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How to Shoot a Traditional Bow

How to Shoot a Traditional Bow

What I love about my traditional bow, a longbow in my case, is that it oozes simplicity. No fancy gears or screws or sights. Simply a piece of wood and string used to propel an arrow. My “stickbow”, as I affectionately refer to is as, has limited points of failure aside from my own skill and confidence.

The process of shooting a traditional bow, in a sense, is simple too. Regardless, there are certain techniques and skills that are unique to traditional archery and therefore must be learned in order to properly shoot a traditional bow. For the most part, they are all quick skills to learn and only require proper practice and repetition to keep sharp.

Traditional Archery Shooting Form

There are many different factors to consider when developing your shooting form and technique for traditional archery. Lets take a look at some of the needed skills to be aware of and different techniques to learn below.


As is the case with most forms of shooting, archery or firearms, a proper form begins with a proper stance. A standing shot is the most comfortable position to learn from with traditional archery. Giving yourself a shoulder width stance is a proper and stable position, whether your feet are parallel or turned out is a matter of personal preference.

String Grasp

Wearing a proper shooting glove or shooting tab in your dominant hand, you will grasp the bow grip below the arrow shelf rest with your non-dominant hand.

When grasping the string and arrow, the best method for beginners and most commonly used in modern traditional archery is a three finger method. There are two methods to do this.

Three Finger Under


You can grab the string with three fingers underneath the arrow nock using either a glove or tab. This method allows you to place the closer to your eye and you can treat it as a sight plant.



A method I have found to work well for myself, is the split-finger method. This is where the arrow nock is in between your index and middle finger. I have found this method to allow me better grip and control of the arrow to prevent it from falling off the rest. For this type of draw, a shooting tab such as this must be used.

Now that you have your options for grasping the string, it is time to nock and arrow and try shooting. Remember, it is important to never fire your bow without an arrow on the string, as is the case with compound bows. It can seriously damage your archery equipment.

Drawing the Bow

You have two methods here, you may begin with a straight arm extended outward, and draw with your dominant arm. Alternatively, you may use what is known as the “push-pull” method, where your bow arm is held closer to your body and pushed away while simultaneously draw the string with your dominant arm. Try both to see what suits you best. I have found that in hunting scenarios, different situations may call for different methods. It can never hurt to practice both!

Drawing your bow back seems like a simple task. More muscle, right? Not exactly. What many beginners attempt to due is to pull with their arms. Instead, imagine pulling with your back and shoulder muscles, your arms are simple holding the bow and string. At full draw, you want your bow arm, arrow, and opposite forearm to all be inline.

You may be wondering at what point do you stop pulling the bow? With a compound, you have a set draw length. With a traditional bow, you have a varying draw length. This will increase in the draw weight as you increase the draw length.

Anchor Point

What will ultimately determine your draw length is your anchor point. Your anchor point is a spot on your face that you will develop consistent practice to bring your dominant draw hand to. For me, that would be my middle finger to the corner of my mouth. For some of my fellow archers, it may be the bottom of the jawbone, or just below the eye. Traditional archery is by no means restrictive and requires personal experimentation.

Now you are at the point to let arrows fly! You have a strong stance, a proper grasp on the bow, a method to grasp the string, and a method to anchor your string for release. You want the release to be quick and consistent. This may take practice.
If you are just starting out, it is best to start close to the target and just let a few arrows fly. You want to get a feel for it first. Now let’s look at proper techniques for aiming and shooting.

Traditional Archery Shooting Technique

I practice archery for a number of reasons, one of which is that I enjoy the simplicity in developing and refining movements and actions. For traditional archery, developing a consistent and natural shooting process is paramount to learning the sport.

A true traditional bow is void of sights. On a compound bow you have one or multiple pins that correspond to aiming points for certain distances. On a longbow or recurve, there is nothing on the bow design to be a device by which to aim with, though some may choose to ad a special site. Instead, the bow must be aimed using some sort of point of reference on the bow, or may be shot in a method that is referred to as instinctive.

Gap Shooting

For the learning archery, a point of reference to aim with helps the learning curve. In a method known as “gap shooting”, you will use the arrow tip as a sort of “sight”. You will place the arrow tip above or below your intended target. This “gap” between arrow tip and target will depend on how far or close you are. This will take some practice to develop your ability and learn your gap sizes at varying distances.

Instinctive Shooting

When shooting a traditional bow becomes second nature, this is what we refer to as “instinctive shooting”. Think about throwing a baseball. When you throw it, you don’t really have anything to aim with. You just look at where you want the ball to go, and your body seems to do the rest. This is the idea of instinctive shooting.
When you develop the ability to shoot instinctively, the bow and arrow almost becomes an extension of yourself. You have shot it so many times that you can look where you want your arrow to go, draw, look again, release, and hit your target. This is usually done without properly calculating yardage or thinking too much beyond the instinctiveness of it. Just like throwing a ball.

Practicing Traditional Archery

Now that you have a basic framework for traditional archery, it is time to practice. With your newfound knowledge of different techniques to shoot, its now time to experiment. Try different string grip techniques and anchor methods, see what feels more comfortable and natural to you.

For myself, I draw my bow split finger. I use a push pull draw beginning with the bow pointing down. As I draw, I bring the bow to my intended target. My dominant hand anchors my middle finger to the corner of my mouth. I focus intently on a small aspect of my target and quickly release the arrow through instinct.

Once you determine your preferences, you want to develop repetitive and consistent practice. When I practice, I just imagine eliminating as much of the variablility between shots as possible. I strive for every shot to be the same as the last. From the way I look at the target, to fine tuning my glove hand release. Consistency is the name of the game.

Throw out your target in the yard or better yet, get into the woods for some scenario practice! With lower velocity shots, arrows are less susceptible to damage and rotten stumps along with mounds of dirt make excellent in-situ shot scenarios in the forest. “Stump-shooting” is one of my favorite methods for honing my hunting skills. Don’t forget to practice different real life shooting scenarios as discussed in our previous post.

Now it is time to get out and have some fun with that stick and string! Fall in love with the simplicity and hone your skills.

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