Using a compound bow is a great way to go hunting or compete in archery tournaments. It’s a thrill to wield a modern take on a traditional weapon that people have used throughout history. But it isn’t quite as easy as picking it up and becoming a pro.
Like anything else, compound bow hunting requires practice and an understanding of performing to the best of your abilities.
Getting Set Up
Before you start training to shoot your bow, you must have a setup matching your unique specifications, and even if you’ve had your bow set up for yourself, you might want to make adjustments continuously.
The two main components to set up properly are the draw length and draw weight. The draw length on the bow doesn’t need to be changed often, if at all, once initially set up. The draw length is the distance that your arm comfortably pulls the bowstring back all the way.
The draw weight, however, changes the longer you hunt. Draw weight refers to how much energy you exert to pull back the string. The higher the weight, the more force the bow generates as it slings the arrow forward. More force leads to straighter flight paths and stronger target penetration.
You don’t want your draw weight to wear you out. It should be a comfortable weight that you can handle for long periods. If the weight is too heavy, you’ll quickly lose energy and accuracy. But if it’s too low, then you’re shorting yourself when it comes to the strength of your arrow.
The longer you train as an archer, the stronger you’ll become, and thus can handle higher draw weights. Working out your bow muscles is also encouraged. Taking your bow to an archery shop is the best way to make these adjustments. They’ll know how to tune your bow to perfect settings. Make sure to test the draw weight in multiple positions and for different lengths to simulate being in the field.
If you’re hunting with your bow, you’ll also want to make sure that you properly camouflage yourself and your weapon to avoid being spotted by wildlife. Find something that matches your surroundings perfectly, like RealTree camo or TrueTimber, available in customizable Gunskins Sheets.
Release aids are mechanical tools that help archers comfortably hold and release their bowstrings. The old-school method of releasing with your fingers is a bit messy and inaccurate, not to mention you might find it difficult to overcome target panic.
If you get the opportunity to experiment with a few of these, that would be best. Find something that works for your technique and what you intend on using your bow for, whether training or hunting.
There are four primary versions of mechanical release aids:
Index Finger Release:
As you might imagine, you’ll trigger this release with your index finger. It connects the arm and bow via a wrist strap and a release-hook system. Although operated by the index finger, it’s suggested to pull back with your whole arm instead of the singular finger.
Thumb Trigger Release:
This option is activated with the thumb. While not always attached by a wrist strap, it can be when required. The Thumb Trigger is popular amongst competition archers.
The Hinge Release is slightly different from Index or Thumb triggers, as it doesn’t have a specific trigger. Instead, it is the trigger.
The hinge release works by hooking to the drawstring and releasing when the archer rotates the hinge enough to release the hook. This is preferred for competition; however, the amount of surprise these provide might be a little too much for a hunting environment.
Resistance Activated Release:
This tool is the opposite of the thumb trigger device. It’s activated by the bow’s full draw pressure, with your thumb on the safety mechanism preventing the release. With this, you utilize the squeezing of your shoulder blades to create more pressure and trigger the arrow.
Before you can expect to be a pro-level archer, your stance needs to be confident and strong. While some people might think shooting a bow and arrow should be pretty straightforward, having a proper form is something you should practice and perfect.
Before you pull the bow, face your target, plant your feet about even with your shoulders, and turn your toes out. This will give you the best view you can get and improve your stability. Practice setting up and standing the same way every time you train so that the proper form becomes muscle memory for you.
You want to develop a system for yourself so that you do it exactly the same way every time you pull the bow back, hold and release. This consistency improves your accuracy and trains your body to “feel” where your arrow is going to strike.
Have a spot on your face that you keep your release hand every time, mark where your nose should be concerning the string (careful not to let it get in the path of motion when the string is released), and have a standard way of releasing your bow.
Whether or not you use a release device, this process should be the same every time.
At no point during archery should you be tense. You want firm control over your body and the weapon, but not rigidness. Be careful of gripping the bow too tightly and instead let it rest in the crux of your thumb and index finger. Let your arm hold it steady instead of your hand.
A good archery rule of thumb: The bigger the muscle, the more stamina and stability it’ll have. Let your big muscles work like your arms and back instead of relying on your hands or even fingers.
Another key point is to avoid locking your arms. Keep your arms and shoulders as straight as possible without overextending, as that can lead to exhaustion and circulation issues.
Avoid Push and Pull
When you think of pulling back the bow, ready to strike, your body might initially want to balance out the arms by having the bow hand push the bow forward, while at the same time, the release hand draws the string back.
This practice is losing popularity lately because it’s difficult to maintain consistency between both arms. Instead, practice holding your bow hand out and focus on your draw hand pulling back.
This keeps your bow hand steady and develops muscles in your release arm.
Regardless of which release tactic you decide to use, it’s always important to breathe and not force your release. You don’t want your body anticipating the release because you’ll inherently flinch, lowering your accuracy.
You also don’t want to lose control in the split-second when the arrow is launched. There’s a balance of control and flexibility that you’ll build while training.
Command-Style Bow Release
Command-style, otherwise known in perhaps a negative way as “punching the trigger,” is a debated method of archery release focusing on using an index finger release device and waiting until the target is within the sight-picture.
Competitive archers use command-style. Hunting archers swear by it or brush it off. If you, your body, and your bow find success with it, that’s what counts.
The goal of command-style is to take the shot as soon as the target is within your sights. But this doesn’t happen immediately. It’s extremely difficult to hold your bow completely steady, so your goal becomes slowing down the movement of the sight and paying close attention until the moment is right.
Breathe and focus on your target and be patient for the perfect opportunity before you let your arrow fly.
Use Instinct, Not Anticipation
Remember, your goal is to wait until the sight is perfectly aligned with your target. Follow its movements and patterns and visualize the pin slowing down until it finally lands just where you want it.
As an archer, you want to be completely in tune with your bow for this, letting your hands slow down as much as possible and waiting for the shot until it comes.
If you anticipate too much, then you might shoot early or get too jumpy. Calmly wait with confidence for your target to lock-in.
Surprise-Style Bow Release
Surprise-style is a little similar to command-style but with a few tweaks. More popular in competition archery than in hunting, surprise-style consists of pulling the release trigger as slowly as possible so that the actual release is a surprise.
This release style reduces your jump and anticipation and requires a lot of focus.
Floating the Pin
Again, you want to visualize and focus on the center of your target. Your sights are going to float, and that’s alright. Pay attention to the pin, your objective, and the dance between them until the moment is just right.
While other methods involve a partially split focus between aim and release, surprise-style encourages just focusing on aim. Keep your eyes on the target and train your body to slowly ease towards the release until it finally happens.
Relax and let your muscle memory do the work while your eyes and mind are trained on your target.
As we’ve mentioned, the key to the surprise part of surprise-style is an extremely slow release. This method works best with thumb or hinge release aides but can be done using index finger releases as well.
While keeping focused on your target, begin to depress your trigger or rotate your grip slowly. You shouldn’t be concerned about when the arrow comes flying because you want to be surprised. Surprised but ready at any time to hit the target.
Back-Tension Bow Release
Back-tension is a little old school, but it’s been and still is very popular with professional archers in competitions, so there’s something to it. Your goal is to use your back and shoulders to pull your arms apart, triggering whatever release device you’re using instead of your fingers.
This practice reduces the amount of twitch and anticipation your fingers can force upon you by relying instead on your larger muscle groups. As we said, bigger muscles will have more stability than smaller ones.
The Back-tension technique can be a little tricky to master especially if you’ve been using an index or thumb release device. But with practice and consistency, you can find it to be a versatile new skill.
Train Big Muscles to be Calm
If you intend on using your back and shoulder muscles and expect them to be calm and strong, you’ll want to make sure that you’re training them to be just that. While arm, shoulder, and back exercises are critical in any form of archery, back-tension calls for a particularly strong set of muscles. We’ll cover some optimal exercises at the end for those interested.
Once you feel confident in your strength, it’s time to train yourself to squeeze your shoulders in a slow and steady way.
We recommend standing close range to a target, not more than a few feet, drawing your bow, and slowly stretching out your arms, and bringing together your shoulder blades.
Fix your hand to release your device by either placing your thumb around the trigger or with your index finger hooked on it, so that the tension will activate. For hinge releases, the tension should be enough on its own.
Do this slowly and regularly until the movement feels natural to you. We suggest practicing this every day for a week until you feel extremely confident, remaining at close range.
After a week of building this motion into your muscles, step back and start thinking more about combining aim into the motion. Stay relatively close, within about 15 yards. Continue to practice the motion and keep your eye on the target. If you’re struggling, return to the close-range position and continue working on the basic function, but otherwise continue to move further back every few days.
This might sound repetitive, but staying calm and focused is one of the most critical elements of successful archery. Your mind and body need to be in tune, especially once you incorporate more of your physical focus into the process with back-tension release, it becomes even more important.
Practice breathing exercises and put yourself in unconventional scenarios. You should be able to keep control of your breathing and heart rate in multiple positions and quickly regain a calm, steady breath after exercise. While hunting, you never know when you’ll need to be able to pause and line up for a shot.
Experiment and Hone Your Release
None of these above methods are “the best” method because everyone is different. You might find that thumb trigger release devices work best for your hand or that back-tension release just doesn’t work with your frame. Whatever the case, give as many different options a chance until you find what works best for you.
Hunters and competition archers find different levels of success with these, so not only do you need to keep yourself in mind, but you must consider what it is you're doing.
Back, Arm and Shoulder Exercises
Having a strong muscular foundation in your back, shoulders, and arms benefits your archery experience, so we’ve collected a few exercises that promote healthy muscle development for those looking to get a little stronger.
Remember, you shouldn’t work out to the point of hurting yourself and listen to your body. Rest is extremely important when your body is rebuilding and growing muscle, and no one is impressed if you overwork and hurt yourself.
Generally speaking, you want to aim for three or four sets of eight to twelve reps, meaning you repeat the lift eight times, pause, and then repeat the cycle three times. Try to work out each muscle group once or twice a week for optimal recovery.
Arm Excercises for Archers
Your arms are made up of several key muscle groups, and each one is important to hit.
Everyone knows about bicep curls, but remember, form is more important than weight. Keep your elbows at your side and reduce how much they move.
Bring the dumbbells that you’re comfortable with up to your shoulders and back down. Adding a two or three-second pause while they’re in their highest position is a great tip for those looking for a bit more out of the workout.
We’d also recommend doing wrist curls which will build up your forearms. Sitting in a chair with an upright posture, keep your arms on your legs for stability and hold the dumbbells in your hands, parallel with the ground.
Essentially imagining that you’re doing bicep curls and making the same motion, but only with your wrists. Start with the weight pulling your hand down, and lift up towards the sky.
The third exercise for your arms focuses on your triceps, the underside of your arm. Overhead extensions are great for this muscle. Holding a dumbbell with both hands as center as you can, lift the weight over your head until your biceps are perpendicular to the ground.
Lower the weight behind your head towards your spine, and lift it back up.
Shoulder Exercises for Archers
Your shoulders have a surprising amount of muscles wrapped together, so doing a few different exercises wouldn't hurt.
Lateral Shoulder Raises
A popular one is called the lateral raise. Standing up straight, hold a dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms out to your sides until they’re parallel with the ground and then back down. Remember that your shoulders won't be as strong as your biceps, so start with a smaller weight.
Front Shoulder Raises
Front shoulder raises are also a great workout that targets other muscles as well, like your lats.
You can do this sitting or standing, but hold a dumbbell in each hand and bring them up to your ears, keeping your biceps parallel to the ground. Push the dumbbells up to the sky, stretching out your arms, and then bring them back down.
Back Exercises for Archers
Back muscles are a little intimidating for inexperienced lifters, so take your time and use light weights until you feel confident with the form.
Single-Arm Dumbell Rows
Single-arm dumbbell rows are one of the best workouts for your back without using a machine. Using a bench or something to rest on, place one knee and the same-sided hand on the bench, with the opposite leg in contact with the ground. Your back should be parallel to the ground.
Then, holding a weight with the hand that isn’t holding you up, lift the dumbbell up to your side, keeping the forearm as perpendicular to the ground as you can. Imagine you’re starting up an old lawnmower.
With this exercise and the rest, take your time and practice safe lifting. Working out with a friend is always a great idea for motivation and safety. Developing stronger back, shoulder, and arm muscles improves your archery stamina and accuracy, not to mention your overall health.