Archery Talk: Draw, Anchor, Aim, Release

Straightforward it is, but screw up your draw, anchor, aim or release and shot opportunities can go south in a hurry.

Shooting a bow with accuracy requires technical expertise. Several muscle groups are mobilized and it demands both mental and physical commitment. Pulling the string, employing consistent form, controlled breathing, concentration and a fluid release all play a vital role in delivering an arrow with downrange accuracy. Shooting at a fixed range, or even on a dynamic 3D course, can be tough enough. Transfer this procedure to a hunting situation and a multitude of variables bombard the senses compounding the challenge. For bow hunters, the goal is make this four-step process of drawing, anchoring, aiming, and releasing second nature.

I was reminded of this as I sat through a bitter cold week last November. With temperatures hovering around -25 degrees Celsius, the early mornings and daily grind of hauling gear in and out of my stand and sitting statuesque for hours on end, several realities set in. Even the easiest shots become more difficult under extreme conditions. Fail to draw at the right time, anchor correctly, aim precisely, and release fluidly and you may as well kiss your hunt good-bye.

If & When to Pull

At the range you have the luxury of drawing at will. If you want to wait, you wait. If you want to draw, you draw. In a hunting situation game dictates if, and when, you get to pull back the string. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that many bow hunters are drawing too much weight. In other words — their poundage is set too high and this creates additional problems. If you don’t believe me, visit any range, sit back and observe for a while. A good many archers struggle to get their bows drawn, even at the range. Imagine how they cope in the heat of a hunt when the pressure is on.

Now consider your own situation. Have you ever had difficulty drawing your bow? Remember, hunting puts you in unique circumstances. You often have to sit motionless for hours on end and then mobilize on cue, sometimes under less than ideal conditions, i.e. leaning forward, backward, crouching, twisting, and sometimes contorting in unnatural ways to pull off a shot. The solution — turn down your poundage to a manageable draw weight. When I first began hunting my bows were set at 72 pounds. Not long ago they were set at 64 pounds. Most recently, with the high-speed compound technology, I have turned them down to 59 pounds and my accuracy has improved dramatically. But enough about poundage, let’s talk more about when to pull.

When a shot opportunity appears imminent, you eventually decide to draw your bow. For some this is well before an animal is in range, but others choose to wait until game is within range. Our decision about when to pull back the string is a personal one dictated by two things. First, ensure you can get to full draw undetected and, second, consider the amount of time you think it will take for that game to present a viable shot opportunity. Draw too soon and holding at full-draw may become problematic. For most of us, fatigue sets in if we have to hold for more than a minute. If you can hold for longer than this with any degree of comfort, you’re in the minority. Draw too late and you risk spooking the game.

Even more important is the necessity to draw smoothly with minimal movement. Muscle tone and repetitive practice in the off-season helps a lot. We’ve all seen archers raising their bow high above their head and straining to pull back the string. This is usually a product of one of two things; either they are pulling too much weight, or they simply haven’t shot enough and they’re out of shape. While it isn’t necessarily a sin, it certainly isn’t pretty and it doesn’t go unnoticed. In a hunting situation, this is a serious handicap. Before hunting, every archer should have the skill to draw quietly and smoothly, in a way that minimizes the odds of being noticed by game.

Anchor Consistently

Whether you use a compound or a traditional bow, it is impossible to shoot accurately without a consistent anchor point. I’ve seen guys shoot well at the range where time and environmental conditions are on their side, but I’ve also seen those same individuals fall apart in a hunting situation when they have to make a shot quickly under compromising circumstances. If you use a kisser button or are a finger shooter, your anchor point is probably the corner of your mouth. If not, then you should have a different point of reference for holding at full draw and taking aim. I’m a right-handed shooter and I use a trigger release. At full draw my point of reference involves locking the knuckle of my right pointer finger under my ear and directly behind my jawbone. It fits nicely and presents a convenient and consistent anchor point.

Bow hunting situations can present an almost infinite number of variables. Unless you actively concentrate on a consistent anchor point, those unique variables can cause arrows to go astray. For instance, in the extreme cold when I’ve been forced to wear a full face covering, I’ve learned the hard way. During one hunt, I tried shooting while wearing my balaclava and it simply didn’t work. The extra layer changed my anchor point. In turn, my arrow hit several inches away from where I had aimed. In turn, I’ve learned to always remove my facemask before going to full draw.

Taking Aim

The third step in the shooting process is taking aim. Whether you use a sight pin or shoot instinctively, concentration is imperative. Anchoring consistently at full draw, then aiming at a very specific spot will take you that much closer to sending your arrow with pinpoint accuracy. It’s not enough to aim at a general area. Understanding anatomy and shot placement are particularly important. Concentrating on, and aiming at, a specific location on the lower one-third of the chest, just behind the shoulder ensuring that the arrow penetrates, and ideally passes through, the heart and lungs is priority one. Regardless of whether you’re shooting from an elevated stand position or on a level plain, think exit wound; in other words intentionally consider where the arrow will enter, what vital organs it will pass through, and where it could exit. Broadside and quartering away shots present the highest odds for an efficient kill.

Sending the Arrow

In the end, the release is what it’s all about. Mess this up and all of the previous steps are irrelevant. You’ve gone to full draw. You’ve anchored. You’ve taken aim. All that’s left is the release. Sounds simple, right? Not necessarily. Remember, shooting a bow is a biomechanical exercise and this is the point at which everything comes together. You brain is sending signals to your muscles in response to what you see and feel. Fail to release properly and the arrow will be off its mark. Execute correctly, and it will fly true.

First and foremost, carefully choose the best time to release and send the arrow on its way. In most instances its best to ensure that game is standing still. Some archers have an extraordinary ability to shoot moving game, but most don’t.

Beyond timing, a fluid release is critical. With most archers using mechanical releases, the process is similar to squeezing a trigger on a firearm. As a rule slow, consistent pressure is required. If we’re doing it right, we shouldn’t know when the trigger will release the string. In other words don’t anticipate, just concentrate and squeeze. For finger shooters, the principal is the same, but the physical action timing of the string release is intentional. Beyond this, hold on target until the arrow hits its mark; this is called follow-through and it must be a part of every shooting regimen.

It’s About Procedure

If you glean anything from this column, my hope is that you’ll burn these four simple, but important steps into your memory. Regardless of where or when you shoot, always draw smoothly, anchor consistently, aim carefully, and release with a fluid follow-through. Integrate these four things into your shooting procedure at the range or in the field and you’re sure to improve your score and close more tags.

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