The hand in which an archer holds the bow is called the bow hand. This is usually the hand which is opposite to their dominant eye, although some archers will hold it in the dominant hand. The opposite hand is referred to as the drawing or string hand. Terms like string elbow and bow shoulder follow suit with these. Archers who have a right dominant hand, hold the bow in their left hand with their left side facing the target. They use their right eye to see the target, as well as holding the arrow and string in their right hand. Imagine the opposite for left sided individuals.
The archer’s stance should form a “T”, and the back muscles are used to pull the arrow to what is called anchor point. Some bows are fitted with a clicker, a device which clicks when the archer reaches the correct draw length. After releasing the arrow, the archer should pay attention to the recoil of their body, which is called the follow through. This may indicate any problems with technique or form.
To shoot the arrow, the archer has to adopt the correct stance. They should place the body at a perpendicular angle to the target and shooting line, with the feet apart at shoulder-width distance. As the archer progresses in ability they will adopt an “open stance”, which means that the leg furthest from the shooting line will be half to a whole foot in front of the other one. However, the stance that is adopted will vary according to the style of each individual archer, the bow that they are using and the type of archery they are performing (see below).
Next, the archer has to load the bow. To do this, the bow should be pointed to the ground, and then the shaft of the arrow is placed on the arrow rest in the bow window. The nock at the back of the arrow should then be attached to the bowstring, which is referred to as ‘nocking the arrow’. For fletchings that have three vanes, the index vane should be positioned so that it is pointing away from the bow.
The archer should use three fingers to hold the bowstring and arrow, so that the index finger is above the arrow and the next two fingers below. The string is typically placed in the first or second joints of the fingers.
Following this, the archer should raise the bow and draw it back towards the face with the drawing hand until it rests lightly at anchor point, which is the place on the archer’s face where the hand is positioned consistently with the bowstring at full draw. Anchor points differ for each archer depending on their facial contours and the type of shooting being performed. This technique will vary between archers, although it is usually always one fluid motion and will be consistent from shot to shot. The breath should also be controlled throughout this movement so that it is calm, keeping the arms stable. The bow arm is held out towards the target and rotated, keeping the bow vertical. The sight level and bow level must be aligned properly so that maximum accuracy is achieved.
The grip on your bow should be relaxed and never too tight, with the palm only gently resting on the nock. The bow is then released by relaxing the fingers of the drawing hand.
Compound bow technique
If using a compound bow, the technique required is slightly different. Often, archers will use a release aid with a compound bow, which is attached to the nocking point and holds the string steadily in place and releases it more accurately. The latter is achieved by a trigger which is either a trigger lever or another type of mechanism. Some of these have a pre-determined trigger so that, when the appropriate and required draw weight is achieved, they will automatically release. If a mechanical release is used, only one finger is needed on the string instead of three.
After learning the correct positions, practise them so that you are well acquainted with how to use them. After you have done this, it is important to develop a mental program which fits all the positions together, so that you learn positive mental habits. These are as important as correcting your positions. Your mental checklist should involve the order in which you perform the positions:
- Assume the correct/appropriate stance
- Nock the arrow
Draw and aim
- Set the bow hold
- Set the draw hand hook
- Raise bow and draw it (one fluid motion)
- Anchor the string in position
- Align the sight to the target and level the bow in position
- Establish the string pattern and sight picture
- Focus on the target, steady the bow and aim
Release and follow through
- Tighten your back muscles
- Relax the draw hand to automatically release the bowstring
- Make sure you keep your bow arm up and steady in its position
Types of stance
The type of stance that the archer adopts is vital to their performance. With all stances, the weight should be evenly distributed between the two feet so that you are not leaning more to one side, which will distort your shot.
This is when the two feet are placed at an equal distance from the line, at shoulder-width distance apart. This is a natural position for most people. However, in this stance, the body is not particularly sturdy so it can be moved in high winds, which will obviously affect the performance of the archer. The back also does not have a great deal of support, and this stance lowers the area for string clearance. This is the stance that most archers will use when they first learn archery and, although it is a comfortable stance, you should try and progress to an open stance, as this will increase your performance.
This stance is when the dominant foot will be a whole foot in front of the other one, slightly facing the target. It gives the archer more stable support than the even stance, and eliminates the tendency to lean back away from the target. However, in this stance, archers tend to use their arm muscles more than their back muscles to draw the bow, and will often twist their body towards the target. That said, this is one of the better stances, and should be the one that most amateur archers aim to perfect.
The close stance is when the non-dominant foot is placed a foot in front of the dominant foot, with the archer facing slightly away from the target. This stance provides excellent stable support and provides good alignment of the arm and shoulder in direct line to the target. Again, this stance reduces the room for striking clearance, meaning the string has a tendency to strike against the body. It also sometimes makes the archer learn away from the target, causing them to overdraw the arrow.
The oblique stance is created by having the dominant foot placed one foot in front of the non-dominant foot, which is then placed at a right angle to the line. This stance provides the largest amount of clearance space for the bowstring when it is released. The target is clearly and easily visible from this stance, and the body is in total equilibrium. However, this is the hardest stance to perfect and is utilised solely by expert archers.
Types of anchor point
There are three main types of anchor point, although these will obviously vary slightly in the way they are adopted from archer to archer:
Low anchor point
This is when the bowstring is drawn so that the bow hand rests under the chin. This point prevents overdrawing, and the low placement of the hand on the face facilitates long distance shots, with less movement required. This anchor point is not particular natural or comfortable for archers who have large hands or short necks – it tips the head slightly and takes a little longer time to position than the others. It is the anchor point which most beginners adopt.
Side anchor point
Drawing the hand to the side of the face makes the side anchor point. It is a much quicker position to establish than the low anchor point, but it again encourages overdrawing and permits creeping.
High anchor point
This point is usually adopted when a release aid is being used on the bow, and is performed by drawing the bowstring slightly above the chin. It allows archers to have partial sight over the arrow shaft and over the point, if an additional bowsight is not being used. However, it does not allow full bowsight, meaning an additional bowsight is nearly always required.
How to improve your archery technique
The key to improving your technique is to develop a consistent form. The elite in archery all have the ability to duplicate the same technique and form which they have adopted shot after shot. However, the way in which you achieve this is individual to each person. The more you practice the more you will develop the style which is suitable for you. To help you improve and learn which style you are suited to, it is often advisable to employ the help of a coach. When you first start out at archery, many clubs will offer you the opportunity to undergo a beginners course, which usually lasts for around 4-6 weeks. These courses will teach you the basics of archery, and help you begin developing your own individual technique. It will also give you a taster of the different types of archery, and let you decide which one you would like to become skilled at.
Working with a coach means that you take the step from being a recreational archer, to becoming a competitive archer. Although what you are doing may feel right from your own perspective, you are not in the best position to be able to really see what is going on. Therefore, it is almost essential that you work with a coach at some point. Make sure that the coach has undertaken a training course that has been accredited by the GNAS. The GNAS website provides details of which counties/areas have accredited coaches, and they give a contact for each area for extra information.