This is the second article in a series to teach basic skills for shooting a compound bow. You should now be comfortable with your stance, whether you chose to stand square to your target or use a more open stance. Now we’ll move on to the way you hold your body – your posture – and how to attach your arrow to the bowstring, followed by the two points of contact with the bow: hooking and gripping.
When shooting a bow, you should stand tall and keep your back flat. This keeps you more stable, especially when shooting in windy conditions, or bowhunting from a tree stand. Keeping your back flat also allows you to access the bigger, stronger muscles in your back. Your neck and shoulders should be relaxed, with your shoulders low and your shoulder blades down. Hint: if you’re having trouble relaxing your shoulders, take a deep breath through your belly, and exhale while feeling your shoulders drop. Your head should be in a neutral position and looking straight at the target.
For the best archery posture, form a straight line (up and down) with your body, from your feet to your head to the ceiling. This requires engaging your core to keep your waist level with your feet, and distributing your weight fairly evenly on both feet. Hint: To avoid leaning back (Figure 2), rocking forward (Figure 3), or tilting your head (Figure 4), try to feel where the weight is distributed on your feet. Ideally, you should have about 60% of your weight on the balls of your feet, and 40% on your heels. Remember to keep your shoulder blades down and back, too.
Nocking an Arrow
Attaching your arrow to the bowstring is called “nocking” the arrow, because the part of the arrow that snaps onto the bowstring is called a nock. This is super simple:
- Take your arrow from your quiver
- Line it up so the odd-colored feather or vane on your arrow points up
- Push the nock onto bowstring
You’ll snap the nock into the middle of a loop in the center of your bowstring, called a “D-loop.” Why’s it called a D-loop? Well, it looks like the letter “D” – and the loop is needed later in the shot, when you attach your release aid to the bowstring. Hint: you should always feel (and/or hear) a click when nocking your arrow, which tells you the nock is attached to the bowstring.
You’ll then set the arrow atop your arrow rest, unless you’re using a full-containment rest, which is common in bowhunting (common examples include the Whisker Biscuit). In that case, place the arrow in the rest before nocking it on the bowstring.
Fun fact: If you watch 10 people go through the arrow-nocking process, you’ll probably see 10 variations for moving an arrow from the quiver to the nocked position. The important thing isn’t the process. What matters most is safely securing your arrow on the bowstring by nocking it correctly every time you prepare to shoot.
If you’ve been following this series, you should now be able to find your stance, recognize good archery posture, and nock an arrow. If so, you’re ready for the next step: hooking and gripping. These two steps are often overlooked, but they’re vital in determining where your arrow strikes, because they are the two points at which the body makes contact with the bow.
With a compound bow, hooking is the act of attaching your release aid (hooking it) to the D-loop and then positioning your hand on the release. Depending on the type of release you use, you’ll need to lock it in place, and whether you do that before or after hooking it onto the D-Loop just depends on the kind of release aid you’re using.
There are lots of release aid options for archers, which can be activated (triggered) differently, and held differently in the hand. Many beginners start with a wrist strap release aid, which buckles or velcroes on the hand that releases the bowstring, and is activated by squeezing a trigger gently with the index finger. Other releases are held in the hand, and triggered using the thumb or even muscle movements. Your local archery store can help you choose the best release aid for the archery games you want to try.
Hint: Regardless of the type of release aid being used, when you place the release in your hand, stay relaxed. Don’t create a fist around the release. Instead, keep the back of your hand flat and relaxed with just enough tension in your fingers to keep the release from falling from your hand. Find a comfortable position because once you place your hand on the release aid, it should stay in the same position for the remainder of the shot.
Helpful hint: When shooting a trigger-style release, keep your thumb (or index finger) FAR away from the trigger until after you’ve drawn the bow back fully and begun aiming. This helps you avoid hitting the trigger accidentally when drawing a bow.
Gripping refers to how you position your bow hand – the hand that holds the bow – on the bow grip. You must set your grip the same way every time to avoid unpredictable shots that go high and low or left and right. Of all the parts of the shot, the grip is one that is often underestimated, but can have a very significant impact on how your arrows fly.
Start by placing the meaty part of your thumb/palm (between your lifeline and your thumb) in the middle of the bow grip. This is called a pressure point, and is a very important part of gripping the bow. Much like holding your release, you must maintain a relaxed grip with very little tension. A relaxed grip lets your thumb point toward the target while your other fingers’ knuckles form roughly a 45-degree angle to the bow. Remember, do not grab the bow and hold it with a clenched fist; this will create tension on the grip and will cause left and right arrows. Instead, keep that pressure point right in the middle of the bow grip, which will help you to feel stronger throughout your shot.
Try these tricks to find the perfect pressure point to position your hand on the bow: Do a pushup and feel the spot on your hand that makes the most contact with the ground, or lean into a post or pillar and feel the pressure point that’s supporting you. If you set your grip correctly, you will feel like you’re making solid contact with the bow, giving you plenty of strength while you shoot!