Tag Archives: techniques

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!

How to Release the 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.

For previous steps on the archery shot sequence, see:

Step #1: Proper Archery Stance

Step #2: Gripping the Bow

Step #3: The Release

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

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

Adverse Conditions = Success

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Adverse Conditions = Success

In teaching advanced archery, one of my lessons revolves around “adverse conditions” training. 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 is different from practice. 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 become stronger.

Adverse Conditions Training

The secret to successful shooting is to practice in adverse conditions. This is achieved by placing 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 when that buck-of-a-lifetime steps out in front of you. When it finally 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 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?