Shooting a compound bow is not like shooting a rifle, though some of the methods and execution are the same. It’s not as simple as it looks in the Robin Hood movies, where every show peels the feathers off the fletching with every release.
If you’re looking to shoot a compound bow in tournaments, every facet of good shooting and all of the good habits that come with it have to become second nature. The problem with most beginners is not that they aren’t capable, it’s that they develop bad habits right from the start.
Bad habits kill talent and skill as surely as the sun rises and sets each day. From there, it gets even more complicated because there is more than one way to do it right. Not every accurate hunter or tournament shooter follows the exact, same process.
11 Tips for Shooting a Compound Bow
If you think 11 is a lot, it’s really not. In fact, 11 tips for shooting a compound bow is more like the beginner phase of teaching you how to accurately send carbon shafts downrange with the smooth, timeless grace you expect from the start. But everyone has to start somewhere.
1. Proper Stance
Everything begins with the proper stance. Your stance is the tripod to your telescope. Without a solid tripod, good luck trying to see anything through a telescope. Your body should be aligned perpendicular to your target.
Your feet should be set shoulder-length apart. Everything extends from there, including the different types of foot placements.
2. Back Tension
As in most things, you want good posture when shooting a compound bow. Good posture, in this instance, will aid you in drawing the cable back. If you’ve ever done rows in the gym, you’ll have an idea of where we are going with this. Your back muscles should be the primary, driving force behind your draw.
If you are using your arm to draw, you’re doing it the wrong way.
3. Compound, Olympic, or Traditional Style
When you draw, you create a contact point with your draw hand. There are three different styles to choose from, depending on which one you are the most comfortable with and which provides you with the most success.
The Olympic style is a pull to the chin, with the cable contacting the tip of your nose. Compound style requires a mechanical shooting aid because you draw it back even farther, contacting just behind your jawbone.
The traditional style is a pull to the mouth, with the aiming point becoming the shaft of the arrow and the tip.
4. Peep Sight
The peep sight is the bow equivalent of the rear sight aperture on a rifle or handgun. Its location along the cable is crucial. Too high or too low and it will cause you to naturally fall into the wrong position. As you would with a rifle, the bow sight should be solid in your vision, surrounded by the peep sight, and the target blurred in the background.
There are two ways to release—the old-fashioned way, with your fingers, and through the means of a mechanical release trigger, which makes bow shooting feel more like shooting a firearm. There’s no way around it, however, the mechanical aid is far superior for accurate shooting than the finger release.
Your grip on the bow should remain relaxed the entire time. The tension from drawing back will maintain the bow in the natural resting point between your index finger and thumb (the hollow of your hand). There is no reason to grip hard with your hand.
7. Elbow Flex
The hollow of your arm should be pointed up, with your elbow facing down (on the arm that’s holding the bow). You can achieve this without twisting the bow, so that you’re firing it sideways. Just allow your arm to twist slightly while maintaining the V-cup grip with your hand.
8. The T-Form
When you stand perpendicular to the target, your back should be straight, and your draw should come straight back, drawing elbow slightly elevated to raise the contact point. When you are standing the right way, you form a T, with a slightly upraised rear elbow.
9. Follow Through
Keep your sight on the target, even as you release and well after your release. Your grip should remain relaxed on the bow. Don’t allow yourself to tense up your grip at any point throughout the shooting process. Don’t drop your bow—keep it up and directly aligned with the target.
Just like a firearm, you fire during the natural pause between breaths. Since most compound bow shooters utilize a mechanical trigger device, the relationship between shooting an arrow and firing a rifle becomes closer.
11. The release should surprise you
A slow and steady pull on the trigger. When the mechanic trigger releases, it should surprise you, and you should be caught between releasing your breath and taking in a new breath.
How to Hold the Bow when Shooting
This is why the T-form is so important. Strong in the front and strong in the back. The hand gripping the bow should form a V-cup, with the grip sitting directly in the center of the cup. You only have to grip the bow until you draw.
The pressure from the draw will hold the grip in the V-cup shape of your hand. As you draw, relax the fingers holding the grip and let the energy of your draw take care of the rest for you. Once you draw back, enough pressure will remain that you won’t even have to curl your fingers around the bow grip if you don’t want to.
For the most part, when you draw, you will do so with a mechanical release trigger. This trigger has a sort-of pincer/pliers head that clamps over the cable. The back end wraps around your hand like a semi-glove. The trigger is located between the grip and the glove, with your index finger resting right next to it.
Proper Archery Form
When you draw straight back, using your back muscles for the majority of the work, your rear elbow should be pointed directly behind you and slightly raised—just enough to allow you to create a proper contact point.
Your body should be perpendicular to the target, with your feet shoulder length apart. Ultimately, your archery form will create a “T.” The arm you’re holding the bow with should be twisted slightly, with the hollow of your elbow pointing straight up and your elbow pointing down. The contact point is up to you. You can use the traditional, Olympic, or compound variation that suits your style.
Sitting here, reading all of this is not going to make you a better or more accurate shooter. Take what you’ve read here and go put it into practice. You can read all day long about how to design a paracord, sanctified bracelet, but you’re never going to do it if all you do is read and never practice.
Shooting with a compound bow is a lot of fun and it’s certainly cheaper than burning through firearm ammo and buying more by the case. When you start, back off ten yards. When you consistently hit your mark, back off an additional ten yards.
From there, you can back off as much as you want, so long as the range is good. But no matter how far you are from the target, the way you shoot, and the things you learned here, stay the same.