Archery For Writers (Part One): How to Shoot (Guest Post by Katelyn Buxton)

Writers often choose archery as the go-to skill for a fantasy or historical fiction character to learn.

And for good reason.

Archery is slick, graceful, and deadly (under the right circumstances).

It also seems relatively easy to learn. The perfect skill to give characters a quick edge on the battlefield.

However, archery is not as easy to learn as it seems, and it is even harder to master.

Today Katelyn Buxton; Indie-Author, blogger, former archer, and all around awesome gal, is going to share some of the pitfalls she’s seen writers fall into while writing about archery, and ways that we can write about this topic more authentically.

Archery for Writers Part One: How to Shoot

Katelyn Buxton


Something many of you may not know about me is that I’m an archer (one, that I might add, was flinging arrows years before Katniss). There has been at least one bow in the house for as long as I can remember, but my family didn’t do archery much. At age eleven I joined in a 4-H archery club with one of my friends and began to learn more about the sport, but at that point I didn’t really like it and took a year off. When I came back, I did 4-H archery every year until I graduated high school, and over that time I learned quite a bit.

That’s why I was puzzled to find how many misconceptions there are about archery when I entered the writing world as a published author. One blog post I’ve seen circulating Pinterest that says it’s a writer’s complete guide to archery isn’t completely accurate.

I’m not infallible. I don’t know everything there is to know about archery. But I thought I would offer what I do know (and what I’ve researched beyond that for this purpose) in a four-part series that deals with the three most common bow types: the longbow, the recurve bow, the compound bow, and how to shoot them all.

Today’s post gives you the rundown on proper bow-shooting techniques and safety. (After all, what good is a bow if you don’t know how to shoot it)? Even if your arrow-flinging character doesn’t really know how to shoot, you should, so you can say with confidence, “That was how not to do it.”

Safety: Since this is for writing, I'll say that unless your character is trying to kill someone, is hunting, or is in a battle, they should never allow anyone down range (between the point they're shooting from and the target) while they're shooting, and always keep arrow tips pointed down.

The Stance: Your body (or your character’s) should be aligned perpendicular to whatever it is you’re shooting at, be it a foe or just a bagful of straw. When I started I thought that you shot while facing the target. That just doesn’t work in practice. So if you or your character is right-eye dominant, set your left hip towards the target, and if you or your character is left-eye dominant, set your right hip towards the target. You’ll also have to have a right or left-eye dominant bow, because they're different. (If you don’t know which eye is dominant, there are instructions for figuring that out here. Hint: it has nothing to do with whether you’re right or left-handed).

Once you’ve aligned yourself perpendicular to the target, make sure your feet are far enough apart to provide a good base, but not too far, because there really is too much of a good thing. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your feet are as wide apart as your shoulders. Make sure you’re standing straight.

Preparing to Shoot: I’m going to write this as a right-eye dominant archer, because that’s what I am. If you're left-eye dominant, do the opposite. Hold your bow in your left hand, draw an arrow, and nock the arrow to your bowstring. (The “nock” is the forked part on the end of an arrow, and it snaps onto the bowstring at the nocking point, level with the arrow rest which is just above the grip on the bow).  Make sure the odd fletching is facing out, or there will be a fletching that touches the bow as you release. Why is that bad? It slows down the arrow's momentum and sends it out of the bow at a slight angle that only becomes accentuated by distance, thus ruining the shot.

Shooting: Don’t grab hold of the bow’s grip tightly—this can cause it to torque when you release the shot. (Which means spin left or right, decreasing the accuracy of the arrow). Rest the fleshy part of your palm along the part of the grip closest to you, and leave your thumb and the rest of your fingers loose.

When drawing back, I learned to place my index finger above the nock, and middle finger and ring finger below it. Drawing is a single smooth motion—keep the arm holding the bow bent very slightly to avoid snapping yourself (*cough*, your character) with the string when you release. Trust me, it hurts. At this point the wrist on your drawing arm should not be doing anything other than being a link in the chain extending from the elbow. All the muscles used for drawing are in the shoulder, with a few in the back and side.

With a longbow or compound bow, all that’s left is to very quickly look down the arrow, aim and release, but with a compound bow you reach a “resting point” at full draw in which all the difficulty of drawing the string lets off and it becomes easy to hold for an extended period of time. I can’t really tell you how to aim on a bare bow (meaning a bow with no sights/extra stuff tacked on), because it all changes with the bow, the weight of your draw (“pounds”), and the distance. You just have to get a feel for it, and draw to the same point every time—like the corner of your mouth or just in front of your ear. If you don’t, your accuracy will suffer.

“Wow,” you say, “that was complicated.” Well, it is, and it isn’t. All of that took a lot of time to explain, but in reality it only takes a few seconds, and when you do it enough it becomes second nature. And since this is written for authors I know you probably aren’t going to go out, get a bow and do all this (why else would you be resorting to the Internet?), but I wanted to explain it as if I were teaching you how to do it. That way you know all there is to know.

I've also included a little glossary of archery terms and definitions that you can refer to throughout this four-part series whenever I unthinkingly rattle off a mysterious word. I'll try to explain things as I go, but if I forget you can hopefully find an explanation there.

I hope this helped you, and don't forget to check back next time for a post all about the longbow!

Archery Terms and Definitions 

Archery – the art, practice, or skill of shooting with bow and arrow

Arm guard (or bracer) – a device used to cover the arm holding the bow and protect it from being snapped

Arrow – a slender, straight, generally pointed missile made to be shot from a bow and equipped with fletchings at the end of the shaft near the nock, for controlling flight

Arrow rest – a device used to support the arrow above the handle until it is released

Bare bow – any bow that doesn’t have sights or other optional devices attached

Bowstring – the string of an archer's bow

Bowyer – a person who makes or sells archers' bows

Broadhead – a modern razor-sharp arrow tip made of metal used in hunting. What is more traditionally called an arrowhead.

Cams – round to oval metal discs which are held in place to the limbs of a compound bow via a pin and are where the string and cable(s) terminate. They are attached at the end of the limbs and transfer the power of the limbs to the string and arrow during the shot.

Compound bow – a modern bow that uses pulleys (cams) and cables to help with the drawing and releasing of the bowstring

D-loop – a D-loop surrounds the arrow at the string and is a point of connection for an archery release; it is made of a short piece of cord fastened to the bow string by two knots.

Draw – to pull the bowstring back

Dry fire - to shoot the bow without nocking an arrow first. Is bad for both the bow and the archer (because it greatly increases the chances of being snapped).

Field tip – an arrow tip that is not sharp and is used for target practice

Finger guard (or tab) – a small leather or synthetic patch that protects an archer’s fingers from the bowstring.

Fletchings – the feathers on an arrow, which stabilize it during flight. Modern fletchings are often made of synthetic material, not feathers.

Grip – the handle of the bow

Limbs – the part of the bow that extends above and below the riser

Longbow – a wooden bow held vertically and used especially by medieval English archers. Traditionally made of one piece of yew wood. Does not curve at the tips. Modern longbows may be made of many flat pieces of wood laminated together.

Nock – a.) the part of an arrow having a notch for the bowstring b.) the notch itself

Nocking point – the point at which the arrow is nocked to the bowstring

Peep sight – the circular device inserted between the strands of the bowstring which gives the archer’s eye its first point of alignment. It is used by looking through it and aligning it with the other sight.

Pounds (draw weight) – the amount of force, measured in pounds, needed to bring the bow to full draw

Quiver – a device used to hold arrows, which can be fastened to the bow, hip, or back, or stood on the ground depending on the type.

Recurve bow – a recurve bow is a bow with limbs that curve away from the archer when unstrung

Release – a device held by or attached to the archer’s shooting hand which aids the archer in drawing back and releasing the bowstring. Most contain and operate off a trigger. Not to be confused with a finger guard.

Resting point – (on a compound bow) the point at which the difficulty of drawing the string lets off and the bow can be held at full draw for an extended period of time

Riser – the central part of the bow, where the grip is located.

Shaft – the long part of the arrow

Sight – an archery sight attaches to the riser and contains pins, cross hairs or a laser dot which the archer can adjust to make a more accurate shot

Silencers – devices purchased and installed on a bow/bowstring to absorb vibration and therefore quiet a shot. These attach to either the bowstring, cables, limbs, or the riser.

Snap – the painful connection of a released bowstring against the skin

Stabilizers – devices attached to the front or sides of the bow to absorb vibration and give the bow a different center of gravity so as to stabilize the bow and increase accuracy

Torque – when the bow twists after releasing the arrow

I have to give a huge thanks to Katelyn for sharing all of this amazing information with us today. There was so much to learn and process, so if you have any questions be sure to ask them in the comment section. Who knows, she might be able to compile the answers into a whole part five for us. ;)

If you enjoyed this post and are interested in learning more, check out the links to Part 2,3, and 4 in Katelyn’s Archery series.

Archery for Writers Part One - How to Shoot:

Archery for Writers Part Two - The Longbow:

Archery for Writers Part Three - The Recurve Bow:

Archery for Writers Part Four - The Compound Bow:

And be sure to hit the like button to let this awesome lady know you liked this post!