August 24, 2023
Good archery form is smooth, relaxed, and focused. It exemplifies comfort and repeatability. However, it’s rarely natural for anyone to begin shooting this way. Rather, it requires slow, methodical work, adopting solid technique until the process becomes second-nature. In due time, consistency and accuracy will follow, improving one’s ability to shoot incredibly well, even under the most demanding of conditions.
Here are five fundamentals that tend to make or break good shooting form. Don’t take them lightly, as each one serves as a powerful building block to successful shooting. Remember, it takes about 30 days to establish a new habit, allowing your subconscious mind to build the necessary aptitude and muscle memory to make the new technique a part of your regular routine. This is why it’s important to go slow and to do it right when learning a new shooting system. Trust the process, and you’ll be amazed with the results.
How you position your feet to the target will impact your overall shooting ability. To begin, place your toes 90 degrees to the target with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your body’s weight equally distributed across the rear and mid-sections of the feet. Don’t lock your knees; keep them relaxed and loose. This type of position is called a square stance.
However, some shooters find a slightly open or closed stance more comfortable and secure. An open-stance moves the chest toward the target, whereas a closed stance moves the chest away from the target. By shifting the frontside foot (closest to the target) away or behind the rear foot, the position of the shooter’s chest and hips will change, altering comfort and stability.
What is the best stance depends on the archer. A slightly open stance allows greater bowstring clearance along the chest and bow arm, whereas a square or closed stance may make it easier to align your shoulders and hips with the center of your feet and the target.
To fine-tune your stance, try drawing your bow and anchoring as usual (for safety, do this without an arrow attached), but then close your eyes. Next, begin moving your feet around in various positions until you find the most comfortable and stable spot. Then open your eyes and reference the bow’s aim. Let the bow down, while keeping your feet firmly planted, then draw a line from the tips of your toes to the direction of this imaginary target. This is a solid stance for you.
Most good archery coaches will tell you that when you stand to shoot, you should look like the letter “T.” In this posture, you can draw a straight imaginary line from the top of the bowhand, out across both shoulders and then to the bottom of the elbow, while the torso, neck, and head stay central to the spine. If any of these body parts fall outside of this outline, you are working against the body’s natural posture, making it less stable and consistent.
To use solid T-form, find your perfect stance, then nock an arrow. Hook up the release, then pre-load the bowstring as you begin to lift the bow to the target and set your hand on the grip. Raise the bow smoothly and effortlessly while aligning the sight pin with the target. When raising the bow, try to imagine yourself pointing at the target with your fist, while maintaining a very relaxed arm. Keep the arm’s shoulder position in a low, locked position. Do not let it rotate up, which activates muscle tension. Be sure to maintain this position as you draw the bow straight back to anchor.
At full draw, your torso, neck and head will be straight up and down, not leaning forward or back (when viewed from the side). If this is not the case, try adjusting your bow’s draw length until your form improves. Most archers use a draw length too long. This causes the body to be stretched out and swayed rearward. Experiment until your body looks like a T at full draw.
Elbow and Wrist Position
The alignment of the draw-arm elbow and wrist are two points to look closely at since both are oftentimes poorly positioned. At full draw, the draw-arm elbow should be directly behind the arrow, not off to the side. If it is, your bow’s draw length could be too long or short. It’s important for your elbow to be behind the arrow or directly above it since this maximizes aiming stability and keeps the pulling force central to the bowstring.
The release hand’s wrist should be straight, not bent and loaded with tension. Whether you use a wrist-strap or a T-handle release, keep the wrist joint in line with the arm. Always relax your fingertips and the muscles in your hand. This will keep the shot smooth and accurate. Remember, you can examine your shooting posture by standing in front of a large mirror, or better yet, try capturing video using your phone mounted to a tripod. This helps a lot.
Most archers give little thought to this step but it’s a critical one. The key is to find a firm anchor point but not so firm that you’re pressing hard into your face. Also, don’t ever move your face toward the bowstring. Instead, bring the bowstring to your face, as you keep your eyes fixed on the target.
Despite lots of painstaking adjustment, you may find it difficult to find a consistent anchor point. If this is the case, try shooting a few days without a peep installed. Without a peep to look through, the face will naturally move to the most comfortable position. This is what you want. Remember, without a peep you’ll have to aim slightly off to the side of the string. Choose one side of the string for aiming and be consistent. Sight in and shoot from various distances, out to 40 or 50 yards. After a few days of shooting and being consistent, install a peep and move it vertically up or down the bowstring (use a bow press each time) until your peep height aligns with your previously sighted-in arrow groups. Try it. It can work wonders for your shooting.
Release and Follow-Through
With your release hand firmly placed along your face, you’re now ready to send the arrow, or are you? The answer is no because you haven’t finished setting up the shot. Let’s examine two key steps to releasing the arrow properly.
Setting up the Shot: As soon as you hit full draw, smoothly bring the sight pin to the target, but DO NOT begin aiming. Instead, simply acquire the target and then shift your focus on centering the peep’s aperture with the sight pin or the sight’s circular housing, then level the sight’s bubble. Next, send a mental cue to relax the fingertips in your bow and release hands. This will help calm other parts of your body, including your arms and shoulders. Begin pre-loading the trigger. This applies to an index or thumb-trigger release. It helps to adjust the release so the trigger rides deep in the first or second knuckle on the finger or thumb. With a back-tension release, be sure to keep your fingers loose and limber. Trust me, the release won’t fly out of your hand! This is important so the handle turns easily when increased back tension is applied.
Aiming and Activating Back Muscles: With the release’s trigger pre-loaded and the hand relaxed, now is the time to put all conscious thought into aiming and activating the muscles in your back. Focus heavily on the aiming spot by studying the bull’s eye while the sight pin moves around naturally. Don’t fight this movement, accept it. Think about tightening the rhomboid muscles in your shoulder blades (feels like a slight burning sensation). With constant training, this muscle activity will happen subconsciously, so you can focus purely on aiming. It’s a good idea to use some sort of mantra such as “keep aiming…keep aiming…keep aiming…” until the shot breaks. Resist thinking about anything else but aiming intently and burning a hole where you want the arrow to strike.
As you do this, you’ll notice your aim becoming stronger, while the tension in your back builds up, forcing your arm, wrist, and trigger finger to eventually fire the release, all by surprise. As the bow recoils, your bowhand will move quickly in the direction of the target, then slightly to the left (for a right-handed shooter), whereas the release hand will spring rearward, opposite of the target.
The last part is the follow-through. To be consistent, pay attention to your body’s position after the shot. It only takes the arrow a millisecond to exit the bow after the release, but it’s important to keep the bow arm up and level with the target until the arrow hits home. Maintain a relaxed posture as the bow vibrates and springs away naturally.
Keep in mind, it will take weeks to adapt to this new style of shooting. But don’t give up on it! Practice shooting at a large target up close, sometimes with your eyes closed, to promote maximum focus and relaxation. In due time, you’ll notice these steps becoming more and more ingrained. From there, you are only a few short steps away from becoming the best archery shot you can be.