The things you were always too afraid to ask
Rich J 1995
Winchcombe Archery Club
These coaching notes are intended to be read by beginners to archery, to accompany the
beginners course held by the club. They provide instruction on all the basic aspects of
bow shooting, including safety, technique, practice and mental attitude. The notes assume
that the reader is familiar with most of the hardware he or she will be using. It is
important that all of these aspects are understood before the beginner can hope to start
shooting to the best of his or her capability.
1. First of all!
2. Safety- Read This !!
3.1 The Stance
3.4 Release and Follow-Through
5. Mental Attitude
6. The Last Word
First of all, well done! By reading this I can tell that archery is more than just a
passing interest, and that you want to know more. Well, these few rags of paper are an
attempt to illustrate some of the more important aspects of bow shooting, technique and
equipment, which should prove useful to anyone taking up the sport.
Archery is the oldest surviving form of shooting sport, but nowadays, with the development
of new materials and bow system technology, we are able to shoot bows that have very
little in common with the ancient hunting weapons. Modern laminations of highly efficient
woods, metals, epoxies and other composite materials enable bow makers to develop bow
limbs that are extremely efficient in storing and releasing energy. This results in a much
higher arrow velocity than would have been possible even twenty years ago using a similar
With a good understanding of technique and the equipment, regular practice will enable
most people to achieve scores to be proud of.
Assuming you've been introduced to the equipment you're going to be using, lets take a
look at the most important aspect of bow shooting, safety.
Before even thinking about shooting, it's very important to start every shooting
session with a safety check. Bows do not last a lifetime, and a bow that fractures, or an
arrow that breaks can potentially be a pain in the neck, not to mention making you look
like a complete prawn. You must inspect the bow for worn, loose, broken or otherwise
deteriorated hardware and fittings. The string must be free from signs of fraying, and
must, in the case of a recurve bow, be completely seated in the grooves at the ends of the
limbs, so that it won't slip off or down the bow when you use it.
If you find anything which looks broken, frayed or bent then you must report it
to an experienced member of the club immediately.
The arrows must also be examined. Reject any arrows which are damaged in any way. If
they are split, missing fletches, piles or nocks, do not use them. If you are using club
equipment, they may have minor dents or very slight bends. If the arrow is excessively
bent; you can see a bend just by looking down the shaft, then do not use it.
Very slight bends won't make any difference at all at short indoor ranges.
The nock, the forked piece of plastic at the non-pointy end which engages with the string
must be intact, with no signs of cracking.
This is very important, as shooting an arrow with a faulty nock may
prevent the arrow from being sent on its way, effectively dry-firing the bow. No doubt you
will have been told already that dry-firing the bow, without an arrow, may damage the
limbs, cracking them or in the worst case fracturing them, spreading splinters all around
and sending bits of limb flying all over. This wouldn't go down too well in the heat of a
county tournament or down in casualty, so beware!
First of all, there's only so much one can say about technique. Everyone is different,
thank goodness. People come in many different flavours of size, shape and physical ability
and therefore what suits one person, may not be the best for someone else. The notes I
have compiled here are only recommendations of a good general technique. As shooters gain
experience, they also develop their own technique, which only they shoot best using the
body and equipment they have been blessed with. Therefore, before you come running to me,
shouting about sore arms, poor scores and damning the day you ever looked through these
notes, take some time on the range to try and find a technique that suits you best, feels
the most natural and is the most comfortable.
Ok, now that's over and done with we can get on with the fun bit.. shooting.
That's a posh way of describing the way you stand, strike a pose, or otherwise show
You should try to stand with your feet at right angles to the target face with a
comfortable and easy spacing. About a shoulder width apart is best for most people. Body
weight should be equally distributed between both feet. This ensures that you are not
leaning forwards or back. An imaginary line drawn across the tips of the toes should
extend to the target centre. If it doesn't, shuffle round a little until it does.
Holding the bow vertically, with it facing the target, lay an arrow across the arrow rest
and nock it (connect it to the string) just below the nocking point, (the brass ring
clamped on the string), sliding it up against that point. If two nocking point rings are
fitted then the arrow fits between these two points.
The centre of the index finger's first joint should be placed on the string just above the
arrow nock. The middle and fourth finger should be placed below the arrow nock, with the
string running along the first joint. (The first joint is used until a natural 'best fit'
is achieved; dependent upon the type and thickness of the finger tab you use).
Make sure that the cock fletch (the odd coloured one) is facing away from the bow
handle. If it were the other way round, the cock fletch would be stripped off the arrow as
it passed through the arrow rest, not endearing you to the equipment officer..
As mentioned, the shooting fingers should be protected by means of a suitable finger
tab or archers' glove.
If the fingers are properly placed on the string, the string will turn slightly as the bow
is drawn, so that the right side of it moves towards you. This tends to apply a minute
force to the arrow, preventing it from coming off the rest. If the arrow does come off the
rest, much to your annoyance, then it is probably caused by the shooting fingers touching
or even gripping the arrow nock. Otherwise it may be caused by having too much finger
wrapped around the string, causing the right side of the string to twist towards the front
of the bow as it is drawn. A little patience and practice is needed. Remember left-handed
shooters will twist the string in the opposite direction. I told you everyone was
Now comes the physically demanding bit! Drawing the bow should be a relaxed, slow
Try to keep the bow arm pointing towards the target, keeping the shoulder of the bow arm
relaxed and low- not crunched up and next to your chin. Once at full draw, your shoulders
should be low, and there should be an imaginary straight line from your bow hand, through
your bow arm, through the shoulders and back, and out towards the elbow of the shooting
This is really important. If you can do this, then shooting will be much
easier and less tiring as you will be holding the weight of the bow across the back,
rather than in the shoulders, which will tire quickly. See if you can get a straight back
by touching your shoulder blades together. This is bound to ensure a straight back. It
will feel strange at first, but persevere and things should start to get easier with
As the bow is drawn to a full draw and held there, a number of things start to become
important. One is that the drawing hand must be anchored to the same position for each
shot. If it is not, the relationship between the eye, the string and the bowsight will
vary, causing the point of arrow impact to vary with each change in anchor position. The
anchor spot is again different from person to person. Some people choose to have the
shooting hand low down by the bottom of the chin, and some prefer to have the hand by the
side of the mouth. It is only a matter of experiment as to which you will use.
With the bow at full draw (starting to get tired yet?!), the sights must be aligned
properly. As with shotgun shooting, the shooting eye is the rear sight. It is therefore
essential that the bow be supported, positioned and held in exactly the same way each
If the bow is drawn correctly, the string should coincide with the eye to sight line. You
will probably see the sight 'pin' either to the left or to the right of the string. This
is OK. If, when you have the bow on aim you find that a little adjustment is needed to
bring the sight 'pin' onto the target, then try moving your whole body or pivoting
slightly at the hips. If you try to move your bow arm, inaccuracy will result because the
whole eye, string, sight relationship will have changed, so making this next shot
different from the ones you have just released. The same thing goes for the hand that's
holding the string; once it's anchored in position, don't move it while on aim.
The 'grip' on the bow handle should not really be a grip at all. The bow is properly
supported by the pressure of it pushing against the web of the hand and the base of the
thumb where it approaches the wrist. The fingers should do nothing to grip the bow. Many
experienced archers keep their fingers straight while shooting, not touching the bow
handle at all. This is because any finger pressure on the bow handle will tend to twist
the bow handle when the arrow is released, throwing the arrow slightly away from the
intended point of impact.
If you look at some of the more experienced archers when they shoot, you will see the
straight finger hold in action. You will also see the bow being strapped to the wrist by a
cord or wrist strap. This is to stop the bow flying out of the hand since the fingers do
not grip the bow on release. If you intend trying this, make sure you use a wrist strap;
nothing embarrasses an archer more than releasing an arrow perfectly into the gold,
closely followed by the bow which sent it!
At last, now is the time to let go of the blasted thing!
A good release is obtained by relaxing the drawing hand's fingers, and allowing the
tension of the bow to uncurl them quickly, so releasing the string from the fingers' grip.
While doing this you should try to maintain the bow arm position and the pulling arm's
If one arm or the other moves or flinches, then the release will be a bad one. Trying not
to be pessimistic all of a sudden, I should say that the release is one of the most
important and difficult to master physical procedures. A poor release not only sends the
arrow on a different point of aim but also upsets arrow flight, making the arrow shaft
wobble in flight, so reducing accuracy further. With a little perseverance, experimenting
and practice, a good release will come in time.
As the arrow is released, it is essential that you follow through properly. What this
means is that the bow arm should maintain its position, even after the arrow has left the
bow. You shouldn't allow the bow arm to drop as the arrow is released. Because of the
tension of holding the string at draw length, the hand which released the arrow will tend
to move rearward to some extent. Try to keep this movement to a minimum without placing
undue emphasis on your control. The follow-through should be held until the arrow strikes
the target. This will prevent premature movement. Your eye should remain on the target and
lose sight of the arrow completely.
This is the time consuming bit! No-one became a Grand Master Bowperson overnight. It
takes a lot of practice to achieve good scores. Continue to think each shot through. If
you nock, draw, aim, release and follow through, superb accuracy will come. Not only does
practise strengthen the muscles which are used to draw the bow, release and so on, but
will train your thought processes. Shooting regularly 'imprints' a mental image and 'feel'
of everything you do. This is important since as we will see in the next section, you
should not be thinking hard about every action you make. You merely 'replay the video'
which is stored in your mind.
So, suppose you've got a perfect stance, smooth release and follow through each shot
but you are still getting rotten scores. What's wrong? Well either you've forgotten your
arrows or you haven't got the right attitude. I've spoken to one or two Olympic gold
medallists in my travels, and they have all given the same type of reply when asked about
They reckon that a lot of practice is a must, but one aspect that is too frequently
overlooked when training is the mental attitude taken to the sport. Archery should be
relaxing. When top archers shoot, as soon as they have their bow at full draw, their
heartbeat rate drops dramatically. They are able to isolate themselves from the outside
world and get on with shooting in their own blinkered way.You are hardly going to be
shooting at your best if you're cussing each shot under your breath that isn't exactly
where you wanted it on the target. If you miss, so what, never mind, what's done is done,
the important thing is to think about the shot you are about to fire.
I have been told that archery is 40% physical and 60% mental. Before condemning your
kit to the bin because of a bad shoot, take a look at yourself, your attitude on the day
and what you were thinking about while shooting. Just remember that most bows, if tuned
moderately, can shoot better than the people using them.
Shooting should, ideally, be completely autonomous. You should almost shoot in a daze,
banging the arrows in like a machine. Opinions vary, but I reckon that the last thing you
want to do is concentrate fully on that little gold spot 80 yards downrange. I believe
that if you think too much about keeping your sight pin exactly on that bullseye that you
will become 'gold-shy', flinching whenever a good shot is anticipated, ruining what would
otherwise be a good score. It happens, believe me. It is also possible to over shoot. If
you persevere shooting on a practice day when you are physically and mentally exhausted,
chances are that you will start to pick up bad habits; 'plucking' the release, dropping
your bow arm etc. If possible, practice for shorter periods but more frequently.
Above all, enjoy what you do. If you can master the basic physical principles of the
sport and learn how to relax while on the shooting line, you are bound to start shooting
good scores. Then you will realise just how rewarding the sport can be.
If you find these pages interesting or of
practical use, please mail me!