Of the three types of bow traditionally available to beginners, the longbow is often regarded as the most difficult to learn to use accurately. This is because of the simplicity of its design; a basic longbow does not have any extra features to help you with the shot as some more modern bows do.
Accurate shooting with a longbow depends entirely on the skill of the archer, so practicing correct technique from the very start is the best way become adept. In-person lessons are probably the best way to learn but they are not always practical, due to distance, cost or other factors.
Self-taught archers can attain proficiency if they are willing to practice and learn. Here, we will share some of the best tips to help beginners who wish to become accurate with a longbow.
Learning to Shoot a Longbow – Tips for Beginners
Learning Longbow Archery
The easiest way to approach archery as a beginner is to work through a set of steps. This breaks down the act of shooting into a series of small actions which can be practiced and perfected over time. The main steps in archery can be broken down into the following: stance (or posture), nocking and aiming, release and follow through. We will take a close look at each step in turn.
Stance and Posture
Successful archery depends on correct posture; if you are standing correctly then you will be able to engage your arm and shoulder muscles in the most effective way and shoot more accurately.
Stand with your body and hips side-on to the target. The non-dominant foot will be placed forward (if you are using a right handed bow then your non-dominant foot is your left) and feet should be a little more than shoulder width apart.
Turn your head towards the target. This will bring your chin over the shoulder of your bow arm (the arm which is holding the bow). Feet, hips and shoulders should all remain at an angle of 90 degrees to the target.
Your back and knees should be straight, and shoulders should be kept down. The idea is to allow the shoulders to move freely and fully as you begin to draw. Do not allow your lower back to arch, or thrust your chest or hips forward; doing so can put you off balance and reduce your ability to aim accurately.
Beginner Tip: Archery Posture
Beginners often find that the correct posture initially ‘feels wrong’. This is because it is unfamiliar and uses muscles in ways they are not used in everyday life. It will take some time and effort to sustain the stance; try to be aware of your posture at all times until your muscles begin to learn the movements. There are exercises which can help to tone the correct muscles and make handling a bow slightly easier; practicing at home and strengthening your core will also help.
Nocking and Drawing
Once you are sure of your posture, it is time to nock the arrow and begin your draw.
Nocking the Arrow
Start by holding the arrow at the back end, behind the feathers, while the front end rests on the arrow rest. The bow will need to tilt slightly to the side to stop the arrow from falling.
Next, the nock (a small notch on the back end of the arrow) should be fitted onto the string at the ‘nocking point’ on the bowstring (the exact point will depend on the bow).
The odd-colored fletching, also called the index vane, should be placed so that it is facing you, away from the bow.
When the arrow is placed correctly, the nock will ‘click’ into place. It the arrow falls off or slips, it might mean that the nock is too large.
Positioning Your Hands
Before you begin to draw, you need to ensure that your hands are positioned correctly. The placement of your hands will depend, to some extent, on your own preference - as you become more experienced you might find that you adjust your hand and finger position – but it is easier for beginners to follow some basic guidelines until they become more confident.
One hand will be used to hold the string and draw the arrow back.
Three fingers should be placed on the string: index finger above the arrow and middle and ring fingers below it. If the arrow is nocked correctly there will be no need to hold onto it; your fingers should grip the string only. Beginners may start with three fingers below the arrow if it makes drawing easier. Your thumb and little finger should both be tucked in towards the palm of your hand, away from the string.
Your other hand will hold the bow. A correct grip will have your arm, wrist and finger all in alignment, pointing at the target. The grip of the bow will rest on the fleshy part of your hand, below the thumb, and your wrist should remain relaxed and not bent back. Fingers should relax and bend, and the grip should remain consistent throughout the draw and release stages.
Beginner Tip: Keep your Bow Hand in Position
If you find yourself needing to reposition your bow hand while drawing or aiming then you should relax the bow and start again. Once it is in the correct position, your hand should not need to move around on the bow at all until after you have released the arrow.
Drawing a bow is a big movement which should be powered mostly by the shoulders. Posture is vital here so check that you are still standing tall and rotating your shoulders back. Your bow hand will be moving forward while your string hand comes back towards the side of your face, keeping your forearm in line with the shaft of the arrow.
At this time, take a few minutes to find a comfortable point to draw the string towards. Most archers will have a point on their face – chin, cheek or jaw – which is known as their ‘anchor point’. This point will not be the same for everyone but once you have found it, you should bring the arrow back to the same point every time you draw a bow. Your anchor point can make a huge difference to your aim so consistency here is key.
While your string arm is drawing back, your bow hand is moving forward. Do not over-straighten the bow arm; there should be a slight bend in the elbow at all times. This keeps tension in the shot even after you release the arrow and allows your arm to ‘push forward’ with the bow rather than spring back.
Beginner Tip: Check Your Posture Again
These big movements will feel strange to new archer and you might find yourself overcompensating for untrained muscles by adjusting your stance. Common problems at this point include tilting your head or pulling up your shoulders so it is worth taking a second or two to check your posture again. Keep your shoulders down while you draw the bow; your head should stay up and facing forward.
When drawing, take care that the string is not able to get behind your armguard. You may need to twist your bow arm at the elbow to avoid being hit by the string but check your posture first: bending or slouching body can mean that the string is ‘aimed’ at your arm when you release it.
Aiming, Release and Follow Through
Aiming a bow requires focus. The best way to aim accurately is to look along the shaft of the arrow and find a point on the target to aim for. Try to focus on one tiny point rather than the whole target and take the time to line up your shot. Some archers worry about whether to close one eye while aiming. This will be a personal choice, so feel free to try both ways and follow your instincts.
When you release the string, you want a smooth movement which does not disturb the direction of the arrow. Simply relax the fingers which are holding the string and release it to move past them. Sudden movements at this point will cause the bow to jerk and you to miss your shot so keep your movement smooth.
Beginner Tip: Hold Your Position
Common beginner mistakes at this point involve moving the bow down or away before the arrow is fully released. Moving too soon can affect your aim and is a very bad habit to get into so do not be tempted to drop the bow, or move it to one side or the other so that you can watch the arrow in flight. Keep your bow up and your posture steady. A good rule is to hold your position until the arrow lands (hopefully in the target).
Safety Tip: Let Down if You Need to Correct Anything
Archery takes a lot of practice to get right, and there is a lot to think about when you first begin but safety should always be at the forefront of your mind. Always keep arrows pointed downrange while you are nocking and aiming and if you need to make any corrections to your stance, grip or position at any time while drawing then stop, relax the bow, withdraw the arrow and start again.
Tips to Perfect Your Longbow Archery
There are a lot of steps to learn and your muscles will need time to get used to the new demands archery will put on them. But practice need not be restricted to the archery ranger; there is plenty you can do whenever you have some spare time.
At home, grab a pen and write out the steps you need to take, in detail, from picking up the bow to collecting the arrow from the target. Read over them and talk yourself through them until you are familiar with every movement
Work through the shot in stages; picturing how each stage should look and feel before trying it. This can be practiced at any time, not just on the range. Get a friend or instructor to watch you and check your actions against your list. If you can, have someone film you so that you can watch yourself later.
New movements and muscles will soon become more familiar and, with practice, you will soon find that you have mastered the basics and are ready to tweak and improve your archery technique.