Person drawing a recurve bow

How to draw your recurve bow (the correct way)

Draw a recurve bow consist of grabbing the bow’s string and pulling from it to shoot. I’ll share here the most common methods for grabbing the string and draw a recurve bow.

The process of drawing the string is pretty straightforward. You grab your bow with one hand, then the string with the other one (I recommend to use a finger tab to protect your fingers), and pull from it while keeping your bow’s arm horizontal. However, you can do it or you can do it properly

What does “doing it properly” mean?

There’s always a correct (or preferable, or more efficient, or whatever you want to call it) way of doing things. And, following this “correct way” has its advantages. For instance, grabbing a hammer from the opposite end to the head helps you swing it more, gaining strength in the hit, which is more efficient. In archery, the proper way of drawing a bow is key, and it’s so important that it can mean the difference between being able to draw it and not.

We will explain below each step in the process, in the order in which you should do it. Follow them and you’ll be able to draw your recurve bow without any problem and reduce muscle fatigue.

The correct draw weight

An important thing to keep in mind is that you use a bow with the draw weight that corresponds to you. Using a bow with a lower draw weight it’s perfectly fine. That’s no problem. But try not to use one with a draw weight higher than yours. If you do, you will have trouble pulling from the string and, even if you manage to do it, you’ll be struggling with the pulling and won’t be able to reproduce the form correctly. Remember, more draw weight doesn’t necessarily mean more strength or even more advancement. Some very skilled archers shot at 50m or even 70m with a 28-30 pounds bow. You don’t need to use a 50-60 pounds one. Archery is about finesse, not strength.

First, choose your style

Olympic shooting vs. Barebow shooting

To grab the string properly, you have to choose which shooting style you want to practice since different styles have different ways of grabbing the string.

For recurve bows, the most common shooting styles are barebow and Olympic. The main difference between them is that, in barebow shooting, you don’t have all the aiming and stabilization accessories attached to your bow, so you have to aim without a sight. It’s just the riser, the limbs, and the string. Then, on the riser, you’ll attach an arrow rest and a plunger button. With only this, you can shoot barebow. If you want to know how to aim without using sight, in this post you’ll find a detailed explanation of the complete process.

On the other hand, Olympic shooting incorporates the use of the sight, together with stabilization bars. For a complete description of how to aim using a sight, go to this other post to start your Olympic path. Although it’s called Olympic, anyone can practice it, even if you don’t have the intention to compete in the Olympic games.

This is how you should grab the string

Once you’ve chosen your shooting style, it’s time to learn how to properly grab the string. As barebow and Olympic are the two most common recurve styles, we’ll see here their two corresponding grabbing technique.

For barebow shooting, better use three-under

Three-under technique. The string goes in the fingertips

If you shoot barebow (i.e: aiming without a sight), then the default technique for grabbing the string is the so-called three under. You have to grab the string with three fingers (index, middle and ring) under the arrow’s nock, hence the name. Doing this, it will be easier to walk the string. If you want to know how to walk the string, then follow this post about barebow aiming. Please, bear in mind that you should only practice walking the string only on ILF recurve bows. If you do on other bows, as one-piece recurves, you may crack the limbs, since it applies the force unevenly.

For Olympic shooting, the Mediterranean grab, or split-finger

Split-finger technique

In the case of Olympic shooting, the used technique is the so-called split-finger or Mediterranean grab. The name comes because you have to grab the string with the middle and ring finger under the arrow’s nock, while the index finger goes above it. This technique combined with the Olympic-used anchoring helps you to position the bow so you can shot large distances (70m).

The pulling

With the hand corresponding to your dominant eye on the string, all you have to do is to pull. This is the core of the bow’s drawing. To achieve proper pulling, you have to follow the next steps. But, don’t worry, it’s easier than you think.

  • Grab the bow with one hand, and put the other hand on the string, with the corresponding technique (three-under or split-finger).
  • While grabbing the string, raise the bow until it is perpendicular to your body (i.e: forming a 90-degree angle). Keep the bow arm straight. Don’t flex it.
  • Pull the string back. The best way to do it is to pull from the string with one hand while pushing forward the bow with the other as if you were trying to separate one from the other. 
  • Bring your hand to the anchoring point (I’ll explain it below)

That’s it! That’s how you pull the string. But be careful! Although it seems a pretty easy procedure, how good you implement those four actions will determine a good form or not. The first three steps are shared both by barebow and Olympic shooting. The only thing that will change is the anchoring point, which we’ll see below.

This is the most important part of how to draw a recurve bow

You’ll notice that the further you pull, the more difficult it is to keep pulling. It gets even harder to keep the bow open. This is because the limbs are pulling from the string trying to straighten, applying a force to it and, hence, to your hands.

For a correct drawing, it is important to understand that you can’t do it only with your arms. To draw, you should assist your arms with your back muscles and your shoulders. By doing this, you’ll have more muscles involved in pulling the string, and the procedure will be much easier. As you are reaching your draw length, you’ll notice how your shoulder blades get closer to each other. This good for your bone structure to align. 

Once the bow is at full draw, the force that the limbs make your arms is maximum, since you are at your draw length. The best way to avoid this and keep your bow drawn so you can anchor and aim is to use your bone structure to hold the bow. When you reach your draw length, align your bow arm, your torso (especially, your shoulder-shoulder line) and your string arm, forming a single line. When your bone structure is aligned, it kind of locks, and it can resist the pulling from the bow far more easily than if you were doing it only with your arm muscles. This will also help you maintain the draw for more time, abling you to concentrate on the anchor and aim without much trouble.

Anchoring

As mentioned before, depending on the shooting style you chose, the anchor point you’ll use.

Anchoring is very essential to gain consistency, which is the key to tight groupings in archery. Remember that archery is about being able to repeat the same shot, arrow after arrow. Having a consistent anchoring point will allow you to have an unmovable point of reference to aim.

Anchoring on barebow shooting

Anchoring for barebow shooting. The index finger’s nail touches the corner of the mouth

For barebow shooting, there isn’t one single anchor point to use. It varies from archer to archer, depending on which one they feel more comfortable with. However, they’re very similar to each other. 

When you shoot barebow, grab your string with the three-under technique. After you draw, take your string hand to the side of your face. Now, here’s where your preference comes into play. For anchoring, I prefer touching the corner of my mouth with my index finger’s nail. For this method, you must keep your mouth relaxed. If you move it (smiling, grinding, etc.), you’ll move the position of the corner of your mouth, changing the anchor point and, thus, the direction of the arrow. Others, prefer to anchor in the same place but with the middle finger’s nail. That way, the arrow’s nock raises a bit and the arrow points a bit lower. Another option is the index finger’s nail to the eye, so there’s a more direct line between your eye and the target. As said, it’s just a matter of preference and what people feel more comfortable with.

It’s important to remark that, regardless of the point you choose, stick to it. If you change it from shot to shot or from day to day, you’ll be positioning the bow (and, hence, the arrow) in a different orientation, affecting the shot. Imagine that you anchor on the corner of your mouth with your index finger and, on the next shot, you put your index on, let’s say, your cheekbone. The tip of the arrow will tilt a bit down and the shot will land lower on the target.

Anchoring in Olympic shooting

Olympic shooting anchoring. Three-point anchoring: the edge of the hand below the jaw, the string touching the nose and the lips.

In the Olympic shooting, it changes slightly the point of the face where you anchor with respect to barebow shooting. Another important difference to the barebow shooting is that we grab the string with split-finger. This anchoring is nearly universal, which means that the vast majority of the Olympic shooters (if not all) use the same anchor point.

This technique consists of using three contact points on the face. When you full draw you have to

  • First, place the upper edge of your string arm (that formed by the edge of the thumb and the index finger) under your jaw bone. If you want, you can also put the base of the thumb at the beginning of the jaw, so you don’t slide the hand from shot to shot.
  • Second, make the string to touch the tip of your nose.
  • Third, when you use these two contact points, automatically the string should touch your lips.

With these three contact points, you’ll have a more consistent place to put your hand. This will greatly increase your consistency.

What’s next after drawing the bow?

After you fully draw your bow and anchor it, the next step is to aim and release. 

To properly explain how to aim, it depends on the shooting style chosen. Besides, we need a whole article for each style. Luckily for you, we have a post about aiming without using a sight and one about aiming using a sight, which you can check.

Releasing

Once you aim your arrow it’s time to let it fly. Unlike how simple it sounds, releasing has its subtleties. We can break it into two core parts: the release itself and the follow-through. Like aiming, the release process should be also explained in a separate post, since the shooting style also changes how we release. However, I’ll give you here a summarized version of the release.

The first part of the sequence is common to both styles. To let the arrow fly, you have to relax your fingers and the string will slip from them. That’s why you have to grab the string placing it on your fingertips instead of your finger’s articulations, so it slips easier. Remember to only relax your fingers. If you open the hand to release you are tensing the muscles and can, inadvertently, alter the string trajectory. Then, after releasing is the turn of the follow-through.

For barebow shooting, we’ll be releasing from the anchor point at the corner of our mouth. After releasing, keep your hand on the side of your mouth. Just relax the fingers but don’t move your hand.

For the Olympic style, the follow-through is more elegant. When you are at full draw you are resisting the force the string makes to your fingers by pulling from it. After your release, this force makes your hand to naturally goes backward. The proper Olympic follow-through is to let your hand move back up to behind your ear. It’s just a short trajectory after the release.

Things to take into account

To improve your draw and, thus, improve your shooting, here are a couple of things you should take into consideration.

  • Use your back: Drawing your bow using only your arms can be a bit difficult and tiresome. Remember always to use your back and shoulder muscles. You will tire a lot less if you do it properly.
  • Keep your head straight: As we mentioned earlier, consistency is key. When you draw, don’t tilt your head towards the string. It’s very difficult to tilt it exactly the same on each shot, and that will harm your consistency. So, at the moment of drawing, during your stance, just rotate your neck towards the target, keeping your head straight.
  • Take your time: Remember, archery is not about raw strength but finesse. You have to precisely reproduce every step in the shooting process to gain consistency. Because of this, is important you don’t lose your temper and don’t rush in doing things. A good practice is to follow the 2-2-3 rule (if you want to know what’s this about, please read this post). There’s nothing good in doing things fast.
  • Concentrate in the form and just the form: Sometimes archers, especially beginners, are tempted to only place their focus on the target. It’s very usual to put our attention solely on looking at the target and aiming. So much that, at some point, we forget some (or most) parts of the form, obtaining a poor performance, although we perfectly aimed at the golden ring. This is because not paying attention to the form makes it difficult for us to reproduce the shot, landing the arrow on different spots each time you shoot. As the subtitle suggests, concentrate only on the form. Once you can reproduce the shot almost every time, it’s time to focus on the target. For this, in the beginning, it’s better to only use a backstop without a target. Just the backstop, without anywhere to aim, so you aren’t tempted to focus at the target.

Conclusion

In this post, you learned all the necessary to properly draw your bow. Among these things are the technique for grabbing the string, how to pull from the string and where to anchor. All these techniques depend on which style you want to shoot, if either barebow or Olympic.

Now, with all this information at hand, it’s up to you to decide which of these two styles you want to practice. If you want to start simple, with fewer accessories, then a barebow shooting is for you. For this, I recommend you to read this post on how to aim without using a sight. If, on the other hand, you want to use a sight, then I recommend this other post about aiming using a sight.

Which style do you prefer? Let us know in the comment section, so we can add further content especially tailored for your needs and preferences.

Hope to see you around. Good arrows!


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Comments

One response to “How to draw your recurve bow (the correct way)”

  1. MD23 Avatar
    MD23

    As a VERY novice archer (from a family of accomplished archers) having done little research, I’m amazed how much of this I was already applying to my form simply by watching my grandparents when I was a child (I’m now 38). There are definitely things I read here though that I would never have learned, or remembered, just from examination.

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