Perfect Archery Form Through Perfect Practice
Most people don’t think of archery practice throughout the winter. The weather’s not exactly great for outdoor sessions and it can get old practicing indoors (if you even have a barn or shed big enough to do that). In most cases, bow hunting seasons also just ended and there are tons of winter activities to keep us busy. Plus, it’s always nice to take some time off between bow hunting and jumping right back into offseason archery practice. But before too much time passes, it’s best to practice a little before your archery form slips. Letting too much time go by is a recipe for small mistakes and form issues to creep into your routine. If you let those small problems go unaddressed until mid-summer, it can be too late to really fix them before hunting season starts back up again in the fall. So if you’re wondering how to shoot a compound bow the correct way, read on.
To really stay in good archery form throughout the year, you need to address physical strength and conditioning, archery gear, and your specific archery technique. If you can dedicate some time each week (starting now) to each of these areas, you will be more prepared for hunting season than you’ve ever been. Why is that important? First, your body will be more capable of longer sits in the woods or dragging a deer out of them. You’ll also be more confident in your shooting abilities, and will be much more likely to make a great shot on a deer even in poor conditions. While all of those will help you on any standard hunt behind your house, they will also prepare you for a trip to some place new. Even if you don’t plan on it, it doesn’t hurt to be willing and able. Let’s dive into the specific archery form preparation steps you should take right now.
Physical Strength and Conditioning
You’ve probably heard it from your doctor more times than you care to admit, but staying in good physical health should always be a priority commitment. It’s not only important for general health purposes as you get older, but it’s actually a very critical part of hunting. Whether you are hiking to your tree stand in the morning or climbing up into it, field dressing a deer or dragging it out of the woods, having a good physical base level is important no matter how you look at it.
The nice thing about archery exercises is that you don’t have to dedicate your life to them to see some benefits for hunting purposes. Granted, the more effort you put in, the better results you will see. But there are two things that a bow hunter needs most: a good aerobic capacity and a strong core and upper body.
Basic conditioning exercises will help you develop your aerobic capacity, which is your ability to bounce back from increased heart and respiration levels. When you stress your body (through dragging a deer or hiking with a loaded backpack), your heart beat and breathing increases, right? If you train for this capacity, you can basically raise the level of activity at which your body starts getting more labored. This is important for archery form when you have to hold your bow for a long time. But shooting with an elevated heartbeat and breathing also simulates shooting at a deer with high adrenaline levels. To get your body used to this, try combining your conditioning exercises with shooting your bow. At the Holder obstacle course, we combine running with strength exercises that will all build our aerobic capacity and increase our agility and strength. At the end of the obstacle course, we shoot at our 30 yard 3D archery targets from Delta McKenzie®. After running through the course, your heart is pumping, your lungs are gasping, and your muscles are shaking, which almost simulates the nerves you get from shooting at a mature buck.
From an archery standpoint, having the strength in your back, shoulders, and core is vital. Obviously, you use your back and shoulder muscles to raise, draw, and hold your bow. The more you can develop these archery muscles for that specific purpose, the better off you will be. You can eventually raise your draw weight to provide a little more punch or hold your bow for longer in those situations where a deer pauses behind some brush after you draw. Having strong core muscles (abdominals and lower back) is critical for holding your bow at full draw, climbing into your stand, or general stability.
You can set up a similar training course in your back yard to practice this summer. But right now, focus on building your conditioning and strength however you can. Do a combination of pushups, pullups, rows, squats, and planks to build your muscles. Burpees or jogging are good ways to build your aerobic capacity.
Archery Equipment Problems
The next category of things that can affect our archery form is our actual gear itself. Shooting a compound bow that doesn’t fit your body can produce some pretty sloppy and inconsistent shooting. If the bow itself is too big, it will be hard to hold steady. If the draw length is too long, you will have to overextend your bow arm to fully draw it to the back wall; whereas, if it is too short, you will have to stop awkwardly and hunch up your body. These issues aren’t easy to correct after buying a bow, so do your best to get the right fit from the start. This is especially important for youth hunting, but it’s also critical if you buy a new bow. If you suspect your bow doesn’t fit you quite right, you can measure your perfect draw length at home. Check out the video below for some easy ways to measure your draw length and determine your eye dominance too.
As you can see, it’s important to determine your eye dominance before you buy a bow. If you get that wrong, you will always fight your bow and that will make shooting accurately an issue. It’s also critical to consider your archery accessories. You should include a quality bow stabilizer on your hunting bow if you’ll likely take long shots or hunt in an open area (most western hunts come to mind for these conditions). While stabilizers are usually more associated with target archery, they offer a tremendous benefit to western hunters too. LimbSaver® stabilizers balance the bow and keep it steady throughout the shot, which will help you make a more accurate shot and keep the bow from jumping out of your hand.
Archery Form Problems
The last and probably most critical issues that affect your shooting form have to do with your actual routine. If you practice the right moves, you will shoot more accurately in the field. If you have a sloppy archery form, you will shoot poorly. Check out the following archery shooting tips to tighten your groups before next hunting season.
Start with your archery stance, which is the very base of your stability. An improper stance will put you off-balance and introduce a lot of error to your archery form. Generally, you can use the following archery practice tips to fix your stance. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, which provides the most stable base for you. You should also practice on different contours (where one foot is higher than the other) so you can get used to adjusting your feet in hilly areas. Each person is different in terms of shooting preferences, but usually an open stance (quartering 45 degrees to your target) will produce the best shots. The leg on the same side as your bow arm should be in front, with your other foot shoulder-width away. Consciously think about keeping your torso upright and straight so you don’t hunch over. The more consistent you can keep your body, the less likely you will be to miss the shot. Try to hold your bow using back tension instead of your arms because your back is stronger and will keep you more stable, while your arms will start to shake. Keep your knees slightly bent so you don’t lock them. Locked knees will make you tipsy after standing still for a while, but bent knees allow you to adjust your core easily.
Similarly, your bow arm should be slightly bent (not locked) for the same purposes. The archery elbow position is an often neglected area that most people don’t think about. Focus on keeping your elbow rotated up and down, instead of giving into the tendency to rotate the inside crook of your elbow up. If you don’t keep your elbow up and down, the bow string will more often than not slap your forearm as it fires. That will get old quickly if you practice in a t-shirt. But if you have your hunting clothing on, which is bulkier, it can get caught in the string and cause some more archery form issues.
Your archery grip is really important too for making consistent and accurate shots. Most beginning archers tend to grip their bows tightly because they think it makes it more stable. While that makes sense at first, the truth is actually pretty counterintuitive. When you grip your bow tightly, you essentially introduce a small amount of torque that twists the entire bow to one direction. While the string will still be anchored at your face, the bow frame will be twisted one direction, which will cause your Gold Tip® arrows to wobble like crazy when they leave the rest. Instead of tightly gripping it, try this instead. Make an L with your thumb and pointer finger on your bow arm. Your bow grip should rest right on the meaty part of your thumb below the inside corner of the L. You can loosely wrap your fingers around the grip as you draw it to make sure it doesn’t move. But after drawing your Bear® archery bow, let the grip rest against your hand in the position above and relax your fingers. Basically, you will use your archery release to hold the bow in position without grabbing the bow grip.
Where you decide to place your archery anchor point (or points) will determine how consistent you shoot. An anchor point is usually where your draw hand or bowstring rests against your face, and it is a really important part of good archery form. While one anchor point is a must, having multiple points is even better because it really dials in on the specific position. By having very clear and consistent anchor points, you can easily repeat good shots. One very common anchor point when using a bow release is to put the crease between your thumb and pointer finger along your jaw bone or at the corner of your mouth. Another common one is to rest the bow string on your nose, which puts the archery sights right in line with your eye. One of the best archery secrets for consistency is to keep your anchor points rock-solid on every shot, practice or hunting.
Finally, as you squeeze your archery release to fire an arrow, make a conscious effort to hold your bow arm still until after the arrow reaches your archery targets. It’s a common problem for hunters to quickly drop their bow arm after they fire. It’s a natural tendency; after all, we want to see where exactly our arrow went. But this can create problems too. We start to anticipate dropping our bow arm, and even start to do it as we hit the release. Even though it’s only dropping for a few milliseconds, it can affect the arrow’s flight path after it leaves the bow. One way to combat this tendency is to count out loud. After you shoot an arrow, count out loud to five before you drop your bow arm or move your draw hand from your primary anchor point. This will help you develop some muscle memory that will carry over into a hunting scenario.
Tackle Your Archery Form Now
Even though we still have months left until spring weather returns, you should start practicing your archery form now and keep after it throughout the summer with specific archery practice drills. Most of these exercises above can be started indoors. If you don’t have anywhere to shoot your bow right now, simply practice your stance or drawing your bow until you can get outside and start shooting again. It will go a long way to helping you prepare for next fall.