How to Shoot an Arrow:

Posted: April 21, 2012 in Archery, Articles

By Patrick M. Tracy

For thousands of years, the ability to fashion and use a bow and arrow served as one of mankind’s most valuable skills. Whole civilizations were founded upon and preserved by their skill at archery. While our age of technological innovations has given us tools of far greater power and complexity, the allure of archery remains. Physics and geometry can explain the mechanics of an arrow’s flight, but they cannot do more than hint at the wonder of loosing an arrow and watching it fly to the target.

Many people have never held a bow or experienced the enjoyment (and sometimes tribulation) of trying to hit the bull’s eye. Outwardly, it is a very simple motion. One simply draws the bow back and releases, sending the arrow on its way. Beneath the surface, however, a lot is going on. Let me take you through the sequence of events.

1) Take your stance. In target archery, you generally stand perpendicular to the target, such that a line drawn from you to the target would go across the middle of your feet. If you raise the arm that will hold the bow and point your finger, you should be pointing at the target. Depending upon an archer’s body dimensions and flexibility, she may want to rotate her back foot slightly in order to “open” her stance, thus making it more comfortable to get her bow arm into position.

2) Consider your posture. This should be upright, but not so tense and rigid that it is difficult to maintain or achieve.

3) Take your grip on the string. People generally draw the string back with their dominant hand, but handedness is less important than eye dominance. An archer’s dominant eye should be on the same side of the body as the hand that draws the string. If not, she will likely be forced to shut one eye, in order to properly perceive the target.

There are a few ways to hold the bowstring. In more than a few Eastern traditions, the bow is held with the thumb, often with a ring of metal or bone to protect the thumb joint. The Western tradition uses the three largest fingers hooked around the string. The most prevalent grip on the string is the “split finger” style, where the index finger is above the arrow, and the middle and ring fingers are below it. Another common grip places all three fingers below the arrow, so as to put the arrow closer to the archer’s eye.

With a compound bow, a device called a release aid is often used. These devices use a caliper of some kind to hold the string, so that the release is accomplished by a button or trigger, that is actuated with the thumb or finger when the time is right. Some release aids are held with the fingers, while others are strapped around the wrist. Release aids are not frequently used with traditional recurves or longbows, but they can be, in certain circumstances.

4) Grasp the bow. The bow hand should be as relaxed as possible, and should not introduce any torque onto the riser (grip element) of the bow. The best grip is easily repeatable, even when the archer is tired or distracted by other concerns.

5) Raise the bow. At this point, the archer brings the bow to a position in which it is comfortable and ergonomically sound to draw back the bow. Target archers often like to be able to look down the spine of the arrow and to the target from this point. The bow can be perpendicular to the ground, or be canted slightly, depending upon the archer. It is important, though, to be consistent in this regard, as it will affect the way we perceive the target.

6) Draw the bow. The most efficient way to draw back the string of a bow is to use the large back muscles, rather than the muscles of the arm. The drawing arm should be as relaxed as is practical. The more muscle tension, the more likely we are to be unsteady and find the aiming process difficult.

7) Anchor and aim. It is vital that we draw the bow back to the same point each time. The point that serves as our landmark for when to stop drawing is called our anchor point. This is usually a point on the archer’s face. A frequently used anchor point is the corner of the mouth. Others use a place on the cheek, chin, or ear. Once we have reached our anchor point, we don’t stop pulling or relax, as this will often cause us to drift forward or “creep”, which can cause poor shots, as the bow loses power if we don’t draw the string back as far.

In the case of a compound bow, the draw cycle is controlled, to some extent, by the mechanisms of the bow. The cam system dictates the draw length, and the bow generally has what they call a let-off at the end of the draw, which makes it easier to hold the bow and aim. What this means is that the archer, when full draw is reached, is only holding a fraction of the full weight of the bow. Compound bows generally also feature a draw stop, which prevents the bow from being pulled any further. These draw stops must be adjusted to suit the archer’s stature. With these technical innovations, it is easier to achieve the same draw every time with a compound bow.

There are a variety of aiming methods for a traditional bow, ranging from purely instinctive aiming, where our experience allows our subconscious to align the bow, to gap aiming, where we know exactly how many inches above or below the target to aim for, and use the spine of the arrow as reference. When we achieve and hold at our anchor point, that is the moment at which we make our final adjustments to our aim.

In compound bows, and in some cases target recurves as well, a bow sight can be used. These sights consist of one or more pins that can be lined up with the target. On compound bows, a circular aperture mounted on the bow string called a peep sight is also used. Note that it is possible to use a compound bow without sights, but is less common.

8) Release and follow through. Letting go of the string may sound like a trivial issue, but releasing the shot can be more challenging than it at first would appear. Ideally, the hand simply relaxes, allowing the bow to do its work with as little interaction as possible. An archer can easily introduce unusual forces onto the string during release, such that the string deflects around her fingers or twists. This will often change the course of the arrow. Releasing “cleanly” is vital to accuracy, especially at longer distances.

With compound bows using release aides, it still requires some finesse to actuate the release aid without flinching, creeping forward, or anticipating the shot. The mechanical process of the caliper opening, however, is far more precise and consistent than a finger release, in most cases.

Finally, as the arrow leaves the bow, there is a follow through, allowing the tension that was built up during the draw cycle to abate. The draw hand should move backward, the shoulder finishing the rotational movement it began while drawing back the bow. The bow hand should remain steady until the arrow has reached the target, still pointing in the general direction of the objective. The neck should remain in its same rotation, regarding the target from a natural angle.

If all has gone well, the arrow will find the bull’s eye. Now, we simply have to do it all, just the same way, again and again.

  1. […] that, there’s always my article about how to shoot an arrow on this site. CLICK HERE to check that out, as it goes through a step-by-step process of a typical target shot with a bow. […]

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