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Traditional archery shooting technique

By Dr Dietmar Vorderegger

Traditional archery is a fascinating activity. So it comes as no surprise that the number of people taking up archery as a sports discipline is rising steadily. Whereas ten or 15 years ago archers still had a hard time relying heavily on the know-how of experts, archers can today avail themselves of a rich treasury of literature or archery courses.

The new series in Africa's Bowhunter will deal with this subject in a number of instalments. The first part will deal with shooting technique. Here the focus is on the sequence of motions which always remains the same.

Part 1 - Shooting technique
When we examine traditional archery, we find that several areas can be distinguished. To start with, there's the shooting technique. From taking up your position right to the end of the follow-through, the shooting procedure must remain consistent. You know your shooting technique is correct when the direction of your shot remains the same. The lateral deviation of the hits will be small.

The second important area is taking aim. The main issue here is the correct determination of the shooting angle. How you position your bow hand at the correct angle depends on the aiming technique you use – of which there are several.
And then the shooting and aiming technique has to be adapted to the terrain as well.

The three basics
Although there are a number of variants of archery, they are all based on the same principles. A shooting technique is then built on these principles, or basics; so is my own technique. It's only after one has mastered a technique that one can develop a personal style.
Basic 1
Basic 1 is that you should always take up the same stance. Whether you assume an open, closed or any other stance does not make so much of a difference. The important point is that it should always be the same. Nevertheless, a parallel stance is recommended, because it's the easiest stance to control. This basic also means that you should also assume the same posture. This means that the position of the legs and the attitude of the upper body and head must always be the same.
Basic 2
A further important point is the draw. It should always remain the same. Here attention must be paid to the bow arm, the anchor and the back tension. If precision is not maintained in all respects, the draw will come out differently each time, and the arrows will either overshoot the target or fall short.
Basic 3
Upon release, your hand should always move back in line with the flight of the arrow. Just how far is a matter of individual preference.

Step 1: The stance
The stance is the start of the shot. This is a truism that should not even need to be emphasised. However, the fact that the stance is the starting point of a process on which the subsequent elements depend is somewhat less obvious. Since each shot is defined as a process, the correct stance is very important. If your stance is stable, you will also shoot much better.

Many archers pay no or little attention to this element. The way they happen to be standing at the time is considered good enough. Consequently, one sees the most impossible postures. If you always do it the same way, a habituation effect will also occur, and the errors which inevitably result may also be cancelled out to some extent.

Checking your stance

If you adopt a stance deliberately, it obviously also becomes possible to check it. You can already do this when you practise or train. Then you will not forget this step in the field either.

In order to check whether the stance is parallel, take up a parallel stance, hold the bow downward in front of your body so that it aligns with the tips of your feet and check whether the bow is pointing at the target. A second option is to do it with the arrow.

Parallel stance.
Checking your stance before the shot: the bow is lined up with the tips of the feet. If it points exactly at the target, you are standing parallel.

Parallel stance.

Possible errors
An incorrect stance can already be the cause of a poor shot or even a miss. On the one hand, it may be that you are allowing too little time – especially in the field – to assume the optimal stance; on the other, you may have selected an incorrect stance you did not actually intend.

Step 2: Posture
The posture essentially depends on what bow you are shooting with. For longbows and recurves, different postures are possible.
Body and head postures with a longbow
The longbow is very often held at an angle. The knees are bent slightly and the upper body is inclined forward a little. If the upper body is bent forward, the distance between shoulder and arrow increases. One of the effects is that the string does not hit the forearm of the bow hand after the release. The lower leg is parallel to the upper body.

1-Poor stance: Extremely open stance. 2-Poor stance: Extremely twisted stance. 3-Poor stance: Legs close together.

 < Poor stance: Legs very far apart.            > Good posture with the longbow.

The bow and the axis of the eyes form a right angle.    

< Correct posture with the recurve bow.       

> The bow and the axis of the eyes always form a right angle.

Posture with the recurve bow
If you are using a recurve with a large sight window and a rest, the large sight window also allows you to assume a straight posture. Once again, the "T" configuration applies (formed by the upper body and shoulder).


Possible errors     

 < Legs straight and upper body inclined forward.   

> Upper body straight and knees bent.  

Posture changes during shooting

Step 3: Bow arm and drawing arm
The bow hand
In shooting with the recurve, longbow and self bow, the back of the hand is usually bent when shooting. The distance between the arm pointing towards the target and the direction of view is then greater. At the middle of the hand, the pressure point of the bow hand lies exactly on the carpus below the thumb.
The bow fingers
The hand does not close tightly around the bow. A grip that is too firm could twist the bow. In order to keep the bow exactly in the shooting direction, it is advisable to let the fingers of the bow hand rest loosely on the grip. When the bow is drawn, it automatically lines up with the shooting direction.

< Back of the hand is bent: The distance between arrow and bow arm is greater.    

> The pressure point lies in line with the bones of the forearm.




The bow arm elbow
Stabilisation over the length of the bones requires firstly getting the pressure point right, but also a straight elbow. This will ensure that, at least in this regard, the draw always remains the same.
< Longbow with standard grip: the fingers just lie loosely on the grip.    

> Longbow with standard grip: the fingers just lie loosely on the grip.  

< Correct shoulder position.






The bow arm shoulder
If you are shooting with a bow that is too stiff, you tend to push your shoulder inward and upward. This can cause the string to hit your shoulder when you release the arrow. Instead, the shoulder should be kept in its normal position.

Drawing hand
In traditional shooting, there are two ways of holding the string: the Mediterranean draw and the 'three-under' or Apache draw. In the former, one finger lies above and two fingers lie below the arrow. In the three-under draw, all three fingers lie below the arrow, with the index finger always in contact with the arrow. Depending on which archery rules you follow (IFAA or WA), the three-under draw is allowed for recurves

The fingers may be bent to a greater or lesser degree. A distinction is made between a deep and a shallow hook. The string lies after the first digit of all three fingers, exactly in the fold. If you pull the string in this way, you do not have to bend your fingers; they will automatically bend from the tension applied to them when the bow is fully drawn. This takes a relatively strong force.

< Mediterranean draw: One finger above and two fingers below the arrow.

< Shallow hook.

< Deep hook.

< Three-under (Apache) draw: Three fingers below the arrow.


Possible errors           
< Bow hand error: Bow gripped too hard; knuckles and nails turn white.

< Bow hand error: Pressure point not in the grip.

< Bow hand error: Pressure point not in the grip.

< Bow hand error: Pressure point not in the grip.


< Bow arm error: Shoulder too high.

< Drawing hand error: Fingers too far apart.

< Drawing hand error: String not placed behind first digit.    

The movements of the hands and the fit on the string of the fingers are partly in the millimetre range. This makes a certain degree of accuracy essential.

Step 4: The draw
The full draw starts with the predraw. In this phase the string is pulled back up to three thirds. In this phase, the important thing is to harmonise posture, bow and drawing arm. Having held this position for a few seconds, the full draw up to the anchor point starts. This phase is executed without interruption.

Method with arm in full draw position.
In the first variant, the bow is already held in the shooting position. In this position, you also first predraw and then proceed to the full draw. If you want to shoot instinctively, you might experience the problem of having the point of the arrow in your field of vision during the entire process.

Swing draw (straight arm method)
A second possibility is to hold the bow in front of you, pointing down, with your bow arm straight, and predrawing in this position. The bow arm idea is then raised and the string is drawn back to the anchor point.

Shoulder and drawing arm in full draw
At full draw, the shoulder should be slightly raised. This puts the drawing arm slightly higher than the bow arm too. The two are parallel to each other. One frequently sees that the elbow of the drawing arm is slightly higher. This can easily be tolerated, and no desperate attempt need be made to change this. However, the elbow must never drop below the line of the bow arm.

Possible errors

< The drawing arm is slightly raised and parallel to the bow arm.

> The drawing arm elbow may also be somewhat higher.




Step 5: Anchor and reference points

< In the draw, the head and upper body move backward.   

> Drawing arm and elbow too low backward.

< Drawing arm and elbow too high.




Anchor point
The anchor point is that point on the face which is touched by the drawing hand when the arrow is released. The choice of this point depends quite heavily on the individual's technique. The smaller the angle between the line of sight and the arrow, the better. Another important point is that the string should be as close to the eye as possible.

Reference points
The point where the finger touches the corner of the mouth, for example, is called the reference point (R1) The more such points one has, the better. Sports archers use 'kissers' for this or put the string to their nose. However, as this does not work in traditional archery, one has to think of something else.

As a second reference point (R2) for a neat anchor point, the jawbone comes to mind. The jawbone has the advantage that it is hard. If you put your thumb under your jaw, you have a second reference point which, more­over, leaves even less play than the first. Now the draws all have the same length and the shots are all at the same height.

Back tension
Once you have reached the anchor point, it is important to build up your back tension. To put it simply, here the three points – arrow rest, anchor point and elbow – are all brought in line. You have to move the elbow backward. An arrow that is shot with back tension has a significantly higher speed than one without it.

A simple explanation of back tension would be that as soon as you have reached the anchor point you draw the bow farther, but without moving the drawing hand farther from the anchor point. The only way of doing this is to pull your elbow back.

Possible errors

< Back tension: Arrow rest, anchor point and elbow are on a single line.

< Air anchor: In this variant the drawing hand does not contact the face. The draw cannot be controlled. Moreover, the line of sight and the shooting direction do not correspond.

< Unfavourable: Cheek anchor.

< Unfavourable: Cheek anchor.



Step 6: Release
Releasing (loosing) the arrow actually is not an active, but a passive act. You stop doing something – you stop keeping your fingers bent. To do this, simply let your fingers go. Easier said than done. If you are shooting with back tension, that is you are always under tension, then the drawing hand moves in the direction exactly opposite to the flight of the arrow. Just how far the hand moves back is a personal matter.

It's easiest to simply leave your hand at your face. In this case it just moves back a few millimetres. The only important point is that the release should always take place the same way.

Good release: The bow hand moves back in line with the flight of the arrow. Just how far is a matter of individual preference. It can vary from a few millimetres up to several centimetres.

Possible errors

Examples of poor release: The hand does not move in the direction opposite to the flight of the arrow. This was most likely an active and deliberate release.

Typical sign of active release: fingers spread apart.

Step 7: Follow-through
The shooting process is not yet over when the arrow has been released. Following through means that you remain in the shooting position at least until the arrow has reached the target. This is important because, on the one hand, you do not then lower the arrow before or during the release. On the other hand, when you are shooting instinctively you need to observe the flight of the arrow, so that trajectories for the respective distances are imprinted in your subconscious.

Possible errors

< Follow-through: Remain in the shooting position until the arrow has reached the target.

> Error: The hand is often dropped immediately after the shot.



Updated: Thursday, June 20, 2013 4:51 PM


About the Author

Dietmar Vorderegger

Dietmar Vorderegger

Dietmar Vorderegger who publishes 3-D Bogensport and Compound Magazin in Austria. Dietmar is a keen traditional archer and a world champion with the longbow. He is also a keen bow hunter and has hunted many times in South Africa. Dietmar has written many books on traditional archery skill, which are unfortunately only available in German.


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