The old adage “failure is the best teacher” couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to archery. Shooting a compound bow has a way of magnifying mistakes and providing almost instant response. Over the years of making those mistakes, I became a student of the sport and improved my accuracy each offseason. Here are four archery mistakes I’ve made and guess others have had trouble too.
Wrong draw length
According to outdoor bowhunter and writer Jace Bauserman, the most common problem among new archers is shooting a bow that is the wrong length. This most often happens to hunters using a used or secondhand bow.
“Setting your bow to the proper draw length is one of the most important things you can do,” Bauserman said. “You are depriving yourself of accuracy if you are shooting a bow that is too long or too short. Find the exact length of your draw and make sure your bow is set to that measurement.”
To find the length of your drawing, stand with your back to a wall and stretch your arms against the wall. Measure the distance from the tip of one middle finger to the tip of the other middle finger. Then subtract 15 from this measurement and divide by two; this is the length of your draw. Or you can go to any professional archery shop and they will provide you with the correct compound.
As the only point of connection between you and your bow, your grip is very important, but often overlooked by novice archers. To be as precise as possible, you want your hand placement to be as consistent as possible.
The easiest way to visualize proper hand placement is to identify the lifeline on the palm of the hand. This is the crease of the hand that contours the thumb muscle diagonally across the center of the palm. Most professional archers and instructors recommend placing your grip along this line, toward the center of your palm, where you have the least amount of muscle mass to manipulate the bow. Ideally, the bow grip should be parallel to the life line, with the center of the grip toward the thumb side of the hand. If you find that the bow jumps to the left or right when you shoot, you are probably applying too much pressure to one side of the band and introducing unnecessary torque. Make adjustments to your palm based on this.
With these principles in mind, many archers begin to relax their hand and try to avoid finger contact at the front of the band. This is great on principle, but be aware of what your hand does after the shot. Many shooters find themselves grabbing the bow immediately after shooting for fear of dropping it. Instead, simply make light finger contact in a place that is familiar and can be repeated.
Incorrect release technique
Whether you’re learning to shoot a bow for the first time or have been shooting all your life, Bauserman highly recommends a hinge release over a collet-style trigger release. Producing a repeatable shot is just as important as proper bow grip. Using a hinge-style release instead of a trigger pull partially removes the shooter from the equation for a more repeatable shot. Hand placement and even pressure are the keys to a consistent throw.
“Let your release fire your bow, not the other way around,” Bauserman said. “When aiming, trust your process, trust the float of the pin, and let the launch go off on its own terms.”
As Mark Kenyon has pointed out in the past, this is one of the easiest ways to remedy target panic, which often includes pulling the trigger when the pin hits the bullseye. For many archers, releasing back tension eliminates the anxiety caused by hasty shots and errant arrows.
not enough practice
This one may seem obvious, but many bowhunters simply don’t practice enough. The goal of practicing is to create a complete sequence of shots that is second nature, so that muscle memory kicks in at the moment of truth. This is not something you can do in a couple of weekend sessions before the opening.
While many archers want to prepare for long bombs at 40, 50, and 60 yards, they don’t practice enough within 20. Practicing at longer ranges is helpful for highlighting imperfections, but most hunters will sit on deer trails that they are less than 25 yards away. These are the shots you need to be more skilled with.
“I shot my three largest whitetails at 8, 10 and 13 yards,” said MeatEater hunting editor Spencer Neuharth. “I would almost prefer to have those dollars at 20 or 25 yards. At 10 yards, your pins and scope cover the deer so much that you’re hardly ready to find vital signs at that distance.”
You should also make sure you practice the same way you will hunt: with broadheads, from elevated positions, with or without a quiver, in the wind, and in hunting clothing. Drilling the bullseye into a blocky target in your manicured backyard is great, but it’s not quite the same as shooting a 3D whitetail out of a tree. You can find more tips for better practice in Tony Peterson’s article “The Archery Routine That Will Help You Kill More Deer.”
That said, there is excess practice. As soon as your form starts to falter and you feel yourself getting shakier with each shot, it’s probably time to call it a day. By shooting too much, you can do more harm than good by reinforcing bad habits. Instead of trying to accomplish everything in one 45-minute session, break it up into two 20-minute sessions or three 15-minute sessions.
By taking stock of your equipment and form, you can cure almost all of your archery ailments. Piece by piece, it’s easy to go from regularly navigating arrows to killing the bullseye every time. That will translate into killing more bugs.
Featured image via Captured Creative.