Archery Technique

The process of shooting an arrow is commonly dissected into ten steps, and hence this process is termed "The Ten Steps of Archery". Taking it one step at a time, then reviewing and finetuning, you will come to appreciate the worth of each step. Repetition is the key to success. The ten steps of archery are:

  1. Stance
  2. Nocking an arrow
  3. Draw hand position
  4. Bow hand and bow arm
  5. Drawing
  6. Anchoring
  7. Aiming
  8. Releasing
  9. Follow through
  10. Recovery

Step 1 - Stance

Firstly, make sure you are wearing closed in footwear for safety and either have a quiver, or a ground quiver.

There are two common types of stance, the square and open. A square stance has the toes of both feet touching an imaginery line that points towards the target (this is the stance we teach) 32. The square stance is used by many of the world's best archers. The second type of stance is called the open stance. Most people that adopt an open stance (the trailing foot slightly forward of the leading foot) do so at their peril, both in terms of use of weaker muscles and stability. The open stance should only be adopted if you have been trained in its correct use by a highly trained coach. Many top archers do use an open stance but they have been trained in how to twist the body correctly. Simply putting the trailing foot forward of the other is more than likely going to result in a poorer performance.

Your feet should be shoulder width apart with about 60% of your body weight on the balls of your feet and the rest on the heels. Your legs should be straight, but don't lock your knees. Your hips should be central. You should be standing up straight with your head turned towards the target 32.

If you are shooting Indoor or Outdoor target, your feet should straddle the shooting line with the rear foot being behind the line and the front foot forward of the line. When shooting Field, both feet need to be behind the shooting line.

Once your feet are in position, they need to remain where they are until you have shot all the arrows that you need to (generally 6 or 3). That is why a quiver is so important, it stops an archer from moving their feet to reach for arrows on the ground.

After establishing stance, ensure that it is safe to shoot. Look at the target and imagine your arrow embedded exactly in its centre.

Tip: Place an arrow on the ground pointing towards the target to position your feet.

Archery Stance

Illustration 1 - Feet on an imaginery line pointing towards the target. Body is straight, relaxed and in the chest down position. He is checking that it is safe to shoot, then focussing on the target and imagining his arrow embedded right in the middle of it.

Step 2 - Nocking an arrow

An arrow is made up of a tip, shaft, three vanes (or fletches, feathers) and a nock. Generally, one of the vanes is a different colour, and is called the cock vane. On recurves, the cock vane needs to be pointing away from the bow 33. Failing to orientate the cock fletch correctly will result in the fletch being stripped off, and the arrow will also fly off to the left (if shooting with a right hand bow) or to the right (if shooting with a left hand bow). Not only is accuracy reduced, but the arrow then invariably has to be repaired.

Cock Fletch

Illustration 2 - On RECURVE bows the cock fletch always points outwards. On COMPOUND bows, it generally points up or down.

With compound bows the position of the vane depends on the type of arrow rest. With a prong rest, the cock vane points directly downwards so that it passes between the prongs. With a drop rest it is best to have the cock vane up for maximum clearance. A lizard tongue or basket rest requires the cock vane up. Check your arrow rest instructions for correct vane orientation. Place your arrow shaft on (or in) your arrow rest.

On your bow string you should have a nocking point. If there are two brass beads on the string (see Illustration 2), place the nock of the arrow between them. If there is only one brass bead, then you will have to ask where to nock the arrow (or use a bow square to determine if the nock goes above or below the bead) . For compound archers, most strings have a D-loop fitted. The arrow nock is normally fitted between the knots of the D-loop.

The nock has a groove in it that clips onto the string. You should hear an audible click when nocking your arrow onto the string. The arrow should not be able to fall off the string, nor should it be on very tightly.

Step 3 - Draw hand position

The draw hand is the hand that pulls back the bow string. Necessary equipment: Finger tab or Release Aid.

If shooting with a compound bow, clip the release aid onto the D-loop. This can be awkward when first learning to use a release aid. Use the end of the nock to assit with closing the jaw(s). If you are using a strap on release aid, make sure the strap is always secured in exactly the same manner. When using a hand held release, always hold it the same way. If your release aid has any sort of trigger, keep your fingers well away from the trigger. NEVER draw the bow with your finger(s) on the trigger.

Nocking the arrow

Illustration 3 - Nock the arrow. Note finger is BEHIND the trigger. In this example of a compound bow, the arrow rest is a basket rest and the cock fletch is up. To save on buying different colour fletches, there is a tiny black mark/line near the nock to indicate the cock fletch.

When shooting with a recurve bow, use a deep hook to hold the bow string. This means that the string is between the finger creases of the fingers. Three fingers are used to draw the string, the index finger is positioned above the nock with the middle and lower finger. There should be a slight gap between the fingers and the nock. If the fingers are too close they tend to grab the arrow and it swings out sideways. Don't be tempted to hook the string further towards the finger tips, it actually makes releasing harder as the string causes the finger tips to develop a swelling that the string then has to clear. The thumb is tucked up into the palm. The back of the hand should be flat. To practice, pick up a bucket. You should use a finger tab (or shooting glove) to protect you fingers 34.

Deep hook

Illustration 4 - On a RECURVE bow, keep the index finger above the nocking point and two middle fingers below it. Wear finger protection when drawing.

Step 4 - Bow hand and bow arm

The bow hand is the hand that holds the bow. Necessary equipment: finger or wrist sling, arm guard.

The bow hand must not grip the bow. Gripping the bow causes torque, which in turn, causes left and right arrow placement errors. The handle grip of the bow should rest in the valley formed by the index finger and thumb. The thumb should end up pointing towards the target. The knuckles of the bow hand should be out at 45 degrees. If you are going to grip the bow at all, do so with finger tips only. Fingers should be loose and relaxed. When drawn the bow is not going to fall out of the cradle that has been formed by your thumb and index finger. Many competition bows no longer have a grip on them for this very reason. A finger sling or wrist sling can be used to prevent the bow dropping after release. Having the knuckles out at 45 degrees also helps with string clearance of the bow arm, reducing or eliminating bow arm slap.

The wrist should be in line with the centre of the handle, maximizing bone on bone contact. Again, this is a relaxed, natural position.

Bow arm

Illustration 5 - Leaning against a pole, twist arm so that crease in elbow is pointing directly downwards. Have arm directly behind wrist, thumb pointing towards target and knuckles out at 45 degrees.

Take up a small amount of tension on the bow string and set your bow arm. This done by keeping it straight (no bend at the elbow), again to maximize bone on bone contact. A straight arm is far less fatiguing to shoot with. Twist your arm slightly so that the crease in your bow arm is pointing directly towards the ground. This will further assist with string clearance of the bow arm 35.

If you have taken your eyes off the target, refocus on it and imagine the arrow in its centre.

Tip: You can practice bow hand and bow arm position by leaning against a pole. See how long you can stay leaning against the pole with a bent arm compaired to a straight arm. Practice getting your hand into the correct position.

Bow  hand

Illustration 6 - Set your bow hand, don't grip the bow handle

Step 5 - Drawing

Firstly, establish yourself in the predraw position. Lift the bow arm up so that it is straight and level with the target. Be very conscious of not raising the bow arm above the target and then coming down on the target. This is dangerous and you can be stopped from shooting by a Judge or Director of Shooting (DOS). Put some tension on the string and raise your draw elbow up to eye level. You are preparing to draw back and down using back muscles, not arm muscles.

Predraw position

Illustration 7 - Position before drawing back and down. This example of the predraw position applies to both compound and recurve archers.

Draw back and down. Your hand should then come up slightly to touch the side of face or jaw (i.e. your anchor position).

At full draw, your draw elbow should be directly behind your ear, with a little bit of room left to pull back to release the arrow.

Check that hips are central and that your back is straight. You should be in a chest down position, don't hold your stomach in. Your bow arm shoulder should be slightly lowered. The goal is to be in a relaxed comfortable position that optimizes bone on bone contact. You are still not ready to aim yet.

Step 6 - Anchoring

For recurve archers, the top of the index finger (except the joints curled over the string) as well as the top of palm right back to the thumb joint makes full contact with the lower jaw bone. The string touches the side of the chin and lightly touches the nose. Some archers use a kisser button for an added reference point and literally kiss the button.

For compound archers, the hand should touch the side of the face, generally the jaw. Some release aides cause the knuckles to be rotated towards the face, and others away. At this stage your finger or thumb should not be in contact with the trigger. The string should lightly touch the nose. Your peep provides the final reference point. You should be able to comfortably see through it without having to bend your head up or down.


Illustration 8 - Anchoring - in this example, that applies to a compound archer, he is using four reference points to confirm a consistent anchor point. His head is in a comforable position allowing him to look through his peep without having to tilt his head up or down. Note his finger is still behind the trigger.

Tip: The type of hat you wear can interfere with your anchor point and string. Compound archers can generally wear caps whilst recurve archers normally need a floppy hat due to the string of a recurve bow coming closer back to the forehead.

Step 7 - Aiming

There is a preparatory step to aiming, termed "holding". This step applies to both recurve and compound archers but differs slightly due to the type of equipment accessories used.

To hold, compound archers should check their site level and adjust accordingly, line up on target, set onto the trigger and prepare to pull back with expansion.

Recurve archers hold by lining up the bow string with their bow handle, pin or sight housing (particularly if using a square housing) and prepare to release with expansion.

Only after the holding stage has been completed should you actually aim. Put your sight pin or dot onto the centre of the target and let it float there until the arrow is released. By leaving aiming until holding has been completed, you are in a state of readiness to release. Recurve archers should aim for no more than 3 seconds. Similarly, compound archers should restrict their aiming period to a few seconds to avoid fatigue.


Illustration 9 - The sight picture as seen shooting with a compound sight. It is almost impossible to hold the dot steady on target. Wind, breathing and even heart beats cause your entire bow to move.

Step 8 - Releasing

Recurvers release by relaxing the muscles of the forearm and fingers, whilst maintaining back tension, allowing the string's weight to slip the string from their fingers. The actual release, or muscle relaxation, may be activated by the sound of a clicker.

Compound shooters keep expanding, sometimes described as pushing the bow hand into the target whilst pulling the elbow backwards, until the trigger is activated. This basically results in a surprise release. The other release method compound archers use is termed "punching". This involves activating the trigger with the finger or thumb and many archers can be highly successful with this approach. However, punching can lead to a condition known as "target panic", or the inability to release appropriately.

Step 9 - Follow through

Follow through occurs in those few seconds after the arrow has left the bow.

An arrow leaving a compound bow at 300 feet per second has embedded itself in a target at 90m (almost 100 yards) in under a second. That is not a lot of time to consciously "follow through". The best thing to do is to keep your dot or pin on the target for a split second after the release has occured, purely to stop any post release movement on future shots. You can also adopt the recurve follow through process.

Follow through

Illustration 10 - The arrow is already in the target when this photo was taken. He is still keeping his dot on the target. His draw hand has come back naturally as a result of releasing tension on the string.

Recurve bows generally have their centre of gravity forward, and sometimes well forward, of the bow handle. The string has been holding the bow upright, once released the bow tips forwards. Recurve archers need to keep their bow arm up and allow the wrist to flex the hand downwards as the bow tips. It is a very graceful movement. The draw hand should be maintained where it stopped after the release. Focus should be kept on the target. Follow through only needs to be maintained for a couple of seconds.

Step 10 - Recovery

Allow the draw arm and bow arm to drop and relax. Your muscles need several seconds to recover. Reflect on your last shot briefly. If there was an obvious issue with wind or distance then make a sight correction. That arrow last released has gone, regardless of whether it was a perfect shot or a complete miss. If you take that attitude you won't get excited and put yourself under pressure if you are shooting well, and you similarly won't become disheartened if you're not doing so well. The only arrow that really matters is the next one.


Illustration 11 - Drop both arms down to permit muscle recovery. If you have a compound bow with a stabilizer, it can be used to take up the weight of the bow. He is not concerned where his last arrow went (other than reflecting on issues such as wind or sight settings). He is focussed on putting his next arrow dead centre into the target.

Top archers all use a well rehearsed shot sequence. Some write it down and learn it off by heart, consciously reciting the steps throughout the process. Consciously following a shot sequence also reduces tournament pressure, as your mind is focussed on doing what it should be doing, shooting consistently well and not on how others are performing.

Video of a similar shot sequence with follow through step added. Only shoot with closed in footwear.


FITA Target

A large face (122cm) FITA outdoor target.

  • Small circle in the centre of the yellow = X = 10 Points. Used as a tie breaker in the event of a draw.
  • Second circle in the centre of the yellow = 10 Points.
  • Outer yellow circle = 9 Points.
  • Inner red circle = 8 Points.
  • Outer red circle = 7 Points.
  • Inner blue circle = 6 Points.
  • Outer blue circle = 5 Points.
  • Inner black circle = 4 Points.
  • Outer black circle = 3 Points.
  • Inner white circle = 2 Points.
  • Outer white circle = 1 Points. 21

Where an arrow breaks the line, even slightly, you are given the higher ring score except for between rings 2/3 and 4/5 where you get the lower score 22 (there is no line between these rings to cut). 122cm square and the smaller 80cm square targets are commonly used for outdoor target archery. When competing, never touch the arrows until they are scored 23. At tournaments, each arrow hole should be marked with a pen before withdrawing the arrow (to identify pass throughs where targets become soft) 24.


Shoot two distances, quite a distance apart. 30m and 70m would be ideal. Mark your existing sight tape with the resultant settings. Print this sight calibration chart off. Take a fresh sight tape, with the backing still on, place it against your two known distances on your existing sight tape and mark them on your new tape. Then place your new sight tape on the chart and mark all the other distances you require. Before removing your old tape, put the needle/pin on one of the marked distances. Leave the needle/pin there until you have put the new tape on, using the pin/needle to determine where the new tape should be placed. You can make your own sight tapes from scraps of white thin vinyl that can usually be bought very cheaply from your local signwriter. Vinyl offcuts can also be used for arrow crests.


Regardless of whether you use compound or recurve, adjustment of sights is as follows:

  • if your arrows are low, move your sights down
  • if your arrows are high, move your sights up
  • if your arrows are left, move your sights left
  • if your arrows are right, move your sights right

As such, move your sights to follow your arrows. In windy conditions, leaning your bow into the wind is a handy trick. When shooting in calm conditions, it is important to keep the bow in a vertical position. Tilting the bow has an impact on where you aim and where your arrows strike.

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