How to Shoot a Compound Bow
What is a Compound Bow?
Compound bows are faster, more powerful and more accurate than traditional bows. Whereas traditional bows, such as longbows or recurve bows, are simply a bent limb connected by a string, compound bows are far more complex. Compound bows feature a series of pulleys and wheels that reduce the strength required to hold the bowstring providing greater accuracy while actually allowing for increase power.
It is common to have compound bows with up to 80% “let-off”. This means that a bow with a 70lb draw weight, would actually only require 14lbs of force to hold at full draw. This reduced pressure also allows users to wield higher draw weight bows comfortably, so they can shoot at higher speeds with heavier arrows with extreme accuracy.
Compound bows also utilize a shorter limb length. Typical traditional bows can be as long as 6 feet tall. This cumbersome to hold and move, along with being heavier than smaller bows. Compound bows designed for hunting are usually around 30″ tall, with some compact triangle bows even less than 20″ tall.
The archer’s paradox is a phenomenon known well by traditional archers as the bow limb is directly in the path of the string and arrow. This requires the arrow to rest on either side of the bow. When fired the arrow flexes and bends around the bow, then continues to flex in the air, eventually straightening out just before hitting the target. Compound bows feature a center cut out that keeps the arrow centered along the string with no interference along the way.
Which Compound Bow is Right for You?
The best choice of bow will depend on your purpose. The two main groups of compound bow users are either interested in target archery or hunting. Target archers are general only interested in accuracy, while hunters must also consider bow size, arrow speeds, and the overall kinetic energy they can transfer into a target.
Draw length is the first major factor when choosing a bow and it’s important to choose the correct length. A good starting point is to measure your wingspan and divide by 2.5. This is just a rough estimate as the way you draw, your anchor point, and release will all change this measurement.
Too long a draw length and you’ll find it hard to hold and maintain accurate shot groups. Too short and you will not reach your full drawing potential wasting valuable energy and speed. In the end, find what is comfortable and practice. Don’t try to pull a 40″ bow because you want to get the fastest arrow out there.
Draw weight requirements for hunting will depend on your state laws. Usually, a minimum of 30-40 lbs is required for big game. 40-70lb bows are commonly used for hunting, while 90+ lb bows exist, you don’t need a 1000lb bow to kill a rabbit and certainly don’t need it for a paper target. Heavier draw weights will be harder to hold, aim and be consistent with. You can also hurt yourself pulling too much weight, so use something you’re comfortable and work up in draw weight over time.
Are Compound Bows Hard to Maintain?
Compounds bows do have higher maintenance requirements than traditional bows as there are more moving parts. Pulley timing has to be checked to keep arrows flying straight and a bow press is often needed to make adjustments. It’s a good idea to get to know your local bow shop as they will be able to fix any problems you may have and often are very knowledgeable about archery in general.
It is important to look after your bow with regular waxing, string replacements, and maintaining other parts. Compound bows hold a lot of energy. A worn string could snap and cause serious injury to the user. Never dry fire your bow as doing so releases all the stored energy into the limbs of the bow and can destroy it or cause future accidents.
What are the Steps to Shoot a Compound Bow?
After just a few hours at the range, you’ll notice each person has their own opinion on how to shoot a compound bow. The way they grip the bow, anchor, and release will all show be influenced by tendencies, habits, and personal touches. This can be good in that you do what is comfortable, but also bad in that there are numerous bad habits people develop that prevents them from higher levels of accuracy.
While shooting is a personal thing and preferences will come about, there is a solid base of techniques that all beginners should use as a starting point in their archery careers. You can watch Jim Gilmore, a Hunter Education course instructor, provide a quick step-by-step shooting process video below.
Start with Your Feet.
Stance is vital to proper shooting. Keep your feet shoulder width apart, perpendicular to the target, and parallel to one another pointing forwards. Turn your body 90 degrees from your feet so that you’re facing your target. This is the basic and most stable platform you’ll see archers use. However, keep in mind that hunters often shoot from various positions bending, seated, standing, kneeling, so the situation will dictate your position.
Relax Your Arms.
Your arms hold and control the bow, so grip and position are important. Your bow arm, the one holding the bow, should extend away from you with a slight bend at the elbow, shoulder down, and relax your arm. Don’t tense all of your muscles, even your hand should be relaxed and fingers slightly open. A death grip on your bow will result in torque on the bow and inaccurate shot groups.
Your drawing arm, the arm that pulls the bow string, should have a high or centered elbow with respect to your chest. Generally, people will lower their elbow to draw when the bow draw weight is too high and they need extra force. How to draw and where to anchor.
The Draw Cycle.
When drawing back the bowstring it is important to pull with your larger back muscles and not just your arms. When you reach full draw you need to have a solid anchor point. Anchor points are a personal thing as we all have different body and facial structures, but the fundamental idea behind the anchor point is simple. If you set the bow to the exact same position and release the exact same way, the arrow will hit the exact same spot.
The most basic anchor point is with the bow string touching the tip of your nose, corner of your mouth, and your hand or wrist should be against your jaw. A kisser button, a little piece of rubber attached to your bowstring, is sometimes used as a reference point. When the button touches the corner of your mouth you know you’re in the correct spot. Professional competitive archer and hunter John Dudley goes in depth on how to shoot a compound bow in this video below.
Having two or more anchor points is great as it gives you more reference points so you know when your body is in the right position. Practice this pose and be able to do it with your eyes closed so you naturally always draw to this position. Find your anchor, memorize the position, and you’ll go there automatically.
It may seem simple, but aiming is more than just putting a dot on a target. There are dozens of varieties of sights and scopes to choose from. Multi-pin setups are great for when your target may quickly change ranges, such as when hunting. Single pin sights clear up the clutter and give you a larger image to focus on.
Choosing your sight is largely up to preference, but sighting your bow in must be done correctly. There are several methods to sight in a bow, walk back tuning is particularly popular and accurate.
How to Release and Follow Through.
There are several methods to fire a compound bow. Common release aids are wrist or trigger releases, thumb controlled and back tension releases, and even just using your fingers. Release aids greatly improve accuracy by creating constant and controlled releases of the string each and every time you fire.
Finger firing is the least accurate method as it is difficult to draw and hold the weight of heavy bows with just the tips of your fingers. This style of release is also subject to minor changes in grip that can affect arrow flight.
Wrist and trigger releases are the most popular as they remove the need for finger strength. Wrist straps allow users to pull using their back muscles and ignore forearm and finger strength. Triggers can be set to various tensions, but are extremely sensitive and release with the slightest touch. While drawing make sure to keep your finger off of the trigger! Clumsy fingers can accidently cause early releases and result in injury.
The most important factor in having high accuracy is releasing smoothly. Once at full draw, put your finger on the trigger and slowly squeeze. The shot should almost come as a surprise. You do not want to jerk or pull the trigger as this slight movement will have an impact on your bow and throw off your aim at the last moment. Holding your breath at the moment of release or slowly exhaling also provides an added bit of stability to a shot.
Back tension releases are relatively new, but extremely popular especially in the target archery world. These releases remove all finger and hand movement and are released simply by contracting your shoulder blades. When the string has reached the correct position the release will automatically open. These releases require a bit of practice to use but can improve your groups as you’re no longer twitching or squeezing your finger.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Compound bows are extremely accurate tools that allow anyone to have Robin Hood aim with just a few months in the sport. Time at the range, learning your bow, and understanding your movements are key to having reliable and accurate shots. While there are tons of tools, gadgets, and accessories to help improve your archery, the best thing you can do is get out there and practice.