SHOOTING MECHANICS & TECHNIQUES
If you try to force a bow to perform in a particular way, or try to force an arrow into the target, you create muscle tension that makes it nearly impossible to duplicate the same form shot after shot. But if you learn to relax, your body will assume the same natural position each shot, and the result will be consistent accuracy.
A relaxed shooting form also cuts down on fatigue and muscle soreness and allows you to shoot for longer periods of time and with less chance of injury. Most archery coaches and top shooters agree that relaxation is the very foundation for all good shooting. You can see evidence of this by watching videos or looking at photos of the best archers in action. A top-notch archer is utterly relaxed - no tensed jaw, no squinted eyes, no clenched hands. While holding at full draw, expert shooters look almost drowsy.
Proper warm-up is essential to preventing overuse injuries, such as tendonitis and bursitis. Before drawing your bow, do some arm circles, shoulder shrugs, isometrics and stretching exercises to warm up your arm, shoulder and back muscles. If you shoot a bow with reasonable draw weight and warm up for a few minutes before each shooting session, you may save yourself years of arm, shoulder and back pain.
Mechanics of Shooting
Stance. A research project before the 1984 Olympics showed that leg strength was the single most important variable in predicting high tournament archery scores. If your upper body is swaying like a weed in the wind, your sights will be swaying too, and strong legs are what hold your upper body-and your sights-steady during a shot.
Strong legs are a starting point, but the stance itself can also affect your shooting. The Olympic study found that an archer can reduce sway and hold more steadily on target by making minor adjustments in stance.
Begin by standing with your feet spread apart at shoulder width, 90 degrees to the target. Then take a half-step back with the front foot and pivot slightly toward the target for a mildly open stance. Keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet, and stand straight up, with your head directly over the center of your body. Maintain this stance as you raise the bow to shoot. Don't lean forward or backward to pull the bow, and don't cock your head to the side to line up your sights.
Obviously, a perfect stance isn't always possible in hunting situations, but you can apply the same principles. In a tree stand, either assume a solid sitting position, or stand with the same posture described above. When you're forced to squat or kneel on the ground to shoot, position yourself for good upper body stability. If you're kneeling, plant both knees solidly on the ground rather than kneeling on one knee and extending the other. Practice different postures to learn which are most stable under various field situations.
BOW HAND. Slight variations in hand placement can greatly affect arrow flight. This can be demonstrated by shooting arrows through paper at the target range, a common tuning technique. Altering hand placement between shots will change the angle at which the arrow hits the paper, which will affect the sizes of your arrow groups. For tight groups and consistent accuracy, you must place your hand on the bow identically for every shot.
Consistent hand position is easiest to achieve with a grip that minimizes hand-to-bow contact-a grip generally called a low-wrist position. To achieve this natural position, hold your hand out at arm's length, as if pointing at a distant mountain, and notice that your hand is not held vertically but is tilted to the side. Keeping your hand in this natural, tilted position, place the bow handle into your hand. You should feel pressure from the bow handle only on the meaty part of your thumb. Avoid palming the bow, which creates two pressure points-the thumb and the heel of the hand. With your hand in that relaxed position, your little finger will not hang in front of the bow handle, but to the side.
As you draw the bow, your hand should stay totally relaxed, with fingers that hang loosely throughout the shot. Some archers extend their fingers stiffly or choke the bow handle. Such finger positions indicate tension in the hand and arm, which can torque the bow and decrease accuracy.
STRING HAND. Like the bow hand, the drawing hand should remain in a naturally rotated position throughout the shot. To ensure such a position, it's best to use a release aid with a rotating head that won't torque the string as you draw. With a wrist-strap release, you should feel a pull only on the strap, and your fingers should remain loose throughout the shot. With a finger-held release, your wrist should stay straight and relaxed.
If you release with your fingers, start by grasping the string at the first joints of your first three fingers, with the index finger above the arrow nock, the other two fingers below the nock. Like the bow hand, the string hand should be rotated slightly in a natural position. If you try to hold your hand absolutely vertical, your hand will try to rotate back to a naturally rotated position as you draw, torquing the string and producing a rough release. As you draw, the middle finger should hold most of the weight, and the other two fingers should float on the string. Some experienced shooters drop the index finger off the string at full draw to lessen finger contact with the string.
THE DRAW. With a solid stance and hands placed correctly on the bow and string, you're ready to draw and aim. Hold the bow at arm's length, roughly aiming at the target and begin to draw, pulling only with the muscles of your back. Your arm is merely the link between the bowstring and your back, and your wrist, forearm and biceps should stay relaxed even at full draw.
As you draw, don't change your stance or tip your head one way or the other to see through the peep.
If you find it necessary to crane your neck, it means that your draw length is too long or short, or that your peep sight is in the wrong spot. Your bow should be set up so the draw is as smooth and relaxed as possible. Don't conform to your bow; make your bow conform to you.
And don't hunch your shoulder (a common problem when shooting too much draw weight), because this means you are holding the bow arm in line with your shoulder muscles. To ensure a solid bow arm, pull your shoulder low so the arm bone presses directly into your shoulder, bone to bone.
When you reach the valley-the point at which a compound bow let-off reaches its lowest draw weight-anchor solidly and aim at the target.
ANCHOR. No one can prescribe a best way to anchor with a release aid. With a wrist-strap release, many archers anchor with the big knuckle of the index finger pressed behind the jaw. With a finger-held release, experienced shooters commonly anchor with the back of the hand pressed against the jaw. More important than the precise method is consistency. You must anchor solidly and identically every shot.
Finger-release shooters typically use one of two anchoring points. Most hunters anchor fairly high, with the tip of the index finger planted solidly in the corner of the mouth. Tournament archers generally use a lower anchor point, with the string hand under the chin. To anchor solidly, they press the big knuckle of the thumb behind the chin bone.
RELEASE. Whether you shoot using sights or shoot barebow, with release aids or with your fingers, the critical moment of releasing the bowstring should be marked by complete relaxation. As you hold at full draw, calm your mind and body and let your sight drift naturally across the target. Don't tense up in an attempt to hold the sight in the center of the target; let the bow travel through its natural arc of movement.
To achieve this kind of relaxation, the moment of release should come as a surprise. If you're using a release aid, shooting a bow is similar to firing a rifle, where you aim, relax and slowly squeeze the trigger until the gun surprises you by going off.
To ensure this element of surprise, you must avoid thinking about the release. Forget about the string, and focus only on pulling with your back muscles; as you increase pressure with your back-some archers call this "increasing back tension"-your hand will slowly tighten and trigger the release.
With the bow hand completely relaxed at the moment of release, some hunters worry about dropping the bow. If you find yourself anticipating the shot and unconsciously gripping the handle to keep your bow from slipping, equip your bow with a wrist sling. With a sling, you can keep your bow hand relaxed, even after you've released the string, without fear of dropping an expensive bow.
Finger-release shooters should also strive for relaxation at the moment of release. The release is a matter of relaxing your fingers and allowing the string to slip away. Never throw open your hand; instead, concentrate on lifting your elbow up and back, pulling with your back and allowing your string fingers to relax. As one professional instructor said, "Don't let go of the string. Let the string go. There's a big difference."
With a relaxed release, your hand will move straight back, near to your face, and your fingers should be limp and relaxed. If your fingers are stiff, you've opened your hand deliberately to get rid of the string. If your hand moves out to the side of your face, you plucked the string. If it moves forward, it has followed the string. Make sure your hand always moves back along your face and your fingers are relaxed.
Follow-through. As the arrow leaves the bow, your hands and arms should hold the same position and your bow should move very little. The shot itself is simply a brief interruption in the act of aiming. Once your arrow has hit the target, then you can lower the bow to see where it has hit.
If the bow jerks violently down or to the side, there is tension somewhere in your form. Try adjusting your alignment by opening or closing your stance, and work on your bow hand, bow arm and string hand to eliminate tension that could be torquing the bow or throwing it to the side.
As you practice your stance, draw, release and follow-through, shoot each arrow as though it's the only arrow you'll shoot that day. Building good form is the result of practice quality, not quantity. It's better to shoot 10 good arrows than 100 bad ones that do nothing but ingrain bad habits. If you do make a bad shot, analyze it briefly to determine the problem, then forget about it and go on. Always keep a positive attitude; if fatigue sets in and you begin to lose control, quit for the day and wait until you're fresh and enthusiastic to begin a new practice session.
Three basic training techniques can help improve your form rapidly and are especially useful for beginning archers.
First, shoot with your eyes closed. Stand 10 feet or so from the backdrop so you don't miss the target, then mentally inspect your bow arm, shooting arm and stance as you execute a shot. Focus on relaxing, pulling with your back and squeezing the release slowly (or relaxing your fingers). After the bow goes off, follow through, and before opening your eyes, again run through the checkpoints. Are you still on target? Are your hands relaxed?
As you're first learning, shoot this way regularly to develop and ingrain good shooting habits. And once you become an experienced archer, warm up before each practice session with some closed-eye shooting to get the feel of a good shot.
A second practice technique is to remove the sight from your bow and shoot at a blank target with no aiming spot. This routine allows you to forget about where your arrows are hitting and concentrate solely on form.
A final technique is to shoot at long distances-60 to 80 yards or so-a practice that helps build good follow-through. At release, resist the urge to drop your bow arm to watch the arrow, and hold your sights on the target until the arrow hits. Ingraining this kind of follow-through will improve your accuracy at any distance.
Along with these form-building techniques, practice regularly shooting at targets to develop your accuracy. If you can't hit an inanimate target under good conditions, you have little chance of making clean hits on game animals, either. Practice until you can shoot your arrows within a 2-inch group at 20 yards, 3-inch at 30, 4-inch at 40, 5-inch at 50. This precision accuracy will serve you well later in hunting.
Once you develop good form and precision accuracy, the systematic drills described below will help you adapt your skills for field shooting. If you practice these drills until they become automatic and second nature to you, you'll be well on your way to becoming a successful hunting archer.
Shoot slowly. The movement of drawing the bow may be the most significant limitation in bowhunting, because motion alerts close-range animals. But if you can draw so slowly that an animal fails to see the movement, even when looking your way, you'll rarely lose a shot opportunity.
With the herky-jerky draw cycle of a compound bow, developing a motionless draw isn't easy. To perfect it, hold your bow in shooting position, aim and draw as slowly as possible. Your sights should hold steady on target, and your string hand should come back steadily with no jerks or pauses. Do this six to ten times per session, building up to a full 10 seconds per draw. If you find it impossible to draw your bow straight back, the draw weight is too heavy.
Shoot fast. At other times, you must be able to draw and shoot quickly. Shooting quickly comes easiest for instinctive shooters armed with longbows or recurves, but with practice, a compound-bow hunter using sights can learn to shoot quickly. To develop efficiency, see how many arrows you can shoot in a 1-minute period. Then see how quickly you can extract and shoot all of the arrows from your quiver. These are great drills for shooting efficiency. But remember, all shots must be accurate; wild shots mean nothing.
Shoot in bad weather. If you practice only under good conditions, you'll be ready only for good conditions. To prepare for realistic hunting conditions, practice in wind, rain and snow. Not only will you learn how to shoot in adverse conditions, but you'll also learn how your tackle performs. In snow, you might find that your arrow rest ices up; in rain, you might find that water plugs up your peep sight or makes your cable slide squeak. Only by shooting in actual hunting conditions can you analyze and correct subtle problems.
Shoot in all positions. When hunting in the field, it won't always be possible to shoot from an ideal stance. You may have to shoot around trees, under limbs, straight up hills or down into ravines. Systematic practice prepares you for all contingencies. Practice shooting while kneeling, sitting, leaning to the side, and at steep angles up and down. If you find that you simply can't shoot accurately from some positions, you've learned a valuable lesson: eliminate these postures and develop positions that work for you.
Once you've developed proficiency at several shooting positions, go into the field and practice assuming and shooting quickly from these positions. For more challenge, train by running through woods or climbing slopes between shots. This is especially good practice for mountain hunting where physical exertion can affect your accuracy.
Shoot 3-D Targets. Prepare yourself for the pressure of hunting in the field. Participate in trail shoots and 3-D tournaments where you shoot at animal targets, not dots.
Practice in the field. "Stump-shooting" may be the most valuable practice of all. Whenever possible, roam through the woods and fields and shoot at rotten stumps, dirt clods and grass clumps. Stump-shooting is especially good for practicing while on hunting trips. Carry at least one practice arrow tipped with a rubber blunt or judo point, and any time you walk a trail or stop for lunch, shoot a few practice shots to keep yourself sharp for the real thing.