How to Shoot a Bow from Start to Finish
Summer is finally here! While that means lots of grilling on the patio and time spent on the water, it’s also one of the best times for learning how to shoot a bow for next season. If you want to learn how to bow hunt, this is prime time.
But before you read any further, make sure you check out Part 1 of this series on archery equipment.
Part 2 of this bow hunting series will take you through the actual process of how to shoot a bow. Before you get out archery hunting, you need to be able to accurately and consistently shoot a bow during practice.
Specifically, I talk about basic bow safety, where you can practice, and the actual shooting process. I also talk about some archery tips I’ve learned over the years.
But first, I’ll be upfront with you…my experience with recurve bows is limited. I have, however, hunted with a compound bow for most of my life, and so this article mostly focuses on how to shoot a compound bow.
Basic Bow Safety Considerations
Though bows don’t seem to frighten people as much as guns, they are still a hunting weapon. And any weapon can be capable of hurting yourself or someone else if you use it the wrong way. So before you learn how to shoot a bow, please learn how to practice safely!
Similar to a firearm, always point a drawn bow in a safe direction. Even field tips can kill someone. Never shoot at something if you aren’t 100% sure it is an animal or target you want to shoot at. Importantly, you need to consider what’s beyond your target too – choose a solid backstop, such as an earthen berm or a shed wall. That way, if you miss your target, it won’t go anywhere. Also, never dry fire a bow – that is, shoot it without an arrow nocked. This can cause bow failure and could injure you.
How to Find an Archery Range
Practice makes perfect, right? That means repetition is your friend. So the more archery sessions you can fit in over the summer, the better prepared you’ll be for archery season.
The best place to practice a bow (if you’ve got the room and it is legal) is your back yard. You won’t find a more convenient spot to simply step out and shoot a few arrows each day. You can even leave your archery targets out to save more time. But that’s not always practical for everyone, especially if you live in an urban environment.
So your other options include indoor or outdoor shooting ranges. Many sporting goods stores and archery shops have archery lanes set up for you to practice. Some even offer video simulators, which can be pretty exciting. If you like to keep things more realistic (i.e., outdoors), try googling “outdoor archery ranges near me” or “archery shooting range near me” – something to that effect. To make it even easier on you, search your location at the Archery360 website, which lists archery shops and shooting ranges in one place.
One of the more exciting archery practice options is to go to a 3D archery range. These ranges will have several different 3D archery targets set up for you to shoot at, and some events are set up like a golf course where each “hole” is a different animal. This is really helpful for visualizing an actual hunt, and there are 3D targets for just about any animal (real or fake) out there. Fancy shooting at aliens or zombies? You’re covered.
How to Shoot a Bow for Beginners
This section will again focus on compound bows. However, some of the basic mechanics of how to shoot a bow can be applied to recurve bows too.
Archery Stance Tips
Keep your feet planted shoulder width apart, about 45 degrees to your target. That means the leg on your bow arm’s side (the one holding the bow grip) should be leading in front with your other leg located rearward. For the best compound bow shooting form, don’t lock your knees – staying loose will actually make you more stable.
How to Nock an Arrow
You’ll probably notice that your arrows have three vanes (the fletching on the rear end that stabilizes the arrow in flight). Two will be a certain color, and the other vane (the index vane) will be a different color. Ever wonder what that was for?
Depending on what rest you have on your bow and how your arrows are nocked, you will need to rotate the arrow so that the index vane is facing up, down, or towards you. This allows the vanes to pass over or through your rest without being deflected in any way.
Start by placing your arrow on the rest and hold it in place with your finger. Then use your other hand to nock the arrow. The nock has small inside ridges, which hold it onto the bow string and keep it from just falling off. Push the nock back until you hear a click or pop, which indicates the arrow is nocked.
How to Properly Draw a Compound Bow
After connecting your release to the string, pull the string back. Keep your finger away from the release trigger! It’s bad form to draw your bow by pointing it into the air too. This usually means your draw weight is too heavy. Try to draw it by keeping your arms parallel to the ground. Don’t lock the elbow on your bow arm either, as that can cause the bow string to slap your forearm when you shoot it – and that really hurts!
Additionally, you need to know how to hold a compound bow the right way. While it’s important to hold onto the bow grip while drawing it, you need to adjust your grip when it’s time to shoot. If you wrap your fingers around the grip tightly, you can torque and turn the bow, which will affect your accuracy. Instead, let the bow rest against the palm of your hand (between your thumb and index finger). Keep your index finger loosely connected to your thumb and relax your other fingers off of the grip. Holding it this way introduces almost no torque on the bow. And don’t worry – it won’t go flying out of your hands when you shoot.
Then you’ll need to find your anchor point. An anchor point is a place on your face that you can consistently place your hand once your bow is drawn. This ensures you shoot your bow from the same starting position each time. If you want to know how to shoot a compound bow accurately, having a consistent anchor point is a great start. For example, I typically place my index knuckle on my cheek bone, but others use the corner of their mouth or something that’s comfortable for them.
How to Aim a Compound Bow
Next, you’ll need to know how to aim a bow with sight pins since virtually all compound bows use them. Most typically come with a three pin sight, and each pin represents a different distance. For example, the closest distance pin (e.g., 10 yards) could be green, the middle (e.g., 20 yards) could be yellow, and the furthest (e.g., 30 yards) could be red. This will help you keep track of them in the field. Your top pin will be the closest range and your bottom pin will be the furthest range.
Once your bow is drawn, look through the peep sight (located on the bow string) at the pin sights (located on the riser). Try to keep the pin in the center of the peep sight and line these up on your target. If you need to know how to sight in a bow, it’s a little counter-intuitive. When your arrow hits low, move your chosen sight pin down, and vice versa for high arrows. And if they hit right of your target, you need to move your pin to the right, and vice versa for left shots.
How to Shoot a Bow
As you learn how to shoot a bow (in this case, a compound bow), there are two terms you should keep in mind: consistency and accuracy. Consistency is your ability to group arrows tightly together while accuracy is your ability to place a shot where you want it. Obviously, the goal is to be both accurate AND consistent.
When shooting a compound bow, your sights will usually drift around the target a bit at full draw because it’s hard to remain completely still. It’s even worse when you’re excited while bow hunting for deer! It’s tempting to quickly punch the release trigger when your sights drift over the bullseye or vital area, but if you want to know how to shoot a bow more accurately and consistently, there’s a better way. Let your sights naturally and slowly drift in a circle around the target (in close proximity) and focus on gently squeezing the trigger. Ideally, you’ll be surprised when it actually fires. Though counter-intuitive, this will teach you how to shoot better groups with a bow over time rather than punching the trigger.
There’s a great FREE course from Archery360 that you can take to walk you through how to shoot a compound bow. Access it here.
After the Shot…Wait!
Here’s another important tip when learning how to shoot a bow: hold the bow in position until after the arrow hits the target. In fact, practice holding it for 5 seconds after you release. Why so long? When you’re excited to see where your arrow went, you tend to quickly drop the bow down, which can affect the flight path as the arrow leaves the riser. But if you practice leaving it still after your shot, it will become engrained in your muscle memory and will produce more consistent groupings over time.
Archery Training Schedule
Think of archery practice as weight training. In a very real sense, you are training your muscles to draw and hold the bow. The more you practice, the better you will get at it. Think of each arrow shot as a rep, and each group of arrows shot is like a set. Practice shooting five or six arrows (reps) at the target and give yourself a minute to rest between shots. Then rest for 5 minutes between sets, and start again. Use the time in between sets to make small adjustments to your pins if your arrows are grouping together off-target.
When you are just starting, limit yourself to three or four sets so you don’t risk hurting your shoulder. Slowly increase the number of sets throughout the summer and try to practice several times a week so you can build your muscle memory and confidence. But as the fall hunting season approaches, start cutting back.
That seems backwards, right? But think about it. In a hunting situation, you only have one chance to put an arrow where it needs to be. In some cases, you might get a second chance, but usually no more. If you are used to shooting dozens of arrows, you might ignore a few stray ones. But if you only shoot one or two arrows in each practice session, it becomes more like a real hunt. You can experience the pressure that goes with making it a perfect shot. The closer you get to opening day, you should even practice in your hunting clothing and from a tree stand (if possible), so you get used to the conditions. All of this might seem like a lot of work, but it will help prepare you for the real deal.
Looking Forward to Autumn…
Clear as mud? I hope you understand how to shoot a bow a little better now. In Part 3 of this series about archery for beginners, I talk about how to start bow hunting, focusing on bow hunting for whitetail deer.
Here are some other great articles about archery that you might like…
>After the Shot…Wait!
Ha, I made this mistake for a long time when I was just starting out with archery. I’m not sure if it was so much because I wanted to see where my shot went, or because I was trying to be cool or something. But fortunately I eventually learned to value actually HITTING the target over looking cool – and heck, I probably look a lot cooler now that I actually hit my targets, huh? 🙂
Glad I’m not the only one! After forcing myself to hold for a few seconds after the shot, my groupings got smaller and I was way more consistent. Thanks Ben!
When I first started out with archery, I made this error for a long period. I’m not sure if it was because I was curious to see how my shot turned out or because I was trying to be cool or whatever. But, thankfully, I finally learned to value actually HITTING the goal over appearing cool – and, hey, I think I seem a lot cooler now that I really HIT my targets, don’t you think?
Patrick Murray says
If your shot is low you move your sight down not up!?!?!
That’s right Patrick – thanks for keeping me honest! I corrected the typo.
Excellent resources that you have presented here. I really benefited from them. thank you
I love hunting information and today I’m really inspired for this great resource. thanks a lot
Nisha Batel says
I’m really inspired by this great resource. Thank you so much.
Chris Pederson says
I like the idea of going to 3D archery range to shoot at different 3D targets. I feel like that would help you more than shooting at a traditional target. I guess to each their own but for me, I want to shoot at more than just a flat target.
Hey Chris – I agree. Shooting at 3D targets definitely gives you a way better concept of your arrow trajectory through an animal. It’s great to practice at different distances and heights with a 3D target to really internalize your shots.