The Art of Archery
Do you imagine yourself as an artful archer like Katniss Everdeen, or roguish Robin Hood? Although these famous bow-wielders make the sport seem easy, there’s a lot more to firing bolts and arrows than meets the eye, especially if you’re looking to be a professional at hitting the bull’s eye. We’re talking about a specific stance that should be the same every time if you want to air on the side of accuracy instead of luck. So, we’ve done the research for you on the proper archery posture for maintaining a balanced center of gravity, which will keep you from getting fatigued and make sure you land consistent shots each time you take aim.
If you’re looking to pick up the bow, but you’re unsure of where to begin to learn how to handle yourself and the equipment, you might check out some of the free classes and archery instruction offered by Panhandle Bowhunters and Archery Association every Thursday at Klondike Archery Park. Whether you’re an experienced archer or new to the game of archery, there’s plenty of learning opportunities and chances to sharpen your skill at the public park open to minors and adults. If you’re wondering just how much skill it actually takes to use a bow, there’s Olympic Games and Summer Paralympics dedicated to archery—a sport that requires a considerable amount of strength, endurance and patience to practice the appropriate archery posture for maintaining consistent shots. But with the right attitude and aptitude for following instruction, you too can master the art of archery.
Choosing a Bow
When it comes to choosing a bow to start out your training, you’ll have your choice between four major types: compound, recurve, longbow and crossbow. As a rule, there is no universal bow for beginners—it really all depends on personal preference.
However, many archers agree that recurve bows provide a lot more feedback to archers and their instructors, because flaws in form and technique are easier to identify. Recurve bows take more effort to pull back the bowstring, while compound bows alleviate the tension on the archer through its pulley and cable system.
Compound bows use a system of cables and pulleys for bending the bow’s limbs, granting the archer a mechanical advantage since the limbs are made more stiff than those of a recurve or longbow, improving accuracy and giving higher energy and quicker shots to arrows.
Recurve bows have limbs that curve away from the wielder and the purpose of this shape is to store and deliver energy more efficiently as the archer draws back, ultimately providing greater speed to the arrow when released.
A longbow is typically as tall as the archer holding it, and the bow’s height allows the archer to achieve a fairly long draw, which requires the bow to be made out of longer, more elastic, timber than other bow types.
Crossbows appear to be horizontal bow-like assemblies mounted on a stock with a mechanism that holds the bowstring, and they come in various types, including recurve and compound.
Posture is one of the most critical aspects of archery, as your form will affect your execution and proper archery posture facilitates better power transmission from your core muscles, which give you the strength to perform consistent shots many times without tiring out too soon.
To improve your archery stance, especially if you’re just starting out, you should be prepared to dedicate a minimum of two or three practice sessions to adopting the right posture before you start firing.
Posture is about establishing a “foundation” with your body from your feet and lower back to your chest, as body alignment and keeping your center of gravity low are part of creating a solid foundation for consistent and accurate shots. Memorize the following steps and you’ll be well on your way to establishing a stable foundation for your archery posture:
Keep the space between your feet about shoulder width apart. If your feet are spaced too close together, or spaced too wide apart, then you will become bilaterally instable—i.e., you will experience more swaying of the upper body and have less control over holding your aim. When your body weight is properly distributed, your feet should give the sensation of being well planted on the ground and you will experience less rocking.
Next is making sure you keep a straightened lower back as shooting with a “sway back,” or arched lower back, can destabilize your stance and cause vulnerability to lower back pain or injury. Sway back causes your center of gravity to be placed forward of your knees, making you unstable. But, you can flatten the lower back by tightening the gluteus muscles until you feel stable. Do you feel like you can be knocked over by the smallest push? If the answer is no, then you’ve stabilized your posture.
Now relax your rib cage and make sure your chest is lowered, since lowering your chest stabilizes your center of gravity and helps you stay grounded for accurate shots. Compressing the chest down also helps prevent your lower back from arching and should make your back feel more relaxed, too.
It’s time to check your drawing arm: is your elbow placed directly behind the arrow? Your forearm (on your drawing arm) should be parallel, or in-line, with the arrow shaft and your shoulders should be rotated down and back. For the arm that is gripping the bow, you should make sure your elbow is rotated so that the inside joint is pointing straight up and down.
The final step is adopting the correct anchor point. Many new archers “float” the anchor, which means they do not have firm contact with the bowstring hand against the side of the face. To avoid “floating,” draw the bowstring back toward the side of your face until the tip of your index finger can be placed on the corner of your mouth. Then tuck your thumb into the palm of your hand before also folding your little finger toward your palm, keeping both fingers firm but relaxed. Now’s the time to press your hand firmly against the side of your face, keeping the index finger at the crook of your mouth. The bowstring should be just off the side of your nose as you maintain the full draw weight of the bow.
Adopting an incorrect posture will raise your body’s center of gravity too high, causing your weight to be unequally distributed over one foot or the other, which negatively impacts the accuracy of your shots.
You want to develop good handling habits from the beginning, so the best way to achieve this is through repetition; practice setting up your basic archery stance and drawing back your arrow. The more time you allow yourself you go through mental and physical exercises, the more in-tune and aware you will be of your overall posture and stability.
On the first day of practice, you might start with 30 repetitions. Increase these after your third day. Repetition not only helps develop muscle memory, but improves your strength and endurance for holding stable postures and maintaining a long draw on your bow.
Advanced archers will shoot anywhere from 30 to 60 arrows in a session, while competitive archers can and will shoot 120 or more.
If you’re worried about finding time to make it out onto the range, you can even practice at home, or work, by mentally performing the steps without the bow.
Use a straight-edged object to form an imaginary shooting line on the floor so you have a visual point of reference. Now mentally focus and perform each step of the process as its outlined to the right, repeating the entire process for at least 10 minutes.
Safety & Etiquette
When on the archery range, there’s a proper etiquette to keep in mind to be courteous to your neighbors and maintain the optimal level of safety for everyone. Of
course, if you’re accompanying minors onto the range make sure they can be accounted for at all times—never allow children to walk unattended through the range.
Also, never nock an arrow (a sign you are preparing to shoot) when other archers are downrange retrieving arrows from targets. In fact, while it may seem like a given, you should remember to never shoot while someone is downrange.
Shoot and aim only in your assigned lane. If you finish shooting before the archers next to you, the polite response is to remain quiet and avoid creating distractions while you wait for your neighbor to finish. Then you may attempt to collect your arrows from the target.