The moment was tense, and I knew my release would be less than stellar. Suddenly the arrow was off, and I expected disaster to occur. Yet to my surprise, the arrow plunked right into the kill zone. How could that be? I was astonished.
I was at a 3-D shoot, and I had just taken a challenging long-distance shot. Filled with nerves, I expected to miss the target badly. So, how on earth did my arrow cut the 10-ring? I credited the amazing recovery to one thing: My ability to hold my bow in a relaxed, consistent manner, while following through with the shot.
It often amazes me how much mulling over there is about new bows, release aids, sights, stabilizers, and so forth, but rarely do we hear much about how we should hold the bow and what we should do to make this engagement more consistent. I have been practicing archery for a long time now, and I can't think of very many accuracy elements as important as holding the bow correctly. Let's explore three factors behind better bow-hand/bow-arm control.
Palm & Pressure Point
Try this. Open your hand, and with your other hand's thumb begin pressing into various places on your palm. You'll notice that the palm of your hand moves around in every area except one. That one spot is right at the base of your thumb, where it meets the lifeline. This is where you'll want to place the center of your bow's handle. In doing so, you're placing the so-called "pressure point" of the grip into the most rigid, torque-free position possible.
You'll also notice that this firm, torque-free location is pretty small — about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, depending on the size of your hand. Beyond this area, you'll notice your palm begins to move again when pressed upon. This is an issue, and why you must be precise and disciplined in positioning your hand in the same exact place every time. This becomes somewhat of a challenge, unless your bow's grip is fairly narrow and flat along the surface.
This is the primary reason why you'll see pro archers using ultra-thin grips. With less surface area, there's less chance of wrongly positioning your hand into the bow. Fortunately, many of today's bows deliver narrow grips, even with the wood or plastic grip-attachment already in place. One great example is Mathews' Focus Grip, or Hoyt's Pro Grip system, which allows removing the wood grip entirely and using two wood side plates instead. Other bows, like the Elite Impulse, PSE Evolve, and Prime Centergy include an integrated riser grip that allows for a narrow grip engagement. These are all great design concepts that reduce surface area and bow-hand torque.
Depending on the bow and climate I'll be hunting in, I sometimes prefer to shoot with a plastic or wood grip in place. However, I often change out the factory grip with a Shrewd Delrin Standard model (particularly when using Mathews' bows), or take a file to a standard wood grip and trim away as much unnecessary surface area as possible. Steps such as this can make a huge difference in shooting better.
Keeping It Relaxed & Consistent
Gripping your bow in the right spot is only one step in the process. The next step is keeping your hand completely relaxed from the moment you hit full draw, to the moment your arrow lands on target. If not, your hand and/or fingers will force your bow's riser to jostle slightly, causing the dreaded bow-hand torque to occur.
I have found two ways to hold the bow's handle in a more relaxed manner. The first method is well-known but seldom put into practice — by wrapping your fingers loosely around the grip, and keeping them pretty limp.
The next method is even more "dummy proof" in my opinion. Basically, to perform this method you tuck your bottom three fingers into your hand, then you place your palm into your bow's grip and gently wrap around the handle using only your thumb and forefinger. You'll notice that with this technique, you must rotate your hand at about a 45-degree angle in order to place the base of your thumb into the grip correctly. This forces proper forearm and palm alignment, which I like a lot.
Both techniques are effective, and both are used by professional archers. Choose the one that seems most natural to you and then stick with it, always keeping your fingers completely relaxed.
With today's bows, shot recoil is almost nonexistent. For this reason, you don't have to worry too much about the bow jumping forward and flying out of your relaxed, loose hand. However, relaxation stems from complete peace of mind that the bow cannot drop, no matter what. I've had bows fall out of my hand before, and it's not a good feeling. I don't ever want that. With this in mind, I suggest using a wrist sling to eliminate all possible concerns of this occurring. When adjusting the sling, make sure it's loose and not tight against the back of your hand. Your hand must be free from obstruction so it can glide into the most natural, torque-free position.
The last step in keeping your bow hand relaxed is to actually remind yourself to do it on each shot, or at least until it becomes completely habitual and part of your shooting sequence. Upon hitting full draw, I like to send a mental signal to my hand, telling it to relax. As this occurs, my fingers go completely limp, and this relaxation has a way of radiating from my fingers and into the rest of my hand, and even all the way up my arm and shoulder. I visualize my arm as a lifeless piece of wood holding the bow up. It's a critical step in the shooting process.
Although follow-through could be a separate column, I couldn't help but include it as a key element in proper bow-control mechanics. After all, you can center your grip correctly and keep a relaxed hand, but if you don't support the bow long enough and relaxed enough during the shot, your efforts will prove futile. They are all interrelated and essential for bow-hand/arm consistency.
The best way to illustrate proper follow-through is to imagine a fencepost with a gate that attaches to it. In order for the gate to swing open smoothly, back and forth, and lock in place at the other end, is for the post to be completely motionless and fixed. In many regards, this is how you must hold your bow, too. Anatomically, the only way this can possibly happen is to eliminate all muscular arm/shoulder tension of any kind. Why? Because muscles contract (tighten) and expand (relax), which will cause alterations in bone movement. Obviously, this can wreak havoc on bow-hand alignment. For this reason, the bow-arm shoulder must fall into a low, locked arrangement that prevents muscle involvement. This is known as bone-to-bone anatomy.
This description sounds complicated, but it's not. To demonstrate this bone-to-bone technique, all you have to do is stand up straight and then pretend you are going to hold your bow up to shoot. As you do this, keep your fist and arm completely relaxed. You'll notice that the top of your shoulder never changes position. In other words, the deltoid muscle never activates, keeping your shoulder level with your upper arm. This is the position you want to duplicate when you shoot your bow.
One more thing. The bow arm must stay up and relaxed until the arrow finds the target. This defines proper follow-through. This is why my arrow bisected the 10-ring on that 3-D target, despite my being filled with nerves and fouling up the release.
Don't ever second-guess the importance of engaging your bow in a relaxed, consistent fashion. In my experience, few things are more crucial to enhancing accuracy. By following these shooting tips, I have no doubt you'll improve your day-to-day shooting game and elevate your confidence going into the next hunting season.