Patrick Meitin has degrees in journalism and range and wildlife management. He’s been an outdoor writer, specializing in bowhunting, for more than 20 years. An expert with both traditional and modern archery equipment, Meitin lives in northern Idaho with his wife, Gwyn, and their two Labrador retrievers.
In archery the anchor is really one part noun (as in anchor point), and one part verb (pulling the string to the anchor point). Without a consistent anchor point, no degree of accuracy is possible. In aiming, forward-situated bow sights correlate to a rifle’s open sights front bead, with the peep (or peep-eliminating system, normally mirroring a rear pistol sight) at the rear. An inconsistent anchor is akin to shooting a rifle with a rear sight that moves between shots. You can see the obvious implications.
The anchor point must be rock solid, naturally comfortable and absolutely repeatable. It’s normally grounded on bone, something that doesn’t change with time. This typically varies depending on release style. For example, when shooting fingers, I pull my index finger into the corner of my mouth, pressing between upper and lower molars, placing my thumb under the jawbone. When anchoring with a release, I burrow my index-finger knuckle into the hollow behind my ear, with my thumb hooked behind my jawbone. You’ll notice both include dual reference points, making them nearly foolproof.
There are no rules, except that your anchor point needs to include a high degree of repeatability. Find one that feels natural and comfortable to you. After it’s established, stick to it religiously.
When at full draw, your drawing and bow arms and shoulders should create a perfect T in relation to your torso – drawing-arm elbow straight back (not cocked in or out, indicating ill-fitted equipment). This is vitally important, creating the basis for all shots to come, especially when shooting somewhere other than flat ground, standing flat-footed. Your hips become the gyroscope this T-form rides on. Forced to shoot steeply downhill, say from a treestand, you should create your perfect T-form and bend at the waist to address the target. Forced to shoot at a deer approaching from directly behind, you should first create your T-form, before swiveling around on your hips to make the shot. In the beginning, this is how you must approach each problem, setting up as if on flat ground, shoulders 90 degrees to the target (even if imaginary until the real target is addressed), settling into solid T-form, and only then swiveling on your hips to attend to targets as necessary. In time this will become second nature, allowing you to point directly at the target and draw less conspicuously. In bowhunting, the goal is always to minimize movement during the draw cycle. If you can’t place your pin on target and pull straight back, smoothly and slowly, you’re shooting too much draw weight.
While at full draw, settling in for the shot, remember to employ your stronger back muscles, and not your arms. Your back muscles are considerably stronger than your arms alone. To gain a better feel, consciously pull your shoulder blades together while at full draw, allowing the release to happen on its own accord.
Stay tuned; the release is the subject for next time.
Torque is archery accuracy’s worst enemy. You can line up everything precisely while aiming, but twist the shot off axis at the moment of release and everything turns to garbage. Seventy-five percent of torque is created by the bow hand, the only point of contact with the bow following release. The remainder is caused by improper bow balance, a type of torque mitigated with balancing stabilizers. A bow should sit upright in the hand evenly and effortlessly while at rest and pointed at the target, and especially at full draw. If it doesn’t, work to make it so by adding long or short stabilizers where needed.
Gripping the bow handle is where problems start, even if you consciously begin the shot with a loose grip of the bow. At the moment you release the string, the natural inclination is to grab the bow for fear of dropping or losing control as it comes to rest. This is why you should install a wrist sling while assembling your new bow. Combined with proper “grip,” a wrist sling adjusted to support the bow should alleviate such apprehension.
To help instill proper bow grip, let’s drop the moniker “grip” and replace it with “cradle.” While sliding your hand into the wrist sling, create a V of your fingers (held together nearly vertically) and thumb. This isn’t a rigid V, but a relaxed slot to slide over your bow grip. No real side pressure is necessary. The pressure of the draw weight against the heel of your hand keeps the bow in place while aiming and releasing, with the wrist sling catching it after. The idea is to allow the bow to find its own balance, with your hand relaxed at the moment any string pressure is applied. On release, nothing moves. Your hand should remain open and relaxed until the arrow strikes the target. The bow might even tip forward slightly. If you find you’re simply unable to make yourself do this, try encircling the riser handle with your thumb and pointing finger, lightly touching them to create a capturing ring, otherwise exerting no actual pressure on the grip itself.
To maximize accuracy and repeatability, use the stronger bone structure of the all-important bow arm, instead of muscle, to bring the bow to bear. For me, this means cocking my bow-arm elbow slightly downward, pushing the heel of my hand into the back of the grip, with my hand rotating slightly inward and allowing the weight of the draw to push straight down the radius of my arm’s skeletal frame. Attempting to hold a bow rigidly with only muscle power leads to fatigue and eventually shaking while at full draw. Using the skeletal structure of your arm will allow you to keep muscles relaxed and settle in more steadily for the shot.
Hang in there; we’ll be delving into anchoring dynamics next time.
During the last four installments, I discussed purchasing the basic equipment needed to begin your bowhunting passion. Before you’ll achieve the best results possible, you’ll need to instill basic shooting-form fundamentals. Like the perfect golf swing, archery’s grounded in all-important foundations that will lead you down the path to archery success. Initially this can involve plenty of repetitious tedium, but once you learn the basics, you will always be able to rely on them, especially when shooting at trophy game under pressure. They’re something you’ll return to repeatedly when faced with shooting slumps down the road. In the beginning, practice involves consciously instilling these shooting-form fundamentals until they’re engrained to the point of unconscious reflex. Also, this is information even seasoned archers can use as a refresher course in better shooting.
The first step is perfecting your archery shooting stance, or how you align your body and place your feet in relation to the target. This should provide a solid platform to base every shot on, assuring repeatable results. To begin, stand with your bow-arm shoulder facing the target, and your chest aligned 90 degrees from the same face. It’s also OK to stand with the string-drawing shoulder cocked slightly toward the target, with your body creating maybe a 45-degree angle to the target. The former gives you the most available power stroke through maximized draw length; the latter opens your form a tad, allowing the string more clearance in relation to the bow arm (especially while wearing insulated hunting duds). A string catching on a sleeve or other part of clothing will erode accuracy. This is also why many whitetail hunters, hunting mostly from cold treestands, choose a draw length from ½ to 1 inch shorter than the maximum allowable length, which adds some string clearance. Recall, too, that an arm guard is a good way to keep clothing in check and assure minimal interference. Use the stance that feels most comfortable and natural to you and stick to it until it becomes habit.
Hold your foot that is closest to the target, the left foot in the case of right-handed shooters, parallel to the target face, with your rear foot cocked slightly away from the target, around 45 degrees. This creates a more solid tripod effect. Now as you better master shooting form, this stance can be varied greatly, with awkward shooting positions or terrain often dictating such real-world hunting scenarios. But for now, while downloading repeatable form, stick with the basics.
The next step involves bow grip, and will be the topic of my next post.
Previously we discussed the basic gear you’ll need to start shooting and enjoying all archery has to offer. But before you get really serious about bowhunting live game you’ll need a quality laser rangefinder. In archery, small discrepancies in yardage – anything from three to five yards, depending on arrow speed – can lead to big misses. In the back yard you can easily step off distances, one step equaling about a yard, to get started. In hunting this obviously isn’t possible.
As you become more experienced you’ll no doubt discover your range-judging skills improving (unmarked-yardage 3-D archery tournaments are a fun and exciting way to hone these abilities), but in the beginning you’ll be hard-pressed to differentiate 25 yards from 35 – especially under pressure when faced with your first big-game animal. Modern laser rangefinders make this easy, correlating an aiming point in the viewfinder with the target, clicking a button and noting the distance on the LCD readout. Most modern units also automatically provide compensated range for sudden drops in elevation (such as shooting from an elevated treestand) to take the guesswork out of steep uphill and downhill shots, which normally require aiming low to compensate for geometric angles.
By now you should have started practicing to kill, setting up a treestand to simulate real-world hunting scenarios (climbing onto the roof of your house works in a pinch, so long as your neighbors won’t become alarmed), and even purchasing rubber blunts or Judo Points (small-game heads equipped with spring arms to keep arrows from burying in leaves or grass) the same weight as your field points/broadheads to practice shooting in the field. This is called stump shooting and is a great way to hone your shooting skills and range-judging in an atmosphere that’s more enjoyable than plunking arrows into a soulless foam target. I use these stump-shooting sessions as dress rehearsals, donning the standard camouflage clothing I will wear in the field, as well as packs, safety harnesses, binoculars and all the rest to assure nothing interferes with a smooth shot.
There’s much more to learn, of course, and in my next series of blogs, we’ll begin addressing the finer points of basic shooting form needed to advance into the role of a deadly bowhunter. But learning new skills is also where all the fun in archery and bowhunting lays. The important thing to remember is bowhunting’s now accessible to all, young and old, big and small, thanks to modern technology and the efficient equipment it has spawned.
While modern compound bows, with their silky-smooth draw cycles, high let-off, and efficient energy transfer, and straighter, more durable carbon arrows and broadheads, are huge factors in making archery success easier, modern bowhunting accessories also contribute largely to shooting ease.
Arrow Rest: One of the best examples is the fall-away arrow rest. While more difficult to properly set up initially (again, seek pro-shop assistance), a drop-away allows more aggressive fletching dimension and helical (fletching offset that helps arrows spin like bullet rifling) that steers arrows more reliably, especially when broadhead tipped. This is because all accuracy-eroding fletching contact is eliminated, with the rest arm that drops out of the way before fletchings pass. This also makes any bow more forgiving, because the arrow is in contact with the rest for a shorter period, providing less potential for human error through flinching.
Fiber-Optics: The next huge advancement in modern archery is the fiber-optic equipped bow sight. Fiber-optic material gathers light and sends it to its point, harnessed by a metal sight pin to create brighter aiming points. This creates aiming points that are more easily observed in all lighting conditions, especially low light when game (especially whitetail deer) moves best. By extending these fibers well beyond the aiming point, spooling it on the sight aperture/pin guard or routing it through the mounting bracket, the material gathers even more light, with effective shooting hours extended considerably. This is especially welcomed if working with aging eyesight or generally poor vision.
Round Pin Guard: Another cool trick is to employ a sight with a round pin guard, normally highlighted with bright paint or material, combined with an extra-large peep sight (around ¼ inch). The peep becomes your rear sight, typically a circular aperture attached through the bowstring. This allows you to center the entire round pin guard inside the round peep – instead of a single pin – allowing more light during low-light shooting situations, while also revealing misalignment during the shot. It also quickens the sighting process.
Wrist Sling and Stabilizer: Other useful accessories include a wrist sling and a stabilizer. Using a wrist sling assures you don’t death-grip the bow handle during release for fear of dropping the bow during the shot, introducing accuracy-robbing torque. A stabilizer both helps balance the bow and absorbs vibrations that can create shot noise, shorten equipment life and actually erode accuracy. If your new bow doesn’t come out of the bow factory equipped with bow silencers (string most importantly, but also limb and cable guard) add necessary products to make it quieter. In bowhunting, there’s no such thing as a bow that’s too quiet.
Quivers: You’ll also need a place to store arrows while shooting and hunting. The bow quiver is the most popular and attaches directly to the bow handle itself. Generally, stalking Western bowhunters choose two-piece quivers permanently attached to the bow; Eastern bowhunters choose a detachable quiver that can be taken off after climbing into a stand so it won’t get in the way in tight quarters. Hip quivers (hung from a waist belt) and back quivers (worn like a pack) are also worthwhile.
Targets: Finally, you’ll need an arrow-catching target for safety’s sake and to prolong arrow life. This can be as simple as a mound of sand or a soft dirt bank, if such a place is available to you. But this normally entails a foam block or bag target to start. Foam is better if you wish to eventually shoot broadheads, but extracting arrows after the shot requires more effort. Bags allow two-finger arrow extraction but they shouldn’t be shot with broadheads. Many archers buy one of each: a foam target used primarily for pre-hunt broadhead practice and tuning, and the long-lasting bag used only with field points while sighting, tuning and honing shooting form.
In Part IV we’ll look into what’s needed, equipment-wise, to make the transition from backyard target shooter to bowhunter.
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