Archery 101: How to Shoot a Bow and Arrow

by Manidoo | Last Updated: August 8, 2022

Every so often a sort of frenzy pops up. It’s a frenzy responsible for Hunger Games and Avengers fans alike to get outdoors.  Archery. A sport invented in the hunting and gathering times and still widely popular across the globe today.

It’s unsurprising. Archery is something readily accessible for all ages alike, and super fun to boot! In this article, I will be giving the rundown on how you too can go from zero to Robin Hood in this how-to guide on archery.

Native Americans and Archery

Archery has been an activity practiced among civilizations throughout the world. By the time any human population figured out tool-making, archery was prevalent. For many Native American tribes, archery became a prominent activity.

For some tribes, such as the Anishinaabe, it’s a common practice to train in archery for hunting. Whenever an animal is hunted, a ceremonious act of respect for its life takes place. Tobacco’s laid down before going out on a trip both as a blessing and an offering to nature. If it’s the hunter’s first time killing this species, they’re often required to consume the body raw. This varies on either eating the flesh or heart or just licking the blood of the kill. In my tribe, this is to signify for each kill, you need to form a bond with the animal. My father use to tell me, “If you are uncomfortable with doing this then don’t take the life of the animal”.

Many tribes created games to help train archers for hunting. One of the most popularly known games is Hoop and Pole, sometimes going by other names. The concept is to grab a wooden circle with sinew forming a web. This circle is either thrown downhill or tied to a wooden tripod. Archers take turns shooting through the hoop and see how close they can get to the center.

The Different Kinds of Archery Bows

There are a large variety of bow types out there with their own unique styles and intended purposes. We will be focusing on the three types of Archery Bows out there: Compound Bow, Recurve Bow, and Longbow.

Compound Bow

Often the pricier and much more commonly used bows are out there. The compound is a very technical bow filled with specifics such as pulleys, cams, and sighs. When you pull the bow to full draw, the strength required to keep it back is drastically reduced thanks to the cams. Due to the technical aid of the compound, improving accuracy can be easier than with a Recurve or Compound.

Who this Bow is For

Compounds are primarily the go-to hunting bows. Its ability to adjust draw weight, portable size, and favored technical uses, make it ideal for hunting enthusiasts. It’s quick to pick up and bag game without heavily needing to focus on form. Compounds tournaments are also growing, specifically ones simulating hunting environments. It’s a very popular choice for beginners.

Recurve Bow

This is a middle ground bow between technical and traditionalist. It has far fewer features than a compound bow, but many modern recurves have designs allowing to add tech on. Each of their limbs will have a slight curve to them, allowing for a smoother draw and less impact felt on the release. Most recurves have removable limbs to swap out for draw weight changes or to make them more portable.

Who this bow is for 

This bow is very popular among tournament users. In fact, it’s the only bow allowed for the Olympic archery event. Because it’s less technical, there is far more emphasis on needing to have good form. Building good accuracy will require more time to do than compounds. This isn’t the primary choice for many hunters, but it’s still one picked up for hunting. In fact, all the contestants on the survival series Alone[link] use recurve for hunting. This is also a really good bow for beginners, and more preferred if you want to start out closer to a traditional style.

Longbow

Also known as “straight bows”. These bows get their name because they are ridiculously long in length(Often 5 feet or more). This is more of a traditionalist bow, where the whole of the bow is just the bow and bow string itself. The bow will not have any parts for adjustment or aid in absorbing the energy released from the arrows. It also tends to be a slightly more difficult bow to learn than either the Recurve or Compound.

Who this bow is for

If you want to go for a very simple, old-school-style, bow, the longbow will be perfect for you. There are some traditionalist tournaments for this bow, but you’ll definitely have to do some digging to find them. I would recommend your local renaissance fair as a starting place. Because of the less ease of use, this bow is often not recommended to pick up if you’re a beginner. Rather, you can always use a recurve than work your way up to a longbow. However, if you really are set on buying a very traditional style bow, then this one will be for you.

What to Know Before Buying Bows and Arrows

The first thing when it comes to selecting a bow, you should figure out your dominant eye.

With your two hands, overlap one of the other while forming a triangular hole with your index fingers and thumbs. Stick your hands out in front of you with your arms fully extended. Find an object at least 5-10 feet away and position the hole so you can see the object. Without moving your hands, close one eye, then the other. The object most visible through the hole is your dominant eye.

How to Buy Bows and Arrows

When selecting any bow you will typically get two options: Left-handed and right-handed. Despite the name, a left-handed bow is actually for left-eye dominant people. If you do, for example, select a left-handed bow, you’ll see the bowstring is most closely to your left eye on the draw. You don’t necessarily need to select the bow most suited to your dominant eye. However, for a quicker handle on the accuracy, it’s usually advised to select the bow most favorable towards your dominant eye.

Archery often utilizes muscles you likely don’t work out very often. For this reason, it’s typically advised to start out with a lighter-weight bow so you don’t tire too easily. Compound bows have a way to adjust the draw weight without needing to buy any new equipment. Recurves will require swapping out the limbs. Fortunately, these are just simple to screw on and off.

Arrows and bows have each defined draw length. This will largely depend on your arm length. I won’t go into details about how to find this draw length, as it will not be more practical to learn until you’re more advanced. Remember if you’re ever gifted an arrow or find any on the range, it is likely not going to be the right size for your bow. Additionally, the bow your friend shoots might not allow you to pull with the best form when using it. For the best fit, it’s advisable to talk to a salesperson at your local archery shop.

When scouting for a bow, check the limbs to be sure nothing is loose, and arrow tips are screwed on tight. Examine the fletching to be sure the arrow’s nock is properly placed on. Your arrows will have 2 different fletching colors to them. The different color fletching should point away from the bowstring when shooting.

I cannot emphasize enough but ask if you can shoot the bow before buying. This can drastically help you determine if you are using faulty equipment before you spend the money

Parts of the Archery Bow

archery bow guide

How to Sight in a Bow – Proper Stance

“The secret is consistency. Do exactly the same thing over and over and over. Shooting a bow and arrow exactly the way twice is actually the secret to success in archery”

~Archery Fundamentals

The surefire way to assure you are shooting correctly is to perfect the optimal form, draw, aim, and release giving you the most accuracy. Don’t think so much as trying to shoot all the arrows with pinpoint accuracy. Instead, think of trying to consecutively shoot two arrows into the same spot. This helps keep you mindful of how your body is moving as you shoot.

It’ll take time to figure out what areas you need to improve on or keep consistent for the bullseye. For beginners, it may help to have an archery coach or to videotape yourself shooting. If you choose the latter, compare your body’s drawing movements and positions to elite archers. Identify your weak spots and work towards making them better.

To help with this, the National Archery Association created a shooting sequence. It’s called Nine Steps to 10-Ring.

Step 1 – Stance

Place one foot on each side of the shooting line. Have your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your head up and shoulder straight and relaxed

Step 2 – Nock the Arrow

Place an arrow on the bow’s arrow rest. Position the arrow so the index vane(The odd colored fletch) faces you and is perpendicular to the bowstring. Fit the nock of the string directly below your nock locator. An audible click will sound.

Step 3 – Set Your Grip

Keep your shoulders relaxed and set your bow hand into position. You should just have your palm and thumb grip the bow, while the other fingers remain relaxed. On the hand, use to draw the bow, place your fingers directly under the arrow. Your index finger will be above the arrow’s shaft while the other three remain below the arrow.

Step 4 – Pre-draw your bow

Raise the bow towards the target, keeping the shoulders relaxed. Look at your target with the front sight or down the arrow’s shaft. The elbow of your drawing arm should be the same level as your nose.

Step 5 – Draw your bow

Slowly draw the bow back by rotating the drawing-arm shoulder around until your elbow is directly behind the arrow. Keep the drawing hand relaxed, bow shoulder down, and body erect

Step 6 – Anchor

Draw the string in front of your face, and anchor it with your forefinger on the corner of your smile. Continue to minutely draw back the bow by moving back the back muscles of your drawing arm.

Step 7 – Aim

Focus your eyes and your concentration on the center of the target.

Step 8 – Release

Simply release any tension in your fingers and allow the string to let loose. Continue to draw back smoothly and keep your bow arm extended towards the target as you concentrate on it.

Step 9 – Follow-through

Every great release has great follow-through. Allow your relaxed drawing hand to continue back until it stops near your shoulder naturally. Your bow arm continues to extend towards the target. Maintain your follow-through until the arrow hits the target.

Basic Archery Range Rules

If you’re going to an archery range it is absolutely essential to learn the general rules to abide by. This is for your and everyone else’s safety. Below is an outline of the 7 general archery range rules

Rule 0 –  Check For Range Rules

This is a given. Some of the nicer ranges will have rules posted on them covering much of the following 7 rules in this section. Be sure to read them carefully and follow them to a tee. The rules are there both for your and your fellow archer’s wellbeing.

However, sometimes there are no postings available on ranges. In which case, the next 7 rules listed below will be great to be aware of before shooting.

Rule 1 – wait for the all-clear

NEVER leave the shooting line until all archers have finished shooting. No matter how far apart your targets are away from each other, there is a very real possibility of a stray arrow can head in your direction upon firing.

Look for signals indicating everyone finished shooting and is ready to retrieve. This could be as simple as saying “All clear” or a head nod. Then wait for another signal to say it’s safe to shoot.

Rule 2 – Don’t stand behind an archer

Whether it’s just retrieving their arrows or they are just firing, don’t be directly behind a person on the range. Retrieving arrows can require significant force to pull out of the target, risking jabbing into anyone behind them.

Misfires do happen, even to professionals. If a bow string snaps or the arrow is not properly set, things can go flying in any direction.

Rule 3 – Avoid dry firing

This mostly applies to Recurves and Longbows. Dryfiring is a great way to break your bow and injure yourself. The term means just shooting your bow without an arrow. When you fire a bow the weight of force goes directly to your arrow to propel it forward. If no arrow is there to absorb the force, it’ll get sent to your bow’s limbs. This can very well cause your bow to explode in your hands.

Rule 4 – Avoid Broadheads

Broadhead arrowheads are tips with edges to the side. They are commonly used for hunting due to being able to hook to living targets. It’s commonly barred from use on most ranges in order to avoid destroying the target boards. Some ranges offer special areas to shoot with broadheads, but unless specified otherwise, avoid using them on the range

broadhead arrowhead

Rule 5 – Stay in your lane

When you choose to shoot a round in your lane, do not leave the lane until you finished your round. No one likes a range hog, and it is just bad practice to move around or shoot diagonally from your starting position

Rule 6 – Inspect your equipment

It’s always advisable to make sure your equipment is in working order before you shoot each time. A quick inspection to check for anything loose or in need of replacement can save you from any potential disasters.

Rule 7 – Take Out What You Bring In

Most outdoor archery ranges are free to use for the public. However, it’s not uncommon for public ranges to go unmaintained for long periods of time. Don’t leave your garbage such as broken arrows, loose equipment, or target boards on the range. It not only makes it unsightly but a safety hazard for future archers. Often times forgotten target boards wind up in soggy messes from bad weather. Broken equipment can easily be stepped on, especially when hidden in the grass. If you want to ensure the ranges aren’t at risk of demolition decision at the next city council meeting, do your part to keep the range clean and safe.

How to Find Archery Ranges 

There are 4 types of common archery ranges: Outdoor Archery Ranges, Indoor Archery Ranges, Walking Archery Ranges, 3D Archery Ranges

Outdoor Archery Ranges

These standing archery ranges usually have hay bales or target boards stationed at them. Targets can sit anywhere from 10 yards to 100 yards, depending on the range. These ranges are usually faced north to south to avoid sun glare. As well as have 50 feet of vacant area to avoid people from getting hit by any missed arrows. There are many free outdoor ranges, but some may require a fee. Typically most ranges will be adjacent to a park with the same hours as the park.

outdoor archery range

Indoor Archrey Ranges

These ranges usually connect to archery shops. It typically costs a fee to use for a limited time. They’re typically fixed between 10-20 yards. Most shops also offer bow rentals so those interested in trying archery, but not wishing to immediately spend money on a bow.

Walking Archery Ranges

These ranges will be outdoor and have similarities to these types of ranges. However, there are a few major differences between them. The first, and significant difference, these ranges almost always require a fee to use. They are similar to walking trails where you take a dirt route to travel between targets. Each target has differences. You may either shoot uphill, downhill or parallel to the target. They will also tend to vary in distance to each target. These ranges mimic hunting environments, so many of them will be in woodland areas.

walking archery range

3-D Archery Ranges

These ranges are very similar to walking ranges. The only major difference is rather than use common targets such as bales, they instead use targets looking like animals. It’s built closely similar to bow hunting without the actual hunting part. These ranges will almost always cost money. Many of these ranges are set up for event purposes such as festivals or conventions.

Bowhunting, Archery Competitions, Bow fishing 

Beyond hobby archery, there are various types of shooting out there. I’ll be addressing three common ones to explore. Keep in mind there are more out there. These are just some ideas of where you can go in the sport.

Bowhunting

We’ve mentioned this archery type a couple of times throughout this article. Whether you use compound, recurve, or a self-made bow, hunting can be both good to pick up for sport or survival training.

Archery Competitions

If you are looking for ways to challenge yourself and your fellow archers, tournaments are a great way to go. There are a variety of tournaments fit for any age. You will often do the standard point-system way of shooting as you see in the Olympics. You can also go for less conventional tournaments, such as local renaissance fairs. There are also team leagues out there for those who prefer to shoot in groups vs solo.  The best part about tournaments is the diversity of types of bows and shooting you want to do. You’ll just have to do a quick Google for them near you.

Bow Fishing

This is truthfully more for archers looking to spice up their shooting. Compound bows are the standard for bow fishing. Archers will shoot for fishes in the water and reel them in with arrows tied to a line. Bow fishing organizers will usually have all the equipment and location prepared for you. All you’ll need to do is pay for it and show up.

Learn More on Archery

To learn more about archery, I recommend checking out the Archery Fundamentals by Douglas Engh. To learn more about events, clubs, classes, and more, check out USA Archery and the World Archery Federation(WAF).