How to hold a bow and arrow

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The second step in the shot sequence: holding the bow and arrow correctly

Your ‘set position’ in archery is when you are holding the bow and arrow in the correct stance, in readyness to pull back on the string and aim. The first few steps of the shot sequence focus on what you need to know for getting into this ‘set position’. This is all before you eventually ‘draw’ the bow. This section covers the aspect of how you hold the bow and arrow correctly.

Black and white outline of a man in a 'set position' of preparing the archery shot sequence
What the ‘set position’ would look like (courtesy onlinearcheryacademy.com)

We won’t have a section on knocking the arrow. The moment you are ready to shoot, get your arrow set! There’s no special or expert way to do this.

How to hold the bow and arrow with the right grip

Remember – you typically hold the bow with your non-dominant hand and pull the string with your dominant hand. To work out your dominant hand, eye and bow type – you can use this guide.

Once the bow is fully drawn, you want to be holding it at a 90-degree angle.

The objective the bow string straight, just like your spine is in your stance.

Some archers prefer to slightly tilt the bow, if they are using a barebow or traditional bow – we will cover that later. For beginner archers though, you’re aiming to hold it at 90 degrees.

The image below highlights the steps we will cover in this section.

An image of a hand holding a bow correctly with annotation markers
1. Thumb pointing at target
2. Bottom of grip resting on the ‘pressure point’ of hand
3. High part of grip between the thumb and index finger
4. Rest of the fingers relaxed and at 45 degree angle

The correct grip is a loose grip

The key to holding any bow properly is to NOT grip it too tightly!

The bow is most accurate when it is allowed to bobble forward during the shooting motion, after the weight of the bowstring and arrow releases. This is only possible if you have a loose grip.

With a tight grip, the bow will experience vibrations from your hand, causing it to wiggle left-to-right during the shot. It’s also common that by gripping the bow too hard your hand will twist during or just after the shot.

Both of these habits lead to inaccuracies, as well as the dreaded bow string slap. The way to correctly apply a ‘loose grip’ is detailed below. It’s related to where exactly in the palm of the hand you hold the bow and arrow.

Where in the palm do you grip the bow?

As the above image showed, there is just a small part of your hand that should grip the handle. This is the area between the thumb and index finger. The remaining fingers will just ‘loosely caress’ the bow in place.

This does not mean you don’t tense your hand at all during the grip. You still need to maintain control of the bow. However you need to instead think of the hand as just a ‘guide’ for the bow. The hand simply supports the bow upright to steady the direction of the arrow as it releases.

As the above image shows, your bow’s handle should rest in the area just behind the centre of your palm. This is directly below your thumb and over the groove in your hand known as the ‘lifeline’.

Most beginners will incorrectly hold the bow in the middle groove/crease or crotch of the palm, which will not allow for a loose handling. The ‘pressure point’ area in the above image is where the majority of your ‘grip’ on the bow will take place.

How to wrap your palm over the bow handle

An easy way to get into the right grip position from the start is to open your fingers into an ‘L’ shape. This opens up that ‘gap’ between your thumb and index finger. It is important for the handle to be right in the middle of this gap. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the joints of your thumb and finger.

Two images showcasing the 'L' shape you put your hand into in order to grip the bow in the right area previously shown.
To easily get to the right grip position, approach the handle with an ‘L’ shaped hand

Place your hand as high up on the handle or grip as possible in this L shape.

You want to then wrap only your index finger around the bow handle. The remaining fingers and palm should just be relaxed or loosely hanging around the handle, acting as support.

If done correctly, your thumb tip will be pointing towards the target. You will feel the tension on the bow handle in the area below the thumb. This is known as the ‘pressure point’ (as the previous image showed).

The reason for this ‘loose grip’ is due to the pressure of the bow string. When your bow is drawn, the bow is going to push backwards into your palm. Your grip will naturally feel tighter and require more stability when this happens.

This is why you don’t need to grip the bow hard. It’s not like a handshake. The bow will do the gripping for you! See below for an incorrect way to hold the bow:

DO NOT HOLD THE BOW THIS WAY!

Think of it this way: the bow is doing all the work in getting your arrow to the target. You just have to do your best to guide it without causing too much interference!

The position of the knuckles on the bow hand grip

The knuckles of your remaining fingers should now be at a 45-degree angle from the bow. This is another sign to make sure you are not curving your fingers round to grip the handle. With most bows, the part of your palm underneath the remaining fingers should not touch the bow grip at all.

The red line here represents the 45 degree angle that indicates your remaining fingers are not influencing the bow.

You will still need to apply some pressure onto holding the bow. Just remember that it is only in these two areas: the gap between your thumb and index finger and the pressure point area.

The reason this is important is because these areas apply ‘forward pressure’. The deeper part of your palm would pull the bow ‘away’ from the target. The only pressure you want from your hand holding the bow and arrow is one that is going towards the target.

How to position the rest of the arm that is holding the bow and arrow

You need to keep your bow-side wrist and arm almost straight when holding the bow forward. In terms of the arms rotation, it will be ‘sideways-on’ to allow both a straight wrist and an elbow that points to the left or right of the target (depending on left or right-handed).

The elbow on the arm holding the bow needs to be pointing outward and slightly bent.

This means the tip of the elbow is facing to the bottom left (or bottom right if left-handed) of the target. Or a better way to judge it would be to say that the inside of the elbow should be at 2 o’clock, and the outside at 8 o’clock (or 10 and 4 if left-handed).

This prevents your arm being too flat, which can lead to hyper-extension. A relatively straight arm is also important because it channels the pressure you place on the front of the bow through your bones, as opposed to the muscles in your arm.

1. Elbow points out and away from body (left or right depending on handed-bow)
2. Elbow is slightly bent so as to not hyper-extend

If your arm is too bent, the bow will be more difficult to hold. Having your arm bent will also make it more difficult to have the same consistency and draw length on each shot, unless you can remember exactly how bent your arm was each time. Remember that when we use the term ‘bent’, we’re only referring to point of the elbow and that particular angle getting bigger or smaller.

One problem that might come up with your arms bend is if you are frequently getting the bow string slap. It might cause you to involuntarily bend your arm more. First try to change your stance to prevent the slap. If that’s not possible, we would recommend you first get an arm guard before bending your bow-arm more.

How to get a loose grip on the bow and arrow consistently

The main reason a beginner might struggle with this type of loose grip is the fear of the bow falling after release.

The easiest way to remedy this is to get yourself a bow sling, which we cover in more detail here. However, that is quite advanced, and as a beginner it’s ok if you hold the bow a little more tightly than recommended (at the pressure point). It’s about finding the sweet spot between holding it too tight and too loose.

  The remaining fingers can also act as a ‘support cushion’ to ‘catch’ the bow after release. This will take practice but eventually you will get comfortable with it.  

So now that you understand how to hold the bow and arrow correctly, make sure it does not change!

As with all of the steps in the shot sequence, the key is to hold the bow consistently every time you shoot. It is very common that during the shooting of the bow you may slightly manoeuvre your bow hand. This can be a result of feeling the pressure of the string pull or the arrow’s release. You need to avoid this!

Moving your handle on the bow at any point during the sequence can vastly change the accuracy of the shot. It needs to stay consistent from the start of the shooting sequence until the end.

How to hold a bow and arrow with an advanced grip

The information in the above guide pertains more to beginners who are first understanding how the handling of the bow works. For more advanced users, there is a community of thought that suggests even less of the palm should be involved in the handling of the bow.

As detailed in the images above, typically the pressure point on your hand should have some hold on the bow. With advanced grip methods, the knuckles move from a 45 degree angle to a 60 degree angle. This leaves only the gap between your thumb and index finger as the area which as any hold on the bow at all.

An olympic compound archer holding the bow only with the upper part of the pressure point, not the lower.

This type of hold on the bow is far less comfortable and far more difficult to use consistently. However, the idea is that when perfected, it minimises the chance of any accidental movements of the hand impacting the arrow flight.

How you hold the bow will also be influenced by the type of grip or handle the bow has. This can vary between bow types and is also an element of bows which can be customised.

What is evident is that bows which are more friendly to beginners will often have a wider or fatter grip, to allow for more of the pressure point to be used in the handling of the bow.

Bows which are more difficult to use will have much thinner grips, or no grip/handle whatsoever, as they can only be used properly with an advanced or ‘high’ grip.

How to hold an olympic recurve bow and arrow

The recurve bow is one of the most common bow types and as such, all of the above information applies. However there are some specific differences for how you hold a professional/olympic style recurve bow.

These bows will often have handles that are designed to make the correct grip easier to apply. It will be fatter, and even have a slightly angled shape to fit the angle your hand should sit in.

The olympic recurve bow ‘free fall swing’ technique

The other significant difference of holding an olympic recurve bow is that it is designed to have a much longer follow-through upon release. This is referred to as the ‘free fall swing’ technique.

Essentially this just means that in recurve archery, you let the bow fall out of your hands completely when you release the arrow.

The olympic bow is front-heavy, and with correct archery form, you will place pressure in a forward motion. As explained above, the less tight your handle of the bow in a backward motion, the better your degree of accuracy. Therefore, with a finger sling attached to a recurve bow, your aim is to enable this forward momentum. The oylmpic recurve archer allows the bow to naturally bobble forward out of the fingers grip and be caught by the sling.

You don’t have to use a finger sling. It can also be a wrist sling, or even just your fingers. However the latter is very difficult to get right.

Why use this technique for holding a recurve bow and arrow?

One of the main advantages of this method is that it acts as a reference point to check your form. If your stance is correct, the bow will fall straight. If something is off with your form or shot, you may see the bow wobble left or right.

Some argue that this technique is all style and no substance. And this is somewhat true because there is nothing to be gained from the swinging motion itself. It is the extra relaxation the recurve archer allows in their grip (knowing that the sling will catch the bow on release) which can lead to a more accurate shot.

As this is quite an advanced technique, it is recommended to trial holding and shooting a recurve bow first without this technique. So then you can apply it later if you feel it will help accuracy.

How to hold a compound bow and arrow

The only fundamental difference for the grip of a compound bow is related to pressure. The handling of the grip remains the same, though your pressure point will be more toward the middle of the full handle.

However the compound bow is designed to ‘release’ the pressure of the bow upon the ‘full draw’ point of pulling back on the string. This means you will start perhaps with a tighter grip, but will loosen it just before release. It’s important to attempt to maintain a loose grip throughout the process of the draw – so that your hand position does not change.

How to hold a basic bow and arrow (barebow)

If your bow is basic enough that it doesn’t really have a handle, remember that you still have to hold it just below the centre of the bow.

Just check that when holding the bow properly, it does not sway when fully drawn. It’s important it feels comfortable. However you also have to put the right pressure on the bow, from the correct area of your hand. You should not feel any pressure on your wrist at any point in the shot sequence.

With a more basic bow, it’s important that your thumb and index finger are wrapped enough around the bow to touch each other faintly. They need to feel firm in their position – but not tense.

This archer holds the traditional english longbow with a slightly more closed grip.

The remaining fingers should curl around the grip a bit more than with a more sophisticated bow. However you still should not tense those fingers, and your knuckles should still be at a 45-degree angle. Your thumb also needs to be pointing forwards at the target, with the remaining fingers underneath it.

You may also choose to hold a traditional/barebow at a different angle to 90 degrees, such as the english longbow. We will explain this in detail below.

How to hold an English longbow

Being a larger bow with a slightly different style of handle, the position of your ‘grip’ will be slightly further down the hand than with a traditional bow. The first point of contact from the L shape, will be more directly below the gap between your thumb and index.

This is because of the strength required. You cannot have as light a grip for a bow that is this large. Starting the grip from a lower position on the hand will help balance your shot.

As with other bows, once wrapped around the bow, your thumb should point straight towards the target. Your index should be wrapped around and nearly touching your thumb. The remaining three fingers will wrap more easily around an English longbow but should still be relaxed and not firmly gripping the bow.

And that’s it for how to hold a bow and arrow!

As a singular step in the shot sequence, this one should be learnt quite quickly. Combining it with the next two steps in the shot sequence is the difficult part. Read on to see how to pull on the bow string!

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