How to Shoot a Bow and Arrow
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How to Shoot a Bow and Arrow

As I left my early teen years, something called girls overshadowed my passion for archery. But as the years went by, I never forgot the feeling of placing an arrow on the bow string, pulling the arrow back while taking aim, then the release, the arrow flight and the satisfying "thwack" as the arrow found the target. As time went on, I was able to enter various competitions as I continually improved my shooting. I am now retired and no longer shoot in competitions, but I still shoot some pretty tight patterns. The ideas presented below are a compilation of things I learned, either on my own or from others that I hope will be useful as you strive to improve your shooting skills.

This step by step procedure will help almost anyone improve their shooting. It's all about consistancy.

The crucial test is not whether your arrow hits the mark, but whether all your arrows end up close to each other. If the arrow grouping is good, you will be able to adjust for position either by eye, or by adjusting the sight. But there's no point in fiddling around with sights if your arrows are peppered all over the target.

1) If you've never shot a bow before in your life...

If you haven't shot a bow before in your life, or if you are trying a new bow, or if you've changed the sights, stand close enough to the target that you can't miss. 5-10 yards is probably about right.

2) If you're right handed...

If you're right handed, hold the bow in your left hand, and an arrow in your right.

3) If you're left-handed...

If you're left handed, hold the bow in your right hand, and an arrow in your left.

4) The stance...

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, left shoulder pointing at the target, so that the center of the target, and your two feet make a straight line. If you're left-handed, your right shoulder will be pointing toward the target.

5) Fit an arrow onto the bow...

Fit an arrow onto the bow so that the shaft is sitting on the arrow rest, and the nock (the groove cut in the rear end of the arrow) fits/clicks onto the string. The bowstring will normally have a mark where the nock should go or, better still, one or more nock rings -- brass discs clipped on the string to hold the arrow nock in place.

6) Holding the bowstring...

This section will discuss finger shooting. Release aids will be discussed later. Hold the bowstring so that your index finger is above the nock of the arrow, and your ring and middle fingers are below. Tuck your thumb and little finger out of the way.

7) The Draw...

Raise the bow so that the arrow is pointing in the general direction of the target, usually a little above the mark you want to hit, while maintaining a slight pull on the string. Your arm should be more-or-less straight out, but not locked at the elbow. If your elbow is locked, you're likely to strike it with the bowstring when you release. Ideally, your arm should be rotated such that, if you bent your elbow, it would bend to the side, not to the ground.

Draw the bowstring back so that you're looking straight down the arrow shaft toward the target. Your elbow should be out away from your body and slightly higher than your shoulder. If you are not using a sight, you will be using the tip of the arrow against the target as a guide. With a sight, you will be using a sight pin as your point of reference against the target. Individual archers vary in their preference for where to draw to -- what is vital is that it is precisely the same every time. For target archery with a recurve bow, my preference is to draw to the chin, so that the string is touching my chin, lips, and nose. Others prefer the cheek or ear. If you are using a release aid, your anchor point might be the crook of the jaw for example. Again consistency is key.

8) What should happen at full draw...

At full draw, line up the sight (if your bow has one) with the center of the target. You won't be able to hold the sight on the bulls-eye, and you'll do yourself a disservice if you try, but allow the sight pin to drift across the bulls-eye, and that's the time to release. If you don't have a sight, you have to learn the appearance of the arrow against the target as a guide to sighting.

9) The Release...

Release the string by opening your fingers. Hold in position until the arrow (hopefully) hits the target. When the bowstring is released by the archer's fingers, the string will move a little to the side around the fingers in one direction and then correct itself by moving in the other direction as the string moves forward. The arrow shaft will also flex as the bowstring travels forward. This flexing of the arrow shaft is known as "the archer's paradox". Slow motion video has helped us study these issues to better understand the reasons they occur. Release aids have become popular with archers over the last 20 years due to greater consistency in arrow flight, when compared to arrows shot by drawing and releasing the bowstring with fingers. It is important to match the stiffness (or spine) of the arrow shaft to the draw weight of the bow in order to minimize the effects of the archer's paradox. If the spine is too flexible, the forces applied to the shaft when the bowstring is released could cause the arrow shaft to break. The correct arrow spine will allow for the shaft to handle the paradox and stop flexing a short distance after it has left the bow which will yield good arrow flight as the fletching of the arrow controls it's flight. Release aids minimize the amount of string movement from side to side and add consistency because the string movement is the same with each shot. Arrows used with releases require a shaft with a stiffer spine than finger-shot arrows because there is less flexing required to provide good arrow flight.


The crucial test is not whether your arrow hits the mark, but whether all your arrows end up close to each other. If the arrow grouping is good, you will be able to adjust for position either by eye, or by adjusting the sight.

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