Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Peterson demonstrates safe archery techniques while aiming an arrow at a target on the 28th Force Support Squadron trap and skeet range at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., October 11, 2012.
The standard convention on teaching archery is to hold the bow depending upon eye dominance.(One exception is in modern Kyudo where all archers are trained to hold the bow in the left hand.)Therefore, if one is right-eye dominant, they would hold the bow in the left hand and draw the string with the right hand. However, not everyone agrees with this line of thought. A smoother, and more fluid release of the string will produce the most consistently repeatable shots, and therefore may provide greater accuracy of the arrow flight. Some believe that the hand with the greatest dexterity should therefore be the hand that draws and releases the string. Either eye can be used for aiming, and the less dominant eye can be trained over time to become more effective for use. To assist with this, an eye patch can be temporarily worn over the dominant eye.
The hand that holds the bow is referred to as the bow hand and its arm the bow arm. The opposite hand is called the drawing hand or string hand. Terms such as bow shoulder or string elbow follow the same convention.
If shooting according to eye dominance, right-eye-dominant archers shooting conventionally hold the bow with their left hand. If shooting according to hand dexterity, the archer draws the string with the hand that possesses the greatest dexterity, regardless of eye dominance.
To shoot an arrow, an archer first assumes the correct stance. The body should be at or nearly perpendicular to the target and the shooting line, with the feet placed shoulder-width apart. As an archer progresses from beginner to a more advanced level other stances such as the “open stance” or the “closed stance” may be used, although many choose to stick with a “neutral stance”. Each archer has a particular preference, but mostly this term indicates that the leg furthest from the shooting line is a half to a whole foot-length from the other foot, on the ground.
To load, the bow is pointed toward the ground, tipped slightly clockwise of vertical (for a right handed shooter) and the shaft of the arrow is placed on the arrow rest or shelf. The back of the arrow is attached to the bowstring with the nock (a small locking groove located at the proximal end of the arrow). This step is called “nocking the arrow”. Typical arrows with three vanes should be oriented such that a single vane, the “cock feather”, is pointing away from the bow, to improve the clearance of the arrow as it passes the arrow rest.
A compound bow is fitted with a special type of arrow rest, known as a launcher, and the arrow is usually loaded with the cock feather/vane pointed either up, or down, depending upon the type of launcher being used.
The bowstring and arrow are held with three fingers, or with a mechanical arrow release. Most commonly, for finger shooters, the index finger is placed above the arrow and the next two fingers below, although several other techniques have their adherents around the world, involving three fingers below the arrow, or an arrow pinching technique. Instinctiveshooting is a technique eschewing sights and is often preferred by traditional archers (shooters of longbows and recurves). In either the split finger or three finger under case, the string is usually placed in the first or second joint, or else on the pads of the fingers. When using a mechanical release aid, the release is hooked onto the D-loop.
Another type of string hold, used on traditional bows, is the type favoured by the Mongol warriors, known as the “thumb release”, style. This involves using the thumb to draw the string, with the fingers curling around the thumb to add some support. To release the string, the fingers are opened out and the thumb relaxes to allow the string to slide off the thumb. When using this type of release, the arrow should rest on the same side of the bow as the drawing hand i.e. Left hand draw = arrow on left side of bow.
The archer then raises the bow and draws the string, with varying alignments for vertical versus slightly canted bow positions. This is often one fluid motion for shooters of recurves and longbows, which tend to vary from archer to archer. Compound shooters often experience a slight jerk during the drawback, at around the last inch and a half, where the draw weight is at its maximum—before relaxing into a comfortable stable full draw position. The archer draws the string hand towards the face, where it should rest lightly at a fixed anchor point. This point is consistent from shot to shot, and is usually at the corner of the mouth, on the chin, to the cheek, or to the ear, depending on preferred shooting style. The archer holds the bow arm outwards, toward the target. The elbow of this arm should be rotated so that the inner elbow is perpendicular to the ground, though archers with hyper extendable elbows tend to angle the inner elbow toward the ground, as exemplified by the Korean archer Jang Yong-Ho. This keeps the forearm out of the way of the bowstring.
In modern form, the archer stands erect, forming a “T”. The archer’s lower trapezius muscles are used to pull the arrow to the anchor point. Some modern recurve bows are equipped with a mechanical device, called a clicker, which produces a clicking sound when the archer reaches the correct draw length. In contrast, traditional English Longbow shooters step “into the bow”, exerting force with both the bow arm and the string hand arm simultaneously, especially when using bows having draw weights from 100 lbs to over 175 lbs. Heavily stacked traditional bows (recurves, long bows, and the like) are released immediately upon reaching full draw at maximum weight, whereas compound bows reach their maximum weight around the last inch and a half, dropping holding weight significantly at full draw. Compound bows are often held at full draw for a short time to achieve maximum accuracy.
The arrow is typically released by relaxing the fingers of the drawing hand (see Bow draw), or triggering the mechanical release aid. Usually the release aims to keep the drawing arm rigid, the bow hand relaxed, and the arrow is moved back using the back muscles, as opposed to using just arm motions. An archer should also pay attention to the recoil or follow through of his or her body, as it may indicate problems with form (technique) that affect accuracy.