Fixing common archery blunders

by Jeff Kavanagh | August 10, 2022
Man Holding Bow & Arrow

Many people make archery more complicated than necessary. It’s not rocket science. The goal is to create an event that you’re able to perform again and again with consistency, leading to improved accuracy.

Here are some simple tips to help you avoid some of the most common shooting faults.

1. Keep the elbow natural

Man Holding Bow & Arrow 2

The most common mistake I witness is when archers hyper-extend or lock their bow arm when they draw, and the bow arm elbow ends up pointing toward the ground. This removes alignment between the radius bone in the forearm and humerus bone in the upper arm. It also rolls the shoulder, which puts their entire shooting frame out of alignment. The result means having a weak, unstable platform to shoot from.

I instruct new archers to stand in a comfortable position at ease with good posture, arms at their side. Immediately, their entire body becomes aligned, with their shoulders being back and square. Their elbows are facing behind them, not off to their sides. I ask them to raise their bow arm toward the target. Keeping this movement comfortable, they notice immediately that their elbow is pronated, still pointing back behind them. In this position, everything will be in perfect alignment with good bone-to-bone contact. It is this simple and pivotal element to developing a solid shooting frame.

2. Holding the bow

Man Holding Bow & Arrow 3

I was going to title this section “gripping the bow,” but I came to my senses. The last thing you want to do is hold a bow tightly with your hand and fingers, something many archers do. A bow should sit naturally in the palm of your hand between the meat of your lower thumb and hand, parallel with your lifeline. The pressure point of contact is your radius bone extended. As with the proper position of the bow arm elbow, it promotes the desired bone-on-bone alignment throughout your shooting frame.

Gripping the bow like a baseball bat or hammer gives your fingers and other muscles in your hand too much influence over the shot, twisting, and putting the bow out of alignment. Gripping is the easiest way for your shooting to remain inconsistent from day to day, and you’ll beat your head against the wall trying to figure out why. Today you might be driving tacks, but tomorrow your arrows could be all over the place. By letting the bow sit naturally, unobstructed in the palm of your hand, the bow can maintain its own alignment with the string.

It’s not uncommon for me at the bow shop to receive compound bows that have been derailed by clients when they let down on a shot. That’s because they have gripped and torqued the bow with their bow hand and fingers, causing the string to slide off the cams. So the next time you’re shooting, think of pushing your bow into the target and not gripping it.

3. Tilting your head and playing at anchor

When you draw your bow, you shouldn’t have to play with your hand position or adjust your head position to find your anchor point. If you have to tilt your head, it’s only going to mess up the perfect alignment we just discussed.

Nine times out of 10, tilting your head will make your shoulders slump. Obtaining your correct anchor point by keeping it smooth and direct is part of learning your shot sequence, which you need to master. If you are having difficulty “settling in,” it only means you need to work on it more.

Remember, it’s about creating that perfect, repeatable event. If you shoot a compound bow, it’s the bow tech’s responsibility at the bow shop to make sure the bow is fitted to you. You shouldn’t have to adjust to find the peep sight, etc.

4. Stance

Man Holding Bow & Arrow 4

At the beginning of this column, I wrote about standing comfortably with good posture. Besides just opening your lead foot to the target slightly, that is the stance you should take. I watch people try and shoot with a closed stance or an open stance, and all these do is twist your hips and spine out of alignment and put excess pressure on your back muscles. Standing in a natural position is the starting point to developing a shooting frame, which will lead to consistency.

Avoiding these common mistakes will dramatically shorten your learning curve and put you on track to becoming a better archer.

Jeff is best known for his incredible skill with a recurve bow and for his encyclopedic knowledge of traditional archery. He is also passionate about gun dogs, upland game, turkey, deer, and waterfowl hunting.

Reach him at: mail@oodmag.comInstagram:@jeff.kavanagh.9

Originally published in the July 2021 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS Magazine.

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