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An Ancient Art: How to Shoot a Bow

Archery is a skill and hobby I have loved since boyhood.  When I was about five years old, I would go outside at dusk to watch my father shoot arrows into a paper plate that was stuck to some hay bales. When I was in Boy Scouts at the age of 10, one of our scout masters showed me how to fletch arrows and let me practice shooting in his basement.  It was instantly a passion of mine.

As I continued to practice, I started competing in tournaments and did fairly well.  I liked to pretend I was Robin Hood and try to split my first arrow with the second one.  There was something about the focus and quiet nature of archery that made me fall in love. I found something magical in the sound of your own breath, your sight picture lined up through your pins, and the gentle ‘thump’ sound as you release your arrow and peg a bullseye.

This article is not about how to shoot a bow like Robin Hood.  It is simply about the steps to picking up a bow and sending an arrow down range.  More so than any other type of marksmanship, archery requires a ridiculous amount of practice.  If you want to be good, you have to put in the hours at the range. You also have to consider the gear, which is why looking for the best bow sight for your needs might be a good idea.

There are three types of bows: compound, recurve, and long bows.  The feel of the bow is different for each along with their accuracy and range, but the shooting process is the same for each. An armguard for your non-dominant arm is a good idea as a beginner.  This just ensures that the bow string does not slap your arm on the release.

Find an area to practice where there is no danger of hitting any people or animals. Arrows can deflect or miss the target entirely, so you probably need an area that is 100 yards by 100 yards just to be safe. For a target, you need something firm enough that the arrow will not pass through but soft enough that It will not damage the arrow. You can buy a target or use hay bales with a paper target attached, but never shoot at something hard like a tree or board.  It will damage the arrow and is more likely to deflect.

  • Stance. Your stance should have your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, forming a straight line from your back toe to your front toe to the target. Consider your foot position in the future. Are you going to be shooting from the ground or in a tree stand?  It may be more comfortable to have a wide stance, but if your tree stand will not allow it then it makes no sense.
  • Grip. Your grip with your non-dominant hand should be relaxed. I sometimes like to form a ‘Y’ with my hand instead of closing my grip to make sure it is not too tight.  Torque on the grip can make your shots very inconsistent. For this reason, you want as little contact with the bow as possible.  If it is uncomfortable for you to leave your hand open, try installing a wrist loop.  This will give you more confidence that you will not drop the bow, so hopefully you will be more comfortable with an open grip.

The elbow on your non-dominant arm should be almost locked.  Your forearm needs to be straight, but for some people a locked elbow means a painful slap with the bow string.  For these people, you may need to slightly bend your elbow to keep it from interfering with the string movement.

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  • Nock your arrow. Place it on the rest and touch the nock to the bowstring.  Make sure that your arrow is straight before you nock it.  If it is at an angle, it will twist the bow string and make you miss right or left.  Arrows have three fletchings and the odd color needs to face out away from your body.
  • Draw. If shooting barehanded or with a finger tab or glove, position your fingers so your index finger is above the arrow and your middle and ring fingers are below.  These three fingers are all that should touch the string and they should not touch the arrow.  If using a release, there should be a loop within which you nocked the arrow.  Attached your release to the loop.

When you draw the arrow back, use your back and shoulder muscles, not your bicep or forearm.  Draw it back to where your hand fits under your cheek bone with the string touching your lip and nose. This anchor point is very important for accuracy.  Find a comfortable point and anchor there every single time you shoot.

  • Aim. Use your dominant eye to look down the shaft of the arrow aligning the sight bead with the target. If you have a peep-sight, make sure you look through it before lining up your shot. Take at least 10 seconds from draw to release every time.  It is important to give your mind time to adjust to all the variables before you release.
  • Release. When you shoot, gently release your fingers or press your trigger release. Practice follow through and hold the bow in position until the arrow has reached your target. Only then should you lower it to check your shot. It will be particularly tempting to drop your bow on long shots.  It seems to take forever for the arrow to get to the target.  Fight the urge.  Try to keep your sight picture the same until you hear the arrow hit the target.

To see how these steps are put together, you can view this youtube video

Advanced Bow Shooting Tips

Releases – If you use a release, you need to become very familiar with the action. Just like the trigger of a gun, archers will start to anticipate the action of the release.  This can cause you to jerk your bow just as you expect it to release.  You can move in to 5 yards and practice with your eyes closed.  Draw your arrow as you normally would, but close your eyes and focus on your hands just before releasing. This will help you notice any movement in either hand prior to your release and help you correct it for a more accurate shot.

Bad Habits – Bad habits are often developed because of your vision.  Both your bow and your release are machines and should operate exactly the same way each and every time. That means that your shot would be perfect every time if it was not for human error factoring into the equation.  Typically if an archer is moving in a way that ruins the shot, it is due to their reaction to either seeing the arrow release or seeing the flight of the arrow as it leaves the bow.  Again, practicing with your eyes closed can isolate any issues.  Eventually, muscle memory will be developed and every shot release will be a surprise as you go into “autopilot” and let muscle memory take over.

Distance – Once you have a comfortable routine for shorter distances, it is time to push the envelope.  If you have been shooting at 20 yards, step it back to 30 yards.  Once you are comfortable there, step back to 40 yards.  Most bows can be accurate at 40 to 50 yards if the archer is good enough to keep it steady, but some archers practice at distances up to 100 yards.  As a general rule, you want to be consistent at twice the distance you plan to shoot in the field.  So if you plan to shoot a deer at 20 yards, you need to be lights out at 40 yards.  Remember, this is what the range is for.  You want to push yourself on the range so you will be more consistent when in the stand.

Breathing – As you increase distance your tendency will be to hold your breath.  Do not do it.  Reducing oxygen flow to the brain will make you shakier as you aim.  Also, your vision is impaired after you hold your breath for only eight seconds.  You do not need to take deep relaxing meditation type breaths, but do not completely cut off the oxygen either.

Floating your aim – Also, it is impossible to hold the pin dead steady on your target at a long distance. Some archers may claim that they have the arm strength to hold the pin on the bullseye at 100 yards.  They are lying.  There is so much more than arm strength to keeping a bow steady.  The best archers float the pin over their target and release as it floats over the ideal point.  Do not hold yourself to an unachievable standard.

Hunting target practice – You can also move to a hunting setup for target practice to become more prepared.  If you will be hunting from a tree stand, practice from a tree stand.  The stand limits your stance, limits your shooting lanes, and forces you to factor in the angle of the shot.  It is especially helpful to use a 3-D target to show you where to aim to hit the vital organs.  Shooting at an angle also ads to your distance.  This is why range finders have an angle setting.

If you plan to hunt from a ground blind, practice from a blind.  Again, the blind will limit your shooting lanes and the space you have to position your shot.  Practice a few rounds with your broad-heads on your arrows as well.  Broad-heads will slightly adjust the grain and flight of the arrow, so get used to it.  All of these variables make a difference when going after that monster buck.

Practicing adversity – The longer you shoot in a given session, the shakier you will get.  Your arms and back get tired and make your shots more difficult.  It is important to practice when tired as well.  You never know when you will have to take your shot right after hiking a couple miles and climbing into your tree stand.  Also, practice a kneeling stance.  Put your feet together and kneel down resting your backside on your feet.  Often when ground hunting you will have to consider taking this stance to stay lower and avoid being seen.

Fine Tuning – To pick up on any errors in your stance, anchor point, grip, or release, use a spotter or video camera.  Getting a closer look at yourself as you draw and shoot your bow can open your eyes to all kinds of little errors you may not notice otherwise.  However, do not take shooting too seriously.  Stay relaxed and enjoy yourself.  The more rigid you are, the harder it will be to make an accurate shot. Stay loose.

Equipment – As a beginner, any bow is a good bow to start with.  However, as you become more experienced you will likely want to upgrade your equipment.  Most people move away from a recurve or long bow towards a compound bow.  Also, the newer compound designs are lighter and more accurate than the older designs.  They allow you to hold on your target longer, and produce more arrow speed out of fewer pounds of draw weight.  The less arch that your shot has at a long distance, the more accurate you can be. The additional arrow speed equates to a straighter shot and more accuracy at longer distances.

Newer designs also have a thinner grip which allows for less torque on your grip. You may also want to have your bow fitted to your body size.  Just like with golf clubs, a custom setup based on your measurements will give you the most comfort and accuracy.  That being said, plenty of deer are taken every year with bargain basement bows.  Do not feel the need to spend a bunch of cash if you do not want to.  If you want some instruction on how to choose a more advanced bow, please check out this video:

I really hope that this instructional will encourage you to pick up a bow and give it a try. Bow hunting is excellent for survival because you can take an animal without giving away your position to other people or animals.  You never have to buy more ammo, and the odds of a mechanical error with a bow are very small.  In addition, man has used archery for self-defense for thousands of years.

More importantly for me, it is a very relaxing and artful practice.  I still get chills every time I pick up a bow and nail a tough shot.  That being said, I have fun even when I miss every time. It is a bit like golf for me.  You can have fun even if you don’t do very well.  So get a bow, get some hay bales, get outside, and let ‘em fly!

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About Ryan Dotson

My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

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