Basic Archery

Introduction to archery.

Locate an archery club

If you have decided to take up archery the best thing you could do is to locate an archery club near you. They will probably have beginner's courses or otherwise have someone who can help you to get started. If you are a hunter and have decided to take up bow hunting an archery club is the perfect starting point since it is essential to have sufficient skill in archery to perform an ethical hunt. Internet is a good place to start when you want to find an archery club, try to use a search tool, I use Google, and if you for example live in Dallas enter the phrase "archery club Dallas" (without the quotes), and you will come up with some clubs to choose from. The phone book is another tool to use when you are searching for a club.

Archery training

This guide is a set of easy to follow steps that describes the basic technique to use when you shoot your first arrows with a recurve bow and use your fingers to hold the string. The described shooting technique is the one used in the Olympics, and is therefore also called Olympic Recurve Archery. Aspiring compound shooters also has a great advantage if they first learn the basics with a recurve bow. Common beginner's errors are also described. This guide is useful for both new and more advanced archers. It has recently been updated and is inspired by modern Korean Archery.

Decide your dominant eye

Most people are right-handed and have a right dominant eye. These people should hold the bow in the left hand. (This is referred to as a right-bow). For most left-handed the opposite is true. In some cases can the left eye be dominant with a right-handed person and vice versa.The preferred choice in these cases is to let your hand decide in which hand you should hold the bow. Use a blurred lens in a pair of shooting glasses, or a patch hanging down from a cap, to prevent aiming with the wrong eye. Otherwise your arrows will definitively hit the ground beside the target.

Decide your eye dominance like this:

  • Stretch out an arm and use your index finger as a "sight". Aim at a distant object and then close your left eye. If you are still aiming at the object, then your right eye is dominant. Now open your eyes and repeat the procedure but close the opposite eye. If our assumption is correct the finger you are aiming with "jumps" of target. This is the reason why you must use the correct eye for aiming, i.e. aim with the right eye if you hold the bow in the left hand and the other way around. If your finger "jumps" of target in the first scenario, your left eye is dominant.

  • A Basic shot

    Archery stance

  • Stand on the shooting line with one foot in front of the shooting-line and the other behind the line. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and you should just try to stand firm and yet relaxed with equal weight on both feet. Keep your legs straight but not unnecessary rigid. You might put the foot behind the line a little bit forward and you will then maintain what is referred to as an open stance. How many degrees the open stance should have is individual.An open stance might give better clearance for the string and many archers also feel more stable when an open stance is used. The open stance is preferred by some elite archers because it gives them a better feeling of stability when shooting in the wind. It's important to use the same stance every shot, so some markers on the ground or some tape on the floor can be used. There is nothing wrong with a square stance, i.e. stand with your feet in line with the target as long as you don't encounter clearance problems.

  • Square Stance Open Stance

            Square Stance                Open Stance

    Prepare for the shot.

  • When you stand on the shooting line, take an arrow and put the nock on the string between the nocking points. If you have only one nocking point, place the arrow under it. The arrow should be placed so that two fletching should be against the bow and one fletching point right out from the bow. Put the arrow on the rest.

  • Nock the arrow

    Nock the arrow

  • Use a tab to protect your fingers, and put three fingers to the string. The index finger should be above the arrow and the second and third finger should be under the arrow. This is the basic finger set up for target archery with a sight and for longbow archery. Archers that don't use a sight are referred to as shooting in the classic class and they put all fingers under the nocking point. Form a deep hook with your fingers, they should be bent in both first and second joint. Place the string in the first joint. Don't pinch the nock with your fingers; this might cause the arrow to fall of from the rest.

  • Drawing Hand

    Drawing Hand

  • Place your bow hand in the grip and let your knuckles form a line 45 degrees against the bow. Don't grip the bow with your hand; your fingers should be open and relaxed. Use a bow sling or a finger sling to catch the bow at release. The pressure point should be on the thick part of the thumb muscle. The point is that the pressure from the grip should go as straight as possible into the arm.
    You should be able to have your bow hand wrist perfectly relaxed without any tendencies to twist in any direction.

  • Bow Hand in Grip Pressure point

             Bow Hand                     Pressure Point

    Lift the bow and draw arm

  • When you have positioned your bow hand in the grip, rotate the elbow joint so the inide of the arm becomes near vertical, then straighten your bow arm and lift it and at the same time lift your draw arm and pull the string from almost nothing to approximately 1/3 of the draw length. Keep the draw hand in the same height as the bow hand, approximately in the level of the eye. In this step don't lift your rear scapula, keep it down because this will give you more strength and a better position of the draw scapula when at full draw. Aim roughly a little above the target. This is called Set-Up or Pre-Draw. Your draw arm shoulder should be in a natural position not lifted up or pushed back, just lift the bow as naturally you can. You can stretch your bow hand against the target in this moment and you will then automatically get your shoulder in the correct position close to the string. Lifting of the bow arm shoulder is one of the must common beginner mistakes so you should let an experienced archer check this when you shoot your first shots. If possible, don't train a lot alone from the beginning, since there is a risk that using the wrong technique very quickly becomes a bad habit and can be hard to get rid of later on. If you have chosen a descent club there certainly will be someone around that can check on your technique regularly. Don't be afraid to ask, we have all been newbie's some time!

  • Pre Draw

    Pre Draw

    Drawing the string to the anchor

  • In one smooth motion, draw the string to your face and place the index finger under your chin. Try to place the string against your nose tip without bending your neck or lending forward. You can place the string in the centre of your chin but most archers prefer to have the string a couple of centimetres to the right (for a right handed archer) on the chin. This placement makes it easier to achieve a good line in the shot, i.e. have the arrow and underarm forming a straight line against the target. Don't bother too much about the line in the shot the first lessons you have in archery, that can be fixed later when you begin to feel comfortable with the bow. One thing is important though, and that is to repeat the anchor, as we call it, exactly the same every shot. Since a sight hole in the string, a peep, is not allowed in target recurve archery you have to trust your anchor to work as a rear sight. Classic archers and longbow shooters typically have their anchor a little above the chin on the side of the cheek.

  • Anchor



  • In this part of the shot you should relax your draw under arm and only use the muscles on your back to hold the string. Your bow arm should hold a pressure against the target corresponding to the force that works backwards so your body will be in balance. The holding phase is very short, it should not take more than half of a second, enough to relax the arm muscles and transfer the holding weight to the back muscles. Check the string alignment, i.e. where you see the blurred image of the string in relation to the bow. You should see the string close to the centre of the bow, equal every shot.

  • Aiming and expansion

  • During this phase of the shot, that ideally should take one to three seconds, you should add a couple of extra millimetres to your draw length. This is done with what is known as expansion which means that you should press your draw scapula in a rotational motion towards your spine, i.e. your draw arm shoulder blade should move downwards and inwards your spine.To achieve this, imagine a point just behind your draw elbow and try to reach this point when you extend past the clicker. The point should not be on the exact imagined prolonging of the arrow, but rather somewhere on the imagined circle the elbow travels when you rotate your scapula towards the spine. This movement will increase the distance between your shoulder joints with a couple of millimetres. The expansion must be equal on both sides so your body will be in balance. If you tend to lean forward then your bow arm side is too dominant and if you tend to lean backwards then your draw arm side is too dominant.

  • Your instructor must help you to decide what draw length you should have. Then you must try to draw equally every shot. When you have practiced for some time I strongly recommend the use of a clicker to help you out with the correct draw length. A clicker is a thin metal blade that sits with a screw on the riser and you stick your arrow under it and when you draw past the clicker it goes with a click against the riser. That works as a signal to you that your draw length is correct and it is ok to release. The clicker is allowed in Olympic recurve archery but not in the classic class.

  • In the expansion phase you should also aim. Although aiming is important you should have your main concentration on the work with your back muscles and let your subconscious take care of the aiming. If you concentrate too much on the aiming there is a great risk that you stop the expansion and never can come past the clicker. Don't worry if the sight isn't perfectly still, that is not so important right from the start. This will automatically improve when you have practiced for some time. It is better to focus on the work with your back muscles since this is one of the major keys to successful archery.
    So, back to the next and most important part of the shot, the release:

  • Release

  • Everything feels fine and you decide to let go of the string. The proper way to do this is to simply relax your fingers on your draw hand and let the force from the string move the fingers out of the way. You should not use your muscles in the hand to open the fingers curled around the string since this approach will disturb the string and cause inconsistent arrow flight. If you have done everything correct so far the only thing that should happen with your body is that your fingers opens on the draw hand and the string gets a clear release with a minimum of disturbance. Your bow arm should not move in the shot moment and since you have a tension backwards in the draw arm your hand will move smoothly backwards when the string is released. What we are striving for here is a minimum of movement in the shot moment. Keep your eyes at the target until the arrow sits there.

  • The moment right after the release is called the follow through.

  • Follow Through

    Follow Through


  • Relax after the shot and reflect over how it felt, what was good and what improvements could be done next shot. Try to remember the feeling from the good shots since it is those shots you want to program your body to repeat over and over again.

  • Adjust the sight if necessary, a high hit demands the sight to go up, a low hit demands an adjustment down, a hit to the right is fixed with an adjustment to the right, and I leave it up to you to adjust for a hit to the left.

  • Archery Training Video

    Putting it all together with a film

    Recurve video

    Click on picture to play video

    Common archery beginner's mistakes

    Bow arm shoulder is too high or to low

  • Adjust the position of the shoulder. Your body can never be in balance with the shoulder in wrong position and that will lead to muscle pain and bad scores.

  • Draw hand moves forward at release

  • You are probably holding the bow string with your arms and not with your back muscles. Try to relax in the draw under arm and move the force needed to your back muscles.

  • All arrows are hitting beside the target

  • You are using wrong eye when you aim. See eye dominance.

  • Arrows hit low

  • You don't have enough pressure against the target with your bow arm, the arm drops in the shot moment. Increase the pressure against the target.

  • Arrows hit high

    This can have a number of reasons;

  • Incorrect release, - your draw hand moves down at release, you are probably not using your back muscles as you should.

  • Too much pressure against the target so the bow arm goes up in the shot moment.

  • Arrows spread sideways

  • Bow arm moves sideways at release.
  • Inconsistent string alignment.
  • Release hand moves out from the chin at release.
  • The bow is tilted away from vertical.
  • The bow string hits the arm (This is painful! Use an arm guard!)

  • Your bow arm elbow is twisted so the string doesn't have clearance. Check your grip position and bow arm rotation.

  • Your draw arm shoulder might be in a too high position and then the arm comes too close to the string.

  • High tension in the draw hand fingers at release causes the string to take an undesired path forward and hits the arm. Relax your draw hand, form a deep hook with your fingers since this makes it easier to have a relaxed hand and a clean release.

  • Some final words about archery training

    Archery Basics is not difficult to learn but it takes some time to become a good archer. Accept this as a fact and don't get discouraged if you think that your progress is too slow. Proper practice will always pay off and therefore you should get involved in a club so you can get continuous guidance. You can't become a virtuoso in playing a violin in an afternoon and it is the same thing with archery. Proper guidance and practice is the best way to speed up the learning process. I think almost everyone can learn to shoot a bow with high accuracy. It is a perfect family sport that suits for all ages. It is a very competitive sport and you can take it to any level you like, even the Olympics. It's a perfect sport for those who have some disabilities. A wheelchair is no hindrance and I have seen a man without arms shoot a bow. He used his leg to hold the bow and a device strapped around his chest to draw the string! So don't hesitate to get involved in archery. It's a great pleasure and a competitive sport and for many archers it's a recreational pursuit that lasts a lifetime!

    Next article is about How to shoot a compound bow!