We all experience it at some point. The frustration and disappointment of not being able to hit the center of the target. Perhaps you were shooting terrific and then all of a sudden it’s seems to completely fall apart. Or maybe you are just starting your archery journey and are having difficulty getting better. Don’t worry, chances are you are making at least one of these 10 very common mistakes. Read on to find out what they are and how to fix them.
Arrgh…I can’t seem to hit anything…what’s going on???
Mistake #1 Over Bowed
Over bowed means the draw weight of the bow is too heavy for you to be able to shoot with stability and consistency which are crucial to accuracy. If you are over bowed you will feel shaky, unable to hold your aim steady, and fatigue easily. Competition archery is a sport of precision and endurance NOT power. If your goal is to repeatedly hit bulls-eyes you need to be in full command of your bow and it’s draw weight. To find a decent draw weight try this simple 10 second test. Draw you bow back to anchor and hold it there for 10 seconds.
- If you feel any shaking, fatigue or especially muscle failure, you may be over bowed. Try a bow that is 5lbs lighter until you find a draw weight you can hold steady for 10 seconds. This is a more appropriate draw weight for you at this time.
- If you do not feel any shaking or fatigue, you are at an appropriate draw weight or you can try increasing your draw weight. Try a bow up to 5lbs heavier in draw weight and repeat the 10 second test. When you find a draw weight you can not hold steady for 10 seconds, you went too far.
If you are a bowhunter this test may be problematic. In hunting, power is important. You may need a heavier draw weight for hunting than you would for target shooting. Try reducing the time from 10 seconds to 3-5 seconds. If you are unable to hold steady for at least 3 seconds with the lowest draw weight necessary to hunt, I strongly urge you to reconsider bow hunting at this time. You may not be able to make the shot with enough confidence, stability, and accuracy to ethically hunt. You do not have to give it up, just work on strength training until you are ready. The US National team uses specific physical training (SPT) drills to increase strength, stamina, and power. Click here to learn how to use the SPTs for your training.
I have a lot more information about selecting an appropriate draw weight in my article “The controversial draw weight agenda”
Mistake #2 Neglecting Eye Dominance
Your eye dominance is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye over the other. To avoid major aiming difficulties it is important to determine your eye dominance so you can make appropriate corrections if they are necessary. Click here for a short video on how to determine your eye dominance and if you should be shooting right or left handed.
When shooting, the arrow is placed on the side of your face. It is imperative for only the eye directly above the arrow to aim. For a right handed archer, it is your right eye. If you shoot right handed but you are left eye dominant, you are cross dominant. There are two corrections for cross dominance.
- Close or cover your dominant eye, so that the eye above the arrow can aim
- Learn to shoot with the opposite hand so your dominant eye is above the arrow
If you do not have a clearly dominant eye, shoot the direction you are most comfortable and take appropriate measures make sure only the eye above the arrow is aiming.
Mistake #3 Unreliable Aiming Technique
Ironically, I believe you will have better results if you operate from the mind set that a good shot is 99% form (body positioning) and only 1% aim. If you do not have a decent amount of consistency in your form, the effectiveness of any aiming technique will be drastically reduced. However without a reliable aiming technique, exceptional results can never be achieved.
To illustrate this point, take a look at the following visual representation of common results arising from good form and bad form.
Having good form will allow you to be more accurate. The better your form is, the easier it will be to group your arrows together. While good form is imperative, aim should not be overlooked. Having good aim will allow you to be more precise. The better your aim is, the easier it will be to hit the center of the target. Notice in the diagram above, even without having good form, the results are better if you have good aim.
Learning and using a reliable aiming technique will only help you. As your form gets better, so will your results.
There are multiple aiming techniques. I recommend you start with a technique called Gap shooting. Gap shooting uses reference points to help you hit the bullseye. For an in-depth tutorial on how to gap shoot, I recommend downloading my free “gap shooting guide”
Mistake #4 Over Spined
The spine of the arrow is how flexible the shaft of the arrow is. An arrow must flex just the right amount to shoot straight. If it does not flex enough it is too stiff or over spined and if it flexes too much is is too weak or under spined. The most common problem especially for recurve archers with carbon arrows is over spine.
For a right handed archer, an over spined arrow will impact to the left even when you aim at the center. To fix this problem you need an arrow with a weaker spine. The spine of the arrow is labeled on the shaft of the arrow. Generally, the larger the number the weaker the spine. In the example below the spine of the arrow is labeled “600”
This is actually a 0.600″ (six hundred thousandths of an inch) deflection. Be aware, the number labeled is not necessarily the spine deflection. Check the manufactures spine chart to determine the actual spine of the arrow. For example an aluminum arrow commonly labeled as “2013”, is close to a 600 spine.
There are numerous factors that effect how much the spine will actually bend when the arrow is shot. To get the arrow to flex just right, I recommend starting by finding a reasonable spine and tuning from there. To find a reasonable starting spine you can use spine charts. To appropriately use the chart, you will need to know the length of your arrow and your actual draw weight. To find the arrow length, measure from the valley of the nock to the end of the shaft (excluding the point).
To find your actual draw weight you can use a bow scale or calculate your actual draw weight using the equation from my article “How your draw length affects your draw weight“. With these two measurements you can use spine charts like Easton Archery’s official spine chart to find an appropriate spine for you.
Below is a very quick reference you can use to see if your arrows are close to an appropriate spine rating: (quick reference is based on a 30” arrow with 100gr point)
- 15 lbs…..1200 spine
- 20 lbs…..1000 spine
- 30 lbs…..700 spine
- 40 lbs…..600 spine
- 50 lbs…..500 spine
- 60 lbs…..400 spine
- 70 lbs…..300 spine
- 80 lbs…..200 spine
Be careful, if your arrow is too weak for your draw weight you may be at risk of injury from your arrow breaking. If you are concerned that your arrows are too weak, please feel free to contact me or take your equipment to your local archery pro shop.
Mistake #5 Inappropriate Nock Locator Height
The nock locator or nocking point is a tiny brass clamp or an additional bit of string tied on the center serving to locate the placement of the nock onto the string. There can be one or two nock locators.
The height of the nock locator is very important. I recommend archers shooting 3 under should start with the lowest part of the nock locator attached to the string at 1/2″ above the height of the arrow rest. Archers shooting split finger should start with the lowest part of the nock locator attached to the string 3/8″ above the height of the arrow rest. If you are shooting a compound bow with a “d loop”, the d loop should be roughly at the same height as the arrow rest bolt hole.
Use a bow square to make sure your placement is exact. Clip the bow square on the string then slide it down until the arm gently touches the arrow rest. Using the measurements on the bow square, attach your nock locator at the correct height.
Mistake #6 Using Vanes Instead Of Feathers
I see this quite often. If you are using a traditional bow and shooting off the shelf, chances are you should be using real feathers on your arrows not the plastic vanes. It takes a very specific type of arrow rest to successfully use arrows with vanes.
The plastic vanes are rigid and if they make contact with the bow, arrow rest, or shelf when the arrow is shot it can cause the arrow to “kick” resulting in very poor arrow flight and inconsistent results on the target. Feathers have the ability to compress and will fold out of the way if there is slight contact.
Mistake #7 Shooting Too Fast
I know how fun it is to channel your inner Katniss Everdeen or Legolas and shoot as fast as possible. But the fact is, a slow, steady, and thoughtful shot will make you more accurate. Slowing down will allow your brain more time to analyze the shot and make corrections which will help you to get better in a shorter period of time. A good shot can easily take up to 15 seconds to complete an entire shot sequence. Slow down, try to relax, think about your process.
Mistake #8 Variable Anchor Position
Up to this point, the previous mistakes have all been related to issues other than form. If you are still experiencing difficulties, it may be an issue with your form. In my opinion, an important skill to check first is your anchor.
Why is the anchor so important? The direction of the path of your arrow is entirely determined by the alignment of the nock and the point. Each can be adjusted independently. Moving the bow will adjust the position of the point. Moving the string will adjust the position of the nock. If both bow position and string position are changing from shot to shot, so will the arrow alignment. This makes it next to impossible to have consistent results on the target. Because of this, you must eliminate as best as you can any variability in the positioning of the string. This is what an anchor does. Your anchor is a specific spot on your face where your hand comes to rest at full draw. Your anchor needs to be consistent and repeatable. There are different anchors for different styles of shooting but they all have reference points for .
If you do not already have a specific anchor and you shoot a recurve, I recommended resting your hand on your cheek and touching the back corner of your mouth with the tip of your index finger for your anchor. To increase consistency, some experienced archers will even select a tooth to touch because your mouth is pliable but your skeleton is rigid.
Notice how the string is on the side of my nose. This can be intimidating for many beginning archers. However, I assure you the string will not tear your face off.
If you do not have a consistent anchor on your face or your hand floats in the air, “floating anchor” you will have very poor results on the target.
For compound archers the anchor is different. Depending on the type of release you use, it involves a part of your hand contacting the back of your jaw or neck, and generally touching the string to the center of the tip of your nose.
Mistake #9 Pinching The Arrow
I does not matter if you shoot “3 under” or “split finger”, if you pinch or apply pressure to the arrow while it is on the string you will likely have poor results. In extreme cases you can actually pull the arrow off the rest while you are shooting. Which can be extremely dangerous!
Not touching the arrow is counter intuitive, many beginning archers believe they need to hold the arrow on the string. This is not true. Modern arrow nocks are designed to have a friction fit on the string so they do not fall off.
If you shoot 3 under do not apply upward pressure into the arrow. Gently touch the arrow for consistency in positioning your hook, but do not apply any pressure to the arrow.
If you shoot split finger, separate you fingers so they are not pinching the arrow. Olympic style archers use a tab with a finger spacer.
The spacer forces your fingers apart so you do not accidentally pinch the arrow between your index and middle finger.
Mistake #10 The Grip
This one is tricky. The worst grip you can have on your bow is a tight and tense fist grip, with your fingers wrapping around like you are holding the handle of a hammer.
When all the muscles in your hand are tense they push and pull in opposing directions causing the bow to shake or torque in your hand. Ironically the best grip on a bow is no grip at all
There are three parts to a good grip. The first part of a good grip is completely relaxing your fingers and your hand. There should be no tension or squeezing.
A common question I get asked is “If I am not squeezing and grabbing the bow won’t it fall out of my hand when I shoot?” The answer to this questions is “yes”. Which is exactly what it should do with a good grip. That is why archers use a finger or wrist sling. The sling is an additional piece of string that wraps around the front of your bow and attaches to your fingers or your wrist. When you shoot, the bow is caught by the sling so it does not fall to the ground. If you do not use a sling it is still possible to train yourself to grip the bow properly without squeezing, but it often takes a lot of training to maintain that loose grip once the arrow is shot.
The second part of a good grip is engaging the pressure point. The pressure point is a specific point of focus on your hand which you use to press the bow away from you. The recommended pressure point is in the center of the muscular mound at the base of your thumb (thenar eminence). To engage the pressure point, flex backwards like you are telling someone to “stop” with your hand and press the pressure point into the back of the grip.
The third part of a good grip is the angle of your knuckles and wrist. Your knuckles should be rotated out so they form an approximate 45 degree angle to the ground. Notice in the photo, to achieve the 45 degree angle, the archer’s last three fingers are off to the side of the bow and not even contacting the grip at all.
These are the top 10 mistakes I often see archers making. What are some common mistakes you have seen, and what do you think is the best solution? Please feel free to comment below. If you have any questions you can always contact me.