If you’ve ever watched someone shoot a bow and arrow, the whole process may have seemed intuitive. Pull the string and let it go, I’ve heard people say. But as I tried to properly train someone in shooting an arrow, I quickly realized there’s a step by step process of events you need to perform to get that arrow on target.
How To Shoot An Arrow:
- Gear And Equipment Check
- Correct Shooting Stance
- Nock The Arrow
- Grasp The Bow String
- Check Your Hand And Arm Placement
- Draw The Bow
- Find Your Anchor Point
- Aim At The Target
- Release The Arrow
- Analyze Your Shot
These steps may seem pretty simplistic, but they’re also very easy to get wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these steps so you’ll know exactly how to properly shoot an arrow.
1. Gear And Equipment Check
Before even getting to the shooting line, we like to check all our gear and equipment for damage before we use it. Check your bow for cracks and your bow string for frayed areas. Using damaged equipment could lead to unnecessary injuries, and it only takes a couple minutes to do a quick look over.
Check Your Archery Gear For:
- Cracks in the bow riser
- Cracks in the Bow limbs
- Frayed bow string
- Cam system on a compound bow
- Arrow rest damage
- Sight and peep sight damage
- Arm guard damage
- Cracks in the arrow
- Arrow splintering
- Frayed or damaged arrow fletching
We like to go over the rules of the range before we start shooting. A good time to do this is while everyone’s checking over their gear. If you go to an archery range they will typically go over the range rules with you before you shoot.
But since we shoot in our backyard range we built ourselves, it’s up to us to make sure everyone we invite shooting knows what to expect. We have an archery safety rules list we keep posted near our range for everyone to refer to while they’re shooting. For a copy of the safety list and more safety tips, visit my Archery Safety article.
2. Correct Shooting Stance
To start, you will want to stand perpendicular to the shooting line. The shooting line will typically be around 10 to 20 yards away from the target, and is where the archer shoots from. Some ranges require that you be behind the line, but others will let you straddle the line. Either way you will stand so that the target is to the side of you.
If you’re right handed, you will be pulling the bow string with your right hand, so your left foot will be your front foot. If you’re left handed, your right foot will be your front foot. You will be pulling your arm across your body to draw the bow, so you want your non dominant hand to be closest to the target to hold the bow.
Make sure you are not twisting your hips to face the target, this is a common mistake I thought was worth mentioning. Keep your knees slightly bent. Don’t bend your knees until you are uncomfortable, just naturally bend them to give yourself some stability. Here is a picture of someone aiming a bow using good form and proper stance.
You will want to keep your back flat as much as possible. A common mistake beginners make is to arch their lower back a little bit. It may feel like doing so makes drawing the bow easier, but it will ultimately lead to bad form. Try to break these habits early on if you can.
Your chest, torso, and shoulders should all be facing straight forward. The only thing facing the target is your head. Many beginners will lean towards the target or try rotating their body towards the target, try to avoid doing that.
It may not seem natural at first, but once you start shooting, you’ll see why good form is so important. Just keep your body relaxed, and you’ll start to get the hang of it.
3. Nock The Arrow
Nocking the arrow simply means setting the arrow on the bow string to shoot it. First, lay the shaft of the arrow on the arrow rest. The arrow rest is usually small plastic piece on the bow used to guide the arrow.
Then, slide the arrow back until the nock is resting on the bow string. The nock is the grooved piece at the back of the arrow, you want the bow string settled in that groove.
Your arrow will have three fletching feathers, or vanes, at the back end near the nock. You want to nock the arrow so that one of those fletchings are facing away from the bow. Typically the arrow will have one fletching that is a different color to make this quick and easy to do.
Side Note: The fletchings are typically called vanes if they are plastic.
I like to lay the bow sideways to nock the arrow, and I recommend beginners do the same. It just makes it easier when you’re starting out. Sometimes it’s a struggle keeping the arrow balanced and getting the bow string in the nock all in one go. Just turn the bow sideways to help support the arrow while you nock it.
4. Grasp The Bow String
The most popular way to hold the bow string is with your index finger above the arrow, and your middle and ring finger below the arrow. This is known as the Mediterranean draw, sometimes referred to as the split finger draw. This is the finger position I learned with, and still use today.
Try to think of this step as making a kook with your fingers. You don’t want a firm grip on the bow, in fact, try not wrapping your fingers around the bow string at all. Many archers will use just their finger tips to pull back on the bow string. Focus on creating a hook with your fingers and use them to help steady the arrow.
Holding The Bow String:
- Create a hook with fingers
- Don’t wrap fingers around bow string
- One finger above arrow, two below
- Use fingers to steady the arrow, but don’t grasp the arrow
Some archers use gear to protect their fingers from the bow string. Protective gear like gloves, finger tabs, or a release aid are worth considering if you have strong bow. They could save you some pain in the short term, and prevent numbness in your fingers in the long term.
This is really just an issue with the stronger bows, like hunting bows or bows with a draw weight above 40 lbs. But if you’re using a simple target archery bow, you shouldn’t have a problem. I use my Favorite Compound Bow bare handed with no problems. Some bows have little rubber finger holders on the bow string, and that’s all you’ll really need in most cases.
Here’s a video showing the proper way to hook the bow string. This guy doesn’t use the split finger draw method that I do, but his method for hooking the string will help you understand hooking the bow string rather than gripping it.
5. Check Your Hand And Arm Placement
Lets start with your hand placement on the bow. Your grip is going to make a big impact on the accuracy of your shot. If you’re gripping the bow to tightly, the bow will shake after you release the arrow. The best way to think of your grip, is just enough to hold the bow steady, your fingers do not need to clutch the bow tightly.
Start by opening your hand and facing your palm towards the target. Set the bow into your palm to hold it. As you pull back on the bow string, you should be pulling the bow into the palm of your hand. A lot of beginners will hold their bow too tightly and throw off their shot, try not to clench the bow.
The archer in this picture, competing in the World Archery Championship, doesn’t even wrap their fingers around the bow, and yet they still have a good grip. This isn’t about the strength of your grip, it’s about comfort and control.
With your grip sorted out, you’ll want to then stretch your arm (holding the bow) complete out towards the target. Try not to raise your arm above the target when doing this. A lot young archers and beginners tend to shoot too high when starting out. Keep your bow facing the target, at the target height or below.
Hand And Arm Placement:
- Palm facing target
- Bow rests in palm with gentle grip
- Bow is pulled into palm when drawing bow
- Don’t clench the bow
- Keep arm as straight as possible
Try not to hyper-extend your elbow. For some people this is not a problem, for others that are double jointed, you will need to pay attention to this every time you hold your bow. You want your arm to make one solid line towards the target, no bending inwards or outwards. With even just a slight bend, the bow string has a greater chance of slapping your arm on release.
6. Draw The Bow
This step is when your posture and your stance will play a bigger role. Keep in mind the proper stance is having your chest and shoulder perpendicular to the target. You will be pulling your arm across your chest to draw the bow. Relax your shoulders and use your upper back muscles to pull the bow string back.
You will be pulling the bow string towards the side of your face, but don’t rely to heavily on your arm muscles. Keeping your shoulders relaxed and using your arm muscles and upper back muscles to draw the bow is considered good form.
As you start to draw the bow, keep the string in line with the bow, make sure you’re not tilting. Avoid bending your wrist, your draw wrist should be perfectly aligned with your forearm as you pull back on the bow string. Here’s a picture of a couple people performing a good draw with proper form.
Notice how they’ve pulled their arms across their chest and remained perpendicular to where they’re aiming. Only their heads are facing the target, and their draw wrists are flat in line with their forearms.
Drawing The Bow:
- Relax your shoulders
- Pull your arm across your chest
- Use your upper back muscles to hold the draw
- Keep the string centered and the bow straight up and down
- Keep your draw wrist flat in line with your forearm
- Remember proper stance, chest and shoulders perpendicular to the target
7. Find Your Anchor Point
The anchor point is the place you will anchor your bow string to every time you shoot. It’s at the point of full draw, and your anchor point should be something comfortable to you that you can repeat over and over. The anchor point can vary from archer to archer, but the important thing is that it’s repeatable. Consistency is key in archery.
For beginners, I suggest your anchor point be at the corner of your mouth. A typical anchor point for many archers will be at the corner of their mouth, under their chin, or somewhere in between. The index finger of your draw hand will lightly touch your anchor point when you’re at full draw.
Find The Anchor Point:
- Where you will pull the bow string to every draw
- The point of full draw, before you aim and release
- Consistency is key
- Consider bringing your draw hand index finger to the corner of your mouth for beginners
- Find a repeatable and comfortable anchor point for you
The corner of the mouth is just the easiest to remember and easiest to consistently repeat for beginners. Simply bring the index finger of your draw hand to the corner of your mouth every time, and you’ve got your anchor point pegged.
More experienced archers will use under their chin as the anchor point. This gives them more places to feel the anchor. The bow string will touch their nose and even their lip in some cases, and their index finger touches their chin. This gives the archer more points of reference to feel for their perfect anchor point.
Notice how the bow string is touching this archers cheek, lip, and nose. It’s not important where you place your anchor point, but it is crucial that you find something comfortable, that works for you, and that you can consistently reproduce with every shot.
Here’s an informative video about anchor points with a compound bow using release aids. He talks a lot about the importance of keeping the arrow from being affected by your anchor point.
8. Aim At The Target
To be honest, this is one of the easiest steps in shooting a bow. The difficult part for many beginners, is setting your sight on the bow. But once your sight is set, aiming should be quick and easy. You’ll get yourself to full draw and onto your anchor point. Then use your dominant eye to line up the sight on your bow with the center of the target.
Aiming The Bow:
- At full draw and anchored to your anchor point
- Use your dominant eye
- Line up the pin in the bow sight to the target
- Aim for center of target
To get your sight set, you’ll first need to shoot a couple arrows. Notice where your arrows are hitting the target in relation to where you’re aiming the sight. Adjust your sight so that it’s aiming where your arrows where landing. Shoot a few more arrows and adjust again if you need to. Eventually, your arrows will be hitting where you’re aiming your sight.
Most bows come with some sort of bow sight already installed. If not, there’s really no need to go out and buy the fanciest sight (like the one in this picture) unless you’ll be training for competitions or hunting. But for some casual target shooting, a single pin bow sight will be fine.
9. Release The Arrow
Releasing the arrow is as simple as letting go of the string right? Well, yes, but there are some important aspects of release to keep in mind. Many beginners like to push the bow forward as they release. This will affect the shot and alter your arrows trajectory.
Try keeping the bow as solid as possible until after the arrows has left the bow, preferably until the arrow hits the target to be safe. Avoid pushing or pulling the bow. After you’ve drawn the bow, gotten to your anchor point, and aimed at the target, the bow should not move.
Avoid plucking the string when you release. You simply want to slowly release the hook you’ve made with your fingers to pull back the bow string. As you release your fingers from the bow string, you will gracefully let your hand fall back out of the way. Focus on just opening your hand and letting the bow do all the work.
I found a slow motion video of archers shooting in an archery competition in Berlin. Watch how these archers release their arrows to get a good idea of what you should be trying to achieve.
10. Analyze Your Shot
This isn’t a necessary step to actually shooting a bow and arrow, but can help you improve your next shot. It’s time to analyze what you’ve just done. How did the shot feel? Was your stance correct, or do you think you can improve in some way. Now’s the time to adjust your sight or your anchor point if you need to.
Things To Consider About Your Shot:
- Did you have proper form
- How was your stance
- Did you hook the bow string
- How did the release feel
- Was your anchor point comfortable and repeatable
- How was your aim
- Do you need to adjust your sight
Sure, you want to consider the things that went wrong and can be improved. But also think about what you did right. It’s easy to know how to shoot a bow, but mastering it takes time. Keep doing what you did right, and improve on the areas that need attention.
I found it easier to improve my skills by playing archery games. I wanted to practice more and it was something fun to do with a few other people. Here are some Fun Archery Games that will keep you wanting to practice archery.