Archery tips: 11 things I wish I knew when I started archery

We reviewed in a previous post some common beginner mistakes, and we gave a couple of tips on how to avoid them (if you didn’t see it, you can read it here). But there is also some stuff that I wish I learned when I started archery and would help me advance much faster. Now I want to share them with you, so you don’t have to go through the same struggle as me.

Don’t grip the bow too tight

It’s very usual among beginner archers (like me when I started) that you have to grip your bow like if you were Homer Simpson and the bow was Bart’s neck. One has the impression that, if it’s not well gripped, it may slide from your hands when you release the string. Surprisingly, it’s the opposite of this. Grabbing your riser too tight may lead you to deteriorate your aim. When you grip your hand tight it’s possible that, unconsciously, you flex your wrist inwards, rotating your bow. This rotation, as slight as it may be, will surely tilt your aiming to a side, and the arrow will fly to any direction but the bullseye.

If you pay attention when you draw your bow, all the weight of the riser will rest on the gap between your thumb and index fingers, so you don’t need to grab it too tight. Some more advanced archers don’t even grab it. They put a strap around the riser and tie it to these two fingers, so they can leave their hand loose. When they release the string, the strap will prevent the bow to fall. You probably saw this in an olympic competition that, when the archers release, the bow seems to fall, and hangs from their fingers. That’s thanks to the strap. So, you may want to use a strap to tie your bow, so you don’t need to grip the riser and risking a good shot.

Rest the strength on your bone structure

To draw the bow we use our muscles, mainly from the arms, shoulders and upper torso. Then, when it’s at full draw, it’s necessary to hold it to aim. There’s no issue in doing it with the muscles, but when we shot a couple of rounds, the muscles will start to be sore. Another common problem is that some beginner shooters will twist their torso towards the target, forming an angle between the chest and the bow arm. This can lead you to an injury (you can see on this post the most common injuries in archery).

To lighten your muscles’ burden, the best technique is to use your whole upper torso, and with that, I mean the bones. When you are at full draw, you’ll form a straight line between your bow arm, the line of the shoulders and the string’s upper arm. So, when you draw, if you do it properly, you’ll lock your bones in a T position with your torso, and the strength of the bow will rest on that bone-line you formed, instead of having to do it with just the muscles. Of course, you’ll have to use your muscles, but the work will be more evenly distributed between the muscles and the bones. In this way, your muscles will tire a lot less, and the chances of getting injured are dramatically reduced. 

Set an anchor (on your face), to draw always the same way

For archers who have already been in a couple of shooting rounds, this may seem a bit automatic and silly to put this as a tip, but on beginner shooters, this can be as important as learning how to nock the arrow. 

At this point, you probably already know how to draw and shoot. If not, you can check this full guide to start learning archery. At the moment you are aiming the most usual practice is to try to match the center of the target with your sight. If you aren’t using a sight, you’ll aim with the tip of the arrow, which you’ll have to point it a bit lower than the center (see next tip to understand why). Regardless of the method you are using to aim, that’s not all. It’s very difficult to gain consistency in your shot if you don’t have a fixed point to anchor the arrow. That’s where the anchor point enters the game. The anchor point is a spot (usually on your face) where you always put the nock of the arrow, or your finger, as a reference place to do the shooting. Different archers choose different anchor points. The most common is to put the tip of the index finger on the corner of your mouth. Others touch the side of their chin with the nock of the arrow. Some even put the nock nearly touching their eye. That’s entirely up to you. For those who can’t decide which anchor point to choose, mine is putting my index finger’s nail in the corner of my mouth. It’s very important that the string ends touching your cheek, so your eye is as close to the string as possible, and avoid any side-bias due to the distance from the string to your eye. Don’t be afraid, the string won’t hurt you. All archers do it all the time and they never got hurt by it.

How to compensate differences in anchor altitude

When you are shooting without using a sight, you’ll have to aim with the tip of the arrow at full draw. If you point with the tip at the center of the target, you’ll notice that the shot will hit it somewhere else. The most common result is that it will hit the target a couple of inches above the spot you aimed. The reason for this is because we aim with our eyes. When putting your fingers in your anchor point, the nock of the arrow will be 4-6 inches below your aiming eye. If you aim the tip of the arrow to hit the center of the target, you’ll form a straight imaginary line between your eye, the tip of the arrow and the center. Doing this, the tip of your arrow will be a couple of inches higher than its nock, and the arrow will fly a bit upwards. The best thing to do to solve this (and here is when consistency comes into play) is by compensating the shot. What I recommend you to do is to aim your first shot to the center of the target and see where it hits it. The distance from the center to where the arrow hit the target is the amount you’ll have to compensate. Then, for the next shot, just aim that exact distance but in the opposite direction. Let’s put an example. Imagine an analog clock drawn in the target, and let’s say your first shot landed at 2 o’clock, at 4 inches from the center. It seems that your shot is shifter up and right from the center, so you’ll have to compensate by the same amount, aiming down and left from the center. Thus, the next shot should be aimed at 8 o’clock, 4 inches apart from the center. That compensation will improve considerably. Keep doing that and you’ll gain more practice on how to compensate the shot.

The 2-2-3 Rule

Archery is a sport of finesse. You have to be very patient when you aim and shoot to hit the target. Because of this, it’s very important to do things properly, without rushing, or it will ruin your shot. If you are an anxious person, the 2-2-3 rule will help you with that. Those numbers are the number of seconds you’ll have to take on each step of shooting, so this rule simply sets your pace. During the Olympic competition, if you pay attention, the archer does all the shooting procedure with some timing, as if it were a choreography. It’s worth mentioning that these paces are approximate, you can bend them to suit your needs, but I strongly recommend to follow it. Here’s the step-by-step explanation for the three stages:

Stage 1: Nock the arrow. When you nock the arrow, grab the bow with one hand and put the other on the string. Keep the bow pointing 45 degrees down the target, aiming at the ground. Hold that position for 2 seconds.

Stage 2: Raise your bow. After those 2 seconds, raise your bow until your arm is 90 degrees with respect to your torso, with the other hand still grabbing the string, but without drawing it. Hold it for 2 more seconds. Take this time to visualize the target, and clear your mind. In the next step, you’ll have to draw and aim, so your mind needs to be clear.

Stage 3: Aim. This last stage is probably the most important in the shooting process. Here is where the soup is cooked. First, draw your bow. When it’s fully drawn, aim your shot. Take about 3 seconds to aim

As I said previously, this stage is the key stage. So, if you need a couple of more seconds to aim, it’s ok. There’s no problem with converting it in a 2-2-4 or even a 2-2-5 rule. It’s your shot, it’s your mind and body, and nobody knows it better than you. But, keep this in mind. The longer your time to aim, the more tired your muscles will be. So, don’t abuse from this time. It’s not recommended to take more than 5 seconds to aim, or your muscles can start trembling, worsening your aim, and ruining your shot. If you can’t aim properly at that time, it’s better to disarm and start again. If this happens, please start again from Stage 1, repeating all the process with their corresponding times.

As an additional comment, between each shot, I recommend you to wait a couple of seconds to relax your muscles and give them some time to rest. Between 10-15 seconds is a good amount of time. Then, when your shooting round ends, usually with 3 to 5 arrows, take a couple of minutes to rest. I know you are eager to shoot tens of arrows in a single round but, in archery, you’ll probably be shooting for hours, so it’s no good to try to shoot all at once at the beginning, or you’ll be tired on the first half an hour of starting. Take your time, and do things calmly. Remember, archery is a finesse sport.

Relax your hand when releasing

The last step in shooting, after aiming, is releasing the string. It’s very common among beginner archers to open the hand to release it. But, doing it, feels unnatural. Since you are using the muscles from the hand to open it, you might unconsciously pinch the string a bit with the tip of the fingers, altering the shot. That’s why it’s way better to just relax your hand, and the string will slip from your fingers by itself, leading to a cleaner shot.

Leave your hand on the anchor point

After releasing the string, an instinctive movement when you start archery is to lower your arm to a resting position. That’s fine, but this simple and trivial movement can alter your shot substantially. As with the relaxing of the fingers to let the string leave clear, moving your hand after releasing might change the string’s path. Let’s think about the following. If you move your hand a couple of milliseconds before completely releasing the string, you’ll be shifting it towards you. This slight, nearly imperceptible displacement, amplified by the target’s distance, can cause the arrow to miss the center and, thus, ruin your shot. So, I recommend you that, after releasing the string, leave your hand on your cheek (or wherever you choose your anchor point) for one or two seconds, just to be completely sure that the arrow left the bow.

Relax your shoulders and rotate the elbow

Shooting a bow must be a relaxed process, but often, when people start archery, feel a huge tension and tend to contract the muscles. This may lead to, inadvertently, raise the shoulders, closing the chest, and hindering the shot. Besides, when you raise the shoulders, they move inwards, making your bow arm to rotate, raising the elbow. Then, when you release the arrow, it will not only impair your shot, but the string might slap your forearm. It’s not severe, but it’ll sting.

To avoid this, a very simple exercise is to relax the shoulders. By doing this, you’ll open your chest, and then can easily rotate your elbow, pointing away from the bow. This will improve your aim, and reduce considerably the chances of receiving a string slap.

If you follow the 2-2-3 rule, you can use the middle 2 seconds to check, before drawing, if your shoulders are down and relaxed, and if your elbow is open.

Use the back to draw

When we draw, we use all the upper torso, both muscles, and bone structure. Thus, together with the tip about resting the strength on your bone structure, remember to use your back muscles to help draw the bow. Your back muscles are larger than those on your arms and will reduce the tension over them. Because of that, it’s very important to know the forms of shooting, forming a T between the torso and the arms. If you follow this recommendation you’ll notice a reduction in your muscles fatigue, and your stamina will increase, allowing you to shoot a larger number of rounds.

Keep your head straight

Almost everyone, when we start in archery, made a lot of unconscious movements that aren’t necessary. The one on this item, for instance, is very common. When you draw the bow and try to aim, it’s tempting to tilt your head to put your aiming eye closer to the string to aim. If you are one of those, you’ll have to stop doing this. There are mainly two reasons for this. On the one hand, by tilting your head you do it in a certain amount. Then, in the next shot, when you aim you can’t be sure that you can tilt your head again the same amount and, thus, altering your perspective. On the other hand, when you move your head from its natural vertical position, you’ll be using your neck muscles to tilt it, and after a whole practice session, you may feel it sore. Because of this, it’s better to keep it on its natural vertical position. As we mentioned in previous posts, it’s best to keep the full body as straightened as possible, to avoid those tilting and flexing, which are very difficult to reproduce shot after shot. 

Make a full draw

If you already shoot with a bow you already know that you have to draw to aim and release, that’s a no brainer. But what some people don’t know, especially those who are self-taught is that you have to make a full draw before aiming. It’s not unusual at all to find people that grab their bow, draw and, before reaching full draw, they release. This has two coupled mistakes. One of them is not full drawing and the other is no aiming. It’s an instinctive shot, you are shooting to the bulk. If you are in a medieval war that’s ok, you’ll surely hit an enemy in the coming horde. But, if you are aiming at a target, or if you are hunting you’ll have to aim to have a good shot.

Regardless you want to aim or if you want to do instinctive quick shots, you must full draw the bow. Not only it’s needed to aim, but also you’ll be able to rest the strength of the bow on your bone structure (see item 2 in this list) and not on your muscles which will, in turn, difficult your aim and impair your shot.

Did you find this helpful? Share your experience with us. And, if you are new, I recommend you to follow this step-by-step guide to learn archery by yourself.





2 responses to “Archery tips: 11 things I wish I knew when I started archery”

  1. Marcos Antonio Avatar
    Marcos Antonio

    Very good lessons! As self learning archer, I have great difficult to set the inicial mark in the aim. Therefore, I elevate very much my bow wrist and this produce an angle (bow wrist, arrow, string hand). What to do:?

    1. Luciano Darriba Avatar
      Luciano Darriba

      Hi Marcos, thanks for reading my blog and commenting here. If I’m understanding you correctly, what you should start practicing is forming a straight line between your back, bow shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand. This way your aiming direction will be more straight (no funny angles) and will also give support for your bow and your show. This last means that, if you align your bone structure, it will hold the bow for you, without fatiguing your muscles.

      Have a nice day and good arrows!!!!!!!

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