The sport of archery is thought to date back to Paleolithic times, when it was invented primarily as a form of hunting. Archers used a bow and arrow to follow and take down prey often much larger and stronger than they were from a distance, making the bow and arrow an effective long distance weapon.
But archery’s use wasn’t limited to hunting alone. In ancient and medieval times, in cultures across the world, knowing how to shoot a bow and arrow often meant you were an elite part of your people’s military force.
While the development of firearms later made the bow and arrow obsolete as a weapon, archery retained its status as a sport and leisure activity until the present day. From the 18th century onward, in many European countries, archery societies were set up to allow people to practice archery in recreational and competitive capacities.
Then, in the 20th century, the United States followed suit with a revival of traditional and indigenous archery practices; American engineers began developing the compound bow in the 1920s, which has replaced the traditional bow as the bow of choice in modern times.
Today, the bow and arrow are used both in recreational and hunting capacities in countries around the world. While you may not have dreams of using a bow and arrow to steal from the rich and give to the poor like a modern day Robin Hood, you can still derive many hours of enjoyment from learning traditional and modern archery techniques.
Methods of Shooting A Bow and Arrow
Before learning about the equipment and steps needed to shoot a bow and arrow, it’s important to understand some of the popular methods of learning archery skills. Many modern bows use sights to help the archer aim and shoot the target with accuracy. Using a sight to shoot a bow and arrow relies on the archer’s ability to use the sight to aim the arrow at the target in order to produce an accurate shot.
Another method of shooting a bow and arrow is called instinctive shooting. The instinctive shooting method has been used since the invention of archery itself, at a time when traditional bows didn’t have sights to aid in aiming. Instinctive shooting requires the archer to learn to make an accurate shot without the need to aim.
This method involves the archer’s entire body, emphasizing consistency in both equipment and form, as well as the ability to repeat the same shooting motion with every shot.
Although instinctive shooting takes a lot of consistent practice to master, it is a rewarding method to learn. Moreover, though the instinctive shooting was originally developed for recurve bows, this method can be effectively used with simple and long bows, too.
Equipment for Shooting A Bow and Arrow
Whether you use a sight-based or instinctive shooting method, your success in shooting a bow and arrow depends in large part upon your development of muscle memory, which in turn results from consistency both in your shooting form and in the equipment you use.
There are many variables that need to be considered when it comes to the type of bow and arrow that you choose; these include nock point, arrow rest for simple or long bows, length of the arrow, arrow spine, and arrow point weight. Especially for beginning archers, it is crucial to ensure that all of these variables remain consistent in each archery session.
Both the preferences of each individual archer as well as the specifications of each individual bow will determine the ideal nock point: there is no one size fits all way of placing a nock point on your bow. Determine the ideal nock point requires research into the type of bow that you choose.
Your bow’s manufacturer will likely supply parameters to help you determine an appropriate nock point, but you can also consult your local archery club or community for help with fitting the proper nock point. After you’ve learned the basics of shooting a bow and arrow and can shoot accurately from a set nock point, you can adjust this point to your liking or needs.
The same is true for the type of arrow that you use at the beginning. While the type of arrow you use may vary depending on the situation, as a beginner you should choose an arrow that fits your draw length. To determine your draw length, stand as if you were going to shoot; then, holding a tape measure in your bow hand, draw the tape as if it were a bowstring back to the corner of your mouth.
As long as you keep your bow arm straight and the elbow of your draw arm in line with your bow arm, this method should give you an accurate measurement of your draw length. You can also consult your local archery shop or club to help you figure out your draw length and choose an arrow to fit it. Once you decide on an arrow to use, be sure to keep it consistent during the initial stages of your learning.
In addition to these basic pieces of equipment, you may want to add an armguard and archery glove to your list. An armguard protects your bow hand from brush burns and cuts from a passing arrow, while an archery glove prevents your draw hand from developing blisters or calluses (though it can be useful to build calluses on your draw hand). While these aren’t necessary items to have, they can save you from a lot of pain during your learning phase.
Form for Shooting A Bow and Arrow
Once you’ve gathered the appropriate equipment, you can start practicing your form. It’s crucial to learn proper form from the very beginning so that you can develop muscle memory and repeat the same motions each time you shoot your bow and arrow.
Knowing your dominant and non-dominant hand is important to developing your shooting form. Your dominant hand will be your draw hand, while your non-dominant hand will be your bow hand.
This means, for example, if you’re right-handed, you will draw the string with your right hand while holding the bow with your left, and vice versa for left-handed archers. It also means that your stance should position your non-dominant, or bow, hand slightly towards your target.
To achieve this form, imagine the stance a boxer or fighter assumes in the ring. Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart, your non-dominant leg slightly forward of your dominant leg. Your feet should be at 90 degrees to the target.
When you have your lower half positioned correctly, grip the bow in your bow hand. The proper grip on the bow is key to accurately aiming and shooting your arrow. Particularly if you are learning to shoot instinctively, you should grip the bow so that the pointer finger of your bow hand points at the target when you raise the bow to shoot.
While you want to keep your finger, wrist, and arm in alignment, don’t over-grip the bow; keep a relaxed grip to maintain the alignment of your bow arm. Ideally, the bow will be resting in the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and pointer finger, which allows your finger to point at the target.
This grip may feel awkward at first, but when practiced consistently it becomes natural and intuitive.
Modern recurve bows feature molded grips to help you achieve this alignment, but most simple or long bows don’t, encouraging archers to grip the handle of the bow with the palm of the hand. Gripping the bow in this way naturally bends your wrist and doesn’t allow your pointer finger to aim at the target. You can still learn to shoot instinctively if you press the palm of your hand into the handle, though this form isn’t as natural as the former.
Practice coming in and out of stance and grip several times to get used to the position of your body and the feel of the bow in your hand. Developing muscle memory early on will help you progress further in your study of archery and enjoy the sport more.
Once you feel moderately comfortable in your stance and grip, you can nock an arrow onto your bow. You can hold the bow horizontally with the arrow rest upwards when you place your arrow, and then turn the bow back to vertical, or you can simply place the arrow nock on the shelf of the arrow rest, with the bow held at a slight angle to ensure the arrow doesn’t fall off the rest.
However you decide to nock your arrow, be sure that the arrow is on the same side of the bow as the back of your bow hand.
Again, practice nocking an arrow several times before you try shooting. When you feel comfortable nocking an arrow, you can grip the string. Usually, archers use three fingers to grip the string, the pointer, middle, and ring fingers of your draw hand.
It’s up to each archer to decide the most comfortable string gripping position, but most archers keep their pointer fingers above the arrow and the other two fingers below the arrow. Grip the string with the pads of your fingers, between the tip and first finger joint.
Be sure to keep the string gripped there; if you allow it to fall into the joint of your fingers, the accuracy of your shot will be affected. Since your fingers are likely to become sore gripping the string this way, you can use an archery glove to provide comfort, though the more calluses you develop on your fingertips, the less pain you’ll experience later on.
When you have a proper grip on the string, you can draw your bow. To draw, press your bow hand while equally pulling the string back with your fingertips. If you’re having trouble drawing the string back using your fingertips, your bow may be too heavy for you, and you should consider using a lighter bow rather than changing your grip on the string.
Keep the arm of your draw hand straight from your fingertips through your wrist, forearm, and elbow, as if the arm were an extension of the arrow itself. Most archers draw their bows back until the middle finger of the draw hand touches the corner of their mouth, creating an accurate and reliable anchor point for shooting.
Remember that the finger of your bow hand will be pointing at your target. This will not only give you the accuracy of aim but also help you focus intently on the target. The intensity of focus on your target is an important aspect of shooting a bow and arrow that doesn’t just involve your body, but also your mind. In fact, shooting accuracy demands that your mind is set on the target.
Your focus comes into play when it’s time to shoot the arrow. Don’t draw your string back and then take aim; your goal is to use your pointer finger and intensity of focus on the target in combination with the form and position of your body to aim while drawing.
This way, as soon as your middle finger reaches your anchor point, you can simply relax your draw hand and shoot the arrow. Don’t be too quick to take your hand away from your face, either: keeping it there for a few seconds after shooting allows you to assess whether you actually released the arrow from the anchor point, and to make any necessary adjustments to your form or draw technique if you didn’t.
Perhaps the most important part of learning archery techniques is to understand that these skills take time and dedication to master. You probably won’t hit your target the first time you shoot, and maybe not in the first hundred times you shoot. The key to your success is to not give up!
Keep practicing your form and ensure the consistency of your form and equipment; with practice, your muscles (including your brain) will adjust to the demands of archery and you’ll see your skills progress. A useful way of making adjustments to your technique is to have a seasoned archer or instructor watch you shoot.
They can give you advice on proper form and also help you decide if you’re really using the archery equipment that’s right for you.