Consistency is the key in archery, especially in how the shot is executed. Small differences from shot to shot will translate into big differences in where your arrows land on the target. In this article, we’ll cover the shot process from setup to anchor. A separate and more in-depth article to follow will cover shot execution. Every novice archer wants to hit the middle as much as possible (really, who doesn’t?), and the following tips will enable them to do so with a little more ease.
Stance refers to the placement of your feet on either side of the shooting line. This is what creates your stability because it’s your only contact with the ground. An archer can choose among three different stances, depending on comfort and whether they have any clearance issues with their bow arm:
Even stance – Both feet are placed so that if a line were to be drawn across the tips of their toes, the line would point directly at the target. This is a great way for beginners to start because it is the most neutral stance that keeps the body relatively untwisted.
Open stance – For a right-handed archer, the right foot has taken a step forward, which “opens” the archer toward the target. The chest of the archer points more toward the target as opposed to pointing down the shooting line. Top-level archers often use this stance, as it can create a greater sense of stability. How much of a forward step the archer should take greatly depends on their shooting style and flexibility.
Closed stance – For a right-handed archer, the right foot has taken a step backward, which “closes” the archer to the target. Now the chest is pointing behind the shooting line, and the archer’s back is pointing toward the targets. This is the least common stance but can be useful in tricky situations, such as during field archery.
No matter which stance you pick, the weight distribution on your feet will be slightly shifted to the front foot due to the extra mass weight of the bow. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, but you can fine-tune this with the help of a coach.
Grip and Hook
There are two points where an archer touches the bow: at the grip and where the fingers hook the bowstring. These two locations have the greatest effect on the bow and the arrow flight. Gripping the bow and string inconsistently will cause torque in the handle and extra movement in the bowstring that is not conducive to consistent shooting.
Grip – The placement of your bow hand should be as consistent as possible to have the same pressure in the bow from shot to shot. In general, a 45-degree angle is made between the knuckles and the riser, promoting a relaxed hand, where the bow can be free to jump out of the hand upon release of the string. The angled position of the bow hand in the grip also lets the archer rotate their arm to get the inner elbow (some people call it the “elbow pit”) out of the way of the bowstring. Overall, the bow should be “cradled” in the hand without the archer grabbing the riser, which can lead to torque; the more relaxed the bow hand, the better the grip will be.
Hook – Using three fingers (index, middle and ring) to pull the bowstring back to anchor may seem like an easy concept, but variations exist. A great starting point for the “hook” is to place the string in the first knuckle joint of each finger (aka the distal interphalangeal joint, close to the fingertip) and keep the pressure of the bowstring equal across all three fingers. This position may be moved toward the palm or toward the fingertips under the advice of a knowledgeable coach who is able to see how clean the release is at each position. Arguably the best position for an archer to hook the string is wherever they are most comfortable and most relaxed.
In the pre-shot routine, raising the bow should be straightforward. What is not so simple to understand is the idea of alignment through the shoulders. The shoulders should be set down so the archer is not shrugging their shoulders, especially at full draw. Shrugged shoulders create a lot of tension in the upper trapezius muscles, which will inevitably lead to fatigue and, in some cases, injury. Along with this downward alignment, the shoulders need to be angled at least 90 degrees to the shooting line. In simple terms, if an arrow were to be placed along the shoulder blades of an archer at full draw, that arrow should point at the target. This ensures that the draw weight of the bow is taken along the skeletal structure instead of by muscles alone.
Draw and Anchor
Drawing (or pulling) the bowstring back always needs to be done in a safe manner. The arrow must stay mostly parallel to the ground to ensure that if something were to go wrong, the arrow would fly in the general direction of the target. An unsafe manner would be to “sky draw,” i.e., when the arrow is pointed upward at an angle greater than 45 degrees with the arrow drawn more than halfway back. In case of an accidental release, the arrow would sail well over the target and become a danger to whatever is beyond.
When the string reaches the face of the archer, it needs to touch the same spots every time. This is called the “anchor.” It’s usually accomplished when the archer’s hand is contacting the jawbone, and the bowstring is simultaneously contacting the chin and tip of the nose. The anchor provides a consistent “rear sight” for the archer and ensures that the back end of the arrow is always in the same position.
These tips are just guidelines for setting up on the shooting line and drawing the string to anchor. With the help of a trustworthy and knowledgeable coach, the steps can be tweaked to suit any archer and their shooting style. Read the follow-up article focused on shot execution — from anchoring to aiming and releasing the arrow — to learn more.