Are you new to archery, or just looking for a refresher on the proper technique for shooting a bow?
This is my comprehensive guide to get you started off on the right foot shooting your bow, so you can progress faster and enjoy shooting!
I have several years of experience coaching archers of all levels, from brand new beginners to national champions. I’ve figured out a few simple steps that I think will get you on the right track for archery success.
For simplicity, this article will be written primarily for someone shooting a compound bow with a sight, peep sight, d-loop, and a release (wrist strap,index finger, or caliper-style).
This is most often what beginner compound archers will get set up with at an archery dealer.
For those of you wanting to shoot a traditional recurve bow or longbow, tips will be included in places where the technique significantly differs from compound technique.
We will assume you have already determined (or had help determining) your dominant eye, and are shooting a bow that matches.
The principles of proper technique are the same in any kind of archery, so you will benefit from this guide no matter what your goals are. Proper technique will be the same in 3d archery, field archery, bowhunting, target archery, and any bow sport you may come across.
If you’re new to shooting archery, or just looking to practice your technique, it can help to practice with a training device. This can be something simple like a loop of string tied to your draw length or a stretch band, or a dedicated archery training device like this Milaem Training Bow, or the Saunders Firing-Line trainer.
With that out of the way, let’s get started!
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The first thing you need to do before you shoot your bow is to set your stance. Your stance is very important: It influences the posture you adopt for the rest of your shot.
There are different stances you can assume. As a beginner, it’s good to keep it simple with a square stance.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and parallel to each other, perpendicular to the target.
- Keep your weight balanced throughout your shot.
- Try not to lean backward or side to side. Don’t move your feet between shots—it can change where your arrows hit.
An open stance, where you move your front foot back so that your feet and hips are turned slightly towards the target, is another popular option. Either will work for most people, and both stances have pros and cons. After you feel comfortable with the square stance, it’s a good idea to do some experimentation and figure out which stance works best for you.
It’s important to consider what your dominant hand is when shooting a bow. If you are right handed, this means your right hand is your dominant hand. You will hold the bow in the other hand, in this case your left hand, and draw the bow string with your dominant hand.
2. Nock an Arrow
The nock is the plastic clip on the back end of your arrows near the fletching that clips onto the bow string. The nock will clip onto your string in the middle of your d-loop, and the other end of the arrow will sit in or on your arrow rest.
Pro Tip: When nocking your arrow, make sure to not hit anyone around you with your bow or arrow.
Always check your nocks, fletching, and arrows for damage before you shoot. Shooting a damaged arrow will result in an inaccurate shot at best. At worst, it can cause damage to your equipment or injure you.
Nocking the arrow is a simple step, but it’s a good idea to develop a habit of doing it the same way every time. You can build consistency and set yourself up for success in the rest of your shot.
Recurve/Longbow Tip: Traditional bows don’t have d-loops. Your bow will have one or two brass or string nock points attached to the bow string. Your arrow will go under the nocking point if you have one, or between them if there are two. Traditional bows (especially longbows) will sometimes have an arrow shelf instead of an arrow rest, or you may even need to rest the arrow on your bow hand.
3. Set Your Release and Grip
Now it’s time to set your release and bow hand. Clip your release to your d-loop, and pull on it just enough to make sure it’s securely attached to your d-loop. Next, set your other hand on your bow grip so that your knuckles sit at a 45-degree angle, and grip your bow lightly.
Keep your hand relaxed throughout your shot. If you tense up and grip the bow tighter, it’ll torque your bow while you shoot, reducing your accuracy.
Recurve Bow Tip: You won’t have a release or d-loop. Hopefully, you’ll be shooting with finger protection like a leather glove or finger tab. Instead, grip the bow string just underneath your arrow, with the string just behind the first joint on your fingers and all three fingers underneath the arrow. If you ever feel any numbness or tingling in your fingers while shooting, thicker protection for your fingers or placing the string in a different spot on your fingers will sometimes help.
4. Draw the Bow
To draw the bow, keep your index finger away from the trigger on your release, and pull the bow back while keeping it pointed towards your target. Keep your draw as smooth and controlled as possible; you could damage your shoulders or even the bow by jerking the string back as fast as you can.
If you can’t draw the bow smoothly while keeping it pointed at your target, you may need a lighter poundage bow to learn to shoot with. A stretch band or training device can also help you practice and build up strength to draw and shoot your normal bow more easily.
You should stop and talk to a doctor or physical therapist if you have any pain or excessive discomfort in your shoulders when drawing or shooting your bow. Shooting incorrectly can put a lot of stress on delicate parts of the shoulder. It could even prematurely end your archery career if not taken care of.
An anchor point is a set of references you use between your face and bow to ensure that you can shoot accurately. Anchor points will be a little different for everyone. Still, a general guideline is to have your release hand positioned under your jaw, and your bow string touching your nose.
You should be able to see through your peep and your sight without having to move your head.
Having a comfortable and repeatable anchor point is possibly the most crucial step to shooting accurately. Take some time to try out different spots for your anchor and find what makes you shoot the most accurately.
Recurve Bow Tip: Without a release, the anchor will be different. A good guideline for traditional archery is to anchor with your index finger in the corner of your mouth. It’s best to make sure you place your index finger on a tooth, so you have a solid bone on bone reference for your anchor point.
To aim, line up your peep sight with your sight. Do this by centering the peep and the sight with each other as much as you can. Place your sight pin on your target.
Your pin will not be completely still: It will float around your target. That’s normal. You shouldn’t try to force your pin to stay still by muscling your bow back onto the target.
It seems counterproductive, but letting the sight float will allow you to stay relaxed and execute good shots. The way your sight floats can be changed by adding or adjusting your stabilizers.
One eye or two?
A question you may have is if you should be aiming your bow with both eyes or with one eye closed. A lot has been written about this subject, but in my opinion, you should use whichever method works best for you.
Professional archers use both methods. If you see multiple targets when you are aiming and are distracted by them, shooting with one eye closed can help alleviate this problem.
Recurve Bow Tip: Aiming with the tip of your arrow is the easiest way to aim a traditional bow without a sight. Once you anchor, look down at the tip of your arrow and point it at your target like you would a sight.
Similar to a sight, the tip of the arrow will float around your target instead of staying still. Don’t try to force the arrow onto the target. This will only add additional torque into your shot and reduce your accuracy. Some traditional archers will practice instinctive shooting instead of using a more defined aiming system.
Check out our article on how to aim a compound bow for some more tips.
7. Triggering Your Shot/Release
After you have your bow drawn and have settled into your anchor point, loosely place the second crease of your index finger on your release trigger. Some archers will trigger their release with their finger (this is called “punching the release”), but it is more accurate to trigger your shot with back tension. Back tension can seem like a complicated way to shoot a bow and arrow, but it’s easy to execute with the right cues.
Most people can execute a back tension shot by concentrating on pulling their elbow back around them or pinching their shoulder blades together. It may also help to think of starting back tension by transferring from drawing your bow with your arms to setting your release off with your back muscles.
To put it all together, gently curl your finger around your release trigger while letting your pin float. Concentrate on using your back muscles to execute the shot, focusing on your back tension cue of choice. The release going off should feel like a surprise. Shooting this way will seem counterintuitive at first, but it will help prevent you from developing bad habits like target panic.
Recurve Bow Tip: You also want to pull through your shot using back tension, so check out the cues described earlier in this step and find one that works for you. Traditional archers should focus on building back tension while keeping their string fingers relaxed. When done correctly, you’ll be able to execute great shots even without a release.
Follow-through is your reaction immediately after your release goes off and fires the arrow. Even though this is a tiny window of time, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Your bow hand must stay relaxed so you don’t torque it as your arrow is being shot.
- Don’t let your bow arm drop. Stay focused on the target and keep a strong bow arm.
- Keep increasing your back tension during your follow-through by continuing to pull your shoulder blades together. When done correctly, your hand should move as you release your arrow and end up near your back ear or touching your shoulder.
An important concept to keep in mind here is when your shot actually ends. You may want to end the shot when you release the arrow, but you should keep following through until after that. If you terminate your shot when the release fires, then you’ll cut off your follow-through and make weak shots.
It helps to think of the shot ending when your arrow hits the target. Keep pulling with your back and following-through until you see or hear the arrow hit. Then relax and get ready for your next shot.
This step is often forgotten but can make a huge difference in how successful you are in archery. After every shot, take a moment and reflect on what went well and what can be improved upon.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. Something as simple as “That was a great shot, my back tension felt very strong” will do. Also, something like “my peep and my sight weren’t aligned very well. Next time I’ll focus on keeping them aligned so I can aim correctly” can go a long way.
If you’re not sure what you should be working on in your shot, an archery coach or an archer-friend will be able to help. If you don’t have either of those, have a friend take videos of you shooting from a couple different angles.
In my experience, even beginners can pick out things they need to fix when shown a video of themselves, or you could even compare your footage to videos of professional archers
Feedback can help you have very productive practice sessions because you always have something to think about and work on for the next shot.
One feedback strategy I like to use during practice and coaching is trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. For example, I used to struggle with keeping a relaxed bow hand and would always grip my bow too hard. I spent a few practice sessions focusing on just that and was able to keep a relaxed grip without thinking. It turned into one of the most effortless parts of my shot.
With all of that done, you’re ready to start over again with your next arrow!
I hope you found this guide on how to shoot a bow and arrow beneficial and learned something that will help you on your archery journey. I know that trying to put together a good shot process can be difficult, and even discouraging at times. The work will pay off when everything clicks, and you can start making strong shots!