June 22, 2016
By Randy Ulmer
As bowhunters, we're always searching for a way to improve our hold for more accurate shots on game. One way we can achieve this is by adopting just the right stance.
In order to hold the bow steady, we need to build a foundation that provides the greatest stability for the body as a whole. When you are at full draw, you must minimize side-to-side body motion as well as back and forth sway.
The Neutral Stance
Most archers have no idea how much they sway. The best way to observe this in another archer is to line their head up with a distant landmark while they are at full draw. You must be perfectly still as you are watching them. It will probably surprise you just how much their head moves in relation to that distant object during their time at full draw.
Our goal in stabilizing the body is to minimize the amount of muscular involvement when we're at full draw. We want the body to be supported by the bones and ligaments, because they do their work passively.
There are two primary functions of a good stance. The first is to provide a stable foundation for our upper body so it can execute a steady shot. The second is to keep the bow pointed at the target with no "pre-loading."
Let me explain what I mean by pre-loading. If you draw your bow and then move your bow arm way off to your left and aim there, you will feel tension in your core. Your body will act as a pre-loaded spring, so that once the arrow is released the body will naturally unwind to the right as the arrow is leaving the bow. The opposite is true if you aim way off to the right.
In my opinion, the most desirable foot position for a bowhunter is the neutral position. This is the position where no right or left pre-loading of the torso occurs at full draw.
The best way to determine this neutral position is to assume your normal stance, close your eyes, draw your bow, then anchor as you normally would. First swing the bow a little to the left and then swing it a little to the right, then settle in to the most comfortable, relaxed position you can find.
Open your eyes. If your bow isn't pointed at the target, reposition your feet and repeat the process until you end up pointing at the target when you open your eyes. Remember your foot position in relationship to a line to the target. This is your neutral stance.
Open and Square Stances
The neutral stance works best for most bowhunters. However, some target archers, especially recurve shooters, prefer an open stance. This stance has the left foot (for a right-handed archer) positioned further out to the left of a line to the target.
This opens the stance so the archer's torso faces the target a little. The argument for the open stance is that it provides for a biomechanically stronger position, especially if it is windy.
The typical open stance has the feet shoulder width apart with the back foot perpendicular to a line running to the target and the front foot at about 30 degrees to the left of that line.
Another option is the square stance. With this stance, a line that just touches the toes of both feet will extend on to the center of the target. The neutral stance for most people is somewhere between the fully open stance and the square stance.
Your knees should not be fully locked or fully bent. Your hips should be slightly tilted backwards. Your shoulders should be nearly in line with the target, (with the open stance, the hips will be slightly turned to face the target).
Your Ideal Stance
There is a method to determine which stance is ideal for you. Start by placing a clean, three-spot, Vegas-style target at 20 yards. Shoot one arrow at each of the three bull's-eyes. Shoot the first spot using an open stance. Shoot the second spot with a neutral stance. And shoot the third spot with a square stance.
On subsequent shots, alternate which spot you aim at first, but always shoot your first arrow with the open stance, the second arrow with the neutral stance and the third arrow with the square stance. After 10 or 15 shots at each spot, examine your pattern and groups for each spot. Your best stance is the one with the best group.
You can then fine-tune your stance by modifying your foot position a little further open and a little further closed until you determine the most accurate and forgiving stance for you.