Illustrated Archery Tips

The images used here have been made free for non-commercial use by the brilliant Illustrator Jessica Emmett. Thanks Jessica!

What to Wear for Archery

The following list provides a useful guide to what to wear (and what not to):

  1. Remove any jewellery that might get in the way of the bow string (ouch!)
  2. Tie long hair out of the way, ideally behind you.
  3. Avoid clothing with a breast pocket on the side you hold your bow, as it may catch the string.
  4. Don't wear baggy sleeves. Wear something with close-fitting sleeves (or no sleeves at all if it's warm enough).
  5. Open-toed footwear is not allowed on any archery range. You could walk into an arrow that's hidden in the grass (again, ouch!)
  6. A chest guard will help to keep your clothes (and you) clear of the bow string as you draw your bow.
  7. Use an arm guard - even the best archers will hit their arm with the string once in a while.

And don't forget to be prepared for the weather. Getting sunburned or soaked isn't much fun. If you're going to a competition outdoors, a small pop-up tent will help keep you and your equipment dry.


Nocking an Arrow

There's not much to nocking an arrow, but here's a short guide:

  • Always check that your arrow is correctly seated on the arrow rest. The rest (and pressure button if you have one) should hold the arrow so that it does not make contact with the riser of your bow.
  • The nock of the arrow should always click fully onto the string, between the nocking points on the string. If there's only one nocking point on the string, the arrow usually goes underneath.
  • Always ensure that the 'odd' fletching sticks out horizonally, away from the bow (and towards you). This gives the best clearance for the arrow, and helps to prevent fletchings from being torn off the arrow as it leaves the bow.
  • Also (and this should go without saying), your bow should never be held horizontally when shooting. That's silly AND dangerous.

The position of the nocking points on your string, and the bracing height (the distance between string and the deepest part of the grip) are important factors in ensuring that your bow is properly set up. You can use a bow square to check these things. Ask a coach or another experienced archer for help with this.

If you sometimes pull the arrow past the arrow rest (and it falls off) when you draw your bow, it's possible that your arrows are too short. This can be dangerous.Talk to a coach if in doubt.


How to Stand Properly for Archery

How you stand when you shoot is more important than you might think! Here are some notes to help you achieve a good, stable stance for archery:

  • Stand with one foot on each side of the shooting line. If you need to bend down to pick something up (e.g. a dropped arrow), one foot must always stay behind the line.
  • Your toes should be in line with the centre of the target. If you're shooting indoors, there may be lines on the floor that you can use for reference.
  • For most archers, a 'normal' stance (top illustration) will work best. In some cases, a coach may suggest a more 'open' stance (next illustration down). However you stand, try to keep the position of your feet the same each time you step up to the shooting line.
  • Your feet should be placed far enough apart so that they are directly under your hips, and under your shoulders.

Other things (not illustrated):

  • Don't lock your knees. If you 'soften' your knees slightly, you'll be able to adjust your balance more easily, and so will be more stable.
  • Your weight should be mostly towards the front (the 'balls') of your feet, not the heels.
  • When bringing your bow to full draw, your upper body should be side-on to the target, not turned towards it.
  • Try not to arch your back or lean away from the target. Tucking in your bottom slightly will help to prevent arching of your lower back.


Holding Your Bow

First-time archers will often grip the bow tightly (the so-called 'death grip'). But for proper form, you should try to hold the bow as lightly as you can. Using a finger sling will help you to achieve the right grip without worrying about dropping your bow.

Start with the fleshy part at the base of your thumb placed squarely on the grip. Your thumb and fingers should make a 'Y' shape as you lay them on the grip.

Your thumb should point towards the target, and the knuckles of your hand should make an angle of about 45%. The side of your hand nearest your little finger shouldn't make contact with the bow at all.

Your fingertips should then rest very lightly on the front of the riser. Some people find it helps to tuck some (or all) of their fingers into the palm (see centre illustration).

When you draw the bow, the line of force from the bow should come back through your wrist and into your arm. If your wrist is bent too far in either direction, this puts extra stress on the wrist and could cause injury.

Try not to return to the 'death grip' when you release the string. Learn to rely on your finger sling, and keep your bow hand relaxed throughout the shot.

Holding your bow correctly will also help you to keep your elbow crease vertical and your bow shoulder down, two more elements of good form.


The Drawing Hand

Note that this illustration shows an archer without a finger tab. This is just to help you see how the fingers are positioned. Use of a tab or other finger protection is strongly recommended.

There are two common drawing hand positions in archery. You should always use the correct finger position for the bow type you're shooting.

When using an Olympic recurve with a sight (or a longbow), the 'Mediterranean draw' (top left) is used. The forefinger is placed above the arrow, and the next two fingers underneath.

For barebow styles of archery, a 'three fingers under' grip (top right) is used; this has the benefit of bringing the arrow closer to the aiming eye, especially when the hand is drawn back to the corner of the mouth.

A 'deep hook' is essential for a good release. The string should lie in the crease of your top finger joints. The back of your hand should be kept straight.

Pulling the arrow and not the string is a novice mistake that can be dangerous, as there's a good chance of an accidental release if the arrow slips from the fingers.

In the Mediterranean draw, make sure you keep your forefinger and middle finger apart so as not to touch the arrow; if your arrow sometimes seems to 'fall off' the rest, this is the usual cause. Many finger tabs contain a 'spacer' to help prevent this.



The 'Sight Picture'

You might have heard other archers talking about their 'sight picture' and wondered what it was. Let's solve that mystery.

A Sight Picture is simply what you see with your eye(s) when you have drawn and aimed your bow. It's a way to gain consistency by using cues from the visible part of your bow.

First, your string should run exactly down the middle of your bow's limbs, and through any limb bolts (if your bow has them). If the string is off-centre, then you may need to adjust your posture to achieve this alignment.

Second, the fuzzy image of the string in front of your eye should always be in the same position relative to the sight ring/block. For most archers the string will align with the inside edge of the sight ring/block.

Barebow archers don't use a sight, of course. For barebow, the fuzzy image of the string should always be in the same horizontal position relative to the arrow.

A bow sight is adjusted as follows: move the sight in the direction the arrows went. So if the arrows went too far left, move the sight pin left. Too high? Move the sight up.

With barebow, adjust your aiming point instead. If the arrows go three rings too high, aim three rings lower. Two rings too far left? Aim two rings to the right.