When we were kids my brother and I ran through the woods with our bows and arrows shooting arrows all over from day break until sundown, like an Iroquois hunting party. Given the geographic location we grew up, it seemed fitting, seeing as we both ended up graduating from Iroquois Central High School, in Elma, NY. We shot stumps, logs and the occasional bullfrog. Come to think of it, I haven’t had frog legs in a long time. We better get the boys out and do some frogging this summer.
That being said, the years of shooting we did, developed the basis of our shooting form. As we have matured and the technology of our archery equipment has evolved, we also have evolved as archers, by taking our practice much more serious and focused. Concentrating on mechanics to build muscle memory, so in the moment of truth, we go into auto pilot and make the shot.
Today – our kids truly enjoy shooting their bows. However, with the speed at which the world is moving today, with the year-round sports and other activities the kids are involved in. Our kids do not have the time, to run through the woods all day long, developing their form and muscle memory like we did as kids.
As I noticed this, I thought about how I could help them develop proper form, technique and muscle memory in the limited time we have, to practice shooting our bows. All the while, keeping it fun and entertaining for them and not making it like work.
This is how I teach shooting archery, which may be very different than the way others teach. As a teacher it is our job to identify the strengths and weakness’ of our students, to help them find the answers they are after.
When my older boys were beginning to shoot I wanted to grab their attention and give them a connection to something that I knew they could wrap their heads around. Because they are very intelligent, (not that they show it all the time) I came up with a formula for shot accuracy.
Murray’s Formula for Accuracy
(Pr + Pe) (C + FT) = Accuracy
(Practice + Persistence) x (Concentration + Follow Through) = Accuracy
To my surprise it worked. The boys grabbed it and ran with it. It made our practice sessions much more focused. From there, we started from the ground up, literally…
When I sat down and thought about all the steps of my pre-shot process I was somewhat shocked at how much truly goes into something we generally don’t even think about after a while. This is the shot sequence I teach or coach beginner archers…
Feet – our feet are set parallel from one another about shoulder width apart and perpendicularly square to the target with the outside of the lead foot facing the target. Also the lead foot (one closest to the target) pulled slightly backwards from that of the back foot about 1 inch. By pulling the lead foot back just a little, it will open your stance up just a bit to reduce the possibility of string friction on your arm or body during the draw or release. It also helps open up your hips, just a bit.
Knees – Our knees are bent slightly for comfort and stability. By bending our knees just slightly it lowers our center of gravity making us more stable. I teach this especially to new bowhunters, so they become accustom to this, so it becomes second nature to them when they get into a tree-stand.
Hips – Our hips are opened just slightly toward the side of our bow hand. The reason I teach this position for our hips is to assist in our draw. When we begin to draw our bow, we twist our hips back, so our hips are back in position over our knees at full draw. By learning to use our core muscles to assist in draw, we reduce strain and fatigue of the upper back shoulders and arms, but this also helps to produce a smooth consistent draw. Also, if we are shooting from an elevated position we bend at the hips keeping everything in line and on the same plane as if we were shooting from a level position with the target.
Grip – Proper grip needs to be identified by each individual shooter with their equipment. However, we should try to make sure that the back strap of the bow grip finds the center of the “Y” of the hand between the thumb and index finger in line with the radius bone of the forearm. Your fingers should gently hold the bow. Depending on the length of your fingers and the grip of your bow, your finger position and placement may vary. The two most important things to remember are #1. Keep the backstrap in the “Y” of the hand and #2. Do not hold the bow with a tight grip. If you do, you may be subject to bow torque, which will affect shot placement. I personally hold my bow with my thumb, index finger and middle finger. With the tip of my index finger resting on the front of my grip with my middle and ring finger resting on the left side of my grip.
Shoulders – Our shoulders follow our hips through the draw and end up above the hips which are in line above the knees.
Draw – The bow arm is extended towards the target and the string arm draws he string straight back to our anchor point. As we draw we twist slightly at the hips using those core muscles to assist in the draw. Once we come to full draw and reach our anchor point, we acquire sight picture and begin to aim. (when my sons were young, I allowed them to push up and out on the bow as they drew the bow, coming to full draw, then lowering to find their sight picture. As they got stronger, we’ve changed their draw to reflect the way it is laid out above.) The string arm elbow should be held directly behind and in-line with the arrow at full draw. Proper anchor point is determined by each individual shooter’s preference and should be located where they feel comfortable. As a rule of thumb, shooters shooting with a release draw so their hand locks behind the jaw and shooters shooting with fingers draw to the corner of their mouth.
Aim – After achieving proper anchor point and discussing sight picture, I have them hold on target for 2-3 seconds before releasing the string. The time at which they are holding full draw is not important, as a coach I am more concerned with paying attention to their breathing. I am looking for a full breath in and out through their nose.
Release – Letting the string go takes a split second. What I am looking for here, is grip torque and follow through. For the most part, my guys don’t have a problem with grip torque until they start to get tired. Follow through is more important here. I want them to continue to aim and count, 1 – one thousand, 2 – one thousand, 3 – one thousand, before lowering their bows. That extra 3 seconds of holding the bow with the pin on the target, we are using them to build muscle memory to prevent them from dropping the bow to watch the arrow hit the target. This also helps build strength in the upper back, shoulder and arm. If we are anticipating the hit, before we release the string there is the potential that we may drop the bow too soon during the release causing ill flying arrows.
This practice regimen is pretty stringent to try and tackle all at once. When we started, we only worked on a couple parts a night, until the guys were ready to put them all together. We build slowly, and within a few trips to the range they are shooting with the proper form. When we start shooting and are working on form we only shoot at 10 yards or less. Once the form is there and they are hitting where they are aiming and building confidence, we start shooting further. Also, something else to keep in mind, we need to keep these training sessions fun and not make them work.
Remember, if your kids have had a rough day and are having a hard time concentrating, take a step back from the “work” and have some fun. By no means do we let the form slip but make games out of it. Shoot at different small aiming point’s or try making the shooter call his shot. Our guys use to get a kick out of shooting at the eye-ball of our old 3D Target. Obviously were not influencing them to take a head shot at a deer in the woods, but during our practice sessions a black circle the size of a quarter makes a pretty good target.
How many arrows do we shoot? When we’re practicing we only shoot up to 3 arrows apiece before going down range to retrieve them. We could shoot more but with the limited amount of time we have, getting fatigued and developing bad habits is what we’re trying to avoid. Developing bad habits will take more time to correct and sadly that’s the one thing we do not have much of “Time”. Occasionally bad habits develop and we need to slow down and go back to our structure and tighten up our form to get back on track.
I know there are a lot of us out there with a very limited amount of time. This time shooting with our kids truly is more than just target practice. This is a time we get to bond with them away from the TV or Computer. It’s also a great opportunity to watch them learn to control their minds and bodies to make good shots. Trust me when I say this, the smiles they will have on their faces, when they start shooting tight groups and busting nocks, will be a reward that will make you one proud parent or coach, even if you have to start buying more arrows and nocks.
If anyone ever runs into my kids out there in the world and you need to get their attention, all you need to say, is Feet, Knees, Hips…. They will stop whatever they are doing and subconsciously prepare to shoot their bow with perfect form and I couldn’t be more proud of it.
Just Remember, (Practice + Persistence) x (Concentration + Follow Through) = Accuracy
This formula for accuracy holds true for everything we do in life, not just shooting bows and arrows…. Shoot Straight….
For more please go to: Paul Murray
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