How to Draw a Bow in Archery

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The third step in the shot-sequence: pulling back on the bow string

So, at this point you know the correct stance to adopt and how to hold the bow (normally) with your non-dominant hand. The third step in the set-up motion of the shot sequence is pulling back on the bow string.

This has to be done with the correct ‘shooting posture’. This is known as ‘drawing’ a bow back in archery. There are four key areas you need to consider as you draw a bow in archery:

  • The pulling fingers
  • The pulling arm
  • Both shoulders
  • And finally the pressure across the rest of your body.

The finger techniques to draw a bow in archery

The area of your fingers that have lines on them – known as grooves – are the reference point for where you pull back on the string.

This is known as ‘the hook’ as you are literally hooking the string with your fingers. The exact placement of the string is open to debate. It often depends on your hand type, as well as whether you have gear to protect your string-pulling fingers. Without the right gear, blisters can be formed when you pull on the string.

A woman stands with her bow in the foreground and aims an arrow at a target in the background

There’s a lot of debate as to the right way to hook the bowstring. You will likely have to experiment a lot with what feels comfortable for you.

However it is generally a ‘rule of thumb’ that you do not want to place the string on the tips of your fingers or as far down as the second groove. Instead try to grip it in the area below the tips and before the second groove. Plus, you must always grab the part of the string that is closest to the arrow nock. Not too far down or up from the nock.

Always have the string held somewhere between the ‘gap’ highlighted here by the red lines

So which fingers are best for you to use? One, two or all of them? Which exact position of the string on the finger will draw a bow in archery the best way? Here’s a list of the most common finger positions for drawing a bow in archery.

1 Above 2 Below draw technique:

1 Above 2 Below technique - click to read

Also known as the Splitfinger or ‘Mediterranean grab’. This is better for target archery and when using a bow with more accessories (such as recurve or compound bows). The index finger goes above the arrow nock and the second and third fingers below it.

Due to the curving of your hand, the string should be in the groove of the first two fingers, and just slightly above the groove of your ring finger. It’s important to keep the hand relaxed as it pulls. If it is too rolled over/curved and tight, it may cause the arrow nock to move.

Getting the string in the correct grooves will be how you can tell if the hand and fingers are in the correct position. The major benefit of this type of finger position is that it applies an even level of pressure over the string, helping with accuracy.

Two Finger bow draw technique:

Two Finger bow draw technique - click to read

An alternative version of the Mediterranean style, this involves just the index and middle finger on either side of the arrow knock. You will have less pressure on the bow string as you are using one less finger, however your weight distribution will be even. There is also less interference with the string this way. It’s really all about your preference and what works with your bow type!

Three Under bow draw technique:

3 Under technique - click to read

Also known as the ‘Apache Draw’. Though less common, some archers will use this technique for specific bow types. Place your first three fingers below the shaft of the arrow with the string typically positioned within the groove of your index and ring finger, with the middle finger having the string slightly below the groove. The index finger should be directly below the nock of the arrow or the nock indicator.

This is often a suggested technique for ‘barebow’ shooting – i.e bows without a built-in sight. That’s because this technique can help you aim the arrow with your finger. You can also more easily look down the shaft of the arrow with this technique.

Pinch draw technique:

Pinch draw technique - click to read

This is not considered a technique by serious archers, however for younger archers and children, this is a very popular draw style.

The index finger and the thumb will ‘pinch’ both the string and the arrow nock and release the pinch to release the arrow. However this is only possible with lightweight bows. As mentioned, most child archery sets will have a bow where this technique can work.

Thumb draw technique:

Thumb draw technique - click to read

Though this is not as common today, this is a draw that has huge pedigree in historical archery. The Mongol army (which is why this is often termed the ‘Mongolian draw’) popularised this type of draw. The thumb draw is also often used in Turkish archery, Chinese archery, Japanese Archery, Korean Archery and ancient Egyptian archery.

Typically, this involves your thumb being the main groove that ‘hooks’ the string underneath the arrow nock. Your index finger loops above and over the thumb’s nail to lightly ‘pin’ it onto the string. All the weight should be on the thumb as you pull back. To release, relax both your index finger and thumb.

This technique is effective with all bow types and is one of the fastest finger positions to shoot with. However it is very difficult to learn and pull off consistently. You also must use protection on your thumb or be prepared for very painful blisters!

Using release aids to draw a bow in archery:

Finger Release Aids - click to read

Modernised, often mechanised release aids are very common today.

They’re more often used with compound bows but they’re also used by recurve archers. These can come in the form of wrist straps, strings around the thumb, or metallic hinges. They all have the purpose of hooking the bowstring back with a mechanical link to a ‘trigger’ button.

The button is often pressed by the index finger or thumb to instigate the bow string’s release. The benefit of this type of release is that it minimises the contact between the hand and the string. Therefore there is less interference for the arrow’s release, and everything is kept far more consistent.

Typically you attach a release aid to the ‘D-loop’, and you would do this just after knocking the arrow. Remember to keep your hand relaxed around the trigger. Don’t squeeze or grip the release aid tight, and keep your thumb/finger away from the trigger until you are at anchor point (to avoid unwanted release).

Key things to remember no matter what finger technique you use to draw a bow in archery

No matter which fingers you use to pull on the string, it is equally important to think about the position of your ‘remaining fingers’. This will often be your thumb and pinky.

The motion of these remaining fingers can have more of a dramatic impact on the draw of your bow then you may think. The pinky position can actually influence the feeling in your ring finger. Ultimately you need to find a position for them to sit that allows you to draw comfortably.

A common method is to have the pinky and thumb curled so that they are almost touching each other. This will help keep them in a consistent position that does not interfere with the rest of the shot. However make sure it is the thumb doing most of the reaching, the pinky should not try to bend too much toward the palm or this will impact the ring finger. The thumb and pinky can also form part of your anchor point (will learn this more in next step in the sequence).

You can also use a ‘tab’ like the release aids above, to help position all of your fingers on the bowstring.

Pro tips:

  • Like the method described for holding the bow, it is important to not ‘grip tightly’ the bow string with your fingers. A good way to tell if you’re doing this is to see whether your finger nails are visible as your hold the string. They shouldn’t be
  • As you will learn below, the fingers are simply maintaining control of the string. They are not actually the force that is pulling the string backwards. The pressure of drawing a bow in archery comes from your back and shoulder muscles
  • It’s also important to remember that the ‘hook’ is not the whole of the hand! However you still need to have a solid connection with your fingers, otherwise you will wear them out quickly
  • Oh, and do not ever touch the arrow itself unless you’re using the pinch method. 

Final point on the difference between pro & beginner finger positions

Finally, whatever string position you pick, the key is to stick with it. Consistency is everything in archery!

If you maneuver your fingers along the string inbetween shots, you will alter the flight of the arrow. That’s why for beginners it is useful to use the ‘groove’ of the fingers in any of the above finger positions. It will give more control and consistency to begin with.

However it will also make it harder for you to ‘let go’ of the string in the process of shooting the arrow. Pro archers therefore attempt to pull the string in the area just above the first groove but not as far as the tip.

This will be hard for a beginner to pull off consistently as the tips don’t have as much strength as the first groove or lower. It is down to preference, but most pro’s will only use the tips of the fingers when pulling back on the string.

Alternatively, you will need to get equipment to protect your fingers from blisters, such as ‘Finger Savers’ or guards, gloves, ‘Finger Tabs’ or ‘release aids’. Protection equipment, as well as being more comfortable, also helps for both release and anchor consistency.

Your wrist position when drawing a bow in archery

However you choose to connect your fingers to the string, the next important thing to consider is how your hands, arms and shoulders are going to move together in perfect synchronisation as you pull on the string. This is what we refer to as the ‘draw posture’ or rather your ‘shooting posture’.

This begins by the draw-hand’s wrist aligning in a straight position with your elbow. It is common when having your fingers in the wrong position on the bow string, for the wrist to be at an inward angle. You need to correct this and make sure the wrist is straight.

If anything, the draw wrist can point slightly outwards in the pulling motion – but never inwards. A straight wrist will allow a straight arm and will let you pull the string in the same direction every time.

Your bow-arm position when drawing a bow in archery

As you take the bow from its rested ‘set position‘ with the bow hand, your bow holding arm should straighten up to begin the grip.

As you draw, your front shoulder will move around as you cope with the weight of the bow. It’s important to try and keep this still, and keep the bow in a vertical position. Remember as you focus on the technique for pulling, that you also have to try and keep your bow-arm’s shoulder aligned to the target.

Using your back elbow and shoulders when drawing a bow in archery

The correct motion to draw or pull the string backwards is to elevate your back elbow.

WARNING: it’s important that you only raise your elbow during the motion of pulling the string, not beforehand. Pulling the string with your elbow already raised could lead to injury. As mentioned, you need to have a straight wrist and back-elbow parallel to the arrow to begin with.

With your back/drawing elbow being at a higher elevation as you pull back, you will transfer any pressure from your arm and transfer it to your back. Rather than your full back, it will just be the muscles around your shoulder blades that ‘activate’ (when doing this correctly). Specifically, these back muscles are the ‘trapezius, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi’. You’ll feel the tension just in the gap between the neck/spine and the shoulder blades.

Back elbow starts low, shoulders equal height
Elbow raises and pushes back, creates tension in shoulder muscles (marked red)

How to correctly activate your shoulder blades

To make sure it’s these muscles that activate, you will actually need your mind to focus and direct the tension to them. Many coaches will tell you to imagine ‘pinching’ your shoulder blades together. However this does not mean for you to actually try and bend backwards your draw arm’s shoulder.

Instead you achieve this ‘pinching’ motion through your back elbow’s movement. Imagine how your shoulder blades are synchronised with your elbows. ‘Feel’ that connection between the two limbs.

As your back elbow pushes (not pulls) backwards against the force of your bow’s draw weight, your draw-arms shoulder blade will naturally rotate ‘inwards’. You will then feel pressure in the back shoulder blade and, if you are holding the bow steady, also in the front shoulder blade. You need to equally balance these two pressures.

1&2 are synced – as the right shoulder blade rotates inwards so does it pull up and back the elbow.
Keep both shoulder blades balanced.

This is a better way to think through the process. Instead of thinking that your draw arm ‘pulls’ the pressure of the bow string, it’s your back elbow pushing backwards with your shoulder blade.

The strength of your shoulder muscles and their rotation as you push back your elbow is what you need to build to shoot heavier bows.

Getting your elbow and shoulders to full draw

When you are at full draw, your front arm will now have the bow string vertical (so that the bow handle is roughly 90 degrees from the ground and the arrow aiming at the target). Your back elbow should now also be parallel / on the same line as the arrow.

As we mentioned – you may need to raise your elbow as you draw, but you will need to bring it back down again to ensure it’s in line with the arrow.

1&2 show both shoulder blades activated and in-line
3 shows the elbow is now lowered and back to parallel with arrow

Not everyone will be capable of doing this with their back elbow. It requires a lot of strength in the shoulder blades to get the elbow aligned perfectly with the arrow.

If done correctly, both of your shoulder blades will feel activated and in-line with each other.

At the start of the draw, you can also raise your front elbow in synchronisation with your back elbow. This is known as the ‘full swing draw’. However it is really only beneficial for safety reasons – as it starts the draw with the arrow aiming into the air.

Let’s see some video examples of this full process to see what it looks like from professional archers and coaches:

The rest of your body’s position during the draw

Do not change the rest of your stance as you draw – only your shoulders and arms will move. Keep everything else relaxed and still. Remember all the steps from your stance:

  • The most important thing to keep still is the face – and it will also be the hardest!
  • Keep your head straight, faced to the target, not tilting up or down
  • Keep your wrist flat and straight, in line with your arm
  • Remember also that whilst your shoulder will move along with your elbow, you do not want to ‘tense’ and raise your shoulders up (like you would if you shrugged). Your elbow and shoulder blades will activate but your shoulders ‘height’ should try to stay as neutral as they can
  • Clench your abs and butt to keep your lower back straight and slightly over your feet
  • Keep a straight upper back that is over the hips
  • Do not lean toward or away from the target
  • Keep your shoulders and ribs low (or neutral) & relaxed
  • And keep your head looking towards the target throughout the entire draw process!

Direction of the bow string

The direction you pull the bow string is also something to consider.

Western archery suggests you need to feel like you’re pulling the string away from your body as you draw. Once you have reached ‘full draw’ it will again be ‘in-line’ with the target. This is called an angular draw. This works most appropriately when using your elbow & shoulder blade to pull the string, as detailed above.

But do not strain during this motion and do not finish the draw with the string being bent to either the left or right. It should re-centre back to being in-line with the bow once you’ve finished pulling.

Eastern archery, specifically Korean, instead uses the ‘linear’ draw which pulls the string straight backwards into the body.

There’s no one right way, but you will find it easier to follow the correct movements of your elbow and shoulders by slightly pulling at an angle to begin with and then re-aligning yourself at full draw.

Left image shows how with a raised elbow, an ‘angular draw’ is possible. See that the string is being pulled slightly away from the archer to begin with. The right image then shows how at the end of the draw, he has a flatter elbow and the string is parallel to the target.

Getting your bow string to an anchor point

The anchor point will be covered in more detail in the next chapter of the shot sequence. However we will quickly cover a point on this as it relates to how you pull back on the bow string to full draw in archery.

When you are at full draw, you need to pay attention to where your bow string is positioned in relation to your face and body. If you are a beginner, you will most likely have your draw hand hovering in the air.

You want to make sure that when you are finished pulling back the the string, that it makes contact with your body or face. The point that it does is known as the ‘anchor point’. This is the position you want to consistently draw to every time you pull the string back as far as it can go. When drawing your bow, you are always pulling it back towards that same ‘anchor point’.

An San’s anchorpoint is placing the string against her chin, lips and nose.

Direction of the draw hand

Another key element to consider when you have practiced this a bit, is the motion of the draw hand. We’ve discussed how your elbow will lift, and shoulder blades will activate, but the motion of the draw hand (until it reaches anchor point) will help tie this altogether.

So not to confuse things: you already know the draw hand is pulling the string in an angular way. It will then straighten up. However the ‘pathway’ it takes to get there can also be analysed. Professionals make sure the draw hand follows along the neckline towards the back shoulder. This is where everything will align, and you will reach your anchor point in the proper motion. More of this will be covered in the anchor point section.

At 4.33 and 5.37 of this video you can see a great example of the hand’s movement across the neckline.

Pressure distribution when drawing a bow in archery

Everything we’ve covered so far within your stance, holding of the bow and pulling of the bow strings is just theoretical until the point in which you begin to draw.

This is due to the nature of pressure, or the weight of the bow as you pull on the bow string. We’ve already covered some elements of pressure in the above guide. However we wanted to write a seperate section on dealing with this pressure, just to re-iterate it’s importance to the process of the draw.

Where you channel the pressure in your draw, will have a huge impact on your ability to shoot properly.

In short, when a draw is done correctly, you should only feel pressure:

  • Across your bow-hand pressure point
  • On the tips of your string pulling hand
  • In your shoulder blades.

First pressure point when drawing a bow in archery: bow hand

It is typical when at shooting ranges or otherwise at a point where you are shooting multiple arrows, to have the bow resting in a downward motion between shots. Or just after you have nocked the arrow.

As you draw the bow, your bow-hand will of course lift the bow to the 90 degree angle as explained. This means that typically you will begin feeling pressure on the ‘pivot point’ or the area in the gap between the index finger and thumb.

As you move your back elbow backwards to pull the string to the maximum draw length, the pressure in your bow hand should now have shifted from the pivot point to almost entirely in the ‘pressure point’. See the image below – this is the centre of the area between your thumb joint and ‘lifeline’.

An image of a hand with annotations as to the specific areas you rest the handle. Below the thumb and index is the pressure point and you should never hold the bow beyond the 'lifeline' middle groove of your palm.

Remember to keep your thumb facing forward, knuckles at a 45-degree angle, and the handle aligning straight from the ‘pressure point’ to the ‘pivot point’.

  Pro tip: you need to feel like you are balancing the pressure from the ‘draw’ of the bow with the pressure on your bow hand. This should happen naturally with the correct alignment of your arms and shoulders but if you feel the pressure pulling too much in one direction, you need to re-balance this out. The feeling is almost that you are trying to separate the bow from its string, pushing forward with the bow hand and backwards with the bow string.  

Second pressure point when drawing in archery: pulling fingers

The amount of pressure you put on the string with your fingers varies based on skill level. At lower levels you will place a lot of pressure on the fingers as you get used to pulling the bow back. However once familiar with shoulder blade expansion, you won’t need much pressure from the fingers.

Less finger pressure will result in a better shot. Professional archers will therefore empthasise minimal tension in the fingers as you pull. Imagine that the elbow and shoulders are what is actually pulling the bow string.

Third pressure point when drawing a bow in archery: the shoulder blades

As you pull, your shoulder blades will get closer together. This is good for alignment and will allow the bulk of the pressure in holding the ‘full draw’ to transfer evenly across your shoulders. Your upper back and shoulder muscles should carry the majority of the pressure of the bow draw weight. If you are not feeling an intense amount of pressure in your shoulders, you are not drawing correctly!

Unwanted beginner pressure points: Draw-hand and arm

Whilst this guide attempts to teach proper shooting form, which puts the bulk of the pressure on your back/shoulder blades on the draw, the truth is most beginners will also feel some pressure in their draw hand and draw arm.

However, you must avoid feeling the pressure in your biceps or triceps. Simply begin the pressure of drawing by using your forearm, and work this pressure towards the back shoulders via lifting your elbow. Do not focus on using the muscles inbetween!

The specific shoulder blade muscls that pull the bow string

Additional tips for how to draw a bow in archery

Some additional and final pointers:

  • The primary thought you should have is that the bow shoulder is pushing the bow towards the target, whilst the back elbow pushes away from it. This will align perfectly with your back tension, and release all tension away from your forearm and hand.
  • Your forearm, hands and arms should not feel like they have to manipulate or have power on the string in any way. All power should be in the back and shoulders.

This is what separates a proper archery draw from how most beginner’s will approach it. You are pushing your bow to the target, with the string close to your anchor, forcing your shoulder blades together. This is what’s known as an ‘expanding’ draw. Beginners on the other hand will feel they are simply pulling on the string and lengthening your arm into the air to do so.

Keep practicing this multiple times until the entire process is ‘smooth’ like in the video examples. This is the most difficult element of the shot sequence to master.

That’s why it’s important to not feel overwhelmed by all of this information – record yourself and make comparisons to the videos. See after a few practices runs what you are doing incorrectly, and slowly make adjustments until you are hitting the target accurately.

During the process of the draw, you should make sure you are relaxed and intake a deep breath as you do so. If you pull the draw too fast and aggressively, you may increase your heart rate, which will make your aim slightly waiver.

A calm and relaxed mind is essential for accurate shooting. You want to draw at the same speed and in the same way every time.

Are you finding it impossible to draw a bow correctly?

If you are really struggling to maintain the bow during the draw, it might be that the bow is too heavy for you. Learn more about draw weight and draw length here to get the right bow. Depending on the type of bow, you may also just have to work on building up your strength to hold the bow at full draw.

With recurve bows and some other bow types, you can also run the risk of over-drawing the bow. This generally only occurs when you have a small recurve bow that is also not the correct draw length for your arm, and you cannot pull it to your full arm’s length backwards without the weight feeling impossible in the last phase of the draw. Again, you can solve this by making sure your bow aligns with your correct draw length.

How to draw a traditional bow in archery

With barebows or longbows, your stance may slightly alter during the drawing process. That’s because these bows tend to be heavier and have higher draw weight than beginner recurve bows.

You may find that you need to adjust the angle of your initial draw into more of a ‘straight draw’.

A freeze frame of the moment a woman releases an arrow with a traditional bow

You will also use a wider array of muscle groups with heavier bows. The back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi and the rhomboids, are used to initiate the draw as normal. The shoulders, particularly the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles, are used to stabilize the shoulder joint and bow arm. You will also however use more of your biceps and triceps to finish and hold the draw.

The muscles in the chest and core, including the pectoralis major and the obliques, are used to maintain balance and stability during the shot.

How to draw a compound bow in archery

With a compound bow, you will feel a different type of pressure on your way to the full draw when pulling back the string. This is because your compound bow is designed to alleviate some of the pressure during a certain phase of the draw.

You will feel the weight of the bow much stronger at the beginning of the draw. Then it will ‘level out’ during the middle section. At the end of the draw, when you have reached your anchor point, the weight of your draw will suddenly decrease. This is called the ‘let-off’ and is all down to the Compound’s design. Your bow will then hit a point known as ‘the wall’ which is a hard stop on the draw and it cannot be pulled any more.

It may be possible that you hit this limit before you have actually reached your full arm extension or your ‘anchor point’. This would be down to a misconfigured bow, and you must consult your compound bows manual to change the settings of your mod to accommodate more draw length.

To draw a compound bow properly, you should start the draw with the bow already raised to head height, with your bow-arm extended outwards with the bow. Then you begin to pull the string back and down towards your anchor point, using your shoulder blades as normal to place the pressure of the draw on your back muscles.

That’s it!

Now, before you can really understand what it means to be at ‘full draw’, you need to learn more about your anchor point. This is another essential element of the shot sequence guide, so make sure you do not skip the next section!