Compound and recurve bows are growing in popularity for hunting and target shooting. However, selecting the right bow is only the first step of the process. You should also pay attention to proper archery form.
Getting to the point of having proper form in your muscle memory takes a lot of practice. Don’t be surprised if you miss a lot of shots early in the process. But once you have your shooting style down, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourself.
We’ve compiled this list of things to pay attention to as you develop your archery form, from your foot placement to your bow grip.
We want to stress that it is vitally important to start kids with proper archery form and the right youth bow for their size.
One note: We created this guide with right-handed shooters in mind. If you’re a left-handed shooter, you may still follow the advice below, but swap the words “right” and “left” wherever they appear.
The first thing you should develop when shooting compound or recurve bows is your stance. Stance is a critical component of your ability to aim and shoot stably. Choosing the proper shooting stance also reduces your risk of injuring yourself as you shoot.
- For the open stance: Move your left foot a half step back and point it toward your target. The open stance is most useful for shooters standing on uneven ground.
- For the square stance: Place both feet shoulder width apart, with your left foot slightly leading your right. Your left foot should be perpendicular to your target.
- For the closed stance: Mirror the open stance, turning your left foot slightly away from your target. The closed stance reduces the clearance between the bowstring and your body, increasing your stability and strength. However, you may need to increase your draw length to compensate.
You should stand perpendicular to your target as you shoot. Stay upright and relaxed, with your feet shoulder width apart, whenever possible.
Although a proper stance is crucial to a straight shot, choose one that makes you feel relaxed and natural as you load and draw your bow. Make sure your feet are stable before you do anything else, and pay close attention to the position of your hips and shoulders.
Next, think about your upper body. Your body should be square to your target regardless of your stance.
If you’re shooting at a moving object, you should use your lower body to rotate your upper body to follow your target. Move your torso with your hips, not with your waist.
Keep your head still as you draw your bow, release your arrow, and follow through. The more you move your head, the less accurate your shot will be. Avoid tilting your head forward to aim. Instead, look toward your target.
Pay special attention to the muscles in your back as you shoot—you should engage these and not the ones in your upper arms. Compound bow shooters may struggle with this because a compound bow reduces the weight you hold while aiming. Engaging your back muscles first keeps your shot in line. Maintain your T-form throughout the shot, keeping your shoulders square.
The next element of proper archery form is the position and rotation of your elbows. Getting your elbow placement wrong can lead to getting hit by the bowstring, even if you’re wearing an arm guard. It can also cause your shot to miss.
Especially when shooting a compound bow, you should always keep the arm holding the bow slightly flexed. Never lock the joint! Focus on the alignment of your bones when getting into position, not the tension in your muscles.
Keep your elbows rotated so all the knuckles on your grip hand are visible. Before you finish your draw, ask yourself: Where would my forearm go if I bent my arm right now? If the answer is “toward the ground,” reposition your elbows.
The elbow of your drawing arm should be high and parallel to the arrow. Your elbows are a critical component of the T-form, but their muscles shouldn’t be doing all the work. Shift as much tension as possible to your back early in the shot.
We recommend practicing this in front of a full-length mirror until you have it consistently right. This will go a long way in helping the following steps fall into place. Just make sure you do not dry fire the bow.
Your drawing arm, or “tab arm,” is the one you use to draw the bowstring back.
Most compound bow shooters will use a release aid to help ensure a consistent bowstring release, which is required for accurate shots.
Most traditional archers that use a recurve bow, a longbow or shortbow, will use their fingers to draw the bow string.
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There are many ways to place your fingers on the bowstring, so you should experiment with them and find out what works best for you. Two popular options for holding the bowstring are:
- 1 Over 2 Under: Many target archers favor this method since it enhances their accuracy when shooting a still target. Place your index finger above the arrow and your ring and middle fingers below it. Your other fingers should be relaxed and out of the way.
- 3 Under: Many hunters prefer this finger placement because it improves their line of sight down the arrow. In this position, your middle, index, and ring fingers all hold the bowstring below the arrow.
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Regardless of the drawing method you choose, you should always look for your drawing hand’s knuckles. If you can see them, you are gripping the bowstring too tightly! Only hook your fingers on the bowstring at the first joint of your fingers.
If you plan on doing a lot of shooting, consider getting a plastic guard or finger tab to protect yourself against blisters and irritation.
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Finding your anchor point is the next stage in developing proper archery form.
When shooting with a recurve bow, you should draw back smoothly to your anchor point. Begin drawing back quickly, then slow down as you get closer to your goal.
If you’re shooting with a compound bow, you should draw back until you reach the bow’s backstop. Then adjust forward to find your anchor point.
A good anchor point that a lot of archers use is the corner of your mouth.
The most important thing about anchor point is that you are able to use the exact point every single time.
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The correct draw length for your bow can make the difference between hitting your target and completely missing it. To calculate your draw length, measure the distance between the tips of your middle fingers with your arms fully outstretched. Then divide that length by 2.5.
Using the right draw length will allow you to shoot consistently, accurately, and powerfully.
What Happens When Your Draw Length Is Too Long
If your draw length is too long, especially with a compound bow, you will miss more shots than you make. You’ll lose out on shot speed and power and risk bruising your forearm with the bowstring.
What Happens When Your Draw Length Is Too Short
With a short draw length, you won’t be able to draw back to your anchor point. You may not even be able to shoot the bow in the first place.
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One of the biggest mistakes that new archers make is buying a bow with too high draw weight. In order to develop proper archery form, you should be able to draw the bow very easily. If you struggle at all to reach full draw, it will be almost impossible to develop proper form until you increase your strength sufficiently to be able to draw easily.
Many newcomers to bowhunting and archery grip the bow too tightly. This is especially true with compound bow shooters because compound bows move forward after you shoot them. Small inconsistencies in your grip can lead to huge inaccuracies when shooting, so it’s important to get your grip sorted out early.
When holding your bow, imagine that you’re shaking someone’s hand. Use that level of pressure throughout your shot.
To grip a compound bow, nock the arrow. Then form an L with the index finger and thumb of the hand holding the bow and apply your hand to the grip. Pull the bow back into your hand instead of wrapping your hand around the bow.
Follow Through on the Shot
Your work isn’t done after you shoot the arrow. The last step in maintaining a proper archery form is to follow through on your shot. Do not underestimate the importance of this step.
After your shot, keep your bow hand up and aimed at the target. Letting your bow down too quickly can change your shot’s trajectory and cause you to miss. Keep your bow sight aimed at the target until the arrow hits it.
If you tend to squeeze your bow tightly as part of your follow through, we recommend using a bow sling to help keep it stable.
Keep your drawing arm behind your neck after you make your shot. Your bow will drop forward, but you should stay in position until after your arrow hits the target.
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Final Thoughts On Proper Archery Form
Archery form is not an exact science. It’s an art, and every shooter’s form will vary slightly based on their situation. Your goal should be to get the fundamentals set in your muscle memory so you can adapt them as needed. This skill is particularly important in the field, where obstacles and uneven terrain are common.
When practicing your proper archery form, keep your focus on establishing consistency. You want your shot groupings to be as close together as possible. It’s easier to properly tune your bow when you know you can repeat a shot every time.
Even in Olympic archery, all archers do not have the exact same form, but they adhere to all of the principles above.
Finally, regardless of the type of bow that you choose, don’t feel like you have to copy somebody else’s form exactly! Find the archery style that works best for you, and everything else will fall in line naturally.
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