About Bowhunting

-Dave Canfield Publisher, Bowhunter

Bowhunting. There's nothing like it. Seasons of numbing cold, blazing heat, throbbing muscles, endless hikes and countless frustrations all become worthwhile in one glorious heart-stopping second.

A magnificent animal is so close that a single breath or blink of an eye will spook it. It appears-as if by magic-in a spot you've watched for hours. Or it approaches from a distance, giving you time to make ready. It doesn't matter-the thrill's the same, and at this moment it all comes together. It's time for the shot.

In bowhunting, "the shot" actually is the culmination of much more than meets the eye. A bowhunter donning a backpack and vanishing into nature's shadows seems to step into a much less complicated past. We who love the sport cherish its simplicity, but as with any difficult task well done, that "simplicity" only becomes reality after the planning, preparation and practice. In fact, I believe a more accurate description of the bowhunter's relationship with nature would be "pure." If the bowhunter is ready, no experience equals a day in the field. And in this sport, getting there is more than half the fun.

I once was asked where one could learn bowhunting in a weekend seminar. I replied that it's impossible to do so. Properly done, it's a lifetime learning experience. Hunting skills require years of honing and are best developed from an early age. Actual use of archery equipment takes regular training and practice for novice and expert alike. Few beginners can shoot more than 10 or 15 arrows in a session - if they want to be able to move tomorrow. On the other hand, in a good hands-on seminar a person can learn about equipment and how it should be used. As with skiing, golf, fly fishing, swimming and some other sports, a little instruction up front prevents a lifetime of bad habits that come from "winging it."

So here, within the pages of Bowhunting Equipment & Skills, is that seminar. Here is what you need to know about the selection and use of bowhunting equipment and development of skills to use it. Here we present the basics for the novice, a valuable reference for the average bowhunter and an excellent review and training aid for the expert.

The primary authors of this book have spent their lifetime involved in bowhunting and are among the sport's best-known authorities. Each of them has made bowhunting history, has written classic books on the sport and continues to pass bowhunting skills and knowledge to the next generation: Bowhunter's Founder/Editor M. R. James, Senior Editor Dwight Schuh, Hunting Editor G. Fred Asbell and Technical Editor Dave Holt.

Begin with a general view of bowhunting equipment. You'll see the differences among bow designs and understand the advantages or disadvantages of each. Then the interesting part begins - the accessories. This is where bowhunters become hooked for life and destined to tinker forever among broadheads, fletchings, sights, quivers, gloves, tabs, optics and countless other items, each designed to provide just a little more of an edge.

Armed for the moment with the essentials (there always will be something else beckoning), it's time to tune equipment and sharpen personal skills. The Bowhunting Skills and Tuning sections guide you as you become as one with your equipment.

Now, it's time to bring it all together in the field. Bowhunting offers camaraderie, closeness with nature, solitude and memories. The skill is up to each of us, and it takes a considerable amount. For in the end, it all adds up to one razor-sharp, well-placed broadhead.

Keep 'em sharp!



More than any other style of hunting, bowhunting is more art than science. Just as each archer must adapt a shooting style to fit his or her personality and abilities, the selection of bow and accessories will be a highly personal and subjective choice. Two skilled, expert bowhunters might favor radically different equipment and accessories-partly because of physical differences, but largely because of variations in personal taste.

In an effort to meet the varied needs of bowhunters, manufacturers offer hundreds of different bows and an even greater number of accessories, from carbon shaft arrows to laser sights. Some of these products are passing fads, while others represent important new technology. Each hunter must decide which gadgets are of value.

A hunter need not buy the most expensive bows and accessories, but it does make sense to invest in high-quality equipment. Listen to the advice of bow-hunters you respect, and purchase your equipment from reputable sources. Test equipment in the store, if possible.

Personal Variables

No matter what bow style you choose-compound or traditional-before buying a bow you must determine three personal variables: eye dominance, length of draw and draw weight.

Eye dominance. Bows are configured in right- and left-handed models, and your choice is based on eye dominance. Just as most people are either right-handed or left-handed, they generally also have a dominant, or master, eye. In most cases, hand and eye dominance match, but occasionally a right-handed person will have a dominant left eye, or vice versa.

To determine your dominant eye, point at a distant object with both eyes open. Now close your left eye. If your finger still appears to be pointing at the object, you have a dominant right eye. But if your finger appears to shift to the side when you close your left eye, then you have a dominant left eye. For confirmation, point again with both eyes open, then close your right eye. If, while you look with your left eye only, your finger still points at the target, you have confirmed that your left eye is dominant.

If your eye dominance matches your hand dominance, simply choose a bow configured for that side. A right-hander with a dominant right eye, for example, should choose a right-handed bow.

If, however, your hand and eye dominance are mismatched, it is best to choose a bow based on eye dominance rather than your hand dominance. A right-hander may at first feel clumsy shooting a left-handed bow, but in the long run he'll shoot better and more comfortably. Research shows that most successful archers sight with the dominant eye, regardless of hand dominance, probably because they can aim with both eyes open, which gives better depth perception and a feel for the target. To aim with the weaker eye, you must close the dominant eye.

DRAW LENGTH. The length of your arms and the width of your shoulders determine your draw length-the distance between the bowstring and the grip, when you hold a bow at full draw. Draw length is a specific measurement that governs bow selection and should not be confused with arrow length. Arrows can be, and often are, shorter or longer than your draw length.

A salesman at a sporting goods store can measure your draw length, or you can enlist the aid of a bowhunting friend. First, nock an arrow onto the bowstring and draw the bow. As you hold comfortably at full draw, have your assistant mark the arrow directly above the pressure point of the handle-a spot that should be even with the arrow-rest hole in the sight window.

Now add 1-34 inches to that measurement to determine your draw length for a compound bow, as specified by the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization (AMO). If, for example, the measurement is 28 inches from the string to the pressure point at full draw, your draw length would be 29-34 inches.

Most bows allow for large draw length adjustments-from 29 to 31 inches, or from 30 to 32 inches, for example. But if your bow still doesn't match your draw length, you can make additional adjustments by twisting or untwisting the string to change the draw length by up to 14 inch. On bows with synthetic cables, you can twist the cables tighter to increase draw length, or untwist them to decrease draw length. A combination of twisting or untwisting cables and strings gives a virtually unlimited range of precise draw lengths. Keep in mind, however, that twisting the cables can throw the bow out of tune. Many bows with metal cables have slotted yokes that allow for 14-inch draw length changes. Remember, though, that these adjustments will alter draw weight as well as draw length. Lengthening the string increases draw weight, shortening the string reduces draw weight, and exactly the opposite is true for lengthening and shortening the cables.

DRAW WEIGHT. Your choice of bows also is governed by the peak draw weight-the maximum amount of weight needed to draw the bow. It is impossible to prescribe an exact formula for assigning draw weight, because it varies according to each person's build and body strength. As a broad guideline, however, you should be able to draw your bow easily. If you have to raise a bow over your head for leverage when drawing, it is too heavy. You should be able to repeatedly hold the sights on target and draw the string straight back without straining or shaking.

Remember that shooting on the hunt is much different from shooting at the target range. Drawing smoothly becomes increasingly difficult as fatigue, cold and tension take their toll on your body. If you have to strain to draw a bow in practice, you may find that you can't draw it at all under tough hunting conditions. Choose a bow with a draw weight you can easily handle under any circumstances.

Ensuring a smooth draw isn't the only reason for choosing a bow of reasonable draw weight. Many archers suffer severe, chronic shoulder and elbow injuries, including tendonitis and bursitis, from shooting bows with heavy draw weights over a period of years. These overuse injuries can occur from repeatedly drawing a bow at any draw weight, but the added strain of heavy draw weight can aggravate the problems greatly.

Drawing and holding excessive weight also can contribute to target panic, the bane of many archers. And a heavy draw weight, particularly when coupled with ultralight arrows, sends destructive vibrations through a bow. Although improvements in modern bows have greatly reduced breakage problems, the greater the stress on a bow, the greater the potential for damage.

Generally speaking, many modern compound bows in the 60-pound class are heavy enough for all North American game animals. Any weight above that may give your arrows a flatter trajectory, which can be a benefit at unknown distances, but it doesn't significantly improve penetration. In truth, it is kinetic energy-not a bow's poundage-that matters most.

How do you determine your comfortable draw weight? Test several bows of differing draw weights, and choose one you can draw easily. If you can easily draw 70 pounds, then select a comparable bow, but most shooters are more comfortable with a 50- to 60-pound bow. Wheel design will greatly affect the amount of weight a shooter can comfortably draw.

How to Determine Eye Dominance

Point at a distant object with both eyes open. Now close your left eye, then your right. When you look through your dominant eye, your finger will still appear to point at the object, but when you look through your subordinate eye,  your finger will appear to shift to the side.

Choosing a bow and bowhunting accessories is largely a matter of personal taste. Some bowhunters eagerly make use of the most modern compound bows and all the latest accessories. Others prefer more traditional bows and use accessories sparingly.

Kinetic energy is more important than draw weight when choosing a bow for hunting.



Understanding Arrow Trajectory

The slower the speed of a projectile, the more it will drop over the course of its flight. To compensate for this drop, a projectile must be fired in an arched path to successfully strike the intended target. The arrow starts below the archer's line of sight, rises above it, and then drops back to his line of sight at the target. This curve in an arrow's path between bow and target is known as trajectory.

Trajectory is a crucial concern in bowhunting because a bowhunter simply can't escape its effects. People who contend that modern bows are so fast they're almost like rifles simply don't understand trajectory. Trajectory is directly related to the speed of a projectile, and the very fastest bows shoot about 300 feet per second (fps) compared to the fast rifle at 3,000 fps. An arrow fired from such a bow has a greater trajectory over 30 yards than does a rifle bullet over 300 yards.

Instinctive shooters who must visualize the path of their arrows to the target know the importance of trajectory. But sight shooters with an understanding of trajectory find it easier to make good sight settings and are better able to avoid branches and other obstacles. And to accurately shoot uphill and downhill, an understanding of trajectory is essential.

Visualizing Trajectory

Hitting obstacles ranks as one of the major reasons for missed shots, especially for hunters pursuing whitetail deer and other forest animals. A clear understanding of trajectory can help you prevent many of these misses.

First, remember that an arrow starts below your line of sight-as much as 6 inches or more if you're a release-aid shooter with a low anchor point. When your line of sight is well above an obstacle, there is a tendency to assume the arrow will clear with no problem. But because the arrow remains below your line of sight until it is 4 to 5 yards away from the bow, it can slam into a nearby obstacle if you don't elevate high enough. Many hunters have blown easy shots by hitting stumps, rocks and other objects directly in front of them.

Learn to visualize arrow trajectory so you can cleanly shoot under or over limbs and other obstacles. It's possible, of course, to compute trajectory mathematically, but it's not necessarily practical and may not help you in the field. Some simple steps on the target range will help you actually see the trajectory of your arrows.

Make sure your bow is sighted in at regular intervals, such as 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. To determine the trajectory of your arrows at the halfway mark, you'll be shooting target groups for each sight pin from a distance equal to half their sighted distance. First, stand 10 yards from the target and aim at the bullseye with your 20-yard pin. Shoot several groups, measuring the distance of each arrow above the center of the target; then average these numbers. This average is your midrange trajectory at 20 yards.

Shoot additional groups at 15 yards with your 30-yard pin; 20 yards with your 40-yard pin; 25 yards with your 50-yard pin. With increasing distance, you'll find that your arrows hit progressively higher, giving you a clear picture of the trajectory at each distance. For a bow shooting about 220 feet per second (fps), the midrange trajectory at 20 yards will be roughly 3 inches; at 30 yards, 6 inches; at 40 yards, 12 inches; and at 50 yards, 20 inches. At higher arrow speeds, the trajectory will be less; at slower speeds, greater. This method doesn't give peak trajectories, which are slightly closer to the target, but it does give you a practical picture of midrange trajectory.

How do you put this knowledge to practical use? Let's assume you've drawn a bead on a buck standing 30 yards away, and there is a tree limb hanging in your path 15 yards out, directly in the sight path between your bowsight and the deer's chest. An archer with no knowledge of trajectory might believe he has to maneuver to shoot either above and below the branch, but from your range test experience, you know that your arrow will be 6 inches above your line of sight at the midway point in its flight. Fire away; your arrow will clear the branch cleanly. Similarly, if the offending branch is 6 inches or so above the sight line, many hunters would shoot, unaware that the arrow is likely to strike the branch. You, however, will seek a new shooting position, looking for a sight line which ensures that the arrow's midpoint trajectory is a safe distance away from the tree branch.

Remember also that when a sight pin rests on an object at the same distance as the sighted distance of the pin, the arrow will likely hit the object. Imagine, for example, that you've put a pin on a deer 30 yards away using your 30-yard pin. But your 20-yard pin falls on a limb about 20 yards away. Your shot will miss the deer, and the arrow will hit the limb.

Sight Window

At any given distance, you have some leeway when estimating range, and this leeway is called a sight window. Understanding the sight windows for your bow can help with shot selection. Again, the best way to learn about sight windows is by thorough practice-range work.

To gauge the window for your 20-yard sight pin, for example, shoot at an 8-inch target, which is roughly the size of a large deer's kill zone when it is standing broadside. Start at 20 yards, and move closer, 1 yard at a time, always aiming at the center of the target with your 20-yard pin. The arrows will gradually move up until they begin hitting above the 8-inch target. That's the minimum end of your sight window. Now start again at 20 yards, and move back, 1 yard at a time, until your arrows hit below the circle. That's the maximum end of your sight window.

Repeat this test for each sight pin; for the 30-yard pin, start at 30 yards; for the 40-yard pin, start at 40 yards; and so forth. Move from the starting point toward the minimum end of each sight window; then move back from the starting point to determine the maximum end. The sight windows will become proportionately shorter as you move to the pins sighted for longer distances, due to the increasing arc of the trajectory.

Shooting on an Angle

Bows are generally sighted in for horizontal shots, where arrow trajectories are predictable. However, when you shoot from a high tree stand or on an uphill or downhill slope, the rules for trajectory change.

At a given distance, gravity has the greatest effect on trajectory for an arrow flying horizontally, and has gradually less effect as the shooting angle is raised or lowered. The reason for this is that the trajectory arc is determined by the horizontal distance the arrow travels, not the overall distance. When shooting at steep angles, either up or down, aiming for the actual distance to the target is a mistake, since this measurement may be considerably larger than the horizontal distance that governs the arrow's trajectory. For example, if you shoot at a target 40 yards away down a steep hill, using your 40-yard sight pin, your shot will probably go high of the mark. At steep angles, you must learn to compensate by aiming low.

Contrary to common opinion, this principle applies equally to uphill and downhill shots. It's true that uphill trajectory begins to differ from downhill trajectory at some point, because gravity slows an arrow flying up faster than one flying down. But within standard hunting distances-50 yards and less-the difference is not significant. For practical purposes, then, slant range can be computed identically, whether the slope is uphill or down.

The trick, of course, is determining how low to aim at different distances and slope angles. You can calculate this information geometrically, but to do so requires a calculator, electronic rangefinder, clinometer for measuring the angle of slopes and a good head for mathematics.

If you choose the mathematical method, you can simplify this work by using a chart like the example shown here. A complete chart for all practical shooting distances will help you make clean kills at steep angles. To put such a chart to practical use, however, you must know the distance to the target and angle of slope. Steep slopes make range estimation difficult at best, so a good rangefinder can help here. With practice you can learn to estimate slope visually, or you can buy a compass with a built-in clinometer to measure slope. Or, you can buy an expensive forester's clinometer, which measures angle of slope precisely.

To be honest, using mathematics to calculate shooting adjustments is not very practical for most hunters. In the field, game animals rarely give you enough time to make the measurements and computations, and few hunters are enthused by the prospect of carrying a rangefinder, calculator and printed charts into the field.

Most shooters find that simple practice gives them a feel for how upward and downward angles affect arrow trajectory. You can practice by shooting from a tree stand set to different heights, for example. At each height, shoot several groups at varying distances from your stand.

Reducing Trajectory

Flattening the trajectory of an arrow reduces the need for precise range estimation, streamlines the process for shooting over and under obstacles and simplifies adjustments needed when shooting at upward and downward angles. Several factors-fletching style, arrow weight and air density-can affect trajectory, but arrow speed has the single greatest influence. For this reason, manufacturers and archers continually seek ways to make their bows faster and faster.

You can increase arrow speed in several ways. One method is to reduce arrow weight. Each 5-grain reduction in arrow weight provides a speed increase of about 1 foot per second (fps). Thus, if you reduce arrow weight by 100 grains, you increase speed by roughly 20 fps.

Arrow speed can also be gained by increasing the draw weight of the bow. A 1-pound increase in draw weight yields an increase of about 2 fps in speed. Thus if you crank draw weight up by 10 pounds, you gain 20 fps in arrow speed.

Finally, shooting a bow with harder cams can increase speed. At a given draw weight, hard cams can provide 10 to 20 percent more speed than round wheels.

Up to a point, speed is good. But remember that the faster the arrow, the more "critically" it shoots. That is, faster arrows are more susceptible to uncontrolled oscillations and are more difficult to shoot with accuracy. At some point, the loss in accuracy and consistency that comes with ultrafast arrows may negate any gains you get from the flattened trajectory. Faster arrows also make it harder to tune the bow, especially when the arrows are equipped with broadheads.

Remember, accuracy is the number-one ingredient in clean kills. Lightning-fast arrows do you no good if they don't consistently hit the target.

Using Geometry to Calculate Arrow Trajectory

Here's how geometry can be used to calculate how arrow trajectory changes when shooting on an incline:
Visualize the hunting situation as a right-angle triangle, with two perpendicular legs; (A), the distance from the hunter to the ground; and (B), the distance from the animal to the ground directly below the hunter. The sloped hypotenuse, (C), is the distance from the hunter to the animal. In essence, the drop of an arrow fired along the inclined hypotenuse will equal the drop of an arrow traveling the horizontal distance (B).
For example, imagine you're on a cliff, where you spot a buck standing below at a 45-degree angle to your line of sight. Your rangefinder shows that the distance along the sloped line to the buck is 30 yards. Using a basic formula from geometry, called the Pythagorean Theorem (A2 + B2 = C2), you can calculate that side B, representing the horizontal distance to the deer, is roughly 21 yards. To hit the deer in the kill zone, then, you would use the 20-yard sight pin, not the 30-yard pin.

Trajectory refers to the curved path an arrow follows from bow to target.

Determine Sight windows for each of your sight pins. The archer shown here is finding the sight window for the 20-yard pin. In this case, the sight window was 8 yards-from 16 to 24 yards.

Sample Trajectory Adjustment Chart

Charts such as this one, taken from The Complete Book of Rifles and Shotguns by Jack O'Connor, can help you calculate trajectory changes when shooting on an incline

THE EFFECTS OF SLOPE on trajectory can be explained by the physics of gravity. Gravity exerts its influence only against the horizontal distance of an arrow's flight. When you shoot horizontally at a target 40 yards away (left), gravity exerts its influence for a full 40 yards, and the arrow's drop follows expectations. But when you shoot downhill (right) or uphill at a target 40 yards away, the horizontal distance can actually be much less, as shown above. In this situation, if you shoot using the 40-yard sight pin, your arrow will hit high on the target (inset), since it has not had time to complete its normal trajectory drop for 40 horizontal yards.



If you try to force a bow to perform in a particular way, or try to force an arrow into the target, you create muscle tension that makes it nearly impossible to duplicate the same form shot after shot. But if you learn to relax, your body will assume the same natural position each shot, and the result will be consistent accuracy.

A relaxed shooting form also cuts down on fatigue and muscle soreness and allows you to shoot for longer periods of time and with less chance of injury. Most archery coaches and top shooters agree that relaxation is the very foundation for all good shooting. You can see evidence of this by watching videos or looking at photos of the best archers in action. A top-notch archer is utterly relaxed - no tensed jaw, no squinted eyes, no clenched hands. While holding at full draw, expert shooters look almost drowsy.

Proper warm-up is essential to preventing overuse injuries, such as tendonitis and bursitis. Before drawing your bow, do some arm circles, shoulder shrugs, isometrics and stretching exercises to warm up your arm, shoulder and back muscles. If you shoot a bow with reasonable draw weight and warm up for a few minutes before each shooting session, you may save yourself years of arm, shoulder and back pain.

Mechanics of Shooting

Stance. A research project before the 1984 Olympics showed that leg strength was the single most important variable in predicting high tournament archery scores.  If your upper body is swaying like a weed in the wind, your sights will be swaying too, and strong legs are what hold your upper body-and your sights-steady during a shot.

Strong legs are a starting point, but the stance itself can also affect your shooting. The Olympic study found that an archer can reduce sway and hold more steadily on target by making minor adjustments in stance.

Begin by standing with your feet spread apart at shoulder width, 90 degrees to the target. Then take a half-step back with the front foot and pivot slightly toward the target for a mildly open stance. Keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet, and stand straight up, with your head directly over the center of your body. Maintain this stance as you raise the bow to shoot. Don't lean forward or backward to pull the bow, and don't cock your head to the side to line up your sights.

Obviously, a perfect stance isn't always possible in hunting situations, but you can apply the same principles. In a tree stand, either assume a solid sitting position, or stand with the same posture described above. When you're forced to squat or kneel on the ground to shoot, position yourself for good upper body stability.  If you're kneeling, plant both knees solidly on the ground rather than kneeling on one knee and extending the other. Practice different postures to learn which are most stable under various field situations.

BOW HAND. Slight variations in hand placement can greatly affect arrow flight. This can be demonstrated by shooting arrows through paper at the target range, a common tuning technique. Altering hand placement between shots will change the angle at which the arrow hits the paper, which will affect the sizes of your arrow groups. For tight groups and consistent accuracy, you must place your hand on the bow identically for every shot.

Consistent hand position is easiest to achieve with a grip that minimizes hand-to-bow contact-a grip generally called a low-wrist position. To achieve this natural position, hold your hand out at arm's length, as if pointing at a distant mountain, and notice that your hand is not held vertically but is tilted to the side. Keeping your hand in this natural, tilted position, place the bow handle into your hand. You should feel pressure from the bow handle only on the meaty part of your thumb. Avoid palming the bow, which creates two pressure points-the thumb and the heel of the hand. With your hand in that relaxed position, your little finger will not hang in front of the bow handle, but to the side.

As you draw the bow, your hand should stay totally relaxed, with fingers that hang loosely throughout the shot. Some archers extend their fingers stiffly or choke the bow handle. Such finger positions indicate tension in the hand and arm, which can torque the bow and decrease accuracy.

STRING HAND. Like the bow hand, the drawing hand should remain in a naturally rotated position throughout the shot. To ensure such a position, it's best to use a release aid with a rotating head that won't torque the string as you draw. With a wrist-strap release, you should feel a pull only on the strap, and your fingers should remain loose throughout the shot. With a finger-held release, your wrist should stay straight and relaxed.

If you release with your fingers, start by grasping the string at the first joints of your first three fingers, with the index finger above the arrow nock, the other two fingers below the nock. Like the bow hand, the string hand should be rotated slightly in a natural position. If you try to hold your hand absolutely vertical, your hand will try to rotate back to a naturally rotated position as you draw, torquing the string and producing a rough release. As you draw, the middle finger should hold most of the weight, and the other two fingers should float on the string. Some experienced shooters drop the index finger off the string at full draw to lessen finger contact with the string.

THE DRAW. With a solid stance and hands placed correctly on the bow and string, you're ready to draw and aim. Hold the bow at arm's length, roughly aiming at the target and begin to draw, pulling only with the muscles of your back. Your arm is merely the link between the bowstring and your back, and your wrist, forearm and biceps should stay relaxed even at full draw.

As you draw, don't change your stance or tip your head one way or the other to see through the peep.

If you find it necessary to crane your neck, it means that your draw length is too long or short, or that your peep sight is in the wrong spot. Your bow should be set up so the draw is as smooth and relaxed as possible. Don't conform to your bow; make your bow conform to you.

And don't hunch your shoulder (a common problem when shooting too much draw weight), because this means you are holding the bow arm in line with your shoulder muscles. To ensure a solid bow arm, pull your shoulder low so the arm bone presses directly into your shoulder, bone to bone.

When you reach the valley-the point at which a compound bow let-off reaches its lowest draw weight-anchor solidly and aim at the target.

ANCHOR. No one can prescribe a best way to anchor with a release aid. With a wrist-strap release, many archers anchor with the big knuckle of the index finger pressed behind the jaw. With a finger-held release, experienced shooters commonly anchor with the back of the hand pressed against the jaw. More important than the precise method is consistency. You must anchor solidly and identically every shot.

Finger-release shooters typically use one of two anchoring points. Most hunters anchor fairly high, with the tip of the index finger planted solidly in the corner of the mouth. Tournament archers generally use a lower anchor point, with the string hand under the chin. To anchor solidly, they press the big knuckle of the thumb behind the chin bone.

RELEASE. Whether you shoot using sights or shoot barebow, with release aids or with your fingers, the critical moment of releasing the bowstring should be marked by complete relaxation. As you hold at full draw, calm your mind and body and let your sight drift naturally across the target. Don't tense up in an attempt to hold the sight in the center of the target; let the bow travel through its natural arc of movement.

To achieve this kind of relaxation, the moment of release should come as a surprise. If you're using a release aid, shooting a bow is similar to firing a rifle, where you aim, relax and slowly squeeze the trigger until the gun surprises you by going off.

To ensure this element of surprise, you must avoid thinking about the release. Forget about the string, and focus only on pulling with your back muscles; as you increase pressure with your back-some archers call this "increasing back tension"-your hand will slowly tighten and trigger the release.

With the bow hand completely relaxed at the moment of release, some hunters worry about dropping the bow. If you find yourself anticipating the shot and unconsciously gripping the handle to keep your bow from slipping, equip your bow with a wrist sling. With a sling, you can keep your bow hand relaxed, even after you've released the string, without fear of dropping an expensive bow.

Finger-release shooters should also strive for relaxation at the moment of release. The release is a matter of relaxing your fingers and allowing the string to slip away. Never throw open your hand; instead, concentrate on lifting your elbow up and back, pulling with your back and allowing your string fingers to relax. As one professional instructor said, "Don't let go of the string. Let the string go. There's a big difference."

With a relaxed release, your hand will move straight back, near to your face, and your fingers should be limp and relaxed. If your fingers are stiff, you've opened your hand deliberately to get rid of the string. If your hand moves out to the side of your face, you plucked the string. If it moves forward, it has followed the string. Make sure your hand always moves back along your face and your fingers are relaxed.

Follow-through. As the arrow leaves the bow, your hands and arms should hold the same position and your bow should move very little. The shot itself is simply a brief interruption in the act of aiming. Once your arrow has hit the target, then you can lower the bow to see where it has hit.

If the bow jerks violently down or to the side, there is tension somewhere in your form. Try adjusting your alignment by opening or closing your stance, and work on your bow hand, bow arm and string hand to eliminate tension that could be torquing the bow or throwing it to the side.

Practice Techniques

As you practice your stance, draw, release and follow-through, shoot each arrow as though it's the only arrow you'll shoot that day. Building good form is the result of practice quality, not quantity. It's better to shoot 10 good arrows than 100 bad ones that do nothing but ingrain bad habits. If you do make a bad shot, analyze it briefly to determine the problem, then forget about it and go on. Always keep a positive attitude; if fatigue sets in and you begin to lose control, quit for the day and wait until you're fresh and enthusiastic to begin a new practice session.

Three basic training techniques can help improve your form rapidly and are especially useful for beginning archers.

First, shoot with your eyes closed. Stand 10 feet or so from the backdrop so you don't miss the target, then mentally inspect your bow arm, shooting arm and stance as you execute a shot. Focus on relaxing, pulling with your back and squeezing the release slowly (or relaxing your fingers). After the bow goes off, follow through, and before opening your eyes, again run through the checkpoints. Are you still on target? Are your hands relaxed?

As you're first learning, shoot this way regularly to develop and ingrain good shooting habits. And once you become an experienced archer, warm up before each practice session with some closed-eye shooting to get the feel of a good shot.

A second practice technique is to remove the sight from your bow and shoot at a blank target with no aiming spot. This routine allows you to forget about where your arrows are hitting and concentrate solely on form.

A final technique is to shoot at long distances-60 to 80 yards or so-a practice that helps build good follow-through. At release, resist the urge to drop your bow arm to watch the arrow, and hold your sights on the target until the arrow hits. Ingraining this kind of follow-through will improve your accuracy at any distance.

Along with these form-building techniques, practice regularly shooting at targets to develop your accuracy. If you can't hit an inanimate target under good conditions, you have little chance of making clean hits on game animals, either. Practice until you can shoot your arrows within a 2-inch group at 20 yards, 3-inch at 30, 4-inch at 40, 5-inch at 50. This precision accuracy will serve you well later in hunting.

Once you develop good form and precision accuracy, the systematic drills described below will help you adapt your skills for field shooting. If you practice these drills until they become automatic and second nature to you, you'll be well on your way to becoming a successful hunting archer.

Shoot slowly. The movement of drawing the bow may be the most significant limitation in bowhunting, because motion alerts close-range animals. But if you can draw so slowly that an animal fails to see the movement, even when looking your way, you'll rarely lose a shot opportunity.

With the herky-jerky draw cycle of a compound bow, developing a motionless draw isn't easy. To perfect it, hold your bow in shooting position, aim and draw as slowly as possible. Your sights should hold steady on target, and your string hand should come back steadily with no jerks or pauses. Do this six to ten times per session, building up to a full 10 seconds per draw. If you find it impossible to draw your bow straight back, the draw weight is too heavy.

Shoot fast. At other times, you must be able to draw and shoot quickly. Shooting quickly comes easiest for instinctive shooters armed with longbows or recurves, but with practice, a compound-bow hunter using sights can learn to shoot quickly.  To develop efficiency, see how many arrows you can shoot in a 1-minute period. Then see how quickly you can extract and shoot all of the arrows from your quiver. These are great drills for shooting efficiency. But remember, all shots must be accurate; wild shots mean nothing.

Shoot in bad weather. If you practice only under good conditions, you'll be ready only for good conditions. To prepare for realistic hunting conditions, practice in wind, rain and snow. Not only will you learn how to shoot in adverse conditions, but you'll also learn how your tackle performs. In snow, you might find that your arrow rest ices up; in rain, you might find that water plugs up your peep sight or makes your cable slide squeak. Only by shooting in actual hunting conditions can you analyze and correct subtle problems.

Shoot in all positions. When hunting in the field, it won't always be possible to shoot from an ideal stance. You may have to shoot around trees, under limbs, straight up hills or down into ravines. Systematic practice prepares you for all contingencies. Practice shooting while kneeling, sitting, leaning to the side, and at steep angles up and down. If you find that you simply can't shoot accurately from some positions, you've learned a valuable lesson: eliminate these postures and develop positions that work for you.

Once you've developed proficiency at several shooting positions, go into the field and practice assuming and shooting quickly from these positions. For more challenge, train by running through woods or climbing slopes between shots. This is especially good practice for mountain hunting where physical exertion can affect your accuracy.

Shoot 3-D Targets. Prepare yourself for the pressure of hunting in the field. Participate in trail shoots and 3-D tournaments where you shoot at animal targets, not dots.

Practice in the field. "Stump-shooting" may be the most valuable practice of all. Whenever possible, roam through the woods and fields and shoot at rotten stumps, dirt clods and grass clumps. Stump-shooting is especially good for practicing while on hunting trips. Carry at least one practice arrow tipped with a rubber blunt or judo point, and any time you walk a trail or stop for lunch, shoot a few practice shots to keep yourself sharp for the real thing.