Archery Talk: Tighten Up Your Groups

Accurate archery matters! Bow tuning, form and function go hand-in-hand to achieve consistent arrow placement.

How many times have you visited the range to practice archery only to discover that you’re no longer shooting tight groups? Some are left, some right, some high and some low. You feel as though each release is good but clearly something is awry. Walking downrange to retrieve arrows, you scratch your head wondering what in the world is causing you grief. You know it could be any number of things, from shooting form to your equipment. Then the work begins.

Don’t worry, in archery, it happens to all of us. But when it does, it’s time to run down the checklist to identify and then rectify the problem.

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Today’s compound bows are intricate precision shooting instruments and they require care and attention. With the 2011 archery season ahead of us, there is no better time to tweak bows, practice shooting form and resolve any bad habits that may have crept into our shooting technique.

I’ve been active in archery most of my life and hunting with a bow for 20 years. Despite ongoing technological archery advancements, archery is still a skill demanding muscle tone, concentration, proper form and well-maintained and well-matched equipment. Yes, percentage let-off has crept up, but biomechanics remain more or less unchanged. To shoot consistent groups demands that equipment is tuned and the archer executes each shot with precision. From the moment the archer pulls back the string, a host of variables come into play. The more you shoot your bow, the greater the chance that you too will encounter one of the almost endless list of factors that can affect arrow flight. Allow me to share with you, some of the most obvious in my own troubleshooting checklist.

Archery & Bow Tuning

Marrying archery accessories with a new bow can be an ordeal. Each manufacturer publishes an arrow spine and weight selection chart detailing what works best with certain poundage and so on. Bow and arrows must be appropriately matched and time must be spent alongside a technician assembling, and then repeatedly shooting arrows to fine-tune the bow to pinpoint accuracy. This can take minutes or it can consume hours.

Case in point, my wife Heather recently had a custom string installed on her bow. We had a difficult time getting it to shoot tight groups. With the aid of a bow square, her nock point was set perfectly. According to the charts, her arrows were well suited for her bow. Her rest was in line. Even still, try as she did, she couldn’t achieve tight groups. I suspected something else was causing the problem because she’s a skilled archer. Perplexed, we couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Finally a skilled technician deduced that it must have something to do with the new string and cables. In the end, no amount of skill can overcome technical problems. Finally, after exhausting the obvious possibilities, we took her string and cables off, give one of them a few twists, and tried again. Sure enough, that solved the problem in an instant and she was deadly accurate delivering consistent five-centimetre groups out to 40 metres.

Practice Proper Archery Form

Proper archery form involves standing almost perpendicular to the target. Feet should be roughly shoulder width apart. The back foot should be very slightly forward, the forearm slightly bent, i.e., not with the elbow locked, and the grip should be loose on the bow. Fingers or the release holding the string should be free of torque. Most importantly, the action of releasing the string must be fluid along with follow-through.

Purist traditional archers believe firmly in fluid movement when going to full-draw. Some aim, others shoot instinctively and still others snap-shoot. Many traditional archers incorporate a different stance often bending the knees and leaning slightly into the shot. Similarities between compound and traditional shooting enter when we talk about maintaining consistent form, the importance of a fluid release and follow-through. Regardless of the type of bow you shoot, focus and concentration are imperative.

Aiming and timing the release are critical factors as well. Things like settling the yardage pin on the target, breathing, the release itself and the follow-through all play an important role in determining consistent arrow flight.

Anchor Point

Anchor point is the spot that we use to landmark for consistency when we draw back our bow-string. Every archer chooses a personal anchor point. Mine involves locking in the knuckle of my right pointer finger just below my earlobe and at the back of my jawbone. By anchoring at this same spot for each and every shot, I know I’m maintaining consistency. Some archers use a kisser button to achieve this same consistency. Others will use alternative anchor points.

Maintain a Loose Grip

In archery, everyone has their own style, but certain biomechanics cannot be avoided when it comes to achieving consistent arrow groups. A common cause of inconsistent arrow placement has to do with holding the bow grip. Proper form allows opposing pull between the hand bracing against the grip and the other as it pulls back the bowstring.

Holding the grip tightly invariably leads to inaccuracy and inconsistency due to torque. By bracing the bow against the palm of the hand, the archer should draw, aim, and release, allowing the momentum to push the bow forward. As for using a mechanical release, squeezing the trigger should be executed in a similar manner that one would take a picture on a camera, gently applying pressure while holding the aiming point on target. If it is properly balanced, the bow itself will literally fall forward as though on a pendulum. In time, again with all else being equal, executing each release with proper form will increase the odds of achieving consistent arrow groups. 

Archery Release & Follow Through

All else being equal, archers with good form tend to shoot consistently. In all probability, those with poor form shoot inconsistently. Assuming equipment is suitably matched and in tune, the release determines arrow flight. While some compound archers and most traditional shooters use a tab or glove, most of today’s performance compound bows demand that we use a mechanical release. With one point of contact on the string, a mechanical release minimizes torsion, translating to a smooth and consistent release. But just using a release isn’t enough. The archer can still twist a mechanical release, so attention must be paid to proper form in holding the bow at full draw to ensure there is no torsion.

Draw length can also play into this equation. If your draw length is set too long or too short, this can manipulate the archer’s shooting form resulting in inconsistency both in shooting form and downrange arrow placement.

Equally important is follow-through. Many of us develop a tendency to peak immediately after releasing the string. Eager to see if we hit our mark, we instantaneously drop our bow arm and shift to see the impact. At all cost, avoid this bad habit. Consistent groups can only be achieved by instilling proper shooting form and following through on the shot. Skilled 3D archery and target archers constantly practice their form and follow-through.

String Contact

Another common reason for fly away arrows is string contact on clothing or even your arm guard. Any time the bowstring makes contact with something, it causes the bow to move and if the arrow has not yet left the rest, then it will be misdirected.

Slow Down

Precision shooting requires concentration and discipline. Drawing, aiming and releasing should all be done at the archers own pace. Releasing too quickly often results in inconsistent arrow placement. A momentary lapse in concentration or a flinch will misdirect your arrow.

The key to true arrow flight lies in the archer’s ability to draw with a smooth and effortless motion, hold in a stable and readied position, focus and hold on the target, then release fluidly at just the right moment, and follow through until the arrow penetrates its target. Consider these things and you’re sure to tighten up your groups.

When it comes to archery, practice makes perfect!

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