February 07, 2022
By Joe Bell
The basics of good archery do not change. Simply do it the same way each time, and you’ll achieve perfection. Of course, this is easier said than done. But it really is that simple.
For the past 20-plus years, I’ve focused heavily on refining my shooting form, so it’s as repeatable as humanly possible. This incorporated making a bunch of small changes in how I handled the bow during execution, and how I mentally approached the shot. Some of these changes focused on correcting fundamental form flaws (such as using the wrong draw length), while others emphasized an improved shooting feel through the end of the shot.
More than anything, I experimented with different bow-hand and release-hand positions, searching for the smoothest, most consistent system. In the end, all these little details added up to some pretty powerful medicine for increasing my precision and control. As I did this, archery suddenly became more enjoyable and gratifying, too.
Of course, space here limits every little detail I’d love to share with you about my archery journey, but what I can do is share four things that truly stand out above the rest when shot-to-shot performance is key. Here are the four important fundamentals.
Align The Body
Exceptional shooting performance starts with how the body is positioned. If you analyze several different archers, you’ll notice each one shoots a little bit differently. One will shoot using a high draw-arm elbow, while the other will have a low-draw elbow. Some will hold the bow with a bent bow arm, while others will use a dead-straight, stiff arm. None of these attributes represent the right or wrong way of doing it, so long as the preferred form is done in a repeatable fashion.
Here’s the problem: Usually, if it doesn’t feel smooth or natural, it will be harder to duplicate each and every time. You don’t want that. You want a shooting posture that uses very little muscle activity, so it’s less variable and more repeatable.
If you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and simply raise your bow arm at a 90-degree angle with your chest, this will feel totally natural and somewhat effortless. Your torso will be in line with the position of your feet, and your forehead will be directly above your neck — not facing down or up. Your bow-arm shoulder also will be low and not twisted upward, causing the deltoid muscle to expand unnaturally. You could actually close your eyes in this body position, and if you were sleep deprived, you might even fall asleep for a few seconds.
Well, what I just described is exactly how you want to position your body at full draw. This technique is known as proper “T-form.” By experimenting and adjusting your draw length in 1/8-inch increments, you can mimic this type of body position and shoot with a greater, more relaxed feel. Do this, and you’ll surely improve your shot-to-shot consistency.
Bone-To-Bone Bow Contact
How you grip your bow sets the stage for true consistency and relaxation. After all, it’s our only true contact point with our bow, other than the release on the bowstring, which we’ll cover in the next section. You want the bone in your arm (the radius) to be in line with your bow’s grip and riser. This translates into your thumb rotated slightly at about a 45-degree angle. This places the base of your thumb with the grip and rotates your forearm in such a way to improve bowstring clearance. Since the thumb bone is braced against the radius bone and the thumb bone is resting against the “bone” of the riser, this is known as “bone-to-bone contact.” This method eliminates muscle use in the hand and arm as much as possible, and also positions your bow hand in the most torque-free way possible.
How you place your hand on your bow’s grip often comes down to the best feel. Focus heavily on this fundamental when practicing, and eventually it will become automatic.
Bracing The Release
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “a floating anchor” before. This means the hand that’s holding the release is not wedged against your face or jawbone in a fixed manner. If it floats, then it will be in a different spot every time — bad medicine for consistent shooting.
A better way is to brace the release hand so it’s “notched” into your jawbone or maybe near the base of your ear, so the hand (and the release’s jaw or hook) doesn’t float around or twist from side to side. With an index-finger release, I like to place the web of my thumb and index finger along the underside of my jawbone. This creates a nice “cup,” which allows for repeatable performance. With a handheld release, try placing the knuckles of your index and middle fingers between your jawbone — again, creating a nice consistent cup along your face.
When anchoring your hand, make sure you don’t press too hard into your jaw. What you should strive for is a light touch against your face, because if you press too hard, you’ll only experience more inconsistency in your shooting accuracy.
The consistency of your anchor is extremely crucial because if it varies, so will the pressure, arm alignment, and overall string-torque dynamics. Even the slightest pitch of the release can cause an errant arrow, so keep your anchor solid but light. Don’t ever “scrunch” or move your face to the release hand. Acquire a solid stance, keep your torso naturally upright, and bring your draw hand to the side of your face. This will ensure proper shooting form.
I don’t know if any of these elements are more important than the other. They all go hand in hand for attaining repeatable accuracy. However, if I had to choose only one as most important, this one would be it. “Finding center” means aiming with real focus and maintaining this focus until the shot breaks, all by surprise. Doing it this way will allow you to shoot well — even when the intensity is high.
Finding center often involves working through any shooting anxiety you might have, such as freezing below the spot, or punching the release. To rid yourself of these ailments, you must do three things:
1. Embrace your sight’s movement. In other words, there’s no way you can hold a bow and sight pin completely still, so accept this and let the pin float around the bull’s-eye. Pick the smallest dot you can, so when you float a lot — or when shaking from intense pressure — you still won’t miss by much. When aiming at a buck or bull, do your best to pick a patch of hair, or a discolored spot in the center of the lungs.
2. Use a release that’s hard to punch. An index-finger release may be the fastest tool in the woods, and the easiest to master for any type of archer, but it amplifies trigger-punching. A better option is one that disengages by pure motion — which is the hinge or back-tension release. This style of release will help you regain mental control for greater repeatability. It takes considerable time learning how to shoot hinge/back-tension releases properly, but once mastered, you will have a new mental outlook on proper shot execution. Instead of “driving by” and punching the release once your pin swings past the bull’s-eye, you will soon find yourself letting your pins do their thing while focusing on aiming until the release breaks over. You can hunt with a hinge, too, especially a model with a safety on it — for easier drawing in the field — or you can switch back to your index-finger release weeks before the season, given you activate the release slowly by applying a solid motion with your back muscles.
3. Learn to let down when the shot doesn’t feel right. The subconscious mind controls every detail in the shot process — except for the aiming part. For this reason, it’s important to teach it right. In other words, if you feel like something is wrong, then it probably is. This is when you need to let down, take a couple deep breaths, relax, and try again. You don’t want to train your mind to adopt bad shooting habits. This often occurs when you continue shooting long after you feel your muscles tire and your sight picture degrade to a point that you no longer feel strong. Adopt discipline in your shooting routine; refuse to shoot when it doesn’t feel right, and you’ll achieve better results.
Archery is a mental game, and the only way to stay on top is to keep things more repeatable. Try these four steps for improving your shooting skills. They’ve made a huge difference in my target shooting and bowhunting results, and I’m certain they’ll do the same for you.