How To Shoot A Traditional Bow (A Beginner’s Guide)

By Andy Ryan


Updated at
archer shooting his bow

If you’re new to traditional archery or just want to brush up on your skills, this article will help you find out how to shoot a traditional bow the right way.

Modern bows have all sorts of equipment attached, such as peep sights and adjustable bow sights that make it easier to aim and shoot. However, archery has historically been mostly instinctive. This guide teaches you how to shoot using a traditional bow and improve your aim using some easy-to-use techniques.


Develop a Relaxed Stance



Stance is perhaps the most important factor in aiming and shooting a traditional bow. Unfortunately, it’s also the step that most beginners get wrong.

Although it will take time for you to develop a consistent proper stance, there are some rudimentary principles you can follow to improve your stance.

To try to understand these stance principles, we will have to look at stance from a physiological perspective. Let’s look at some facts and connect the dots. (1)

  • The human body is supported by the skeleton, which is controlled by muscles. When you’re lying down, you’re hardly using any of your skeletal muscles to support your position. But if you try to get into a sitting position with no chair beneath you and extend your arms forward, you will have to use a lot of skeletal muscles to support that posture. Your muscles will soon tire, and you won’t be able to sustain that posture for long. This means that some postures are more stable than others.
  • An unstable posture that requires a lot of energy and effort to maintain does more harm. Since your muscles need a constant supply of energy while you’re in this posture, they consume most of the oxygen you breathe in, leaving little for your brain.
  • The brain has huge energy requirements for its size; it uses 20% of the oxygen you breathe in to produce energy. The brain might even need more than 20% for tasks that require focus, like aiming.

This means that when you’re in an uncomfortable posture, your muscles use a lot of the brain’s share of oxygen, and your brain literally slows down due to a lack of energy. Ergo, a posture that is more comfortable is also better for aiming.

You can use this knowledge to develop and learn good posture. A good strategy is to practice drawing the bow in front of a mirror. Looking at your body as you draw may help you be more mindful of your muscles.

You will have to focus on which muscles you’re using as you stand and draw. When you’re holding the draw, it should be supported by your back muscles only. All the other muscles that you have to use can be relaxed to get into a better posture. For example, if holding your draw hurts your lower back, you’re probably not standing correctly.


Nocking an Arrow



All the steps after assuming a good posture rely on a proper posture to be effective. Nocking an arrow is not any different since you likely won’t be able to do it smoothly if you’re not in a relaxed posture.

The systematic method to nock an arrow is the following:

  1. Hold the bow with your bow hand half an inch below the arrow rest.
  2. Place the spine of the arrow on the arrow rest.
  3. Place the nock of the arrow on the nocking point on the bowstring.

If your bow does not have an arrow rest, make a mark in the center of the bow and be sure to consistently place the arrow spine at that position. You will have to use your hand as the arrow rest in this case.

Your string might have a mark, a bead, or a string loop to locate the nocking point. Consistency is the key to improving your aim. If you have a bead, make sure you consistently nock the arrow either below or above the bead. Inconsistently changing things will make it much harder to learn to aim instinctively. We will get into the exact reasons later in this guide.


Holding the Bow



Although it is possible to learn to shoot with both hands, for beginners, it’s better to use the dominant hand as the draw hand, and the non-dominant as the bow hand. Note that the bow hand should be as relaxed as possible and ideally should not focus on aiming.

You have to hold the bow when you’re nocking the arrow and to draw the bow, but once you’re holding the draw, you don’t have to keep a tight grip on the bow. You only need the bow pushed against your palm, which does not require any significant muscle activation. (2)

Grabbing the bow tightly while you’re aiming can do harm in two ways. You already know the first one; spending energy on holding the bow will leave less oxygen for the brain. But perhaps an even worse effect of tightly holding the bow is that your bow hand also becomes responsible for aiming. Now you have two sets of muscles (those in your draw hand and those in your bow hand) that control your aim. This is not a good thing because it takes more brain processing power to keep track of all the muscles. If you only have to focus on your draw hand, you can shoot much more consistently.


How to Hold the Bowstring


The easiest and most comfortable way to hold a traditional bowstring is the Mediterranean grip. You use your index finger, your middle finger, and your ring finger to draw the string. In this grip, the nocking point should be between the index finger and the middle finger, so you have your index finger above the nock and the other two fingers below the nock. We encourage you to use a finger tab to make drawing less painful and smoother to release.


Before You Draw…



Before you draw, you have to make sure you primarily use your back muscles (which are stronger than your arm muscles) to apply the force. You can ensure you don’t overstrain your arm muscles to draw by raising your elbow above your shoulder height. A lot of archers instinctively adopt this pre-motion without ever knowing why it helps.


Drawing the Bowstring



If you’ve been paying attention to the preceding steps, you can’t go wrong with this step. Again, make sure you use your back muscles to apply the force and not your arm muscles. Your arm muscles should be reserved for fine-tuning your aim.

One way to focus on your back muscles as you draw is to imagine squeezing an orange with your shoulder blades. Such a feat is not possible for a healthy human but imagining it definitely helps you use your back muscles to draw.


Anchoring Point



Anchoring is perhaps the most important step in learning to aim that a lot of beginners overlook. An anchoring point is an area on your face where the bowstring touches. Different people have different anchoring points depending on face shapes and aiming preferences. There are two things you should keep in mind while choosing your anchoring point.

  1. The arrow should be parallel to your line of sight. If the arrow and your line of sight are not parallel, you won’t be able to tell which way the arrow will go once released from the bow. You can develop such an anchoring point by taking a picture of yourself while you aim and drawing a straight line from your eye to the aiming mark on your bow. The line should be parallel to the arrow shaft.
  2. Once you have established an anchoring point, make sure you consistently draw the same way. The primary reason for establishing an anchoring point is consistency since there are exceptions to the previous point.

The exception to the first point is what’s known as “gap shooting”, and it is used for long-distance shots where a lot of drops are expected. As a beginner, you should first practice your aim before going into long-distance shooting complications like drop and air drag.


Releasing the Arrow



The release should be as smooth as possible. You don’t want to disturb the bow and your aim at the last second.

Beginners often focus too much on keeping the bow steady after the release, which can disturb the aim by drawing attention towards the post-release actions. To avoid this, archers are taught to “follow through” with the release. To follow through simply means that you must keep your attention on the arrow even after you’ve released it. This not only keeps you from being distracted during the release but also helps you gain insight into the flight of the arrow.

More precisely, follow-through means that you have to keep a loose hold of your bow (as you had while drawing) even after the release. The bow will bounce a bit forward, but that’s part of the technique. It would help if you also kept your draw hand in place after you draw. In short, keep your body as it were when you were in the draw position and focus on the arrow after the release.


Practice Makes Perfect



Lars Andersen, the most popular traditional archer, is also inarguably the most skilled. He has demonstrated shooting multiple arrows, bending arrows around obstacles, shooting at incoming arrows, and a lot of other capabilities that don’t seem humanly possible. What’s his secret? Practice.

Learning to shoot a traditional bow takes more practice than learning to shoot a compound bow. But the extra effort is worth the reward.


Some archers argue that instinctive aiming, notwithstanding the fact that it’s harder to learn, is superior to modern archery since it can potentially be improved beyond the capabilities of modern archery techniques. If you follow the tips dropped throughout this guide, you can improve and aim gradually and surpass archers that need the aid of scopes.

Here are other learning guides you can check later on;

(1) physiological perspective –
(2) muscle activiation –