one.
P.S., of course you can avoid string slap altogether if you aren’t bow hunting! If you are thinking about drawing for any rifle hunts, check out these rifle picks for specific game.
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:
Pull the string towards your right eye (assuming you’re right-handed).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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 is 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 distance.
Keeping both eyes open gives me more dimensionality to the target. Everything I do all day requires me to keep both eyes open, so why would I close one when shooting?
If you close one eye, you are viewing the world in 2D, not 3D. This is not something your brain is used to. Because I don’t view the world in two dimensions, I don’t aim in two dimensions either.
#2: Don’t Aim
Proper form begins from the ground up: feet placement, gripping the bow, and drawing the string to your anchor point, and it ends with aiming, releasing, and following through. Of all these steps, aiming is really the easiest and least important.
In traditional archery, aiming is accomplished by simply pointing the arrow at a spot on the target. Over the time it takes to master the other fundamentals, aiming will become “instinctive.” Therefore, your main focus should be on consistent form and follow through. If your form is correct, the arrow will find the bull’s-eye on its own.
Note: Correct aiming happens by aligning the string with your eye. 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 my nose.
#3: Touch your ear
What am I talking about? 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.
Follow-through means your release hand continues back as your arrow goes forward. If you allow your release hand to move forward, or even up or down, then the string will be pulled–or plucked–out of alignment, causing the arrow to wobble or drift side to side.
Therefore, the best way to avoid errant arrows is to follow through straight back. Touching your ear means you’ve released correctly.
#4: Don’t flinch
“Where the bow goes, the arrow goes.”
Flinching is a major no-no in archery. The two biggest indicators of flinching are a) 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 until the arrow hits the target. It’s normal for the bow to rock forward or back on release, but your bow arm should remain up and pointed at the target until the arrow hits. Your head—which is slightly cocked to the side—should also remain in frozen in position as well.
The best way to avoid flinching is to have a surprise release. A common mistake is anticipating the shot by focusing on the release rather than follow-through.
All of 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 the release hand, the string will jerk out of your hand causing the arrow to miss.
#5: Use your back
All the power to draw the bow comes from your back muscles, not your arms. I often refer to the arms as “deadposts” or “anchors” because they simply serve to hold the bow. The real power comes from your back muscles.
Your back is much stronger than your arms. That power is then transferred to the bow 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 optimize this power is to stand as erect as possible and concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together. Upon release, your shoulder blades will continue pulling together—almost touching—while your arms pull apart in opposite directions.
Harnessing the power of your back is the only way to load the bow with enough power to execute the shot properly.
#6: Don’t pinch the string
In beginner archery the most common problem I see is simply keeping the arrow from falling off the bow. At least half my beginning students have a hard time keeping the arrow on the bow long enough to shoot. This is caused by pinching the nock.
The string is gripped with three fingers: index, middle, and ring. As you draw the bow back, the fingers tend to bunch up and put pressure on the nock, which ends up pulling the arrow off the shelf.
To keep this from happening, simply leave a slight gap between your fingers as you draw the bow. If the problem persists, try tilting the bow to further to the the side and letting gravity hold the arrow for you.
As frustrating as this might be, the problem usually fixes itself. Over time, your hand will gradually figure it out.
#7: Loosen your grip
Frequent left and right misses is often caused by torquing, or over-gripping, the bow. 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 to 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 grip them tightly. In reality, all that energy simply leaves with the arrow and the bow falls limply into your hand. If you grip too tight, you’ll force the bow left or right. Remember, where the bow goes, the arrow goes.
To avoid torquing the bow, simply allow the bow sit loosely in your palm while resting your fingertips lightly on the front of the grip. This allows the bow to settle into its natural alignment.
The best way I’ve found to avoid over-gripping the bow is to simply touch your thumb and index finger together and let your other fingers float in front of the bow (see photo).
With enough practice, anyone can master the art of archery. Just remember that hitting the bulls-eye is a long-term goal. The short-term goal should be dedicated to the basic fundamentals. I promise you, hitting the bullseye will come naturally, given enough time.
Enjoy the process and don’t get discouraged. If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment and I will respond quickly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
How to Release the Arrow
Here are my quick steps to releasing an arrow:
Nock an arrow on the string below the nocking point. You should hear a soft “click” as it locks onto the string.
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.
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.
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.
Establish your anchor points.
Release the arrow. Release happens as you simply open your hand. With a compound bow, you simply touch the trigger.
Aim with the point of your arrow while looking through the string. With a compound bow, place the appropriate sight pin on the target.
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.
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.
For previous steps on the archery shot sequence, see:
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.
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.
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.
Part 1 of a 4 part series on life, hunting, and overcoming adversity.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.